Category Archives: Blacks in Bergen County

The Insidiousness of Slavery: No Justice and the Van Wickle Slave Ring

This blogpost is written as a supplementary addition to the December 16th, 2018 historic Day of  Remembrance at the East Brunswick Public Library as part of The Lost Souls Public Memorial Project. A special thank you goes to Rev. Karen Johnston, Mae Caldwell, the NJ Council for the Humanities, The Unitarian Society, New Brunswick Area Branch of the NAACP, Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society – NJ Chapter Sons & Daughters of the Us Middle Passage Society, East Brunswick Human Relations Council, East Brunswick Senior Center and the East Brunswick, Library. Additional thanks goes to my BlackProGen geneabuddies and fellow Truth Seekers, Muriel “Dee Dee” Roberts, Shannon Christmas, James Amemasor and the staff at the NJ Historical Society, Junius Williams, Rhonda Johnson, James J. Gigantino II, Calvin Schermerhorn, Joshua Rothman, Grahan Russell Hodges, and others who have supported my research over the years. I am most indebted to Rich Sears Walling for his endless quest to bring this horrific travesty to light and to seek social justice for these 177 Lost Souls.

This blogpost is dedicated to all my ancestors and to my M23 cousins who decided to take mtDNA  and autosomal DNA tests that have enabled us to reconnect with our DNA cousins who share our Native-American, Malagasy, West African, and European ancestry and find out our true family history. A big shout out to my  cousin-homie-sister- genealogy partner Andrea Hughes, Mildred Armour, Robert Armour, Sharon Anderson, Ray Armour, Tashia Hughes, our late Cousin Helen B. Hamilton , Alan Russell, Frances Moore, Lois Salter-Thompson, Dorothy Miller, Brenda Ryals-Burnett, “Donnie”, Sharon Baldree, Rhoda Johnson, and Barbara Pitre and her mother Pearl Kahn.

On Insidiousness….

The Van Wickle Slave Ring was insidious from its inception. The word origin of insidious comes from the Latin insidiosus meaning cunning, deceitful, artful and from  from insidiae (plural) meaning to plot, snare, and ambush.

In 1818, there was a conspiracy of slave speculators who stole African-American and mixed-race free, enslaved for a term, and enslaved for life people out of New Jersey and New York and transported them to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama with the full collusion of Judge Jacob Van Wickle and his judicial cronies. They operated in full violation of a 1812 New Jersey state law that clearly stated that no person of African descent or other person of color who was a servant, slave for life or slave for a term could be taken out of the state without their consent if they were of age or their parents’ consent if underage. This law was put into effect to further strengthen the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1804 that declared that any child born, after July 4th, 1804,  to a slave mother had to first serve a term  — 25 years if male and 21 years if female — as a servant for their mother’s owner and then they would be free. In order to make a profit from slave speculating, Van Wickle and his devious gang devised a plan where they would procure People of Color in New Jersey and New York by any means necessary and sell them South as slaves for the rest of their lives without their knowledge or consent. Most of the 177 individuals that we know of today  were in their teens or early 20s though there were many children under the age of 10 –the youngest two being just 2 days and 6 weeks old. Freedom was snatched from all of them with a blink of an eye and with Jacob Van Wickle’s signature all over the place. Among them, were some of my maternal ancestors. Any emblem of justice was denied to them.

Two years ago, I wrote my blogpost Part II: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan & Our Family’s Malagasy Roots where I discussed my maternal ancestors’ migration out of New Amsterdam to the Tappan Patent (Bergen County, NJ/Rockland and Orange Counties, NY) and our Full Sequence M23 mtDNA Cousin matches at that time. Two years later, this blogpost expands on our most recent findings. We now know that while Lewis Compton, James Brown, Charles Morgan, Nicholas Van Wickle, and others, on November 13th-17th, 1818,  were in a Pennsylvania courtroon answering to the charges of removing People of Color from New Jersey and New York without their consent, my ancestors were  among the 48 individuals already on their way to serving lives of involuntary servitude in the South. Crammed onboard a ship outfitted with plantation supplies and equipment, they were on the last documented slave ship out of South Amboy, the Schoharie, which sailed on October 25th, 1818. That they were unwitting pawns in a system designed to further dehumanize them is the epitome of the insidiousness of slavery indeed!

 

If Fred Could See Us Now: On the Uses of DNA Testing for Slave Ancestor Research

In 1855, the late great Frederick Douglass stated, “Genealogical trees do not flourish among slaves.” Boy, if Fred could see us now. DNA testing has opened wide doors for those of us who are seeking to find out more about our formerly enslaved/enslaved ancestors. The 1870 brick wall that has blocked us from discovering our ancestry in the past no longer exists as a barrier. DNA testing, along with a host of other documents that help us trace our enslaved ancestors has proven that walls are meant to be broken down. Thanks to mtDNA, Y-DNA, and autosomal DNA testing, what was once impossible to prove has now been rendered possible. The pepper in salted histories can be now seen by all and can no longer be denied. DNA testing also allows us to see the true humanity inherent in earch individual and to connect us with our DNA cousins of all backgrounds.

In addition, DNA testing provides us with DNA migration maps that document where our ancestors originated and the geographical areas they dispersed to over time. I live in NYC where my Native ancestors have resided for the millenia and where my West/East African and European ancestors have lived since 1620. That’s a 400+ year family sojourn that speaks volumes about our family history and resonates in #NoEllisIslandHere. We are, and have been, true Americans before America was even America. Facts matter!

Early Colonial Native and African-American Endogamy in Rural Communities

Our ancestors were the descendants of Native and African people formerly enslaved/enslaved by Dutch, Swedish, French Huegenot, and Puritan/Quaker slave owners in colonial NJ, NY and CT. These colonial rural communities were tri-racial and multi-racial from their inception as slave owners migrated up and down the Hudson River Valley and into New Jersey in search of land, wealth and religious freedom. They, of course, brought their formerly enslaved/enslaved servants with them. Though there were laws on the books and societal sanctions against interracial relationships of any sort, these types of relationships did in fact occur. The migration journey that our ancestors took was out of New Amsterdam (including Westchester County, NY and Greenwich, CT which were also intrinsic parts of the Dutch colony), to the Tappan Patent, and then migrated up and down the Hudson river during the 1600 and early 1700s. They later migrated further into New Jersey ending up in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Somerset, Middlesex,  Hunterdon, Monmouth, Burlington, Gloucester, and Cumberland Counties in the early to mid-1700s just before the American Revolution  before finally settling in the city of Newark in the late 1780s and early 1800s.

State of NJ, County lines 1753-1824. Based on map created by R. Ryan Lash with information from Minnesota Population Center, National Historical Geographic Information: Pre-release Version 0.1, 2004. Reprinted in James Gigantino II’s The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865.

DNA testing confirms that the same surnames and shared DNA shows up in our DNA cousin matches across color lines which would be expected in small rural communities. These surnames can be traced to the founding families of all these counties. To date our list of our NJ and NY colonial surnames include the following: Ackerman, Anderson, Banks, Banta, Beekman, Blanchard, Blauvelt, Bogardus/Bogart, Bolin/Bolling, Brower/Bouwer, Brown, Barkalew/Buckelew, Chapman, Cisco/Sisco, Claeson/Clawson, Clarkson, Conover, Cook, Corlies, Cortelyou, D’Angola, Day, De Vries/DeFreese, Degrasse, DeGroat/DeGroot, Demarest, DeWitt, Deveaux/Devoe, Dey/Deyo, DuBois, Fortune, Francis, Francisco, Groesbeck/Goosbeck, Gould, Hampton,  Haring, Hedden, Hendricks, Hicks, Hill, Hoagland, Hopper, Hooper, Huff, Jackson, Jennings, ]ohnson, Lewis, Lyon/Lyons, Mabie, Mandeville, Manuel/Mann, Mathis, Moore, Morris, O’Fake/Feich, Phillips, Pickett, Ray, Remson, Richardson, Rickett, Schmidt, Scudder, Schenck, Shipley, Slater, Smith, Snyder, Stillwell, Stives,  Stockton, Suydam, Ten Broeck/Timbrook, Ten Eyck/Teneyck, Thomas, Thompson, Titus, Turner, Van Blanck, Van Buskirk, Van Clieff/Van Cleef, Vanderzee, Van Dunk/VanDonck, Van Duyne, Van Dyck, Van Horn, Van Gaasbeek/Van Gasbeck, Van Liew/Louw, Van Ness, Van Riper, Van Salee/Van Surley, Van Wickle/ Van Winckle, Washington, Wheeler, Williams, Wortendyke,  Wyckoff, and Zabriskie, among others.

1850 Newark Census that shows my ancestors (Thompson, King, Hedden, O’Fake, Gould, Brower, Jackson, and Francis) living next to other people whose ancestors came from Middlesex County.

The issue of endogamy within colonial America must be discussed as it relates to formerly enslaved/enslaved people in these Northern states. Given that so few People of Color resided in these states in the 17th-19th centuries, it is not surprising that intermarriages and/or relationships were very prominent among the same African-American and mixed-race families in those places. Unlike endogamy among Ashkenazi Jews and Puerto Ricans due to close cousin or family intermarriage,  People of Color at this time tended to marry or form relationships with people living nearest to them just like everyone else. Because of the nature of slavery and lack of genealogy records on formerly enslaved/enslaved people, descendants of these people would not necessarily know that they shared a common gene pool with the same families, especially as they migrated away from these rural communities towards burgeoning cities, like Newark and NYC, where they increased their pool of marriageable partners and became less endogamous. As descendants of these people, we need to be cognizant of the fact that we may be related to a person based on many shared ancestors and not just one or two. 

The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Middlesex County, NJ: The Case of the Slave Ship Schoharie

An October 26, 1818 Schoharie slave ship manifest listed the names of  48 individuals who were stolen away from their families, their communities, and their home state. The ship first  sailed to Norfolk, VA and then to La Balize on the Mississippi River where the human cargo was checked before traveling onward to New Orleans and elsewhere.  Unlike the other Van Wickle Slave Ring victims whose names were changed to hide their true identities or who forever remain nameless, the 48 individuals on the last documented slave ship out of New Jersey had their real names written down. At the time of their departure, those responsible for their removal made no attempt to hide who they were or what they did. They were very transparent in their conniving ways knowing full well that the laws were made by them and for them. Our ancestors’ lives weren’t worth anything beyond their production labor value. They were seen as no different from any work animal or old tool — easily replaceable and disposable.

These innocent victims were:

William MClare, m, 25, 5;8:, light negro
Jafe Manning, m, 21, 5 5 ¾, black, same
Robert Cook, m, 17, 4 9 ½, light, same
Ben Morris, m, 22, 5’1” black, same
Sam Prince, m, 19, 5’10”, light, same
Sam Peter, m, 30, 5’4”, black, same
George Phillips, m, 18, 5’3”, black, same
James Thompson, m, 5’5 ¼” light, same
Edward Gilbert, m, 22, 5’3 ½” blk, same
Dan Francis, m, 20, 5’1” light, same
James, m, 15, 4’11” black, same
Charles, m, 19, 5’2 ¾” black, same
Susan Wilcox, f, 36, 5’2” light
Nelly, f, 18, 5’ ¼” black, same
Betsey Lewis, f, 28, 5’1” black
Jane Clarkson, f, 23, 5’5” black, same
Eliza Thompson, f, 21, 5’ 1 ¾” light, same
Jane Cook, f, 15, 5’ ¾”, light, same
Ann Moore, f, 29, 4’ 9 ½”, black, same
Julian Jackson, f., 21, 5’ ¼” dark, same
Jane Smith, f, 33, 4’ 10 3/4” light, same
Peggy Boss, f, 21, 5’ 3” dark, same
Mary Harris, f, 21, 4’ 10 ½” light, same
Sally Cross, f, 20, 5’1” blk, same
Rosanna Cooper, f., 22, 5’3” blk, same
Mary Simmons, f, 18, 4’11” dark
Hannah Jackson, f, 18, 5’ 1 ¼” do
Hanna Crigier, f, 18, 4, 10 ¼” black
Harriet Silas, f, 15, 4’11” light
Fanny Thompson, 14, 4’7” dark,
Elizabeth Ann Turner, 16, 4’8” black
Susan Jackson, 20, 4’8” black
Hanna Johnson, female, 20, 4’9” black
Hannah, eighteen, 4’9 ¼” dark
Cane, m, 22, 5’1/2”
Jack, m, 22, 5’6” dark, same
Lewis, 22, 5’8” black, same
Peter, 14, 4’ 6 ¾” black, same
Frank, 21, 5’2” dark
Caleb Groves, 50, 5’ 2 ½” dark
John, 21, 5’3” black
Collins, 35, 5’3” blk
Othello, 16, 4’10” light
Anthony Fortune, 21, 5’2 ¼” dark
Joseph Henricks, 19, 5’5”, dark
Jane, f, 23, 5’5 1/4” light
Susan, f, 21, 4’10 ½” light
Lena, f, 38, 5’2” dark

When I first saw this list of names, I cried tears that were based on my belief that there is no separation between us, the living, and those who came before and those who shared a journey with us when they were among the living. Death is nothing but a natural happenstance. Nothing has changed. My tears flowed knowing the historic trauma all 48 people went through torn away from their family and community to labor in the sugar and cotton plantations of the South. And I cried most of all because the surnames were ones I knew all too well because they were our own.

Over the past two years, we have been working hard to discover how our Full Sequence mtDNA cousin matches are related to each  other. Looking for these ancestral connections is not for the faint of heart. Unlike Y-DNA where paternal surnames stay the same and paternity can often be established through male cousin matches, mtDNA cousin matching is a different beast due to women changing surnames upon marriage. Now, just add the institution of slavery, colonization, and genocide which were crimes against humanity that interrupted our family trees in a massive way for centuries, and you got a genealogical puzzle with a million missing pieces. Just ponder that for a minute. Despite this, with both mtDNA and autosomal DNA testing, we were able to connect many surnames to other enslaved/formerly enslaved families as well as to their slave owners. Oh, if Fred could see us now!

Please note that the screenshots below are taken from AncestryDNA which I use to unearth family connections among the many family trees of known relatives as well as our DNA cousin matches. They also show the colonial endogamy I’ve spoken about above. Because AncestryDNA does not have a chromosome browser, we are all prevented from doing the level of DNA triagulation that is necessary for 100% certainty which is a shame. At this point, all we can do is compare surnames among our DNA matches and see what surnames and geographical areas we have in common. We have had some luck with DNA cousins who uploaded to Gedmatch, but with the recent changes there, I know that Gedmatch’s triangulation usefulness for People of Color who have enslaved ancestors has been compromised (Please see Nicka Smith’s blogpost on this topic).

As children of the African Diaspora, we are considered to be “admixed” and are rarely 100% of any one ethnic/racial group. As I have said many, many times before, ethnic admixture itself doesn’t tell you anything beyond the continental categories of Sub-Saharan African, Native American/Asian, and European. You MUST be committed to digging a whole lot deeper to find your family truth and that involves connecting with your DNA cousins whoever and wherever they are in addition to looking at genealogical records and local history! Click here to see my Genetic Genealogy page for the necessary tools/website links to do so if you are up to the challenge and I am challenging you all to do so. Now, you know.

Here are some examples of early African-American colonial endogamy and clearly show some of the surnames of those whom were sold South from Middlesex County.

 

Reclaiming Our Lost Community of Ancestors and Their Descendants

In 2015, my cousins Andrea and Helen took FTDA’s Full Sequence mtDNA test to see what else we could find out about our maternal Malagasy line. Three years later, we have 14 Full Sequence mtDNA cousin matches who share our M23 haplogroup. I have been in touch with 9 of our 14 FS mtDNA cousins.We have learned that 4 out of our 9 mtDNA cousins have ties to the NY/NJ area along with my family. Three mtDNA cousins, Brenda, “Donnie”, and Dorothy are actually 5th cousins who share the same set of 4th great-grandparents who were born in Nova Scotia. Their 5th great-grandmother Rose Fortune was born in VA and who, as a 10-year-old girl, boarded a ship in NYC to Nova Scotia in 1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War. Her parents were Black Loyalists and their family is documented in The Book of Negroes. We have found some documentation that their 6th great-grandparents were from Philadelphia and were owned by the Devoe family.

Brenda, her mother and Grandmother Mary who was Rose Fortune’s 2nd great-granddaughter

The Devoe family were French Huguenots who arrived in New Amsterdam in the late 1600s and who settled up and down the Hudson River before some of their descendants moved to NJ and PA, including Philadelphia. Clearly, the Devoes had acquired Malagasy slaves in NY and the children of those slaves would have been inherited by their descendants.

The Alice Applyby DeVoe House in East Brunswick, NJ

The DeVoe family was also in East Brunswick, South Amboy, and elsewhere in Middlesex County as were the Fortune family. Could Rose Fortune’s maternal line come from the this line of the DeVoe family? We can’t say for sure at this time, but it may be worth further study.

My 2nd great-grandmother Laura Thompson, Frances who represents Lois Salter-Thompson’s line, Dorothy Miller and her maternal aunt.

We have identified the family line of the two other M23 mtDNA cousins, Lois/Frances and Dorothy, who also match my family along the Timbrook-Titus line and this line originates in the Greater New Brunswick, NJ area. In the 1870s, my family has a Rev. Isaac B. Timbrook living with our Thompson-King ancestors in Newark, NJ and his niece Violet Timbrook is living in a house owned by our 3rd great-grandfather Cato Thompson, who was married to our  M23 3rd great-grandmother Susan Pickett. In 1850, Isaac was a laborer on Judge Van Wickle’s nephew, Stephen Van Wickle’s farm.

The Timbrooks are related to our Malagasy descended Thompson-Pickett-Snyder-Scudder line from the Tappan Patent. Lois’s 4th great-grandparents were Thomas Titus and Sarah TenBroeck/Timbrook. Isaac is her nephew, the son of her brother Edward Timbrook. We have been able to identify the slave owner who purchased Sarah and Edward’s mother, Phebe. His name was Abraham Barkelew hence the B. in Rev. Issac’s name is most likely Barkelew. We have also come across Frederick Barkelew’s 1791 will that mentions “a free negro” by the name of “Fortune.” We also found Abraham Barkelew’s 1809 will  where he bequeathed a “negro woman Phebe” to his granddaughter Anne. Dorothy is connected to a Fanny Titus who is related to this family line as well. We are still sorting out the family relationships due to the sharing of many surnames (colonial endogamy), but it is now fairly certain that this is the extended family line that links us to our common Malagasy ancestor.  In addition, it should be noted that our line sided with Patriots during the Revolutionary War.

Alan Russell, his daughter, and mother whose M23 line comes from St. Helena Island in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.

Our mtDNA cousin Alan has a maternal grandmother who was half-Malagasy/half British and who was born on the island of St. Helena. This island was the first stop on the return trip from Madagascar. An import tax was paid in the form of Malagasy slaves on ships that arrived in St. Helena’s port. For Alan to be related to all of us means that we either shared a common ancestor in Madagascar whose descendants ended up in two different locations or maybe two females ancestors became separated when a ship from Madagascar stopped in St. Helena on its way to New York. Alan’s connection to our M23 cohort is of particular interest as it shows the importance of St. Helena as a stopover point on the way from Madagascar to New York. Alan can trace his maternal ancestry back to his 3rd great-grandmother, Sarah Bateman, who was born in 1815 on the island of St. Helena. Her maternal ancestors were Malagasy for certain.

Rhoda Johnson, Barbara Pitre-McCants, and her mother Pearl Kahn whose ancestors were sold South from New Jersey in the Van Wickle Slave Ring.

Through mtDNA testing, we have now FOUND our cousins whose ancestor were sold South in the Van Wickle Slave ring. Rhoda, Barbara and her mother Pearl’s ancestors were bought by the John Morrisette Family of Monroe County, AL and passed down to their descendants as property. Their ancestors ended up in Monroe, Wilcox, Dallas, and Hale Counties in Alabama. Today, Hale County, AL  is a 4 hour drive to New Orleans, but their ancestors would have walked in a coffle there to labor in sugar and cotton plantations.

Barbara also tested at AncestryDNA as well. She has numerous DNA cousin matches that link her maternal side to New Jersey via some of the same  surnames we have like Ten Broeck/Timbrook, Slater, Conover, Van Ness, Deyo, Schenck, Shipley, Wyckoff, and many, many more. We have also been cross-checking with many other DNA cousins who have MS, AL, LA, and VA familiar roots and they are highly likely related to some of these other individuals who were sold South. We can rest assured that it is possible to flesh out our family trees despite slavery. In the future, I hope and pray that the more People of Color take DNA tests, the more we can prove that slavery was not 100% successful because we are still here to represent those who came before us.

On Being A Descendant of Survivors of Slavery…

I tell people that I do  “ancestor-guided” research and that my ancestors are with me wherever I go.  I consider it an honor to dig up and tell their true stories. I am a proud descendant of the enslaved and the free. My ancestors lived in households that were of mixed status where some were free, some were slaves for a term, and some were slaves for life in NJ, NY and CT. In 1818, they knew without a doubt who was sold and where these folks ended up. They were the witnesses to this atrocity at the time that it occurred. They did not sit back and accept their place in history.  Instead, they made America greater by becoming early abolitionists who built schools, churches, joined fraternal organizations, mutual aid societies, and then got to work on the Underground Railroad. We have been blessed to have 4 Underground Railroad homes (Newark, NJ, Peekskill, NY, Greenwich, CT, and Buffalo/Rochester/Upper Canada West) operated by both sides of the color line. In due time, I will be writing a book on our larger family history.

Today, all of us are  witnesses to the Van Wickle Slave Ring episode in American history. The 177 individuals who were smuggled out of  NJ can rest in peace knowing that they are remembered and that their historical erasure is no more.

In addition to the above 48 individuals, there were 129 other people smuggled out of the state of New Jersey in 1818.

First group sent Louisiana on March 10, 1818/*Mothers are grouped with their children

Peter     15

Simon   no age listed, free man

Margaret Coven, no age, free woman

Sarah     21

Dianna 7 months

Rachel   22

Regina  6 weeks

Hager    29

Roda 14

Mary     2

Augustus 4

Florah   23

Susan    7 months

Harry     14

James   21

Elmirah 14

George 16

Susan Watt         35

Moses  16

Lydia      18

Betty     22

Patty     22

Bass       19

Christeen            27

Diannah  9

Dorcas  1

Claresse               22

Hercules   2

Lidia       22

Harriett Jane      3

Bob

Rosanna

Claus

Ann

                Rosino

Jenette

Charles   (child)

Elias       (child)

Robert  (child)

Thirty-nine  individuals.

Second Group, departed May 25, 1818

Leta       21

Dorcus  16

Sam Johnson     32

Margaret             21

Jane       25

John 4

Mary Davis          23

Phyllis   25

Charles   1

Jack        16

Harvey  22

Elizer (f)               19

Frank     21

Hester  18

Peter     21

Susan Silvey  30

Jacob 18 months

Betsey  22

Jonas     16   free person

Sam       16

William 22

Henry    21

Amey    22

Juda (f) 26

Samuel 2

James   22

Sam       32

George Bryan    18

Hannah                16

Nancy   22

Joseph  2 days

Peter     17   free person

Hannah                14

Jack Danielly       21

Jude [no judicial certificate]

Caroline, 18

Ann, 18

Jeanette, 12

Mose

Thirty-nine individuals.

Third Group departed in late August 1818 and arrived in New Orleans in September.

39 unknown individuals.

Fourth Group departed in mid-October overland through PA, 1818

George 35

Cain       22

Frank     21

Lewis     22

Elijah     31

Mary     27

Law        21

Phebe   21   free person

Susan    23

Charles 43

Pettes   14

Jane       23

Twelve names.

Let us say their names so that they will ALWAYS be remembered!

 

DNA Doesn’t Lie: The Denial of the Pepper in Salted Histories

 

Please note at the end of this blogpost I included a primer  for those people who have DNA cousins of color. This blog is dedicated to all my Euro DNA cousins who have embraced me as a distant cousin and who are consistently working on finding our common ancestor.  I consider all of you, and there are many, to be my distant cousins without hesitation.

 

There Sure Was Some Pepper Up in All That Salt: An Ode to Those Who Would Say Otherwise”

Oh DNA, the truth you revealed was received like a 75% off sale,

That which was hidden has been brought to light,

The darkness now gone with pure delight,

Oh DNA, the pepper you have exposed has led to salty souls,

That which is being denied has wounded someone’s white pride,

Our family will always proudly represent all our black, brown, red and white ancestors’ sides,

Oh DNA, the real history you discovered has led to a complicated situation,

That our family, from the start, was baked-up in a US mixed-race oven,

Our genes playing the historical dozens on all those who felt the need to racially govern,

Oh DNA, the overall message you represent will always be one of diversity and genetic unity,

That which is factually-based can never be destroyed,

By those who seem to be pumped up on family falsehoods and antagonistic racial steroids.

Oh DNA, the pepper in all that salt has been passed down to the present,

That which was inherited still remains,

A beautiful testament to all our ancestors in our veins.

 

DNA Doesn’t Lie: The Denial of the Pepper in Salted Histories

 
As a descendant of slaves and slave owners, I am always amazed at how my family history is often denied by some Euro DNA cousins or by descendants of my family’s slave owners despite DNA proof. Over the past 3-4 months, I’ve had a couple of individuals take issue with some of my blogposts that mentioned their ancestors or family surnames. The problems they have are rooted in the fact that I have shined a light into the dark closets of their own family histories. You know, the places where all the skeletons hang out and history is miraculously erased or revised.
 
Slavery was a very nasty, dehumanizing, ugly, and messy institution that lasted for centuries and impacted everyone. I’ve spent over a decade trying to break through all of my family’s genealogical brick walls that slavery left in its wake. My cousin Andrea and I turned to DNA testing to see if DNA would break down some of these walls. I’m happy to say that it has helped break down some walls as well as lead us to a better understanding of our family’s origins. We now know that we have a rich colonial family history in this country and that we descend from the original inhabitants of this land as well as the West African, Malagasy and European immigrants who arrived in the 1600s.
 
While I am proud of my family history, some people apparently take issue with a person of color, like me, being related to them or sharing ancestors with them. Of course, the first thing they think is that their ancestors couldn’t possibility have had children with a slave. Well, it seems that in my family that scenario was very common as it is in most African-American families. Black folks did not get their beautiful, varied hues — ranging from white to black— on their own. In my family, we also see some instances of consensual interracial relationships that happened centuries ago. For example, I have a Dutch 4th great-grandmother who married my mulatto 4th great-grandfather in the late 1700s. Going back further, some of my free Afro-Dutch ancestors also married Dutch women in the 1600s. Moreover, I am also a descendant of Irish immigrants who arrived in Boston, MA after the Civil War ended and Emancipation Proclamation was signed. My matrilineal haplogroup is H1ag1—European—by the way. It would be a failure on my part if I didn’t mention that my family also had ancestors who passed as white and whose descendants then became “white.” I am acutely aware of how different my family is from other African-American families. While being a slave descendant of a slave owner may be the primary way that I may be related to my Euro DNA cousins, there are other ways that I may be related to them other than via a slavery connection. In a nutshell, if I, or any of my relatives, show up on someone’s DNA Relative list, it is because we have an ancestor in common who shares a genetic tie to both of us. We are genetically related to each other regardless if that person considers us kin, related, or not. A DNA test is a great harbinger of truth and someone’s rejection of a genetic tie to me, or my family, doesn’t change that fact. It just doesn’t. You can’t wish away DNA.
 
A few months ago I wrote my 2nd blogpost on my Malagasy ancestors who arrived in Manhattan in the late 1600s and ended up in the Tappan Patent with my other West African, Lenapi, and Dutch ancestors.  In my blogpost,  I wrote the following:

 

 

Excerpt from Part II: DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan

 

DNA doesn’t lie. What I stated was and is the truth. My ancestors were related to the founding families of Bergen County, NJ and Rockland County, NY because they were either Tappan Patent land grantees, via the Manuel and De Vries Afro-Dutch families, or slaves of other Tappan Patent land grantees. The historical documentation on the formation of the Tappan Patent backs my claims up and our Euro DNA cousins further testify to our genealogical ties to the founding families of this area. Those founding families were the Blauvelts, Ackerman/Ackerson/Emerson, Demarest, Banta, VanBuskirk, Haring, Hopper, Zabriskie, Wortendyke, Van Winkle, Bogardus/Bogart, and others. They also intermarried among each other repeatedly. For example, Bantas married Blauvelts, Demarests, Ackermans, DeGroots and others. There are published Banta and Blauvelt genealogies onAncestry.com that serious researchers can access that documents these marriages.

Recently, I was contacted by a woman who initially portrayed herself to be a distant cousin of my 4th great-grandmother of Malagasy descent, Tun Snyder. This person was not a descendant of Tun at all. In fact, she was a descendant of people who had two surnames, Demarest and Banta, which were among the surnames I mentioned in my blogpost as well as just now. I spoke to her on 2 occasions and then received the email below from her.

 

Email from an individual with Banta and Demarest ancestors

 

It became apparent that she was phishing for information on my genetic ties to people who have the same surnames to the people on her family tree. She was looking for “proof” that I shared the same exact ancestors as her. She told me that she tested at FTDNA and if I wasn’t on her FTDNA Family Finder list, or matched her on Gedmatch, that I needed to follow her instructions above. I never responded to this person’s email as her claims are ridiculous. I never slandered or defamed her ancestors as I don’t even know who they are. Just because two individuals share the same surnames, does not mean they are even related to each other or share DNA with each other. The fact that I do have DNA cousins who have ALL the above surnames on their trees that go back to the same ancestors indicates that we have a genetic tie to someone in their family probably as a result of a Blauvelt marrying into their families. I may not be a DNA match to the above Banta/Demarest descendant, but several people in my family, myself included, have DNA Demarest and Banta cousin matches. In addition, her claims about me and CeCe Moore are totally unwarranted and baseless. And, no, she doesn’t have the right or privilege to take away my First Amendment right to free speech especially when I am discussing my own family history. Not today nor tomorrow.

 

On Demanding “Proof” from Slave Owner Descendants and Historical Amnesia: An Inconvenient Truth

 
The email reminded me of another Euro descendant and distant cousin related to my Lyon line from Greenwich, CT. That particular person not only demanded DNA proof of my DNA ties to the Lyon family, but also contacted a CT state archaeologist asking if it was even possible that I could be related to her ancestors via DNA and was asking around if I could make any claims in Probate Court to any thing related to the Lyon Family. Really? Do these folks even consider how offensive they are being?  On both occasions, it became very clear that these two individuals hadn’t even read my blogpost or even considered how well-documented I intentionally make my blogposts, with included references, for people like them. They also have shown that they have no clue as to how DNA is inherited.
 
 
 
From Dr. Brian Jones, CT State Archaeologist
 
 
Both my Pickett-Snyder and Green-Merritt lines are slave owner descended lines. It is well documented that my ancestors were owned by their slave owners, lived in the same households, and no doubt had mixed-race children with their slave owners or male relatives of their slave owners.  All of my family’s DNA tests point, not only to our tri-racial ethnic admixture, but also to our genetic ties to the slave owners and their descendants that were inherited because of consensual or nonconsensual relations. My family has colonial roots in NY, NJ, and CT that go back to New Amsterdam under the Dutch so it is not surprising that Dutch surnames appear on my family tree. To the above names, you can also add DeGroat/DeGroot, Vanderzee, Van Riper, Van Ness, Tenbroeck, and others. I strongly believe that my Dutch great-grandmother was a DeGroat/DeGroot based on DNA evidence.
 
The historical amnesia that some people have regarding slavery is immense. For the record, slavery did occur in the North and the rape of slave women is well documented in every society that was based on slavery—worldwide. These are historical facts that can’t be disputed. If someone is touchy that I mention slave rape aka nonconsensual relations, that’s their problem and not mine. I’m not going to sanitize what my ancestors went through in this country. Sorry, someone doesn’t get to claim that their ancestors, distinguished or not, would never have a child with a slave. How do they know that they didn’t? They weren’t around when their ancestors lived. When I can find my ancestors passed down in Blauvelt wills as property and listed as “slave servant” living with Ackermans, one can forever forfeit the right to ever claim their ancestors never owned slaves. Furthermore, it would really behoove people to research their own family history before trying to erase, or revise history, or critique my blogposts. When I provide references (i.e., books mentioning the NY-Madagascar Slave Trade) on, for example, Cornelius Van Horne, and can google a runaway slave ad that he himself placed in a colonial newspaper, clearly I did my research. They did not. The Van Horne family were well-known for owning slaves, as did most wealthy people of the time in NY and NJ, and they have been routinely written about in books on colonial New York history. No whitewashing will be done on my family history watch when I am trying to learn as much as I can about my family—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
 
 
Runaway slave ad placed by Cornelius Van Horne
Regarding my family’s matches to these Dutch founders of the Tappan Patent, though we do have some 4th cousin matches, a majority of these DNA cousins are in the 5th-8th cousin range. To ask a slave descendant — when most people don’t have family trees going back to the 1600s and 1700s — for “proof” of the exact slave owner ancestor who raped her female ancestor, is insensitive and mindboggling given the very nature of slavery. The institution of slavery can be seen as an example of a rape culture where establishing paternity and parental legitimacy wasn’t even thought of— only the act of reproduction was seen as important. Trust me, though a few slave owners had long-standing ties to their slave children, like my ancestor Daniel Lyon, a majority did not. A majority of slave owner baby daddies weren’t rushing out to register the births of their slave children or leaving them inheritances though they were selling their slave children and willing them to others upon their deaths. The fact that someone can even ask for proof, despite a preponderance of other evidence along with DNA, smacks of privilege and entitlement. They do not own any historical narrative which includes my ancestors. My ancestors lives were valid and they lived during the same historical period as their ancestors. However, that doesn’t mean that my ancestors’ own history should be erased or denied because a slave owner descendant wants to close her eyes, twinkle her nose, nod her head, and shout, “History be gone.” Nah!
 
 

 A Primer on How to Approach your DNA Cousins of Color

I came up with this primer because I think it is a topic that should be discussed. Many African-Americans have Euro DNA cousins which should come as a surprise to no one. There have been studies done that show African-Americans on average have 24% Euro DNA ( see  http://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(14)00476-5 ). Southern white Americans have on average 1% African DNA. Once people accept the fact that slavery happened and DNA was shared between slaves and slave owners, we can have a real honest conversation, without judgement, about how we are related. African-Americans and other people of color, who have DNA tested, want to know what anyone else wants to know when they finally get their DNA cousin list. How are we related to these people? Given the nature of slavery, the separation of family members, the geographical dislocation of our ancestors, we are hungry for more info on our roots.

 

Here’s my advice:

1) Acknowledge that you DO have a genetic link with a person of color. DNA doesn’t lie. That link may be due primarily to slavery or it could be due to consensual interracial relationships, racial passing, white immigration not related to slavery, immigration of one Euro descendant to the US and their siblings/other relatives to other parts of the world like the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc. Keep an open mind as to all possibilities. 

2) Don’t assume any guilt, or fear judgement, for actions that happened in the past. You are not responsible for the actions of your ancestors. That being said, don’t repeat the mistakes of the past by denying your DNA cousins in this day and age. While you can’t change the past, you can change the present. You are 100% responsible for educating yourself about all of your family history given the results of your DNA test and DNA cousin matches.

3) Don’t assume that your DNA cousins are looking for 40 acres and a mule, an inheritance, or any material gain from you. Your DNA cousins are looking for any info you can provide on your ancestors in relation to theirs. You may not be able to provide this info and that’s OK, too.

4) Share any info that you may have (e.g., names/surnames, family locations, names of slaves documented in family wills, cemetery locations, etc.). You never know what info may be valuable to someone. When you have nothing to go on, any info should be welcomed. Please be mindful that you may or may not share the same surnames. During slavery and after, African-Americans took on different surnames — either a slave owner surname or one of their own choosing. If you don’t match via a surname, then look for family records, like wills, that list slaves’ first names.

5) Don’t deny the other person’s family history. Don’t assume that because they provide you with new info on your family that what they are saying is a lie because it does not match up with what you’ve been told. Take seriously what has been relayed to you. Ask questions of your DNA cousins. Ask them where they got their info and then do your own research. You may just learn from a different perspective. It’s fine to be proud of your ancestors without denying historic reality. You may also find out more info on your family that expands your own view of your ancestors and the time period they occupied.

6) Take the time to learn about your local history so you can inform your DNA cousins about their potential ancestral geographic places of  orgin(s).  In addition, if you are related to an African-American from a different geographical location, remember that there was a Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as well as a domestic slave trade. Your ancestors may have lived in the Northeast, for example, and were slave owners who sold slaves South. If you share cMs with someone, you share a genetic tie. Don’t discount differences in geographical locations. You may have to dig deep into your family history. 

7) If your family history included hearing “whispers” of your ancestors having black children or other children of color, share that info with your DNA cousins as it just may be true. Not everything was recorded and oral history still counts as history. With DNA testing, that oral history may have been documented in someone’s genes.

8) Recognize that racial passing occurred whereby some African-Americans, especially mulattos, passed as “white.” If you match an African-American or other people of color, it may be because one of your ancestors racially passed. Their descendants were later recorded as white and their racial/ethnic origins were forever disguised.  Also, recognize that slavery was not a monolithic experience and varied over place and time. In the 1600s, in Virginia, for example, white female indentured servants did in fact marry African slaves and freemen. Their children took the status of their mother before the Black Codes came into being.

9) Recognize that you have an opportunity to celebrate your family’s diversity and that is a good thing. Consider that the results of your DNA test provide you with a chance to let go of the notion of racial purity. It’s highly overrated. The concept of race is a social construct and our DNA link to each other proves that.

10) At a time when our country is at odds with itself over issues of race, embrace the opportunity to be part of the solution to bring about racial healing. If everyone would stop and think about how DNA testing offers us the PROOF of how we are all inextricably linked to each other, then maybe we can start a new chapter in race relations.

 

For an example of how DNA cousins of different races can work together to their mutual benefit and joint family history , please see my last blogpost on Coming To the Table in Honor of Jack Husted. It  can be done.