I am re-posting this blog for the new members of FTDNA’s Malagasy Roots Project—many whom are Malagasy and may never have heard of Sophie Legars Henry.
On Using Full Sequence mtDNA and Autosomal DNA to Discover Enslaved Malagasy Global Migration Dispersals
Slavery, colonialism, and genocide were never designed for Black and Native family reunification. On the contrary, it was meant to obliterate the ties that bind FOREVER. While many people know that 12 Million people of African descent were forcibly imported into what became the United States during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, many are unaware of the fact that between 2-4 Million Native Americans, primarily men, were forcibly exported from their Turtle Island homeland and they were the first people to be enslaved by British colonizer settlers. Ships that sailed from ports laden with colonial merchandise from the American colonies transported shackled enslaved Indigenous Americans around the world. On these same ships returning from the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, West and East Africa, were enslaved Africans who occupied the same hellish spots that many Indigenous Americans previously occupied only months before. As a descendant of Native American, North/South/West/East African, and Malagasy people, any one of these enslaved people could have very well been my own ancestors.
Any discussions of African- and Native American genetic genealogy must be viewed within the lens of slavery and capitalism. Commodities like gold, silver, coffee, sugar, tobacco, spices, timber, copal, indigo, cotton, wine, and enslaved people were traded between the 15th and 19th centuries by the Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, British, Danish, and American colonial powers. The wealth of nations was literally made off the extraction of forced enslaved labor. The disposability of enslaved Black, Brown, and Red bodies has always been calculated for maximum profit with losses always taken into account. It was the overall exchange of merchandise that allowed colonial empires to prosper and which has led to repeated calls for reparations today (and yesterday) by the descendants of those who were formerly enslaved.
Looking at global macro-histories allows us to see the conditions which led to our ancestors forced migrations. Likewise, a mtDNA analysis of Full Sequences matches, along with autosomal DNA matches, gives a “micro-history” of how the institution of slavery dispersed enslaved people around the globe. Using my extended M23 DNA family as a case study, my 1st book, The DNA Trail From Madagascar to the Americas, will discuss how genetic genealogy can be used to flesh out the silences of our ancestral pasts. I will be updating and expanding on my four blogposts below. In addition, I will be discussing the micro-histories of many of our ancestors in the locations where they ended up with the sole intention of inserting them back into the historical record and adding to the growing literature that is focused on the historiography of enslaved people.
Part I: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan
Part II: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan & Our Family’s Malagasy Roots
Part III: The DNA Trail FromMadagascar to Virginia
The Insidiousness of Slavery:No Justice and the Van Wickle Slave Ring
As of today, Andrea and I have been able link a majority of our M23 Malagasy matches to the NY/NJ Hudson River Valley Region going back to the mid-1600s and a subset of that group to VA, AL, LA, and MS. Three of our M23 cohort members are connected to the French Huguenot Devoe /Devereaux Family of Ulster County, NY, Middlesex County, NJ, and Pennsylvania. They are also descendants of Rose Fortune, a Black Loyalist, who ended up in Nova Scotia at the end of the Revolutionary War along with 5 Thompson women —possibly our own ancestors— from Newark, NJ. Another member traces his ancestry to St. Helena Island in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, an island that received thousands of enslaved Malagasy. As part of the Islamic Slave Trade, 1 cohort member’s family ended up in Antigua, before moving to St. Croix via India and another my own family has an exact mtDNA match to a man whose Malagasy ancestor ended up in Yemen. Four members are the descendants of NY/NJ ancestors who were kidnapped and sold South to enslavers in AL, LA, MS via the illegal Van Wickle Slave Ring to work on sugar and cotton plantations. Like many Malagasy women who ended up as concubines, another of our M23 cohort member is linked to the Ragland and Merriweather Families of Colonial Virginia whose descendants migrated to KY, TN, and TX. Moreover, four other cohort members are linked to the African American Timbrook/Ten Broeck Family who were enslaved by the Buckelew Family of Middlesex County, NJ. Lastly, our own family is tied to the Dutch Blauvelt, Haring, Schmidt, Demarest, Mabie, DeWitt, Ackerson, Ackerman and other collateral founding families of Bergen County, NJ who left New Amsterdam and settled the Tappan Patent in 1678. Though a mtDNA test will never help us identify our common M23 ancestor, we are still able to learn “micro-histories” about the lives of our Malagasy-descended DNA cousins by finding more about their family origins.
Her Name Is Sophie/Sophia Legars Henry (1805-1868) : A Malagasy Migration Micro-History in Small DNA Segments
When categorizing our small DNA segment matches on Ancestry, several of my family members shared DNA with K.W. When Andrea reached out to K.W. inquiring about her Malagasy ancestor Sophie/ Sophia Lizard Henry. Andrea was told that, “Sophie was born in Madagascar and was sold into slavery. She was sentenced to death in Mauritius but it was overturned and she was sent to Australia with her son.” There was nothing else known about her parents or siblings. We had so many questions as to what Sophie did to get a death sentence. How did she end up in Australia? Was Sophie related to us? Possibly. We hope this DNA cousin will take a mtDNA test since Sophie is her maternal ancestor and may also have a M23 haplogroup.
Sophie was sent to New South Wales, Australia on the Ship Ann, as a convict in 1825. She was described as being – 5’2″ tall with copper skin and black eyes, black lips, a broad nose, and stout. Her migration micro-history definitely caught our attention.
After a bit of deep digging to see what I could find on Sophie, I came across a University of Tasmania dissertation by Eilin Friis Hordvik titled “Mauritius Caught in the Web of Empire: the legal system, crime, punishment and labour 1825-1845″ that described all the events that led to Sophie’s banishment to New South Wales, Australia. Sophie had been a personal child slave to Madame Francoise Legars (not Lizard) before her marriage to Amedee Bonsergent, a Medical Officer in Mauritius, in 1818. At 18 years old, Sophie was in a relationship with Jean Gombault, a Free Black Creole and was pregnant with their son Jean, Jr. Below describes the events as they were reported at the time.
For his receiving of stolen money, which was returned, Jean Gombault received 8 years in iron chains.
The Bonsergents wanted to be compensated 300 piastres for Sophia and her son’s transportation to Australia as well as damages to their other property. At the time, the French Indochinese piastre, was the currency used in the Indian Ocean and Far East commercial trade. When the British took over Mauritius in 1810, they continued to use piastres. According to Hordvik, “The average price for a female slave at the time was 250 piastres. Negotiations between Bonsergent and the local government in the end settled on the sum of 80 piastres (including the child), which was the price fixed for a male slave in similar circumstances. substantially less than the open market price. The Mauritian authorities were not prepared to pay extra for Sophie’s son.” For the record, Sophie was the first Mauritian to be banished to Australia and her son Jean, Jr. was the only child to follow a parent to Australia when it was just a penal colony.
Sophie was probably assigned to work as a domestic for a free settler or assigned to work at the Perramatta Female Factory as a majority of female convicts had to do. Though Sophie and her son would technically be freed upon arrival in Australia, one has to question what degree of freedom (i.e., “unfreedom”) she actually obtained if she worked under the same harsh conditions as before her arrival. That she was female also opens up the question as to what, if any, sexual abuse she may have been subjected to during her banishment.
Three years after she arrived, Sophie, now known by the English version of her name Sophia, married John Henry, another convict of color who arrived in New South Wales onboard the Earl St. Vincent in 1818. Of the 160 men who boarded in Cork, Ireland on August 7, 1818, he was one of 157 survivors who landed on December 16, 1818. He was born in Suriname which was then part of British Guiana and was mostly likely from a mixed-race background. We don’t know when or how she met John Henry, but he was sent to Parramatta where worked on a Farm Factory until his term expired. These two convicts were married in St. James Church with a marriage bann with the consent of the Governor on March 21, 1828.
John Henry later adopted Jean Gombault, Jr. after he married Sophie and together they also had a daughter named Sophia Emma Henry. In September of 1833, both John Henry and Sofia Emma were baptized together in St. James Church in Sidney.
Sofia Emma Henry (1833-1905), K.W.’s ancestor, married John Hemson (1814-1887), a convict from Suffolk, England who arrived on Ship The England in 1835. They had the following children: John, T., Sophia, Louisa, Emily, Agnes, Walter, Alice, Eva, and Lenard. John was able to purchase land after completing his sentence and later became a police constable. At this time, we know little regarding Jean Gombault Henry, but this may change in the future.
On Using Small DNA Segments
As an African American AND Puerto Rican genealogist with Native American family and ancestral ties to many nations up and down the East Coast due to my deep colonial roots, I believe in the inherent value of small segments in certain situations and always in conjunction with traditional genealogy methods. Because my family has tested 30+ family members, if any or some of them match an individual between 8-20+ cMs, then chances are that my 6 cM or 7 cM match may not be just “noise.” It may be indeed “real.” I am not alone in believing that eliminating <8 cMs will be devastating for us. Fonte Felipe, a Cape Verdean Dutch genealogist/genetic genealogist, published a blogpost this week that describes in depth why Afro-Descendants are rightly concerned with losing their matches. He calculates that 50-75% of our matches will disappear. Fonte’s research also shows how people in the African and Native Diaspora use AncestryDNA matches in creative ways. His breakdown analyses of various African regions at the micro-level per country is one GREAT example. Shannon Christmas, a well-known and respected African American genealogist/genetic genealogist, has also published a blogpost titled What Genetic Genealogy Needs Now —Priorities, Problems, Solutions” That gives a great overview of the issues facing African American Genetic Genealogy with all DNA testing companies.
For many of us, DNA testing has allowed us to finally discover some of our ancestral truths by revealing these 5th-8th DNA cousin matches. For someone like me, just knowing that an ancestor was Munsee, Pequot, Wappinger, Golden Pauggussett, Mohawk, Wampanoag, Lenni-Lenape, Ewe, Nipmuc, Fante, Pamunkey, Malagasy, etc. is something I want to know because I consider it to be my birthright! That being said, as long as I have my African – and Native American DNA cousin matches, I have peace of mind knowing that I found something that was supposed to be lost forever due to all aspects of slavery. The existence of my ancestors’ lives, in the archival records and elsewhere, is a testament to the fact that my Black, Brown, and Red ancestors were consummate survivors of a global capitalist system of slavery that devalued them for centuries. Their “soul value,” as Daina Ramey Berry has written, however, has always been incalculable to me.
As a family historian and genealogist, I constantly remind others that they need to dig deep. By that, I mean that we MUST explore all avenues of research to locate our ancestral stories which are buried and submerged leading to the mistaken belief that everything about our ancestors’ lives have been erased when, in fact, their histories have been just waiting to be found. Genealogical research on African and Native American ancestors is not easy because of the historic trauma they were subjected to as enslaved human beings and the dearth of documentation. However, our duty as descendants also requires us to muster up the strength to soldier on and not get discouraged. Our ancestral stories EXIST!
Below are some blogposts that African- and Native American descended genealogists/genetic genealogists have written that highlight how genetic genealogy has been a godsend for people with African, Native, and Asian ancestry.