Hamer Finch Wilkins Park

Proposed Park Design

Hamer Finch Wilkins Park

Proposed Bronze Sculpture

Elizabeth


Who are Hamer, Finch, and Wilkins?

Freedom-seekers Henry Hamer (1816 – 1899) and Elizabeth Hamer (1824 – 1913) were early Royal Oak, African American settlers. Born into chattel slavery, they had been bought and sold until they became the property of Henry Bruce, Jr. of Covington, Kentucky. Covington—a riverfront town on the Ohio River—located immediately south of Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati was the epicenter of abolition and Underground Railroad activism. On August 27, 1856, the Hamers self-emancipated and quietly slipped away in the night from their enslaver. Elizabeth was pregnant. They traveled up the Underground Railroad. In September 1856, the Hamers reached Windsor, Ontario, and their son Charles Henry Hamer (1857 – 1942) arrived on March 11, 1857. In July 1858, they were living in Malden-Amherstburg, Ontario.

By June 1860, the Hamer family had settled in Royal Oak Township. They raised five additional children: Lucius James Hamer (1861 – 1935), Elmira M. (Hamer) Finch (1862 – 1959), William Edgar Hamer (1864 – 1954), Elizabeth Ann Hamer (1867 – 1947) and Ella Nancy Hamer (1871 – 1932).

The 1860 U.S. Census for Royal Oak lists Henry Hamer as a farmer. By 1870 he is listed as a tilemaker, probably at Almon Starr’s factory just up Crooks Road. By the 1880 Census Henry’s occupation as a farmer. On January 17, 1865, the Hamers purchased 5 acres of land from Jonathan Chase for $550. They purchased an additional acre in 1872. It was a triangle of land with the point at Crooks Road and Webster Road. Today, Planet Fitness occupies part of the land. Hamer descendants still own a portion of the original homestead of Henry and Elizabeth Hamer; however, neither the original house nor any of the farm buildings exist today.

Henry, Elizabeth, and their six children are buried in their family plot in Royal Oak Cemetery. Henry and Elizabeth’s travel to freedom is recognized by the National Park Service who designated Henry and Elizabeth’s grave sites as a location on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Elmira Hamer married Mathew Finch on February 20, 1885. He fought in the 4th Regiment, Company M, Michigan Cavalry during the Civil War. He was a private. They had six children. Elmira’s birthday parties were a community affair. The local paper, The Daily Tribune, reported her 88th, 90th, 94th, and 95th birthdays. Congressional candidate William S. Broomfield attended her 94th birthday.

Bessie Finch, (1893–1967) was the daughter of Elmira and Mathew Finch, she married Harold A. Wilkins on May 2, 1921. Harold liked to sit on the porch of the Crooks Road house, smoke a cigar, read the newspaper, and do the crossword puzzle. Harold and Bessie are buried in the Finch-Wilkins plot in the north end of Royal Oak Cemetery.

Interested in learning more? Please visit the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum, 1411 W Webster, to see the following artifacts and resources in our Museum library: letters from the Hamer’s former slaveholders, and various photos of the Hamer, Finch, and Starr families in the museum's photo database.