Disclaimer: It pains me to have to write this blogpost, but it is necessary as I have been stalked by a distant Euro cousin for the past six years. I wrote about her in my blogpost DNA Doesn’t Lie: The Denial of the Pepper in Salted Histories a few years ago. She was the one who asked the state archaeologist,who oversaw the documentary study of the Byram Cemetery and Lyon Cemeteries, if it were at all possible that I could be DNA-related to her. in 2016. I didn’t name her because I was told that she has mental health issues. As someone who suffers from anxiety, depression brought on by being harassed and intentionally disabled by my landlord, and had a mother who was mentally ill, I am sensitive to those who have mental illnesses. As someone who is now physically disabled, I am also keenly aware that mental illness qualifies as a disability. I really feel for this cousin and hope that one day she truly gets the help she clearly needs. Maybe one day in the future we could have a discussion about how our lives intersect at points. However, this blogpost is less about her and more about my struggle to comprehend her obsessive focus on me, my research and artwork. I hope and pray that those closest to her stage an intervention because her actions are a clear and present danger to others and not just me. Please click on all highlighted red hypertext links for full transparency.
The Ugly Side of Doing Research as a Person of Color
I have been stalked by Laureen Taylor —a woman who was previously arrested on a harassment charge in 2014 after stalking someone else for 9 years. The victim of her harassment now has a permanent restraining order against her . She was also terminated from a nursing job because of her abuse of a psychiatric patient in 2006. Everyone has a red line in the sand. Her 1st stalking victim’s red line was when she started reaching out to his wife and young daughter and sending them harassing emails. Well, I’ve reached my own red line six years in now. I can’t imagine another 3 years of her behavior. I will be taking out a personal restraining order against her. Enough is enough! Self-Care for genealogists of color is a must in order to deal with harassment issues like mine as well as historic trauma.
Laureen calls herself “The Ambassador of Byram” and maintains that she is the SOLE owner of the Byram and Lyon Cemeteries which is preposterous since the Town of Greenwich now owns all 3 historic cemeteries and there are hundreds of other lineal Lyon descendants who also have a hereditary claim to these cemeteries. Laureen and her husband have military backgrounds. Given the current political environment, I fear that she is a loose cannon who could possibly attract like-minded individuals who could bring harm to me or desecrate our family’s Colored Cemetery. Her behavior has been escalating ever since she read a newspaper account that there would be a public memorial at The Colored Cemetery in Greenwich, CT —- a historic cemetery that has always been physically separate from the Byram and Lyon Cmeteries. Due to her behavior, the Lyon-Green-Merritts have decided to forgo any public memorial in our Color Cemetery this Spring.
I shouldn’t have to fear for my life, but I do. Though she lives in Kansas, she has already come to Greenwich, CT and tried to crash my talks in the past, contacted institutions where I have given talks to bad mouth me, Zoom-bombed my virtual talks, and has sent 50+ emails to me in the past year despite a Cease and Desist Letter_032217.docxand multiple emails asking her to leave me alone. When I give in-person talks, I now have to have police protection. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to tell people that I have a “cousin stalker,” but I am.
Why ME You May Ask????
I have tried to understand why she is so obsessive compulsive about me. The only reason I can think of based on the ONE time I spoke to her BRIEFLY at the September 22, 2016 Greenwich Town Hall Meeting (see video below where I speak 54 minutes in and Laureen speaks after me). She introduced herself by name when she walked in, but did NOT tell me who she was nor did she approach me after the hearing as practically everyone else had. When I re-watch the video below, I can see how she may have felt slighted. It was clear when she came into the room that she never expected us to be there front row and center — no less. As someone who has deems herself “The Ambassador of Byram,” it must have been very unnerving to see “Colored” people rightfully claiming their own lineal rights to the cemetery of their “Colored” ancestors. That we had another Euro Lyon descendant sitting with us and other Euro Lyon descendants who had written letters of support for us, I believe, made things worse in her mind. She never considered that there were other Lyon descendants who knew the history of slavery personified in the Town of Greenwich and this particular side of Lyon history.
Unlike other people who automatically delete her emails, or ignore her — which I also did for a time and found it to be pointless — I actually read all of them even the ones that come in the middle of the night. I feel pity for her and her writings also bring up memories of the letters my mother used to write to others. Her letters are filled with grievences that have NOTHING to do with me. I am not responsible if people don’t respond to her emails. It’s not my fault that she has a track record with many people and institutions throughout the State of Connecticut, But, as I said, I do read her emails and I see the inner demons she battles that flow through them.
It has also left me to read between the lines to figure out what she is trying to convey. Since October 2016, Laureen seems to be someone who desperately wanted my attention and my acknowledgement that she was also a defender of all three cemeteries. For the record, I have always acknowledged that she told me about and showed me the photos of the desecration that occured at the Byram and Lyon Cemeteries at the hearing. She also wanted me to help her research HER direct ancestors. Had Laureen behaved in a non-stalking manner with me, I would have gladly helped her despite admonishments not to do so. She didn’t though. I am now copied on emails like the one below where she adamantly asks people to publicaly repudiate me.
Or, the email below where she labels me a “social justice actor” who has “smolletesqueways” and that I am now disrespecting and telling new stories over the graves of HER ancestors. Someone clearly needs to take the TV remote from her and change the Fox New Channel. Seriously — as it is detrimental to her mental health.
I have received hundreds of emails over the years from Laureen —emails with other forwarded emails. It’s very chilling to read emails that clearly show, while she denigrates my research, she also tries to mimic what I have been doing for years. So much so that I often wonder if she watched the movie Single White Female and had taken notes. For example, no one discussed NAGPROin regards the Colored Cemetery until I wrote a letter that was published in the Greenwich Free Pressin March of 2018. Since then, Laureen has sent emails to Greenwich Town officials demanding that they tell her about other Native American cemeteries in Greenwich , CT. There are no other cemeteries. She has also sought to establish her own “credentials” as someone who knows a lot about Native American culture because she attended a Zoom call about Native American Boarding Schools and works with Native Americans in the state of Kansas. Meanwhile back at the ranch that extends from NJ, NY over to CT, my ancestors are where they have been for the millennia. This is a historic fact that she continues to deny though we have the DNA and paper trail of Afro-Indigenous descent to prove it.
In addition, the fact that she never refers to our Colored Cemetery says a lot to me. The fact that she has never acknowledged our family’s lineal ties to The Colored Cemetery is also telling. Her ignorance of how the institution of slavery operated and was manifested in our DNA speaks volumes As I see it, her reaction to my research and artwork is nothing but pure, unadulterated racial jealousy. There I said it.
While Native- and African Americans have seen their cemeteries disappeared, destroyed, built over, and desecrated for centuries, Laureen ‘s “white fragility” over our ancestors’ Colored Cemetery proves she can’t handle the simple truth that our ancestors were complicit in the Transatlantic Slave Trade AND fathered childen with enslaved women. The photo below are the BCM & NCM T-shirts I used to sell in my RRBB Shop. I took down my shop 2 years ago, but will be resurrecting them in an different place along with other items, including my artwork. These are the same T-shirts that she is offended by. Needless to say, I will not be silenced by Laureen.
On Critical Race Theory: Whose Canceling Who?
Laureen calls me an “activist” like it’s a slur to me. If telling the stories of my ancestors, whom someone else doesn’t want to hear about, qualifies as being an activist, then I will wear that badge with honor. I will NEVER apologize for finding, writing about, celebrating and honoring my ancestors! It took me way too long to find my people for me to leave them behind ever again. I will keep saying their names until the day I die because that’s what “ancestor activists” like me do. We create an instant bond with our ancestors that unites us down through the generations. There is no separation between those who walk on this land and those who transitioned beyond. As descendant of Afro-Indigenous enslaved, formerly enslaved people and Free people, I will continue to tell the good, bad, and utterly ugly stories that impacted their lives in the socio-historical time period in which they lived.
It seems to me that Laureen currently lives in a bubble of misinformation that is Fox News-generated. From the emails she sends me, that seems to be the only news channel she listens to all the time. Since last December, she has been injecting racialized buzzwords like ‘critical race theory,” “activist,” and others into all of her emails. Since no one takes her seriously, with a few minor exceptions like myself, it appears that she is attempting to rally other people to her “cause.” She has seen that this tactic has worked successfuly in many places like Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, the Virginia Governor’s race, local school board races across this country, and now the SCOTUS confirmation hearing of the very qualified Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson . It’s a rallying call that is as absurb as those who rallied against former NFL football player turned Civil Rights activist Colin Kaepernick for kneeling and expressing his First Amendment Rights as an American citizen.
Laureen wants to, but can’t erase the history inherent in the Transatlantic Slave Trade map below that shows the items that were exchanged for people, the fact that our ancestor James Lyon played an active role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and was an enslaver, or the history of how Ali African (aka “Ally Mink”) was captured in West Africa and brought to Greenwich, CT on James Lyon’s vessel in the mid-1790s. As I have written elsewhere, my own ancestors’ history should not be erased or denied because a descendant of a family who enslaved people wants to close her eyes twinkle her nose, nod her head, and shout “History be gone.” My ancestors’ lives were valid, as were the lives of each and every other Native- and African-descended person who lived in the Hangroot community of Greenwich, CT between the 17th-19th centuries and beyond.
The real problem that this country is facing is the canceling of the truth about this country’s original sins— genocide, dispossession and slavery. The historical narrative that people like Laureen hold dear —- that her Revolutionary War and Loyalist ancestors would never have fathered children with enslaved women or engaged in the Transatlantic Slave Trade is wrong. The Lyon-Greens-Merritts don’t range in skin color from Black to White on their own and neither do most Native- and African-Americans. Once this fact is accepted then maybe, just maybe, a real conversation on “race” can take place. I will never cosign onto a white-washed version of history that denies the existence of my ancestors’ lives. Not today. Not tomororw. Not ever!
Silent No More: Just Sharpening My Oyster Knife
The past four years have been hard for me. In July of 2018, I experienced a massive mice and roach infestation after the installation of a new boiler in my NYC rent-stabilized apartment in 2016. Whoever installed my kitchen cabinets put fake backs that hid large holes in my wall. I immediately experienced pulmonary and neurological issues that have left me disabled. In June of 2019, the management company, in full violation of NY State Pesticide Notification Law , sent an exterminator to my apartment who ignored my admonishment not to spray any chemicals as I had an appointment with a neurologist in a few days. What he didn’t know is that I was born with autoimmune illnesses and suffered from allergies. As a result, I suffered additonal personal injuries that have made it difficult for me to walk, breather, and see at times. That being said, if you see typos on things I write it’s due to these issues.
I am writing this not to solicit any pity. Life happens and I have been adjusting to my “new normal.” Despite everything, Andrea and I have never stopped researching during these pandemic years and I have continued to give Zoom Talks and a few talks in person when I am able. But, I did stop writing blogposts because of the havoc Laureen has caused in my life.
Laureen noticed my disability in her May 28,2021 email below as there was media coverage of The Witness Stones Project Ceremony that honored the enslaved people who labored for generations at the Bush-Holly House in Greenwich, CT. As you can see in her email, she mentions having a disability. Again, I am sensitive towards her condition. But, there is something to be said about how her White privilege blinds her to the fact that I was raised by a single, mentally ill mother who couldn’t care for me and my siblings. Two of us were sent to live with our grandparents and two lived with a foster family for a time. That I have been as successful as I am comes from the foundation that my grandparents gave me at a young age. It was a solid foundation that was further strengthened by my attendance at Messiah Baptist Church — a church that actively embraced libertion theology and had a pastor who was a graduate of Bowdoin College, my alma mater. In the words of Langston Hughes, “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” I wish I had some of that Greenwich hedge fund money that Laureen always refers to or had been raised in a two-parent home like she was.
As Genealogists of Color, the racist behavior of Laureen and Jennifer (see email below) is something many White genealogist, historians, archivists, etc. don’t have to deal with on a regular basis. Laureen didn’t strategically target most of those who were responsible for the events that occurred the day of The Witness Stones Project Ceremony though she copied them on emails that went either to spam or were politely answered because it’s part of someone’s job description. Likewise, these same people don’t have to deal with the very real threat of violence she is directing towards me — a threat some of us know all too well because it was directed at our ancestors time and time again. White privilege comes in many forms. Yes, it does and it needs to be called out by everyone who rejects this type of behavior 100%. When descendants of the enslaved/formerly enslaved and Free People of Color are silenced, while other White genealogists, historians, archivists, etc. are allowed to speak about our very ancestors in public, that’s a problem. Period!
These Hands and My Artwork
During the pandemic, I have been keeping busy doing a lot of things to maintain my sanity in these insane times. For example, I’ve taken online Early American History classes and am now considering pursuing a PhD in History. I’ve also expanded my art skills and have taken up the craft of weaving. Weaving is something my ancestors certainly did. I often wonder what my 4th great-grandmother, Peg Lyon Merritt Green, thought about when my 4th great-grandather, Anthony Green, ran away in 1811 wearing homespun trousers she had woven for him. Did she find her peace among the weft and warp? Did her weaving promote mindfulness to allay the anxiety she must have had and probably passed down to her descendants like me? These are just some of things I have been exploring in my new found craft.
My art may not be for everyone. I make art for me, my people, and those who want to learn and understand the symbolism that inspires my art. What I don’t do is create art that Laureen feels should fit her agenda— whatever that is. If she, or anyone else, doesn’t like my art, they don’t have to look at it. That is their choice. Haters will always hate so I will continue to carry on creating mixed-media artwork that show my ancestors survival and resistance to genocide, slavery, and dispossession like the ones below.
My blogpost is a call to those closest to Laureen to get her the professional help she needs ASAP! She is time-bomb waiting to explode and I may not be her only target. I have emails in my possession where she rants against “The Greenwich Irishmen” which include State Rep. Steven Meekers (D)and Greenwich Police Chief James J. Heaveyand ends with “Laureen m (Tracey) Taylor, daughter of James and Maureen s. tracey will have the last word on all of this.” I also have in my possession emails of Laureen trying to get information on Alex Popp and his daughter after they were featured on the front page of The Greenwich Time newspaper. Furthermore, let us not forget all the virtiol she has directed towards my mentor and friend, Jeffrey Bingham Mead. I will be obtaining a permanent restraining order that will lead to her arrest if she continues to harass me. This blogpost also serves as a public warning that she is a clear and present danger to others….And just like that darkness comes to light.
Please feel free to make this post go viral by sharing it. If any Geneaologist of Color has a similar experience, please share it in the comment section and I will do my best to coordinate a Zoom call where we can discuss these issues further. I also welcome other allies to share this blogpost as well and add their thoughts and feelings on the issues I raised. Thank you.
This blog is written as a supplement to the Agitate! The Legacy of Frederick Douglass and Abolition in Newark celebration taking place at Rutgers University-Newark on April 17, 2019. A special thank you goes to City of Newark Town Historian Junius Williams who several years ago invited me to add our Thompson-King family history to his websitewhich is devoted to African-American political mobilization and activism in Newark and to his Rutgers University -Newark students Peter Blackmer, Noelle Lorraine Williams, and others. Dr. James Amemasor and the staff at the NJ Historical Societydeserve special mention as they have all aided my research for almost a decade now along with my good friend Rich Sears Walling for his endless quest to bring the Van Wickle Illegal Slave Trade to light and seek social justice for the 177 Lost Souls–some of whom were our NJ ancestors. My best friend and purveyor of all the research items I need, Professor Rhonda L. Johnson, Head of Access Services at CUNY- Hostos Community College, my BlackProGen LIVE geneabuddies and fellow Truth Seekers, Muriel “Dee Dee”Roberts, Shannon Christmas, Calvin Schermerhorn, James J. Gigantino II, Joshua Rothman, Graham Russell Hodges, and others who have supported my research over the years.
The greatest thanks go to Chancellor Nancy Cantor, Peter Englot, Sr. VP Chancellor of Public Affairs and Chief of Staff, and Sr. VP Chancellor for External and Government RelationsMarcia Brown and for inviting my extended family to this hisoric event and allowing me to speak as well as Dr. Consuella Askew, Director, John Cotton Dana Library. On behalf of our Thompson-King family, we look forward to working with Rutgers University in the near future.
This blog is dedicated to each and everyone of my extended family members who will join us at this event — in person or in spirit, especially my cousin-homie-sister-genealogy research partner, Andrea Hughes. Our Ancestor Angels will be watching us on this day happily knowing that it is in THEIR NAMES that their history of AGITATION will be remembered by all! I can imagine that they are also happy that we will be honoring a man whom they honored in life and that we are being united with his DESCENDANTS on this day. Indeed, this is a day that the Lord has made and we will be glad and rejoice in it.
On April 17-18, 1849, our Prophet of Freedom, Frederick Douglass, visited our hometown of Newark to speak at the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Church as part of his tour of Northeast African-American churches after the publication of his first book and to drum up support for his newspaper, The North Star. When he arrived, he was introduced by Rev. Samuel Cornish, the pastor of the church at the time, as well as greeted by many of our ancestors among whom were the Thompson, King, O’Fake, Ray, Van Riper, Francis, Lewis, Jackson, Goosebeck, and Van Ness families among so many others.
Our ancestors are descended from the Ramapough Lenape who have lived in C/NY/NJ for the millenia, Emmanuel d’Angola, one of the first “Spanish Negroes,” other enslaved people from all over West Africa, the first enslaved people from Madagascar, and European (Dutch, Scots-Irish, British and French Huguenot) colonizers.
With the exception of our indigenous ancestors, all others arrived in the early 1600s (see Part II: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan & Our Family’s Malagasy Roots). We are especially proud of our African-Native roots because we know that our ancestors survived the triple horrors of genocide, colonization, and slavery so that we could tell their true stories — the good, bad, and ugly. It is their DNA of resistance that was handed down to us and which is embodied in our multi-racial family history working on the Underground Railroad.
The Abolitionist Context: Newark, NJ Pre-1849
Like most colonial families, our ancestors fought on both sides during the War of Independance. The famed Black Loyalist, Colonel Tye, led the Black Brigade in acts of resistence against the Patriots by launching attacks on Long Island, Westchester County, Staten Island and all over East Jersey. At this time, New York City was under British control. Colonel Tye worked directly with General John Graves Simcoe‘s Queen’s Rangers. These revolts occured in the same locations where our ancestors lived and labored for free. On the last ship out of NYC at the end of the Revolutionary War, were 3,000 Black Loyalists. Among them were Mary Thompson and her daughters May and Polly plus two small girls, who may have been daughters of either one, from Newark, Rose Fortune and her family — all ancestors of ours that we know of at this time. That being said, it is also known that the true number of Black Loyalists who left for Canada was undercounted.
Slavery in Newark persisted after the Revolutionary War as you can see by the two newspaper clippings above. Though our ancestors migrated from the Tappan Patent (Bergan County, NJ and Rockland/Orange Counties, NY) up to Ulster County, and then down to Greater Middlesex County prior to the Revolutionary War, they ending up in Newark (Essex County) after the Revolutionary War. Some were emancipated as early as the 1790s, others were enslaved for a term under the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1804, and others remained enslaved for life. The mixed-status households that our ancestors resided in is the reason why they espoused political activism and mobilization. They saw the horrors of slavery up close and personal— from every angle. The fact that only some of them were freed earlier than others meant nothing to them if everyone was not free. They always saw the full humanity of their people. That our African-Native ancestors were disenfranchised, along with women in 1807, only added to their anger. They had lived through the Revolutionary War living and working side by side along well-known American Patriots, such as Abraham Ogden, and David A. Ogden, Caleb Bruen, and had believed in the American Dream from its inception only to have their fundamental right to vote snatched from their hands. They never gave up on the American Dream though.
It must be noted that after the founding of the AME Zion Church in Newark in 1822, there was an exodus of our ancestors and other African-Americans from the First Presbyterian Church who ended up joining the AME Zion Church. Our ancestors only came back to their Presbyterian roots when the Colored Presbyerian Church was founded in 1836. Both of these churches can be considered “Freedom Churches” as the early Newark African-American community was united in their embrace of abolitionism. Both churches engaged in abolitionist activities whereby the early Black community routinely attended events at each church. We seen this in the early Colored School as the school alternated between both churches in its early years. Likewise, we see this in the First of August celebrations held in Lincoln Park where opening and closing prayers were held at both churches and ministers from each church spoke at these celebrations.
Starting in the early 1800s and up until 1900, our abolitionist ancestors knew all the early abolitionists from their participation in both the AME Zion Church that our King Family founded alongside of Rev. Christopher Rush and the Colored Presbyterian Church where our Thompsons were among the founding families. [Later, our ancestors would be among the founding families of St. Phillip’s Church and Bethany Baptist Church in Newark.] Rev. Samuel Cornish, John B. Russwurm, Rev. Theordore Hunt, Rev. E.P. Rogers, Rev. Theordore S. Wright, David Ruggles, Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Rev. James McCune Smith, Rev. Peter Williams and his son Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., Isaac Hopper, Thomas Shipley, Charles L. Reason, Rev. Alexander Crummel, Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward, Gerrit Smith, Lewis and Arthur Tappan, Rev. James C. W. Pennington, Harriet Tubman, Sojouner Truth, Rev. W. T. Catto, James Forten, Robert Purvis, Rev. Simeon Jocelyn, Angelina Grimke Weld and Sarah Grimke, Rev. William O. Jackson, William Lloyd Garrison, Rev. John S. Rock, Rev. Daniel A. Payne, John Brown, William Still, Rev. Daniel Vanderveer, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, William C. Nell, John Teasman, Rev. Bishop James Varick, Rev Jehiel Beman and his son Rev. Amos G. Beman, Martin Delaney, and William Wells Brown are just of the some of the abolitionists my ancestors personally knew.
When Frederick Douglass came to Newark in 1849, Newark was already an epicenter of abolitionism and could hold its own among other Northeast epicenters like New York City and Albany/Troy, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Boston and New Bedford, MA, Providence, RI, and Hartford, CT.
However, some Lyons, who migrated to New Jersey and New York, were Loyalists and ended up in Nova Scotia and Upper Canada West. One of our Lyon cousins, Pamela Lyons Neville, has documentation, both oral and written, that her ancestor, John Lyons, settled in Upper Canada West (Toronto, ON) at the request of the First Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada John Graves Simcoe. His father, Thomas Lyons, fought in the King’s Orange Rangers under Colonel John Bayard. The Canadian Loyalists Lyons, when joined by our Patriot Lyons from CT/NY/NJ, represent the full scope of our multi-racial abolitionist history in the Tri-State (CT/NY/NJ) area.
Writing Our Other UGRR Abolionist Ancestors Back Into the Historic Record
This blogpost is nothing short, as Nicka Smith states, “an act of restorative social justice” for our ancestors. It is our duty as descendants to honor the legacy that out ancestors bequeathed to us. For far too long our ancestral stories have been lost, remained hidden in archives, or have been rendered silent. We owe it to our ancestors to write them back into the historic record without hestitation, for every individual has a life story that is worthy to be told. We can count among our extended Thompson-King line many other abolitionist ancestors like Dr. John V. Degrasse and his brother Rev. Isaiah G. DeGrasse, Thomas Downing and his son George T. Downing who are related to us via our Van Salee/Hedden line. Below, however, are our ancestors who are inextricably tied to the City of Newark through blood and marriage.
Rev. Dr. Charles H. Thompson, (1820-1902)
Rev. Charles H. Thompson was the second Thompson-King family member to take up the cause of voting rights after the death of our Rev. John A. King in 1849. He deserves special mention here because of his life-long commitment to the civil rights and education of our people. Rev. Thompson was born in Little York, PA, near Harrisburg, in 1820. He was the son of John Thompson, a brother of our Thomas Thompson. As a young person, he traveled back and forth from Little York, PA to Newark, NJ and Brooklyn, NY. In 1845, he married Elizabeth Berry of Brooklyn, NY and they had several children.
In the early 1850s, Rev. Charles Thompson became involved with the American Missionary Association (AMA), an abolitionist group led by Rev. Simeon Jocelyn, one of the original lawyers for the Amistad captives who landed in New Haven, CT in 1839. The AMA was founded in 1846 by political abolitionists, Black and White, who were also opposed to colonization and wwere members of Presbyterian or Congregationalist churches. Unlike the Quakers, members of the AMA insisted on full equality between the races in their organization. Some of the Black founding members were Rev. James W. Pennington, Rev. Theodore S. Wright, Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward, and Charles B. Ray. Rev. Samuel Cornish, Rev. Amos N. Freeman, and Rev. Henry Highland Garnet also served as officers in later years.
In the late 1850s, with sponsorship from the AMA and Reverend Jocelyn, Rev. Thompson enrolled in Oberlin College, known for its commitment to abolitionism, in Oberlin, OH. He was among one of the first Black graduates in 1860. According to records in The Black Abolitionist Papers, Rev. Charles H. Thompson maintained a close relationship with Rev. Simeon Jocelyn often writing to him asking for money to help enslaved people as he was also ministering while being a student.
After graduating from Oberlin, Rev. Charles H. Thompson became a minister at Siloam Presbyterian Churchin Brooklyn, NY. It is not surprising that he ended up in Brooklyn as his wife’s family was from Brooklyn. Charles served three years as the reverend of this church. He later ministered at Shiloh Presbyterian Church in New York City.
In 1861, Rev. Charles H. Thompson became the minister of the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Church. There can be no doubt that he became the minister of this church because of his family’s known ties to the church and also because of his political activism. While a minister at this church, he took up the cause of voting rights prior to the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 and actively challenged the NJ State Legislature to restore the voting rights of people of color. According to an article titled “Have Negroes the Right to Vote in New Jersey” in the Camden Democrat newspaper written on October, 27, 1866, it mentions that Rev. Charles H. Thompson was one of three plaintiffs who filed both a State Supreme Court and a Circuit Court of the United States lawsuit that challenged the disenfranchisement of people of color. On October 25th, 1870, the Centinel of Freedom mentioned how Rev. Charles H. Thompson addressed a meeting of a colored Republican group and admonished Black voters to vote Republican. As we know, the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln at that time. Earlier that year, he spoke at the “Negro Jubilee,” an event organized by a lot of our ancestors and other Newark abolitionists, held in Lincoln Park on April 20th, 1870 where Black Newark celebrated their right to vote. The 15th Amendment was finally ratified in New Jersey on February 21, 1871.
Rev. Charles H. Thompson stayed at the Plane St. Colored Presbyterian Church for 11 years. After earning a D.D degree from Avery College in Harrisburg, PA in 1870, he became an educator, as well as a minister, with the AMA. The AMA played a major role in educating newly freed Blacks in the post-Civil War era. It was instrumental in founding Howard University, Berea College, Hampton Institute, Atlanta University, Fisk University, Straight University (now Dillard), Tougaloo College, Talladega College, LeMoyne (now LeMoyne-Owen) College as well as other historically black universities and colleges. Rev. Charles H. Thompson left the church and became a professor at Straight University (now Dillard University) as well as a minister at St. Philips Church in New Orleans. After his stint at Straight University, he moved on to teaching at Alcorn State University and ministered at St. Mary’s Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He later served at St. Matthews in Detroit, MI, St. Mary’s in Augusta, GA, and St. Andrew’s Missions in both Lexington, KY and Cincinnati, OH. He passed away in Cincinnati in 1902 and is buried in “the Colored American Cemetery near Madisonville,” according to the Diocese of Lexington, KY.
Hawley Green (1810-1880) and his wife Harriet Peterson Green (1816-1886)
When my 2nd great-grandparents married, their union represented the merger of two early abolitionist families, The Thompsons of Newark, NJ with the Greens of Greenwich (Byram/Glenville), CT and Peekskill, NY). Hawley Green was a cousin of my 2nd great-grandfather George E. Green. Hawley and his wife Harriet owned an Underground Railroad House located at 1112 Main Street in Peekskill, NY. He bought this house from James Brown, a well-known Quaker anti-slavery proponent, for 9 years before selling the home in 1839 to William Sands, another Quaker. Hawley Green and his wife went on to own several other properties in Peekskill. In addition, Hawley Green was one of Peekskill’s best known barbers —an occupation that enabled him to surreptitiously gather intelligence related to “fugitives.”
Hawley Green was a well-known UGRR stationmaster, like our Jacob D. King, who was a member of the AME Zion Church in Peekskill. It was said that, if a self-emancipating man made it to Hawley’s House, the next stop was Canada. Peekskill, NY was right on the Hudson River and transporting enslaved people would have been easy because of his UGRR home’s location. As a member of the AME Zion Church, he also helped form a Colored School located there, along with J. W. Purdy. The AME Zion church also routinely hosted agents from Black Abolitionists newspapers like the Colored American and The Emancipator. David Ruggles, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Tubman certainly knew Hawley and Harriet Green as did all major abolitionists of the day. Gerrit Smith, the wealthy abolitionist gave Hawley a land grant in the amount of 160 acres in Upstate New York which was 4 times the land given to other African-American abolitionists so that they could vote as land owners. Other Peekskill abolitionists such as Hawley’s brother, Goodman Green, son-in-law George Butler, Riley Peterson, Abraham Ray, Henry Jackson, and Moses Stedell also received 40 acre land grants from Smith.
Other notable descedants on Hawley and Harriet Green’s line include the Deyo and Bolin families from Ulster County and Poughkeepsie, NY.
Rev. John Wesley Dungey (1783-1866)
Rev. John Dungey is the father of my 3rd great grandfather Cato Thompson’s 2nd wife, Rosetta Dungey whom he married after my 3rd great-grandmother, Susan Pickett Thompson, died in the late 1850s. Cato met Rosetta through his sister Catherine Thompson who married, Mattias (Thomas) Hedden, Rosetta’s uncle. Rosetta’s mother was Sarah Heady. The Heddens/Headys are Westchester County’s oldest Free Black family. Thomas Hadden (1694-1761) of Scarsdale, NY had a long-term relationship with Rose (1727-1777), his slave. When he died in 1761, in his 5 page will, he freed Rose and their 7 children, gave Rose a house to live on the same property as his white wife and children, provided for his “mulatto” children’s education, and left them an inheritance. Both Sarah and Mattias were the children of his son, Lazaraus Heady, Sr. (1751-1850). It should be noted that the Heady family is also linked to both our Green and Lyon families of Byram (also at times known as East Port Chester and Rye. NY), Greenwich, CT.
Rev. John Dungey was born in Richmond, VA in 1783. He was born to an enslaved mother, Isabel Dungey, and her slave owner with the surname Overton. His father was said to have descended from an English nobleman. When his father’s family moved to Kentucky, they wanted John to come with him. He refused to go as he was married to an enslaved woman at the time. He stayed in Virginia and learned the shoemaking trade and ultimately obtained his freedom.
His first wife died shortly after their son was born. Because his wife was enslaved, his son was also a slave. When she died, he offered to buy his son for $250 from the woman who owned him, but she refused his offer. It was then that he left Virginia and landed in New York City.
He married his 2nd wife, Sarah Heady, after arriving there and she bore him 5 children. However, we only know about two of them. By that time, he already had a large wholesale and retail shoe store at 24 Chatham Street and employed around 20 white men. His shoe store was right next to the New York Free School (which was different from the African Free School). Rev. James Varick, one of the founders of the AME Zion Church and it’s first Bishop, used to be a shoemaker and the two men probably first met to discuss his business as well as community issues. By 1812, Rev. John Dungey became a minister in the AME Zion Church. When Sarah died of an illness, he was left with 5 young children and his business suffered a downturn that left his family impoverished. It was then that he took stepped out on his faith and became a full-time minister.
Rev. John Dungey established AME Zion churches in Flushing and Ossining, NY, New Haven, CT and finally the last one in Troy, NY. He was a minister for over 50 years in the AME Zion Church. He attented Colored conventions, spoke at numerous abolitionist events, and aided those who sought freedom in the North.
Rev. George Weir, Sr. (circa 1800- 1862) and Rev. George Weir, Jr. (1822-1882)
Rev. George Weir, Sr. was married to Rev. John Dungey’s daughter Nancy Dungey. Both he and his son, from his first wife, Rev. George Weir, Jr., were UGRR stationmasters in Buffalo, NY, Rochester, NY and Upper Canada West. Rev. George Weir, Sr. was the first permanent pastor of the Vine Street AME Church (which was later named the Bethel AME Church). He served as pastor from 1838-1847). The Vine Street AME Church was very active in the Abolitionist Movement from its inception and was known as a “Buffalo Station.” Among the abolitionists known to have ties to this church were Abner Francis, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, William Wells Brown, Lewis Baker, Henry Moxley, George DeBaptiste, Thomas Hamilton, and James Whitfield among many others. Buffalo, NY was the station on the other side of Niagara Falls from the final destination of self-emancipating people fleeing slavery. Both Rev. Weirs represent our family’s UGRR ties to Upper Canada West, especially St. Catherines Parish. Hand in hand, working with both Black and White abolitionists, they ferried people across Lake Erie starting in the late 1830s and escalating after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.
Rev. Weir, Sr. was a member of the National Negro Convention Movement, Buffalo Anti-Slavery Society, Temperance Movement, and routinely gave anti-slavery lectures across the North. He regulary traveled to Newark and New York City and was routinely feature in the Colored American and the North Star. Likewise, Rev. George Weir, Jr. owned a grocery store and was one of Buffalo’s weathiest Black residents and his home was also a known UGGR depot. He was a regular contributer to Frederick Douglass, North Star. Our Newark ancestors also made visits to Buffalo, Rochester, and Upper Canada West no doubt to visit family, friends, and engage in abolitionist activities.
Six Degrees of Separation: Frederick Douglass and Our Ancestors
Frederick Douglass had a 50-year intergenerational relationship with our ancestors that also included some of his family members. At times, it seems like there is six degrees of separation between the descendants of Frederick Douglass and our Thompson-King Family.
His son, Frederick Douglass, Jr. was married to our cousin Muriel “Dee Dee” Robert’s 3rd great-grandmother’s niece, Virginia L. Molyneaux Hewlett. On Dee Dee’s line, her ancestors were both Black Loyalists and Patriots. Her Thompson line is connected to Jeremiah Lott, an original settler of Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY.
Pvts. George Butler, son-in-law of Hawley Green, and his brother Albert, were members of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment along with Peter Vogelsang and Dr. John Van Surley DeGrasse, two of our other ancestors who are on our Van Salee-Hedden line that goes back to New Amsterdam. Frederick Douglass’ two sons, Sergeant Major Lewis Henry Douglass and First Sergeant Charles Redmond Douglass, also served in the 54th Regiment. All five were our “Glory” ancestors, the epitome of Patriots!
Finally, our own ancestor, Wallace King, son of William King and Phyllis Goosbeck (Thompson), was an abolitionist, Prince Hall Mason, and one of the most famous internationally known Black opera singers and minstrels in the post-Civil War era. Of him, Frederick Douglass commented that he was “among his most gifted proteges.”
On Honoring Our Ancestors and Newark History
For 10 long and illuminating years, my cousin Andrea and I have been researching our “Radiant Roots.” This precious time has been filled with joy, anger, tears, grief, and laughter. As we near the completion of our research, we have decided to further listen to the voices and messages of our ancestors and publish a book on our extensive family history. In this way, we will place them back into the historical record. This blogpost is just an inkling of what we have uncovered…
This blog is dedicated to our cousins Helen Hamilton, Keith Lyon, and Raymond Armour who were on this jouney with us from the start and whom all joined our pantheon of ancestros within the past 8 months. They are now our newly-appointed Ancestor Angels and biggest cheerleaders. We will keep saying their names so that they will always be remembered.
On behalf of the extended Lyon-Green-Merritt family, we would like to thank the Town of Greenwich Board of Selectmen, State Representative Michael Bocchino, the Conservation Commission, Nancy Dickinson, Christopher Shields, and the rest of the Cemetery Committee of the Town of Greenwich, The Office of the Town Clerk, the Greenwich Preservation Trust, CeCe Saunders, Brian Jones, and the staff of Historical Perspectives, Inc., the Greenwich Historical Society, and the Rye Historical Society for their help over the past four years. A special thank you goes to Josephine Conboy and the Greenwich Preservation Trust who worked hand in hand with State Rep. Michael Bocchino to advocate for a new CT cemetery law that will protect other ancient burial grounds from the descecration our family experienced. Another thank you goes to Jeffrey Bingham Mead who challenged me years ago to research and preserve not only the history of Greenwich, but also to write about a history he knew was important for people to read. Finally, I owe a big thank you, to Eric Fowler, Anne Young, and the Law Department of the Town of Greenwich for dealing with me directly these last two years as it was not an easy thing to do and I admit it.
When the Battle Is Over, I’m going to SING and SHOUT!: We Claim Victory!
They got to keep their driveway. It was never about their driveway or their property for us! NEVER!
We GOT EVERYTHING WE WANTED!!!!
It was all about preserving OUR cemeteries, especially the “Colored Cemetery” section of Byram Cemetery, and making sure all our ancestors would be remembered and properly memorialized. It was about making sure that our ancestors in the “Colored Cemetery” would be able to rest in peace, alongside their kin, after having their section of Byram Cemetery made into someone’s front lawn. It was about making sure our Lyon ancestors’ original intention for the “Colored Cemetery” to exist where it always has been was RESPECTED and given the historic, accurate name it always had. It was about making sure OUR LINEAL RIGHTS as descendants were finally acknowledged. Most importantly, it was about paying tribute to the Native-African presence that has always been in Greenwich and which has always been reflected in the Lyon-Green-Merritts of Color who have the DNA, oral, and written history to back up their Native-African heritage — no one ever had the right to tell us what we always have been. Finally, it was about paying tribute to the history of slavery that was personified in the North which led to our ancestors working together on the Underground Railroad and engaging in the social justice/resistance acts of abolition.
After almost a year of being on the Cemetery battlefield, on August 6th, my 5 cousins and I learned that the judge DENIED The Stewarts their 2nd Motion to Strike us from The Jeffrey M. Stewart et. al. v. The Town of Greenwich et. al. lawsuit. We had been waiting for the day for a judge to read all our documented evidence. Then, on Wednesday, August 8th, we were asked to send a letter indicating our support for the Town of Greenwich’s Stipulation of Settlement as the Now Named 6 defendants. The next day, on August 9th, the Town of Greenwich Board of Selectmen approved the Stipulation of Settlement at 10.42 am. I was at the funeral of my Uncle/Cousin Raymond Armour where I had the honor of announcing the Settlement to my family and to him directly. It will now be sent to the judge. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of this case.
The “Colored Cemetery” is where our Native-African ancestors were buried. Make no mistake, our ancestors ARE BURIED there and have been for centuries. The Stewarts’ constant and continued denial of our ancestors physical presence in the “Colored Cemetery,” speaks volumes about THEM more than it does our ancestors. In my blogposts on my Green-Merritt ancestors and on the now resurrected, hidden historic community of Hangroot, I documented our ancestors lives in Greenwich, CT and noted how they were the ONLY family of Native-African descent to live next to their former slave owners and slave owner descendants for over a century. In fact, they made up the majority of People of Color in Greenwich in the mid-1800s. DNA also links us to the Lyon, Merritt, and Green families. But, The Stewarts want others to believe that not one of our ancestors were ever buried there??? Please…
In my many blogposts on the “Byram African-American Cemetery,” I documented how our extended family felt upon learning about the desecration of our “Colored Cemetery.” We have been waiting for justice to be served for four years. We always KNEW The Stewarts didn’t have a case. I mean how do you abide by a Cease and Desist Order in 2014 after you desecrate the “Colored Cemetery,” then invite the descendants of people buried there into your home to discuss putting a plaque on tree in honor of the “Colored Cemetery,” and then wait over a year to file a lawsuit that denies the existence of the same cemetery? We won’t even discuss my epic 277-page response, three 1890 contemporary newspaper articles mentioning the first desecration of the “Colored Cemetery,” the 1901 dated, time-stamped, and accepted copy by the Town of Greenwich Clerk map, Historical Perspectives, Inc.’s documentary study, or all the letters written by my cousins which were submitted to the court as proof. If you are interested, you can read all the evidence here (Docket#: FST-CV-17-6033549-S).
The Privileged Don’t Pay the Price, But Others Have to…
A lawyer friend asked me recently how I felt about the process that led to the settlement and what were the things that troubled or concerned me about the settlement? I told him that I did what I had to do to protect the rights of my ancestors to rest in peace and not be erased from history. That being said, while I am happy about the outcome, I do feel that the Stewarts and the Town are now able to just walk away and both entities act like everything was done for “due diligence” and can say “let bygones be bygones.” They can easily both “go home with footballs,” as Attorney Marcus stated in the Greenwich Time newspaper on 8/11/18. Obviously, they never considered the racial and class dynamics that were being perpetuated in prime time that were no different from what my ancestors experienced. They had the power once again to deny us everything and that was not lost on us —not for one second, one minute, one hour, one day, one year nor for centuries.
Meanwhile, I am battle-worn, battle-scared, and suffering from PSTD feeling like I was forced against my will to run thousands of miles to the top of a mountain and now some people feel that I should run down the other side of the mountain immediately when I am physically and mentally exhausted. No, that is not going to happen. I need time to deal with the past two years and especially the past 8 months. I don’t have the luxury to just walk away now, as others apparently do, because my ancestors CHOSE ME to be their unified voice to articulate their pain, loud and clear, with my head held high…just like they showed us all when they walked towards freedom. It was a burden I willingly carried and I did it to protect my ancestor’s burial site and elucidate their RADIANT lived history that should NEVER be erased. I need time to breathe clean air again and re-charge my batteries. I would like to think that I’m like Timex and can take a lickin and keep on tickin,” but I’m not. Vegatron does have her limits. Don’t worry. I will be just fine in the end. His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.
Both The Stewarts and The Town’s Law Department put my family under tremendous, unnecessary stress. The Stewarts knew it was a cemetery from the beginning. The Town did not follow proper procedures in acquiring abandoned cemeteries. Both entities threw The Stewarts’ wealth in our faces like hot bricks just out the fire. The “no disparagement clause” in the settlement is for their mutual benefit. At no point, have they even offered an apology to my family —not privately, not publicly. Though that is something I know they would never do and I am not holding my breath for, it’s those little things that sometimes matter most.
My family and I worked out our issues with The Town in early April and this has allowed us to move forward. From the beginning until present, The Town said, and now will do, what they said they would do when they actually acquired the abandoned cemeteries. Our family will be active partners with the Town going forward to create a historic “Colored Cemetery”. However, The Stewarts are another matter. As of today, there will be NO Kumbaya moment. I want nothing to do with people who have no integrity and show no respect for the sacred resting spaces of others.
There are NO Statutes of Limitation on Historic Trauma/Historic Erasure
Desecrating an ancestral burial ground for greed is traumatic. Arguing that we must excavate our ancestors to satisfy that greed and morbid curiosity is traumatic. Denying that our ancestors ever existed and trying to erase their physical presence in this world is traumatic. It is traumatic because you KNOW that slavery was never designed for Native-and African-American family reunification. It was designed to sever the ties that bind. And then, here we were in 2016 and just as we located our oldest ancestors, we found out that the couple, who made our ancient burial ground into their front lawn, tried to use us against The Town. You realize that had you not had Guardian Angels in Greenwich who immedately notified you of The Town’s actions, they would have gone with the photos you sent them, selfies included, with the letter you unknowingly wrote in their favor to the Town of Greenwich meeting on 9/22/2016 and act like they had secured the approval of the descedants of the enslaved/formerly enslaved buried there. Duplicity in action!
I strongly feel that The Stewarts need to be held accountable for their actions that led them to desecrate our burial ground. Two years ago, I wrote that no one should expect us to be neutral on this matter and we meant it. Since Section 34 was part of their lawsuit— though the “Colored Cemetery” has been in existence for centuries as part of Byram Cemetery — and is now forever etched in our collective memory, we will continue to tell the truth that their lawsuit was an obvious land grab to increase the value of their waterfront property. It was also a racist lawsuit since they could have argued their case without mentioning race in the first place. They are the ones who DECIDED to go there and WENT there! We are the ones who always told the truth.
August 28, 2016 Is The Day Our Ancestors Decided This Very Outcome
The Stewarts made several wrong assumptions back in 2016. 1) That we would not know anyone in Greenwich because we didn’t live there. 2) That we weren’t educated and couldn’t detect the gaping holes in their story on Day1; 3) That we would never be united with our Lyon cousins. Our ancestors, on both sides of the color line, decided that would not be the case. They chose me on that day to repeatedly ask the all important question which was “If no one owns the land as you indicated by doing a deed history search, then why are you following a Cease and Desist letter?” Our ancestors chose my cousins Pat and Eddie to bare witness on that particular day, too.
I believe in many things. I believe that that my God is an awesome God who loves everyone unconditionaly. I believe that in my Father’s house there are many mansions. I believe that my ancestors are with me wherever I go. I believe that death is but a necessary happenstance. I believe that there is no shelf-life in the Hereafter and that, as descedants of originally enslaved people, family reunification happens automatically upon transitioning — even if it never happened during our years on Earth. I believe in the power of God to direct my path. Like Assata Shakur, ”I believe in living, I believe in birth, I believe in the sweat of love and in the fire of truth and I believe that a lost ship, steered by tired, sea sick sailors, can still be guided home to port.” On August 28, 2016, I KNOW my ancestors guided me to THEIR ancient burial ground here on Earth to help guarantee that our side of the family would be represented at the September 22,2016 meeting alongside our Lyon kin. A family UNITED will never be DEFEATED. My cousins and I will continue to make them proud.
My Research Is My Therapy: Next Up On the Agenda
I will be contiinuing my research to get state and federal recognition for the Green-Twachtman House — the house my 3rd great-grandfather built in 1845 at 30 Round Hill Road (Hangroot) —as a confirmed UGRR site. My 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Johnson, was a self-emancipated woman who arrived in Greenwich, CT in the mid-1820s from Virginia.
In Closing…His Eye Is On the Sparrow and I KNOW he watches ME
Let it be forever known that I am the daughter of Joyce Greene Vega, the granddaughter of Richard W. Greene, Jr., the great-granddaughter of Richard W. Green, Sr., the great-great granddaughter of George E. Green, the great-great-great granddaughter of Allen and Mary Green, and the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Anthony and Peg Green.
I’m going to leave this Walter Hawkins video right here so I can go back to singing amd shouting! We got the VICTORY!
This blogpost is dedicated to both my Lyon-Green-Merritt African-American ancestors who left the Byram and Sherwood’s Bridge (Glenville) sections of Greenwich to settle the neighborhood of Hangroot. It is also dedicated to all those African-Americans who made Hangroot their home for 100 years. I pray that this blogpost leads their descendants to discover their proud Black Greenwich roots. Lastly, I dedicate this blog to all my extended Lyon-Green-Merritt family who are following me on my journey to uncover the truth about all of our Greenwich family history.
I would like to thank the following people:
The following Greenwich historians and archivists who have helped me locate documents relevant to Hangroot. All of them have been more than generous with their time and no doubt share the same passion for Greenwich history as me: Anne Young, Christopher Shields, Nola Taylor, and Carl White.
Jeffrey Bingham Mead, as always, has been a great resource for me. I am grateful for his pioneer research on African-Americans in Greenwich, CT. I hope that I am telling the true stories he wanted to finally read about over the years.
I am particulary indebted to my 5th 2XR cousin and fellow family historian, Dennis Richmond, Jr. He gifted me with a photograph that shows Hangroot through the eyes of our ancestors. The photo below, which features, John Sherman Merritt, Dennis’s 2nd great-grandfather and my 3rd cousin 2XR as a young boy, is the visual sum of all our combined family history research on Hangroot. Much love and respect to him. I am looking forward to writing a blogpost where we discuss our five year relationship that ultimately brought us together today. I know, without a doubt, that our ancestors are now finally smiling down on us knowing that there is power in numbers. I can’t wait to read the stories he will be writing soon.
Finally a message to Cheryl Henson, Heather Henson and John Nelson: Going forth, I hope the image below contributes to the joy that you’ve always felt in the house that Allen Green built. How awesome it would be if my research on Hangroot leads to state and federal recognition of 30 Round Hill Road as an Underground Railroad site. I pray this will be true one day.
Defining Hangroot: A Colored Settlement
Hangroot is a geographically defined area in Greenwich, CT where formerly enslaved African-Americans sought to build a community of their own in the early 1800s.
The above 1887 Driving Road Chart indicates a “Colored Settlement” that shows the area that came to be known as the Hangroot of our ancestors. Hangroot, as a neighborhood, can be traced back to 1730 when the Town of Greenwich approved a bridge to be built over Horseneck Brook near Round Hill Road and, in 1757, when the Town also approved a sawmill to be built there as well (Mead:1857:122). As an FYI, the name “Hangroot” has been attributed to the fact that the homes there had root cellars where fruit/vegetables where hung from the ceilings to prevent rodents from reaching them. Well-off farmers, like the Husteds, were also known to have stocked their root cellars so that poorer farmers in the area could help themselves to produce in times of need. That being said, Hangroot was always connected to the area we still associate with being Hangroot today (i.e., the intersection of Round Hill Rd. and Horseneck Brook) but this area expanded over time to include the area we see in the 1887 map. There have been accounts that there were several Black rural settlements. I believe this is incorrect and that there was only one which is represented as this larger “Colored Settlement” area. Our Hangroot ancestors lived within all areas of the “Colored Settlement.”
Since no one has defined the actual boundaries of Hangroot previously, for the purpose of this blogpost, I am defining the boundaries of Hangroot as follows: the Eastern boundary is defined as being near Lake Avenue, the Western boundary near Pecksland Rd., the Northern boundary near Clapboard Ridge Rd., and the Southern boundary just north of Glenville Rd. These boundaries changed over time with the ebb and flow of the African-American population. By the late 1870s, Hangroot becomes restricted to the area around Round Hill Road and Horseneck Brook once again. It is important to note that Hangroot was never an all-Black area, but an area that had a higher concentration of African-Americans than other sections of Greenwich, CT. As someone who is also of Native American ancestry, I note that Hangroot was home to Native-Americans as well. That is a clear reminder that Native Americans were Connecticut’s first slaves. That fact must never be forgotten.
19th Century Residents of Hangroot: A Free Black Community For The Formerly Enslaved (1800-1900)
As a 7th+ generation descendant of pioneer African-Americans who settled Hangroot and gave rise to this community, I feel an urgent need to write this forgotten community back into existence. Many people are unaware of the early presence of African-Americans in the Town of Greenwich. My blog posts on TheByram African-American Cemetery detail the history of African-Americans in Greenwich going back to the 18th century. Though official records regarding African-Americans are not available for Greenwich because of slavery, it can be assumed that there were African-Americans in Greenwich going back to the 17th century as the earliest African slaves in Connecticut arrived at the same time as colonial white settlers. Our Black Greenwich ancestors were from Byram and Sherwood’s Bridge (Glenville) sections of Greenwich and they left those neighborhoods to make Hangroot their home for a little over 100 years.
I often ask myself the following questions: If a community isn’t documented, did it actually exist? Who gets to define a community and from what/whose perspective? In doing genealogy research, does one have an obligation to correct historical ommissions and the historical record itself, on behalf of their ancestors, when given the benefit of historical hindsight? Such questions motivate me to continue to always dig deeper and to provide a different view of Greenwich history that is an unapolegetically African-American one. It is the view of people who lived on the margins of recorded history whose lives were not remembered as they should have been. The more I learn, the more I want to make visible this Black Greenwich history. This blogpost is my attempt at defining the Hangroot community and a start at reclaiming it’s past. It is by no means perfect, but it is the foundation on which I will write future blogposts and a book. It is nothing less than a work in progess that focuses on an intrinsic part of 19th century Greenwich history that is Black Greenwich history.
The methodolgy I used to compile this list is based on 100 years of census records indicating the presence of African-Americans in the area known as Hangroot within the geographical boundaries specified above. I also cross-checked some of these names with emancipation records found in Jeffrey Bingham Mead’s book, Chains Unbound: Slave Emancipation in the Town of Greenwich, CT. Articles in various newspaper archives were also reviewed. Finally, I was able to secure documents regarding Hangroot from both the Greenwich Historical Society and the Greenwich Library.
Below are the names of African-Americans who owned homes in Hangroot from 1800-1900. I have also listed the approximate population of African-Americans who lived in Hangroot as this number also includes African-Americans who were living in white households at times as slaves and/or servants and farmhands/laborers.
NOTE: When I refer to “Black Greenwich,” I am specifically referring to only those African-American residents below who have the surnames listed and their descendants. They are people who either were born in Greenwich, CT or resided there before the Civil War. These African-Americans constitute the founding African-American population of Greenwich, CT.
Possible 1800-1809 Residents: Isaac Negro* (Carpenter), Ned Negro, Jeffrey Negro ** (Felmetta) York Negro (Mead), and Anthony Negro (Green)
*All African-Americans recorded in the first three census records for Greenwich, CT were given the surname “Negro.” I added the correct surnames of these individuals in parentheses when possible so that their descedants may one day be able to locate them. They are “Negro” no more.
** The surname Felmetta seems to be unique to Greenwich, CT. No connection to a white Felmetta has been uncovered yet. There is the possiblity that this surname was chosen by Jeffrey Felmetta himself. It was not unusual for former slaves to take on a surname of their own choosing as an act of self-determination. This name has many spelling variations and include Filmetta, Fellmote, Felmette, Felemetta, Fillmeter, Fillimetta, Felmestra, Felmetty, and others. I used the spelling Felmetta throughout this blogpost for consistency.
***Update: My cousin Dennis Richmond, Jr. on 8/19/17, found a 1947 obituary for Sarah Banks Green that indicated that the Felmettas were part Native American. Sarah’s father was William Banks, who is listed in the 1860 Greenwich census, and he was a Mohawk Indian. Her mother was Loretta Felmetta amd she was said to be part Native American (Mohawk)
In the 1800 census, 84 free African-Americans were recorded as living in Greenwich along with 39 enslaved people. The only free Black property owners listed were an Isaac Negro (Carpenter), Ned Negro and York (Mead). However, Jeffrey Negro (Felmetta) is not listed in the 1800 census, but we know via property records that he owned property as early as 1784 and he is listed in the 1790 census as being a free Black along with 8 other free Black heads of households. My 4th great-grandfather Anthony Negro (Green) and his wife Peg, who was freed in 1800, moved to Hangroot sometime before 1810.
Population: Approx 80 individuals
1810 Residents: Isaac Negro (Carpenter), Henry Negro (Seymour), Horace Negro (Watson), Jeffrey Negro (Felmetta), George Negro (Moore), Ned Negro, Obid Negro (Davenport), Anthony Negro (Green), Cull Negro (Bush), and Frank Negro (Husted).
Population: Approx. 126 individuals
1820 Residents: Harry Brown, John Indian*, Anthony Green, Isaac Carpenter, Jeremiah Mitchell, Frank Husted, Charles Negro (Merritt), Cuff Brown, Jeffrey Felmetta, Henry Seymour, Henry Santes, Allah African**, York Mead, Aaron Felmetta, Sarah More, Catherine Felmetta, and John Ellis.
*A Hardy Indian, who may be a possible descendant of the John Indian, is recorded on the 1850 census as being “mulatto” and working as a farmhand. It is important to note that the category “mulatto” actually erases Native-Americans in the historical record by conflating them with other people of color. We also see the surname “Indian” being given to people of Native American descent. Hardy Indian is considered to be one of the last Native Americans in Greenwich and is buried west of Round Hill Road in an unmarked grave.
**Allah African is the only African-American whom I found whose place of birth is listed as “Africa.” Given his first name, it can be assumed that he was born a Muslim somewhere in Africa. He was also the wealthiest African-American in Greenwich during the 1800s.
Population: Approx. 147 individuals
1830 Residents:Anthony Green, Sr., Anthony Green, Jr., Henry Green, Charles Merritt, James Mills, Sarah More, Ichabod Purdy*, John Ellis, Jeffrey Felmetta, Sam Carpenter, Robert Treadwell, Morris Mead, George Peck, Jacob L. Anderson, Henry Seymour, John Indian, York Mead, Wdw. Rose Felmetta, Thomas Carpenter, George Barker, Harry Bounds, Allah African, and Edmund Thompson.
*When Ichabad Purdy died in 1878 in Hangroot, at the age of 96 years and 8 months, he was considered to be one of the oldest residents. In various census records, his surname is listed as being Lars, St. Lair, Lair, and Lan for reasons unknown. The variations in these spellings may be a result of a mistake on the part of the census taker.
Population: Approx. 174 individuals
1840 Residents: Allen Green, Solomon Green, Henry Green, Charles Merritt, Isaac Carpenter, Floyd Mills, Henry Merritt*, Robert Merritt*, George Watson, Horace Watson, Henry Felmetta, Allah African, Henry Belcher, Joseph Brown, Horace Mead, James Felmetta, Emmeline Brown, Ichabod Purdy, John Lyon, Edmund Thompson, Charles Porter, and Joseph Davenport.
*Please note that Robert and his son Henry Merritt are not related to our Merritt line. They are the descendants of Whitman Merritt who was born around 1720. Whitman’s son Robert Merritt was born in 1737. This is the oldest African-American Merritt line from Greenwich that we know of at this time.
Population: Approx.182 individuals
1850 Residents: Allen Green, Solomon Green, Henry Green, Charles Merritt, Anthony Green, Henry Belcher, Ichabod Purdy, Edmund Thompson, Floyd Mills, Charles Brown, Isaac Merritt, Henry Felmetta, Horace Watson, George Watson, William Peterson, Henry Merritt, Allah African, Robert Merritt, and George Peck.
Population: Aprox. 113 individuals
1860 Residents: Allen Green, Solomon Green, Henry Green, Charles Merritt, Henry Brown, William Purdy, Ichabod Purdy, James Purdy, Joseph Carpenter, Charles Brown, Abraham Merritt, Samuel H. Merritt, Allah African, Henry Merritt, Robert Merritt, Caleb Webb, Delilah Bush, Theodore Anderson, William Peterson, Grace Belcher, Polly Merritt, George Felmetta, Charles Meyers, Robert Felmetta, Susan Green, Henry Felmetta, William Banks (Native American), William Mead, and Amos Carpenter.
Population: Approx. 134 individuals
1870 Residents: Allen Green, Samuel H. Merritt, Tempy Green, Theodore Mills, William Carpenter, Charles Brown, William Belcher, William Purdy, William Brown, William Peterson, Solomon Green, Samuel Merritt, Henry Husted, Abraham Merritt, Samuel Green, Isaac Merritt, Henry Merritt, Horace Treadwell, Charles Meyer, George Peck, Allah African, Henry Felmetta, Robert Anderson, Charles Banks, and Robert Peterson.
Population: Approx. 125 individuals
1880 Residents:Solomon Green, Henry Felmetta, Joseph Purdy, Maria Purdy, Joseph Carpenter, Charles Banks, Samuel H. Merritt, Theordore Mills, Charles Green, Isaac Merritt, Thomas Green, Harry Merritt, William Peterson, Joseph Purdy. Charles Merritt, and Robert Peterson.
Population: Approx. 53 indivduals
1900 Residents: Thomas Green, Joseph Merritt, James Banks, Samuel H. Merritt, Edward Merritt, Willis Merritt, Victoria Peterson, Charles Merritt, Alonzo Merritt, Adeline Merritt, Cornelius Purdy, Aaron Felmetta, and Maria Merritt.
Population: Approx. 58 individuals
Our Lyon-Green-Merritt Hangroot Connection
My 4th great-grandfather, Anthony Green, Sr., only 4 years after he was legally emancipated by the widow of Captain John Green, was included in an 1820 $5,000 land deal that was signed on April 17,1820. He went in as an equal partner along with Thomas Green (the nephew/son-in-law of John Green, Anthony’s former slave owner), Samuel Lyon (a Lyon relative of Anthony’s wife Peg who was emancipated by Benjamin Woolsey Lyon, her uncle), Zophar Mead, Isaac Mead, Jabez Mead, William Robbins, Carr Robbins, Samuel Pine, and Elisha Belcher. All of these men were neighbors either in Sherwood’s Bridge (Glenville) or in Rye, NY. This land deal included several pieces of land which included Anthony’s land in Hangroot near Round Hill Rd. and Horseneck Brook as well as his land near the Green family which was at the westernmost border of Hangroot near today’s Pecksland Rd. As previously stated in another post, Anthony and Peg were both mulattos and were slave descedants of both the Green and Lyon families and their interactions and those of their children and grandchildren are indicative of close kin ties. As will be seen, at no point in the 1800s did our Lyon-Green-Merritt ancestors NOT live near or interact with their former slave owners and their descendants.
The 1858 Clark mapbelow indicates where my 4th great-grandparents, Anthony and Peg Green, were living in 1810 which was right beside Anthony’s former Green slave owners. They owned their own property. Although Anthony wasn’t formerly emancipated until 1816, he was living with Peg and their three youngest sons (Allen, Solomon and Henry) probably earlier than 1810 as Peg was emancipated in 1800. It is a matter of pride to learn that, through their hard work, they were able to accumulate enough money to buy even more land of their own — land that they were able to then passed on to their descendants.
The 1820 census was enumerated on August 7th, 1820 which means that Anthony and Peg moved to their new home in Hangroot at the intersection of Round Hill Rd. and Horseneck Brook soon after he obtained his share of the land deal. In other woods, in true Jeffersonian fashion, they moved on up to “the East side (i.e., Round Hill)” and got a piece of the pie”—- initially speaking. Looking at the 1820 census, we see that they were living next to the Husted family which included Amos, Caleb, and Aaron as well as their father, Peter. As you will see, various members of the Husted family, who intermarried with our Lyon ancestors, lived alongside of Anthony and Peg and their descendants for decades.
According to the 1830 census record, Anthony, Jr. is living in the home that his father used to live in the 1810s. Our Green ancestors are still living next to their Green kin. Meanwhile, Anthony, Sr. is now living next to his sons Henry and Charles Merritt in a different section of Hangroot. His sons, Allan and Solomon, both moved to Hangroot’s Round Hill location in the late 1830s.
In 1837, one year after Anthony, Sr. died, his 5 sons (Charles, Allen, Henry, Solomon and Plato) sold part of his land to Henry Merritt, another African-American man. From the 1840s until the early 1900s, our African-American ancestors made Hangroot their home. They intermarried with the Watsons, Mills, Pecks, Petersons, Felmettas, Purdys, Banks, and other Hangroot families. They went to the same churches and socialized together. Throughout the 1800s, one can see how people in Hangroot took care of each other by taking in relatives and neighbors when required. Although our ancestors were farmers, stone masons, laborers, coachmen, and servants, they were part of old Greenwich from the beginning. As to not rehash what I have previously written, a more detailed account of our family history in Hangroot from 1850 onward can be found here.
The decline of our Hangroot community was the direct result of several factors. First, immigration starting in the early 1840s resulted in the Irish, Scottish, and other white immigrants moving to Greenwich and taking the jobs held previously by African-Americans — jobs like farmhands, laborers and servants. Second, industrialization brought the railroad and woolen mills (e.g., Hawthorne Woolen Mill and American Felt Company) to Greenwich in the mid-1800s. The jobs in those industries went to the English, Irish, Scottish, Polish, and other Eastern European immigrants. Perhaps the biggesr reason though had to do with the arrival of the Rockefellers to Hangroot which dramatically changed Greenwich by ushering in the NYC leisure class who then started to build massive country estates.
In regards to Hangroot, William Avery Rockefeller, brother of John D. Rockefeller and co-founder of Standard Oil, started purchasing property in the area in 1870 and his descedants continued doing so up until the early 1900s. As indicated in the 1887 map above, one sees how the Rockefellers had a dramatic impact on Hangroot that had been a home to our ancestors for decades. When the Rockefellers moved next door to them, it was hard for our ancestors to continue to exist as they had in the decades prior. I am also certain that other low and middle-class white farmers were equally displaced by the Rockefellers. According to its very definition gentrification is a process of renewal that occurs when there is an influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. In the case of Hangroot, it resulted in a loss of of an historic African-American community and the erasure of its history.
The Green-Twachtman House: The House That Allen Green Built in 1845
My 3rd great-grandfather, Allen Green, lived in Rye, NY, in 1830. As you can see from the 1830 Rye, NY census record, he was living near Samuel Lyon and Samuel Pine, two of the people who went in on the 1820 land deal with his father Anthony in 1820.
Allen purchased property at 30 Round Hill Road from Walter Avery on April 8, 1839. It was Allen who built his house in 1845 — a house that is now affiliated more with John H. Twachtman. Walter Avery had lived in Hangroot as early as 1810 and resided in the same area as the Husteds. However, it was in the 1830s when he bought this particular property.
In 1990, Nils Kerschus, an architectural researcher at the Greenwich Historical Society, compiled the deed title search for the Green-Twachtman House. As Allen’s descedant, I quickly noticed what a genealogical goldmine this document was in terms of our own family history. Allen bought the property in 1839 and owned the property up until his death in 1878. A year later his estate sold his 3 acres of land with buildings to a Franz Stuba.
It was sold for $860. The Port Chester Journal on March 27, 1879 documented the sale as can be seen below.
Franz Stuba in turn sold the property to Lawrence Green who then sold it to David S. Husted. It is interesting to note that both men have kin ties to our Lyon-Green-Merritt line. Lawrence Green was a descendant of my 4th great-grandfather’s former slave owner, John Green. His grandfather, Benjamin Green, was the nephew of John Green, whom Anthony lived next to in 1810. David S. Husted was the great-grandson of Benjamin Woolsey Lyon who emancipated my 4th great-grandmother in 1800. David’s grandfather was William H. Husted whose wife, Mary Lyon, was the daughter of Benjamin Woolsey Lyon. Moreover, William’s brother Drake Husted, along with his wife, Nancy Marvin Lyon, were the couple, who raised my 4th great-uncle Jack Husted, Peg and Anthony’s son — the only son who never lived in Hangroot though it is clear he visited family there. The administrator of Allen’s estate, Joseph B. Husted was the son of Drake and Nancy Husted.
In this 1868 Town of Greenwich map, we observe that Mrs. Husted, David S. Husted’s mother, owned the property adjacent to Allen’s. In the 1887 Road map at the beginning of this blogpost, one sees that David S. Husted now owns Allen’s property having bought it in 1884. He sold Allen’s house to John H. Twachtman in 1890.
By 1890, the year John H. Twachtman arrived in the Hangroot that was our hood, it was already in decline. Twatchman was an artist looking to purchase land that he could afford. I don’t for one minute buy into the myth, propogated by Goodwin, that he just happened upon my 3rd great-grandfather’s property while following the bends of Horseneck Brook, was touched by the natural environment, and just had to live there. I simply see his arrival in Hangroot as part of the larger process of gentrification begun by the Rockefellers.
Twachtman was fully aware that, if he purchased property there, it would be cheaper because it was considered an area where poor Black farmers lived, an area that was filled with “Connecticut potatoes (i.e., stones),” and very difficult to farm. Moreover, Twachtman knew that the property would eventually increase in value given the nearby presence of the Rockefellers. In addition, since he wasn’t a farmer, he recognized that he could further increase the value of his property by using his creative and artistic skills to make improvements that would highlight the natural landscape. Twachtman did what every struggling artist-gentrifier has done throughout the ages when moving into an up and coming area. I don’t begrudge him for doing that and I am grateful to be able to look at his art and know that some of his inspiration came from Hangroot. But, let’s not deny the historical fact that he went to Hangroot because that’s where he could only afford to buy land at the time.
This gentrification of Hangroot continued. For example, in 1884, David S. Husted sold some of his land to William Rockefeller to satisfy a judgement against him as a result of a court case between him and Alexander Mead. Before he died, he sold the rest of his property to him as well. As noted below, he had to remove his family cemetery from the premises before he did. The Rockefellers would go on to buy more and more property so that, at one point, they owned about 400 acres of land. Later generations of Rockerfellers would go on to break up their large estates and sell off the smaller parcels of land. There was no way that our Hangroots ancestors could ever compete with this level of gentrification. No way at all.
Over one hundred years later, the Green-Twachtman House still stands for all to see. I was excited to learn about Sesame Street and The Muppets creator Jim Hensons’s ties to the Green-Twachtman House. As a child, who was born in the late 1960’s, and who grew up watching Sesame Street on PBS, I could not be happier. The affiliation with Sesame Street, I believe, was meant to be. Sesame Street always represented a world to me where everyone was accepted, diversity was celebrated, lessons were learned, and everyone was happy in the end. I have met members of the Henson family and I am looking forward to a guided tour of the house with the current owner, John Nelson, very soon. I look forward to having the Hensons and the Nelsons accompany our family on this journey of discovery that ultimately connects us all to the same house. I am blessed indeed.
Hangroot Heroes: Members of the 29th Infantry United States Colored Troops
Please note that information for this section comes from the National Archives (Fold3). Previous accounts of the Greenwich men who fought in the 29th Infantry of the United States Colored Troops included men who enlisted from neighboring communities in Westchester County, NY. The list below is accurate.
The following are the names of the 18 Hangroot African-American men who fought for the 29th Infantry of the Connecticut Colored Troops during the Civil War. These men volunteered to fight in a war that ultimately led to the freedom of their enslaved countrymen. They were John Banks, Amos T. Carpenter, Silas M. Carpenter, Charles E. Green (my 3rd great-uncle) George E. Green (my 1st cousin 4XR) James H. Green (my 3rd great-uncle), William Green (my 1st cousin 4XR), William H. Hicks, William Meade, Isaac Merritt (my 1st cousin 4XR), Whitman Merritt, Floyd T. Mills, William O. Mills, Charles Moore, Robert Peterson (brother of Emily Peterson, wife of my 3rd great-uncle Thomas Green), George Porter, Charles E. Treadwell, and Horace Watson (father of Annice Watson who married William Green). Out of 18 men from Hangroot, 7 (a 39% death rate) paid the ultimate sacrifice. They were John Banks, William Mead, Floyd T. Mills, Charles Moore, George T. Porter, Charles E. Treadwell, and Horace Watson. May God bless them, and all the other Greenwich men, for their service to this country. They were all on the right side of history.
Charles E. Green, George E. Green, William Green, Isaac Merritt, and Robert Peterson are buried in Union Cemetery in Greenwich. Silas M. Carpenter is buried in the Gethsamene (African-American) Cemetery, in Little Ferry, NJ. Floyd T. Mills died at Lovell General Hospital in Portsmouth Grove, RI and is buried in Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. During the Civil War, Horace Watson, William Mead, and Charles E. Treadwell died in Beaufort, SC, John Banks and George Porter died in Fort Monroe, VA, and Charles Moore died in Brownsville, TX. The burial places of Amos T. Carpenter, Whitman Merritt, William H. Hicks, and William O. Mills are unknown. As for my 3rd great-uncle, James H. Green, the only Sergeant 1st Class from Greenwich in the 29th Infantry, it can be assumed that he died and is buried in a pauper’s grave somewhere in NYC. I look forward to the day when I will write a blogpost just on these 18 Hangroot heroes because they were our own.
The Problem With The Perspective Of Outsiders: A Hangroot Descendant’s View
Last week, I was directed to a photo taken behind the house that my 3rd great-grandfather built. I was made aware of three African-American people in the background looking down at the photographer taken this photo. According to Nils Kerschus, a former researcher at the Greenwich Historical Society who researched Hangroot between 1889-1902 before and after Twachtman arrived, the only ancestors we had left in Hangroot were: Samuel H. Merritt (my 1st cousin 4XR), his wife Catherine, sons Frank and Herbert (my 2nd cousins 3XR), and his granddaughter Sorelia (my 2nd cousin 4XR) in a house they owned; James Banks, his wife Josephine (Samuel’s daughter and my 2nd cousin 3XR), her brother Mandeville Merritt (my 2nd cousin 3XR) were in a 2nd house they owned, and Edward Merritt (Samuel’s son and my 2nd cousin 3XR), his wife Laura Green Merritt (my 2nd great-aunt) and their son Samuel (my 3rd cousin 2XR due to a cousin marriage) were in a 3rd house which they were renting. I should note that, in 1905, Samuel H. Merritt’s and James Banks’ properties were demolished by Frederic Maples, a real estate developer.
No one knows who the photographer was who took this 1890 photo. In any case, I can only imagine how our ancestors felt on that day. Our Hangroot community experienced an almost 50% decline in population from 1870 to 1900. When I saw the photo, I felt a sense of loss. I will never know who exactly those three individuals were just that they were our own. They are forever seared in my mind as three haunting spirits who were bearing witness to the loss of their land. However, I am glad to have this very poignant photo because it is a historic reminder of the displacement that our ancestors experienced. Between 1905 and 1910, our Hangroot community disappears as people have to relocate elsewhere as they become priced out of their neighborhood and work becomes hard to find. Hangroot then becomes the Hangroot of today and it’s history as an African-American commutity is erased. It is now a place more associated with the Rockefellers, Twachtman, and other individuals who came later. The “Allen Green” part of the “Green-Twachtman House” for all intensive purposes has been forgotten and is only mentioned in a footnote in the title deed history of the house and mentioned in a newspaper when it was sold in 1879.
In his often cited Country Life in America 1905 article, Alfred Henry Goodwin, seeks to detail all the improvements that Twachtman made to his property, but, in the process, makes elitest statements about the house before Twachtman bought it. He refers to the house that Allen built as being “ugly” and how this house “desecrated” the land. Of course, Twachtman is portrayed as the man who arrived to “beautify the property” and made it harmonize with the natural environment as only he could. Likewise, Susan G. Larkin in her article, On Home Ground: John Twachtman and the Familiar Landscape, not only quotes Goodwin, but even juxtoposes the 1890 photo of the back of 30 Round Hill Rd. featuring the Horseneck Falls above with a 1905 photo of the same Horseneck Falls that Goodwin presented in his article. While the 1890 photo was taken seemingly in the Winter and shows a barren landscape with my three ancestors present in the background, the 1905 photo was obviously taken the in the Summer and shows a much shadier, lush, and cultivated environment. They are meant to be Before and After photos clearly. Both Goodwin and Larkin see Twachtman as the “Great White Hope” who rescues the property from its poor Black farmer past. Clearly, they admire what Twachtman has done to the environment and his house. There is no need to elaborate on those who owned the property before or who still lived next to his property then. Unlike me, they are either unaware or not concerned with how their words negatively taint the community of Hangroot because they don’t see this community though they are right in the midst of it. All the focus on Twachtman’s “beautifying the property” obscures and renders invisible the community that was Hangroot. Defining Hangroot as “a Black settlement” or indicating that “poor Black farmers” lived there says nothing actually about this community itself. But, of course, people assume that they know everything when they hear such designations.
Standing Up For My Ancestors By Reclaiming Hangroot and Black Greenwich History: We Shall Be Erased No More
As a descendant of Hangroot ancestors, I am acutely aware of how our Black Greenwich family history has been lost, erased, and forgotten. In researching my own family history, I came across an article by Christine McKay titled African Americans in 19th Century Greenwich:Notes on New Research. It was published in 2001 in conjuction with a Greenwich Historical Society exhibit on African-Americans in Greenwich. Other than Jeffrey Bingham Mead, McKay is the only other historian that I know of who has sought to factually present a portrait of Black Greenwich. However, even she recognized that, although she had researched African Americans in Greenwich, the Abolitionist movement, and Underground Railroad for her article, there was much more research yet to be done.
Needless to say, my blogposts on Greenwich will eventually lead to a book on my family’s history as the descendants of both Lyon slaves and Lyon slave owners that traces back to the 17th century. I will be defining and reclaiming both the Hangroot and Byram sections of Greenwich as our home. I will be giving a “bottom up” perspective, rather than a “top down” perspective, that defines and accurately portrays my ancestors and their community. Our Lyon-Green-Merritts family history is nothing less than an African-American success story that was born of slavery personified in Greenwich, CT. I began this blogpost with the photo that was taken in Hangroot in 1897. This is the Hangroot that my family was part of for 100 years. It is a visual reminder of just how vibrant this community was even in the midst of being erased from history. This is the Hangroot that I will be researching for years to come. We shall be erased no more.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been kneep-deep in genealogical and family history research that I know has been guided by my Greenwich ancestors. I may not be a religious person, but I am a spiritual one. For almost a year, I have also been trying to get justice for my ancestors in the fight over the Byram African-American Cemetery where my ancestors reside in a peace that has been disturbed. When I first learned about my 4th great-grandparents, Anthony and Peg, I called their names and let them know that they were found and would never be lost to history or their descendants again. And I meant every word that I said when I said them. They have never left my side since then and they keep visiting me in my dreams — visitations that guide me and push me to continue telling their true stories.
What happened to my ancestors in Hangroot, when gentrification came, is just a continuation of gentrification that is still happening in Greenwich today, but on an even grander scale — a gentrification that originally included 19th and 20th century millionaires, now includes 21st century millionaires AND hedge fund billionaires. Historic homes and places are being demolished and replaced with larger homes and McMansions today. When this happens, local history is lost and family history is lost as well. If you are a person who has a long family history in Greenwich which was well documented, you may not feel the same impact as those of us, who also have long family histories in Greenwich as well, but our family histories were barely recorded in historical records because our ancestors were born slaves. When the places we occupied, in life and death, disappear, our family history disappears as well. The fight over the Byram African-American Cemetery is a fight, not only about whether or not the residents of 11 Byram Dock Rd. own and have a right to “beautify the property,” but, it is also a battle that I am engaged in to defend my ancestors’ burial place AND to prevent the loss of our larger family history in Greenwich itself. To be clear, when Twachtman arrived in Hangroot in 1890 and “beautified the property’, he made improvements on property that he owned. The couple at 11 Byram Dock Rd., however, don’t own — but are claiming to own — a burial ground that had always been a part of the Byram Cemetery of our Lyon ancestors. They acknowledge the two white cemeteries in our extended family, but want to deny the existence of our Black one so that my ancestors are now buried in what looks like someone’s front lawn. I remain resolute and steadfast in standing up for my ancestors and reclaiming and defending our family history. Why one may ask? Because of our Anthony and Peg, our esteemed slave ancestors. When the light of a freedom certain came, they crawled down that path to emancipation and stood up and took some steps so that their children and grandchildren could walk so that their descendants could run on and keep running so that their descedants today could fly. I know that they are counting on me to be the sum of their Byram and Hangroot hopes and dreams and to be their voice from beyond their Byram graves. I will be representing them for as long as I live with pride. I am a proud slave descendant who comes from good stock indeed.
On Documenting the Underground Railroad In Greenwich: Why These 5 Places Matter
While the role that Greenwich white abolitionists and anti-slavery activists has been researched in regards to the Underground Railroad, the role that the free Black population in Greenwich played in shepherding enslaved people to freedom has never been studied. Because of this, I have been complelled to first define the free Black community in Greenwich that existed in the 19th century. That community was Hangroot. At the end of my previous blogpost, I wrote about the direction of my current research which will also look at the history of the White anti-slavery activists/abolitionists in our extended Lyon family and their social networks as well. As I said then, it can’t just be a coincidence that our Hangroot Greens and Merritts have a cousin named Hawley Green, who along with his wife Harriet Peterson Green, were stationmasters on the Underground Railroad in Peekskill, NY in the 1830s. Its can’t be another coincidence that our Hangroot ancestors have ties to the free Black populations of Westchester County, NY that extend back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. Below are the places that matter in Greenwich to our Lyon-Green-Merritt family.
This house is the oldest house in Greenwich built by my 9th great-uncle. It is an historic house that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is also on the CT Freedom Trail list. This is the house where a distant cousin, Seth Lyon, harbored a fugitive slave named Peter John Lee for six years. As I documented in my blogpost Coming to The Table in Honor of Jack Husted, Seth and his cousin Gilbert Lyon were anti-slavery activists and members of the Whig Party (Northeast), an anti-slavery party. Their social network included known Greenwich abolitionists like Deacon Jonas Mead, a neighbor of Gilbert Lyon, a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad, and Vice-President of the Fairfield Anti-Slavery Society.
2) Our Byram Cemeteries : The Lyon, Byram and Byram African-American Cemeteries
These three cemeteries link our Lyon, Green and Merritt ancestors to both the Thomas Lyon House and to the Green-Twachtman House. Our family ancestors, on both sides of the color line, were born and bred in Byram and are buried there. The Lyon family is one of the 17th century founding families of Greenwich. It was our Lyon ancestors who created a section of their Byram Cemetery for their slaves and former slaves. The Byram African-American Cemetery is where our Anthony and Peg are buried. Lyon-Green-Merritt descendants trace their ancestry back to Peg, who was the mulatto daughter of Daniel Lyon, who is buried in the Byram Cemetery.
I am a proud member of the Greenwich Preservation Trust (GPT) an organization that stood up three years ago to defend the desecration of the Byram African-American Cemetery. Along with our Lyon cousins, we are now united in restoring The Thomas Lyon House and backing the Town of Greenwich’s acquisition of all three of our ancestral cemeteries and making all of them historic ones. I will continue to support this organization any way I can. I want to also take the time here to thank Jo Conboy, State Rep. Michael Bocchino, the GPT Board and members for advocating for the passage of a new law that will protect abandoned cemeteries in the State of Connecticut in lieu of our current battle to save the Byram African-American Cemetery. The new law passed the legislature last week and is now on to the Senate for final approval.
3) Union Cemetery (Lot 23)
Second Congregational Church opened Lot 23 for the poor and Colored people in 1851. Half the people buried in that lot are our Green, Merritt, Husted ancestors along with other Hangroot families like the Banks, Felmetta, Watsons, Petersons and others. Five members of the 29th Infantry are buried there as well. In addition, some of our white Lyon and Husted ancestors are buried in other sections of Union Cemetery.
4) Little Bethel AME Church
Little Bethel AME Church was founded in 1882 and was the first Black church founded in Greenwich, CT. It is also listed on the CT Freedom Trail. The founding members of this church included Charles E. Green, Allen Banks, George Treadwell, Augusta Felmetta, Ellen Banks, Caselia Merritt, Catherine Merritt, Mandeville Merritt, Ruben Belcher, Mr. and Mrs. Belcher, Cornelia Bush, and Esther Bush. All were originally from Hangroot. Later church members included the descendants of these families.
5) The Green-Twachtman House
This landmark house was built in 1845 by my 3rd great-grandfather, Allen Green, the 5th son of Anthony and Peg Green who settled in Hangroot in 1820. Allen arrived in 1839 when he bought property at 30 Round Hill Rd. His wife, Mary Johnson Green may have been born a fugitive slave from Virginia who made Hangroot her haven when she married the Allen. Allen and his extended family were cousins to Hawley Green and his wife Harriet Peterson Green, who owned an Underground Railroad House in Peekskill, NY in the 1830s.
If I can prove that Mary was in fact fugitive slave and/or I can prove a more definitve link between our Hangroot Greens and Merritts and Hawley and Harriet Peterson Green, then I will then make it my new mission to apply for state and federal recognition so the house that Allen built is recognized as an Underground Railroad House and the community that was Hangroot will be known as a confirmed depot stop on the Underground Railroad. One day soon I will proudly stand in front of 30 Round Hill Rd. and hold up a sign that says THIS PLACE MATTERED MORE THAN ANYONE KNEW. I already know in my heart of hearts that it does and always did.
May my ancestors continue to be my guide on my mission to seek their historical truths.
Goodwin, Alfred Henry. An Artist’s Unspoiled Country Home. Country Life In America. Vol. 8 (October 1905), pp. 625-630.
Larkin, Susan G. On Home Ground: John Twachtman and the Familiar Landscape. The American Art Journal, Vol. 29, No 1/2 (1998), pp. 52-85.
McKay, Christine. African Americans in Nineteenth Century Greenwich. Greenwich History. Vol 6 (2001), pp. 56-74.
Mead, Daniel. A History of the Town of Greenwich, Fairfield, CT. NY:Baker and Godwin Printers, 1857.
Peters, Lisa. John Twachtman (1853-1902) and The American Scene in the Late Nineteenth Century: Frontiers within the Terrain of the Familiar. 2 Vols. PhD Dissertation. City University of New York, 1995. (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International, 1996).