by Roger P Nason
The earliest mention of the Diggs family is Charlotte Diggs, who is listed as a grantee of lands for Black residents at Loch Lomond in 1836. The 1851 Census cites Samuel and Mary Higgs living in Simonds Parish with their four children: Joseph, George, Charles, and Alexander. Likely, Samuel is Charlotte’s son. Charlotte would have been a contemporary and neighbour of Eliza Taylor, who was then living with her son, Daniel. Alexander Diggs’ image as shown with Daniel Taylor in this photo from about 1900 is depicted in Canada Post’s new commemorative stamp alongside Eliza Taylor.
Misfortune struck on January 1864 when Samuel Diggs died at the age of fifty-three. Leaving his young family unable to support themselves at farming, the sons—except for perhaps Joseph who stayed with his mother—departed for work twenty miles away in Saint John. By 1875, McAlpine’s Business Directory indicates twenty-nine-year-old George Diggs living at 46 King Street East. He was employed as a saloon waiter.
George’s brothers, Charles and Alexander, were respectively twenty-seven and twenty-five. They resided in the South End of the city on Duke Street. In June 1875, the brothers were brought before the city court on separate charges of intoxication and assault. By 1881, Charles was employed as a wagon teamster and settled down at 278 Duke Street. Alexander was a labourer who boarded nearby on Pitt Street. About a year earlier on 9 April 1880, the Daily Telegraph reported terrible news: their mother Mary was found dead in her home at Loch Lomond where she resided alone. She was discovered by her niece, Mrs. Corbyn.
Joseph apparently moved to the city by this time and may have married soon after; by 1901, he is listed as a widower. He died at the Municipal Home on 4 June 1920. He was described as a half-brother to the other children in probate proceedings for Charles.
In the meantime, George married and was living at 284 Duke Street with his wife, Phoebe Ann (née Hall), and their two children, Frederick and Cassie. When he was not labouring as a whitewasher of buildings, George was an oyster opener in a saloon/restaurant.
For a short time, Alexander tried his hand at boxing in the 1890s. In 1893, he won a silver cup at a boxing tournament carried out at the Mechanics Institute. This must have encouraged him to enter a sparring exhibition a year later against Jim Addison from his neighbourhood. The outcome of the match is not known, but Addison was nicknamed “the sledge hammer hitter of Duke Street;” his ring name was “Thunderbolt.” No further reports come up about Alexander’s short sporting life.
Alexander spent his remaining days in Saint John. In 1911, he was living at Union Alley and working as a mason. He never married and died on 23 April 1917. His remains were returned to Willow Grove for interment.
A former archivist with the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, Roger P. Nason holds a B.A. from St. Thomas University and M.A. in History from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
W.A. Spray, Blacks of New Brunswick, Fredericton, 1972, p.49.
St. John County, Simonds Parish, 1851 census.
Saint John Religious Intelligencer 22 Jan. 1864
Saint John Daily Telegraph 1 June 1875
Saint John Daily Telegraph 9 April 1880.
Daily Telegraph and Sun 30 Mar. 1915.
McAlpine’s Business Directory 1881-2, 1890, 1898, and 1900; Saint John Census 1891.
Daily Telegraph 17 May 1893; 25 Sept. 1894; 3 May 1895.
Saint John Census 191; Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, Saint John Burial Permits.
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