This blogpost is dedicated to all Speakers of TRUTH, especially my fellow BlackProGen LIVE panelists, who are on the battlefield for their ancestors and who continue to speak truth to power in a manner that makes their ancestors proud.
Our Obligation to Our Ancestors…
On this Good Friday 2019, I want to discuss the moral obligation that descendants have to their ancestors. This is a topic I have spoken about for years now and will continue to speak about. My cultural worldview is one that is African-Native and has been shaped by the fundamental belief that there is NO SEPARATION between those who reside on high and those of us still among the living here on earth. Our ancestors are with us wherever we go! They not only exists in the features they left us with, the beautiful rainbow shades we have, the color of our eyes, but they also are with us in the words we speak and the acts of restorative social justice that we do in THEIR NAMES. We call their names so that they will be remembered by all.
For years now, my multi-racial extended family has been in places and situations that can only be described as guided by our ancestors. We were not supposed to be at the last public hearing in Greenwich, CT before the “Byram African-American Cemetery,” Byram Cemetery and Lyon Cemetery were to be acquired by the Town of Greenwich back in September 2016. And yet we were there. On April 17, 2019, our extended family attended the Rutgers-Newark Agitate! The Legacy of Frederick Douglass and Abolition in Newark celebration . We were not supposed to be there originally, but there we were. I was initially slated to only speak three minutes due to time constraints, but I spoke for 10 minutes. Our ancestors rendered possible what seemed to be impossible. It was through God and their divine intervention that I was able to point out the FACTS of their lives — that they made up the bedrock of abolitionism in Newark.
On Restorative Social Justice for Our Ancestors
Last week my Goin cousin and fellow BlackProGen LIVE panelist, Dr. Shelley Murphy, informed me that the Boyd Carter Cemetery in Kearneysville, West Virginia, another historic African-American cemetery, is facing destruction. Our ancestors are in this cemetery facing a peace disturbed because a pipeline is slated to run through their sacred resting space. Shelley is working with other descendants of people interred there along with concerned allies, like Chris Petrella, a professor at American University and the Director of Advocacy and Strategic Partnerships with the Antiracist Research and Policy Center and others.
While we love working in tandem with our allies and welcome any help we can get, descendants of those buried in cemeteries, facing desecration and destruction, should fight on behalf of their own ancestors. It is OUR MORAL IMPERATIVE, OUR MORAL OBLIGATION as long as we reside on this earth to be our ancestors’ unified voice to articulate their pain, loud and clear, with our heads held high…
I want to say to the many people who have ancestral places that are currently under attack by outside forces that the battle is only over when WE SING and SHOUT! Don’t be dismayed that things aren’t going the way that you want them to go. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven!And in this our season, it’s time to get LOUDER and resurrect the lives and memories of those who are facing historic erasure.While the powers that be may eventually do what they always have done and erase our ancestral presence from the physical world, we, as descendants, have the power to do what we always had to do and that is to find ways of remembering those who have gone before us. While our ancestors risked being severely punished, mutilated and killed for writing and speaking out in their own defense, they always relied on the power of memory and oral history to stay in touch with their own ancestors. Today, we have the power to remember our ancestors, resurrect their communities, and then turn around and tell the world about our kin. We are not powerless! Our ancestors left behind their DNA in us to fight any battle that comes our way! We’ve come this far by faith…
Stories from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice
BlackProGen LIVE has been working with the descendants of lynching victims and have been helping them flesh out their family trees and tell their ancestral stories. As Nicka Smith points out, “In 2018, The Equal Justice Initiative opened the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice which memorialized more than 4,400 African American men, women, and children who were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.” Our two upcoming BlackProGen LIVE episodes “will feature the family history of some of the victims documented in the memorial in an effort to humanize and bring light to their lives outside of a tragic event they have been associated with,” states Smith.
BlackProGen LIVE is committed to educating and helping descendants of both Free and enslaved ancestors discover their ancestral stories. As a group, we believe that our research is nothing short of reparational acts of restorative social justice. Time and time again, we have proven that here are ways in which our ancestral stories and family history can be discovered in spite of slavery.
In conclusion, I posted this video almost 8 months ago and I am going to leave it right here AGAIN because our ancestors are with us wherever we go and they guide our research every step of the way!
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, 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. 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 descedant 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, 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).
This blogpost is dedicated to all my Lyon, Green and Merritt ancestors and their descendants who are our cousins. I would also like to thank Jo Conboy and her family as well as the Greenwich Preservation Trust for all of their support.
On The Lyon Moral Compass That Was Inherited
For the past six months, my family and I have had to deal with our ancestors’ burial ground being desecrated and our ancestors’ peace, above and below the boulder, being disturbed in Byram Cemetery. Though I am not an overtly religious person, I am a spiritual one. My mother, Joyce Green Vega, instilled in me a faith that anything was possible with God on our side. I was raised in Messiah Baptist Church in Brockton, MA and I have never forgotten the seeds of faith that were sowed in me there. If there is anything I’ve learned in the past six months, it is that my faith and connection to my ancestors have never been stronger. I know without a doubt that my family’s quest for justice for our ancestors is on the right side of history and that we can’t lose with God and all our ancestors are on our side.
Last August, my cousins and I visited our ancestral burial ground in Byram Cemetery in Greenwich, CT. We were all set to settle for a plaque on a tree commemorating what used to be called “The Colored Cemetery.” I’ve written about that visit in another post so I won’t rehash it here. I am now certain that God and our ancestors, above and below the boulder, were sending us a message on that day. That message was a simple one and it was that they gave us the same moral compass that they gave all their Lyon descendants. That moral compass was what led our Lyon ancestors to reserve a space in Byram Cemetery for their slaves, slave descendants and free blacks in the first place. It’s the same moral compass that they also gave Henry S. Lyon and all the other Lyons in Byram back in 1890 when the was first desecration of the Byram Cemetery occurred. Back then, the Lyons stood up for the people who were buried in “The Colored Cemetery” — some of whom they no doubt knew and remembered —-when they said that the land was consecrated and not meant for personal use. It’s the same moral compass that our Lyon cousins had almost three years ago when they, too, decided to take a stand against the current desecration of Byram Cemetery along with members of the Greenwich Preservation Trust and other concerned citizens. They, too, stood up for our ancestors in our family’s absence over these past three years. On September 22, 2016, I spoke on behalf of our ancestors buried in what is now known as the Byram African-American Cemetery as well as our Lyon ancestors who created that sacred space for them to rest in peace. In less than a month, I discovered that my cousins and I had also inherited that same moral compass. I considered it a gift that I hope will never stop ticking.
We Still Are United: Now More Than Ever
On March 26, 2017, I spoke, as part of the Greenwich Preservation Trust Heritage Speaker Series, at the Garden Education Center of Greenwich in the Cos Cob, NY. It was the first time I had ever spoken in Greenwich, our ancestral hometown with roots going back to 1600s. That my family, the descendants of Lyon slaves, was joined by our Lyon cousins, the descendants of our family slave owners was epic. I would never have predicted this day to happen six months earlier. It wasn’t even a thought. But, our ancestors willed it and so it came to be.
We Will Be Coming to the Table Again and Again
In my blogpost on my 4th great-uncle Jack Husted, I wrote about how my Lyon cousin Julie Pollock helped me discover what happened to Jack who was sold as a slave in 1796 at the age of 3. Julie later told me that her 3rd great-uncle, Seth Lyon, who along with his first cousin Gilbert Lyon, harbored a fugitive slave, Peter John Lee, for 6 years until he was recaptured and taken back to VA in 1836 and re-enslaved. It was Julie who led me to investigate what else our Lyon cousins were doing besides harboring a fugitive slave. This led to the discovery that they were members of the Northeast Whig Party which held anti-slavery views, socialized with a Greenwich Underground Railroad stationmaster, Deacon Jonas Mead, and may routinely interacted with people who attended one of the three known abolitionist churches in Greenwich. I am currently investigating the social networks of our Lyon ancestors as well as other Greenwich abolitionists and anti-slavery advocates. Likewise, I am also researching our Green family and their ties to other free black communities in Westchester County, NY and our family link to Hawley and Harriet Green of Peekskill, NY, both stationmasters on the Underground Railroad. That our Greens have ties to these people is very significant. I believe it is critical that we look at the unsung role of free blacks in Greenwich and in Westchester County, NY and how these free blacks may have aided their enslaved brothers and sisters in their quest for freedom via a route that cuts across Westchester County, NY and potentially ends up at our ancestors’ UGRR House in Peekskill, NY.
I am looking forward to telling the story of my Lyon, Green, and Merritt ancestors and how they came to the table in the early 1800s. I rejoice in knowing that I will be aided in some of my research by my Lyon cousins as well. Our joint history came out of the darkness of slavery personified in Greenwich, CT that was born and bred in Byram. It is my ultimate goal to render visible and bring to light all those good Greenwich people who worked together to make this country far greater than it was before. They may have been considered ordinary then, but history should remember them as anything but.
Hangroot Was Our Hood: Reclaiming Black Greenwich History will be my next blogpost. Stay Tuned……
The Town of Greenwich has taken steps to acquire three abandoned cemeteries, including The Byram African-American Cemetery. Our family supports the Town of Greenwich, Conservation Commission, Cemetery Commission, Greenwich Historical Society, and Greenwich Preservation Trust as they move forward in acquiring and preserving these three historic cemeteries.
As descendants of Lyon slaves and slave owners, our position is that any change to The Byram African-American Cemetery was and is a desecration to the cemetery and to the memory of everyone buried there. The Lyon Family specifically created this cemetery as a finally resting place for their slaves as well as free blacks, who were most likely their former slaves, so it is also disrespectful to the memory and original intentions of the Lyon Family who are buried above the Byram African-American Cemetery. There should be no expectations of neutrality on this issue from the descendants of the Green/Merritt family. None whatsoever
How Does One Respond When the Memory of Your Ancestors’ Burial Ground Is Denied by Greed?”
It’s 6 am on the morning on September 23, 2016 and I am bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and I may be even just a tad bit strident, too. I had the opportunity yesterday to make our public statement about the Byram African-American Cemetery — the place where our family’s ancestors are buried along with some of the other earliest Native – African-American residents of the Town of Greenwich. It was the first time our family has ever stood up for our ancestors and others in public. Imagine our surprise when we heard someone give voice to those who had desecrated our ancestral burial ground by greed DENY the existence of the actual Byram African-American Cemetery. I remind you that this is the same cemetery that these same people offered to put a plaque on a tree for us almost a month ago. Yes, they tried, and epically failed, to sway us with a plaque in memory of a cemetery they now believe never existed. You heard me right. I visited the cemetery with two of my cousins and we all heard the same thing. Our hearing was fine then and is fine now.
I was grateful that I had my cousins with me yesterday from both sides of the Lyon color line. They were there with me in person and via the statements they wrote in support of the Byram African-American Cemetery though all of them refer to the place as the “African-American portion of the Old Cemetery.” The reason they all refer to this cemetery this way is because that was how their own Lyon family oral history recorded it. Because none of my ancestors were able to tell us about this particular cemetery, I now take comfort in, as well as full ownership, of my Lyon cousins’ family oral history regarding the Byram African-American Cemetery. A big thank you to Chris, Charles, Julie and all my other Lyon cousins who shared this history with me. Yesterday, we sat at the hearing knowing that our ancestors were just as proud of us as they were when our other Lyon ancestors stood up for what was right in 1890. We gladly followed in their footsteps. History matters. Truth matters. Our shared family history matters and it is hidden no more. Out of the darkness of slavery born in Greenwich, we are bringing our shared family history to light together.
I sit here and now marvel at how convenient it is to claim that the Byram African-American Cemetery never existed in the first place. The more they talk, the more questions we have. Does the denial of the very existence of the Byram African-American Cemetery, and the people buried there by extension, have anything to do with them increasing the value of their prime waterfront real estate by their front-lawn hijacking of our ancestors’ burial ground? Why make up unfounded claims that are easily disputed by the documented evidence about the Byram African-American Cemetery? Did not our Lyon ancestors, who originally owned the land, have the right to determine where the Byram African-American Cemetery was located? Why should it’s shape and location even matter? Why would our Lyon ancestors stand up for our Native- African-American ancestors in 1890, which was recorded in The Port Chester Journal at the time, if the cemetery never existed? Where is the proof that a barn was ever located on the cemetery grounds for decades especially since the owner of the home conceded to protecting “The Colored Cemetery,” which was also noted in The Port Chester Journal, at the time? Why would all those Byram Lyons sign a petition in 1890 to protect the “The Colored Cemetery” if the cemetery wasn’t an actual place? Did they even consider that the Lyons, who lived all around Byram in 1890, may have actually known some of the people buried there in their lifetime which is why they stood up for them in the first place? Why would the statements of two individuals in this century carry more weight than the documented, actual words and deeds of people who knew of “The Colored Cemetery” in the 19th Century? How did their Ground Penetrating Radar Survey — one that only detected metal — become a substitute for a professional archaeological excavation that searches for the presence of human remains? Is it now more politically expedient for them to blame a previous owner rather than admit that they did all the damage to the cemetery in the first place? Why did they admit to my cousins and me less than a month ago that they had in fact “beautified the property” if they are now claiming someone else did it? Does insinuating that the Byram African-American Cemetery never existed make them sleep easier at night after they desecrated it? Does “cooperating” with the Town of Greenwich really necessitate the denial of the actual existence of the cemetery and the people buried there? Did they even consider that we can clearly see this for what it is –an illegal land grab of an abandoned cemetery — for greed? Why did they even offer to put a plaque on a tree for us when they knew what the Town of Greenwich was proposing instead? Did they really think we would want a plaque on a tree that could be taken on and off as they pleased after hearing that the Town of Greenwich was considering making the cemetery an actual historic designated African-American one? Did they even consider how INSULTING it was for us to even listen to the nonsense they proposed yesterday? My inquiring mind would like to know. My ancestors buried in the Byram African-American Cemetery, Byram Cemetery and the Lyon Cemetery would like to know. Certainly, my Lyon ancestors, who are buried above the boulder, have a very vested interest in especially knowing since they intended to create a sacred burial space so that their slaves, ex-slaves, and their slave descendants, like our family, could rest in peace undisturbed.
Ancestor Slave Research and The Issue of Historical Erasure
For those of us who are descendants of people who were enslaved, it is a constant battle to find our ancestors without the normal genealogical paper trails that others use with ease. We are left sifting through wills and inventories, digging through slave owner family papers, searching tax records of slave owners, researching newspaper ads and articles, etc. just looking for our ancestors’ names. And even then, if we are lucky, we only have vague traces of our ancestors existence. The lack of “proof of ancestor existence” is always out there reminding us of how our ancestors lives were minimized even in death. Our ancestors were considered property and their lives were not seen as being valid — of being worthy — of remembrance. Tears. The ancestral battles we have to fight are many. So, if you wonder why I repeatedly say this in my blogposts, it’s because people need to be constantly reminded that the historical erasure of African-Americans in this country, on so many levels, is real and ever present. Once you acknowledge how hard it is to find out any concrete information on any African-American ancestor, then you can also truly appreciate the information found because it wasn’t easy finding it in the first place.
Sometimes, we search for our slave ancestors to no avail. Our family lines, by historic design, become lost to us for eternity. But when we do find our slave ancestors, after looking sometimes for years and years, their presence on our family trees become all that much sweeter and richer. We find a piece of our historical selves that that no one can ever take away from us again. Finding our slave ancestors means that we can claim victory over that aspect of slavery which was designed to prevent this sort of family reunion in the future. When I found our Peg and Anthony a year ago, I won’t lie, I danced, screamed, shouted and I will continue to do so. We got the victory for sure.
On the Byram African-American Cemetery
Our family is an old Greenwich family with Euro, Native – African-American Lyon roots stretching back to the 1600s. Our Lyon- -Greens-Merritts were part of Greenwich when Greenwich was just a town filled with “gentleman farmers,” as our cousin Chris says. We represent that old Greenwich that can’t be denied by any newcomer. Nope. Our Lyon-Green-Merritt line left a lot of information behind over their 400 year existence in this town. The memory of where our Peg, Anthony, our other ancestors as well as other early Native -African-Americans residents of Greenwich are buried, will not be conveniently erased now by those who have alternate agendas, seek to profit off prime waterfront real estate or by those who believe that historical homes and places don’t matter in the present. The Byram African-American Cemetery, also known by its previous name “The Colored Cemetery,” was a real physical location that existed when our Lyon family created their two other cemeteries. It existed so that their slaves, ex-slaves, and slave descendants would have a sacred burial ground of their own. Shame on those who now suggest that it didn’t exist at all. Shame on you indeed. Their wishful thinking is futile.
It’s 7 am now and I am, more now than ever, adamant about protecting the memory and cultural legacy of my ancestors, who are buried in the Byram African-American Cemetery, as well as all of the other Naive – African-Americans buried there. There is no time to be wary when so much work is yet to be done and battles yet to be fought. I thank all my ancestors and extended family for keeping me strong and steadfast in this regard. We stand united still. Our ancestors are no doubt smiling down on us.
Here is the complete Board of Selectman Meeting at Greenwich Town Hall. The full discussion of the cemeteries begins at the 51:00 mark. Please click on the link here.
Though the video below deals with the desecration of an Afro-Canadian cemetery, it certainly reflects the same sentiments we feel over the Byram African-American Cemetery and the denial that it never existed. Those people buried there are our ancestors. I will
Here is Our Green-Merritt Family Statement on the Byram African-American Cemetery.
We will continue to give voice to our ancestors as well as to all the other African-Americans who are buried there. May they continue to rest in peace.
As descendants of Native- African-Americans buried in the Byram African-American Cemetery and as descendants of the Lyon family, our family applauds the efforts of the Town of Greenwich in wanting to preserve the Byram Cemetery, Lyon Cemetery and Byram African-American Cemetery. These three cemeteries are testaments to the presence of these early settlers and to the presence of African-Americans in Greenwich from the beginning. Certainly, the value of the historic preservation of these cemeteries is without question.
Regarding the Byram African-American Cemetery, our 4th great-grandparents, Anthony and Peg Green, are no doubt buried there along with other ancestors. Our 4th great-grandmother Peg was a slave of Daniel Lyon and of Benjamin Woosley Lyon. Peg’s son Jack was a slave of Simeon Lyon. Our genetic ties to the Lyon family start with Daniel, and go back to James, John, John and finally back to Thomas Lyon. Throughout Peg’s life, she maintained a long lasting relationship with her former slave owners, even after her emancipation in 1800, that was no doubt due to the family ties that they shared —- ties that were born out of slavery personified in Greenwich. The original intent of our Lyon ancestors was to build a sacred burial place for their slaves and ex-slaves— for people like Anthony and Peg. It was to give these people a final resting place where they could rest in peace for eternity undisturbed. If any one deserved to rest in peace, it was these people who spent part or all of their lives literally slaving away. This was hallowed and consecrated land from the beginning.
Our family is relatively late to this whole cemetery issue. It was only a year ago that we were able to locate our 3rd and 4th great-grandparents and less than a month since we first heard about the infringement to the Byram African-American Cemetery that occurred 2 years ago and our feelings are still raw. Who would have ever thought that our ancestors’ burial ground would now be someone’s front lawn? We certainly didn’t expect that. That being said, we are overjoyed that our Lyon cousins – cousins whose ancestors stood up for our ancestors when the same thing happened in 1890— and other members of the Greenwich Preservation Trust, sounded the alarm about what was happening to our ancestors’ burial place in our absence. I can’t state enough how much that meant to our family. Our shared history matters. That the Town of Greenwich and the Conservation Commission produced a documentary study that details their plans to preserve, redevelop, and further interpret the Byram African-American Cemetery is also commendable. That we are now here discussing the Town’s acquisition of all three cemeteries is laudable indeed.
As someone who is both a family historian and genealogist and who has a degree in anthropology, I am looking forward to sharing any historical information I have with the Conservation Commission, Cemetery Committee, Greenwich Historical Society and with the Greenwich Preservation Trust. I want people to know that there is a long history of African-Americans in this town. Our family has a long 250+ year history in Greenwich and Greenwich has always been our hometown. Our ancestors were emancipated in 1800 and 1816 and went on to become successful farmers and laborers. They were members of the Second Congregational Church, the Stanwich Congregational Church and the First United Methodist Church in the early 1800s. When the Second Congregational Church opened up Lot 23 in Union Cemetery in 1851, for the burial of the poor and people of color, our Green, Merritt, and Husted ancestors were among the first to buy burial plots. Half of the African-Americans, who are buried in Lot 23 of Union Cemetery, are our ancestors and their in-laws. When this country needed volunteers to fight on the right side of history during the Civil War, 18 African-American men from Greenwich proudly served in the 29th Infantry of the Connecticut Colored Troops. Out of the 18, 2 were my 3rd great-uncles, 3 were my 1st cousins 4XR, and 4 were their Peterson, Banks, Watson, and Mills in-laws. In 1882, 23 African-American residents of Greenwich came together and formed the Little Bethel AME Church, the first black church in Greenwich, and our Greens and Merritt ancestors were among the founding members. While we represent only one African-American family with deep roots in Greenwich and maybe the only family here to speak on behalf of the people who are buried in the Byram African-American Cemetery, please be aware that there are many more stories that remain to be told about the African-American presence in Greenwich. I, for one, will telling those stories in the near future.
Going forward, our family sees only positive outcomes. Once the Town acquires the Byram African-American Cemetery, we hope that we can all work together to restore the cemetery, discuss its historical significance as the burial place of the town’s earliest Native – African-American residents, to forever link it to the Lyon family whose original intention was to create this part of the Old Cemetery for their slaves and ex-slaves, and to add some sort of monument to the cemetery so that further infringement never occurs again. We also support any future excavation of the cemetery to yield any scientific information about the individuals buried there as well as have a proper re-burial ceremony afterwards. The African-Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan and the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground in Albany, NY provide excellent examples of positive community involvement and education regarding found and excavated African-American burial grounds. Again, our family is looking forward to a brighter future for the Byram African-American Cemetery and likewise for the Byram Cemetery and Lyon Cemetery.
God bless my Greenwich ancestors, both enslaved and free, whose life stories I am honored to tell almost 250 years later. We call your names so you will be remembered by all.
I dedicate this blogpost to the following people: My cousin Andrea Hughes, who remains my main research partner and whose research skills were instrumental in my writing this blogpost; My grandfather, Richard W. Greene, Jr., who instilled in me a love of family history and pride; and to all my immediate and extended Green and Merritt family members who should feel proud that we descend from a group of people who survived slavery and went on to prosper. We are because they were. We come from strong New England stock indeed.
My Green and Merritt family history begins with my 4th great-grandparents, Peg Merritt and Anthony Green (also referred here as Tone). They were members of the pioneering slave class that began the walk to freedom so to speak. Their emancipation journey was long, arduous, difficult, and precarious at best. What follows below is an account of my ancestors slow crawl out of slavery and their slow jog to freedom. The fact that my enslaved ancestors persevered and eventually prospered is a very American story that needs to be told. I am honored to be able to tell their story.
Unlike most African-Americans who face a real struggle in locating their ancestors before 1870 —the year that African-Americans were first listed as people by their name—I was blessed to have been able to find a paper trail for my Greenwich ancestors that goes back to the late 1700s. As you will see below, this paper trail includes bills of sale, a letter of indenture, emancipation records, land records, wills, census records, etc. Because my ancestors were enslaved in the North, they were emancipated earlier and this led to an accumulation of records concerning them. However, before Peg and Anthony’s story can be told, a short overview of slavery in Connecticut is needed.
Overview of Slavery in Connecticut
The first African slaves to arrive in Connecticut came as the first colonial settlements were founded in the mid-1600s. These slaves were few in number. It must be mentioned that Connecticut slavery also included enslaved Native Americans. However, as the wars with Native Americans continued and Native Americans were being decimated in the process of colonization, the preference for black slaves increased so by the 1700s you see a marked increase in the number of black slaves being brought into Connecticut via the Caribbean. In 1680, there were about 30 slaves in Connecticut and, by 1774, that number increased to over 5,100 enslaved people.
As the number of enslaved people increased, Connecticut instituted their own Black Codes. These were laws, enacted between 1690 and 1730, that proscribed the relationship between master and slave. These laws also did not distinguish between slaves and Free blacks. This meant that black people had to carry a pass outside of town, could not be out after 9pm at night, could not sell items without proof of ownership and permission of their master, could not speak out against or strike their master or any white person, could not drink in public or create a disturbance, could not receive training in a militia, etc. Violation of any of these things would result in punishment, including whippings. However, black people in general had some avenues in court to address issues concerning them by entering petitions and pleas and by making complaints.
There are some who mistakenly argue that slavery in the North was a more “benevolent” form of slavery versus slavery in the South. I categorically reject this assumption. To be a slave is to be forever locked into the most dehumanizing and subjugating position one can be in without relief — one’s location does not matter. To be a slave was to be at the absolute bottom of the social hierarchy. Of course, there are critical differences in the way slavery was experienced in Connecticut than that which was experienced in the South—namely, in size and scope. For the most part, when we discuss slavery in Connecticut, we are talking about farmers having 1-2 slaves working either as farmhands or as domestic servants. They lived in close quarters with their slave owners. Unlike the Southern system of slavery with its large plantations and anywhere from tens to hundreds of slaves, slavery in Connecticut was very small-scale and “family-centered” in scope.
The shift in how slavery, as an institution, was viewed changed as the Revolutionary War approached in the mid-1770s. The Connecticut anti-slavery movement played an instrumental part in getting a law passed in 1774 that banned the importation of slaves into Connecticut. The hypocrisy of fighting for freedom from England while continuing to enslave Black people became apparent and so the calls to end slavery grew louder. Though emancipation bills were defeated in 1777, 1779, and 1780, anti-slavery activists did not give up. At this point in time, Connecticut had the most slaves in all of New England. Finally, in 1784, the Gradual Emancipation Act was passed.
The Gradual Emancipation Act of 1784 was the beginning of the end of slavery in Connecticut. This act freed children born to enslaved women who were born after March 1, 1784. However, these children had to serve a term until they were age 25 for men and 21 years for women. Prior to these ages, the children with in the care of their parents and/or owners and had to work for their masters. They could also be apprenticed out to others until they gained their freedom. Slave owners were required to register the births of all children born after March 1, 1784 and were penalized if they did not. Of course, there were slave owners who did not comply with the law. Unfortunately, those enslaved children, who were born prior to March 1st, 1784, were considered slaves for life or until their owners emancipated them. In 1797, the Gradual Emancipation Act was amended. The age requirement for all was reduced to a term of 21 years for all and it prevented those under gradual emancipation from being sold out of state. By 1800, 83% of the Black population was free. By 1848, the year that slavery was officially abolished in Connecticut, there were only 6 slaves left in the state.
Slavery in Greenwich, CT
Jeffrey B. Mead’s book Chains Unbound: Slave Emancipations in the Town of Greenwich, CT is the only compilation of transcribed emancipation records that exists for Greenwich’s formerly enslaved people. In this sense, it is a groundbreaking book and excellent resource for descendants, like me, of Greenwich’s early black population. According to Mead, slave labor was never widespread in Greenwich. He mentions that in 1762, Greenwich had a population of 2,021 whites and 52 blacks and in 1774, Greenwich had 2,654 whites and 122 blacks. By the time of the 1790 census, Greenwich had a total population of 3,175, of which only 49 individuals owned 80 slaves. The two largest slave owners owned 7 and 8 slaves respectively. Most Greenwich slave owners only had 1-2 slaves.
Greenwich slaves lived with their owners for the most part. The Bush-Holly House in Greenwich provides an example of the type of living quarters slaves occupied in the slave owners home during slavery. Joseph McGill, of the Slave Dwelling Project spent the night at the Bush-Holly House, with members of the organization Coming To The Table, and they describe their experiences here.
The Slave Owners of Our Family
The slave owners of my family were six that we know of —Daniel Lyon, Jr., Nathan Merritt, Sr., Nathan Merritt, Jr., Simeon Lyon, Benjamin Woolsey Lyon, and John Green. From my research into these families, I learned that they were all part of the same geographically close, extended family. For example, Nathan Merritt, Sr. and the mother of John Green, Mary Merritt Green, were siblings. This would make Nathan Merritt Jr. and John Green first cousins. Benjamin Woolsey Lyon’s wife was Phebe Merritt Lyon. Daniel Lyon, Jr., Simeon Lyon, and Benjamin Woolsey Lyon were all cousins and all 3 were descendants of ThomasLyon of Greenwich, CT. John Green’s brother James’s children, Thomas Green, Nancy Green Husted, and Sarah Green Wilson, all maintained contact with the children and grandchildren of Peg and Anthony after their deaths. In fact, Sarah Green Wilson’s son, James Wilson, was the executor of 4 of my ancestors’ wills. From 1810-1870, the descendants of both slaves and slave owners are living with or near each other.
It is my belief, that because the extended white slave owner families lived in close proximity to each other, my ancestors were able to maintain a level of family cohesion that allowed them to survive slavery as a family in tact. When you look at census records from 1790-1820, you see that the Merritts, Husteds, Wilsons, Lyons, and Greens all living near each other. This meant that, in some cases, Peg and Anthony were able to see their children frequently. Since both slave owners and slaves attended the same churches, this also provided a venue for them to reconnect with their children. That being said, both Peg and Anthony had to wait 30 years, from the time of her emancipation, for all their family members to be free.
Nutmeg State Slaves: The Wait to be Free
On July 7th, 1790, my 4th great-grandmother Peg was sold to Nathan Merritt, Jr. by Daniel Lyon, Jr. She was 20 years old at the time. Because she was born around 1770, she was considered a slave for life until she was emancipated. She was sold for “the sum of fifty pounds of New York money” to Nathan Merritt, Jr. As a young slave, she was subject to the whims of her slave owner and this included being forced into non-consensual relations. While enslaved with Nathan Merritt, Jr., Peg gave birth to her first son, Charles Merritt, on May, 11, 1791 and gave him the Merritt surname. Through DNA testing of a Charles Merritt descended cousin, who has a 4th DNA cousin match that descends from the family of Nathan Merritt, we know that her son Charles was fathered by a Merritt male. Her second son Jack, whose birth record recorded him as Tack, was also born when she was in the Merritt household on February 14, 1793. He was most likely fathered by a Merritt as well. Sometime before 1795, Peg returned to the Lyon family and was living with Benjamin Woolsey Lyon, brother of Daniel. This would make him the 3rd slave owner she had by the time she was 25 years old. It would also meant that she was separated from her sons as they were still owned by her prior slave owner and were considered his property.
We know that Peg met Anthony sometime in the early 1790s. Because Nathan Merritt, Jr. and John Green, Anthony’s slave owner, were first cousins, there is the high probability that they met at a family gathering of the slave owners prior to her being sold to Benjamin Woolsey Lyon. While she was a slave of Benjamin Woolsey Lyon, she gave birth to Anthony Green, Jr. on December 3rd, 1795 and to Plato Green on November 1st, 1798. From the mid 1790s onward, they were for all purposes a married couple.
As slaves, Peg and Anthony had no control over their own lives or those of their children. They could be separated at any time from each other. This was very evident on August 18, 1796 when her son Jack was sold at the age of three by Nathan Merritt, Jr. who still owned him. Jack was sold for “the sum of 15 pounds of New York money” to Simeon Lyon of Greenwich.
Going through Benjamin Woolsey Lyon’s will in 1809, we see that Anthony, Jr. remained a slave in Benjamin Woolsey Lyon’s household as he is mentioned as “his negro boy Tone”. His value in 1809 was $75 and it was stated that he had to serve 25 years. Plato isn’t mentioned in his will so he may have been sold to someone else after Peg was emancipated.
It should be noted that Peg’s older sons Charles, Jack, and Anthony, Jr. would have been gradually emancipated after serving a term of 25 years according to the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1784. Her last 4 sons by Anthony—Plato, Allan (my 3rd great-grandfather), Henry and Solomon would have been required to only serve a 21 year term as the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1797 decreased the time that enslaved children had to serve by 4 years. This meant that Charles would be emancipated in 1816, Jack in 1818, Anthony, Jr. in 1820, Plato in 1819, Allen in 1825, Henry in 1829, and Solomon in 1831.
When Freedom Came: The Emancipation of Peg & Anthony Green
Peg was the first to be emancipated on April 12, 1800 by Benjamin Woolsey Lyon. She was now 30 years old. As among the newly emancipated, she would have had to fend for herself. Given that she was in a solid relationship with Anthony and may have been living with him then, it’s easy to assume that he may have been able to provide for her and their three sons —Allen Henry, and Solomon—born after she was emancipated, but this was not the case. Though Peg and Anthony are first recorded in the 1810 census as living as Free blacks with a household of 5, they were still not able to provide adequately for their children. In 1812, their son Henry became a ward of the town and was bound out to Nathan Merritt, Sr. of New Castle, West Chester County, NY until the 2nd day of May 1829. This letter of indenture specifically states that“with the consent and advice of Jabaz Mead, Justice of the Peace in said county put place and bind out Henry, a Negro boy (son of Margaret) a poor child whose parents do not take care of nor provide for him and who has become chargeable to the town…” In return for Henry’s labor, Nathan Merritt, Sr. was to provide “meat, drink, washing, lodging, clothing, and physic (exercise) during said term.”This letter of indentured was signed on April 15, 1812. It should be noted that Nathan Merritt, Sr. was the father of Peg’s former slave owner as well as the uncle of John Green, Anthony’s slave owner at the time. Both Peg and Anthony may have appealed to him to take on their son Henry when they couldn’t provide for him. I would like to think that they leveraged personal ties to do so.
The life of the formerly enslaved person was not easy. It was a constant struggle to survive and provide adequately for oneself. We do know that Peg had to wait another 16 years for Anthony to be emancipated after she was. On April 15, 1816, three months after his slave owner John Green died, Anthony was emancipated by his widow Mary Green and her son-in-law/nephew Thomas Green. Its worth noting that at the time John Green died, Anthony was valued at $100.
First Generation Freedom: From Slaves to Landowners
After Peg and Anthony were emancipated, they slowly began to build a future for themselves and their children. It was through their sheer hardwork and determination that they were able to improve their lives. As Free blacks, they probably hired themselves out as domestic servants and/or farmhands and saved money in the process. It was quite common for Greenwich slave owners to have both slaves and Free blacks working for them. What we do know is that on April 17, 1820, Anthony bought into a $5,000 land deal with some prominent men from Greenwich, CT and Rye, NY. These men were Thomas Green, Zopher Mead, Isaac Mead, Jabez Mead, William Robbins, Carr Robbins of Greenwich, CT and Samuel Pine, Samuel Lyon, and Elisha Belcher of Rye, NY.
There are so many questions that need to be asked about this land deal. It should be mentioned that Thomas Green was the nephew/son-in-law of John Green, Anthony’s former slave owner. Is it possible that Anthony continued to work for the Green family after emancipation? Is it possible that Thomas Green let him in on the land deal? Jabez Mead was also the Justice of the Peace who signed off on Henry’s letter of indenture. Did Jabez Mead know Anthony and Peg before this land deal? Did Samuel Lyon know Anthony and Peg from Benjamin Woolsey Lyon? In his 1840 will, Benjamin Green, a nephew of John Green, states that he is leaving land to his wife. He just happens to mention that some of his land borders the land of Mary Green and Anthony Green. Was Anthony’s property, next to Mary’s, purchased as part of the land deal? Mary and Anthony were around the same age and definitely knew each other their entire lives. Did Thomas and Mary help Anthony out? Anything is quite possible since Greenwich is a small town and there were few blacks at the time. Anthony and Peg may have been well-known to the larger white Greenwich community.
As an aside, Jabez Mead, one of the men listed in the $5K land deal, is Jeffrey B. Mead’s 3rd great-grandfather. How wonderful it is to know that not only has Jeffrey been an asset to my research, but that his ancestor may have been instrumental in helping my 4th-great-grandfather accumulate wealth in the form of property.
By the mid-1820s, Peg and Anthony would see that most of their children were free. With Allen reaching the emancipation age of 21 in 1825, that meant that only Henry and Solomon were left to be freed. At some point before 1830, Peg must have passed away. We do not have an official death date for her. We don’t see her listed on the 1830 census. Peg and Anthony were around the same age in the 1820 census, but there is no woman in her age category with him in the 1830 census. When she died is anyone’s guess.
‘We do believe, however, that the most likely place for her and Anthony to be buried was in Byram Cemetry. This cemetery was built by the Lyon’s family for their descendants and included a Colored Cemetery for their slaves and Free blacks. It would make perfect sense for Peg and Anthony to have been buried there as they were both affiliated with the Lyon family. There is no way to verify this though as no records were kept of the black burials and no tombstones exist. Of course, this is just another way that our ancestors have been erased from the historical record.
Though Peg may have died before Anthony, both of them did get to see some of the next generation born free from the shackles of slavery. The Greens and Merritts were definitely fruitful and multiplied. Charles Merritt and his wife Catherine’s family included Abraham, Samuel, Jarvis, Ann, and Isaac. Jack Husted and his wife Helen had Nancy, Jane Ann, Sarah, and Lucinda. Anthony, Jr. and his wife Abigail expanded their family with Sylvia, Mary, Susan, Caroline, Anthony, III, and Henry. My third great-grandparents, Allen and Mary, went all out with Sarah, Thomas, Rebecca, Samuel, James, John, Charles, George, Darius, Anna, and Benjamin. Henry and his wife Tempy had Warren, William, George, Adelaide Louisa, Harriet, Frances, Susan, David, and Randolph. Solomon and his wife Lucinda only has a daughter, Ellen. We have no record for children for Plato.
It was Anthony who lived to see all his children emancipated. Without a doubt, he accepted both Charles and Jack — Peg’s oldest sons — as his own along with the five sons they had together. According to the 1830 census, his sons, Charles, Anthony, Henry, and Jack, all were living independently and working as laborers.
Anthony passed away sometime in 1836. We found a probate record mentioning that James Wilson was appointed the executor of his estate. His estate was only worth $198. Given that the value of his estate was low, it is safe to assume that he may have distributed his property to his sons before he died.
Second Generation Freedom: From Landowners to Freedom Fighters and More
After Anthony died, Plato, Allen, Jack, Charles, Solomon, and Anthony, Jr. were listed on a land sale record where they were selling $210 of land to a Henry Merritt of Greenwich.
This land record describes, “a certain tract of land with buildings in said Greenwich, being estate of our deceased father Anthony Green in quantity of one room, bounded North by land of Esbon Husted, East of land by Charles Merritt, South by land of Esbon Husted, and West by land of Esbon Husted.” The document was signed by Plato Green, Allen Green, Charles Merritt, Jack Husted, Solomon Green, and Anthony Green, Jr. The only son missing was Henry Green.
It should mentioned here that the man they sold land to, Henry Merritt, is NOT a descendant of Peg. Henry descends from a separate African-American Merritt line. This line can be traced back to Robert Merritt, son of Whitman, who was born in Greenwich in 1737. Whitman Merritt must have been born around 1720. This other Merritt line predates my family’s Merritt line. We know that our Charles Merritt was fathered by a white Merritt. We also know that my 4th cousin, William Merritt, is a direct descendant of this Robert Merritt AND via Joshua Green, Allen Green’s grandson. William has been DNA tested and has an African (Malagasy) haplogroup which reflects his Merritt line’s African ancestry. So, what this document tells us is that one black family was helping another black family purchase land in the 1830s.
In 1840, Charles, Jack, Anthony, Jr., Allen, Solomon and Henry are living in Greenwich with their families. Plato is the only one who we can’t find in any records for after the land deal above. He may have relocated out of state or passed away.
In 1850, we see three of the Green brothers living next to each other. Solomon and Jack Husted are living independently. It’s interesting to note that Charles Merritt is listed as Charles Green. This is the only census where he is listed as a Green and it may reflect more on the part of the census taker. That person may have asked one Green brother who lived next door and was told it was his brother Charles. Again, they continued to work as laborers and owned their property for the most part.
I should mention here that my Greenwich ancestors started attending Second Congregational Church in Greenwich in the 1840s. In 1851, Robert W. Mead deeded three acres of land to Second Congregational Church to be used as a cemetery for poor people and people of color. These three acres, that were to become known as Lot #23, were added to Union Cemetery which was owned by the church. As soon as Lot #23 was open, my ancestors were among the first to take advantage of this burial place and bought plots. I can only imagine how important it was for some of them to have tombstones erected. As you can see, my family has 17 Green, Merritt, and Husted ancestors buried in Union Cemetery in Greenwich.
Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, the children and grandchildren of Peg and Anthony can be seen living with, or next to, the descendants of their family’s former slave owners. For example, in 1850, Allen’s daughter Sarah is living with Nancy Green Husted and her husband Peter. Allen’s son Thomas is living with Mary Green, the daughter of John Green and wife of Thomas Green. Allen’s son James is living right next door with James Wilson, John Green’s great-nephew. In 1850, Allen’s son Samuel is living with John B. Wilson and Anthony, Jr.’s son Henry Green is living with Benjamin Woolsey Lyon’s son, Daniel Lyon. In 1860, Allen’s son Darius is also living with James Wilson. In 1860, Anthony, Jr., his wife Abigail, and son are living with Nancy Green Husted. The close relationship between the descendants of former slaves and descendants of former slave owners can’t be denied. There is something that is to be said for the continuance of such a relationship for decades. It’s noteworthy if we consider as well the fact that James Wilson is the executor of Anthony, Sr., Anthony, Jr., Allen, and Charles’s wife Catherine’s wills. I should also add here that Mary Green left $250 each to both Anthony, Jr. and Allen when she died. There was definitely a level of trust and familiarity there for sure.
Speaking of wills, the fact that Peg and Anthony’s children even had wills is a testament to them wanting to leave their children a little better off than they were. Looking at my 3rd great-grandfather Allen’s will, we are able to get an idea of what he had accumulated during his life that was then passed down to his children. Allen left everything to his wife Mary, but, after she died, he wanted everything split between their children, Thomas, Sarah, Samuel, John, George, Charles, Darius, and Benjamin. Only James was left out of his will though he was mentioned as a son. Both Rebecca and Anna were already deceased.
Allen left behind $1,985.07 worth of property. $1,600 was in real estate and the rest was in personal property. He clearly left valuable items behind that would be of use to his children. Cows, fowl, vegetable gardens, apples, hay, rye etc. could all be used for sustenance. Items like a horse, a wagon, farming tools, lots of furniture, a stove, grinding stones, looking glasses (mirrors), etc. would have been extremely valuable as well. When Anthony, Sr. died in 1836, his estate was valued at $198. 42 years later when Allen died, his estate was worth 10 times as much as his father’s. This should be considered progress by any manner, especially one generation out of slavery. They were making a way seemingly out of no way.
In the mid-1860s, the Greens and Merritts were witnesses to the events that were engulfing this nation as it veered towards the Civil War. The 29th Infantry Regiment, an all volunteer unit, was organized in Fair Haven, CT and mustered our in March 8, 1864 after beginning training at the end of 1863. It should be noted that the 29th Infantry Regiment was the first infantry to enter Richmond, VA at the close of the war. Of the 18 black men who fought in the 29th Infantry Connecticut Colored Troops from Greenwich, 7 are connected to my family. Direct ancestors include James H. Green, Charles E. Green, William Green, George E. Green, and Isaac Merritt. James and Charles are my 3rd great-uncles and William, George, and Isaac are my first cousins 4XR. In addition, Robert Peterson was the brother-in-law of my 3rd great uncle Thomas Green, who was married to Robert’s sister Emeline. Horace Watson’s daughter Annice was married to William Green. That my ancestors volunteered to fight in the war that gave way to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, only a generation removed from slavery themselves, is a source of great family pride. Charles, William, George, Isaac, and Robert are buried together in Union Cemetery until this day. May God bless them for their service to this country.
Starting in the early 1860s, we see that our Green and Merritt ancestors started to leave Greenwich for other parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Westchester County, NY, New York City, and New Jersey. They left to pursue work elsewhere as farming opportunities dried up in Greenwich. For example, my 2nd great-grandfather George E. Green originally moved to Yorktown Heights, Westchester County before moving to New York City to work in the hotel industry. After serving in the US Navy during the Civil War, he ended up in Newark, NJ. Henry’s daughter Adelaida Louisa moved to New York City’s Harlem and married Charles Glasby, who fought for the 20th Infantry from New York, Company K, United States Colored Troops. Allen’s daughter Sarah moved to New Canaan, CT after marrying Marcus Smith whose paternal line goes back to Ned Smith who was born in 1774 in New Canaan. Charles Merritt’s grandson Norton L. Merritt ended up in Port Chester, NY in the 1880s and finally resided in Waterbury, CT by 1900.
That being said, we did have many ancestors who did stay behind in Greenwich. Some even left a mark there. We clearly see this in 1882 when 28 members of the Greenwich black community banded together and founded Little Bethel AME Church. Of the 28 original members, there were Charles Green, Catherine Merritt, Casella Merritt, Frank Merritt, and Mandeville Merritt — all ancestors of ours. Let the church say amen!
The Untold Story: What Our DNA Tells Us about Peg and Anthony
1) Growing up, we had always heard that the Green-Merritt line was mulatto and that this line also had Native American roots. After having over 10 relatives tested on this line, we can say for certain that our oral history is correct. All of us have tri-racial ancestry with anywhere from 0.6% – 4% Native American admixture. This should not come as any surprise since we have colonial roots in Northeast and the first slaves in the Northeast, including Connecticut, were people of African and Native American descent. This is certainly seen in our ethnic composition. As seen below, our cousin LC has Native American admixture of 4%, African admixture of 52%, European admixture of 39%, 4% West Asia admixture, and 1% South Asia/East Asia admixture. As an FYI, Native Americans were not identified as such in the 1790-1840 census records. This could be seen as one way to erase Native Americans from the historical records.
2) Looking at all of our DNA cousins matches, it becomes quite clear that we all have Euro DNA cousins who descend from the founding families of Greenwich, CT and Rye, NY. These families include the Lyon, Merritt, Mead, Green, Purdy, Sherwood, Lockwood, Husted, Knapp, and Peck families among others. Why do we share a connection to Euro DNA cousins with these surnames? Well, because we must have have some ancestors in common. This would also make sense since all my family’s white slave owners were all interrelated themselves. We all know that consensual and nonconsensual relations occured during slavery and after. This is something that some people don’t want to acknowledge. However, history can’t be denied as DNA has the power to uncover hidden truths.
Below shows a Lyon DNA cousin who is sharing 7.8 cMs with my cousin Andrea. He is a direct descendant of John Lyon who was born in Greenwich in 1706. John Lyon’s father was Thomas Lyon, a descendant of Thomas Lyon of Rye.
3) There is a high possibility that both Peg and Anthony were mulatto. The case for Peg being mulatto stems from the fact that quite a few of us have Euro DNA cousins who are directly related to a number of Lyons who descend from Thomas Lyon, including her first slave owner Daniel Lyon. I should add here that my 3rd great-grandfather Allen did name his son Benjamin Woolsey Green after Peg’s last slaveowner. The question begs to be asked why? Did he name him after a possible relative?
With Anthony, the evidence seems to be more circumstantial. It is very clear that Anthony had a special relationship with the extended Green family that seems highly preferential. That he was given the freedom to live with Peg before his emancipation, was included in a substantial land deal, owned property directly near a number of members of the Green family, had children and grandchildren living with the descendants of his former slave owners for up to almost 60 years later, and had children who received money when these slaveowners died, makes me wonder as to why? Was this just a simple case of rewarding a man who used to be their slave and may have worked for them after he was emancipated? Or, was there also a genetic component involved in this special relationship where Anthony, Sr. and his family were being looked after by their former slave owners and their descendants on some level? Was Anthony fathered by a white Green? Of course, this would not be the first time that a white slave owner took care of their black biological children. With DNA becoming more common and being used to break down genealogy brick walls, I hope we one day have more definitive answers to these questions.
And Now You Know….
Last Fall, I went to Greenwich Town Hall and to the Greenwich Historical Society to do some research with my sister Elisa. We stopped at a 7-11 to buy some drinks. The man behind the counter immediately blurted out that “we must be from the City.” In true Gemini quick-witted fashion, I responded, “Actually, we have deep roots here going back to the 1700s.” He didn’t say anything after that, but we got a good chuckle out of it. I recount this story because there are many people today who don’t know the history of Greenwich. Though my ancestors may have left due to economic reasons and some may have been priced out because of the rising property values as Greenwich because wealthier in the 1900s, some of Peg and Anthony’s descendants still live nearby. My cousin Pat lives close to the Thomas Lyon House. My cousin Ana lives in Stratford, CT. My cousin Eddie lives in Yonkers, NY. And, yes, I do live in New York City…a short train ride away.
Many people do not know that, once upon a time, there were enslaved people who lived in Greenwich, CT BEFORE the Revolutionary War. They know even less about the lives of these individuals and how they made the transition from slavery to freedom. Out of the darkness born of slavery in Greenwich, my family took the steps necessary to walk in the light of a freedom certain when emancipation came calling. I hope that in telling the stories of my ancestors that I, in some small way, rendered them visible and made their stories known. We will continue to claim Greenwich as our home because it always was.
Chains Unbound:Slave Emancipations in the Town of Greenwich, Connecticut:
Black and Free:The Free Negro in America, 1830, A Commentary on Carter Woodson’s “Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830, Ed. By Alan Abrams, Sylvania, OH: Doubting Thomas Oublishing, LLC, 2001.