United Church of Canada returns land


Last updated 6/3/2019 at 2:09pm

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Fairfield Museum and National Historic Site

FAIRFIELD, ON-The United Church of Canada is returning a significant piece of land to the Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit people of Delaware Nation.

Fairfield is a historic village in Bothwell, between Chatham and London Ontario, that was first settled by the Lenape people 227 years ago.

A ceremony being held on the site will officially mark the paperwork to execute the land transfer.

"I think the community is going to be really proud of getting that piece of property back because it's part of who they are," said Chief Denise Stonefish, with Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit.

History of Fairfield

Fairfield was established on May 8, 1792 by Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit ancestors and the Moravian missionaries who lived among the group for generations. In the war of 1812, Fairfield was destroyed by American soldiers. The community was forced to relocate to the south side of the Thames River. For the past 74 years, Fairfield has been operated as a historical park and museum by The United Church of Canada.

"I actually view it as the people whose story it is are finally getting to tell the story," said Cheryl-Ann Stadelbauer-Sampa, with The United Church of Canada.

In the spring of 1792, six Moravian missionaries along with approximately 150 Delaware First Nations fled from the United States and formed a settlement along the north bank of the Thames River, naming it Fairfield. The head of the mission was David Zeisberger, a Moravian clergyman originally from Moravia, who spent upwards of 30 years devoting his life to the Christian faith and living peacefully in the wilds amongst the Delaware. These refugees fled to Upper Canada to live freely under British rule and to escape the American Revolutions that were brewing south of the border.

The Moravians formed a portion of the Evangelical Revival, spreading the faith throughout the Old and New Worlds during the 18th and into the early 19th centuries. In Upper Canada, it took the form of the Methodist church. The Moravians, despite their conflicts in the United States, became loyal citizens of the Crown. 

During the 21 years of living peacefully at the Fairfield Mission, David Zeisberger documented the activities of the mission. The following includes passages from these diaries.

Fairfield, a Moravian mission within the wilds of the Carolinian forest of southwestern Ontario, is the first settlement of Europeans within the present day confines of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent in 1792. The peaceful settlement was located along the northwest bank of the Thames River at the large bend in the river, half way between the present communities of Bothwell and Thamesville. Moravian missionaries and Delaware First Nations who were fleeing Pennsylvania from religious persecution settled the village. David Zeisberger, a Moravian clergyman, led the mission originally from 

Moravia, founded missionaries at Muskingum River in Ohio and Fairfield in Ontario.

Truth and Reconciliation prompts land transfer

Since 1960, the nation has been trying to take back the land, said Stonefish.

But both Stonefish and The United Church recognize it took the Truth and Reconciliation commission to bring the transfer to fruition.

"The Truth and Reconciliation Commission involved all of us to view ourselves as treaty people and to understand how broken the relationship is between Indigenous people and settlers was, and how all of us have a role to play in the care and tending of that," said Stadelbauer-Sampa. "The United Church is deeply committed to being honest with ourselves with our colonial past."

"That will make our home whole again," said Stonefish.


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