Category Archives: Blacks in Rockland County

Our Abolitionist Ancestors: Newark Born and Bred

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 website which 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 Society deserve 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 Relations Marcia 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.

Let it be known that our extended Thompson- King family has an over 400+ year history in Newark/Essex County, NJ as well as most counties across the state, and they were among the original foot soldiers of freedom who insitutionalized what became known as the Underground Railroad in the Northeast. They were the ones who founded churches, schools, anti-slavery societies (The Colored Anti-Slavery Society of Newark, the Anti-Slavery Society of Essex County, The New Jersey State Anti-Slavery Society, as well as the American Anti-Slavery Society), businesses, benevolent and mutual aid organizations, anti-colonization societies, Masonic lodges, literary societies, temperance  societies, etc. as I have previously mentioned in my blogposts (1) From Slave to Stagecoach Owner: Thomas Thompson, (2)My Poor 3rd Great-Grandfather Cato, (3)The Underground Railroad House that Jacob D. King Built in Newark, (4) Rev. John A. King: Abolitionist, Preacher, and Planemaker and (5) The Blanchard Family of Orange, NJ: From Slavery to Freedom.

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

  

Newark Daly Advertiser April, 8, 1864
Centinel of Freedom November 3, 1863
Centinel of Freedom November 3, 1863

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, and Richard Goosbeck — 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 Countties, 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. OgdenCaleb 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.

Our Lyon Family Legacy: From CT to NY/NJ

Connecticut Puritans  settled in Newark (Essex County) and all over East Jersey in the early 1600s. Among Newark’s original settlers were the New Jersey Branch of our CT Lyon Family. Our Lyon ancestors have a strong abolitionist history with our Lyon-Green-Merritt ancestors who have always been linked by blood and kinship. The following blogposts detail our united family history that spans centuries up to TODAY: (1) A Look at Northern Slavery Personified: The Greens and Merritts of Greenwich, CT, (2) My Ancestors Are Now Buried In Someone’s Front Lawn, (3) Coming to the Table In Honor of Jack Husted, (4) Hangroot Was Our Hood: Reclaiming Black Greenwich History, (5) Our Ancestors Willed It And So It Came To Be, and (6) Off the Battlefield, But Still Suffering from PTSD. Most of our ancestors on our NJ Lyon line were Patriots during the Revolutionary War.
This 1806 map is in the Special Collections of Rutgers University http://mapmaker.rutgers.edu/NEWARK/Newark_1806.jpg

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.

Lyons Farm Schoolhouse, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.nj0497.photos?st=gallery) This school was the first schoolhouse erected in Newark 1728 and was burned during the Revolutionary War in 1782, but later rebuilt.

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 Church in 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.

Centinel of Freedom April 20, 1870-The “Negro Jubilee” was the day that the city of Newark celebrated the ratification of the 15th Amendment. As in all of Newark’s First of August celebrations, this historic event took place in Lincoln Park, the only park in the city large enough to hold thousands of people.
Hawley Green (1810-1880) and his wife Harriet Peterson Green (1816-1886)
Hawley Green, a photo taken by a cousin, circa 1870

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 and Harriet Green’s UGRR House at 112 Mainstreet in Peekskill. From John J. Curran’s 2008 book , Peekskill’s African American History: A Hudson Valley Community’s Untold Story.

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.

Photo taken by Teresa Vega of a section of a 1837 Map of Peekskill. The full map is in the Collection of the Field Library, Peekskill, NY.

Other notable descedants on Hawley and Harriet Green’s line include the Deyo and Bolin families from Ulster County and Poughkeepsie, NY.

From: Colin T. Naylor, Civil War Days in a Conutry Village, Peekskill,NY: Highland Press, 1961:58. Note: He was only married to Harriet who, like other colonial people of African descent had Native-American, West African and Malagasy ancestry.

 

The Highland Democrat, Peekskill, NY November 29, 1919
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.

The New York Tribune October 5, 1862

 

The Times Record, Troy new York June 13,1942
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.

The Buffalo Daily Republic August 8, 1849 Rev. Weir organized the first First of August Celebration in Buffalo.
North Star, March 20, 1851

The Liberator, June 27, 1862

 

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.

Frederick Douglass, Jr., husband of Virginia L. Molyneaux Hewlett

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!

George Butler, Peter Vogelsang, and Dr. John A. DeGrasse
Lewis Henery and Charles Redmond Douglass

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.”

San Francisco Chronicle, February 22, 1903

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…

 

 

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.