This blog is dedicated to our cousins Helen Hamilton, Keith Lyon, and Raymond Armour who were on this jouney with us from the start and whom all joined our pantheon of ancestros within the past 8 months. They are now our newly-appointed Ancestor Angels and biggest cheerleaders. We will keep saying their names so that they will always be remembered.
On behalf of the extended Lyon-Green-Merritt family, we would like to thank the Town of Greenwich Board of Selectmen, State Representative Michael Bocchino, the Conservation Commission, Nancy Dickinson, Christopher Shields, and the rest of the Cemetery Committee of the Town of Greenwich, The Office of the Town Clerk, the Greenwich Preservation Trust, CeCe Saunders, Brian Jones, and the staff of Historical Perspectives, Inc., the Greenwich Historical Society, and the Rye Historical Society for their help over the past four years. A special thank you goes to Josephine Conboy and the Greenwich Preservation Trust who worked hand in hand with State Rep. Michael Bocchino to advocate for a new CT cemetery law that will protect other ancient burial grounds from the descecration our family experienced. Another thank you goes to Jeffrey Bingham Mead who challenged me years ago to research and preserve not only the history of Greenwich, but also to write about a history he knew was important for people to read. Finally, I owe a big thank you, to Eric Fowler, Anne Young, and the Law Department of the Town of Greenwich for dealing with me directly these last two years as it was not an easy thing to do and I admit it.
When the Battle Is Over, I’m going to SING and SHOUT!: We Claim Victory!
They got to keep their driveway. It was never about their driveway or their property for us! NEVER!
We GOT EVERYTHING WE WANTED!!!!
It was all about preserving OUR cemeteries, especially the “Colored Cemetery” section of Byram Cemetery, and making sure all our ancestors would be remembered and properly memorialized. It was about making sure that our ancestors in the “Colored Cemetery” would be able to rest in peace, alongside their kin, after having their section of Byram Cemetery made into someone’s front lawn. It was about making sure our Lyon ancestors’ original intention for the “Colored Cemetery” to exist where it always has been was RESPECTED and given the historic, accurate name it always had. It was about making sure OUR LINEAL RIGHTS as descendants were finally acknowledged. Most importantly, it was about paying tribute to the Native-African presence that has always been in Greenwich and which has always been reflected in the Lyon-Green-Merritts of Color who have the DNA, oral, and written history to back up their Native-African heritage — no one ever had the right to tell us what we always have been. Finally, it was about paying tribute to the history of slavery that was personified in the North which led to our ancestors working together on the Underground Railroad and engaging in the social justice/resistance acts of abolition.
After almost a year of being on the Cemetery battlefield, on August 6th, my 5 cousins and I learned that the judge DENIED The Stewarts their 2nd Motion to Strike us from The Jeffrey M. Stewart et. al. v. The Town of Greenwich et. al. lawsuit. We had been waiting for the day for a judge to read all our documented evidence. Then, on Wednesday, August 8th, we were asked to send a letter indicating our support for the Town of Greenwich’s Stipulation of Settlement as the Now Named 6 defendants. The next day, on August 9th, the Town of Greenwich Board of Selectmen approved the Stipulation of Settlement at 10.42 am. I was at the funeral of my Uncle/Cousin Raymond Armour where I had the honor of announcing the Settlement to my family and to him directly. It will now be sent to the judge. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of this case.
The “Colored Cemetery” is where our Native-African ancestors were buried. Make no mistake, our ancestors ARE BURIED there and have been for centuries. The Stewarts’ constant and continued denial of our ancestors physical presence in the “Colored Cemetery,” speaks volumes about THEM more than it does our ancestors. In my blogposts on my Green-Merritt ancestors and on the now resurrected, hidden historic community of Hangroot, I documented our ancestors lives in Greenwich, CT and noted how they were the ONLY family of Native-African descent to live next to their former slave owners and slave owner descendants for over a century. In fact, they made up the majority of People of Color in Greenwich in the mid-1800s. DNA also links us to the Lyon, Merritt, and Green families. But, The Stewarts want others to believe that not one of our ancestors were ever buried there??? Please…
In my many blogposts on the “Byram African-American Cemetery,” I documented how our extended family felt upon learning about the desecration of our “Colored Cemetery.” We have been waiting for justice to be served for four years. We always KNEW The Stewarts didn’t have a case. I mean how do you abide by a Cease and Desist Order in 2014 after you desecrate the “Colored Cemetery,” then invite the descendants of people buried there into your home to discuss putting a plaque on tree in honor of the “Colored Cemetery,” and then wait over a year to file a lawsuit that denies the existence of the same cemetery? We won’t even discuss my epic 277-page response, three 1890 contemporary newspaper articles mentioning the first desecration of the “Colored Cemetery,” the 1901 dated, time-stamped, and accepted copy by the Town of Greenwich Clerk map, Historical Perspectives, Inc.’s documentary study, or all the letters written by my cousins which were submitted to the court as proof. If you are interested, you can read all the evidence here (Docket#: FST-CV-17-6033549-S).
The Privileged Don’t Pay the Price, But Others Have to…
A lawyer friend asked me recently how I felt about the process that led to the settlement and what were the things that troubled or concerned me about the settlement? I told him that I did what I had to do to protect the rights of my ancestors to rest in peace and not be erased from history. That being said, while I am happy about the outcome, I do feel that the Stewarts and the Town are now able to just walk away and both entities act like everything was done for “due diligence” and can say “let bygones be bygones.” They can easily both “go home with footballs,” as Attorney Marcus stated in the Greenwich Time newspaper on 8/11/18. Obviously, they never considered the racial and class dynamics that were being perpetuated in prime time that were no different from what my ancestors experienced. They had the power once again to deny us everything and that was not lost on us —not for one second, one minute, one hour, one day, one year nor for centuries.
Meanwhile, I am battle-worn, battle-scared, and suffering from PSTD feeling like I was forced against my will to run thousands of miles to the top of a mountain and now some people feel that I should run down the other side of the mountain immediately when I am physically and mentally exhausted. No, that is not going to happen. I need time to deal with the past two years and especially the past 8 months. I don’t have the luxury to just walk away now, as others apparently do, because my ancestors CHOSE ME to be their unified voice to articulate their pain, loud and clear, with my head held high…just like they showed us all when they walked towards freedom. It was a burden I willingly carried and I did it to protect my ancestor’s burial site and elucidate their RADIANT lived history that should NEVER be erased. I need time to breathe clean air again and re-charge my batteries. I would like to think that I’m like Timex and can take a lickin and keep on tickin,” but I’m not. Vegatron does have her limits. Don’t worry. I will be just fine in the end. His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.
Both The Stewarts and The Town’s Law Department put my family under tremendous, unnecessary stress. The Stewarts knew it was a cemetery from the beginning. The Town did not follow proper procedures in acquiring abandoned cemeteries. Both entities threw The Stewarts’ wealth in our faces like hot bricks just out the fire. The “no disparagement clause” in the settlement is for their mutual benefit. At no point, have they even offered an apology to my family —not privately, not publicly. Though that is something I know they would never do and I am not holding my breath for, it’s those little things that sometimes matter most.
My family and I worked out our issues with The Town in early April and this has allowed us to move forward. From the beginning until present, The Town said, and now will do, what they said they would do when they actually acquired the abandoned cemeteries. Our family will be active partners with the Town going forward to create a historic “Colored Cemetery”. However, The Stewarts are another matter. As of today, there will be NO Kumbaya moment. I want nothing to do with people who have no integrity and show no respect for the sacred resting spaces of others.
There are NO Statutes of Limitation on Historic Trauma/Historic Erasure
Desecrating an ancestral burial ground for greed is traumatic. Arguing that we must excavate our ancestors to satisfy that greed and morbid curiosity is traumatic. Denying that our ancestors ever existed and trying to erase their physical presence in this world is traumatic. It is traumatic because you KNOW that slavery was never designed for Native-and African-American family reunification. It was designed to sever the ties that bind. And then, here we were in 2016 and just as we located our oldest ancestors, we found out that the couple, who made our ancient burial ground into their front lawn, tried to use us against The Town. You realize that had you not had Guardian Angels in Greenwich who immedately notified you of The Town’s actions, they would have gone with the photos you sent them, selfies included, with the letter you unknowingly wrote in their favor to the Town of Greenwich meeting on 9/22/2016 and act like they had secured the approval of the descedants of the enslaved/formerly enslaved buried there. Duplicity in action!
I strongly feel that The Stewarts need to be held accountable for their actions that led them to desecrate our burial ground. Two years ago, I wrote that no one should expect us to be neutral on this matter and we meant it. Since Section 34 was part of their lawsuit— though the “Colored Cemetery” has been in existence for centuries as part of Byram Cemetery — and is now forever etched in our collective memory, we will continue to tell the truth that their lawsuit was an obvious land grab to increase the value of their waterfront property. It was also a racist lawsuit since they could have argued their case without mentioning race in the first place. They are the ones who DECIDED to go there and WENT there! We are the ones who always told the truth.
August 28, 2016 Is The Day Our Ancestors Decided This Very Outcome
The Stewarts made several wrong assumptions back in 2016. 1) That we would not know anyone in Greenwich because we didn’t live there. 2) That we weren’t educated and couldn’t detect the gaping holes in their story on Day1; 3) That we would never be united with our Lyon cousins. Our ancestors, on both sides of the color line, decided that would not be the case. They chose me on that day to repeatedly ask the all important question which was “If no one owns the land as you indicated by doing a deed history search, then why are you following a Cease and Desist letter?” Our ancestors chose my cousins Pat and Eddie to bare witness on that particular day, too.
I believe in many things. I believe that that my God is an awesome God who loves everyone unconditionaly. I believe that in my Father’s house there are many mansions. I believe that my ancestors are with me wherever I go. I believe that death is but a necessary happenstance. I believe that there is no shelf-life in the Hereafter and that, as descedants of originally enslaved people, family reunification happens automatically upon transitioning — even if it never happened during our years on Earth. I believe in the power of God to direct my path. Like Assata Shakur, ”I believe in living, I believe in birth, I believe in the sweat of love and in the fire of truth and I believe that a lost ship, steered by tired, sea sick sailors, can still be guided home to port.” On August 28, 2016, I KNOW my ancestors guided me to THEIR ancient burial ground here on Earth to help guarantee that our side of the family would be represented at the September 22,2016 meeting alongside our Lyon kin. A family UNITED will never be DEFEATED. My cousins and I will continue to make them proud.
My Research Is My Therapy: Next Up On the Agenda
I will be contiinuing my research to get state and federal recognition for the Green-Twachtman House — the house my 3rd great-grandfather built in 1845 at 30 Round Hill Road (Hangroot) —as a confirmed UGRR site. My 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Johnson, was a self-emancipated woman who arrived in Greenwich, CT in the mid-1820s from Virginia.
In Closing…His Eye Is On the Sparrow and I KNOW he watches ME
Let it be forever known that I am the daughter of Joyce Greene Vega, the granddaughter of Richard W. Greene, Jr., the great-granddaughter of Richard W. Green, Sr., the great-great granddaughter of George E. Green, the great-great-great granddaughter of Allen and Mary Green, and the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Anthony and Peg Green.
I’m going to leave this Walter Hawkins video right here so I can go back to singing amd shouting! We got the VICTORY!
This is Part III of a blog series about my Malagasy ancestry. This time, I will be discussing my Malagasy ancestors who arrived in the Tidewater region of Virginia in the early 18th century. 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. Part II discussed how my NY Malagasy ancestors, now admixed with West African, Dutch, and Native American DNA, left New Amsterdam/New York in the late 1600s and ended up in the Tappen Patent in Bergen County, NJ.
This blogpost is dedicated to my VA Malagasy, West African, Native American and European ancestors whose lives were dictated and circumscribed by the institution of slavery in VA. I especially dedicate it to all those ancestors who were sold South as slaves out of Richmond, VA and whom will remain unknown to me forever. That being said, their DNA still lurks in my veins leaving a tie that still binds us together after all these years. I may not know my unknown ancestors’ names, but, thanks to DNA, I now know cousins who link me to them. May these ancestors all rest in eternal peace knowing that they are still remembered. We are because they were. I am a proud descendant of slaves indeed.
I would like to thank the following people for inspiring me to write this blog:
Wendy Wilson-Fall for writing her book, Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic, which detailed my 8th great-grandfather, Robert “King” Carter’s participation in the Madagascar to Virginia slave trade. More importantly, it detailed what my Virginia Malagasy ancestors faced once they arrived in Virginia and how their memories of Madagascar were passed down to their descendants in an oral form. From one Malagasy descendant to another, I want to say thank you for telling our ancestors’ stories.
Reber Dunkel, retired professor and sociologist at Randolph-Macon College, for his endless assistance in helping me find out more information about my 3rd great-grandmother Crittie Anna Lee, who was born on Shirley Plantation, in Charles City, VA, as well as her mother, Ann Perkins. They are my earliest known Virginia Malagasy-descended ancestors.
Fonte Felipe for his amazing blog, Tracing African Roots, in general as well as for him sharing DNA information that he has collected from Malagasy AncestryDNA tested individuals with me for this blog. Please click here to read his post on Southeast African DNA in the Americas. Fonte has been on the vanguard of analyzing African DNA throughout the African Diaspora.
Phillip Troutman, Assistant Professor of Writing and History at George Washington University, for his research on the domestic slave trade out of Richmond. His blog on the Virginia Slave Trade visually shows the numbers of enslaved people from Virginia who were sold South between 1790-1860. His current work on “crowdsourcing genealogy” is also very commendable as he has been re-creating family trees based on Information Wanted ads that were placed in newspapers after the Civil War by recently freed enslaved people seeking to locate their relatives.
Ana Edwards, Chair, Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, for being a kindred spirit who has been speaking truth to power on behalf of all the enslaved people who were sold South out of Shockoe Bottom and their descendants wherever they may be. In words matched with deeds and alongside of Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, Ana has been on the frontlines in Richmond,VA advocating for the preservation of Shockoe Bottom as an historic site.
Joseph McGill, Founder, The Slave Dwelling Project, for continuously and unflinchingly telling the stories of enslaved people and being the current voice for all those who lived and labored in houses/homes that weren’t built for them. The public outreach and education he has and is providing is a noble act indeed. I am thankful for his friendship.
On Truth Telling….
Within the past few months, two white supremacists marches have taken place in Charlottesville, VA — one where a true truth teller was killed — over the removal of Confederate statues. While the Confederate statue issue and the NFL #TakeAKnee protests have dominated national headlines, the issue of how this country has represented itself comes into view ever more clearly. How can we, as Americans, have a fruitful, productive conversation about race when we can’t even acknowledge the stain that slavery left us with centuries after the fact? Slavery is not a black issue. It is an American issue. At it’s root, the colonization of this country was built on Native American genocide and African chattel slavery. It was a long thought out process that led to the death, rape, and enslavement of people, including my ancestors. It was, by no means, a pretty process as portrayed by those in power then and now. On the contrary, it was a very ugly venture undertaken by those who laid claim to a land already inhabited by millions and who brought in enslaved people of African descent to meet their labor demands. The history of how this nation came into existence is now being contested by those of us who are intent on making sure historical truth matters. And it matters now more than ever.
The obligation that I have to my all my ancestors is to tell the truth. As their descendant, I have the benefit of historical hindsight which provides me with a lens whereby I can tell their true stories — the good, bad, and ugly. If this country is to be made GREAT(ER), then all of our diverse histories need to be told and not just the history of the majority. My Native American ancestors were here from the beginning of time and some of my Atlantic Creole African ancestors arrived at the same time as my European ancestors in the early 1600s. Make no mistake though, most of my ancestors were here before the mass migration of European immigrants arrived in this country starting in the mid-1800s. I am not alone as there are many, many African-Americans with deep colonial roots in this country. We, too, sing America and our ancestors built America — for FREE.
I want to point out that while this blogpost is focused solely on the enslaved Malagasy, who arrived in Virginia in the early 1700s, it details how the institution of slavery made them “African-American” over time and led to their dispersal all over the Deep South.
[For a discussion of the enslaved Malagasy who arrived via the illegal slave trade or came as indentured servants, please consult Wendy Wilson-Fall’s book]. Because of the oral histories passed down by our Malagasy ancestors and now because of the availability of mtDNA/Y-DNA tests, many African- and Euro-Americans have been able to discover their Malagasy roots. I hope this blogpost helps people with Malagasy ancestry to understand how their ancestors arrived in Virginia and then ended up elsewhere. The migration of enslaved Malagasy people can be traced —even without a known Malagasy ancestor — because of the genetic map they left behind in our DNA.
Pre-1700 Tidewater Virginia: We Were Here From the Beginning
The invented history of Europeans being solely responsible for making this country what it was, or came to be, is based on lies. The success of European colonization was built on the subjugation of Native Americans and Africans. Native Americans provided their colonizers with the skills they needed to survive in a land that was “new” to them as they were original occupiers of this country. When Europeans did arrive in the Tidewater region of Virginia in the early 1600s, there were around 14,000 Native Americans — the Powhatan, the Pamunkey, the Chickahominy, the Patawomeck, and the Rappahannock — residing there. Their interactions with these Native Americans resulted in a vicious land grab that ultimately led to Native American genocide within the first 100 years of contact. By 1700, the Native population declined to 1,900 individuals, an 85% decline in population, due to slavery, disease, and non-stop warfare which ended in their deaths, according to Anthony Parent.
The first Africans to arrive in the Tidewater region of Virginia in 1619 were Atlantic Creoles. They were part of the transatlantic exchange of cultures that resulted from the initial contact between Europeans and Africans on the West Coast of Africa, starting in the 15th century , which was transported to the Caribbean and the Americas. Atlantic Creoles had already mastered the languages and cultures of diverse European colonizers, were familiar with their trading ventures, and utilized this knowledge to better their circumstances when they were able. They arrived in VA as both indentured servants and as enslaved persons. Some were freed after their indentured service ended and became property owners. Others were enslaved for life. With the English discovery that this “new” land supported tobacco growing, the rush to settle the colony and profit from it became greater. Between 1619-1697, 13,000-20,000 Africans were brought to VA to begin a lifetime of perpetual servitude. The number of Africans dramatically increased with “blackness” alone becoming associated with slavery. From 1698-1774, 96,000 Africans were imported into the Virginia colony as slaves.
The Europeans — primarily the English, Scots, and Irish — who arrived in Virginia in the early 1600s, were a hodgepodge mix of characters, including sons of elite English gentry, merchants, adventurers, ex-convicts, etc. The Virginia Companydeveloped a “headright” system to encourage immigrants to settle there. Starting in 1617, elite planters who sponsored an indentured servant received 50 acres of land for paying their fare to VA. Indentured servants then had to labor for a period of 7 years under strict terms. These indentured servants saw their service as a means to an end — one in which they became landowners as well. It should also be noted that these indentured servants routinely worked along side of, intermarried and had children with, and ran away with enslaved people and Native Americans.
From the beginning, the elite class of planters controlled the governing branch of the Virginia Company and later the House of Burgesses. This enabled them to exploit the headright system to their advantage which led to the ownership of large tracts of land for themselves and their families. Land speculation soon surfaced and had devastating consequences for those indentured servants who completed their service terms. Faced with not being able to purchase land, they were forced to become tenant farmers or move to frontier areas that were considered dangerous due to Native American incursions. In 1676,Bacon’s Rebellion became the first uprising in VA. It was a rebellion that saw white indentured servants uniting with enslaved Africans against the ruling class in power. In response to the Rebellion and, in recognition that the supply of white indentured servants was drying up, numerous laws were enacted to codify the institution of slavery in Virginia and forever separate the poor from aligning together in the future.
A timeline of laws codifying slavery in Virginia can be found here.
The Importation of Enslaved Malagasy (1719-1721)
Between 1719-1721, there were seven slave ships that arrived in the Tidewater region of Virginia with enslaved Malagasy in their cargo holds. These vessels were the Prince Eugene and the Henrietta, which both sailed twice, the Mercury, the Gascoigne Galley, the and the Rebecca Snow. As I previously noted in my Part II blogpost, the voyage from Madagascar to the East Coast of the US was 4-6 months long and most likely included a stopover on the island of St. Helenato replenish supplies. I can only imagine the horrors that enslaved people went through during this Middle Passage. That they even survived is a miracle in itself as well as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. It’s no wonder that the average mortality rate was as high as 31% on these voyages. 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 contracted a disease that caused their eyes to come out of their sockets. There were roughly 1,300 enslaved Malagasy who ended up in Virginia during the 1719-1721 time period.
Please note that there was also an unknown slave ship that arrived in Virginia from Madagascar in 1686 that had 210 Malagasy onboard. This would mean around approximately 1,500 enslaved Malagasy survived the Middle Passage and took up residence in Virginia.
It should also be noted that the Carolinas received an unknown number of enslaved Malagasy as Charleston was settled by planters from Barbados. Enslaved Malagasy were imported into the Carolinas for their rice production skills. By 1700, half of the slaves — roughly 16,500 individuals — in Barbados were of Malagasy descent. Between 1679-1718, there were 27 voyages from Madagascar to Barbados. Likewise, Jamaica also received 2,000 slaves between 1685-1719.
Robert King Carter: My Slave Owner 8th Great-Grandfather and Major Importer and Purchaser of The Enslaved Malagasy in VA (1719-1721)
As Wendy Wilson-Fall discusses in her book Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic,Robert “King” Carter was the major investor in the Madagascar to Virginia Slave Trade as well as the major purchaser of the enslaved Malagasy who arrived in the Tidewater region of Virginia. He also was my slave owner 8th great-grandfather. No one chooses their ancestors and I, in no way, shape, or form, will ever condone his abhorrent behavior as it relates to slavery. I just can’t as long as the blood of people he enslaved still runs through my veins. However, I will tell the truth about his life.
When Robert “King”Carter (1663-1732) died, the inventory of his 40 page will was a testament to his status as “King” of colonial Virginia. His will stated that he owned 300,000 acres of land, 57 plantations and quarters, around 800 slaves (click here for a list of names of the enslaved) and £10,000 of cash. He added a codicil in his will that forever linked the enslaved and their descendants to a particular plantation or quarter. An enslaved person could be relocated to a different plantation if a Carter daughter inherited those slaves as part of her dowry and they would become part of husband’s property. Of course, enslaved people could be sold at any time.
Over the course of his lifetime, Robert “King” Carter amassed great wealth from the tobacco trade and other businesses which led him to become one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. He also was very much a part of the elite ruling class and served in the House of Burgesses for years. His sons followed in their father’s footsteps and later maintained the family’s wealth and political dynasty for generations. One of the ways he increased his family’s wealth was to form alliances, via the marriages of his sons and daughters, to other“First Families of Virginia.” The Byrd, Burwell, Randolph, Armistead, Page, Fitzhugh, Harrison, Braxton, Wormeley, Mann, and Berkeley families, among others, were all affiliate families to the Carters. His extended family and businesses were completely intertwined. Wealth begat wealth.
While Robert “King” Carter was certainly a man of great wealth, that wealth came at the expense of my enslaved ancestors and others. In order to harness this free labor force, Carter employed several methods to exert his control. One of the ways was for him to strip these saltwater Africans of their ethnic/tribal identity by giving them English first names only. He also separated members of the same ethnic group into different quarters where they could not communicate with each other. Within a generation or two, we can easily see how enslaved Africans became “African-American” as they began to lose knowledge of their own African cultures though not entirely.
Robert “King” Carter also used violence to manage his enslaved population. Whippings, beatings, and the killing of the enslaved were routine during slavery. The Carter Papers provide us with a goldmine of information in HIS words. In these papers, we learn about a runaway slave named Madagascar Jack — whose name clearly reflected his Malagasy roots — who on August 22,1722 was returned to Robert “King” Carter as a runaway slave. Carter then sought permission to have him mutilated in order to cure him of his runaway habits. Despite having his toes amputated, Madagascar Jack apparently continued to runaway. Five years later, on October 10, 1727, Carter wrote about how he didn’t want Madagascar Jack to go to his new Corotoman Plantationthoughmany other enslaved people ended up at there. In one letter, Carter also mentioned mutilating another slave named Ballazore. Back in1710, he mutilated Bambara Harry and Dinah. These mutilations were a form of torture that my 8th slave owner great-grandfather boasted of “having cured many a negro of running away by this means.” I can’t help to wonder if any of my Malagasy-descended ancestors were the subjects and victims his abuse.
Most of the enslaved Malagasy that Robert “King” Carter purchased in the early 1700s were women and children. These women would have been coerced into mating with men of West African or European descent when they first arrived —most likely not of their own choosing considering they had no control over their fates or bodies. The formation of somewhat more stable families would only come later. Such was the nature of slavery. The children born from these enslaved Malagasy women would have been first generation ”African-Americans.” As you will see from the admixture charts later, African-Americans are truly a diaspora population. But, some of these children would have also “passed” as Euro-American with their African-American and Malagasy roots being totally obscured.
I want to add here that Robert “King” Carter did have a grandson, Robert Carter III (my 1st cousin 8XR), who became known as “The Great Emancipator.” In 1791, Robert III signed a Deed of Giftthat led to the emancipation of 500-600 enslaved people over the course of 30 years. This was one of the largest number of enslaved people being emancipated prior to the Civil War. Nomini Hallis the plantation that he inherited from his grandfather and where his enslaved people labored. Robert III was clearly influenced by his Baptist religion. He was one of many slave owners who began to question slavery and start to embrace abolitionism. John Pleasants III, a Quaker, also emancipated his slaves in his will. When his son, Robert Pleasants started to execute his wishes after his death, other family members sued him to prevent these emancipations from going forward. He was successful in court and went on to free hundreds of enslaved people. He then hired his formerly enslaved back as paid laborers and provided schooling for them. Robert went on to become an ardent abolitionist. Curles Neck Plantation, which was owned by the Pleasants, was only 8 miles from Shirley Plantation and the Pleasants no doubt owned enslaved Malagasy and their descendants.
My Family’s DNA Trail From Madagascar to VA
I have five colonial lines that can be traced to Virginia on my maternal African-American side. One line is from my 3rd great-grandmother Mary Johnson, on my maternal grandfather’s side, from Greenwich, CT who was born in VA in the early 1800s. She somehow ended up in CT, but we have no idea where in VA she was born. My maternal 2nd great-grandparents on my grandfather’s maternal side, William H. Jackson and Katherine Davis Jackson, were born in VA, but they moved to Newark, NJ sometime by 1880. My Jackson/Davis/Thomas/Brookins line was from Charlottesville, Fork Union (Fluvanna County) Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Waynesboro, and Farmville, VA. On my maternal grandmother’s side, my great-grandmother’s Lee/Carter/Mitchell line was from Charles City, Petersburg, Richmond, and Dinwiddie County, VA. My 2nd great-grandfather, James D. Mitchell, moved to Boston, MA after the Civil War and married a first generation Irish-American woman named Julia Lennihan. It is his maternal line that was of Malagasy descent. I have every reason to suspect that some of my grandfather’s VA ancestors also included people who had Malagasy roots as we shall see.
On my Lee/Carter/Mitchell line, we have oral history that was passed down indicating that my 3rd great-grandmother, Crittie Anna Lee, was born on Shirley Plantation and that she was the daughter of Charles Carter Lee, an older brother of Gen. Robert E. Lee, and an enslaved woman named Ann Perkins. She was married to Mortimer Mitchell, another mulatto. We had a male Mitchell tested amd hie has a Euro Y-DNA.We don’t know much about how she met Mortimer or where he came from. His background may have been similar to hers. Our Mitchell ancestors found their way to Union troops where Crittie and Mortimer worked as a nurse and cook until the end of the war. After the Civil War, they resided in Namozine, Dinwiddie County, VA until their deaths. They were farmers who owned their property. Five of their children ended up moving to MA, PA, and NY by the late 1800s.
We were told that Crittie was Black and Native American on her mother’s side. This was quite plausible since African-Americans with colonial roots in Virginia were known to have intermarried with Native Americans in the area. Her son James was also referred to as “The Old Indian” in the Stoughton, MA where he owned a farm and a store in the early 1900s. My aunt Helen also told me of how many people thought that James’s son, my Uncle Bill, was of Asian descent as well (see photo below).
In her book, Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic, Wendy Wilson-Fall points out that the oral history of Malagasy descendants often includes mention of their phenotype. The physical descriptions of enslaved Malagasy includes references to their yellow skin, hair, and eyes. Because Madagascar was settled by people from East Africa and Southeast Asia, their phenotype was probably similar to those enslaved people who were of African and Native American descent. Again, Native Americans and Africans were slaves who labored together in the early years of colonization. Generations after the first Malagasy arrived in VA, some of their descendants may have forgotten their family origins and chose to remember what their ancestors looked like. Hence, many people may have oral history of ancestors being Black and Native American when they were in fact of Malagasy descent or, more likely, were of West African, Malagasy and Native American descent like my family.
Returning to Crittie’s death certificate, her age at the time of her death was 69 years old. However, on US Census records from 1870-1910, her birth year ranges from 1825 to 1846 so it is hard to confirm her exact age. Reber Dunkel, retired professor of Randolph-Macon College, has been helping me locate Crittie and her mother at Shirley Plantation. He believes her first name is unique and uncommon for the time so it may have been a first name that was passed down. In his research, he has found 2 Critties listed as slaves at Shirley Plantation’s sister plantation, Hickory Hill in Hanover County. Ann Butler Carter (my 1st cousin 6XR), daughter of Robert Hill Carter, received 1717 acres of land and 70 slaves from Shirley Plantation from her father, a brother of my 5th great-grandmother Anne Hill Carter, as a dowry when she married William Fanning Wickham. Her sister, Lucy Carter (also my 1st cousin 6XR), received a similar dowry when she married William’s brother, Edmund Fanning Wickham. It has been documented that the first enslaved people employed at Hickory Hill came from Shirely Plantation. It is quite possible that my Crittie may have descended from one of these two Critties. Likewise, Reber is also exploring the possibility of an ancestral link with the Hickory Hill Critties and Critta —Crittie is the diminutive form of the name —Hemings, sister of Sally Hemings. John Wayles, their father, owned The Forest plantation which was located in Charles City County where Shirley Plantation is located. I’m still searching for more info on Crittie, Ann Perkins, and her Perkins slave owners. I expect to take more trips to Virginia to do more family research.
What we do know about Crittie is that her line connects to known Malagasy descendants like the Raglands, Dickersons, Parhams, Carters, Lees, etc. via our DNA cousins. Given the fact that Robert “King” Carter tied his enslaved people to the properties where they were born, coupled with him being the major purchaser/importer of enslaved Malagsy, and our oral history as well, we can assume that her matrilineal line may be a Malagasy one. Crittie has an elderly great-granddaughter in NYC, who also has a daughter, that we can administer a Full Sequence mtDNA test to confirm definitively. We are tracking them down now to test as I write this blog post.
The major goal of FTDNA’s Malagasy Roots Project is to identify people who have Full Sequence mtDNA or Y-DNA haplogroups that are found in Madagascar and connect them to their cousins who are of Malagasy descent. These particular DNA tests offer the most conclusive evidence of Malagasy ancestry. That being said, there are indicatorsof Malagasy ancestry that can be found by looking at autosomal DNA test results in combination with local history, Malagasy entry points into the US, oral history, etc. I want to be very clear that admixture tests alone are NOT an indicator of Malagasy ancestry. There needs to be more corroborative proof. My fellow blogger Melvin Collierdocuments his discovery of his Malagasy roots in his blogpostdoing exactly what I have always recommended. Through his analysis of his family’s autosomal results, he has been able to confirm his Malagasy roots and connect with a Malagasy DNA cousin.
Detecting Indicators of Malagasy Ancestry Using AncestryDNA
Fonte Felipe, a fellow blogger, has graciously shared some of the data he has been analyzing related to Malagasy people who have DNA-tested at AncestryDNA. He has documented the country backgrounds of Malagasy descended individuals. It is striking to note that most Malagasy-descended people who have tested at AncestryDNA are African-American and/or of West Indian descent followed by people of Euopean descent from the United States and Europe and the Spanish Caribbean. This is a testament to just how large the Madagascar Slave Trade to the Caribbean and the Americas was in the late 1600s to early 1700s.
For the past few years, I have been analyzing how Malagasy ancestry manifests itself across all DNA testing companies. Using my family’s M23 haplogroup — which is only found in Madagascar — as a control group, I have been documenting the geographical regions that may be indicative of Malagsy roots. On AncestryDNA, we definitely see a combination of East/South/Central Africa geographical areas along with an Asian component which isn’t surprising since Madagascar was settled by people from SE Asia and East Africa. Regarding the African geographical areas, one of the things Fonte noted is that, in addition to SE Bantu as a region, one also sees that the Cameroon/Congo region is also somewhat high. The Cameroon/Congo admixture may be coming from Mozambique. This no doubt reflects how the Bantu Expansion spread from West to East Africa. Please note that the West African trace regions found in today’s Malagasy would not be the same trace regions as our Malagasy ancestors who arrived in the United States centuries ago though.
Fonte also shared three Malagasy AncestryDNA ethnic admixture profiles with me. In the first chart, this Malagasy individual is probably Merina from the Highlands because of the higher percentage of Asian admixture. Fonte didn’t have much info on the 2nd Malagasy profile other than that person was from Southwest Madagascar from the Atsimo-Andrefana region, but you can see how this person has more East African admixture than Asian admixture.
Fonte has had the most contact with the 3rd Malagasy profile. This Malagasy person had a Makua ancestor from Mozambique. He is from Northeast Madagascar and is also part Antankarana and Antaimoro.
In general, looking at these three profiles, we can gather that the African components include SE African Bantu and Cameroon/Congo. I did notice that in Malagasy-descended African Americans, we also see South-Central Hunters and Gatherers. This designation may have to do with where enslaved Malagasy originated from centuries ago which is why we don’t see it in these present day Malagasy profiles. The Asian component could be any combination of Asia East, Asia South, Asia Central, and/or Pacific Islander (Polynesia and Melanesia).
Here are three profiles representing my family. My cousin Mildred is a direct matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson who had the M23 haplogroup. Helen is my maternal aunt and reflects our two Malagasy lines from NY (Thompson/Pickett/Snyder) and VA (Lee/Carter/Mitchell line). Our cousin Barbara is on our Jackson/Davis/Thomas/Brookins line. As a point of clarification, any of the geographical regions included as main regions may reflect recent ancestry coming from other ancestors from those regions as well. Most of the Malagasy indicators would be found in “Low Confidence Regions” as this would reflect ancestry from those areas centuries ago. For a more detailed discussion of Malagasy admixture, please refer to my Part I blog post which can be found here.
My cousin Mildred has a DNA match whose family is from Edgecombe County, NC and has an ancestor from Madagascar.
Here are 2 of my Mitchell 2nd cousins 1XR. We share the same 2nd great-grandfather, James D. Mitchell. They would be my aunt Helen’s 2nd cousins. Their grandfather was my great-grandmother’s brother, James W. Mitchell.
Please note that the profile below is of my 3rd cousin 1XR. Cyntania is a descendant of my 2nd great-grandfather’s brother George Mitchell. Notice how Cyntania admixture profile doesn’t show any Asian component. DNA is randomly inherited so this should not be a surprise. She is a perfect example of why it is best to test multiple people within a family. She is a direct descendant of our Crittie, but apparently she didn’t inherit her Asian DNA, according to AncestryDNA, and neither did I as a matter of fact though it does show up on my other DNA admixture tests.
Though I have five colonial lines that begin and end in Virginia, my family never had any oral or written history that documented our ancestors in the Deep South. After taking several DNA tests, I now am acutely aware of the fact that I have VA ancestors who were sold South out of Richmond, VA. With their permission given, here are a few DNA cousins I match whose AncestryDNA admixture charts, surnames, and locations match my Virginia Malagasy-descended ancestors and other VA DNA cousins.
Here are some of the DNA Malagasy-descended cousin matches that my aunt Helen and I have that reflect surnames on our family tree either via VA slave owners or their slaves of Malagasy descent who were sold South out of Richmond, VA.
Surnames of Malagasy Descendants
Here is a list of surnames that are found among both my VA and NY Malagasy-descended ancestors AND NY and VA slave owner ancestors who purchased the enslaved Malagasy who arrived in NY and VA in between 1664-1698 and 1719-1721. Some of these surnames are found in both states. I have also added the surnames that Wendy-Wilson Fall compiled on her Ancestry.com Rootsweb page back in 2003. Click here to see her original list.
Please note that Wendy Wilson-Fall has started a Mapping Memories of Madagascar site where she seeks to document both enslaved and free Malagasy-descended individuals. Please click on the red hyperlink above to add your ancestor’s name to her interactive map.
Ragland and Dickerson Connections: It’s a Small Colonial World After All
I want to mention the Ragland family in colonial VA as this family routinely purchased slaves of Malagasy descent. On our Carter and Lee side, my family is related to Evan Ragland, the “immigrant,” who arrived in VA from Somerset, England in the mid-1600s. The Raglands were of English and Welsh descent. Evan was 14 years old when he was kidnapped, along with John Davis, from Somerset and shipped out of Bristol, England to labor as an indentured servant for Stephen Pettus in colonial Virginia. He then married Stephen’s daughter Susana after his term expired and went on to inherit land. He also owned an unknown number of enslaved people. Evan’s personal history was indeed the stuff that indentured servants dreamed of when they arrived in this country.
Charles Ragland, a descendant of Evan, wrote a book where he estimated that between “1640 and 1680 up to 100,000 children may have been kidnapped in Britain and sold to the highest bidders in America.” As indenture servitude began to decline after the 1660s, abduction became a common practice. Ragland states, that “such protests (and increased interest in voluntary emigration) had brought the practice to an end around 1679, in which year a captain was hung for kidnapping an eleven year old boy.”
All Euro-descended Raglands in the US are related to Evan Ragland. Their extended family spread out from VA and ended up in West Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Pennsylvania throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. They took their enslaved people with them as they moved out of VA and purchased more enslaved people as they built their wealth off of the backs of the enslaved. The dispersal of these white planters and their slaves went hand in hand with Native Americans being subjected to both physical relocation to other parts of the country as well as policies that can be considered genocidal.
African-American Raglands are descendants of children fathered by Ragland men and Malagasy/West African/Native American women and those unrelated enslaved people who took their surname before and after they were emancipated. The Raglands lived in the same locations as my Carter ancestors — Charles City, Richmond, Spotslyvania, New Kent County, Dinwiddie County, Prince George County and other VA locations. The two families also intermarried. It should come as no surprise that my family shares a genetic tie with both Euro- and African-American Raglands who descend from the early Malagasy people, who were bought and sold, in Tidewater region of Virginia.
Although Jill Ragland has the Ragland surname, her mother Janine is the one we are related to via a distant Malagasy ancestor though her dad may also be a Malagasy descedant. They are part of the Malagasy Roots Project and her mtDNA haplogroup is F3b1 which is one of the Malagasy haplogroups that is found in Asia and Madagascar. Though for some reason they didn’t show up on her main AncestryDNA page, Janine also has Asia South and Asia Central admixture on the AncestryDNA phone app. Janine’s maternal Malagasy F3b1 ancestors probably arrived in Georgia from Virginia. It looks like her connection to my family is because of ancestor who was sold South.
It should be pointed out that the Ragland Plantation in Petersburg is now a Bed & Breakfast. The website is geared towards promoting the aesthetics of the place. However, there is a history of the Ragland Plantation on the site that mentions both Reuben and John Davis Raglands’ active involvement in the domestic slave trade out of Richmond as slave traders, bankers, and as part of the insurance industry that oiled the engines of slavery. It also appears that John Davis dropped his Ragland surname when he was a slave trader which was a great way to disguise his hideous complicity in the slave trade for future generations.
There was another Ragland descendant who owned Sylvie, a woman of Malagasy-descent, whom he later freed in his will along with their children and his other enslaved people. His name was William Ragland, Jr. (1780-1849) from Louisa County, VA who was a descendant of Evan Ragland via William, Sr. > Samuel> John > Evan. He died at the age of 69 of typhoid fever in 1849. Sylvia/Sylvie was 40 years younger than William. This type of situation was common among some slave owners and their relationship reminds us of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. From the newspaper below, we learn that in addition to emancipating his enslaved people, William had set aside $20,000 (which would be $617,000 in 2017) when he died and instructed his executers to buy land in Pike and Jackson Counties in Ohio. The executers related how they bought land and settled almost 100 formerly enslaved people between 1855-1860.
In the book Free Blacks of Louisa County Virginia, it’s worth noting that William Ragland, not only emancipated Slyvia/Sylvie and their children (Lousia, Martha, Lucy, Ellen, Betsy, Sylvia/Sylvie, Jr., William, Jr, and Samuel), but may have also emancipated her sisters, Mary (mother of Thomas, Margaret, Henry, David, William, Nathan, and Franklin) and Esther (mother of Nathaniel, John, Catherine, George, Polly, and Sally) and their children. Sylvia/Sylvie, Mary, and Esther were 34, 37, and 42 years old when they were granted their freedom. There was a 70-year old woman named Judith Ragland who may have been their mother or aunt. It seems like William Ragland was another slave owner, like Thomas Jefferson, who kept his very enslaved family close to him. I am certain that these African-American of Malagasy descent women exercised their own agency as they recognized the privilege they had relative to other enslaved people.
Another William James Ragland (1810-1876) who was a cousin of the William above and also a descendant of Evan Ragland via Fendall> Pettus> John > Evan, listed Mary Agnes Meriwearther (1829-1892) as a “friend” in his will and left his entire estate to her and his “natural” and “confirmed heirs” — Nannie James Meriweather, Mary Adeline Meriweather, James Edward Meriwearher and John Meirweather. In the 1880 census, Mary Agnes is listed as a widow and is living with her son Harry who is 14 years old. It’s uncertain if John’s middle name was Harry or if this is a son by a different father. We know very little about Mary Agnes and nothing about how she felt about her life other than what she wanted recorded on her tombstone for all to see. She simply stated “I fought the good fight.” Only she knew what that meant and the rest of us are left to wonder what she meant. Mary Agnes is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond, VA alongside of many well-known African-Americans.
Another colonial family that had ties with both the Carters and the Raglands was the Dickerson family whose ancestors resided all over colonial Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. They then moved to other states as the United States expanded South and West as they cleared the land of Native Americans. Griffin Dickerson/Dickinson/Dickenson, the “immigrant,” arrived in Virginia in the early-1600s. The spelling of their surname changed over time and is found in the historical records spelled as Dickerson, Dickinson, and Dickenson. Like the Carters and Raglands, the Dickersons accumulated their wealth initially due to the tobacco industry that was predicated on slave labor. They also lived in the same exact areas as the Carters and Raglands and no doubt procured their slaves from the same sources as those two families. [As an aside, one of Robert Carter III’s 300-acre property in Richmond County was named Dickersons Mill].The Dickersons certainly received a share of the enslaved Malagasy who arrived in the early 1700s as well as their descendants over time.
My family is related to both Euro- and African-American Dickersons. I have several Malagasy-descended DNA Dickerson cousins. One of whom is Eugene Dickerson. His Dickerson ancestors were from Spotsylvania County, VA, a location that matches one of Robert “King” Carter’s plantations. It appears that there was a Hugh Mercer Dickinson. (1811-1888) in Spotsylvania who was a slave owner with 26 enslaved people documented in the 1850 and 1860 census records. There was also an Elisha Dickinson who was a slave owner in 1783 in Spotsylvania with 11 slaves. More research needs to be done to see if this family was the slave owners of Eugene’s ancestors. Eugene and my family also have other DNA cousins in common like Shirese Louie and her siblings. By the way, in following Hugh Mercer Dickinson’s tree, I noticed his grandmother was a Quarles— a surname that Shirese also has in her tree.
Eugene also has a grandfather, Thomas Frazier Dickerson (1872-1992), who married Hallie Sandidge (1892-1934). Hallie’s side has 2 other Malagasy-descendant surnames, Scott and Jones. The white Sandidge family, another early colonial family, are found in New Kent, Lousia, Spotslyvania, and Amherst counties which again are where the Carters, Raglands, and Dickersons lived. There are records in the book Free Blacks of Louisa County Virginia which contains the names of several Sandidge enslaved people who were emanicpated in Richard Sandidge’s will.
Eugene and his family were unaware of their Malagasy ancestry. I truly hope that I have provided them with some clues to further investigate their Dickerson-Sandidge line. With the help of other DNA cousins, they may be able to find even more info. The next step for them should definitely be Full Sequence mtDNA and Y-DNA tests.
Another interesting Dickerson/Dickinson/Dickenson tidbit is Richard Henry Dickinson whose ancestors are probably related to Griffin Dickerson/Dickinson/Dickenson as well. R.H. Dickinson was one of the major slave traders in Richmond from 1840 up until the Civil War. He operated under the slave trading firms of Dickinson and Brothers and as Dickinson, Hill & Co. Between 1846-1849, he sold 2000 enslaved Virginians South annually. In 1857, his firm earned $2 Million in slave sales. Click here for a timeline of R.H. Dickinson’s slave trading years. I also found an ad that was placed in a Richmond newspaper where Dickerson was selling the slaves owned by John Wickham (my 2nd cousin 5XR), the son of Anne Butler (Carter) Wickham and William Fanning Wickham of Hickory Hill Plantation. That William Fanning Wickam used R.H. Dickerson’s slave trading firm attests to family ties that spanned generations. In the auction, 130 enslaved people were sold — some of whom may have been my ancestors as his mother was a Carter from Shirley Plantation. John was only 25 years old when he passed away and already was a man of wealth.
Richmond: The Epicenter of the Domestic Slave Trade (1790-1860)
A discussion of Richmond being an epicenter of the domestic slave trade, behind New Orleans, is essential if we are to understand the migration of African- and Euro-Americans with Malagasy roots to parts of the Deep South. After the African slave trade ended in 1808 in the wake of the Haitian Revolution, we see that the growth of the domestic slave trade coincided with the genocide and displacement of Native Americans from their lands and the rise of cotton and sugar plantations in the South and Southwest. Virginia was a tobacco growing state and, as the land became overworked and degraded over the years, the planter class looked for ways to harness and unload their surplus enslaved labor. They did this by first migrating to, and settling in areas, that had been cleared of Native Americans in the South and Southwest and they took their enslaved people with them. These VA planters also unloaded their surplus enslaved labor by selling these people South out of Richmond. As the cotton and sugar trade grew, the planter class were joined by others seeking to enrich their station in life by buying and trading enslaved people. The accumulative wealth of European-Americans in this country was built on the enslavement of millions of people of African descent.
From 1790-1860, as Phillip Troutman in his Virginia Slave Trade blog makes abundantly clear, 45% of enslaved people sold South came from Virginia. According to Michael Tadman, an estimated 350,000 enslaved Virginians were sold South out of Richmond from 1820-1860. That number is probably a lot higher as we will never know how many enslaved people were sold between 1790-1820 or how many free Blacks were kidnapped and sold South as well. I should also add here that, in 1850s, there were a quarter of a million mixed race slave children in Virginia. This means that slave owners were making and selling their own children for profit, according to David W. Blight.
Slavery was never designed to promote Black family reunification. On the contrary, it was an institution that was hellbent on destroying the ties that bind. When considering the impact of the domestic slave trade on African-Americans, whose ancestors were from Virginia, we need to be aware that most of the enslaved who were sold were between the ages of 15-25 years of age. However, according to the historian Steven Deyle, two-fifths of antebellum slaves were younger than 15 and one-third were younger than 10 years old. The youngest of enslaved victims may not have known who their parents were having been taken from them at a very young age, housed in slave pens, sold a couple of times before ending up at auction houses before being transported South. Even with DNA testing, while we may locate some of our DNA cousins who are the descendants of our VA ancestors, there will be many more ancestors who will remain lost to us forever. Slavery caused a major disruption in our family trees and family history. Tears.
I Like My History Black…Hold The Sugar: Historical Trauma and The Sanitization of Slavery
I was blessed to have the opportunity to speak at a symposium on “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory & The Built Environment” at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville this past October 18th-20th and I sat on a panel on “Cemeteries, Slavery, and History.” Over the course of 3 days, panel after panel was devoted to serving up history that was the blackest EVER. The true history of how this country was founded; how slavery was experienced by people of African descent, how certain individuals and institutions profited off of Black bodies before and after death; the role that universities played in propagating slavery and the corrections being made now to rectify the mistakes of the past; the current state of Black cemeteries and the need to preserve them; the current excavations of slave sites at plantations today; and the on-going incorporation of the voices of the descendants of slaves at plantations, among other topics, were discussed at length. The history at this conference was100% SUGAR-FREE! The “sugar” that was left out can be compared to all the myth-making, lies, and omissions that have been left out of the historical record in order to make slavery more palatable to the masses. At the conference, I was among kindred spirits who are promoting a corrected, more inclusive view of history. One that, I strongly believe, can heal this country in time. A history built on lies is just that as it obscures truth; whereas a history that is based on truth — one that embraces our diverse histories — allows us to have an honest discussion about how we can learn from this country’s past. It was only appropriate that I wore Joseph McGill’s Slave Dwelling Project fundraising t-shirt “I like my history black…hold the sugar” because it spoke to me. I like my history, in its truest state, with NO added sugar.
DISCLAIMER: I’ve debated for months now on how to handle this section of my blog because it is all bitterness that is based on truth. I have decided not to go into great detail as it may trigger people, but have included articles and books in my reference section for people to read more info on their own, if they choose to do so.
When we consider the legacy that slavery left that is still with us today, it should come as no surprise then that African-Americans suffer from historic trauma. Historic trauma is a term that refers to the collective emotional and psychological wounding of an individual or group of people caused by traumatic past experiences or events. As descendants of enslaved people, African-Americans suffered repeated personal traumas due to slavery for centuries. Some of those personal traumas included physical abuse, torture, slave killings via dismemberments, burnings, lynchings, mutilation, male and female rape, incest (slaveowner/sons and daughter), male and female forced slave breeding, family separations, etc. This country has done a very good job at minimizing and whitewashing it’s history when it comes to people of color. Why? Because the ugly truth hurts and the coffee is bitter beyond belief. Acknowledging and reconciling our shared historical truths is a necessary act that has the potential to heal this diabetic nation. Too much historical sugar is very bad for you.
This historical trauma is still with us and can be seen in Malagasy-descended African-Americans today. I think about my friend Michael Twitty, who just came out with his book, The Cooking Gene. In the book, he recounts how his 3rd great-grandparents, Jack and Arrye Todd, and their children were separated and sold South out of Shockoe Bottom via Lumpkin’s Jail, the Devil’s Half Acre, one of the worst slave jails in Richmond. Arrye was of Malagasy descent and the Todd family — whom I descend from on my Carter side — mostly likely acquired Malagasy enslaved people as the Todds owned plantations in Gloucester County, which is near the York River, and were in-laws to my Carter ancestors. That Michael carries intimate knowledge of his ancestor’s forced separation because he is a family historian with VA roots, shows exactly how some of us still carry the burden of our ancestor’s lived experiences with us every day. That Michael’s middle name “William” is a tribute to his 3rd great-grandfather’s younger brother who was sold South is another testament to the ties that bind us to our ancestors. I attended one of Michael’s talks where he was asked if he ever considered changing his name to an African one since he now knew one of his West African lineage names. His response was that, although he didn’t really like his first or last name, his middle name “William” was handed down for generations to family members as a way of remembering one who was lost to slavery. This is a perfect example of how our oral history reflects a proven historical truth. In case you are wondering, I proudly claim Michael as a distant Todd cousin.
Another person I claim as a cousin on my Lee/Carter/Mitchell side is my friend Sam Lemon. He wrote a book, Go Stand Upon This Rock, a novel about his 2nd great-grandparents who escaped from Virginia, at different times, as runaway slaves. His book is based on the oral history that was handed down to him. Sam’s family history is one of victorius survival. I call it that because it is filled with enough bitter coffee that you can drown in it. Yet, his 2nd great-grandparents were able to survive slavery — if you can even call it that— and go on to produce descendants who excelled beyond anything they could have imagined. We must remember that, as descendants of enslaved people, we ARE our ancestors’ hopes and dreams….or at least we should be.
Sam’s Malagasy ancestors were from the Tidewater region of Virginia, including Hanover, Sussex, Surry, and Southampton counties. Some of these counties are close to Dinwiddie County where my Lee/Carter/Mitchell ancestors were located. Among his many surnames, two are definitely associated with Malagasy ancestry. They are Byrd (in-laws to my Carter ancestors) and Parham (who married into my Mitchell line). He is also genetically related to Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings descendants as I am, but via a Bowles ancestor. Critta Hemings married Zachariah Bowles. Sam’s paternal grandmother was Annie Byrd Mickens, whose mother was Ella Bowles (1854-1936) from Hanover County, VA and she lived in the same location as Zaxhariah in 1820. In addition, Sam also has admixture indicators of Malagasy ancestry. I feel pretty confident that one or both of his 2nd great-grandparents had Malagasy ancestry.
Below is a Facebook correspondence I had with Sam about his 2nd great-grandmother, Martha Jane Parham. Tears, tears….
Martha Jane Parham was ”a slave breeding” woman. That description of her is way too sugary sweet for me. She was an enslaved, repeated rape/gang rape victim for a decade between the ages of 14-24 years old. Her lived experience was a crime against humanity. It is no wonder she never spoke about it for speaking about it would have certainly caused her to relive such horrific experiences over and over again. I completely understand that. Her experience was a traumatic one that occurred in her formative years. Her silence was an act of self-preservation — a necessary act of erasure in itself. For her, it was better to concentrate on the future. Martha Jane was probably like other formerly enslaved people whose experiences during slavery were so hellish beyond belief that they made a conscious decision to try to forget the past. As slave descendants this means that we have two levels of historic erasure to deal,with when researching our ancestors. On a macro-level, we have to deal with the historical erasure that this country has in general about slavery as well as, on a micro-level, the historical erasure that formerly enslaved ancestors employed to save and preserve their very souls. We can call this survival skill simply “soul preservation” which is similar to Daina Ramey Berry’s emphasis on the “soul value” that enslaved people placed on their own lives.
Martha Jane Parham married Cornelius Ridley in Virginia. Cornelius was the mulatto son of his slave owner, Col. Thomas Ridley, III (1809-1875) and an unknown enslaved woman. Thomas Ridley, III was one of the wealthiest men in Southampton, VA and owned Bonnie Doon Plantation (also known as “Jerusalem”). The Ridleys also owned the Buckhorn Quarters. [As an aside, I was able to recently tell Sam that, on Thomas Ridley, III ‘s maternal Wright side, he is related to George Washington.] Cornelius and his sister Rosa were raised in Thomas’s household and were house slaves as so many children of slave owners were.
According to Sam, Cornelius met Martha Jane, who was enslaved at the neighboring Fortsville Plantation and was owned by John Y. Mason. Cornelius married her knowing that her primary job was to be forced mated with other enslaved men to produce children that would add to her slave master’s cumulative wealth and those children could be sold away at anytime. I can only imagine how much pain that brought him just knowing what Martha Jane had to endure. In the early 1860s, because he could pass for white with his very fair skin, red hair and green eyes, he walked away and ended up with Quakers who shepherded to freedom in Media, PA. Martha Jane, with the help of the United States Colored Troops and Quakers as well, was reunited with him after she escaped from Virginia during the Civil War. However, Rosa’s fate was very different. More tears..
In looking into Cornelius’s family history, we learn that he had an older sister who was approximately 11-13 years older than him. He called her Rosa, but census records document her name as Mary Ridley. It is quite possible that her name was Mary Rose/Rosa Ridley. The oral history that was passed down to Sam and his family was that she was sold South never to be heard from again. A slave manifest lists her age as being 18 years old, born around 1826, and her skin was the color of “copper.” When she was sold, Cornelius would have been around the age of 12-13 years old. Surely, the loss of his older sister was seared in his memory at that age. Rosa may have been the closest person he had to a mother. Just looking at Mary Rose/Rosa’s full name among a list of other enslaved Virginians should break your heart. These were people who were separared from their own flesh and blood probably forever. They would now be known by their first name only —their prior identities submerged.
Cornelius’s Rosa was sold to George Apperson, a Richmond slave trader who also owned a slave jail across the street from Lumpkin’s jail. Apperson sent 308 people South to New Orleans between 1844-1847. His New Orleans slave trading partner was none other than Solomon Northrop’s slave trader/owner, Theophilus Freeman, who was considered one of the most violent slave traders. Starting in the 1840s, Apperson and Freedman sent VA enslaved people South by ship rather than overland chained together in coffles. Apperson advertised his trips in VA newspapers thus guaranteeing a scheduled time whereby those interested in buying enslaved people could plan their trips. These ships would sometimes make port calls in Charleston, the Lower Mississippi (Natchez), and finally New Orleans. Enslaved people would have been destined for the cotton fields of the Deep South or Lousiana sugar plantations.
Sam’s family never knew what happened to their Rosa after she was sold. Again, part of the generational historic trauma we suffer as descendants of enslaved people is not knowing what happened to the people we loved and lost due to slavery. If Rosa looked like Cornelius, she may have been sold South as “a fancy girl” which is to say sold to become a perpetual sex slave/rape victim. Fancy girls commanded very high prices. They were sold to the highest bidder to become sex slaves shared among slave traders themselves, forced into concubine arragements by sexual intimidation, or to become prostitutes in brothels. Many of these women appeared white in color which afforded those who bought them the right to live out sexual fantasies in ways that white women couldn’t because of cultural norms. There were cases when such “fancy girls” litigated their “whiteness” in court as a way to earn their freedom which I consider a form of resistance. It is a bit ironic that slave traders, who found people of African descent sub-human, would routinely engage in long-term relationships with “fancy girls,” have children with them, educate their children in the North, and emancipate them. A lot of those children later passed as white. Sam doesn’t know what happened to Rosa and it is this intergenerational grief that has kept him and his family in a state of mourning until today.
As a descendent of Crittie and her mother Ann, I pray for the day when I can learn more about them and the lives they lived. I only know what our oral history tells us. It’s only a very brief overview that was handed down in our family. I still want basic questions answered about them like did Crittie have siblings, did she have maternal grandparents, and where did Ann get her surname from, for example. Like many African-Americans, I live wiith the full knowledge that I have ancestors who will be forever unknown to me. Tears…But, I will always keep hope alive that someday, if I keep looking, I might just find something new about them. Hope is one thing I KNOW my ancestors had. You see, they hoped their descendants would do better than they did and we did.
As a descendant of slave owners whose lives were documented in prime time and whose words can be found in Carter Papers at various libraries and archives, I know more about them than I do about my own African-American Malagasy-descended VA ancestors. I struggle with acknowledging my slave owner roots simply because of the traumatic baggage this knowledge brings. I am the descendant of slave owners who became quite accomplished by benefiting from that evil institution called slavery. As part of the ruling planter class throughout the 17th-19th centuries, they were the architects of what the Virginia slave system came to be. It has taken me years to even put them on my family tree. Crittie knew who both her parents were. The oral history she passed down told us the story of how she came into being. She was a product of a slave rape. Because of that, I can’t drop the qualifier “slave owner” before naming my Carter-Lee ancestors. I’ve cried tears knowing that my 8th slave owner great-grandfather, Robert “King” Carter, took pleasure in mutilating, punishing his slaves, and stripping them of their original names; I was rendered silent when reading the words of my slave owner 8th great-uncle, Landon Carter, who portrayed himself as a “benevolent slave owner” while deeming his enslaved people —runaways — as ungrateful though he whipped, brutally punished, and sold their family members; and I was rendered utterly speechless when reading about how my slave owner 2nd cousin 7XR cousin, George Carter, who routinely purchased 13-15 year old virgins at slave auctions, wrote back to his sister Sophia that his business was between him and his God after she chastised him for his behavior.
Being the descendant of slave owners, like the Carters and the Lees, is mentally and emotionally burdensome. I have to remind myself often that they were products of their time and that slavery was just a fact of life for them. I have chosen to tell the truth though about how they accumulated their wealth off the backs of the enslaved, including my ancestors, and how they treated these people over time. I will continue to recognize those Carters and Lees who were on the right side of history. By the way, I have a distant cousin named Rev. Robert Lee whom I hear has been making waves down in Virginia. I hope to meet him one day. I am also more than willing to “Come to The Table” with any Carter/Lee descendant to have meaningful, productive conversations about our shared history. That is all that is required of me, as a descendant of Crittie and Ann, and that is all I am willing to do.
African-American Malagasy-Descended Slave Resistance: The Struggle to be Free
Though African-Americans of Malagasy-descent were enslaved, they did resist oppression in a number of ways in colonial Virginia. Despite having different levels of success or plain failures, these enslaved people engaged in acts of resistance and played an active role in trying to change the circumstances of their involuntary servitude. From escaping and ending up in maroon communities in The Great Dismal Swamp(much to the chagrin of my Carter and Byrd ancestors who were investors in the Swamp), to engaging in acts of abortion, infanticide and suicide, to seeking freedom on foot by running away, to performing every day acts of resistance to their very real oppression, the descendants of these first Malagasy enslaved exercised their right to self-determination. I don’t know if any of my ancestors were part of Gabriel’s Rebellion or Nat Turner’s Rebellion. What I do know is that my cousin Sam Lemon’s 3rd great-grandfather, Col. Thomas Ridley, III was in the Southampton Militia and took part in the capture and prosecution of Nat Turner and his followers. Four of his slaves at his Buckhorn Quarters took part in the insurrection. Curtis and Stephen Ridley were executed. Matt Ridley provided the evidence that was used against them all and his life was spared though he was banished from VA. The fourth unidentified Ridley slave was killed in the course of being captured. Curtis Ridley was worth $400 and Stephen was worth $450 at the time of their execution by hanging. However, their collective “soul value” was incalcuable. Did these four individuals have Malagasy roots? We can’t say for sure, but they were in the same places as others who did have Malagasy roots so I will proudly claim them as our own. As I said in my Part II blog, I would like to think that some of my Malagasy-descended 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 for slavery was a hellish enough condition to be in that they chose to take a stand knowing full well the price they would pay if discovered. Respect!
Erased No More: The Historical Truth About Shockoe Bottom
When I first started doing the research for this blogpost, I had no knowledge of Shockoe Bottom. For years, I shied away from researching my Virginia ancestors because the research seemed so daunting and it is. I had no idea that Richmond was second to New Orleans as an epicenter of the domestic slave trade. Shockoe Bottom was the largest slave trading district on the East Coast. It was a concentrated area that was home to 40-50 auction houses, slaves jails and pens, banking and insurance industries, law firms, hotels, shipping and railroad lines offices, apparel stores for slave clothing, a cemetery, etc. An estimated 350,000 enslaved Virginians were sold out of Richmond forever separated from their loved ones via coffles, ships, and railroads. Many died there as well. Click here for a visual map of the district produced by the University of Richmond. This site was built over in 1816 and it’s past erased.
In 2008, during an archaeological excavation, Lumpkin’s Jail was found and just like that darkness came to light. Those of us who believe that there are places that are sacred understood immediately what a gift we had received and knew that we had to preserve this site for the future. However, the mayor of Richmond at the time, along with a public-private Richmond revitalization group, started to develop a plan that would turn Shockoe Bottom into a baseball field with a hotel and stores around it. The plan to re-bury such a sacred, historical, and culturally significant site for millions of people of African descent is as wrong as it is unconscionable. Moreover, it is an attempt to deny us a space to honor our ancestors in a respectful way at a time when the city of Richmond continues to embrace it’s Confederate history. This historical erasure and denial must stop. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has listed Shockoe Bottom as an endangered sitebecause of this.
Reber Dunkel, having read about my battle to preserve our extended family’s burial ground in Greenwich,CT, introduced me to Ana Edwards. She is indeed a kindred spirit who matches my passion for preserving sacred historical sites. I can’t add anything else to what she has already stated about the significance of Shockoe Bottom so I am going to end with her written words. Please click here to read her statement on the significance of Shockoe Bottomto African-Americans in particular, but to all Americans in general. I support her and the excellent work she is doing in Richmond.
I would also encourage others to start writing about their family histories so that we do not contribute to our own ancestors’ historical erasure. There is power in our pens which is why I chose to have blog pages devoted to my African-American, Latino, Caribbean and Cape Verdean fellow bloggers. I want to share and celebrate their ancestor discoveries with them. Remember that the act of writing itself was a form of resistance that some of our ancestors were punished for in their lifetimes. Let us elevate the memories of our ancestors as we write them back into historical record.
In conclusion, when I took my place at the podium at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville for my “Cemeteries, Slavery & History” talk, the first thing I said was that, after spending a year alone telling the story of the desecration of our extended family’s Byram Cemetery/Byram African-American Cemetery all over NY, NJ, and CT, I was happy to be among kindred spirits. I can’t thank Joseph McGill enough for inviting me to speak there in the first place. Although the topics that were discussed were not for people who want to consume vast amounts of historic sugar, it was the best place for me to be at this time. To be among so many black history truth tellers was a great experience. I especially want to salute all the people below for making my trip a memorable one.
McDonald, Kevin P. Pirates, Merchants, Settlers, and Slaves: Colonial America and the Indo-Atlantic World. CA: University of California Press. 2015.
Platt, Virginia Bever. “The East India Company and the Madagascar Slave Trade.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 26:4 (October 1969), pp. 548-577.
Wilson-Fall, Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic. OH: University of Ohio Press. 2015.
Colonial Virginia Slave Trade:
Berlin, Ira. “From Creole to African: Atlantic Creoles and the Origins of African-American Society in Mainland North America.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 53:2 (April 1996), pp. 251-288.
Gomez, Michael A. Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South. NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1998.
Kulikoff, Allan. “The Origins of Afro-American Society in Tidewater Maryland and Virginia, 1700 to 1790.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol 35:2 (April 1978), pp. 226-259.
Lafoon, Florence. “Slave Life in Virginia Between 1736-1776 as Shown in the Advertisements of the Virginia Gazettes.” Honors Theses. University of Richmond: UR Scholarship Repository. 1940.
Morgan, Philip D. and Michael L. Nicholls. “Slaves in Piedmont Virginia, 1720-1790.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 46:2 (April 1989), pp. 211-251.
Parent, Anthony S., Jr. Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740. NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 2003.
Stanwood, Owen. “Captives and Slaves: Indian Labor, Cultural Conversion and the Plantation in Virginia.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 114: 5(2006), pp.434-463.
Tilson, Albert H. “Friendship and Commerce: The Conflict and Coexistence of Values on Virginia’s Northern Neck in the Revolutionary Era.” .” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 11:3 (2003), pp. 221-262.
Virginia Historical Society. “Slave Owners Spotsylvania County, 1783. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 4:3 (January 1897), pp. 292-299.
Walsh, Lorena S. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Colonial Chesapeake Slavery.” OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 17:3 (April 2003), pp. 11-15.
Wax, Darold W. “Preferences for Slaves in Colonial America.” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 58:4 (October 1973), pp. 371-401.
Carter/Lee Family Documentation:
“Carter Papers.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 5:4 (April 1898), pp. 408-428.
Epperson, Terrence W. “Race and Discipline of the Plantation.” Historical Archaeology, Vol. 24:4 , Historical Archaeology on Southern Plantations and Farms 91990), pp. 29-36.
Isaac, Rhys. Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion On a Virginia plantation. NY: Oxford University Press. 2004.
“Lee Family of York County,” Virginia. The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 24:1 (July1915), pp. 46-54.
Levy, Andrew: The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves. NY: Random House. 2005.
Mapp, Alf, Jr. “ABright Thread of Virginia History: Notes on the Corotoman River.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 52:2 (April 1944), pp. 104-114.
Morton, Louis. “Robert Wormeley Carter of Sabine Hall: Notes on the Life of a Virginia planter.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 12:3 (August 1946), pp. 345-365.
Quisenberry, A. C. . “The First Pioneer Families of Virginia.” Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Vol.11:32 (May 19113), pp. 55-77.
Wyrick, Connie H. “Stratford and Lees.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 30:1 (March 1971), pp. 71-90.
Domestic Slave Trade:
Baptist, Edward E. The Half Has Never Bee Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. PA: Perseus Books. 2014.
Bancroft, Frederic. Slave Trading in the Old South with New Introduction by Michael Tadman.SC: University of SC Press. 1996.
Deyle, Steven. Cary Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life. NY: Oxford University Press. 2005.
Gudmestad, Robert H. “The Troubled Legacy of Isaac Franklin: The Enterprise of Salve Trading.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. 62:3 (Fall 2003), pp. 193-217.
Johnson, Walter, Ed. The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Trade in the Americas. CT: Yale University Press. 2004.
Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. MA: Harvard University Press. 1999.
Mann, AlisonT. “”Horrible Barbarity”: The 1837 Murder Trial of Dorcas Allen a Georgetown Slave.” Washington History , Vol 27:1 (Spring 2015), pp. 3-14.
Martin, Bonnie. “Slavery’s Invisible Engine: Mortgaging Human Property.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol 76:4 (November 2010), pp. 817-866.
McInnis, Maurie. Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and The American Slave Trade. IL: The University of Chicago Press. 2011.
Schermerhorn, Calvin. The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860.CT: Yale University Press. 2015.
Sublette, Ned and Constance. The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry. IL: Lawrence Hill Books. 2016
Tadman, Michael. Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South. WI: University of Wisconsin Press.1996.
Trammel, Jack. The Richmond Slave Trade: The Economic Backbone of the Old Dominion. SC: The History Press. 2012.
Abercrombie, Janice. Free Blacks of Louisa County Virginia. GA: Iberian Publishing Company. 1994.
Araujo, Ana Lucia. Reparations For Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History. NY: Bloomsbury Academic. 2017.
Araujo, Ana, ed. et. al. Crossing Memories: Slavery nd African Diaspora. NJ Africa World Press. 2011.
Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. MA: The Belkap Press of Harvard University Press. 1998.
DeWulf, Pinkster King and the King of Kongo: The Forgotten History of America’s Dutch-Owned Slaves. MS: University of Mississippi, 2017.
Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery & Freedom, 1750-1925. NY: Pantheon Press. 1976.
Hunter, Tera A. Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Marriages in Nineteenth Century.MA: The Beknap Press of Harvard University press. 2017.
Morgan, Philip. Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century in Chesapeake & Lowcountry. NC: The University of NOrth Carolina Press. 1998
Ramey Berry, Daina. The Price For Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, From Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation. MA: Beacon Press. 2017.
Resendez, Andres. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2016.
Sandefur, Timothy. “Why the Rule Against Perpetuities Mattered in Pleasants V Pleasants.” Real Property and Trust Journal, Vol. 40:4 (Winter 2006), pp. 667-677.
Schwartz, Philip. “Emancipators, Protectors, and Anomalies: Free Black Slaveowners in Virginia.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 95:3 (July 1987), pp. 317-338.
Williams, Heather Andrea. Help Me to Find My people: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery. NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 2012.
Slave Narratives/Slave Sexual Abuse/Interracial Gender Dynamics:
Baptist, Edward E. “Cuffy,” “Fancy Maids,” and “One -Eyed Men”: Rape , Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States.” The American Historical Review, Vol. 106:5 (December 2001), pp. 1619-1650.
Bardaglio, Peter W. “Shameful Matches”: The Regulation of Interracial Sex and Marriage in the South Before 1900″. In Martha Hodes, ed. Sex, Love Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History. NY: New York University Press. 1999.
Blight, David W. A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped To Freedom. NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2007.
Block, Sharon. “Lines of Color, Sex, and Service: Comparative Sexual Coercion in Early America.” In Martha Hodes, ed. Sex, Love Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History. NY: New York University Press. 1999.
Brown, Kathleen. Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia. NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1996.
Derbes, Brett Josef. “Secret Horrors: Enslaved Women and Children in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, 1833-1862.” The Journal of African American History, Vol 98:2, Special Issue: “African Americans, Police Brutality, and the U.S. Criminal Justice System: Historical Perspectives” (Spring 2013), pp. 277-290.
Foster, Thomas A. “The Sexual Abuse of Black Men under American Slavery.” Intersections of Race and Sexuality, Vol. 20:3 (September 2011), pp. 445-464.
Gross, Ariela. “Litigating Whiteness: Trials of Racial Determination in the Nineteenth-Century South.” The Yale Journal, Vol. 108:1 (October 1998), pp. 10-188.
Hartman, Saidiya. “Seduction and the Ruse of Power.” Callaloo, Vol 19:2 , Emerging Women Writers: Special Issue, (Spring 1996), pp. 537-530.
King, Wilma. “Prematurely Knowing of Evil Things”: The Sexual Abuse of African American Girls and Yong Women in Slavery and Freedom.” Journal of African American History, Vol. 99:3 (Summer 2014), pp. 173-196.
Perdue, Charles L., ed. et al. Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves. VA: University of Virginia. 1976.
Stevenson, Brenda E. “What’s Love Got To Do With It: Concubine and Enslaved Women and Girls in the Antebellum South.” The Journal of African American History, Vol. 98:1 (Winter 2013), pp. 99-125.
White, Deborah Gray. Ar’n’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. NY: W. W. Norton & Company. 1999.
Allmendinger, David F. Nat Turner and The Rising in Southampton County. MD: John Hopkins University Press. 2014.
Camp, Stephanie M. “The Pleasures of Resistance: Enslaved Women and Body Politics in the plantation South, 1830-1861.” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 68:3 (August 2002), pp. 533-572.
Diouf, Slyviane. Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons. NY: New York University Press. 2014.
Johnson, Walter. “The Slave Trader, the White Slave, and The politics of Racial Determination in the 1850s.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 87:1 (June 2000), pp. 13-38.
Lee, Deborah A and Warren Hofstra. “Race Memory, and the Death of Robert Berkeley: “A Murder…of…Horrible and Savage Barbarity.” The journal of Southern History, Vol. 65:1 (February 1999), pp. 41-76.
Perrin, Liese M. “Resisting Reproduction: Reconsidering Slave Contraception in the Old South.” Journal of American Studies, Vol. 35:2, Part 2: Warring America: Encounters of Gender and Race (August 2001), pp. 255-274.
Sayers, Daniel et.al. “The Political Economy of Exile in the Great Dismal Swamp. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol. 11:1 (March 2007), pp. 60-97.
Schiebinger, Londa. “Feminist History of Colonial Science.” Feminist Science Studies, Vol. 19:1 (Winter 2004), pp. 233-254.
Snyder, Terri L. “Suicide Slavery, and Memory in North America.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 97: 1 (June 2010), pp. 39-62.
Black Cemeteries/Archaeological Artifacts:
Rainville, Lynn. Hidden History: African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia. VA: University of Virginia. 2014.
Valch, John Michael. “Afro-American Domestic Artifacts in Eighteenth Century Virginia. Material culture, Vol. 19:1 (Spring 1987), pp. 3-23.
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.