Manuscript Collection MS Coll 00191B - William Robert (W.R) Patterson Papers

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CA OTUTF MS Coll 00191B


William Robert (W.R) Patterson Papers


  • 1880-1930 (Creation)

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Manuscript Collection

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1 box (13 cm)

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Biographical history

William Robert (W.R) Patterson was born in 1859 in Kent County, Ontario and was the oldest child of Philip Bolling Patterson (1830-1922) and Alcinda Francis Parker (1840-1892). Philip Patterson and Alcinda Parker were both born enslaved in Virginia and escaped to Canada, settling in Chatham, in the 1850s. They married on 4 October 1860, and the couple had twelve children: William Robert (1859), Philip (1863), Thomas (1864), John Henry (1866), James (1868), Lucy “Lulu” Ellen (1870), Kiziah Victoria (1873), Clement Herman (1877), Anna Frances (1879), Prince Albert (1879), Bertia (1883) and Nathaniel Oscar (1885). The family was a musical one with at least three of the siblings, W.R, Thomas and Nathaniel Oscar working as professional musicians. The children grew up on a farm in Harwich township and attended local segregated schools until 1893 when the schools in the area were desegregated. W.R moved to Hamilton and was involved with music both locally and touring the United States with his first wife, Fannie Harris (1864-1909). After Fannie’s death in 1909, W.R remarried in 1910 to Mary Morton (1885-?) and settled permanently in Hamilton where he worked as a barber along with organizing and performing in local singing groups. W.R died in 1931. W.R.’s youngest brother, Nathaniel Oscar (N.O.) was born twenty-five years after W.R. but the brothers maintained a close relationship in adulthood. N.O. began touring as a musician by 1907 when he sang as a baritone soloist in the Old Southland Sextette in Chicago. N.O. married Lillian Belle Isabell (1882-?), a professional vocalist from Norfolk Virginia, on 13 December 1911 in Huron, Ontario. The couple soon began singing with the Famous Canadian Jubilee Singers, a well-known Black spiritual group which was founded in 1879 in Hamilton, Ontario. By March 1914, N.O had established his own group, the Patterson’s Jubilee Quartet and Concert Company, which featured N.O., his wife Lillian, along with Chonita Hyers (1893-1953) of Amherstburg, Ontario and Hiriam Berry (1894-1983) of Hamilton. The group was first based in Hamilton, but by 1915, had moved to Buffalo, New York. They toured in the United States throughout the war years. N.O contracted the Spanish Flu while on a visit home to Hamilton and died on 19 October 1918 at age 32.

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This collection contains letters received by William Robert (W.R.) Patterson from his first wife, Fannie Harris, and brothers, Thomas Patterson and Nathaniel Oscar Patterson, primarily pertaining to personal matters and their careers as singers and vocalists in both Canada and the United States. The largest collection of letters, numbering 22, are from N.O. Patterson to W.R. Patterson which includes a description of his travels throughout the United States and Canada with both the Famous Canadian Jubilee Singers and his own group, the Patterson’s Jubilee Quartet and Concert Company. Ephemera from the Old Southland Sextette and the Patterson’s Jubilee Singers exist in the collection in the form of two programmes dated from 1907 and [191-]. The collection also contains a small amount of letters to W.R. Patterson from friends, as well as letters to him and his second wife, Mary, from their sons, Robert and Philip, while they are working as porters at the Hotel London in the late 1920s.

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Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

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