Hamer Finch Wilkins Park
Royal Oak Settlers: The Hamer Family
by Karen Turk, Royal Oak Historical Society Museum Volunteer
The Hamer family was one of the first black families to settle in Royal Oak, circa 1859. Their story starts in Kentucky, where Elizabeth (Ward) Hamer and her husband, Henry Hamer, were determined to escape slavery for freedom in the North. Aided by abolitionists in Ohio, the Hamers and another couple slipped into the secret passages of the Underground Railroad. The two couples slept in outbuildings and barns, traveled hidden in hay wagons, and made their way through underground tunnels. Eventually, the Hamers crossed the Detroit River and reached the safety of Windsor, Ontario in 1857.
While in Windsor, Elizabeth gave birth to her first child, a son named Charles Henry. During this time, Henry had been seeking opportunity in an area north of Detroit, known then as Royal Oak Township. The small family, risking their newfound freedom, crossed back over the border to settle in a log cabin at 12 Mile and the Saginaw Trail (Woodward Ave.) He acquired seven acres in the northwest quarter of section nine from Jonathan Chase. An 1872 plat map of the township shows the Hamer family owning a triangular piece of land on Crooks Road at the foot of Webster, where Planet Fitness is currently located.
The Hamer family grew to six children: Charles Henry (1857-1942), Lucius James (1861-1935), Elmira (1862-1959), William Edgar (1864-1954), Elizabeth Ann (1867-1947), and Ella Nancy (1871-1932). Henry died of old age at eighty-three in 1899, after living in the area for forty-two years. Elizabeth died in 1913 at age ninety, having survived Henry by twenty-five years. The Hamers have a family plot in the Royal Oak Cemetery where most of the family is buried.
Adapted from the writing and research of Susan Wolfrum, Royal Oak Historical Society Museum Volunteer. 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: a letter from the Hamer’s former slaveholders, Royal Oak Twigs and Acorns, and various photos of the Hamer and Starr families in the museum's photo database.