Category Archives: Genealogy Research

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

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

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

On Insidiousness….

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Early Colonial Native and African-American Endogamy in Rural Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These innocent victims were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reclaiming Our Lost Community of Ancestors and Their Descendants

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

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

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

The Alice Applyby DeVoe House in East Brunswick, NJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Being A Descendant of Survivors of Slavery…

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

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

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

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

Peter     15

Simon   no age listed, free man

Margaret Coven, no age, free woman

Sarah     21

Dianna 7 months

Rachel   22

Regina  6 weeks

Hager    29

Roda 14

Mary     2

Augustus 4

Florah   23

Susan    7 months

Harry     14

James   21

Elmirah 14

George 16

Susan Watt         35

Moses  16

Lydia      18

Betty     22

Patty     22

Bass       19

Christeen            27

Diannah  9

Dorcas  1

Claresse               22

Hercules   2

Lidia       22

Harriett Jane      3

Bob

Rosanna

Claus

Ann

                Rosino

Jenette

Charles   (child)

Elias       (child)

Robert  (child)

Thirty-nine  individuals.

Second Group, departed May 25, 1818

Leta       21

Dorcus  16

Sam Johnson     32

Margaret             21

Jane       25

John 4

Mary Davis          23

Phyllis   25

Charles   1

Jack        16

Harvey  22

Elizer (f)               19

Frank     21

Hester  18

Peter     21

Susan Silvey  30

Jacob 18 months

Betsey  22

Jonas     16   free person

Sam       16

William 22

Henry    21

Amey    22

Juda (f) 26

Samuel 2

James   22

Sam       32

George Bryan    18

Hannah                16

Nancy   22

Joseph  2 days

Peter     17   free person

Hannah                14

Jack Danielly       21

Jude [no judicial certificate]

Caroline, 18

Ann, 18

Jeanette, 12

Mose

Thirty-nine individuals.

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

39 unknown individuals.

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

George 35

Cain       22

Frank     21

Lewis     22

Elijah     31

Mary     27

Law        21

Phebe   21   free person

Susan    23

Charles 43

Pettes   14

Jane       23

Twelve names.

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

 

Off the Battlefield, But Still Suffering from PTSD

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.
L Cousins Helen Hamilton, Keith Lyon, and Raymond Armour

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.

We Were NEVER the PROBLEM/http://www.timidmc.com/shop/

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 HangrootI 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…

The “Colored Cemetery” at Byram Cemetery

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.

 

Jeffrey M. Stewart et. al. v. The Town of Greenwich 

 

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.
We are the Lyon-Green-Merritts

 

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! 

 
 
#DaughterOfJoyceGreeneVega #BaptizedInMessiahBaptistChurchByRevMichaelWayneWalkerIn1981 #80LegionParkwayBrocktonMA

Press Coverage:

 
 

How NOT To Do Genealogy Research:The Case of John Sherman Merritt

This is a companion piece to my A Look at Northern Slavery Personified blogpost.

This blogpost is a cautionary tale of genealogy research done somewhat wrong. I am using it as an example about how not to do genealogy research as well as discussing the importance of adhering to Genealogical Proof Standards.

 

The Back Story

Five years ago, I was contacted by an individual who claimed to be a descendant of my 2nd cousin 3XR, Edward Mayo Merritt. He asked a lot of questions about my Edward and finally said he was Edward’s 3rd great-grandson. As proof, he told me that he had a photo of Edward’s father, Samuel Henry Merritt, from Greenwich, CT. He said that his 2nd great-grandfather was John Sherman Merritt who was Edward’s illegitimate son. At the time, I did not question him. My mistake. He was also very reluctant to share his family tree. He kept asking for photos and more info about Edward. I finally stopped communicating with him. He popped up two years later asking the same questions. I ignored him because he wasn’t sharing anything. Fast forward to Fall 2015, I reached out to him unknowingly because he was recommended to me  by someone who knew we were both researching the same surnames. He had been going by aliases previously which is why I didn’t recognize his name. We exchanged emails and I confirmed my descent from Peg and Anthony. I corrected some of assumptions he had about Peg and Anthony. Again, he kept asking for more info and photos. I went ahead and shared photos that I had of Edward’s children. We were supposed to meet in Harlem when he was home on school vacation and then he disappeared.

This person was recently interviewed in a newspaper about our shared ancestor, Peg Merritt. I noticed that some of the information published in the article was wrong. It was also through the divine intervention of our ancestors that I happened to be in Greenwich meeting three other Green-Merritt cousins for the first time, as well as visiting the cemetery where our ancestors were buried, that I was lucky enough to even see this front page article. It made me curious about his tree to say the least especially since he located a critical family document and never wanted to share his family tree or DNA results with me. Something was telling me that something wasn’t right. That’s when I launched an investigation into his 2nd great-grandfather, John Sherman Merritt family tree to see if he was really related to my Edward. I am glad I did.

 

John Sherman Merritt: Genealogical Proof of Descent from Edward Mayo Merritt?

John Sherman Merritt

 

I began a thorough investigation of John Sherman Merritt’s genealogy using all resources available to me. This included vital records, census records, and any other documents I could find. Here is what I found:

His death record states that he was born on December 10, 1889 and died on July 3rd,1921 in Greenwich, CT. He is buried in Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich, CT.

John Sherman Merritt’s Tombstone, Putnam Cemtery

 

His Greenwich Town Hall birth record confirmed his birth date as being Dec. 10, 1889. The birth information given was from the physician. His mother was listed as being a Mary Wayland, born in VA, recorded as being black, and as being 18 years old. His father is listed as being Edward Merritt, born in Port Chester, NY, recorded as black, and as being 22 years old which would make his birth year around 1867. The physician gave this information so it may not be correct.

 

John Sherman Merritt’s Birth Record

 

John Sherman’s July 3, 1921, death certificate records his mother as being Mary Whalen of VA and Edward Merritt of Port Chester, NY. The informant was a Mrs. James Glover. This is the same Mary Rosell Glover listed below as being John’s mother on his marriage certificate/documents.

 

John Sherman Merritt’s Death Record

 

John Sherman Merritt’s Marriage Record

 

At this point, I couldn’t determine who Mary Wayland was. Was Mary Rosell’s maiden name Wayland? I couldn’t find a Rosell marriage record. I did find a black Mary Rosell living in Staunton, VA listed with her parents, Isaac and Elizabeth, and her siblings in 1850. There are also some black Mary Waylands born in the Staunton-Augusta VA area around 1871. Or, was John Sherman’s biological mother a black Mary Wayland who was impregnated by Edward Merritt and her baby given to Mary Rosell to raise? This makes sense especially as it seems that James Glover migrated first to Greenwich, CT before moving his wife Mary, and possibly John Sherman, back to Greenwich after 1900. There is a high possibility as well that John Sherman may never have known that Mary Roswell Glover was not his birth mother and hence listed her as his mother on his marriage certificate. This would explain why Mrs. James Glover gave the correct parents on his death certificate.

John Sherman is in the 1910 and 1920 census residing in Greenwich with his wife and children. We haven’t found a record of him in 1900 when he would have been around 11 years old.

His marriage record to Leila Robinson states that his mother was Mary Rosell and his father was Edward Merritt from Port Chester, NY. This is significant as our Edward Mayo Merritt (1869-1905) was born in and lived his entire life in Greenwich, CT and never lived in Port Chester, NY. This is a MAJOR clue that he should have investigated more in detail. This is also the point where I strongly believe that he then, with photo of Samuel H. Merritt in hand, made the crucial mistake of thinking that John Sherman was Samuel’s grandson.

John Sherman has several marriage documents that indicate that he was 19 years old and Leila was only 16 years old when they were married on June 21, 1909 and they both required a Certificate of Consent as they were underage. Charles Taylor was a witness as was his mother Mary (Rosell) Glover. Leila may have already been pregnant with their son Joseph.

Mary Rosell was born around 1872 in Staunton, VA. She was the daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Rosell. Her siblings were Laura, William, Joseph, and Charles.

Mary was married in VA to a James Glover around 1892 a year or so after John Sherman was born. In the 1900 census from Augusta, VA, she is living as a boarder and states that she has been married for 8 years. Her husband is recorded as living in Greenwich, CT in the 1900 census working as a servant for the Brush family. Again, we are unable to locate John Sherman at this time. At his age, he may have been hired out as a laborer in either VA or CT. Again, did Mary Wayland return to VA with John Sherman and give him to Mary Rosell Glover to raise as her own? Did James Glover migrate to Greenwich before his wife who then brought John Sherman back to Greenwich, CT?

Mary Glover returns to Greenwich, CT sometime before 1910 joining her husband James.

Mary Glover died on 4/27/1965 in Stamford CT at the age of 93.

 

Potential Points of Interest?

When I was investigating, I found two potential points of interest for me to further investigate.

1) In 1910, John Sherman Merritt is sharing the same address as a Henry Merritt (b. 1860 in Greenwich, CT) at 60 Northfield St, according to the Greenwich City Directory and the 1910 census.  From 1910-1958, Mary Glover, John Sherman’s mother, also resided at this address with Henry Merritt. The 60 Northfield address was confirmed as a multi-family unit. This Henry is the grandson of Robert Merritt and Betsey Freeman. This 2nd Merritt line is African-American and can be traced back to Robert Merritt, who was born in Greenwich in 1732, and was the son of Whitman. Our Peg Merritt/Green line has always been mulatto. Is John Sherman related to this 2nd Merritt line? We can’t draw any conclusion at this point as we can’t find any relationship between him and this Henry Merritt. In addition, we also can’t trace this Henry Merritt back to our Edward Mayo Merritt as of this writing. Again, John Sherman Merritt and Henry Merritt living together may be just coincidental.

2) In 1900, my 3rd great -uncle, Charles E. Green, is living in Greenwich with his family. There are also two boarders living with him, William Rosell, a brother of John Sherman Merritt’s mother Mary, and his wife Minerva. We are investigating if Charles’s wife Frances/Fanny, who was from VA, is related to the Rosell family. That being said, there were many African-Americans who arrived in Greenwich, CT from VA in the 1800s. So, we can’t be sure if there is any relationship between Fanny Green and William Rosell. It may be just a coincidence. However, there is no known relationship between Charles E. Green and William or Minerva Rosell.

 

Conclusion:

There was no relationship of descent between Edward Mayo Merritt and John Sherman Merritt. None whatsoever.


On My Genealogical Detective Trail: A Working Hypothesis Thats Ready To Be Proven

When I went over the emails that this individual sent me in 2011, he made mention that he found a photo of Samuel H. Merritt, our Edward Mayo Merritt’s father, in a family photo album. This bothered me as I was researching John Sherman Merritt’s genealogical trail and found no link whatsoever to our Edward Mayo Merritt. So, I dug a little deeper still giving him the benefit of the doubt. I found a potential nugget that may provide a clue as to who John Sherman’s father is. Of course, this is all a working hypothesis that must be proven. A DNA test administered to his uncle, another John Sherman Merritt, could clear this up for certain.

 

Charles Merritt and Sons:

My 4th great-grandmother Peg had 7 sons. Her first son, Charles Merritt (1791-?) who was fathered by a white Merritt,  had 5 children with his wife Catherine. They were Samuel H., Abraham/Abram, Jarvis, and Isaac and their daughter Ann. All his children were born and raised in Greenwich, CT. When I looked at potential fathers of John Sherman, only one potential person came to mind.

Charles’s son Abraham (1821-1880) resided in Greenwich for the duration of his life. He passed away on June 11, 1880 after the 1880 census was recorded. He is listed on the 1880 census as being black and living with his wife Hulda (Peck) Merritt and their children — Emma, Norton and Edwin. Could Edwin be Edward? That was the question I had to investigate. There is no 1890 census so I had to look at where Hulda was in 1900. I found her listed, as Negro, residing in Rye Township, Port Chester Village, Ward 4, Westchester, NY. Hulda is with her children, Emma, Norton and EDWARD. Edward is listed as being 30 years old. Hulda is still there in  1910 with her daughter Emma. I couldn’t locate her 2 sons in 1910.

Was there another way that I could substantiate that this Edward was in Port Chester earlier than 1900? I dug further deeper and was able to locate the 1896-97 Turner’s Annual Directory Embracing the Residents of Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Harrison, Rye and Port Chester, NY, and Greenwich and Rocky Neck, CT, along the Line of the New York, New Have & Hartford Railroad. This directory listed all the Merritts who were in Port Chester in 1896. I was able to find Hulda, living at 33 Oak Street, with her sons Edward and Norton— the only 3 black Merritts listed in the town. Edward is listed as a clerk. Clearly after Abraham died, Hulda packed up her family and left Greenwich and rented a home in Port Chester, NY. This probably occurred in the early to mid-1880s.

 

Edward Merritt of Port Chester, NY

 

Hulda and Norton Merritt

 

This Edward Merritt was born around the same time as our Edward Mayo Merritt. They would have been first cousins born within a year of each other. In 1890, Edward, son of Abraham, would have been close to the age of 22 which was the age of the father listed on John Sherman’s birth certificate. This hypothesis would also explain how a photo of Samuel H. Merritt popped up in this individual’s family’s photo albums. Someone in his family kept a photo of a great-uncle around since Samuel and Abraham were brothers. Mary Wayland may have assumed that Edward was born in Port Chester, NY, because he was living there when she was pregnant and told the physician this and that was what was written down. Hence, the fact that his birth, marriage, and death record all list Port Chester, NY as being Edward’s place of birth though his real place of birth was Greenwich, CT.

Is Abraham and Hulda Merritt’s son Edward the father of John Sherman???? This is the ONLY hypothesis that I can come up with at this time. If this individual is indeed related to the Port Chester, NY Edward Merritt, he would still be a descendant of our Peg Merritt and we would gladly welcome him to the family. If there is a link between John Sherman Merritt and Edward, son of Abraham and Hulda, then again let’s prove it based on a DNA test of his uncle, John Sherman Merritt. This  person has nothing to lose if my hypothesis is correct. Of course, this confusion as to which Edward it was could have been cleared up 5 years ago if he had only shared information with us. I would hope that this person would welcome definitive proof of a relationship between his family line and our confirmed legitimate Green-Merritt line.

 

Lessons Learned:

1) It helps to share information with others at the onset. This sets the tone for your future interactions. Witholding info while asking others to share is not copacetic. I am of the mind that sharing benefits everyone. I actually had sent this person photos of Edward Merritt’s children before I knew better. I used to have a public tree on Ancestry, but I have since made it private. I will continue to share my tree, but only very judiciously.

2) Do not assume a relationship based on a photo without documentation to back it up. Assumptions like that can ruin genealogical progress on your tree. In this case, this individual followed down the wrong family branch — though ultimately his family tree might be correct — for 5 years. 

3) Always employ the 5 Genealogical Proof Standards in your genealogy research. The most important standard here was the one involving conflicting information. If all of John Sherman Merritt’s documents listed his father as being born in Port Chester, NY, but Edward Mayo Merritt was born, lived his entire life, and died in Greenwich, CT then this should have been investigated further. When I looked initially for Edward Merritts born in Port Chester, they were all listed as being white. John Sherman’s birth certificate indicated his father was black. Again, a conflict. I only kept looking to resolve these conflicts because this individual had a photo of Edward Mayo’s father. This is what kept me digging deeper. I am really a big fan of doing exhaustive research/fact checking and highly recommend that people pay attention to details that don’t jive together. Be meticulous in your research, in other words.

4) If your ancestor was born “illegitimate” and you have taken a DNA test, why not share the results with distant cousins, on the alleged family line, who have also DNA tested? Not sharing in this case boggles my mind as a DNA test is the ultimate paternity test. Better yet, why not test the direct male descendant, in this case, the person’s uncle? The information that a 23andme or FTDNA Y-DNA test could give would be very telling. His Y-DNA haplogroup could definitively prove that he was a descendant of a white Merritt and we could see if he matched all my other family members on our Green-Merritt line. A FTDNA Y-DNA would definitely give him DNA cousins on his Merritt paternal line. Again, more definitive proof regarding descent from a Merritt.