Please note at the end of this blogpost I included a primer for those people who have DNA cousins of color. This blog is dedicated to all my Euro DNA cousins who have embraced me as a distant cousin and who are consistently working on finding our common ancestor. I consider all of you, and there are many, to be my distant cousins without hesitation.
There Sure Was Some Pepper Up in All That Salt: An Ode to Those Who Would Say Otherwise”
Oh DNA, the truth you revealed was received like a 75% off sale,
That which was hidden has been brought to light,
The darkness now gone with pure delight,
Oh DNA, the pepper you have exposed has led to salty souls,
That which is being denied has wounded someone’s white pride,
Our family will always proudly represent all our black, brown, red and white ancestors’ sides,
Oh DNA, the real history you discovered has led to a complicated situation,
That our family, from the start, was baked-up in a US mixed-race oven,
Our genes playing the historical dozens on all those who felt the need to racially govern,
Oh DNA, the overall message you represent will always be one of diversity and genetic unity,
That which is factually-based can never be destroyed,
By those who seem to be pumped up on family falsehoods and antagonistic racial steroids.
Oh DNA, the pepper in all that salt has been passed down to the present,
That which was inherited still remains,
A beautiful testament to all our ancestors in our veins.
DNA Doesn’t Lie: The Denial of the Pepper in Salted Histories
As a descendant of slaves and slave owners, I am always amazed at how my family history is often denied by some Euro DNA cousins or by descendants of my family’s slave owners despite DNA proof. Over the past 3-4 months, I’ve had a couple of individuals take issue with some of my blogposts that mentioned their ancestors or family surnames. The problems they have are rooted in the fact that I have shined a light into the dark closets of their own family histories. You know, the places where all the skeletons hang out and history is miraculously erased or revised.
Slavery was a very nasty, dehumanizing, ugly, and messy institution that lasted for centuries and impacted everyone. I’ve spent over a decade trying to break through all of my family’s genealogical brick walls that slavery left in its wake. My cousin Andrea and I turned to DNA testing to see if DNA would break down some of these walls. I’m happy to say that it has helped break down some walls as well as lead us to a better understanding of our family’s origins. We now know that we have a rich colonial family history in this country and that we descend from the original inhabitants of this land as well as the West African, Malagasy and European immigrants who arrived in the 1600s.
While I am proud of my family history, some people apparently take issue with a person of color, like me, being related to them or sharing ancestors with them. Of course, the first thing they think is that their ancestors couldn’t possibility have had children with a slave. Well, it seems that in my family that scenario was very common as it is in most African-American families. Black folks did not get their beautiful, varied hues — ranging from white to black— on their own. In my family, we also see some instances of consensual interracial relationships that happened centuries ago. For example, I have a Dutch 4th great-grandmother who married my mulatto 4th great-grandfather in the late 1700s. Going back further, some of my free Afro-Dutch ancestors also married Dutch women in the 1600s. Moreover, I am also a descendant of Irish immigrants who arrived in Boston, MA after the Civil War ended and Emancipation Proclamation was signed. My matrilineal haplogroup is H1ag1—European—by the way. It would be a failure on my part if I didn’t mention that my family also had ancestors who passed as white and whose descendants then became “white.” I am acutely aware of how different my family is from other African-American families. While being a slave descendant of a slave owner may be the primary way that I may be related to my Euro DNA cousins, there are other ways that I may be related to them other than via a slavery connection. In a nutshell, if I, or any of my relatives, show up on someone’s DNA Relative list, it is because we have an ancestor in common who shares a genetic tie to both of us. We are genetically related to each other regardless if that person considers us kin, related, or not. A DNA test is a great harbinger of truth and someone’s rejection of a genetic tie to me, or my family, doesn’t change that fact. It just doesn’t. You can’t wish away DNA.
A few months ago I wrote my 2nd blogpost on my Malagasy ancestors who arrived in Manhattan in the late 1600s and ended up in the Tappan Patent with my other West African, Lenapi, and Dutch ancestors. In my blogpost, I wrote the following:
DNA doesn’t lie. What I stated was and is the truth. My ancestors were related to the founding families of Bergen County, NJ and Rockland County, NY because they were either Tappan Patent land grantees, via the Manuel and De Vries Afro-Dutch families, or slaves of other Tappan Patent land grantees. The historical documentation on the formation of the Tappan Patent backs my claims up and our Euro DNA cousins further testify to our genealogical ties to the founding families of this area. Those founding families were the Blauvelts, Ackerman/Ackerson/Emerson, Demarest, Banta, VanBuskirk, Haring, Hopper, Zabriskie, Wortendyke, Van Winkle, Bogardus/Bogart, and others. They also intermarried among each other repeatedly. For example, Bantas married Blauvelts, Demarests, Ackermans, DeGroots and others. There are published Banta and Blauvelt genealogies onAncestry.com that serious researchers can access that documents these marriages.
Recently, I was contacted by a woman who initially portrayed herself to be a distant cousin of my 4th great-grandmother of Malagasy descent, Tun Snyder. This person was not a descendant of Tun at all. In fact, she was a descendant of people who had two surnames, Demarest and Banta, which were among the surnames I mentioned in my blogpost as well as just now. I spoke to her on 2 occasions and then received the email below from her.
It became apparent that she was phishing for information on my genetic ties to people who have the same surnames to the people on her family tree. She was looking for “proof” that I shared the same exact ancestors as her. She told me that she tested at FTDNA and if I wasn’t on her FTDNA Family Finder list, or matched her on Gedmatch, that I needed to follow her instructions above. I never responded to this person’s email as her claims are ridiculous. I never slandered or defamed her ancestors as I don’t even know who they are. Just because two individuals share the same surnames, does not mean they are even related to each other or share DNA with each other. The fact that I do have DNA cousins who have ALL the above surnames on their trees that go back to the same ancestors indicates that we have a genetic tie to someone in their family probably as a result of a Blauvelt marrying into their families. I may not be a DNA match to the above Banta/Demarest descendant, but several people in my family, myself included, have DNA Demarest and Banta cousin matches. In addition, her claims about me and CeCe Moore are totally unwarranted and baseless. And, no, she doesn’t have the right or privilege to take away my First Amendment right to free speech especially when I am discussing my own family history. Not today nor tomorrow.
On Demanding “Proof” from Slave Owner Descendants and Historical Amnesia: An Inconvenient Truth
The email reminded me of another Euro descendant and distant cousin related to my Lyon line from Greenwich, CT. That particular person not only demanded DNA proof of my DNA ties to the Lyon family, but also contacted a CT state archaeologist asking if it was even possible that I could be related to her ancestors via DNA and was asking around if I could make any claims in Probate Court to any thing related to the Lyon Family. Really? Do these folks even consider how offensive they are being? On both occasions, it became very clear that these two individuals hadn’t even read my blogpost or even considered how well-documented I intentionally make my blogposts, with included references, for people like them. They also have shown that they have no clue as to how DNA is inherited.
Both my Pickett-Snyder and Green-Merritt lines are slave owner descended lines. It is well documented that my ancestors were owned by their slave owners, lived in the same households, and no doubt had mixed-race children with their slave owners or male relatives of their slave owners. All of my family’s DNA tests point, not only to our tri-racial ethnic admixture, but also to our genetic ties to the slave owners and their descendants that were inherited because of consensual or nonconsensual relations. My family has colonial roots in NY, NJ, and CT that go back to New Amsterdam under the Dutch so it is not surprising that Dutch surnames appear on my family tree. To the above names, you can also add DeGroat/DeGroot, Vanderzee, Van Riper, Van Ness, Tenbroeck, and others. I strongly believe that my Dutch great-grandmother was a DeGroat/DeGroot based on DNA evidence.
The historical amnesia that some people have regarding slavery is immense. For the record, slavery did occur in the North and the rape of slave women is well documented in every society that was based on slavery—worldwide. These are historical facts that can’t be disputed. If someone is touchy that I mention slave rape aka nonconsensual relations, that’s their problem and not mine. I’m not going to sanitize what my ancestors went through in this country. Sorry, someone doesn’t get to claim that their ancestors, distinguished or not, would never have a child with a slave. How do they know that they didn’t? They weren’t around when their ancestors lived. When I can find my ancestors passed down in Blauvelt wills as property and listed as “slave servant” living with Ackermans, one can forever forfeit the right to ever claim their ancestors never owned slaves. Furthermore, it would really behoove people to research their own family history before trying to erase, or revise history, or critique my blogposts. When I provide references (i.e., books mentioning the NY-Madagascar Slave Trade) on, for example, Cornelius Van Horne, and can google a runaway slave ad that he himself placed in a colonial newspaper, clearly I did my research. They did not. The Van Horne family were well-known for owning slaves, as did most wealthy people of the time in NY and NJ, and they have been routinely written about in books on colonial New York history. No whitewashing will be done on my family history watch when I am trying to learn as much as I can about my family—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Regarding my family’s matches to these Dutch founders of the Tappan Patent, though we do have some 4th cousin matches, a majority of these DNA cousins are in the 5th-8th cousin range. To ask a slave descendant — when most people don’t have family trees going back to the 1600s and 1700s — for “proof” of the exact slave owner ancestor who raped her female ancestor, is insensitive and mindboggling given the very nature of slavery. The institution of slavery can be seen as an example of a rape culture where establishing paternity and parental legitimacy wasn’t even thought of— only the act of reproduction was seen as important. Trust me, though a few slave owners had long-standing ties to their slave children, like my ancestor Daniel Lyon, a majority did not. A majority of slave owner baby daddies weren’t rushing out to register the births of their slave children or leaving them inheritances though they were selling their slave children and willing them to others upon their deaths. The fact that someone can even ask for proof, despite a preponderance of other evidence along with DNA, smacks of privilege and entitlement. They do not own any historical narrative which includes my ancestors. My ancestors lives were valid and they lived during the same historical period as their ancestors. However, that doesn’t mean that my ancestors’ own history should be erased or denied because a slave owner descendant wants to close her eyes, twinkle her nose, nod her head, and shout, “History be gone.” Nah!
A Primer on How to Approach your DNA Cousins of Color
I came up with this primer because I think it is a topic that should be discussed. Many African-Americans have Euro DNA cousins which should come as a surprise to no one. There have been studies done that show African-Americans on average have 24% Euro DNA ( see http://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(14)00476-5 ). Southern white Americans have on average 1% African DNA. Once people accept the fact that slavery happened and DNA was shared between slaves and slave owners, we can have a real honest conversation, without judgement, about how we are related. African-Americans and other people of color, who have DNA tested, want to know what anyone else wants to know when they finally get their DNA cousin list. How are we related to these people? Given the nature of slavery, the separation of family members, the geographical dislocation of our ancestors, we are hungry for more info on our roots.
Here’s my advice:
1) Acknowledge that you DO have a genetic link with a person of color. DNA doesn’t lie. That link may be due primarily to slavery or it could be due to consensual interracial relationships, racial passing, white immigration not related to slavery, immigration of one Euro descendant to the US and their siblings/other relatives to other parts of the world like the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc. Keep an open mind as to all possibilities.
2) Don’t assume any guilt, or fear judgement, for actions that happened in the past. You are not responsible for the actions of your ancestors. That being said, don’t repeat the mistakes of the past by denying your DNA cousins in this day and age. While you can’t change the past, you can change the present. You are 100% responsible for educating yourself about all of your family history given the results of your DNA test and DNA cousin matches.
3) Don’t assume that your DNA cousins are looking for 40 acres and a mule, an inheritance, or any material gain from you. Your DNA cousins are looking for any info you can provide on your ancestors in relation to theirs. You may not be able to provide this info and that’s OK, too.
4) Share any info that you may have (e.g., names/surnames, family locations, names of slaves documented in family wills, cemetery locations, etc.). You never know what info may be valuable to someone. When you have nothing to go on, any info should be welcomed. Please be mindful that you may or may not share the same surnames. During slavery and after, African-Americans took on different surnames — either a slave owner surname or one of their own choosing. If you don’t match via a surname, then look for family records, like wills, that list slaves’ first names.
5) Don’t deny the other person’s family history. Don’t assume that because they provide you with new info on your family that what they are saying is a lie because it does not match up with what you’ve been told. Take seriously what has been relayed to you. Ask questions of your DNA cousins. Ask them where they got their info and then do your own research. You may just learn from a different perspective. It’s fine to be proud of your ancestors without denying historic reality. You may also find out more info on your family that expands your own view of your ancestors and the time period they occupied.
6) Take the time to learn about your local history so you can inform your DNA cousins about their potential ancestral geographic places of orgin(s). In addition, if you are related to an African-American from a different geographical location, remember that there was a Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as well as a domestic slave trade. Your ancestors may have lived in the Northeast, for example, and were slave owners who sold slaves South. If you share cMs with someone, you share a genetic tie. Don’t discount differences in geographical locations. You may have to dig deep into your family history.
7) If your family history included hearing “whispers” of your ancestors having black children or other children of color, share that info with your DNA cousins as it just may be true. Not everything was recorded and oral history still counts as history. With DNA testing, that oral history may have been documented in someone’s genes.
8) Recognize that racial passing occurred whereby some African-Americans, especially mulattos, passed as “white.” If you match an African-American or other people of color, it may be because one of your ancestors racially passed. Their descendants were later recorded as white and their racial/ethnic origins were forever disguised. Also, recognize that slavery was not a monolithic experience and varied over place and time. In the 1600s, in Virginia, for example, white female indentured servants did in fact marry African slaves and freemen. Their children took the status of their mother before the Black Codes came into being.
9) Recognize that you have an opportunity to celebrate your family’s diversity and that is a good thing. Consider that the results of your DNA test provide you with a chance to let go of the notion of racial purity. It’s highly overrated. The concept of race is a social construct and our DNA link to each other proves that.
10) At a time when our country is at odds with itself over issues of race, embrace the opportunity to be part of the solution to bring about racial healing. If everyone would stop and think about how DNA testing offers us the PROOF of how we are all inextricably linked to each other, then maybe we can start a new chapter in race relations.
This is Part II of a blog series about how my Malagasy ancestors arrived in NYC in the late 17th century and ended up in NJ . In Part I, I showed how one can still see the ethnic admixture that our Malagasy ancestors left our family with that show up in our DNA even today.
I dedicate this blog to all my relatives who descend from our 4th great-grandmother, Tun Snyder, and our 3rd great-grandmother, Susan Pickett, as well as to our newly-found Full Sequence mtDNA M23 cousins whose ties to our family go way back to a shared Malagasy ancestor. I thank each of you for being part of our family history.
The Global Trade in Malagasy Slaves
Before we can even discuss the DNA trail from Madagascar to Manhattan, a brief look at the global trade in Malagasy slaves is needed. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in Madagascar, there was an internal slave trade within Madagascar as well as an external slave trade up the East African Coast. In addition, starting as early as the 9th century, Malagasy slaves became commodities in the Islamic Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean. Arab and East African slave traders routinely purchased slaves in Madagascar and then sold them to slave owners in East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, India, and across Southeast Asia (see the Schomburg Center’s online exhibit The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean). The Portuguese, Dutch, French, British, Spanish, and American slave traders, who arrived in Madagascar between 1500-1800, thus became part of this global trade in Malagasy slaves that brought these enslaved people westward to South Africa, St. Helena’s Island, South America (e.g., Brazil and Argentina), the Caribbean (e.g., Barbados, Jamaica, and Cuba), and North America (e.g., Quebec, Canada, Boston, New York/NJ, South Carolina, and Virginia).
[While the discussion below is centered on the enslaved Malagasy people who arrived in NY/NJ in the late 1600s and early 1700s, I would like to mention here that my friend Wendy Wilson-Fall has recently published her book Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic. Her book discusses the arrival of enslaved Malagasy in Virginia. I highly recommend this book to those people who do descend from these Virginia enslaved Malagasy.]
Shady NY Merchants and Pirates: A Perfect Collaboration
Slaves from Madagascar were directly imported into New York City and surrounding areas, Boston, and Virginia during two time periods–primarily between 1678-1698 and 1715-1721. In the early 1670s, New York and Boston merchants first dabbled in the trade in Malagasy slaves in the Caribbean, especially in Barbados and Jamaica. To give you an idea of how large the Madagascar to Caribbean slave trade was at that time, between 1682-1687, 11 slave ships carrying 1,741 Malagasy slaves arrived in Barbados and 345 Malagasy slaves arrived in Jamaica. The 1700 Barbados census showed 32,473 slaves and half were from Madagascar. While these NY merchants first started off buying and selling Malagasy slaves in the Caribbean, they would later periodically sell the slaves who were not purchased there, in slave markets in the United States, including Boston and New York.
I should add here that Malagasy slave also arrived in Charleston, SC during this same time period as planters from Barbados were among the original settlers of Charleston. They certainly would have brought their Malagasy slaves with them. We know that a form of rice called “Carolina Gold” originated in Madagascar and was brought to Charleston in the 1680s. These enslaved Malagasy would have arrived here with rice production skills that would have been valued in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Given the ports of call that NY Merchants would make on their return trip from the Caribbean, it is possible that Malagasy slaves also ended up in all those places.
Why Did NY Merchants Go to Madagascar in the First Place?
New York merchants went to Madagascar for three reasons primarily. First, it was all about making an even larger profit off the trafficking of black bodies. A slave in Madagascar could be purchased for 10 shillings while a slave from West Africa cost £3 or £4. There are 20 shillings per £, so it was extremely profitable when you consider that, on the New York slave market, a Malagasy slave was worth between £30-£40. To put it in further perspective, 10 shillings would be the equivalent of $500 today.
Second, NY merchants took advantage of a legal loophole in buying slaves from East Africa. Although the Royal Africa Company had a monopoly on the West African slave trade, the East India Company controlled trade in the Indian Ocean, but they had no policy regarding buying Malagasy slaves and selling them elsewhere in the world. Thus, NY merchants were able to procure cheaper slaves from Madagascar and make a huge profit. This loophole, however, only lasted for so long.
Third, NY merchants were able to expand the trade in Malagasy slaves with the complicity of unscrupulous government officials and pirates. With the aid of Governor Benjamin Fletcher, these merchants worked in tandem with pirates to trade their goods at exorbitant prices for slaves in Madagascar and for goods purchased in the East Indies, India, China, and the Middle East. To give you an example of the price inflation of these goods, a gallon of rum in Manhattan would sell for 2 shillings, but in Madagascar, that same gallon of rum would be worth £30. Needless to say, both NY merchants and government officials would invest in the NY to Madagascar voyages. This trade was illicit at best as it meant that these merchants and pirates were smuggling in goods in flagrant violation of the British Navigation Acts.
While there are some records of the ships that entered NY waters with Malagasy slaves during this time, including 8 ships that arrived in the 1690s with approximately 1,700 enslaved Malagasy, the exact number of these slaves imported into NY will never be known due to the illicit nature of this trade. We do know that Malagasy slaves first arrived in New Amsterdam on the Wapen van Amsterdam as early as 1663 with 265 individuals, out of 345 purchased, still alive which was one year before the British takeover of New Amsterdam.
The NY merchants involved in the Madagascar to NY slave trade were among the wealthiest, politically connected NY residents at the time. They included Frederick Philipse, Stephen Delancey, Nicholas Bayard, Jacobus and Stephanus van Cortland, Abraham Van Horne, Robert Livingston, Caleb Heathcote, Peter Schuyler, Rip Van Dam, Ann Lynch, and others. These merchants built their vast estates, like Philipsburg Manor in Westchester, NY and Schuyler Flatts in Albany, NY, with a slave labor force that included Malagasy slaves. These families also intermarried with each other as a way of maintaining their concentrated wealth. In addition, they took advantage of the political turmoil that was happening in the American colonies during King William’s War (1688-97) and Queen Anne’s War (1702-13). Because of a weak British government, American colonial governments came to rely on privateers to take on the French. The privateers were commissioned to capture French ships on the high seas and then split the ship’s goods with NY merchants and government officials when they arrived back in New York City harbor. What started off as privateering turned into pirating as soon as the privateers realized that they could cut out the middlemen—the government officials. Thus, the pirates and NY merchants started to work together for their mutual benefit. By the way, the pirates were just as notable as the NY merchants and included, Captain William Kidd, Thomas Tew, Adam Baldridge, Samuel Burgess, Robert Culliford, and others.
The New York to Madagascar voyage took on average 4-6 months. The NY merchants would load up their ships with small arms, ammunition, food provisions, beer, wine, clothes, shoes, seeds, books, slave trading-items (e.g., shackles, beads, iron-bars, gunpowder), etc. They would first stop at Madeira, then head to either the Cape Verde Islands or the Canary Islands. Their last stop would be St. Helena’s Island in the southern Atlantic Ocean before heading onward to Madagascar and St. Helena was the first stop on the return trip. St. Helena was colonized by the British in 1659 and was considered an essential part of the East India Company’s real estate. Any ship trading in Madagascar had a tax levied against them in the form of payment of one Malagasy slave. Over the centuries, Malagasy people formed the great majority of the island’s slave population.
Now, just imagine being in the cargo hold of a slave ship sailing for 4-6 months on the return trip to NY. It’s no wonder that the average mortality rate on these ships averaged 19% with some voyages having mortality rates as high as 31%. Part of the mortality rate was due to the fact that the enslaved were already slaves in Madagascar having been captured by other ethnic groups before being sold. The rest had to do with the despicable, inhumane conditions inherent on any Transatlantic slave ship voyage. One of the most harrowing accounts is that of the Gascoigne Galley slave ship that arrived in VA in 1721 from Madagascar with 133 slaves, out of 192 individuals purchased. The slaves on this ship had “distemper in their Eyes,” of which a great many became blind and some of their Eye Balls come out (Platt, p. 568).” These slaves were practically unsalable. Who knows what became of them. It breaks my heart knowing what my Malagasy ancestors went through during this time. Yet, they somehow managed to survive. What a strong people they were. TEARS. There, but for the grace of God go I.
I should add here that the voyages from Boston to Madagascar also included Native Americans who would eventually be sold as slaves in the Caribbean and in Madagascar. The journey from Boston would have also been in the same 4-6 month range. Hence, the enslaved Malagasy would have taken the place of Native Americans who had been in the same cargo hold on the return trip to Boston. In 1678, 40-50 Malagasy slaves were brought to Boston and sold for £15-£20 each. Such was the vicious nature and horror of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. To know that two groups of my ancestors were taken from their original homelands and exported halfway around the world is heartbreaking. Sometimes words fail me.
From Pirates of the Caribbean to Pirates of Madagascar
Madagascar became a pirate’s haven after the Port Royal, Jamaica earthquake and tsunami in 1692. With the devastation wrought by the earthquake and the subsequent British crackdown on piracy in the Caribbean, these pirates set their eyes on Madagascar, especially St. Marie’s Island and St. Augustine’s Bay. Madagascar was an ideal place to set up shop as the Indian Ocean was a major international trading region. Ships were regularly traveling between the East Indies to India and then to the Arabian Peninsula. This meant that these ships would be easy targets for the pirates in Madagascar who became known as the “Red Sea Pirates.” It is estimated that 1,500 pirates were sailing in the Indian Ocean between 1695-1700 such was the call of pirate booty.
Madagascar, in the 16th and 17th century, had no central government. There existed mini-kingdoms based on different ethnic groups. The pirates exacerbated ethnic divisions within Madagascar with their trading. They also created a Malagasy elite class as they fathered children, known as zana mulata, who became powerfully locally with Malagasy women. Its interesting to note that, at the beginning of the Indo-Atlantic Madagascar slave trade, the items exchanged for slaves were things like beads, copper wire, novelties, textiles, and silver coins. However, by the end of the 17th century, firearms, muskets, and gun powder were the preferred items to be exchanged for slaves. James C. Anderson, noted that, among the Sakalava in 1699, an able young adult slave man was worth 2 muskets, 5 small boxes of powder, 5 balls, and 5 flints whereas an able young adult slave woman was worth 1 musket, 10 boxes of powder, 10 balls and 10 flints. Malagasy women, of course, were valued more for their reproductive capacity. The local demand for firearms undoubtedly fueled political instability and further slave trading.
Why did the Madagascar to NY Slave Trade End?
Let’s be clear, the Madagascar to NY slave trade ended solely for economic reasons that had NOTHING to do with slavery. The pirates of Madagascar ended up raiding enough ships from India in the late 1690s that the Mughal rulers in India began to openly complain to the East India Company. They even went as far as to penalize East India Company officials by imprisoning them and threaten to remove the British from their trading network. That was enough for the British to crackdown on piracy in the Indian Ocean. The measure they took included installing anti-pirate colonial governors, like Lord Bellomont in New England and NY, to combat piracy and illegal trading, establishing military courts to try pirates, as well as undertaking military operations against pirates on the high seas. The East India Company also cracked down on NY merchants who were carrying supplies to the pirates in Madagascar as well as violating the Navigation Acts by selling NY goods for profit. The East India Act of 1698 effectively ended the Madagascar to NY trade, including the trade in Malagasy slaves. Whereas the number of African slaves in 1664 New Amsterdam was only 300, after the British takeover, that number more than doubled to 700 slaves no doubt due to the great number of enslaved Malagasy imported into the colony.
This ban only lasted until 1715 when the East India Company allowed trading with Madagascar to resume under certain conditions. The East India Company went ahead and granted licenses for trading, including slave trading. Only those ships with licenses would be allowed to trade with Madagascar. Each licensed ship, with £500 worth of goods exported from England, was also required to dock at St. Helena’s island and had to pay a tax levy of nine “merchanteable” Malagasy slaves. Slaves were expected to be between the ages of 16-30, two-thirds male and one-third female. The resumption of the Madagascar slave trade was different in some ways from the earlier period in that most of the slaves ended up in Virginia as opposed to NY. Some ships did enter NYC and surrounding areas though. NY merchants, given their earlier history, were still wary of the East India Company and often masked their Madagascar cargo as being from “Africa.” From 1715-21, over 500 Malagasy people were sold as slaves in NY. That being said, Virginia received over 1,400 Malagasy slaves during this same period.
I should add here, in deference to my Boricua roots, that Malagasy slaves entered the Spanish and French speaking Caribbean during the entire Transatlantic Slave Trade. France was complicit thoughout the slave trade which actually saw the first Malagasy slaves sent to Quebec, Canada as early as 1623. France also colonized Madagascar and enslaved Malagasy were also sent to the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Reunion, and Seychelles, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Spanish slave traders bought and sent enslaved Malagasy throughout the Spanish empire. Under Spanish colonial rule, Malagasy slaves were sent to Mexico, Central America, Southwest and Central United States, Spanish Florida, the Philippines and other Pacific Islands in addition to the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Catalan slave traders were also sailing to Madagascar in the early-1800s and directly shipping slaves to Cuba. Those slaves may have also ended up in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
By 1721, the East India Company again stopped trade with Madagascar. Like the earlier period, unlicensed vessels also headed to Madagascar and pirate activity continued as did the burgeoning trade in goods from the East Indies. In 1720-1721, there were reports that several unlicensed ships were again carrying supplies to pirates and buying slaves from Madagascar and selling them in Brazil, the West Indies, and Virginia. The East India Company effectively ordered any ships carrying slaves from Madagascar or goods from the East Indies to be seized. After 1721, there was no direct importation of enslaved Malagasy people to the US and by the 1730s, the age of Indian Ocean piracy ended. Pirates either returned to their countries of origin, died, or were absorbed into the dominant Malagasy culture.
Malagasy people continued to enter the United States in other ways after the importation of slaves from Madagascar ended in 1721. Some were brought in by the French in New Orleans and Quebec, some arrived as slaves from the English-, Spanish- and French-speaking Caribbean and Brazil, some arrived as free Black immigrants, and some of these slaves arrived on slave ships from West Africa after slave traders left Madagascar, headed to West Africa, and then smuggled them disguised as West African slaves into the States. Fonte Felipe, in his Tracing African Roots blog, discusses how “recaptive” slaves from Southeast Africa ended up in West Africa.
Malagasy Slave Resistance: The Struggle to be Free
Though Malagasy people were enslaved, they did resist oppression in a number of ways in the colonial era. Despite having different levels of success or plain failures, the enslaved Malagasy engaged in acts of resistance and played an active role in changing the circumstances of their involuntary servitude. From the founding of Malagasy maroon communities in Cape Hangklip, False Bay, South Africa and Jamaica, to Malagasy slave insurrections on the island of St. Helena, to the Malagasy taking over of the Meermin slave ship, to slaves of Malagasy descent taking part in the NY Slave Revolts of 1712 and 1741, to the runaway slaves of Malagasy origin in NY and NJ who sought freedom on foot, these enslaved Malagasy were exercising their right to self-determination. I would like to think that some of my Malagasy ancestors stood up for themselves. Certainly, Black lives mattered to them then as they do to us now. I can only respect the decisions they made which no doubt did, or could have, resulted in their deaths. I praise their names. RESPECT!
Africans in New Amsterdam in the 1600s and Our Malagasy Ancestors’ Melting Pot Origins
People of African descent arrived with the Dutch at the beginning of their colonization of Manhattan. Juan Rodriguezwas the first person of African descent to arrive in 1613 after the Dutch claimed the territory in 1609. By 1626, the Dutch began to settle Manhattan and were actively involved in the slave trade. They imported 11 slaves into New Amsterdam that year. Geni.com has a page devoted to Africans in New Amsterdam and they have listed the following number of Africans, arriving in small numbers, up until the British takeover in 1664.
Not only does our family descend from the first Malagasy slaves to arrive in colonial NY, our extended family line also goes back to some of the first West Africans in New Amsterdam —to Emmanuel D’Angola, one of the 20 men who arrived in New Amsterdam in 1630, as well as Hilary “Swartinne” Criolyo, a free black woman from Brazil, who arrived in 1644 with her husband the Dutch Captain Jan De Vries I. Some of the first slaves in the early 1600s came from Angola, Guinea, and the Congo and their surnames reflect their countries of origin. The Dutch West Indies Company (WIC) captured a Portuguese slave ship and brought these slaves to work for for WIC in New Amsterdam. These slaves, and others, were the ones who built the infrastructure of New Amsterdam, including the buildings, bridges, fences, and roads as well as maintained the fort. In addition, they cleared land, planted crops, loaded and unloaded ships, and were trained to be stonemasons, bricklayers, blacksmiths, etc. They were also instrumental in protecting New Amsterdam from Native American onslaughts. I should also add that Native Americans in New Amsterdam were also among the first slaves as well. Our ancestors without question intermarried with them as both Africans and Native Americans made up the enslaved population.
These first Africans were later joined by other West Africans, like the Akan-Asante, Popo, Moko, Ibo, Yoruba, Adra, Jon, Ibibio, Coromantines, and others, as well as seasoned slaves from Brazil, which the Dutch controlled at that time, and the West Indies (i.e., Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, and Curacao). The WIC also brought in “Spanish Negroes” and “Spanish Indians.” These were free blacks and Native Americans, from the Caribbean and South America, who were captured on Spanish or Portuguese ships by the Dutch and then sold as slaves in New Amsterdam. With their darker skin, the Dutch assumed that they must have been slaves.
The diversity of slaves in New Amsterdam meant that the descendants of these original Africans would have interacted with all of the above populations, including the Malagasy who would arrive decades later, as well as the white indenture servant population. This is the melting pot world our Malagasy ancestor entered when she arrived in colonial New York in the late 1600s – early 1700s. She and her descendants would have had children with slaves or free blacks who came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They may have also had children fathered by a slave owner as female slaves were very often at risk for sexual abuse by their slave owners and/or their male family members.
It should be acknowledged that slavery under the Dutch colonial government was dramatically different from the system of slavery that the British instituted after 1664. Perhaps the biggest difference was that, under the Dutch, slaves could become free either by being granted “half-free” status or by being granted their full freedom. Under the “half-free” status, slaves were given land which they farmed for themselves, but had to pay tribute to the WIC as well as be available to protect the colony. Their children would still be considered slaves though. If they were granted full freedom, they were free and their children inherited that status. The first slaves in New Amsterdam received their freedom in the 1640s after having worked as slaves for almost 20 years.
Likewise, under the Dutch colonial slave system, the Dutch Reformed Church recognized slave and free Black marriages and baptisms, they could take care of their children which was their responsibility, when not working for the WIC, they could hire themselves out for paid wages, they were also allowed to raise crops and animals on WIC land, and black people could bring cases to court and serve as witnesses against others. We see that the Dutch believed in maintaining the slave family unit for the most part.
With the arrival of the British in 1664, everything changed. The British immediately instituted the first laws regulating slavery the way they had done in Virginia and other southern colonies. Between 1665 and 1683, New York City’s Common Council passed a series of restrictions on the activities of slaves and free blacks alike. Some of the changes included children of slaves now could only inherit the status of their mothers, children could be separated from their family, slave masters were now able to hire slaves out for their own profit, slaves, free blacks and whites were not allowed to associate with each other, slaves couldn’t leave their master’s home without permission, etc. The list goes on and on. The codification of slavery was now complete. Within this historical context, it is not surprising that the New York Slave Revolt of 1712 happened at all.
The response of our D’Angola, De Vries, and Van Dunk ancestors was to leave New Amsterdam behind. Who could blame them? By the mid-1650s, these free blacks had been given land in an area on the outskirts of the town near the Fresh Water Pond and had been accustomed to their freedom and knew what that meant. We know that by 1670, Claes Manuel, Jan De Vries II, and Augustine Van Dunk lived near this area which was considered part of the Stuyvesant Farm which was owned by Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam. As people in New Amsterdam chafed under the British and as land became scarce, many Dutch families started to cross the Hudson River and settle in the area known as Hackensack River Valley.
Tracing My Family’s Colonial Roots From NY to NJ: All Roads Lead to the Tappan Patent
In 1683, a group of 16 individuals, primarily from the Bowery Village, purchased land from the Tappen Indians in the Upper Hackensack River Valley. This tract of land was called the Tappan Patent and was located 12 miles north of Manhattan on the Jersey side of the Hudson River. Because of a land dispute between New York and New Jersey, the land title wasn’t granted officially until 1687. As you can see below, Claes Manuel and Jan De Vries II were two of the 16 original land grantees. By 1712, they were also joined by Augustine Van Dunk. These families were considered mixed-race and would have been Dutch culturally, Their land was then inherited by their descendants upon their deaths.
By the mid- to late 1700s, as New Jersey adopted their own set of laws that restricted the movement of free blacks and slaves, the descendants of the Manuel, De Vries, and Van Dunk families moved into the Ramapough Mountains. Many were then absorbed into the Ramapough Lenapi Indiannation and consider themselves to be Native American today. Our extended family has direct ties with members of the Ramapough Lenapi that indicate our ancestors’ shared family history and culture with them. We proudly embrace our indigenous Ramapough Lenapi roots.
Our 4th great-grandmother was born between 1790 and 1800 in Tappan, NY which was part of the original Tappan Patent. Her name was Tun Snyder and her maternal line was of Malagasy descent. We are descendants of her daughter Susan Pickett and her granddaughter Laura Thompson. Her female ancestor most likely came over in the late 1600s- early 1700 time period. Through an analysis of our DNA and DNA cousins, we know that our Pickett-Snyder line was a mix of Malagasy, West African, Lenapi, and European, primarily Dutch, people. We also have Euro DNA cousins who are related to well-known founding families of Bergen County, NJ and Rockland County, NY like the Blauvelt, Banta, Ackerman/Ackerson/Eckerson, VanBuskirk, and Demarest families. There is only one way our family can share genetic ties to these families and that would be via consensual or nonconsensual relations between our ancestors.
The Blauvelts were the slave owners of Tun and her ancestors and they were also Tappan Patent land grantees. The Blauvelts of the Tappan Patent can be directly traced to Gerritt Henricksen Blauvelt who arrived in New Amsterdam in 1646 and received a grant of 50 acres of land. The Blauvelt farm was right next door to the Stuyvesant Farm. The Blauvelts and their slaves would have known the D’Angola, De Vries, and Van Dunk families as they owned land that was also next to the Stuyvesant Farm in New Amsterdam. Could male members of the Blauvelt and free black/mixed race families have fathered children with Malagasy female Blauvelt slaves in New Amsterdam? We may never know, but it could be a possibility. However, it is certain that, after these families moved to the Tappan Patent, some of their descendants, in fact, did. All roads lead to the Tappan Patent indeed.
The sons of Gerritt included Johannes Gerritsen Blauvelt and Huybert Gerritsen Blauvelt—two of the original Tappan Patent land grantees. They moved to the Tappan Patent with their brothers Hendrick Gerritsen Blauvelt, Isaac Gerritsen Blauvelt, and Abraham Gerritsen Blauvelt, their sister, Margrietje Gerritsen Blauvelt, who married Lambert Ariaensen Smidt, and their sister, Marritie Gerritsen Blauvelt, who married Cozyn Haring. As you can see, the Smidts and Harings were also Tappan Patent land grantees as well as in-laws to the Blauvelts. In fact, it was Huybert Gerritsen Blauvelt who sailed up the Hudson River, with his brother-in-laws Peter Haring and Adriaen Lambertsen Smidt, to negotiate the purchase of this land in 1682 with the Tappan Indians. What we see here then is that the Tappan Patent land grantees were relatives, in-laws, and neighbors, who included two free black families among them, which in itself was unheard of at the time. They were not an unknown group of disparate individuals who randomly met one day and decided to purchase land. Nope. They were a carefully chosen, trusted group of people who wanted to found their own community away from the British which they did. They all brought their slaves with them when they relocated to New Jersey, too.
Tun was owned by Frederica (Frederick) Blauvelt in Tappan, NY. Frederica (1728-1809) was the son of Joseph Blauvelt and Elizabeth Van Delson. Frederica’s father was Joseph Blauvelt, the son of Henrick Gerritsen Blauvelt (1697-?), and was one of the first Blauvelts to be born in the Tappan Patent. When Frederica died in 1809, Tun was willed to his granddaughter Anna Marie Mabie.
It should also be noted that the status of slaves changed upon the death of their slave masters. Most were inherited by the family members of slave owners while others may have been freed upon their death. What we do know is that Federica Blaivelt’s wife Anna Maria inherited two slaves from her father as the will below shows. Were these slaves somehow related to Tun? We don’t know for sure. All we know is that John left instructions for “his negro boy Jack and negro wench Sublie” to live with his daughter and her husband after he died and for Anna Maria to look out for Sublie as she grew old. Tun would have known these individuals as she lived with them.
Tun was sold or loaned out out a couple of times as a slave and finally ended up with the family of Gerrit Ackerman whose family was also from the Tappan Patent. The Ackermans (also known as Ackersons/Eckersons) intermarried with the Blauvelts, Demarests, and others. Tun labored as a “servant slave” most of her life. In his 1846 will, Gerrit Ackerman instructed his sons to look after her and even willed her son Samuel property in the form of a house. She died in 1881 in Saddle River, Washington County, NY.
I will be writing a separate blogpost in the future on Tun and her ancestors as my cousin Andrea and I are now going through all the Blauvelt wills, Bergen County and Rockland County vital records, etc. searching for clues to her ancestry. So far, I have located the wills of 6 Blauvelts who passed their slaves down to their descendants or freed them. Tun’s story is yet to be told. Stay tuned.
The DNA Trail Continues: Our Full Sequence M23 mtDNA Cousins
Last year, my cousins Andrea and Helen took Family Tree’s Full Sequence mtDNA test to see what else we could find out about our maternal Malagasy line. A year later, we have 9 Full Sequence mtDNA cousin matches who share our M23 haplogroup. I have been in touch with 6 of our 9 FS mtDNA cousins and we have learned several things about their family histories. We haven’t found our common ancestor and may not be able to do so given the nature of slavery.
So what gave we learned? Four out of our 6 mtDNA cousins have ties to the NY/NJ area along with my family. Two mtDNA cousins, Brenda and “Donnie”, 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 NY to Nova Scotia 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.
The Devoe family were French Hugeunots 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. We have found documented evidence that in 1762, Captain Michael Devoe of Ulster County, NY, had taken out a runaway slave ad for his slave Prince who was of Malagasy descent. Prince was a valuable slave as he had nautical skills that were very much needed on the Hudson River and his loss would have been keenly felt. Clearly, the Devoes had acquired Malagasy slaves in NY and the children of those slaves would have been inherited by their descendants.
On the map above, one sees how close Ulster County is to NYC as well as to Albany, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland counties. NY merchants involved in the NY to Madagascar slave trade had vast estates in all these counties. Again, the Malagasy slaves who arrived in the late 1600s and early 1700s would have been sold up and down the Hudson River region and beyond.
We have identified the family line of the two other M23 mtDNA cousins, Lois and Dorothy, who match my family. That line is the Timbrook-Titus line and this line originates in the Greater New Brunswick, NJ area. In the 1870s, my family has a Rev. Isaac Timbrook living with our Thompson-King ancestors in Newark, NJ and a 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 the 1850s. The Timbrooks are related to our Malagasy descended Pickett-Snyder line. Lois has a 4th great-grandmother named Sarah Timbrook Titus who was also from New Brunswick. We believe Isaac is her nephew, the son of her brother Edward Timbrook. Dorothy is connected to a Fanny Titus who may be related to this family line as well. We are still sorting out the family relationships, but we do know that this is the one family line that may link to our common Malagasy ancestor.
Our 5th mtDNA cousin Rhoda is an outlier in that her roots are in the South. To date, all of the people in the Malagasy Roots Project who have the M23 haplogroup have been found with ties to the Northeast. Of course, more people need to be tested to see if other haplogroups found in Madagascar are also present in this geographical area. What is interesting about Rhoda is that she highly likely had an ancestor of Malagasy from the NY/NJ area who was sold South at some point.
My friend Richard Sears Walling has recently been publicizing an illegal slave trade that occured in NJ in 1818 whereby about 100 African-Americans, both free and enslaved, were sold South into slavery by Judge Jacob Van Wickle. This slave trade occured in the New Brunswick/Old Bridge, NJ area and it is quite possible that all of us may have had an ancestor who may have been sold South in this trade. It should be noted that in 1850, Isaac Timbrook is working as a farmhand on a farm owned by the great-nephew of the judge, Steven Van Wickle. The interconnections between people and places does serve as a backdrop to our potential shared history.
Lastly, our 6th mtDNA cousin Alan has a 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.
Alan was so kind to share a family photo of his grandmother and mother taken in the early early 1900s as well as photos of Malagasy people in St. Helena. He is lucky to have such an important connection to Madagascar.
Historical Truth and The Schulyer Flatts Burial Ground Revealed
One of the hardest things we have to do in researching our slave ancestors is to dig DEEP for the truth that exist somewhere out there about their lives. Our ancestors were stripped of the normal genealogical paper trails that others can find with ease for often they were just counted as property in between all the other non-human goods in inventories and wills. Many times they were also buried in unmarked graves, in unmarked or lost cemeteries, that have long since returned to Mother Earth or were just built over. How then can we reclaim these ancestors who are our own? How can we reconstruct their lives when we seemingly have no clues as to who they were or where they came from?
My 3rd cousin Andrea and I took the 23andme DNA test three years ago in order to break through our genealogical brick walls. DNA tests were becoming popular then and we felt like we had nothing to lose. How can you lose anything when most genealogical records do not exist for your slave ancestors? We lucked out when Andrea’s mtDNA haplogroup came back M23. She is a matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother.
When we got Andrea’s results back, we were amazed at the haplogroup designation which originated in Madagascar. We went on to test our other M23 cousins, including our 100-year old Cousin Helen whose grandmother Mary was a sister of our 2nd great-grandmother Laura. An unknown window to our family history opened up to us. This was one African country, without question or hesitation, that we knew we could now call our own. It was then that we both started to embrace the opportunity that this M23 haplogroup had given us and we became obsessed with finding out how our Malagasy ancestors came to the NY/NJ region. This blog post is an attempt to answer that question. We may never know the name of our original Malagasy ancestor, but we now know how, where, and when she arrived in colonial NY and her descendants ended up in NJ. That is a whole lot more than we ever knew before our DNA test. It was this ancestor who gave us the gift of her M23 mtDNA that allowed us to follow the trail back to her and to discover the socio-historical events that circumscribed her life. We are so grateful to her for we have now reclaimed that which slavery took from us — one segment of our roots, our Malagasy roots.
We will never know where our earliest ancestors of Malagasy descent are buried. But, in 2005 in Colonie, NY, an unmarked slave burial ground was discovered there. The historical erasure of these fourteen nameless individuals, who were found in the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground, was to be no more. The remains found included one man, 6 women, 2 children, and 5 infants. By historic design, we know little about them. What we do know is that, after a mtDNA testwas performed, 4 were designated as being of West African/Central African descent, 1 descended from a Native American woman and was of mixed-race, and 2 sets of remains were from women of Malagasy descent with a M haplogroup designation. The Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground should be viewed as a stand-in burial ground for all those forgotten slaves who toiled all over colonial New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The re-emergence of this burial ground is a testament to the fact that the some of the earliest slaves in colonial NY/NJ were Native American, West African, and Malagasy. It is also a testament to the indisputable fact that there are many African-Americans, my family included, who have historic ties to this land that predate most of the other non-Native American immigrants who became Americans much later on.
The Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground was built on land owned by the Schuyler familly. Peter Schuyler, who occupied the estate between 1711-1723, was one of the NY merchants involved in the Madagascar to NY slave trade. He, along with his brother-in-law Robert Livingston, routinely invested in ships that made the trip to Madagascar to sell goods and then returned with enslaved Malagasy in their cargo hold along with other items for sale. He also owned sloops that trafficked on the Hudson River from Albany to Manhattan and owned property in Manhattan, Bergen County, NJ, Westchester, and Albany, NY. On those properties were no doubt slaves of Malagasy descent among others. Schuyler may be remembered for many things, but, make no mistake, he was one of the players in the NY slave trade. For those of us with Malagasy roots, he will be remembered for being actively involved and complicit in the NY to Madagascar slave trade along with all the other NY merchants families. — the Philipse, Livingston, Van Cortland, Delancey, Bayard, Lynch, Van Dam, Van Horne, Heathcote, and other families — who sold our ancestors into slavery.
I am not one to sanitize a historical truth when it involves my ancestors. History needs to be understood as it was experienced by everyone and not the chosen few. As far as I am concerned, the lives of my slave ancestors are just as valuable historically as any other person who ever lived. Their lives did not happen in a historical vacuum and their stories need to be told. Their lives were indeed valid. I can’t over-emphasize how important it is for us to seek out our ancestors’ stories. All of us, who are descendants of slaves, need to reclaim the lives of our ancestors so that others may learn of their existence and their contributions to American society. We owe it to them NOT to continue to aid in their historical erasure. If we do not do it, who will? The choice is ours. Let us all then shine a light on those who came before us. Our ancestors are always with us and their stories are encoded in our DNA.
On Colonial New York:
Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. 1998.
Goodfriend, Joyce D. Before The Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664-1730. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1992.
Cohen, David Steven. The Ramapough Mountain People. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 1986.
Harris, Leslie M. In the Shadow of Slavery: African-Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 2003.
Hodges, Graham Russell. Root & Branches: African Americans in New York & East Jersey, 1613-1863. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1999.
Lepore, Jill. New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth Century Manhattan. New York, NY: Vintage Books. 2007.
Matson, Cathy. Merchants & Empire: Trading in Colonial New York. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 1998.
Taylor, Alan. American Colonies: The Settling of North America (The Penguin History of The United Sates, Volume 1). New York, NY: Penguin Books. 2002.
Shaw Romney ,Susanah. New Netherland and Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in the Seventeenth-Century America. Chapel Hill, NC:University Prss of North Carolina. 2014.
Wills Foote, Thelma. Black and White Manhattan: The History of Racial Formation in Colonial New York City. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Allen, Richard, Ed. European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean, 1500-1850. Athens,OH: Ohio University Press, 2014.
Armstrong, James C. “Madagascar and the Slave Trade in the Seventeenth Century.” Omaly sy anio (Antananarivo University of Madagascar), no. 17 (1983): 211:34.
Elphick, Richard and Hermann Giliomee, Eds. The Shaping of South African Society, 1652-1840. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. 1979.
Hopper, Jane. “Pirates and Kings: Power on the Shores of Early Modern Madagascar and the Indian Ocean.” Journal of World History, Vol. 22, no. 2 (June 2011) : 215-242.
Judd, Jacob. “Frederick Philipse and the Madagascar Slave Trade.” New York Historical Society Quarterly 55, no. 4 (October 1971): 354-74.
Manning, Patrick. The African Diaspora: A History Through Culture. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 2009.
McDonald, Kevin P. Pirates, Merchants, Settlers, and Slaves: Colonial America and the Indo-Atlantic World. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. 2015.
Platt, Virginia Bever. “The East India Company and the Madagascar Slave Trade.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 26, no. 4 (October 1969): 548-77.
Sheriff, Abdul. Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and Islam. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 2010.
Vernet, Thomas. “Slave Trade and Slavery on the Swahili Coast, 1500-1750.” In Slavery, islam, and Diaspora, edited by Behnaz A. Mirzai, Ismael Musah Montana, and APul E. Lovejoy, 37-76. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. 2009.
Wilson-Fall, Wendy. Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. 2015.
On Native American Slavery:
Newell, Margaret Ellen. Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2015.
Resendez, Andres. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2016.
On Spain’s Involvement in the Slave Trade:
Fradera, Josep and Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, Eds. Slavery and Anti-Slavery in Spain’s Atlantic Empire. New York, NY: Berghahn Books. 2013.
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.
This blog post is dedicated to my M23 Malagasy ancestors who survived the Middle Passage and made it to New York and New Jersey. This is Part I of a two part series and is focused on my family’s Malagasy ancestry. My next blog post will discuss how my ancestors arrived in New York based on the actions of unscrupulous NY merchants and pirates.
About Madagascar and DNA
Over the past decade, there have been numerous studies done that describe the origins of the Malagasy, the people of Madagascar. For example, in 2005, Hurles et al.discussed the dual origins of the Malasy people as being Southeast Asian and East African. His study was followed by one done in 2009 by Sergio Tofanelli et al. In this article, they wrote:
“Our results confirm that admixture of Malagasy was due to the encounter of people surfing the extreme edges of two of the broadest historical waves of language expansion: the Austronesian and Bantu expansions. In fact, all Madagascan living groups show amixture of uni-parental lineages typical present in African and Southeast Asian populations with only a minor contribution of Y lineages with different origins. Two observations suggest that the the Y lineages with “another origin” entered the island in recent times: 1) they are particularly frequent in the Tanosy area (Fort Dauphin), and around Antananarivo, where commercial networks and the slave trade had a focus; 2) they matched with haplogroups typical of present Indo-European (Europeans) and Arabic speaking (Somali) people.”
In addition, a 2012 study by Cox, et al.noted that most Malagasy people can trace their mtDNA back to 30 Indonesian women who made up the founding population of Madagascar. Given the fact that Southeast Asian Y-DNA was also found among the Malagasy, it is assumed that there were also some Indonesian men among this group of women. These women went on to have children with the Indonesian men present as well as men from Africa. Later migrations from Africa also included Southeast African Bantu mtDNA haplogroups from north of the Zambezi River. In 2013, Melanie Capredon et al.also discussed the Arab-Islamic contribution to the Malagasy gene pool as a result of Indian Ocean slave trade.
In addition to the Indonesian and African genetic links found among the Malagasy, there are also linguistic and cultural links to these regions as well. 90% of Malagasy vocabulary come from Maanyan, a language spoken in the Baritone River region of southern Borneo. The other 10% comes from the vocabulary of the Bantu, Malay, South Sulawesian, Javanese, and Sanskrit. Tofanelli et al. also raised the possibility that Indonesians may have reached East Africa and were admixed before their arrival in Madagascar probably around 2,300 years ago This initial mainland contact could explain the occurrence of banana cultivation (Asian Musa spp. phytolits) in southern Cameroon and Uganda before 500 BCE; the introduction of Bos indicus, a cattle of Southeast Asian origin, into East Africa from Asia; and the excavation of chicken bones, originating in Southeast Asia, from Neolithic limestone cave site at Zanzibar. They write, “This Malagasy admixture could have had a history in East Africa before it crossed the Mozambique Channel, even though genetic signatures of these first mainland contacts are still missing (2009:21).”
Madagascar and the Slave Trade and After
Madagascar was part of both the global trade in slaves in both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The Indian Ocean slave trade existed before European colonization and even before the emergence of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. It saw Malagasy slaves taken to the Mascarene Islands, the Seychelles, Comoros Islands, East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf, and India. The European-driven Indo-Atlantic slave trade began in the 16th century. The Portuguese, Dutch , French, British and Americans brought Malagasy slaves to the shores of South Africa, St. Helena’s Island, Brazil and other South American countries, the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Barbados, and North America. It should be noted that both slave trades were facilitated in part by different Malagasy ethnic groups who engaged in the selling of slaves to outsiders in exchange for arms and material goods. As a result of both slave trades— and later as free immigrants— Malagasy DNA spread around the globe.
On Finding Our Malagasy mtDNA
Over two years ago, my cousin Andrea and I decided to take the 23andme DNA test. We were desperate to find more information about our Thompson family history and felt that a DNA test would provide us with more clues. I knew beforehand that my mtDNA was European as my maternal 2nd great-grandmother was a first generation Irish-American. However, Andrea and I were excited to see what her mtDNA would be because she was a matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green, while I was not. Well, imagine our surprise when her mtDNA came back M23, a haplogroup that is only found in Madagascar. We were shocked as this was totally unexpected. It seems that our Malagasy ancestors came to the New York City/New Jersey area between 1678-98 or 1716-21. The knowledge that our 2nd great-grandmother had matrilineal ancestry that traced back to Madagascar necessitated that we do further research. Several questions came to mind. Did our Malagasy ancestry still show up in our genes? When did our Malagasy ancestors arrive in the States, specifically NY/NJ? Why did slave traders go to Madagascar to procure slaves?
Our Malagasy Roots and DNA Admixture
We can trace our Malagasy ancestry back to our 5th great-grandmother, Jane Pickett, who was born a slave in NJ or NY around 1775. Her daughter was Tun, also a slave born around 1790 in Tappan, NY, according to a 1860 census record, though she may have also been born in NJ. Both Jane and Tun were born slaves and eventually worked as house servants in their later years. Tun had a daughter named Susan Pickett, our third great-grandmother, who was born in Morris County, NJ in 1809. Susan was born under The Gradual Emancipation Actand thus had to serve her master for 21 years. We don’t know who her father was, but Susan is listed as being “mulatto.” Once freed, Susan married our third great-grandfather, Cato Thompson. Susan and Cato had six children.
Their children were Richard, Thomas, Jacob, Laura, Mary, and Catherine. My three maternal siblings, my aunt Helen, my first cousin, and I are the descendants of Laura’s son Richard. Andrea, her mother Mildred, uncle Robert, brother, and daughter are the descendants of Laura’s daughter Goldie. My cousin Yvonne and her grandson are the descendants of Laura’s son Stewart. My cousin Helen is a descendant of Laura’s sister Mary and my cousin Lillian is a descendant of Laura’s sister Catherine.
As of today, we have had 15 descendants of Susan Pickett DNA tested, of whom six have mtDNA M23. Having so many relatives DNA tested allows us to see how Malagasy ancestry is passed down generationally. According to 23andme, all of us have ethnic admixture, in varying amounts, from Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Those cousins who are matrilineal descendants of our shared M23 ancestors do show higher amounts in these admixture areas. While I don’t think any DNA test can tell you with 100% certainty what your admixture is, I do believe that they can provide clues about your ethnicity especially when combined with knowledge of local and family history.
Please note that I have previously blogged about my own admixture tests. In this blog post I will be mainly discussing my relatives’ admixture results.
Here are the 23andme Ancestry Composition results of my cousins Helen, Mildred, and Robert. You can clearly see the indicators of Malagasy ancestry.
As a comparison, here are the Ancestry Compositions for my aunt Helen and cousin Lillian. As you can see, their admixture is from the same areas, but in lesser amounts.
A look at the X chromosomes of Mildred, Robert, Lillian and Helen also show how our Southeast Asian ancestry (in yellow) has been passed down from our Malagasy ancestors. All four are the descendants of all three of Susan Pickett’s daughters—Laura (Mildred and Robert), Mary (Helen), and Catherine (Lillian).
In addition to testing at 23andme, my cousins Mildred and Andrea, aunt Helen, and sister Elisa also had a DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done in 2013. Again, the Malagasy indicators tend to be Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Please note that Bantu, Pedi, and Nguni are all Bantu-speaking groups that were part of the Bantu expansion.
Here are their Native Populations Admixture Analysis from DNA Tribes:
In 2014, I had my DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done again after they instituted their regional clusters. Here are my results as a Malagasy non-matrilineal descendant:
On chromosome 20, you can see how our Malagasy DNA, represented by our Southeast Asian admixture in yellow, has been inherited by the same ancestor.
A Word About Our Malagasy vs. Native American Ancestry
My family’s Malagasy (M23) ancestry is separate from our Native American ancestry. I make note of this because there have been claims made that haplogroup M was found in North America, and thus was Native American, based on a 2007 articlethat has since been debunked. I have written two prior blog posts on M23 and other M subclade haplogroups that mention how I disagree with this assessment and provide comments from well-known genetic genealogists and mtDNA experts about the M haplogroup. In the chromosomal view below, you can see how the Southeast Asian admixture (in yellow) is separate from our Native American admixture (in orange).
As it relates to my discussion of my family’s Malagasy ancestry in my next blog post, Esther J. Lee et al. note in their article “MtDNA Origins of an Enslaved Labor Force From the 18th century Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground in Colonial Albany, NY: Africans, Native Americans, and Malagasy?,” “individuals identified as haplogroup M7 and M resemble lineages found in Madagascar. Historical documents suggest several hundred people were imported from Madagascar through illegal trading to New York by the end of the 17th century. ” Though Lee had access to the now debunked 2007 article, she rightly acknowledges that the M7 haplogroup is found in East Asia, Southeast Asia and Madagascar. It is so important, as the Lee article shows, to look at local historical events to see how individuals with M haplogroups may have arrived in the Americas via the slave trade and who are NOT Native American.
I should also note that African-Americans, with the help of DNA tests, are now discovering their Malagasy ancestry. For example, my 98-year old cousin Helen has 5 DNA cousin matches with Malagasy ancestry from Madagascar, South Africa, and France on her 23andme DNA Relatives List and many of my family members have DNA cousins with known Malagasy haplogroups. Likewise, my friend Melvin Collier has written an excellent blog postonfinding and confirming his Malagasy ancestry via a Malagasy DNA cousin. As a result of these Malagasy ancestral discoveries, there is a now a Malagasy Roots Project at FTDNAthat seeks to connect African-Americans with their Malagasy DNA cousins.
Using Gedmatch Admixture Calculators to Detect Malagasy Ancestry
I have been asked repeatedly how one can tell if they have Malagasy ancestry in the absence of a known Malagasy mtDNA or Y-DNA. One of the ways is to take an autosomal DNA test from any of the three major testing companies — 23andme (highly recommended as you also get your haplogroups), AncestryDNA, or FTDNA Autosomal Family Finder— and then upload the results to Gedmatch, a free site, where you can run additional admixture calculators.
Based on my family’s known Malagasy ancestry, I feel confident enough to state that Malagasy indicators are Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. It is crucial to realize that it is a combination of all these admixtures that may indicate Malagasy ancestry. Just having Southeast Asian, South African, East African ancestry or any one individual admixture is not enough to indicate Malagasy ancestry. I would also mention that one should research the local history/area where your ancestors resided. Slaves from Madagascar were known to have been imported into Boston, New York/NJ, and Virginia. However, there were many Malagasy slaves who may have arrived in the States via the Caribbean, Brazil, Europe, India, as well as a host of other countries. Many Malagasy also came to this country as free immigrants. In essence, you need to really do your research.
Some additional things to do would be to also have other relatives tested to confirm your Malagasy ancestry as well as to check your Gedmatch One-To-Many list to see if your DNA cousins have a Malagasy haplogroup.
Below are some of Gedmatch admixture calculators that I use to detect indicators of Malagasy ancestry. I am going to use my mother Joyce as an example because you can easily see her Malagasy admixture indicators. Plus, I think it is really cool to use a Gedmatch Lazarus recreated genome based on her four children, sister, niece and a host of 2nd and 3rd cousins. For the record, I use the following Gedmatch admixture calculators: MDLP-World 22, MDLP-K23b, Dodecad v3, Dodecad World9, Dodecad Africa9 (to detect South African and East African ancestry), Eurogenes K13, Eurogenes K36, and HarappaWorld. Most of these calculators detect Southeast, Oceanian, Austronesian, South Asian, Melanesian/Polynesian, Papuan, Malayan, South African, and East African admixture.
Malagasy MtDNA and Y-DNA Haplogroups
Disclaimer: Please note that the list below has some of the haplogroups found in Madagascar that come from several scientific studies (see references below). The nomenclature of these haplogroups may have changed since the articles were written. Also, if you have taken a 23andme test, their v4 chip may not give a definitive haplogroup assignment. For example, I am H1 on 23andme since I tested with their v3 chip, however, my siblings are just H since they tested with the v4 chip. Likewise, some folks who are B4a1a1b may show up as only B4a1a1 on 23andme. Note these haplogroups can be found in other places as well. There are only two haplogroups that I know for sure that are found only in Madagascar and they are M23 and B4a1a1a haplogroup subclades. I am by no means an expert on mtDNA or Y-DNA, but I think this list is valuable to those seeking more answers on their Malagasy ancestry.
[Please note the updates to this blogpost found here.]
I dedicate this blog post to my Bonilla ancestors, especially my father, Antonio Vega Noboa, who would have been proud to learn that his great-grandfather was a true Puerto Rican patriot. I also dedicate this blog post to my dear cousin, Madeline Castañon Quiles, and her family, who grew up hearing about the brutal death of our 2nd great-grandfather. I hope I tell his story the way he would have wanted it to be told. May Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo continue to rest in peace. Que Dios le bendiga.
Finding Maddy via AncestryDNA
Two years ago, I had a very off-balanced family tree. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, my father was an only child and his parents divorced when he was a child. My paternal grandmother then moved from Carolina, Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, NY in the early 1940s. My dad and his parents were the only three names I had on my tree. After I took my first DNA test, I met a cousin, Luis Rivera, who helped me expand my tree immensely. He took me back to all my paternal great-grandparents, 2nd great-grandparents, as well as some third and fourth great-grandparents.
My Bonilla line can be traced to my paternal great-grandmother, Juana Florentina Bonilla Bonilla, the mother of my grandfather, Antonio Vega Bonilla. Based on Juana’s marriage record to my great-grandfather, Segundo Vega Rodriguez, I knew her parents were Juan E. Bonilla and Josefa Bonilla. Other than the fact that both were “mestizo” and were born in Susua Alta, Yauco, I was at a dead end. I had hit my Bonilla brick wall. Without their maternal surnames, it would be difficult to trace Juana’s parents further back.
Early last year I decided to take the AncestryDNA test. When I first received my results, I looked up the Bonilla surname to see if I could locate any of my Bonilla cousins from Susua Alta, Yauco. I did find Bonilla DNA cousins, but their trees started and ended in Coamo, Puerto Rico which didn’t seem to help me at all. That was until September 6, 2014 when I realized that I had a new cousin hint. I was so excited when I saw Madeline Castañon Quiles on my list. She was one of the cousins I had been waiting for for some time. Maddy turned out to be the cousin who helped me break down my Bonilla brick wall with a big KABOOM!
The Walls Came Tumbling Down…And So Did The Tears
As soon as I saw her name on my list with the exact 3rd cousin relationship, I wrote immediately to her and let her know that we were related via our shared 2nd great-grandfather, Juan Eusebio Bonilla. I was excited to finally learn his maternal surname…Salcedo.
Juan Eusebio was one of four children born to Marcos Bonilla Bonilla and Rita Salcedo in 1852. In addition to his siblings Rosario and Antonio, he had a twin brother named Jose. Juan Eusebio was apparently married three times and had six children from all three marriages. My 2nd great-grandmother, Josefa, was his first wife and with whom he had Juana and Domingo. Maddy’s 2nd great-grandmother, Carmen Avallanet, was his second wife with whom he had Juan. Maria Dominga Camacho Torres was his third wife with whom he had Angel, Agueda, and Eusebio.
From Maddy, I also learned about “La Leyenda de la Guásima,” an urban legend which was indeed based on fact. She told me that our 2nd great-grandfather had been assassinated in a very public, horrific way by a Spanish Civil Guard, Jose Ferreria Tello, on June 30th, 1890. Maddy had grown up hearing about Juan Eusebio’s death from the oral history passed down from her mother Hilda, who had heard it from her elders. I went from feeling happiness at finally locating him to despair. So many questions popped into my head. The two major ones being (1) WHY was he assassinated? (2) WHAT did he do to deserve a death that involved being beaten, tied to a guásima tree, shot in the head, gutted, his mutilated genitals stuffed in his mouth and pant pockets, and finally set on fire???? Tears, tears, tears and more tears…..
I am not too sure about others, but having done genealogy/family history research for quite some time now, I’ve gotten to the point where I sometimes feel my ancestors pushing me in the direction of where they want me to go, as if they are leaving me breadcrumbs to follow. After speaking to Maddy, who I also found out lived in NYC, I googled Juan Eusebio’s name and found my first breadcrumb—a short 50-page book titled Asesinato Politico by E. Gutierrez Velez.
It is a book about the events of the “El Componte Era” in Puerto Rico, which led up to Juan Eusebio’s’s death in 1890, followed by “La Intentona” in 1897, the last uprising in Puerto Rico against Spanish colonial rule. The author was none other than the son of one of Juan Eusebio’s good friends, Venancio Gutierrez.
With the spirit of the ancestors leading the way, I indeed felt Juan Eusebio nudging me to discover the truth about his life and death almost 125 years after the fact. It is my intention to rescue him from obscurity. As his descendants, both Maddy and I owe that to him at the very least. He is our Puerto Rican patriot de verdad. If we don’t remember our ancestors, who will? Moreover, who will speak for those whose voices have been silenced? No matter how hard it was to read this book, I am grateful to have such an account, despite the horror of it all.
About His Death Record
We were able to locate Juan Eusebio’s death certificate which proved to be informative all around. His death record indicated that he was only shot in the head, that there was a criminal case made against the Civil Guard Jose Ferreria, his assassin, and that he was married, but had no living children. His parents were recorded as being Marcos Bonilla and Rita Salcedo.
Given the amount of birth , marriage and death records for him and his children, his death record smacks of a coverup and, at the very least, a great minimization of his death. Why was the truth about his death not mentioned? My inquiring mind wanted to know.
Puerto Rican mtDNA and Y-DNA
We know from a 2001 study done by Dr. Juan Martinez Cruzado that 61% of all Purto Ricans have Native American mtDNA, 27% have African mtDNA and 12% have European mtDNA. MtDNA is inherited only from one’s mother from her matrilineal ancestors and does not change over time. This, of course, means that a majority of Puerto Ricans are descended from a Taino woman. The flip side to this is that a majority of Y-DNA in Puerto Ricans, the DNA that males inherit from their’s father’s patrilineal line, is European. About 74.8% of Puerto Rican Y-DNA is European, 23.8% is African, and 1.5% is Native American.
Looking at Juan Eusebio’s grandsons, Enrique Vega Bonilla, who was my great-uncle, and Maddy’s grandfather, Juan Bonilla Quiles, clearly you see their mestizo ancestry. On her marriage certificate, my great-grandmother Juana Bonilla Bonilla listed her “race” as “mestizo.”
I can only assume that her father, Juan Eusebio, was also mixed-race, most likely mestizo, just like the majority of Puerto Ricans who have Native American mtDNA and a European Y-DNA.
NOTE: In order to really understand Juan Eusebio’s brutal assassination, we have to examine the historical period in which he lived. It is only in this way that we can fully understand how patriotic and brave he was to keep speaking truth to power.
The Puerto Rican Autonomist Party
In February of 1887, the Autonomist Party (Partido Autonomista) was formed in Ponce. Autonomist Party members advocated for the rights of Puerto Ricans who were born on the island. Their liberal beliefs included self-government, political economic development, education, and social justice for Puerto Ricans. The party was clear in that they were not asking for independence from Spain. Instead, they were looking to work within the confines of the Spanish colonial system. As a result, the Autonomist Party garnered the support of the Puerto Rican-born population, especially the educated middle class, as opposed to the Spanish-born Spaniard peninsular population who tended to support the more conservative Unconditional Spanish Party.
It should be noted that members of the Autonomist Party came from all racial backgrounds and represented all Puerto Ricans. That the majority of members were of mixed-race infuriated those in power. This new political party and it’s leaders were also closely aligned with the abolitionist movement in Puerto Rico. At a time when Spanish-born Spaniards still controlled all aspects of the politico-economic life on the island, the Autonomist Party was considered radical by the conservative parties on the island. Within months of the founding of the Autonomist Pary, their liberal ideas made them a target of government repression and conservative scorn.
In her classic book, The History of Puerto Rico, Loida Figueroa writes about how some members of the Autonomist Party decided to organize a boycott against Spanish owned businesses in favor of patronizing Puerto Rican businesses. The boycotters had formed secret societies to promote their boycott. This boycott was seen as evidence by both the Spanish colonial government and conservatives that the Autonomist Party was engaging in acts of separatism. [She also hinted at how Spanish businessmen burned down their own buildings and then blamed the arson on the boycotters.] Figueroa writes:
“The Spaniards and Puerto Ricans of the Unconditional sector knew something was going on, just noting the shift of people towards the Puerto Rica businesses and the lack of it towards their own businesses. Since refusing to buy in an establishment could not be declared illegal they had to use other means, such as saying that another Separatist conspiracy had been generated, aimed at ruining the businesses and lives of the Penisulares and those loyal to Spain. Since Puerto Ricans were Autonomists, the Unconditionals, upon attacking the Society, indirectly attacked the Party. In order to make others believe that national integrity was in danger, since the province was “on the verge of a revolution” the only thing they needed was to succeed in making the Captain Genral play their game. This Captain was General don Romualdo Palacios.” (Figueroa, p. 375)
It was in this way that the Autonomist Party and their supporters were targeted by the Spanish colonial government which, in turn, gave rise to the El Componte Era.
General Romualdo Palacios Gonzelez and the El Componte Era
Governor Romualdo Palaciosarrived in Puerto Rico in March of 1887. By April, he had aligned himself with the Unconditional Spanish Party and initiated the start of the El Componte Era. Palacios ordered the Spanish Civil Guard to identify, pursue, punish, torture and jail Autonomist Party members and supporters. “Componte” is a term that meant “rectify” or “pacify” by means of torture. Doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers, musicians, writers, journalists, farmers, workers, and many others were rounded up and tortured. Figueroa goes on to write:
“…the Civil Guard kept on making arrests, with the anomaly that although it was announced that their object was to make investigations respective to the secret societies, the assumed informers were immediately qualified as wrongdoers or revolutionaries. To justify this qualification they proceeded to torture the “witnesses” and pry confessions out of them that would give a conspiratorial air to the boycotting societies. The tortures used were palillos, cordeles, chains or lash, apart from the current slaps, kicks, blows with butt ends of guns, and all kinds of other blows.” (Figueroa, p. 380)
There were many Autonomist Party members and supporters who were held and tortured both in “Houses of Componte” as well as the Castillo del Morro. Many were killed and some committed suicide as a result of this torture.
In August, Palacios had 16 leaders of the Autonomist Party arrested and, on November 6th, he ordered all 16 to be taken to the Castillo del Morro where they were sentenced to death. Those 16 were Cristino Aponte, Roman Baldorioty de Castro, Salvador Carbonell Toro, Francisco Cepeda Taborcias, Ulises Dalmau Proventud, Pedro Maria Descartes, Rodulfo Figueroa Gonzalez, Jose Vicente Gonzalez, Ramon Marin Sola, Antonio Molina Vergara, Bruno Negron, Andres Santos Negroni, Santiago R. Palmer, Epifanio Presas, Tomas Vazquez Rivera and Manuel Antonio Zavala Rodriguez. There was such an international outcry over these arrests that on November 9th, General Palacios was recalled to Spain. On December 19th, all 16 prisoners were freed. As we shall see, the El Componte Era did not end with Palacios leaving the island. It continued on for years.
Freemasonry in Puerto Rico
I have to add here that one of the groups that was heavily affected by El Componte were the Freemasonsin Puerto Rico. The government ordered all Masonic lodges to be closed and banned participation in Masonic activities. Because Masonic lodges operate in secrecy, the government found them to be a threat to their existence.
Freemasonry had taken hold in Puerto Rico after the Haitian Revolution with the immigration of French nationals to Puerto Rico. After 1850, Freemasonry attracted a following among the educated middle class population. With the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity inherent in their beliefs, Freemasons became members and natural supporters of the Autonomous Party. Out of the 16 Autonomous Party leaders imprisoned in El Morro, five were Freemasons. Those five were Salvador Carbonell Toro, Ramon Baldorioty de Castro, Santiago R. Palmer, Tomas Vazquez Rivera and Jose Vicente Gonzalez. Other prominent Masonic Autonomous Party members also included Ramon Emeterio Betances, Segundo Ruiz Belvis, Jose Julian Acosta, Luis Munoz Rivera, Jose Celso Barbosa among others.
Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo: Proud Yauco Autonomist Party Member
Asesinato Politico proved to be a goldmine of information about Juan Eusebio. It is an almost play by play telling of events that led up to my 2nd great-grandfather’s vicious murder at the hands of the Spanish Civil Guard. E. Gutierrez Velez recorded events that his father Venancio relayed to him about the El Componte Era and its aftermath.
It turns out that Juan Eusebio was one of the first people in Susua Alta, Yauco to become affiliated with the Autonomous Party. He was outspoken in promoting their liberal ideas as well as advocating for the self-determination of Puerto Ricans. He was also a well-known businessman who owned a commercial store and coffee business. In addition, he was part of a group of Yaucanos, who were known to be Autonomous Party members and leaders, and who may have taken part in the boycott of Spanish owned businesses. As such, he came to the attention of the Spanish Civil Guard.
Gutierrez Velez lists the names of all the well-known Yaucanos who were arrested, imprisoned and/or tortured during El Componte. These men make up El Cuadro de Honor of Yauco, along with Juan Eusebio. I honor their names here as well:
In his book, Historia De Yauco, Hector Andres Negroni mentions the occupations of several of the men above. Antonio Mattei Lluberas and Domingo Mariani both owned sugar and coffee plantations. Francisco Castañer Castañer also owned a coffee plantation. Antonio Abrini owned a shoe store. Jose Maria Gatell was a pharmacy owner. Eustaquio Medina was a clothing manufacturer. Although he is not listed above, I should also mention that Venancio Gutierrez owned a tobacco factory. Clearly, all of these men represented the educated Puerto Rican middle-class that found the Autonomous Party attractive.
Francisco Mejia Rodriguez and Vicente Soltero Pagan were both Freemasons. I don’t know if Juan Eusebio was a Freemason, but he undoubtedly associated with them. As someone whose father and maternal grandfather were Masons, I am proud of the Masonic participation in the Autonomous Party.
So Why Was He Assassinated?
Gutierrez Velez writes that Juan Eusebio was arrested in 1887 during the Componte Era because, in addition to being an Autonomist Party member, he was accused of insulting the memory of a Civil Guard who had died. He returned to Susua Alta in the first months of 1890 after almost three years in prison in Ponce. While in prison, he was tortured by none other than Jose Ferreria! When he returned to the village, Jose Ferreria was not there. Gutierrez Velez, referring to Juan Eusebio, states:
“Creía tal vez, que la inquina dejada por su improprio proceder durante el “componte” se había extinguido con su repentina ausencia del teatro de las nefastas representaciones, en las cuales fue uno de los más destacados y también odiosos personajes.” (Gutierrez Velez, p.16)
“Perhaps, he believed that the gripe left by his improper conduct during “el componte” had been extinguished with the sudden absence of the theater of nefarious representations, in which he was one of the most prominent and also most hated characters.”
Once freed, Juan Eusebio wasted no time in writing to Jose Ferreria reminding him of all the abuse he suffered at his hands while in prison. He also challenged Ferreria to a duel as he considered this to be the best way to even the field with Ferreria—en el terreno de los caballeros. Wow! In effect, he was telling Jose Ferreria to be a real man—-as if to say, abuse me when my hands are not tied, when I don’t have a blindfold on, and when I am standing unfettered on my own two feet and see what happens. That took cojones to do that.
Juan Eusebio’s friends warned him not to go forward with the duel. Even Venancio Gutierrez gave him a prophetic warning when he said:
“Amigo Bonilla, deme la mano, porque si usted va al sitio con sus enemigos, que son menguados, no volveré a verlo vivo” (Gutierrez Velez, p. 19).
“My friend Bonilla, give me your hand, if you go to this place with your enemies, some of whom are devils, you will not be seen alive again.”
Despite the dire warnings of his close friends, Juan Eusebio was adamant that he would still go through with the duel. Obviously, he was not afraid. I often wonder why he showed no fear. I do find comfort in knowing that he was a religious man as Gutierrez Velez often points out in his book. I now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was his FAITHthat allowed him to go forward. He walked with God and feared no evil—not even in the presence of his enemies.
Venancio’s prophecy had been proven true for Juan Eusebio was found early in the morning on June 30, 1890. His assassins had placed his body on the steps of the entrance to the cemetery—-a clear message that would be understood by all. His remains were found wreaking of gas and and still smoldering. He had been gutted and his genitals removed. His assassins had also placed his body in a supine position and put a revolver in his hand. Of course, this gave them the opportunity to later claim that he committed suicide.
Gutierrez Velez vividly tells of the moment the people of Susua Alta heard of his death. In a nutshell, he writes that “in an instant, the people came running, like a landslide, toward the churchyard. The Civil Guard had tried to close off the area, but they couldn’t because the people came running from all directions screaming, “They killed Eusebio Bonilla.”
La Leyenda de La Guásima is based on the facts about my 2nd great-grandfather’s assassination. There were no human witnesses to the brutality that he was subjected to on that night. However, Gutierrez Velez writes that, “the wires, the tree, and all the thicket damaged revealed with astonishing eloquence, the how and why of their dilapidated state, with their fresh bloodstains. The red showed definite signs and demonstrated, how much out of the ordinary, what happened there in the middle of the night in question.” It is no wonder that this urban legend states that when you hear the trees making noises at night, it is because they are crying out for justice for Juan Eusebio.
The Aftermath of His Assassination…
After his death, the Spanish Civil Guard tried to make it look like Juan Eusebio had committed suicide. In addition to placing a gun in his right hand, they also issued restrictive orders to the people of Susua Alta not to say anything about Jose Ferreria being in Yauco before or after Juan Eusebio’s death or to say, “Let me bring you to the guásima tree ” which was code language for “let me show you where Juan Eusebio was murdered.” The Spanish Civil Guard made clear that they would arrest anyone who violated their orders.
I am happy to say that Juan Eusebio had some good friends who were willing to speak out about his murder, at great personal costs, as well as pursue an investigation into his brutal death. One of those friends was Jose Simidei Rodriguez, who was a dry goods store owner in Susua Alta. Gutierrez Velez writes that one of the most vocal voices of protests over Juan Eusebio’s death came from Simidei who was arrested as a result. After being released, he thought about what he had said and decided, in hindsight, to liquidate his store and to flee to Santo Domingo out of fear for his life. Such was the fear of persecution that the Spanish Civil Guard created.
His other friends went on to launch a court investigation into his death at the hands of the Spanish Civil Guard in both Susua Baja and in San German. Many townspeople were called to testify against Jose Ferreria and many just showed up hoping to testify in memory of Juan Eusebio. Gutierrez Velez writes that the people were captivated by a man who distinguished himself with his correct conduct and who inspired respect from all because he respected everyone. And so they came to testify in his honor.
However, because the Spanish Civil Guard were agents of the state, the investigation was akin to being a kangaroo court where evidence was lost and the state always maintaining that Juan Eusebio had committed suicide. One of the “lost” documents was one that Juan Eusebio gave Venancio Gutierrez the night before he was killed which documented everything that Jose Ferreria had done to him during his imprisonment as well as the information concerning the duel. Juan Eusebio’s assassins literally got away with murder for Ferreria was found not guilty of anything since he was technically “not working” —he was off the clock so to speak—at the time of the murder and so the Spanish Civil Guard could not be blamed. Unbelievable.
Public Vindication for Juan Eusebio
Public vindication would finally came for Juan Eusebio on November 6, 1890. On that day, the La Razón newspaper, published in Mayaguez, reprinted an article from the Spanish newspaper La Justicia under the heading “Or Between Savages.” The La Justicia correspondent wrote about the horrible details of Juan Eusebio’s murder. The article mentioned that my 2nd great-grandfather had been tortured in 1887 and later violently killed in Yauco. It went on to state that Juan Eusebio had challenged his “componteador” after completing his prison term and that the Civil Guard had set up an appointment for the evening of June 30th, 1890 to meet him. Juan Eusebio was surrounded by a group of Jose Ferreria’s friends who took advantage of their greater numbers and tied him to a guásima tree leaving him at the mercy of his enemy, Ferreria. It went on to say that Juan Eusebio’s corpse was found by the wall of the cemetery with it’s belly cut open and had been partially burned. Around his neck was evidence that his body had been hung from the tree where it was found. At the foot of this tree, there was blood found as well as evidence of a struggle while Juan Eusebio was still alive. The blood came from Juan Eusebio’s castration and his genitals were found in the pockets of his pants. I should add here that my cousin Maddy’s family’s oral history also records that Juan Eusebio’s penis was found in his mouth.
Juan Eusebio’s assassination was now being reported, not only in Spain, but also in Puerto Rico. Although the Spanish colonial government did not hold the Spanish Civil Guard liable for the death of Juan Eusebio, everyone reading that article would. Moreover, they would also know how preposterous it was to say that he had committed suicide. And just like that, darkness gave way to light.
The Taino Factor: Was There More to Juan Eusebio’s Assassination?
In his book, The Myth of the Indigenous Caribbean Extinction,Tony Castanha interviewed the descendants of Puerto Ricans of majority Taino descent whose ancestors survived the El Componte Era in the mountains of Northwest Puerto Rico in 1890. It is very telling that he likewise mentions that the El Componte Era continued lasted until the Spanish were expelled from Puerto Rico in 1898. Castanha mentions that the atrocities committed during the El Componte Era were comparable to those committed at the beginning of the Spanish colonization of the island. He writes:
“Elder Lipio’s mother, who had lived during el componte , used to tell him about what happened. When the Spaniards and the government came, they would follow “los indios” around and kill the men and rape the women. They would also throw the babies in the air and have them fall on their swords. When the people would run away and hide in the woods, the Spaniards would then burn down the forest (Casthanha, p. 100).”
“He said the Spaniards would “throw the babies up” and stick them with their knives. They did this to make the “Boricuas” “respect them,” he added. Again, this happened at the moment, two years before he was born. The elder uttered that the Boricua were fed up with the uprisings and upheaval. Thus, the Spaniards brought el componte to them (Castanha, p.100).”
Castanha’s interviews really resonated with me. I wonder how much of the “overkill factor” surrounding Juan Eusebio’s assassination had to do with the fact that he was of Taino descent and challenged the existing power structure? Was the spectacular way his burned and mutilated body was left on display a warning to others that they better “respect” the Spanish Civil Guard or else they could end up like him? I really think so. As Castanha reiterates, indigenous resistance to Spanish colonialism lasted until the Spanish were expelled in 1898. Had he lived, I have no doubt that Juan Eusebio Bonilla would have continued his own form of resistance against Spanish colonialism, too.
La Intentona de Yauco (1897)
La Intentona was the second —the first being El Grito de Lares–and last uprising against Spanish colonial rule. Gutierrez Velez sees the formation of the Autonomous Party in 1887, the death of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo in 1890, and La Intentona de Yauco in 1897 as one continuous event.
He is also easily able to link these three events together because some of the the major players were the same. Antonio Mattei Lluberas, Dario Franceschi, Manuel Catala and other friends of Juan Eusebio were active participants in La Intentona. That it occurred in Susua Alta is also notable as is that fact that it was the first time the Puerto Rican flag was unfurled as the flag of Puerto Rico.
In Memory of Juan Eusebio
The people of Yauco continued to remember the Juan Eusebio years after his death. They remembered him in both décimas and in poems because he was “un verdadero hombre, a un puertorriqueño neto y completo.” Below are some décimas about the death of Juan Eusebio that Gutierrez Velez recorded in his book as well as the poem “Hymn For Yauco” by the famous Yaucano poet Rafael Hernández Ramos that was published in Negroni’s Historia de Yauco. I am particularly honored and humbled that Hernandez Ramos juxtaposed Juan Eusebio with Agüeybana, the Taino caciquewho was in power when the Spanish arrived. Both Gutierrez Velez and Hernandez Ramos provide testaments to the memory of my 2nd great-grandfather, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo.
Décimas about the death of Juan Eusebio:
To My Tatarabuelo-
It has been an honor to have discovered you almost 125 years after your vicious death. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you earned your wings to fly a long time ago. While it has been hard to learn the circumstances of your death, I take comfort in knowing that you continued to keep speaking truth to power — despite the cost. It is clear as day that you loved your people and your isla bonita.
As your descendant, your memory will now live on in me and your DNA still flows through me. I call you name out loud and clear, not only because you give me strength, but also so that others will know who you are and what you stood for. Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, you will never be forgotten. Espero honora su memoria.
Update on 1/12/2015: I am again responding to a new blog post written by Robert Estes on 1/5/2015. Her post Anzick Matching Update is her admission that she used an old Gedmatch kit number for her Clovis Anzick research protocol. In this post, she again reiterates her methodology as well as her justification for including the M haplogroup on her list all the while ignoring the facts. The facts are below. She has also failed to answer any of my questions so I have also listed them below.
1) It is unwise to compare mtDNA haplogroup assignments to autosomal DNA. The main reason is that we are talking about two different types of DNA. Extrapolating mtDNA info from living people who have multiple ethnic admixtures and then comparing to an ancient Native American sample is seriously flawed. One can, in fact, match an ancient Native American, like Clovis, and have a non-Native American DNA. Roberta somehow conveniently misses the fact that on the F999919 Clovis Gedmatch One-To-Many list, there were a lot of people who matched Clovis who did not have a Native American haplogroup. Why did she not include these matches on herNew Native American Haplogrouplist?Was it because they are well-known non-Native American haplogroups? Is her continued inclusion of the some of M haplogroup subclades her attempt to discover something new? Why does she assume that just because someone matches a Native American autosomally that this means that they automatically have a Native American mtDNA?
2) The 2007 article she references has been brought into question by several known genetic genealogists, who are also experts in mtDNA analysis, like Ann Turner, Ugo Pereto, James Lick, Claudio Bravi and others. The M sample was not fully sequenced and was more likely to be an X haplogroup upon further analysis. I may not be an expert in genetic genealogy, but I certainly reached out to some of the best before I even wrote my posts. How come Roberta has not commented on their responses which I have reported in my blog posts?
3) Her continued inclusion of M subclade haplogroups on her Native American Haplogroup list, all the while maintaining that M has not been proven to be Native American, is very misleading and disingenuous because it gives people the false impression that they are Native American haplogroups. Lay readers will just look at the headline and make that assumption without reading the small print. Why is Roberta ignoring the fact that her posts are misleading? Is it really enough to justify the inclusion of M haplogroup, without a shred of evidence, just because she can? Should one even publish “research notes” that are not based on current data/facts?
These are questions my inquiring mind would like to know. However, Roberta has failed to answer any of my legitimate questions for months so I don’t see her changing her modus operandi today. This is what has led me to write my posts in the first place.
Update on 12/24/2014: I felt the need to share this with my readers. I was just made aware of the fact that Roberta Estes admitted today that she ran her initial results using one of the older Clovis Anzick Gedmatch kits numbers. As a result, the methodology she used calls into question her whole research protocol. I am taking her admission below that what I wrote in this blog post is correct.
A continuation of my previous blog post…
I did not address the other M subclades that were mentioned in Roberta Estes “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup” list in my last blog post because it focused specifically on M23. This blog post, however, seeks to do just that because I really don’t want the public to be misled into thinking that these other M subclades are, in fact, Native American as well. Given the stature that Roberta Estes has in the genetic genealogy community, I would really like to see her to remove these M subclades from her working hypothesis. The facts just don’t add up to them being Native American at all.
I tried to replicate how Roberta Estes did her research to come up with her inclusion of the M haplogroup subclades in her hypothesis. I went back and looked at all the Clovis matches to see what M haplogroup subclades showed up and if they matched the ones Roberta mentioned on her blog (M1a, M1a1e, M1b1, M23, M3, M30c, M51, M5b3e, M7b1’2, M9a3a/M9a1ac1a). In order to accomplish this, I repeated the steps Roberta used to make her hypothesis. This meant bringing up the One-to-Many matches of the last known Gedmatch kit number we have for Clovis Anzick (F999919)and looking at the mtDNAs of the Clovis matches. When I reduced the cM level to 1 cM, I was able to pull up 1500 matches. However, only one had a M subclade of M7b1’2. I did not find any indication of any of the others she mentioned.
I can only assume that Roberta used a previous version of the Clovis DNA profile. I know there were several as I matched the first Clovis DNA profile on Gedmatch, sharing 20 cMs with 7 cM as the largest segment, but did not match later Clovis DNA profiles. If this is in fact the case, than I believe Roberta should have taken this new Clovis match info into account when she updated her list on 12/7/2014.
I looked up the geographical locations of each M subclade Roberta mentioned and found that they were not Native American or were out of the timeframe to be relevant for any comparison to Clovis Anzick. For example, M9a1a1c1a (formerly M9a3a), though geographical close– if you consider Siberia– to being Native American is dated by Behar to be 4221.4 years +/- 3456 old and therefore is nowhere near the 13,000-15,000 age range of Clovis.
The M subclades Roberta mentioned on her blog cover the following geographical areas:
M1a, M1a1e, M1b1 -North Africa, East African, and the Middle East
M23 – Only Madagascar
M3- Southeast Asia
M30c- South Asia
M51- Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, and Laos
M5b3e- I could not locate this subclade so it may be an error
M7b1’2- East Asia
M9a3a ( now known as M9a1a1c1a)- Japan, Siberia, Tibet, China, and Mongolia.
The M Haplgroup and Native Americans
I received some great feedback on my last blog post. One was from Ian Logan, another mtDNA expert, who likewise confirmed the Malagasy origins of the M23 haplogroup. Perhaps, one of the most telling comments that I received came from Dr. Ann Turner, a well-known genetic genealogy pioneer and mtDNA expert herself. I had included, in my blog post, the 2007 article titled “Mitochondrial Haplogroup M Discovered in Prehistoric Native Americans” by Ripan Malhi, et. al. This article is the one that Roberta cites in order to include M subclades as Native American in her hypothesis. Dr. Turner made the following comments:
Dr. Ann Turner also consulted with Dr. Ugo Perego, another expert on Native American mtDNA, about the results of the 2007 M sample. Dr. Perego stated:
“Unfortunately, we might never know the true answer [because the remains have been reburied], but I am with you in thinking that it was probably a false positive for M and most likely an X, which would have been still quite interesting as ancient X’s are not that common.”
Both Dr. Turner and Dr. Perego believe that the M sample the article was based on most likely tested false positive for M when it was probably an X sample. Again, the M sample was never fully sequenced as Roberta herself acknowledges.
In conclusion, I have no idea how Roberta came up with her “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups” list. Several people have asked her for an explanation of her methodology to no avail. I could not duplicate Roberta’s methodology as much as I tried. Because of this and the fact that the M sample she refers to was probably an X, I would like to see her remove the M subclades from her list of “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups.” The evidence is simply not there to make that claim that they are “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups.”
We need to remember that individuals today have complex, multiple ancestries that may not be reflected in their mtDNA. I am one such person. I consider myself culturally African-American and Puerto Rican and my ethnic admixture is tri-racial (46% Sub-Saharan African, 46% European, and 8% Native American). But, when you look at my H1ag1 mtDNA, it is European. I am a perfect example of why it is so difficult to make vast, overarching conclusions about my mtDNA without knowing all the colors of my autosomal rainbow…The same holds true for all the other Clovis Anzick matches—who also had non-Native American haplgroups like E, L, H, T, U, J and K,—who did not make her list either.
[Update: On March 2, 2017, Roberts Estes updated her Native American Haplogroup blogpost and eliminated all references to M haplogroups—years after I informed of her mistake. I was glad to see that finally.]
This was not the first post that I wanted to write on Madagascar, the land of my ancestors, but I felt it necessary to do so. In the future, I will be writing about my Malagasy ancestors and how they ended up in colonial NY and NJ.
(Just a reminder, there are hyperlinks wherever you see RED highlighted text.)
In early October, I attended The Genealogy Event in NYC that featured a lot of well-known genetic genealogists, including CeCe Moore. In her talk about what goes on behind the scenes of PBS’s Finding Your Roots, she discussed Ben Jealous’s Malagasy mtDNAand how slave ships directly imported Malagasy slaves into VA. I immediately, and proudly, told her that I, too, was a descendant of Malagasy slaves directly imported into NYC/NJ in the late 1600s-early 1700s. Ever since my cousin Andrea, a direct matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, found out her mtDNA was M23, the two of us have researched everything Madagascar. Surely, we both felt the call of our ancestors. Basically, in finding our mtDNA M23 ancestors, we felt our ancestors calling out to us—-telling us to speak for them, urging us to tell the world about how they arrived in NYC as slaves, under what conditions they lived and labored in NY/NJ, etc. In all of my blog posts, I have tried to do my best to appease our ancestors. How can we not listen to them? So, when CeCe asked me to be the Co-Administrator of FTDNA’s new Malagasy Roots Project, I happily accepted. My mama didn’t raise no fool. Besides, I firmly believe that my ancestors would be a little annoyed with me if I hadn’t accepted the position. And we can’t let that happen. No, we can’t.
As a descendant of Madagascar slaves brought to this country, I am particularly disturbed to see M23, a haplogroup found only in Madagascar, be placed under the rubric of“New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups”by Roberta Estes, a person who is well-known in the field of genetic genealogy. In no way, shape, or form, do I want people to be misled into thinking that this haplogroup has anything to do with it being a Native American one. Her hypothesis goes against current literature on M23. As a result of several of her recent blog posts, I have included references to the Malagasy origins of M23 at the end of this blog post.
On September 18, 2014, Roberta posted “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups”on her blog, DNAeXplained-Genetic Genealogy. These known Native American founder haplogroups were A,B,C,D, and X. I had no problem with her designation of these haplogroups as being Native American ones, as there is enough literature to back up her claim and I was already aware of those Native American haplogroups. To be honest, I only read the beginning of her blog post back on Sept. 18th which didn’t mention haplogroup M.
Even the haplogroup diagram, at the beginning of her blog post, made no mention of haplogroup M.
It was only further down her blog post, when she listed all the Native American haplgroups alphabetically, that I now see mention of the M haplogroup.
“Given that, and given the autosomal ethnicity analysis of several individuals, and given that mitochondrial haplogroups A, B, C, and D are not known to be routinely found in the European population, I decided to extract all of the associated mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. Furthermore, parts of haplogroup X are known to be Native, and haplogroup M, which is quite rare, has long been suspected, but unproven.
In some cases, looking at the Anzick matches, we know that because of the very high level of Native heritage, the individual is either not admixed or only very slightly admixed. In other words, it makes perfect sense that their mitochondrial DNA is indeed Native as well as their Y haplogroup. At nearly 100% Native, both of those lines would have to be Native.”
In the same blog post, she continues:
We found repeated instances of many mitochondrial haplogroups not previously identified as Native. In fact, with the exception of a couple subgroups of the M and X haplogroups, all of the Native haplogroups were found repeatedly in these samples.
“The discovery of haplogroup M in the Americas is consistent with the hypothesis of a single colonization for the Americas since this haplogroup is found in Southern Siberia, the presumed homeland of the ancestors of North Americans (Bonatto and Salzano, 1997; Meriwether et. Al., 1995a). However, it also demonstrates the limitations of using genetic data solely from contemporary populations to infer the events and early population history of the Americas. Using genetic data from contemporary populations to infer early prehistoric demographic events is even less accurate when the population history has been variable over time….Therefore data based on living Northwestern North America might bias interpretations of population prehistory in the Americas (p. 646-647).”
Second, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because someone matches Clovis Anzick autosomally that their mtDNA is a Native American given. For example, I have mtDNA H1ag1 which is a European mtDNA, however, when the first Clovis Anzick matches came in, I matched Clovis Anzick at just over 7 cMs. Likewise, someone with mtDNA M23, like anyone of my 5 DNA tested M23 cousins, could have Native American ancestry from a completely different source other than their mtDNA. Her hypothesis just doesn’t add up. Besides, Roberta herself mentions over and over again that haplogroup M has not been proven to be Native American. In fact, there is also a great body of research about the East Asian to East African geographical distribution of haplogroup M.
The same day that Roberta published her blog post on “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups,” she also crossed posted it in the Facebook Group, Native American Ancestry Explorer:DNA, Genetics, Genealogy, and Anthropology. I immediately posted a comment indicated that I thought M23 was only found in Madagascar and I asked her if M23 was now associated with being Native American. I must admit I was a little taken back because her inclusion of M23 as a Native American haplogroup went against everything I have read about M23—-that M23 is only found in Madagascar.
Her response back to me was:
What I gleaned from her response was that she included haplogroup M on her list because M was found in a Native burial BEFORE Full Sequencing of that mtDNA. I still am not sure if she was referring to haplogroup M in general, or M23 in particular, but anyone who has taken a Full Sequence mtDNA test knows that this test is the most definitive test regarding a person’s mtDNA. Again, how can you include haplogroup M on a Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup list if the one sample referred to has not been fully sequenced? What if the sample was a mistake or was related to a different subgroup? Roberta herself states that she spoke to a scientist who would have loved to have more full-sequencing and more advanced haplogroup designations. At the same time, she also states that haplogroup M is “waiting in the wings” for more confirmation that it is a Native American haplogroup????
Roberta then asked me if my mtDNA ancestors had Native American ancestry. As you can see, I clearly pointed out that my M23 ancestors were “mulatto”, a classification that also included Native Americans. However, I thought I was clear in differentiating between my M23 Madagascar ancestry and the fact that my family also has Native American ancestry that comes from a different source. As you can see, her response back to me was just a ” You know, it can never be easy, can it 🙂 Thanks.” I decided to let the matter rest a few months ago. I just discussed her position among friends and let it go. In retrospect, I should have been more adamant in questioning her. I just didn’t hear my ancestors calling out to me then. Not hearing them was a big mistake on my part!
Early this past Sunday, December 7th, when I logged onto FB and checked the Native American Ancestry group posts, I then noticed Roberta had updated her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup”list and I immediately felt déjàvu. But, this time, I heard my ancestors calling out to me LOUD and CLEAR to set the record straight. So, I immediately responded back to her.
As you can see, I was more to the point and asked her directly if she was saying that M23 was not a Malagasy haplogroup, but was a Native American one. I even attached a well-known, accepted, and peer reviewed article indicating the Madagascar origins of M23. Up until that day, she only listed her own blog post as a reference for M23. My response was followed by TL Dixon asking her more pointed questions, as he had also done last September, not only about M23, but also about other haplogroup subclades also found in Madagascar, like B41a1a.
In addition, later on Sunday, I started reaching out to genetic genealogists like CeCe Moore and Claudio Bravi, who has been analyzing Native American haplogroups since 1993, as well as James Lick, asking them about the origins of M23. They all agreed that M23 was only found in Madagascar, a fact I already knew. Somehow, I wanted a confirmation from others before I wrote this blog post.
On Tuesday, December 9th, I again responded to Roberta’s post in the Native American Ancestry FB Group. This time I also cut and pasted my response to her blog. Roberta did respond to my post on her blog:
After reading her response, I went back to her blog and re-read it. I also started reading the responses to her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup” posting. I was happy to see that on Monday, December 8th, Angie Bush, a well-known molecular genealogist,also stated that M23 had a Madagascar origin and she also posted the link to the same article I had made reference to a day earlier in the Native American Ancestry Explorer FB Group.
Her response to Angie was more detailed:
Roberta finally linked the article on M23 having Madagascar origins after Angie referenced it to her. She now indicated M23 as being a “Madagascar Motif” when it is in fact the Madagascar haplogroup unquestionably. Angie also let Roberta know about the FTDNA Malagasy Roots Project as well. That being said, I still find it highly problematic that Roberta still links her “Anzick Provisional Extract”, along with the peer reviewed article that Angie and I both referenced to her, to the M23 haplogroup on her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup” list.
In conclusion, I am left with the following unanswered questions:
1) How does one arbitrarily decide to designate mtDNA haplogroups as Native American based on autosomal DNA comparisons to an ancient DNA sample—with some comparisons at very small segments?
2) How does one initially ignore a body of literature about the Madagascar origins of M23 and, after finally acknowledging its origins, still decide to link it to being a “potential” Native American haplogroup?
3) Why insist on repeatedly stating that haplgroup M isn’t proven to be a Native American haplogroup, but still link certain subclade M haplogroups to them being “possible” Native American haplogroups?
4) How does one attempt to publish a hypothesis on “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups” without the hypothesis being analytically challenged and peer reviewed?
As a genealogy/DNA blogger and speaker and, as someone who is also tri-racial, my obligation is to correct the misinformation out there, pinpoint inaccurate statements automatically assumed to be facts, and elucidate the flawed analyses/methodologies that I come across as they relate to my own genealogy/family research. I want information out in the public realm that is reliable as it is true. I don’t know the answers to these questions. But, what I do know is that the M23 haplogroup is not a “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup.” My M23 mtDNA ancestors called me out and told me so. So, I am now telling the world.
If you have any of the Malagasy mtDNA or Y-DNA haplgroups below, please consider taking a FTDNA Full Sequence mtDNA test or a Y-37 DNA test and then join the Malagasy Roots Project. Please click on the title link below for more details.
One of the most prominent features of DNA testing is the ethnic admixture results you get with each test. Now, there has been some debate about the reliability of admixture tests. It is true that no one test will tell you every ethnic group that left it’s mark on your genome. For starters, ethnic groups have changed over time and so have the geo-political boundaries that encompassed these groups. Furthermore, each DNA testing company has it’s own ethnic reference samples with which they compare your genome with and this also influences their results.
That being said, I do find admixture results to be somewhat informative if one’s family history includes the ancestries and geographical locations indicated. As a child of the African Diaspora, I also believe that admixture tests do point to geographical areas where my ancestors may have come from during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. For African-Americans, this is a key reason as to why we take DNA test in the first place. We want to find that missing piece of our ancestral self that was denied to us.
So, Who Did I Think I Was?
Whoever I thought I was pre-DNA test was only a partial portrait of me. I already knew all my usual suspect ancestries by name (i.e., West African, British, Irish, Dutch, German, Eastern European/Jewish, Spanish,and Native American) prior to taking the test so I expected them to show up in my results. And they did. However, it was the UNUSUAL SUSPECT ancestries that caught my attention big time. My post-DNA test results now included Central-South Africa, East Africa, South/Southeast Asia, North Africa, Italy, France, and Scandinavia. Hmmm… Now, I wondered where and when did these ancestries enter my genome. I mean I thought I knew where my African and European ancestors came from.Well, I guess NOT! LOL Now, I needed to further investigate mynew roots.
Unusual Suspect #1: Central-South Africa, East Africa, and South/Southeast Asia
One of the biggest surprises that my family encountered with DNA testing was my cousin Andrea’s family’s mtDNA results. Though my own mtDNA is H1 because my maternal matrilineal line traces back to Ireland, Andrea’s mtDNA, which comes from our shared 2nd great-grandmother, is M23. This haplogroup is found only in MADASGASCAR!
The people who made up the original settlers came from East (Indonesia, Oceania, and Melanesia, ) and Africa (East African and South Africa). According to a paper written by Cox, Nelson, et. al.,
“The settlement of Madagascar is one of the most unusual, and least understood, episodes in human prehistory. Madagascar was one of the last landmasses to be reached by people, and despite the island’s location just off the east coast of Africa, evidence from genetics, language and culture all attests that it was settled jointly by Africans, and more surprisingly, Indonesians. Nevertheless, extremely little is known about the settlement process itself… Maximum-likelihood estimates favour a scenario in which Madagascar was settled approximately 1200 years ago by a very small group of women (approx. 30), most of Indonesian descent (approx. 93%). This highly restricted founding population raises the possibility that Madagascar was settled not as a large-scale planned colonization event from Indonesia, but rather through a small, perhaps even unintended, transoceanic crossing.”
When I saw all of my admixture results, I knew that my Central-South African, East African, and South/Southeast Asian ancestry could be traced back to my maternal Madagascar ancestors. Out of all the admixture tests, DNA Tribes has the best admixture breakdown. All of my relatives, who have taken the DNA Tribes SNP Analysis, have ancestry from South Africa (Bantu, Pedi, and/or Nguni), East Africa (Somali or Ethiopian), South Asia(India), Southeast Asia (Borneo, Malay, Indo-Chinese), and Oceania (Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Guam).
Here is my 2nd cousin 1XR Mildred’s DNA Tribes Native Population Analysis. Mildred is a direct matrilineal descendant of my 2nd great-grandmother and DNA Tribes has her as being 4.5% Southeast Asian. Her Madagascar ancestry is much clearer— at least I think so.
In addition, my maternal family has colonial roots in both New Jersey and New York. Slaves from Madagascar were directly imported into New York City between 1678-1698 and then from 1716-1721. They were also directly imported into Perth Amboy, NJ. In his book, Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in America, Michael A.Gomez writes:
My 3rd great-grandmother, Susan Pickett, was born in Morris County, NJ in 1809. Her mother, a slave named Tun, was born in the late 1700s in either NY or NJ. It is quite possible that Tun’s maternal Madagascar ancestors arrived during one of those two periods. I am now searching for Tun in her slave owner’s records. Apparently she was owned by someone who then rented her out to another master.
Unusual Suspect #2: North Africa
Prior to my DNA tests, I only had knowledge of my Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry on my mother’s side. Post-DNA test, I now know that I am also a descendant of Sephardic Jews from Spain. My North African ancestry is from my paternal side. Following their 1492 expulsion from Spain, Jews settled mainly in the Ottoman Empire, Morocco and Algeria, southern France, Italy, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Mexico, Spanish South America, Brazil, Netherlands and her territories (Curaçao, Suriname, Aruba and New Amsterdam) England (as well as English colonies such as Barbados and Jamaica), Germany, Denmark, Poland, Austria and Hungary. So, some of my North African ancestry comes from my Sephardic roots. But, I also have Puerto Rican ancestors via the Canary Islands which includes the Guanches who are of Berber descent from North Africa.
My DNA Tribes SNP Analysis also includes Fulani ancestry. The Fulani were known to be nomadic and migrated from West Africa to North Africa. This ancestry may come from either one of my parents.
Unusual Suspect #3: France, Corsica, and Italy
French and Italian ancestry is very common in Puerto Ricans. This is due to the Spanish Crown issuing the 1815Royal Decree of Graces. This decree lasted until 1898 when the US took over Puerto Rico.
King Ferdinand decided that one of the ways to end the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico and Cuba was to allow non-Spanish Catholic Europeans (e.g., the French, Corsican, Irish, and Italians), who swore loyalty to the Spanish Crown, to settle on both islands. These new immigrants were given land grants and papers indicated that they were loyal to both the Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church. After 5 years, they could become Spanish subjects. It was these immigrants who became the sugarcane, tobacco, and coffee planter class with Africans being the slave labor class.
Part of my French ancestry is due to French immigration to Puerto Rico at this time. (By the way, I have some Puerto Rican cousins with the surnames LeGrand, Betancourt, Poupart, and Ruitort among others.) However, some of my French ancestry is also due to Corsican immigration to the island. In the early 1800s, Yauco was Ground Zero for Corsican Immigration. Corsica was originally an Italian territory that was lost to France in 1768 as such a lot of Corsican surnames are Italian in origin.
My paternal grandfather, Antonio Vega Bonilla, was born in Susua Alta, Yauco, Puerto Rico as were his ancestors. On some of my paternal family’s birth and marriage certificates, people with Corsican surnames like Cardi, Bernadini, Filiberti, and Oliveri are listed as relatives who were witnesses to those events. I believe my paternal grandfather’s ancestors intermarried with, or had children by, these Corsican immigrants.
As I communicate with some of Euro DNA cousins, I am also finding that I have French ancestry on my maternal side as well. Some of this French ancestry is from French Huguenots who arrived in the US during colonial times from England. I also have a lot of French Canadian/Arcadian ancestry. I have no idea where this ancestry comes from and I am still investigating.
Unusual Suspect #4: Scandinavia
When I first received my 23andme results, they only listed Finland as a Scandinavian country that apparently left a mark on my DNA. Say what? On their new Ancestry Composition, this changed to the more general Scandinavian category. When I look at my DNA relatives and Ancestry Finder lists, I see DNA cousins with Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian ancestry. I had no knowledge on either side of my family of Scandinavian ancestry. I found this to be interesting. How did I get Finnish DNA???
Well, it turns out that there was a New Swedencolony that extended from Delaware, Pennsylvania, and up to New Jersey between the years of 1638-1655. Finland was part of Sweden at this time. As a result, a lot of Finnish and Swedish people immigrated to this colony. By 1690, the Swedes and Finns had settled in Cape May, Salem, and Gloucester counties in New Jersey. When I look at my DNA 5th-8th cousins’ family trees on Ancestry.com, I see a lot of surnames from Salem and Gloucester counties in NJ, but I don’t recognize the names. It may be that I inherited Scandinavian DNA from a slave owner sometime in the colonial NJ era. As this time, the best I can do is to be on the lookout for any Scandinavian names that pop up in my research on my NJ ancestors.
So where does all of this new admixture analyses leave me?
My admixture results do not change what I consider myself to be. I will always be half African-American and Puerto Rican. The culture(s) you were raised in do(es) count for something after all. You are not just the sum of your DNA. I think of admixture results as clues to telling me more about my ancestors. By looking at who they may have been and how they ended up in the locations where I found them, I learn more about my family history. But, admixture results still lead me to look for the paper trail –no matter how elusive it seems– on my ancestors.