This blogpost is written as a supplementary addition to the December 16th, 2018 historic Day of Remembrance at the East Brunswick Public Library as part of The Lost Souls Public Memorial Project. A special thank you goes to Rev. Karen Johnston, Mae Caldwell, the NJ Council for the Humanities, The Unitarian Society, New Brunswick Area Branch of the NAACP, Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society – NJ Chapter Sons & Daughters of the Us Middle Passage Society, East Brunswick Human Relations Council, East Brunswick Senior Center and the East Brunswick, Library. Additional thanks goes to my BlackProGen geneabuddies and fellow Truth Seekers, Muriel “Dee Dee” Roberts, Shannon Christmas, James Amemasor and the staff at the NJ Historical Society, Junius Williams, Rhonda Johnson, James J. Gigantino II, Calvin Schermerhorn, Joshua Rothman, Grahan Russell Hodges, and others who have supported my research over the years. I am most indebted to Rich Sears Walling for his endless quest to bring this horrific travesty to light and to seek social justice for these 177 Lost Souls.
This blogpost is dedicated to all my ancestors and to my M23 cousins who decided to take mtDNA and autosomal DNA tests that have enabled us to reconnect with our DNA cousins who share our Native-American, Malagasy, West African, and European ancestry and find out our true family history. A big shout out to my cousin-homie-sister- genealogy partner Andrea Hughes, Mildred Armour, Robert Armour, Sharon Anderson, Ray Armour, Tashia Hughes, our late Cousin Helen B. Hamilton , Alan Russell, Frances Moore, Lois Salter-Thompson, Dorothy Miller, Brenda Ryals-Burnett, “Donnie”, Sharon Baldree, Rhoda Johnson, and Barbara Pitre and her mother Pearl Kahn.
The Van Wickle Slave Ring was insidious from its inception. The word origin of insidious comes from the Latin insidiosus meaning cunning, deceitful, artful and from from insidiae (plural) meaning to plot, snare, and ambush.
In 1818, there was a conspiracy of slave speculators who stole African-American and mixed-race free, enslaved for a term, and enslaved for life people out of New Jersey and New York and transported them to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama with the full collusion of Judge Jacob Van Wickle and his judicial cronies. They operated in full violation of a 1812 New Jersey state law that clearly stated that no person of African descent or other person of color who was a servant, slave for life or slave for a term could be taken out of the state without their consent if they were of age or their parents’ consent if underage. This law was put into effect to further strengthen the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1804that declared that any child born, after July 4th, 1804, to a slave mother had to first serve a term — 25 years if male and 21 years if female — as a servant for their mother’s owner and then they would be free. In order to make a profit from slave speculating, Van Wickle and his devious gang devised a plan where they would procure People of Color in New Jersey and New York by any means necessary and sell them South as slaves for the rest of their lives without their knowledge or consent. Most of the 177 individuals that we know of today were in their teens or early 20s though there were many children under the age of 10 –the youngest two being just 2 days and 6 weeks old. Freedom was snatched from all of them with a blink of an eye and with Jacob Van Wickle’s signature all over the place. Among them, were some of my maternal ancestors. Any emblem of justice was denied to them.
Two years ago, I wrote my blogpost Part II: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan & Our Family’s Malagasy Rootswhere I discussed my maternal ancestors’ migration out of New Amsterdam to the Tappan Patent (Bergen County, NJ/Rockland and Orange Counties, NY) and our Full Sequence M23 mtDNA Cousin matches at that time. Two years later, this blogpost expands on our most recent findings. We now know that while Lewis Compton, James Brown, Charles Morgan, Nicholas Van Wickle, and others, on November 13th-17th, 1818, were in a Pennsylvania courtroon answering to the charges of removing People of Color from New Jersey and New York without their consent, my ancestors were among the 48 individuals already on their way to serving lives of involuntary servitude in the South. Crammed onboard a ship outfitted with plantation supplies and equipment, they were on the last documented slave ship out of South Amboy, the Schoharie, which sailed on October 25th, 1818. That they were unwitting pawns in a system designed to further dehumanize them is the epitome of the insidiousness of slavery indeed!
If Fred Could See Us Now: On the Uses of DNA Testing for Slave Ancestor Research
In 1855, the late great Frederick Douglass stated, “Genealogical trees do not flourish among slaves.” Boy, if Fred could see us now. DNA testing has opened wide doors for those of us who are seeking to find out more about our formerly enslaved/enslaved ancestors. The 1870 brick wall that has blocked us from discovering our ancestry in the past no longer exists as a barrier. DNA testing, along with a host of other documents that help us trace our enslaved ancestors, has proven that walls are meant to be broken down. Thanks to mtDNA, Y-DNA, and autosomal DNA testing, what was once impossible to prove has now been rendered possible. The pepper in salted histories can be now seen by all and can no longer be denied. DNA testing also allows us to see the true humanity inherent in earch individual and to connect us with our DNA cousins of all backgrounds.
In addition, DNA testing provides us with DNA migration maps that document where our ancestors originated and the geographical areas they dispersed to over time. I live in NYC where my Native ancestors have resided for the millenia and where my West/East African and European ancestors have lived since 1620. That’s a 400+ year family sojourn that speaks volumes about our family history and resonates in #NoEllisIslandHere. We are, and have been, true Americans before America was even America. Facts matter!
Early Colonial Native and African-American Endogamy in Rural Communities
Our ancestors were the descendants of Native and African people formerly enslaved/enslaved by Dutch, Swedish, French Huegenot, and Puritan/Quaker slave owners in colonial NJ, NY and CT. These colonial rural communities were tri-racial and multi-racial from their inception as slave owners migrated up and down the Hudson River Valley and into New Jersey in search of land, wealth and religious freedom. They, of course, brought their formerly enslaved/enslaved servants with them. Though there were laws on the books and societal sanctions against interracial relationships of any sort, these types of relationships did in fact occur. The migration journey that our ancestors took was out of New Amsterdam (including Westchester County, NY and Greenwich, CT which were also intrinsic parts of the Dutch colony), to the Tappan Patent, and then migrated up and down the Hudson river during the 1600 and early 1700s. They later migrated further into New Jersey ending up in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon, Monmouth, Burlington, Gloucester, and Cumberland Counties in the early to mid-1700s just before the American Revolution before finally settling in the city of Newark in the late 1780s and early 1800s.
DNA testing confirms that the same surnames and shared DNA shows up in our DNA cousin matches across color lines which would be expected in small rural communities. These surnames can be traced to the founding families of all these counties. To date our list of our NJ and NY colonial surnames include the following: Ackerman, Anderson, Banks, Banta, Beekman, Blanchard, Blauvelt, Bogardus/Bogart, Bolin/Bolling, Brower/Bouwer, Brown, Barkalew/Buckelew, Chapman, Cisco/Sisco, Claeson/Clawson, Clarkson, Conover, Cook, Corlies, Cortelyou, D’Angola, Day, De Vries/DeFreese, Degrasse, DeGroat/DeGroot, Demarest, DeWitt, Deveaux/Devoe, Dey/Deyo, DuBois, Fortune, Francis, Francisco, Groesbeck/Goosbeck, Gould, Hampton, Haring, Hedden, Hendricks, Hicks, Hill, Hoagland, Hopper, Hooper, Huff, Jackson, Jennings, ]ohnson, Lewis, Lyon/Lyons, Mabie, Mandeville, Manuel/Mann, Mathis, Moore, Morris, O’Fake/Feich, Phillips, Pickett, Ray, Remson, Richardson, Rickett, Schmidt, Scudder, Schenck, Shipley, Slater, Smith, Snyder, Stillwell, Stives, Stockton, Suydam, Ten Broeck/Timbrook, Ten Eyck/Teneyck, Thomas, Thompson, Titus, Turner, Van Blanck, Van Buskirk, Van Clieff/Van Cleef, Vanderzee, Van Dunk/VanDonck, Van Duyne, Van Dyck, Van Horn, Van Gaasbeek/Van Gasbeck, Van Liew/Louw, Van Ness, Van Riper, Van Salee/Van Surley, Van Wickle/ Van Winckle, Washington, Wheeler, Williams, Wortendyke, Wyckoff, and Zabriskie, among others.
The issue of endogamy within colonial America must be discussed as it relates to formerly enslaved/enslaved people in these Northern states. Given that so few People of Color resided in these states in the 17th-19th centuries, it is not surprising that intermarriages and/or relationships were very prominent among the same African-American and mixed-race families in those places. Unlike endogamy among Ashkenazi Jews and Puerto Ricans due to close cousin or family intermarriage, People of Color at this time tended to marry or form relationships with people living nearest to them just like everyone else. Because of the nature of slavery and lack of genealogy records on formerly enslaved/enslaved people, descendants of these people would not necessarily know that they shared a common gene pool with the same families, especially as they migrated away from these rural communities towards burgeoning cities, like Newark and NYC, where they increased their pool of marriageable partners and became less endogamous. As descendants of these people, we need to be cognizant of the fact that we may be related to a person based on many shared ancestors and not just one or two.
The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Middlesex County, NJ: The Case of the Slave Ship Schoharie
An October 26, 1818 Schoharie slave ship manifest listed the names of 48 individuals who were stolen away from their families, their communities, and their home state. The ship first sailed to Norfolk, VA and then to La Balize on the Mississippi River where the human cargo was checked before traveling onward to New Orleans and elsewhere. Unlike the other Van Wickle Slave Ring victims whose names were changed to hide their true identities or who forever remain nameless, the 48 individuals on the last documented slave ship out of New Jersey had their real names written down. At the time of their departure, those responsible for their removal made no attempt to hide who they were or what they did. They were very transparent in their conniving ways knowing full well that the laws were made by them and for them. Our ancestors’ lives weren’t worth anything beyond their production labor value. They were seen as no different from any work animal or old tool — easily replaceable and disposable.
These innocent victims were:
William MClare, m, 25, 5;8:, light negro
Jafe Manning, m, 21, 5 5 ¾, black, same
Robert Cook, m, 17, 4 9 ½, light, same
Ben Morris, m, 22, 5’1” black, same
Sam Prince, m, 19, 5’10”, light, same
Sam Peter, m, 30, 5’4”, black, same
George Phillips, m, 18, 5’3”, black, same
James Thompson, m, 5’5 ¼” light, same
Edward Gilbert, m, 22, 5’3 ½” blk, same
Dan Francis, m, 20, 5’1” light, same
James, m, 15, 4’11” black, same
Charles, m, 19, 5’2 ¾” black, same
Susan Wilcox, f, 36, 5’2” light
Nelly, f, 18, 5’ ¼” black, same
Betsey Lewis, f, 28, 5’1” black
Jane Clarkson, f, 23, 5’5” black, same
Eliza Thompson, f, 21, 5’ 1 ¾” light, same
Jane Cook, f, 15, 5’ ¾”, light, same
Ann Moore, f, 29, 4’ 9 ½”, black, same
Julian Jackson, f., 21, 5’ ¼” dark, same
Jane Smith, f, 33, 4’ 10 3/4” light, same
Peggy Boss, f, 21, 5’ 3” dark, same
Mary Harris, f, 21, 4’ 10 ½” light, same
Sally Cross, f, 20, 5’1” blk, same
Rosanna Cooper, f., 22, 5’3” blk, same
Mary Simmons, f, 18, 4’11” dark
Hannah Jackson, f, 18, 5’ 1 ¼” do
Hanna Crigier, f, 18, 4, 10 ¼” black
Harriet Silas, f, 15, 4’11” light
Fanny Thompson, 14, 4’7” dark,
Elizabeth Ann Turner, 16, 4’8” black
Susan Jackson, 20, 4’8” black
Hanna Johnson, female, 20, 4’9” black
Hannah, eighteen, 4’9 ¼” dark
Cane, m, 22, 5’1/2”
Jack, m, 22, 5’6” dark, same
Lewis, 22, 5’8” black, same
Peter, 14, 4’ 6 ¾” black, same
Frank, 21, 5’2” dark
Caleb Groves, 50, 5’ 2 ½” dark
John, 21, 5’3” black
Collins, 35, 5’3” blk
Othello, 16, 4’10” light
Anthony Fortune, 21, 5’2 ¼” dark
Joseph Henricks, 19, 5’5”, dark
Jane, f, 23, 5’5 1/4” light
Susan, f, 21, 4’10 ½” light
Lena, f, 38, 5’2” dark
When I first saw this list of names, I cried tears that were based on my belief that there is no separation between us, the living, and those who came before and those who shared a journey with us when they were among the living. Death is nothing but a natural happenstance. Nothing has changed. My tears flowed knowing the historic trauma all 48 people went through torn away from their family and community to labor in the sugar and cotton plantations of the South. And I cried most of all because the surnames were ones I knew all too well because they were our own.
Over the past two years, we have been working hard to discover how our Full Sequence mtDNA cousin matches are related to each other. Looking for these ancestral connections is not for the faint of heart. Unlike Y-DNA where paternal surnames stay the same and paternity can often be established through male cousin matches, mtDNA cousin matching is a different beast due to women changing surnames upon marriage. Now, just add the institution of slavery, colonization, and genocide which were crimes against humanity that interrupted our family trees in a massive way for centuries, and you got a genealogical puzzle with a million missing pieces. Just ponder that for a minute. Despite this, with both mtDNA and autosomal DNA testing, we were able to connect many surnames to other enslaved/formerly enslaved families as well as to their slave owners. Oh, if Fred could see us now!
Please note that the screenshots below are taken from AncestryDNA which I use to unearth family connections among the many family trees of known relatives as well as our DNA cousin matches. They also show the colonial endogamy I’ve spoken about above. Because AncestryDNA does not have a chromosome browser, we are all prevented from doing the level of DNA triagulation that is necessary for 100% certainty which is a shame. At this point, all we can do is compare surnames among our DNA matches and see what surnames and geographical areas we have in common. We have had some luck with DNA cousins who uploaded to Gedmatch, but with the recent changes there, I know that Gedmatch’s triangulation usefulness for People of Color who have enslaved ancestors has been compromised (Please see Nicka Smith’s blogposton this topic).
As children of the African Diaspora, we are considered to be “admixed” and are rarely 100% of any one ethnic/racial group. As I have said many, many times before, ethnic admixture itself doesn’t tell you anything beyond the continental categories of Sub-Saharan African, Native American/Asian, and European. You MUST be committed to digging a whole lot deeper to find your family truth and that involves connecting with your DNA cousins whoever and wherever they are in addition to looking at genealogical records and local history! Click here to see my Genetic Genealogy page for the necessary tools/website links to do so if you are up to the challenge and I am challenging you all to do so. Now, you know.
Here are some examples of early African-American colonial endogamy and clearly show some of the surnames of those whom were sold South from Middlesex County.
Reclaiming Our Lost Community of Ancestors and Their Descendants
In 2015, my cousins Andrea and Helen took FTDA’s Full Sequence mtDNA test to see what else we could find out about our maternal Malagasy line. Three years later, we have 14 Full Sequence mtDNA cousin matches who share our M23 haplogroup. I have been in touch with 9 of our 14 FS mtDNA cousins.We have learned that 4 out of our 9 mtDNA cousins have ties to the NY/NJ area along with my family. Three mtDNA cousins, Brenda, “Donnie”, and Dorothy are actually 5th cousins who share the same set of 4th great-grandparents who were born in Nova Scotia. Their 5th great-grandmother Rose Fortune was born in VA and who, as a 10-year-old girl, boarded a ship in NYC to Nova Scotia in 1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War. Her parents were Black Loyalists and their family is documented in The Book of Negroes. We have found some documentation that their 6th great-grandparents were from Philadelphia and were owned by the Devoe family.
The Devoe family were French Huguenots who arrived in New Amsterdam in the late 1600s and who settled up and down the Hudson River before some of their descendants moved to NJ and PA, including Philadelphia. Clearly, the Devoes had acquired Malagasy slaves in NY and the children of those slaves would have been inherited by their descendants.
The DeVoe family was also in East Brunswick, South Amboy, and elsewhere in Middlesex County as were the Fortune family. Could Rose Fortune’s maternal line come from the this line of the DeVoe family? We can’t say for sure at this time, but it may be worth further study.
We have identified the family line of the two other M23 mtDNA cousins, Lois/Frances and Dorothy, who also match my family along the Timbrook-Titus line and this line originates in the Greater New Brunswick, NJ area. In the 1870s, my family has a Rev. Isaac B. Timbrook living with our Thompson-King ancestors in Newark, NJ and his niece Violet Timbrook is living in a house owned by our 3rd great-grandfather Cato Thompson, who was married to our M23 3rd great-grandmother Susan Pickett. In 1850, Isaac was a laborer on Judge Van Wickle’s nephew, Stephen Van Wickle’s farm.
The Timbrooks are related to our Malagasy descended Thompson-Pickett-Snyder-Scudder line from the Tappan Patent. Lois’s 4th great-grandparents were Thomas Titus and Sarah TenBroeck/Timbrook. Isaac is her nephew, the son of her brother Edward Timbrook. We have been able to identify the slave owner who purchased Sarah and Edward’s mother, Phebe. His name was Abraham Barkelew hence the B. in Rev. Issac’s name is most likely Barkelew. We have also come across Frederick Barkelew’s 1791 will that mentions “a free negro” by the name of “Fortune.” We also found Abraham Barkelew’s 1809 will where he bequeathed a “negro woman Phebe” to his granddaughter Anne. Dorothy is connected to a Fanny Titus who is related to this family line as well. We are still sorting out the family relationships due to the sharing of many surnames (colonial endogamy), but it is now fairly certain that this is the extended family line that links us to our common Malagasy ancestor. In addition, it should be noted that our line sided with Patriots during the Revolutionary War.
Our mtDNA cousin Alan has a maternal grandmother who was half-Malagasy/half British and who was born on the island of St. Helena. This island was the first stop on the return trip from Madagascar. An import tax was paid in the form of Malagasy slaves on ships that arrived in St. Helena’s port. For Alan to be related to all of us means that we either shared a common ancestor in Madagascar whose descendants ended up in two different locations or maybe two females ancestors became separated when a ship from Madagascar stopped in St. Helena on its way to New York. Alan’s connection to our M23 cohort is of particular interest as it shows the importance of St. Helena as a stopover point on the way from Madagascar to New York. Alan can trace his maternal ancestry back to his 3rd great-grandmother, Sarah Bateman, who was born in 1815 on the island of St. Helena. Her maternal ancestors were Malagasy for certain.
Through mtDNA testing, we have now FOUND our cousins whose ancestor were sold South in the Van Wickle Slave ring. Rhoda, Barbara and her mother Pearl’s ancestors were bought by the John Morrisette Family of Monroe County, AL and passed down to their descendants as property. Their ancestors ended up in Monroe, Wilcox, Dallas, and Hale Counties in Alabama. Today, Hale County, AL is a 4 hour drive to New Orleans, but their ancestors would have walked in a coffle there to labor in sugar and cotton plantations.
Barbara also tested at AncestryDNA as well. She has numerous DNA cousin matches that link her maternal side to New Jersey via some of the same surnames we have like Ten Broeck/Timbrook, Slater, Conover, Van Ness, Deyo, Schenck, Shipley, Wyckoff, and many, many more. We have also been cross-checking with many other DNA cousins who have MS, AL, LA, and VA familiar roots and they are highly likely related to some of these other individuals who were sold South. We can rest assured that it is possible to flesh out our family trees despite slavery. In the future, I hope and pray that the more People of Color take DNA tests, the more we can prove that slavery was not 100% successful because we are still here to represent those who came before us.
On Being A Descendant of Survivors of Slavery…
I tell people that I do “ancestor-guided” research and that my ancestors are with me wherever I go. I consider it an honor to dig up and tell their true stories. I am a proud descendant of the enslaved and the free. My ancestors lived in households that were of mixed status where some were free, some were slaves for a term, and some were slaves for life in NJ, NY and CT. In 1818, they knew without a doubt who was sold and where these folks ended up. They were the witnesses to this atrocity at the time that it occurred. They did not sit back and accept their place in history. Instead, they made America greater by becoming early abolitionists who built schools, churches, joined fraternal organizations, mutual aid societies, and then got to work on the Underground Railroad. We have been blessed to have 4 Underground Railroad homes (Newark, NJ, Peekskill, NY, Greenwich, CT, and Buffalo/Rochester/Upper Canada West) operated by both sides of the color line. In due time, I will be writing a book on our larger family history.
Today, all of us are witnesses to the Van Wickle Slave Ring episode in American history. The 177 individuals who were smuggled out of NJ can rest in peace knowing that they are remembered and that their historical erasure is no more.
In addition to the above 48 individuals, there were 129 other people smuggled out of the state of New Jersey in 1818.
First group sent Louisiana on March 10, 1818/*Mothers are grouped with their children
Simon no age listed, free man
Margaret Coven, no age, free woman
Dianna 7 months
Regina 6 weeks
Susan 7 months
Susan Watt 35
Harriett Jane 3
Second Group, departed May 25, 1818
Sam Johnson 32
Mary Davis 23
Elizer (f) 19
Susan Silvey 30
Jacob 18 months
Jonas 16 free person
Juda (f) 26
George Bryan 18
Joseph 2 days
Peter 17 free person
Jack Danielly 21
Jude [no judicial certificate]
Third Group departed in late August 1818 and arrived in New Orleans in September.
39 unknown individuals.
Fourth Group departed in mid-October overland through PA, 1818
Phebe 21 free person
Let us say their names so that they will ALWAYS be remembered!
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.
This blog post is dedicated to my M23 Malagasy ancestors who survived the Middle Passage and made it to New York and New Jersey. This is Part I of a two part series and is focused on my family’s Malagasy ancestry. My next blog post will discuss how my ancestors arrived in New York based on the actions of unscrupulous NY merchants and pirates.
About Madagascar and DNA
Over the past decade, there have been numerous studies done that describe the origins of the Malagasy, the people of Madagascar. For example, in 2005, Hurles et al.discussed the dual origins of the Malasy people as being Southeast Asian and East African. His study was followed by one done in 2009 by Sergio Tofanelli et al. In this article, they wrote:
“Our results confirm that admixture of Malagasy was due to the encounter of people surfing the extreme edges of two of the broadest historical waves of language expansion: the Austronesian and Bantu expansions. In fact, all Madagascan living groups show amixture of uni-parental lineages typical present in African and Southeast Asian populations with only a minor contribution of Y lineages with different origins. Two observations suggest that the the Y lineages with “another origin” entered the island in recent times: 1) they are particularly frequent in the Tanosy area (Fort Dauphin), and around Antananarivo, where commercial networks and the slave trade had a focus; 2) they matched with haplogroups typical of present Indo-European (Europeans) and Arabic speaking (Somali) people.”
In addition, a 2012 study by Cox, et al.noted that most Malagasy people can trace their mtDNA back to 30 Indonesian women who made up the founding population of Madagascar. Given the fact that Southeast Asian Y-DNA was also found among the Malagasy, it is assumed that there were also some Indonesian men among this group of women. These women went on to have children with the Indonesian men present as well as men from Africa. Later migrations from Africa also included Southeast African Bantu mtDNA haplogroups from north of the Zambezi River. In 2013, Melanie Capredon et al.also discussed the Arab-Islamic contribution to the Malagasy gene pool as a result of Indian Ocean slave trade.
In addition to the Indonesian and African genetic links found among the Malagasy, there are also linguistic and cultural links to these regions as well. 90% of Malagasy vocabulary come from Maanyan, a language spoken in the Baritone River region of southern Borneo. The other 10% comes from the vocabulary of the Bantu, Malay, South Sulawesian, Javanese, and Sanskrit. Tofanelli et al. also raised the possibility that Indonesians may have reached East Africa and were admixed before their arrival in Madagascar probably around 2,300 years ago This initial mainland contact could explain the occurrence of banana cultivation (Asian Musa spp. phytolits) in southern Cameroon and Uganda before 500 BCE; the introduction of Bos indicus, a cattle of Southeast Asian origin, into East Africa from Asia; and the excavation of chicken bones, originating in Southeast Asia, from Neolithic limestone cave site at Zanzibar. They write, “This Malagasy admixture could have had a history in East Africa before it crossed the Mozambique Channel, even though genetic signatures of these first mainland contacts are still missing (2009:21).”
Madagascar and the Slave Trade and After
Madagascar was part of both the global trade in slaves in both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The Indian Ocean slave trade existed before European colonization and even before the emergence of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. It saw Malagasy slaves taken to the Mascarene Islands, the Seychelles, Comoros Islands, East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf, and India. The European-driven Indo-Atlantic slave trade began in the 16th century. The Portuguese, Dutch , French, British and Americans brought Malagasy slaves to the shores of South Africa, St. Helena’s Island, Brazil and other South American countries, the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Barbados, and North America. It should be noted that both slave trades were facilitated in part by different Malagasy ethnic groups who engaged in the selling of slaves to outsiders in exchange for arms and material goods. As a result of both slave trades— and later as free immigrants— Malagasy DNA spread around the globe.
On Finding Our Malagasy mtDNA
Over two years ago, my cousin Andrea and I decided to take the 23andme DNA test. We were desperate to find more information about our Thompson family history and felt that a DNA test would provide us with more clues. I knew beforehand that my mtDNA was European as my maternal 2nd great-grandmother was a first generation Irish-American. However, Andrea and I were excited to see what her mtDNA would be because she was a matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green, while I was not. Well, imagine our surprise when her mtDNA came back M23, a haplogroup that is only found in Madagascar. We were shocked as this was totally unexpected. It seems that our Malagasy ancestors came to the New York City/New Jersey area between 1678-98 or 1716-21. The knowledge that our 2nd great-grandmother had matrilineal ancestry that traced back to Madagascar necessitated that we do further research. Several questions came to mind. Did our Malagasy ancestry still show up in our genes? When did our Malagasy ancestors arrive in the States, specifically NY/NJ? Why did slave traders go to Madagascar to procure slaves?
Our Malagasy Roots and DNA Admixture
We can trace our Malagasy ancestry back to our 5th great-grandmother, Jane Pickett, who was born a slave in NJ or NY around 1775. Her daughter was Tun, also a slave born around 1790 in Tappan, NY, according to a 1860 census record, though she may have also been born in NJ. Both Jane and Tun were born slaves and eventually worked as house servants in their later years. Tun had a daughter named Susan Pickett, our third great-grandmother, who was born in Morris County, NJ in 1809. Susan was born under The Gradual Emancipation Actand thus had to serve her master for 21 years. We don’t know who her father was, but Susan is listed as being “mulatto.” Once freed, Susan married our third great-grandfather, Cato Thompson. Susan and Cato had six children.
Their children were Richard, Thomas, Jacob, Laura, Mary, and Catherine. My three maternal siblings, my aunt Helen, my first cousin, and I are the descendants of Laura’s son Richard. Andrea, her mother Mildred, uncle Robert, brother, and daughter are the descendants of Laura’s daughter Goldie. My cousin Yvonne and her grandson are the descendants of Laura’s son Stewart. My cousin Helen is a descendant of Laura’s sister Mary and my cousin Lillian is a descendant of Laura’s sister Catherine.
As of today, we have had 15 descendants of Susan Pickett DNA tested, of whom six have mtDNA M23. Having so many relatives DNA tested allows us to see how Malagasy ancestry is passed down generationally. According to 23andme, all of us have ethnic admixture, in varying amounts, from Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Those cousins who are matrilineal descendants of our shared M23 ancestors do show higher amounts in these admixture areas. While I don’t think any DNA test can tell you with 100% certainty what your admixture is, I do believe that they can provide clues about your ethnicity especially when combined with knowledge of local and family history.
Please note that I have previously blogged about my own admixture tests. In this blog post I will be mainly discussing my relatives’ admixture results.
Here are the 23andme Ancestry Composition results of my cousins Helen, Mildred, and Robert. You can clearly see the indicators of Malagasy ancestry.
As a comparison, here are the Ancestry Compositions for my aunt Helen and cousin Lillian. As you can see, their admixture is from the same areas, but in lesser amounts.
A look at the X chromosomes of Mildred, Robert, Lillian and Helen also show how our Southeast Asian ancestry (in yellow) has been passed down from our Malagasy ancestors. All four are the descendants of all three of Susan Pickett’s daughters—Laura (Mildred and Robert), Mary (Helen), and Catherine (Lillian).
In addition to testing at 23andme, my cousins Mildred and Andrea, aunt Helen, and sister Elisa also had a DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done in 2013. Again, the Malagasy indicators tend to be Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Please note that Bantu, Pedi, and Nguni are all Bantu-speaking groups that were part of the Bantu expansion.
Here are their Native Populations Admixture Analysis from DNA Tribes:
In 2014, I had my DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done again after they instituted their regional clusters. Here are my results as a Malagasy non-matrilineal descendant:
On chromosome 20, you can see how our Malagasy DNA, represented by our Southeast Asian admixture in yellow, has been inherited by the same ancestor.
A Word About Our Malagasy vs. Native American Ancestry
My family’s Malagasy (M23) ancestry is separate from our Native American ancestry. I make note of this because there have been claims made that haplogroup M was found in North America, and thus was Native American, based on a 2007 articlethat has since been debunked. I have written two prior blog posts on M23 and other M subclade haplogroups that mention how I disagree with this assessment and provide comments from well-known genetic genealogists and mtDNA experts about the M haplogroup. In the chromosomal view below, you can see how the Southeast Asian admixture (in yellow) is separate from our Native American admixture (in orange).
As it relates to my discussion of my family’s Malagasy ancestry in my next blog post, Esther J. Lee et al. note in their article “MtDNA Origins of an Enslaved Labor Force From the 18th century Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground in Colonial Albany, NY: Africans, Native Americans, and Malagasy?,” “individuals identified as haplogroup M7 and M resemble lineages found in Madagascar. Historical documents suggest several hundred people were imported from Madagascar through illegal trading to New York by the end of the 17th century. ” Though Lee had access to the now debunked 2007 article, she rightly acknowledges that the M7 haplogroup is found in East Asia, Southeast Asia and Madagascar. It is so important, as the Lee article shows, to look at local historical events to see how individuals with M haplogroups may have arrived in the Americas via the slave trade and who are NOT Native American.
I should also note that African-Americans, with the help of DNA tests, are now discovering their Malagasy ancestry. For example, my 98-year old cousin Helen has 5 DNA cousin matches with Malagasy ancestry from Madagascar, South Africa, and France on her 23andme DNA Relatives List and many of my family members have DNA cousins with known Malagasy haplogroups. Likewise, my friend Melvin Collier has written an excellent blog postonfinding and confirming his Malagasy ancestry via a Malagasy DNA cousin. As a result of these Malagasy ancestral discoveries, there is a now a Malagasy Roots Project at FTDNAthat seeks to connect African-Americans with their Malagasy DNA cousins.
Using Gedmatch Admixture Calculators to Detect Malagasy Ancestry
I have been asked repeatedly how one can tell if they have Malagasy ancestry in the absence of a known Malagasy mtDNA or Y-DNA. One of the ways is to take an autosomal DNA test from any of the three major testing companies — 23andme (highly recommended as you also get your haplogroups), AncestryDNA, or FTDNA Autosomal Family Finder— and then upload the results to Gedmatch, a free site, where you can run additional admixture calculators.
Based on my family’s known Malagasy ancestry, I feel confident enough to state that Malagasy indicators are Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. It is crucial to realize that it is a combination of all these admixtures that may indicate Malagasy ancestry. Just having Southeast Asian, South African, East African ancestry or any one individual admixture is not enough to indicate Malagasy ancestry. I would also mention that one should research the local history/area where your ancestors resided. Slaves from Madagascar were known to have been imported into Boston, New York/NJ, and Virginia. However, there were many Malagasy slaves who may have arrived in the States via the Caribbean, Brazil, Europe, India, as well as a host of other countries. Many Malagasy also came to this country as free immigrants. In essence, you need to really do your research.
Some additional things to do would be to also have other relatives tested to confirm your Malagasy ancestry as well as to check your Gedmatch One-To-Many list to see if your DNA cousins have a Malagasy haplogroup.
Below are some of Gedmatch admixture calculators that I use to detect indicators of Malagasy ancestry. I am going to use my mother Joyce as an example because you can easily see her Malagasy admixture indicators. Plus, I think it is really cool to use a Gedmatch Lazarus recreated genome based on her four children, sister, niece and a host of 2nd and 3rd cousins. For the record, I use the following Gedmatch admixture calculators: MDLP-World 22, MDLP-K23b, Dodecad v3, Dodecad World9, Dodecad Africa9 (to detect South African and East African ancestry), Eurogenes K13, Eurogenes K36, and HarappaWorld. Most of these calculators detect Southeast, Oceanian, Austronesian, South Asian, Melanesian/Polynesian, Papuan, Malayan, South African, and East African admixture.
Malagasy MtDNA and Y-DNA Haplogroups
Disclaimer: Please note that the list below has some of the haplogroups found in Madagascar that come from several scientific studies (see references below). The nomenclature of these haplogroups may have changed since the articles were written. Also, if you have taken a 23andme test, their v4 chip may not give a definitive haplogroup assignment. For example, I am H1 on 23andme since I tested with their v3 chip, however, my siblings are just H since they tested with the v4 chip. Likewise, some folks who are B4a1a1b may show up as only B4a1a1 on 23andme. Note these haplogroups can be found in other places as well. There are only two haplogroups that I know for sure that are found only in Madagascar and they are M23 and B4a1a1a haplogroup subclades. I am by no means an expert on mtDNA or Y-DNA, but I think this list is valuable to those seeking more answers on their Malagasy ancestry.
[Update: On March 2, 2017, Roberts Estes updated her Native American Haplogroup blogpost and eliminated all references to M haplogroups—years after I informed of her mistake. I was glad to see that finally.]
This was not the first post that I wanted to write on Madagascar, the land of my ancestors, but I felt it necessary to do so. In the future, I will be writing about my Malagasy ancestors and how they ended up in colonial NY and NJ.
(Just a reminder, there are hyperlinks wherever you see RED highlighted text.)
In early October, I attended The Genealogy Event in NYC that featured a lot of well-known genetic genealogists, including CeCe Moore. In her talk about what goes on behind the scenes of PBS’s Finding Your Roots, she discussed Ben Jealous’s Malagasy mtDNAand how slave ships directly imported Malagasy slaves into VA. I immediately, and proudly, told her that I, too, was a descendant of Malagasy slaves directly imported into NYC/NJ in the late 1600s-early 1700s. Ever since my cousin Andrea, a direct matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, found out her mtDNA was M23, the two of us have researched everything Madagascar. Surely, we both felt the call of our ancestors. Basically, in finding our mtDNA M23 ancestors, we felt our ancestors calling out to us—-telling us to speak for them, urging us to tell the world about how they arrived in NYC as slaves, under what conditions they lived and labored in NY/NJ, etc. In all of my blog posts, I have tried to do my best to appease our ancestors. How can we not listen to them? So, when CeCe asked me to be the Co-Administrator of FTDNA’s new Malagasy Roots Project, I happily accepted. My mama didn’t raise no fool. Besides, I firmly believe that my ancestors would be a little annoyed with me if I hadn’t accepted the position. And we can’t let that happen. No, we can’t.
As a descendant of Madagascar slaves brought to this country, I am particularly disturbed to see M23, a haplogroup found only in Madagascar, be placed under the rubric of“New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups”by Roberta Estes, a person who is well-known in the field of genetic genealogy. In no way, shape, or form, do I want people to be misled into thinking that this haplogroup has anything to do with it being a Native American one. Her hypothesis goes against current literature on M23. As a result of several of her recent blog posts, I have included references to the Malagasy origins of M23 at the end of this blog post.
On September 18, 2014, Roberta posted “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups”on her blog, DNAeXplained-Genetic Genealogy. These known Native American founder haplogroups were A,B,C,D, and X. I had no problem with her designation of these haplogroups as being Native American ones, as there is enough literature to back up her claim and I was already aware of those Native American haplogroups. To be honest, I only read the beginning of her blog post back on Sept. 18th which didn’t mention haplogroup M.
Even the haplogroup diagram, at the beginning of her blog post, made no mention of haplogroup M.
It was only further down her blog post, when she listed all the Native American haplgroups alphabetically, that I now see mention of the M haplogroup.
“Given that, and given the autosomal ethnicity analysis of several individuals, and given that mitochondrial haplogroups A, B, C, and D are not known to be routinely found in the European population, I decided to extract all of the associated mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. Furthermore, parts of haplogroup X are known to be Native, and haplogroup M, which is quite rare, has long been suspected, but unproven.
In some cases, looking at the Anzick matches, we know that because of the very high level of Native heritage, the individual is either not admixed or only very slightly admixed. In other words, it makes perfect sense that their mitochondrial DNA is indeed Native as well as their Y haplogroup. At nearly 100% Native, both of those lines would have to be Native.”
In the same blog post, she continues:
We found repeated instances of many mitochondrial haplogroups not previously identified as Native. In fact, with the exception of a couple subgroups of the M and X haplogroups, all of the Native haplogroups were found repeatedly in these samples.
“The discovery of haplogroup M in the Americas is consistent with the hypothesis of a single colonization for the Americas since this haplogroup is found in Southern Siberia, the presumed homeland of the ancestors of North Americans (Bonatto and Salzano, 1997; Meriwether et. Al., 1995a). However, it also demonstrates the limitations of using genetic data solely from contemporary populations to infer the events and early population history of the Americas. Using genetic data from contemporary populations to infer early prehistoric demographic events is even less accurate when the population history has been variable over time….Therefore data based on living Northwestern North America might bias interpretations of population prehistory in the Americas (p. 646-647).”
Second, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because someone matches Clovis Anzick autosomally that their mtDNA is a Native American given. For example, I have mtDNA H1ag1 which is a European mtDNA, however, when the first Clovis Anzick matches came in, I matched Clovis Anzick at just over 7 cMs. Likewise, someone with mtDNA M23, like anyone of my 5 DNA tested M23 cousins, could have Native American ancestry from a completely different source other than their mtDNA. Her hypothesis just doesn’t add up. Besides, Roberta herself mentions over and over again that haplogroup M has not been proven to be Native American. In fact, there is also a great body of research about the East Asian to East African geographical distribution of haplogroup M.
The same day that Roberta published her blog post on “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups,” she also crossed posted it in the Facebook Group, Native American Ancestry Explorer:DNA, Genetics, Genealogy, and Anthropology. I immediately posted a comment indicated that I thought M23 was only found in Madagascar and I asked her if M23 was now associated with being Native American. I must admit I was a little taken back because her inclusion of M23 as a Native American haplogroup went against everything I have read about M23—-that M23 is only found in Madagascar.
Her response back to me was:
What I gleaned from her response was that she included haplogroup M on her list because M was found in a Native burial BEFORE Full Sequencing of that mtDNA. I still am not sure if she was referring to haplogroup M in general, or M23 in particular, but anyone who has taken a Full Sequence mtDNA test knows that this test is the most definitive test regarding a person’s mtDNA. Again, how can you include haplogroup M on a Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup list if the one sample referred to has not been fully sequenced? What if the sample was a mistake or was related to a different subgroup? Roberta herself states that she spoke to a scientist who would have loved to have more full-sequencing and more advanced haplogroup designations. At the same time, she also states that haplogroup M is “waiting in the wings” for more confirmation that it is a Native American haplogroup????
Roberta then asked me if my mtDNA ancestors had Native American ancestry. As you can see, I clearly pointed out that my M23 ancestors were “mulatto”, a classification that also included Native Americans. However, I thought I was clear in differentiating between my M23 Madagascar ancestry and the fact that my family also has Native American ancestry that comes from a different source. As you can see, her response back to me was just a ” You know, it can never be easy, can it 🙂 Thanks.” I decided to let the matter rest a few months ago. I just discussed her position among friends and let it go. In retrospect, I should have been more adamant in questioning her. I just didn’t hear my ancestors calling out to me then. Not hearing them was a big mistake on my part!
Early this past Sunday, December 7th, when I logged onto FB and checked the Native American Ancestry group posts, I then noticed Roberta had updated her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup”list and I immediately felt déjàvu. But, this time, I heard my ancestors calling out to me LOUD and CLEAR to set the record straight. So, I immediately responded back to her.
As you can see, I was more to the point and asked her directly if she was saying that M23 was not a Malagasy haplogroup, but was a Native American one. I even attached a well-known, accepted, and peer reviewed article indicating the Madagascar origins of M23. Up until that day, she only listed her own blog post as a reference for M23. My response was followed by TL Dixon asking her more pointed questions, as he had also done last September, not only about M23, but also about other haplogroup subclades also found in Madagascar, like B41a1a.
In addition, later on Sunday, I started reaching out to genetic genealogists like CeCe Moore and Claudio Bravi, who has been analyzing Native American haplogroups since 1993, as well as James Lick, asking them about the origins of M23. They all agreed that M23 was only found in Madagascar, a fact I already knew. Somehow, I wanted a confirmation from others before I wrote this blog post.
On Tuesday, December 9th, I again responded to Roberta’s post in the Native American Ancestry FB Group. This time I also cut and pasted my response to her blog. Roberta did respond to my post on her blog:
After reading her response, I went back to her blog and re-read it. I also started reading the responses to her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup” posting. I was happy to see that on Monday, December 8th, Angie Bush, a well-known molecular genealogist,also stated that M23 had a Madagascar origin and she also posted the link to the same article I had made reference to a day earlier in the Native American Ancestry Explorer FB Group.
Her response to Angie was more detailed:
Roberta finally linked the article on M23 having Madagascar origins after Angie referenced it to her. She now indicated M23 as being a “Madagascar Motif” when it is in fact the Madagascar haplogroup unquestionably. Angie also let Roberta know about the FTDNA Malagasy Roots Project as well. That being said, I still find it highly problematic that Roberta still links her “Anzick Provisional Extract”, along with the peer reviewed article that Angie and I both referenced to her, to the M23 haplogroup on her “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup” list.
In conclusion, I am left with the following unanswered questions:
1) How does one arbitrarily decide to designate mtDNA haplogroups as Native American based on autosomal DNA comparisons to an ancient DNA sample—with some comparisons at very small segments?
2) How does one initially ignore a body of literature about the Madagascar origins of M23 and, after finally acknowledging its origins, still decide to link it to being a “potential” Native American haplogroup?
3) Why insist on repeatedly stating that haplgroup M isn’t proven to be a Native American haplogroup, but still link certain subclade M haplogroups to them being “possible” Native American haplogroups?
4) How does one attempt to publish a hypothesis on “New Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups” without the hypothesis being analytically challenged and peer reviewed?
As a genealogy/DNA blogger and speaker and, as someone who is also tri-racial, my obligation is to correct the misinformation out there, pinpoint inaccurate statements automatically assumed to be facts, and elucidate the flawed analyses/methodologies that I come across as they relate to my own genealogy/family research. I want information out in the public realm that is reliable as it is true. I don’t know the answers to these questions. But, what I do know is that the M23 haplogroup is not a “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroup.” My M23 mtDNA ancestors called me out and told me so. So, I am now telling the world.
If you have any of the Malagasy mtDNA or Y-DNA haplgroups below, please consider taking a FTDNA Full Sequence mtDNA test or a Y-37 DNA test and then join the Malagasy Roots Project. Please click on the title link below for more details.