James Mink was one of the most successful businessmen in Toronto in the 1840s/1850s. While respected, his story is not well recorded, with much of the available information being speculated.
A Brief History Of James Mink
James Mink was born in 1811 to an enslaved person, known only by Mink. Both his father and mother were owned by Johan Herkimer. Aside from this, little is known about his early years.
As a young man, James owned a hotel on Adelaide St in Toronto. Located close to St Lawrence Market, many farmers would stay at the hotel while in the city selling their goods. It was also used as a voting station in the 1850s.
Along with the hotel, James owned a livery and coach service. It was used by many Torontonians, including the Sherriff.
Starting The First Public Transit System
James’ brother, George Mink, was also a successful millionaire out of Kingston. The brothers are said to have started the first public transit systems in their cities. They would each transport travelers to Brighton where they exchanged passengers and returned home.
James eventually married a white Irish woman named Elizabeth. He met her at a time when priests would arrange marriages of Irish women, who arrived in Canada with no money or family, to men who were making a good living. While it is not confirmed this is how James and Elizabeth met, some suspect that this is the case.
The young married couple went on to have at least one daughter. When she came of age, James took out advertisements offering a large dowry for her hand. It’s believed that a well-off man named William Johnson accepted the dowry before wedding Mary and taking her to the United States for their honeymoon. Here he sold Mary to a Virginia tobacco plantation.
A movie about Mink’s life, called Captive Heart: The James Mink Story, shows James pretending to be enslaved to his wife to rescue his daughter. However, this is not believed to be the true story. Instead, archives suggest that he got the British government to buy her back and bring her home.
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