The Vote of 1960: Context, Challenge, NGS & James Dent Walker

Before I start: The view from here, some context

In trying to assemble a history of an organization from fragments, I’m grappling with slippage, the way that things unsaid haunt every space, how the unsaid is supposed to be gracious, but hides a different cruelty. It’s working with systems that require violence for its completion, a continuation of the machine of settler logics that seek to justify supremacy, enslavement, murder, and rape. Such details are often folded away until a familial connection is revealed.

Often the locations where such decisions are made are often comfortable offices or elaborate desert base locations for remote murder and assaults.  It is an awareness that hovers over the question of what a Nation is. And societies aim to define and redefine the boundaries. Such colonizing systems also precede the formation of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) at the cusp of the twentieth century, with its familial connections to the Trail of Tears, multiple plantations and governance.

Location Matters

Knowing my Taino ancestry and the creole blends of various ancestors offers a grounding space when faced with the history of organizations. I’m of Native American descent, honor that and study the various diasporas that structure my family tree. I also descend from the enslaved (Juan Josef Carrillo b. Guinea, 1736-1811) and the enslaver (Capt. Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Hernandez 1749-1828) within a larger context of colonization, as my family is from Boriken (Puerto Rico). Gaining this knowledge took time, research and service. 

The awareness of one’s history contrasts with the history of organizations, particularly those involved with issues such as eugenics, segregation and pushing the Lost Cause (an interpretation of the Civil War from the Confederate perspective). This is part of the National Genealogical Society’s early history. On the other side is the history of Federal employment, and the impact of segregationist policies in Washington DC and how James Dent Walker navigated this at NARA (National Archives and Records Association). Ultimately his knowledge and skills helped to broaden the institutional spaces for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) to do their own genealogical research.

I have talked to several Black genealogists about the other part of genealogical research– the emotional labor of dealing with findings, of telling the stories of ancestors who passed through to emancipation.  Of their encounters with people who made life difficult by blocking access to resources, often in a multiplicity of forms that reinforced segregation and at its essence denied a full humanity. This is the larger context of doing this work. This too is part of the genealogical journey. Change can feel glacial in its progress.

The Vote of 1960: Looking Back to Move Forward

Here I grapple with the silences and statements made by three white women who took it upon themselves in 1960 to mail over 700 members of the National Genealogical Society and encourage them to protest the changes to the language used to define membership. This happened sixty-two years ago, and it is worth a look back. 

During the 1960s the clamor for change, like now, was loudly expressed in civic gatherings across the nation. In some locations, anger ripped across cities in the form of buildings lit aflame, people marched.  The Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 to work against racial segregation and discrimination across the south and grew into multiple forms. In the south of 1960, many people in power were believers in the Lost Cause and used force to keep people down. And when the Freedom Riders groups arrived in different locations across the South, the use of violence against them by locals and police exploded. 

But back to this vote. 

This NGS committee, Virginia D. Crim, Bessie P Pryor and Katie-Prince Esker, made the old membership policy explicit: 

“the Referendum referred to was held on November [19] 1960. The membership voted on the following: 

SHOULD THE NATIONAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY SET ASIDE ITS GENERALLY RECOGNIZED PRACTICE, WHICH HAS BEEN IN FORCE SINCE ITS ORGANIZATION IN 1903, AND ADMIT MEMBERS OF THE NEGRO RACE.” [1]

Initially, the National Genealogical Society voted not to open their doors to Black genealogists, a policy held for over 50 years. The then new president, William H. Dumont realized this couldn’t last, and the language that defined who could be a member was changed after James Dent Walker, a NARA civil servant and genealogist applied for membership in 1960.  He wasn’t specifically named in newspaper coverage, although the Washington Post’s description leaves no doubt it was Walker. [2] Walker himself never discussed the challenge he set by applying for membership to NGS. He continued to forge an incredible path forward.

 Ultimately, Walker became part of NGS’ board, and a nationally recognized genealogist, researcher, lecturer and archivist in his own right, known for his work in African American genealogy. A little over a decade later, he founded the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (Today the African American Historical and Genealogical Society), AAHGS.org that has chapters across the country. [3] This institution proved a necessary space for Black genealogical practice over the decades.

The Press & The Committee

The Washington Post’s article, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue” of 4 November 1960 asked “Is a Negro to join the searchers for the Nation’s family trees? The National Genealogical Society is in a tizzy…about 50 members who felt “controversy threatened to engulf the NGS” proposed a racial restriction clause in their constitution.”  Those opposed to admission said “Negroes…have nothing in common with us, genealogically speaking.” Those who favored change in policy “point out the Society is national, educational and scientific; that it is not to be confused with patriotic organizations; that in the pursuit of science there is no room for discrimination…” [4]

Looking beyond the fight over NGS membership, this was a time when nationally, thousands took part in multiple Civil Rights actions in former slave and free states pushing for change.  The stakes were high, and some died while others were seriously injured in these actions that insisted on equality.  Don’t forget that Black women finally got the right to vote five years later, in 1965. 

While these NGS committee members didn’t go out and physically attack BIPOC [Black, Indigenous People Of Color], what actions did they take to maintain white supremacy beyond this administrative act, beyond the organization? Almost always, the families of those who owned forced labor camps from the founding to the third quarter of the nineteenth century are automatically absolved by the focus on the inhabitants of the big house, their genealogy. This telling of local histories goes together with gatekeeping and acts of genealogical segregation of the last century.  How far did this committee take their views? 

Virginia Crim was also a member of the DAR, where she served as a vice regent for the Columbia Chapter in 1956.[5] She was also a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, established in 1894, and served as a chapter delegate at their convention, held 9 November 1960.[6]  

The UDC, a Neoconfederate organization, pursued fundraising for monuments, lobbied legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, denied the violence of slavery, and shaped the content of history textbooks. They insisted on a Lost Cause framework that buttressed Jim Crow laws. They were supportive of the KKK. [7] This contributed to the structural racism that constricted the opportunities and lives of many BIPOC. This too is a legacy of harm linked to NGS’ history in the twentieth century. 

Why this history matters

How much does this history matter? In Richmond, Virginia, at 1:30AM on May 30, 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd and police violence, the anger of some protesters focused on the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, set the UDC facade on fire, and covered confederate monuments in graffiti. The process of removing these monuments across the South accelerated after the protests that erupted in so many locations in the wake of Floyd’s murder.[8]

It shows that representation matters, that there was so much more than what those statues and laws attempted to assert. The implications of this event was global.[9] The times had indeed changed, the demand for systemic change is beginning to be heard. It’s also here, with us, with the DEI Committee, to bring such connections forward, to heal.  I have stepped down in order to finish my projects. In the meantime, i’ve joined AAHGS.

And this sea of data generated by institutional conditions washes upon us as we write our microhistories, family histories, genealogies and record the voices of those with ties to these events.  Masinato (Peace)

References

[1] Virginia Crim, Bessie P. Pryor, Katie-Prince Esker, Committee Circular, November 30, 1961 [30 November 1960], NGS Archives. Thanks to Janet Bailey, NGS Board Member for locating this document and additional resources for research.

[2] Rasa Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue” Washington Post, November 4, 1960.

[3] Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue.”

[4] For a biography of James Dent Walker (1928-1993) and his oral history, see Jesse Kratz, “James D. Walker: Lone Messenger to International Genealogist.” Pieces of History, Prologue, 10 February 2016. https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2016/02/10/james-d-walker-lone-messenger-to-international-genealogist/ Accessed 16 July 2022. Has embedded link to Dent’s edited oral history interview by Rodney A. Ross, James Walker, Oral History Interview, NARA, 27 March 1985.

[4]“Elected Officers.” The Evening Star, Thursday August 30, 1956. 

[5]“At Convention.” The Evening Star, November 9, 1961.

[6] “The organization [UDC] was “strikingly successful at raising money to build monuments, lobbying legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, and working to shape the content of history textbooks.” Karen L. Cox, “Setting the Lost Cause on Fire: Protesters Target the United Daughters of the Confederacy Headquarters ,  Aug 6, 2020 https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/summer-2020/setting-the-lost-cause-on-fire-protesters-target-the-united-daughters-of-the-confederacy-headquarters

[7] Ned Oliver & Sarah Vogelsong, “Confederate memorial hall burned as second night of outrage erupts in Richmond, Virginia.” Virginia Mercury, 31 May 2020. 

[8] Balthazar J Beckett, Salima K Hankins, “Until We Are First Recognized As Human: The Killing of George Floyd and the Case for Black Life at the United Nations.” International Journal of Human Rights Education, Vol 5:1. https://repository.usfca.edu/ijhre/vol5/iss1/4/

Finding Juan Jose Carrillo: An African Ancestor

1734 map of West Africa
A New Map of That Part of Africa Called the Coast of Guinea. William Snellgrave, 1734. British Library, https://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/carviews/a/022zzz000279e26u00mapi00.html

Juan Jose Carrillo & Antonia Maria Figueredo Santana: 6th GGPs

I’m still reeling. This was a momentous week in more ways than one. Recently I was compiling a list of African ancestors from the 1870 cedulas, and my cousin Miguel Valentin forwarded some links on FamilySearch for Carrillos in case they might connect.

Then I saw Liza Ceballos’s post on Facebook on Carrillo and in her search on my Carrillo cluster, she collected a couple of posts that happened to be on my line. I couldn’t believe it, my ancestor Simon Carrillo had siblings and now, the names of his parents were in those baptisms. Although I suspected that this line would be the most likely to have a connection to Africa, my DNA percentages were low, and I wondered if i’d ever have a location.

With the name Juan Josef/ Juan Joseph/ Juan Jose Carrillo, I began my search and there was his death certificate– and I was floored. Above is William Snellgrave’s 1734 map of the region of Guinea that my 6th Great Grandfather was taken from made near the time he was born. To have a location identified is so rare, and unexpected since in his children’s records he and his wife are described as ‘morenos libres‘ literally ‘free browns’.

A Free man, a soldier in the Militia, a landowner and farmer in Rio Piedras with a wife and thirteen children. So many questions, so much joy at finding this cluster of family.

Juan Joseph Carrillo (1736-1810), Acta de defuncion, 3 Mar 1810, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Rio Piedras. FS.org https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6ZTL-QH8H

En este pueblo de Nuestra Señora del Pilar y en Gloria de San Juan Nepomuceno de Río Piedras a tres de marzo de mil ochocientos y diez años Yo el Beneficiado Don Manuel Marcelino Martínez Cepeda, Presbítero Cura Rector de él por Real Patronato de cepultura eclesiástico en el cementerio de esta Yglesia e hize los oficios de entierro doble con el []lia y misa cantadas al cadaver de Juan José Carrillo mis feligreses, natural de Guinea de edad de sesenta y cuatro años poco más o menos, negro libre y soldado cumplido de la Primera Compañía de Milicias Disciplinadas de Infantería que en común de Nuestra Santa Señora madre yglesia murió en su propia estancia Citio de los Ranchos de mi jurisdicción. Donde administran los santos sacraméntales de penetencia en [  ] y extrema unción: otorgó su testamento a estilo militar el diez de febrero del presente año, por ante Dn Francisco Roman subteniente del Regimiento de Milicias Urbanas de esta Ysla en la Compañía de Guaynabo de mancomún con la esposa el cual dispone su entierro de modo dicho con cuatro acompañados, mandado se celebran ocho misas resadas por su alma y las de purgatorio a nuestra señora del Rosario y del Carmen con tres más que fuera del su testamento en cargo de su hijo Joseph Vicente. Declaró había casado y velado en infacie eccles, con María Antonia de Figueredo, morena libre de este matrimonio deja trece hijos nombrados Simón, Juana Hilaria, Ysabel María, María Magdalena, José Vicente, Miguel, Cacimira, Ambrosía, Félix, Theodora, Roberto, Víctorio y Juan a quienes instituyó por ser legítimos herederos y por sus Albaceas su hijo y Victorio Marín su yerno de que doy fe. 

Manuel Martínez Cepeda

In this town of Our Lady of Pilar and Glory of Juan Nepomuceno de Rio Piedras on the 3rd of March one thousand eight hundred and ten years I the Incumbent Don Manuel Marcelino Martínez Cepeda, Priest Rector for him by Royal Patronage for ecclesiastic burial in the cemetery of this Church and made double burial services with the [ ] and sung masses for the cadaver of Juan Jose Carrillo of my parish, natural of Guinea of the age of sixty four years more or less, free Black and soldier of the First Company of Disciplined Militias of Infantry. that in common with Our Sacred Mother Church died on his proper farm Place of the Ranches under my jurisdiccion. Where was administered the Holy Sacraments of Penitence and Extreme Unction: He gave his will in military style the tenth of February of this year, before Don Francisco Roman sublieutenant of the Regiment of Urban Milicias of this Island in the Company of Guaynabo jointly with his wife who arranged his burial so said with four accompanying. mandated that eight prayed masses for his soul and for purgatory to Our Lady of the Rosary and of Carmen with three more besides that of his will in charge of his son Joseph Vicente. Declares having married and veiled in presence of the congregation with Maria Antonia de Figuredo, free brown woman: of this marriage leaves thirteen children named Simón, Juana Hilaria, Ysabel María, María Magdalena, José Vicente, Miguel, Cacimira, Ambrosía, Félix, Theodora, Roberto, Víctorio y Juan to whom he instituted as his legitimate heirs and for his Executors, his son and Victorio Marin his son in law that I bear witness. 

Manuel Martinez Cepeda

Family Tree of Juan Jose Carrillo & Antonia Maria Figueredo Santana

7th GGPs: Francisco Figueredo & Ana Santana

Antonia Maria Figueredo Santana dies at the age of 100 years in San Juan in 1830. Born about 1730, her parents are Francisco Figueredo and Ana Santana. I’m still researching and it seems she had at least one half sibling. Francisco gained his freedom sometime between 1711 and 1713. Records are fragmentary and i’m searching for more information.

For all the damaged and lost records I have seen for Puerto Rico, it is a miracle to learn their names. I want to thank all those who make the search easier, and possible via transcriptions & indexes- Yvonne Santana Rios, Yvette Izquierdo, distributed by Anna Bayala on her site Genealogia Nuestra, FS, the sharing of information in Facebook groups and list-serves, the DNA matches that come to be friends and family. There will be more to come…

You can read about how I traced my 5th GGPs which helped me get to this point: via their son Simon Carrillo and his wife Josefa Santiago Diaz: The Many Names of Telesforo Carrillo

Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard

landing page for documentary

“The question is, who owns the rights to the violence of the past? Is it the victim or the perpetrator? ” — Tamara Lanier, Free Renty

https://www.freerentyfilm.com

This week, I attended a Together Films virtual screening of Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard, organized by genealogist Nicka Smith. Directed by David Gruber, the documentary covers the years that Tamara K. Lanier contacted and was rebuffed by Harvard University in acknowledging her claim on the image of Renty, her great-great-great grandfather. She launched her lawsuit against Harvard with Attorney Benjamin Crump and Josh Koskoff. Also appearing are author Ta-Nehisi Coates and scholars Ariella Azoulay and Tina Campt, who provide insights into the situation as the legal process unfolds.

The film provides a larger context for the case that traces a larger social shift, one that recognizes the need for reparations and social justice as litigation moved forward. There are interviews with Agassiz descendants and various scholars who believe it’s time for the university to recognize the descendants of the enslaved. 

From the perspective of the university, it’s a different frame, where collections and museums are immune to real life claims from people with familial or cultural connections to what’s on display. Yet today, there are many calls for decolonization and requests for the return of objects, which point to multiple instances of theft and appropriation as the mechanism that created many museum collections. Legal structures are created to deal with the situation, such as NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection Act). 

“If colonialism and ethnographic exploitation depend on appropriation, one must acknowledge that what is taken can always be taken back.” Brian Wallis (1996)

Back in 1996, curator Brian Wallis outlined the problem of knowledge that the daguerrotypes offer within the larger context of slave ownership in the 1850s. He traced the events of their making in Columbia, South Carolina, the culmination of Agassiz’ visit to several plantations in Columbia arranged by Dr. Robert W Gibbes, local doctor and collector. In 1850 the white population of Columbia was 6,000 and its enslaved population was 100,000. These were sites that relied on the use of violence as a means of control. That violence also left its mark across the subjects of Louis Agassiz’ collection of daguerrotypes.

Agassiz wanted images of ‘pure’ Africans to demonstrate his racist theory of polygenesis (multiple origins for humankind), at the bottom of his racial hierarchy.  That fundamentally pro-slavery view erased the essential humanity of the enslaved, obscuring what Dana Ramey Berry called their ‘soul value’. The resulting lack of empathy supported the plantation business that underpinned the US economy of the nineteenth century.

In other words, these images are Agassiz’ trophies, his collection of ‘objects’ that reinforce a patriarchal white supremacy tied to a fundamentally coercive practice of image making. Any connection to family and descent of those subjugated becomes fragile if not invisible, a regard not intended to survive beyond the collection. 

Here there are no conventions that link Joseph T Zealy’s 15 images to portraits, beyond the fancy leather case and the daguerrotype’s velvet setting. The images were forgotten and rediscovered in the preparation of an inventory at the Peabody Museum in 1975. Tamara Lanier learned of the images in 2011, and realized her connection. They are the oldest images of enslaved people extant, taken without permission, stolen images from subjects made possible by coercive force. 

Harvard & The Legacy of Slavery, 2022, cover.

This April, Harvard released the report Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery. In some 60 pages, it outlines how the university profited and erased that history. However, the document is silent on Lanier’s claim to the images of her ancestors. 

The report’s first recommendation is to “Engage and Support Descendant Communities by Leveraging Harvard’s Excellence in Education.” [1] The project of reparations by surrendering the images makes an object lesson in decolonizing the museum, and create common ground with the Descendant Community of which Lanier is part of.

In 2020, I attended a webinar on the Zealy daguerrotypes, an introduction to a new volume of essays, To Make Their Own Way in the World on the 15 daguerrotypes of enslaved people taken by Joseph T Zealy, in South Carolina. I asked the panel: “Can you share thoughts about the Lanier connection to Renty? Mentioned was suspected he survived the Civil War, and what of this personal side of the image?”  The question was never considered, and nothing said about Tamara Lanier.  The images are instead, objects that are to be endlessly studied, endlessly caught in the frame of enslavement, subjugation and colonization. 

Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard is important to think with in terms of what we do as BIPOC genealogists, as similar dynamics haunt the practice of genealogy.  Whose story is being told and where? What do we do with the intersection of state organized violence and the fabric of our family histories?  Where is the accountability of the institutions involved in the enslavement of our ancestors? How are communities of enslaved descendants supported or ignored? Who gets to tell the story of Papa Renty and his family? 

References

Tamara K. Lanier speaks about her ancestor, https://www.harvardfreerenty.com/meet-renty-delia

Brian Wallace, “Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz’s Slave Daguerreotypes'”, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. No. 12 (Summer, 1996), pp. 102-106 

Dana Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation. Beacon Press, 2017.

Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, April 2022, 58. https://legacyofslavery.harvard.edu/report

To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerrotypes. Edited by Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers, and Deborah Willis https://peabody.harvard.edu/make-their-own-way-world

In memory of Basilio, who stole himself, November 1839

newspaper clipping
“Anuncios”, Gazeta de Puerto Rico, 26 November 1839 Page 567 image 3. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1839-11-26/ed-1/seq-3/>

ANUNCIÓS. El alcalde de la Moca ha participado al Excmo. Sr. Gobernador y Capitán General en oficio de 6 del corriente, que en la hacienda de Luis Masconabe, vecino de aquel partido; se ha aparecido un negro natural de Africa, de estatura baja, los dientes de la mandíbula superior apartados y altos podridos, en la inferior uno menos, varias rayas floreadas en el pecho, algunas cicatrices en el cuerpo y la espaldas, dice llamarse Basilio, que es lo único que sabe expresar en castellano, la nariz muy chata, boca y pies chicos, tiene al pie del labio inferior una cicatriz, casi imperceptible y de 20 a 25 años de edad. [1]

In November 1839 Basilio, a young African man, attempted to gain his freedom. Instead, he was imprisoned at a nearby hacienda in Moca until he was recovered by his enslaver. This announcement for Basilio ran over three days — November 26, 28 and 30 — in the pages of the official government newspaper, La Gazeta de Puerto Rico. The ad describes aspects of his physical appearance, intended to make it impossible for him to escape notice. 

According to the notice, a combination of forces were informed about Basilio . The search was authorized  by  highest ranks of local government, the Mayor, the Governor and Captain General. Why such a representative show of state power?  Because he was one of many who decided to escape bondage in Puerto Rico during the 1830s. 

Leaving the plantations

On 26 Jun 1838, Ramon Mendez de Arcaya wrote to the Third General Command (Comandancia General de 3er, Departamento Militar de la Isla) to inform them of the recent escapes of groups of five, six and seven enslaved men. They escaped by sea, from the beach Playa de Espinal on the coast of Aguada. Some lived in town without authorization, their enslavers unaware of their location. Mendez was sure they hadn’t punished them for this. [2]

Route of Escape in 1838, from Playa de Espinal, Aguada, PR to the Isla de Desecheo, and on to east coast of the Dominican Republic. EFS, Annotated Google Map, 22 Mar 2022.

Moving late at night, they took some of the small boats and canoes to make their way for Santo Domingo, stopping at the small island of Desecheo off the coast of Mayaguez. One group’s canoe failed, and they were picked up by a passing ship. This group he explained, went a distance to escape, as one was from much further away in Moca, and the others from Aguadilla. He suggested he would beef up his night patrols.

By 23 August a several page long notice, listing 12 heads of various military posts in the NW, outlined curfews, necessary permissions for those fishing by boat off the coast, and specified that no enslaved person would be permitted access to a ship or a town after 8PM. The penalty was a fine that doubled with each infraction. [ 3]

Trafficking & stealing freedom

On 26 November 1839, Luis Maisonave Duprey’s Anuncio sat at the top of the notices. The second time it ran, it was preceded by notice of an African man, Silvestre, who escaped from the hacienda of D. Joaquin de Neyra in Loiza. Neyra promised that whoever captured Silvestre would be appropriately compensated. [4]

An announcement followed for an unnamed Black African man, 40 years old, apprehended in the mountains of Barrio Almirante, Vega Baja. He was sent to the prison in the presidio in San Juan until his enslaver could retrieve him.

Next, is a notice for don Julian Garcia’s desire to purchase an enslaved Black or mulatto child, alive and without defects. After the lost horse and the offer of all kinds of black silk by hat maker Nicolas Martin, comes a notice about an enslaved man imprisoned since the end of July. Juan Jose Alvarez, 34, an enslaved mulatto man from Fajardo, was also sent to the prison in the presidio in San Juan. As with Basilio and Silvestre, the power of the Governor, Captain General and the Mayor were disposed to this arrangement, and note that “the announcement in the Gazette about their capture was so the news reached the owner and he could formally obtain them.”[5]

Above Maisonave’s Anuncio for 28 November, was a reissued public notice from the War Court on the upcoming sale of the enslaved man Francisco on the morning of 2 December, at the doors of the Auditor General’s office in San Juan. Beneath the remainder of the Anuncio, there’s a request for teachers for an elementary school in Guayama for both boys and girls.

After the appeal for teachers, interested parties should ask the female enslaver about the sale of a Black boy 8-9 years old and a Black girl 14-15 years old, via the Gazeta’s office. An estancia for sale in Bayamon and finally, offered for sale is a young Black woman with her newborn. The ad notes her milk is good and abundant, and with her knowledge of cooking, washing and ironing her price is 400 pesos. No names are given, just an address, Calle de los Cuarteles 32, the barracks just beyond the Presidio, an older building that precedes the massive structure built in 1854 that still stands today. These are such brief glimpses of lives processed by a range of institutions that happen to ignore an essential humanity when money is at stake. [6]

Who was Basilio?

Born in Africa between 1814-1819 as he was 20-25 years of age, Basilio was short man. He is described as having a small mouth, small feet and a very flat nose.  Given his age he may have worked some of the most labor intensive aspects of the plantation he escaped from. Conditions were enough for him to decide to chance his freedom.

While the skin of his trunk and shoulders were covered with scars, his chest  bore ‘varias rayas floreadas’ a pattern of stripes. This was the result of a coming of age ceremony somewhere in West or Sub-Saharan Africa before his capture.  His ‘rayas floreadas’ literally ‘flowering stripes’ were an elaborate pattern that may have combined lines with raised scars to create an effect of rows ready to blossom across his chest, rather than a geometric pattern.  These country marks were a feature that would enable a group to read and recognize their relationship. The use of ritual scarification increased as a result of raiding peoples for the slave trade. [7] 

The description of his scars may outline a hierarchy of control, with the scars on his trunk and shoulders likely scarred by inflicted violence. These scars come after mention of those marks that visually identified Basilio as part of a community, perhaps recognizable to other African-born people enslaved on the hacienda. Some probably helped him make his way towards Playa del Espinal in Aguada, to find a way out of his situation before he was caught in Moca.

The announcement mentioned that his lower lip bore a smaller scar, almost faint, and difficult to see unless he was examined closely. The notice is an invitation to go beyond the clothes and orifices to compare the details. Was this scar the trace of an injury? Is this something his enslaver would recall? His teeth were broken, some were missing and others went bad, all testament to his treatment as he came to adulthood. Was he smuggled into Puerto Rico? And for language, the only word of Castillian that Basilio knew was his name, Basilio. 

Where was he from? What was his fate that December 1839?

[1] Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 26 Nov. 1839 Page 567 image 3. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1839-11-26/ed-1/seq-3/>

[2] “III.1 Ramon Mendez, Comandancia General del 3er, Departamento Militar de la Isla, 26 Jul 1848.” Benjamin Nistal Moret, Esclavos Profugos y Cimarrones, Puerto Rico, 1770-1870. Editorial UPR, 1984, 233-234.

[3]”Excelentismo Senor Don Miguel Lopez de Banos, Gobernador y Captian General de esta Isla, 23 Aug 1838.” Benjamin Nistal Moret, Esclavos Profugos y Cimarrones, Puerto Rico, 1770-1870. Editorial UPR, 1984, AGPR, RSGPR, E.23, B.64 (editado), 234-238.

[4] Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 26 Nov. 1839 Page 567 image 3. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1839-11-26/ed-1/seq-3/>

[5] Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 30 Nov. 1839. Page 576 image 4 Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1839-11-30/ed-1/seq-4/>

[6] Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 28 Nov. 1839 Page 572 image 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1839-11-28/ed-1/seq-4/>

[7] Lauren Cullivan, “The Meanings Behind the Marks: Scarification and the People of Wa” (1998). African Diaspora ISPs. Paper 4. 16. http://digitalcollections.sit.edu/african_diaspora_isp/4

Searching Documents for Benejam Ancestors

Julio Ester ‘Ulla’ Rivera, November 2021. Photo courtesy of Julio Enrique Rivera.

I’ve finally submitted the materials, tables and text to accompany Part 3 of the Missing Registro Central de Esclavo volume for Northwest Puerto Rico to Hereditas. This set of transcriptions of cedulas are from Caja 2 (item 2) of 1870. The essay focuses on facets of the lives of 55 enslaved people held by Cristobal Benejam Suria or Serra in 1870, a Menorcan who arrived in Puerto Rico about 1817. Other family members were also enslavers. Several Benejam family clusters are traced from the cedula through the Registro Civil and census records, to reconstruct some of their history.

As it turns out, when I mentioned my project to my cousin, Julio Enrique Rivera, he mentioned that his dad, Julio Ester Rivera (looking very dapper in the photo above) was a Benejan. His great grandfather was Ricardo Benejam Vargas (1848-1924) born into slavery, the child of Maria Antonia Vargas and Pedro Benejam. This is Ricardo’s cedula of 1870.

Ricardo [Benejam] 22, 3531. Caja 4. Registro de Esclavos, 1867-1876 (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSK3-Z3WY-S?cc=3755445)

I am struck by how fragmented some of the resources available are.

Some of the documents i’m looking at:

Parish records

Municipal Document series – Censo y riqueza de Moca 1850

Cedulas, Registro Central de Esclavos

Registro Civil

What I wish there were more of for NWPR: census, contracts, notary documents; basically a database that can help descendants pull these fragments together.

As for books & articles, am rereading Benjamin Nistal-Moret’s “The Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico” (1985). I’d like to use the tables as a model for what I am working on, which is information missing from the numbers he is using. This was “the first time in Puerto Rican historiography, an analysis of this magnitude has been completed with a computer.” He tells an interesting story about locating a missing 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos volume at the Library of Congress, microfilming it and returning it during the summer of 1975. As he did his work in the 1980s, his statistical work was entered onto punch cards of a computer program used in sociology. Which volume it was, Nistal-Moret doesn’t say.

I wonder how much archival material was lost, for instance, after the US returned the series of documents of the Gobernadores Espanoles – T1121 Record Group 186- Records of the Spanish Governors of Puerto Rico (impounded on the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1898) were transferred to the National Archives in 1943 and returned to Puerto Rico by joint resolution in 1957. The microfilm of the Registro de Esclavos and the Registro Central de Esclavos are part of that huge series, and NARA has a free version at the link above.

What I try to do in this series of articles are mini-histories of persons that appear on the 6 x8″ cedulas. Connecting someone in 1870 to their appearance in the Registro Civil that begins in 1885. The process takes time, as there is no mention of enslavement, save in the surname ‘Liberto.’ Some take different surnames, while many kept their enslaver’s name, or took that of a different owner when sold before 1870.

Some of the descendants of Luisa Benejan born about 1819 appear among the cedulas of Caja 4 of the Registro de Esclavos, while three appear in the Registro Civil. She doesn’t turn up on the Registro Civil. Still, the documents together reconstruct her family.

Also reconstructed are early family trees for Pedro Benejam of Moca, born about 1817 in Moca, and who partnered with Maria Antonia Vargas, who lived until 1902 and lived in Bo. Pueblo, Moca. Among their descendants is where my cousin Julio Enrique Rivera’s line connects. The families created after emancipation were often female headed households, with daughters that worked in the local service economy, and sons in agricultural labor.

We must continue to say their names.

References

Ricardo, 22, 3531. Caja 4, Registro de Esclavos, 1867-1876. “Puerto Rico Slave Registers, 1863-1879”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSK3-Z3WY-S?cc=3755445 : 21 October 2021), > image 1 of 1.

Benjamin Nistal Moret, “Problems in the Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico During the Process of Abolition, 1872”.  Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Frank Moya Pons & Stanley L. Engerman, eds.Between Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish Speaking Caribbean in the Nineteenth Century, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1985, 141- 57.

“Y tu abuela, donde esta? An Introduction to Puerto Rican Genealogy”, Sat 9/25

Register Facebook Twitter Email

Y tu abuela, donde esta? An Introduction to Puerto Rican Genealogy, Saturday, September 25, 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Add to Calendar

Lauderhill Towne Centre Library

Dr. Ellen Fernandez-Sacco’s introduction to Puerto Rican genealogy includes an overview of the challenges & opportunities researching ancestors enslaved and free.

Join us for this virtual program.

Y tu abuela, donde esta?: An Introduction to Puerto Rican Genealogy

Dr. Ellen Fernandez-Sacco’s introduction to Puerto Rican genealogy includes an overview of the challenges & opportunities researching ancestors enslaved and free, available resources and strategies for getting started. Bring your questions!  Handout available. 

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco works to connect people to their ancestors. One of her book projects highlights the connections between slavery, genealogy and family histories in nineteenth century Puerto Rico. She has published articles on American museums, genealogy, eugenics, and the history of mundillo— traditional Puerto Rican lace making.  Past President of the California Genealogical Society, she received her doctorate in Art History from UCLA. Her most recent article is “Reconstructing the missing Registro Central de Esclavos for NW PR.” Hereditas (2021).

Visit her website at https://latinogenealogyandbeyond.com

AGE GROUP: | Everyone | Adults |

EVENT TYPE: | Speaker | Online/Virtual | Discussion/Lecture |

TAGS: | Hispanic Heritage |

page from: http://broward.libnet.info/event/5279164

Next Week: 6/10: Bound to History – on Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Monserrate, Barrio Pueblo, Moca, Puerto Rico, EFS

Have you ever wanted to know more about the woman behind the only slave narrative out of Puerto Rico?

On June 10, 1 PM, I’ll be a guest on Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond.

We’ll be talking about Leoncia Lasalle’s & her daughter Juana Rodriguez Lasalle’s account and touch on the larger issues of archives and enslavement. See my recent article in the journal Genealogy, “Bound to History: Leoncia Lasalle’s Slave Narrative from Moca, Puerto Rico, 1945” (2020)

Event link: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/bernicebennett/2021/06/10/bound-to-history-leoncia-lasalles-slave-narrative-with-ellen-fernandez-sacco

Background: Here’s the article abstract::

Abstract: The only slave narrative from Puerto Rico is included in Luis Diaz Soler’s Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico (1953; 2002). This article considers this embedded account as part of the literature of slave narratives to address a gap in the literature; this is perhaps due to the account’s singularity and brevity. Beyond this, the other source for understanding the experience of enslaved women in Puerto Rico is through legal and parish documents, generated by a colonial government and church supportive of slavery. As a result, lives under enslavement are quantified statistically, and the lack of oral history or personal accounts hampers understanding of the effects of enslavement from an individual perspective. Documenting such a life comes with its own set of issues, as shown here by demonstrating the limits of various archival resources. There is no one methodology to follow to reconstruct lives and family histories under slavery, an institution designed to prevent the formation of a historical sense of self and agency. Factoring in familial connections makes my own location as a researcher visible, as knowledge is not neutral. Despite its brevity, considering Leoncia Lasalle’s account, and that of her daughter, Juana Rodriguez Lasalle, in terms of its multiple contexts—microhistory, similarities with U.S. and Cuban slave narratives, family histories, and the archive—reveals the constructed nature of the idea of historical knowledge, which also has implications for genealogical practice involved with slavery and life post-emancipation.

Tonight: 4/28: A History Unraveled: Slavery and the Babilonia Family

Please join me tonight on Zoom!

Wednesday April 28, 2021 from 7-8PM– Register via the link below

Independent scholar and genealogist Ellen Fernandez-Sacco will discuss Spain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. She will talk about its connection to her research and how it shapes her family history in Puerto Rico.

https://www.ryehistory.org/events-calendar

Persons Enslaved by Samuel Williams (1795-1856) Tobey Creek, Barnwell County, South Carolina

At the end of October, I was searching South Carolina probate records to see whether a Williams may have enslaved some of the ancestors I am helping to search for in Barnwell County.

I transcribed this list of 8 people, ranging from old to young, in hopes this may help someone find their ancestors.

On January 8, 1858, the Williams estate is described as follows: “…estate lying in Barnwell District on the waters of Tobey Creek, bounded on the west by Tobey Creek, on the East by the estate of John Martin, North by BH Brown and South by Joseph Still and Frederick Croft containing seven hundred and ninety five acres …” 8 Jan 1858

Samuel Williams 1795-1856 SC Wills & Probate 1670-1980 Barnwell, Probate Records Case No. 131-132, 1787-1958  image no. 103 of 450

No. 4                    $9.74625
Sam           $ 1.

Sampson    $1

Earther        $100

Lewis          $500

Bob             $800

Daniel         $800

Jim             $700

Lidia & 2 children – Bess & Milly $1200                

———–                   

$ 4102 

Charles his X mark

Still Osbon  Dyches C + J Nisc
followed by cash & notes due

Note: page 105: first item of goods

No. 21: set of hand irons

11 Oct 1856 Appraisement of the Est of Samuel Williams Ancestry.com

Tree Climbing with Mr. Williams 2: Searching for Anderson Williams (b. 1830, SC)

Come with me as I go through various documents in search of information on ancestors of Mr. Orlando Williams– his paternal Great-Great Grandparents.  Several details led to new information and complications while looking for ancestral paths across several states: South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

I began this part of my search for more information on Anderson Williams with the 1880 census. Williams was born about 1830 in South Carolina; however his wife,  Nellie (Nelly) Jones Williams was in the household for a Caleb Williams, a white farmer with several workers housed at his home. Nellie Williams worked as a domestic servant in the household, just doors away from the home of her husband, Anderson Williams, who worked as a servant for Herbert Lee, his wife and sister in law Clorsey Williams, a black family.

Household of Caleb E. Williams, Nelly Williams, servant on line 44, 1880 US Federal Census, Jefferson, Marengo County, Alabama. Ancestry.com

Just a decade earlier in 1870, they lived in the same household with their recently born daughter, Henrietta Williams. By 1880, Henrietta is not at home, and whether she was still alive, living with kin or succumbed to childhood illness is unknown at present. The earliest records for him so far are the 1866 Colored Census, his 1867 voting record and the couple’s 1869 marriage record, both for Marengo County, Alabama.

Caleb Williams (b.1850): Who dat? 

To find more on Caleb Williams  I searched trees on ancestry.com and learned he was the son of Ashley and Elizabeth Williams; Ashley Williams was a planter born in Darlington, South Carolina.  In the hopes of finding more about Anderson and Nellie Williams before 1866- when the first independent documentation of their lives as free people began, searching this family line made sense. 

What one notes is the rapidity with which most of the information on the slave owner’s tree could be put together, unlike the families I’m researching. Instead, Anderson & Nelly William’s kin and community may be embedded in legal documents such as wills, inventories and writs of partition, and perhaps, newspaper advertisements, or other extant documents in courthouses or  special collections.

There is no one path or one collection of documents that will answer all the questions, even the most basic. This is a process of constant cross referencing, and of developing a system to handle the archival items, be able to reference those resources. A spreadsheet becomes a key organizational tool, (especially if you use it).

 Since this Caleb was too young to run his own farm in 1865, I began looking for his father’s estate papers in the Call County Courthouse in Marengo County, Alabama- these records were microfilmed on FamilySearch.org. I went through them, looking for Ashley Williams’ probate papers and inventories, however, these documents were elusive.

There were lots of delays in the process because of the Civil War- Ashley Williams served in the Confederacy and died in 1865. Whether he took one of the enslaved men as a servant in the field is unknown at this time. His wife, Elizabeth Davis Williams continued to shepherd the probate through the courts for years after the war, but the inventories that would list the people he enslaved seemed elusive with each postponement of the case . 

At last, in Volume K, I found this entry dated  7 Nov 1867: on p 701, it reads:  “This day RH Clarke Admin. filed inventory ordered same be reconsidered same be recorded”  … But… the additional paperwork for this wasn’t present, and Emancipation was a couple of years earlier.  Now what? 

Strategies to go back to a different place & time

My next tactic, if those prior papers were no longer extant, was to go back a generation. Basically, find who Ashley Williams’ parents were, and then look for any probate papers for them. One possibility was that Anderson and Nellie may have been part of an estate subdivision by an inheritance from his father.  Maybe they’d be mentioned somewhere in them.

This meant the search moved north from Demopolis, Jefferson, Marengo County, Alabama to the place where Ashley Williams was born, Darlington South Carolina. Both Anderson and Nellie Williams’s census records record SC (and later, incorrectly as NC) as their original place of birth, so fingers crossed.

So, I began to search for previous inventories and appraisals for enslaved people held by William Williams (1754 – 22 Mar 1829) & Selah Fort (b. 1761) of Darlington South Carolina in anticipation that some subdivision of his estate occurred after his death and that those documents are extant. This may help solve the origin of relatives who are descendants of the enslaved that were forcibly marched or transported from South Carolina to Alabama in the early nineteenth century.  As the family lines for the descendants of the enslaved also extend to Jackson County, Florida, the hope is that more clusters of relatives can be connected. 

Subdividing the Estate, Subdividing Families & Kin

Among the beneficiaries of the Williams estate would be his wife and children.  William Williams & Selah Fort’s son Ashley C Williams (1816-1865) was their third and last child born in Darlington, SC. After 1848, Ashley Williams moved south to Marengo County, AL after the birth of his first child, Amanda Jane. In 1853 he was named Justice of the Peace for Marengo County, Alabama. He died in 1865 while serving in the Confederate troops, leaving his wife Elizabeth and 6 young children. 

Another of William & Selah’s children, Catherine Harriett Williams (1787-1821)  died in Montgomery AL on 21 July 1821.  Their son, David Williams (1784-1850) died in Darlington on 30 Oct 1850.  

By building out a basic tree for the enslavers, I could then follow the marriages to see how enslaved families were subdivided, and follow their path southwards. But it doesn’t happen on its own, just because of family ties. There are larger forces at work that enable the situation.

Underpinning this activity is national expansion and Native dispossession, as during the first decades of 1800s, the US government instituted a policy of forcible removal of Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and their enslaved people out of the Alabama, Georgia and Florida territories, known as the Trail of Tears. Parcels were drawn up, the land subdivided and sold off. Like many families from the Middle Atlantic states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, members of the Williams family were early investors in the expansion of cotton plantations in the deep South, and arrived in Alabama in the early 1820s.

Darlington, South Carolina

I called the Call County Courthouse in Marengo, and they were surprised to learn of the films on FamilySearch. They mentioned a volume of inventories existed. From other Black ProGen members, I learned these films were not necessarily comprehensive. The clerk at the courthouse suggested I contact the Darlington County Historical & Genealogical Commission, as they had some of the older court papers there. This was a game changer. 

There was indeed a packet of estate papers for William Williams, who died intestate. Ms. Anne Chapman, the Assistant Director searched and located the documents. What was interesting was the early subdivision of human and material property by Davis in-laws in the Equity Packets dated 1849. There are some 60 pages in two packets. About 4 pages includes the names of men, women and children apportioned to family members. 

What I learned from one document was that the Andrew Davis of these pages with the recently widowed Martha Davis, were the parents of at least three Davis sisters– Elizabeth Davis Williams, wife of Ashley Williams being one of them. This family was not one researched broadly nor in any Ancestry trees, with Elizabeth’s 1829 birth date added without any parents listed. Also, a quick search reveals nothing about the family in local histories, making tracing them a bit more difficult. Just one probate document made these family relationships clear, showing just how important court documents can be for reconstructing family ties. 

Enslavement as a Familial Affair: Understanding patterns of subdivision and generational trauma

Map included in probate packet
Map of “Widow Davis’ Lot – heirs of Andrew Davis”, 1860. This is a plat showing the big house & plantation where Elizabeth Davis Williams grew up, consisting of two lots, 224.5 & 235 acres. Courtesy of DCHGC

One page I transcribed listed several people, and included was a Writ of Partition dated 13 July 1860 that names Elizabeth Davis Williams’ two sisters, Martha Davis Dalrymple and Susana Davis. There was also a separate page for “An Inventory and Appraisement of the Goods & Chattel” belonging to the Estate of Andrew Davis, dated 4 Nov 1845.

An Inventory and Appraisement of the Goods & Chattel belonging to the Estate of Andrew Davis (decd) as exhibited of James Wright & Martha Davis Admin & Admts on the fourth month of November 1845 to JB Nettles, JC Law [?], Mr. Vann.
Negro Ned    475 
   “      Jim     500 
   “     Mackey 250.00 
   “     Elvey  — 
   “     Lanie —   600.00  [3 together] 
   “     Sam — 
   “     Pat         365.00 
   “     Ann        425.00 
   “     Bill         350.00 
   “     Ben        250.00 
   “     Anthony 150.00 
   “     Jinery     325.00 
   “     Charlotte &  500.00 [2 together] 
   “     Mariah   —  
Mules                 5000 
Equity Packet No. 166 p. 8, Courtesy Darlington Historical & Genealogical Commission, Darlington, SC.

These documents show that slavery was very much a family affair, a familial process along which one family gains income from the lives of people deemed other. The valuation of the enslaved is coolly noted, and provides a trail to follow for where they wound up next. 

Inventory and Appraisement, 1860. DHGC
Inventory & appraisement for a Writ of Partition, first page, 1860. Courtesy of DHGC.
Writ of Partition
Martha Davis     
vs                                 – Bill for o/c & Partition 
Ashley Williams  
& wife & others 

The undersigned being three or the Commplices to where a writ of Partition was directed requiring in to divide the Slaves held in common by Susanah Davis & Martha Davis the Said Martha now the wife of Robert Dalrymple Make the following return of our proceedings under said with being first duel Swore the appraised & divided the Negroes as follows, to wit,  
Lot no 1/ Patty & child Hannah          $1200 
                Sam 16 years old                 1150 
                Cate   6 Do. Do.                     450 
                Sarah 4 Do. Do,                     400             $3200 

Lot No.2/ Jim 32 years old                  1200 
                Jiney   50 Do. Do.                  300  
                Macky 10 Do. Do.                  600 
                Abner    8 Do. Do. (Stutters badly) 500     $2600 
Making an aggregate                            ——   of       $5800               
½ of which is $2900 — 
We set apart the Slaves in Lot No 1 to Susanna 
      Davis at                                                                $3200 
      Her share is                                                            2900 
                        Except her share                                 $ 300 
We set apart to Martha Darywimple wife  
      of Robert Darywimple the Slaves in Lot No 2 at $2600 
          Her share is                                                       2900 
                 Less than her share                                     300  
                                                                                    $2900 

Although you can read this document, it will not tell you of the emotional weight and profound stress of an impending split brought on by a Writ of Partition that subdivides family into Lots. There’s a contrast between the economic abstraction and what Daina Ramey Berry called ‘soul value’ that enslaved people held onto despite the dehumanizing conditions. For the sales, Walter Johnson’s Soul by Soul: Life in the Antebellum Slave Market offers a glimpse into the process of selling the enslaved at auctions.  

These two Davis inventories were recorded over several years– the first taken in November 1845, the second in January 1860- fifteen years apart. It provides some key information- ages that will help in searching for them. While Anderson and Nelly do not appear here, there are the names of people who lived with Elizabeth Davis’ mother and sister. It will take time, and I’ll continue posting transcriptions as I wend my way through the documentation.

These weren’t the only persons involved. On p.42 of the Will Book vol 8-10 on Ancestry’s South Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980 [database on-line] , for Andrew Davis’s estate in 1848, an order for the sale of Ned, household property, animals and crop was set for that December. Ned appears first on the list for the Writ of Partition of 1845, and next the offer of sale. What happened to Ned after December 1848?

I’m still in the process of piecing together the remainder of documents that overlap, some from the Darlington County Historical and Genealogical Commission, others from the Will Books on FamilySearch and Ancestry. While I didn’t find Anderson or Nellie Williams, what was gained is a better sense of the community of people split asunder by what we can read today as another family’s sense of white privilege, economic gain and a fundamental blindness to equality.

To be continued…

%d bloggers like this: