“100 Years Ago, Thursday, July 28, 1910 from the Mathews Journal: A fine bungalow is being erected at ‘Spring Hill,’ the farm of Mr. S.G. Miller, which when completed will be the headquarters of the Riverside Yacht and Tennis Club . . . “
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Monday, October 5, 2020
Ancestry estimated my ethnicity and told me I had more than
a thousand 4th cousins or closer relatives who had also
sent DNA samples for analysis by them.
For more on early
I suggest reading
Adapting to the New
Society in the
Bamburgh Castle is like Mecca to genealogically-
inclined members of the Foster Family
A sign near the Castle entrance sets us
straight on the Foster/Forster
relation to the estate.
For the most part, Ancestry’s DNA test suggested there was some truth to these folklores. Nevertheless, I am nearly 100 percent British.
Recently, I received an email from Ancestry telling me that their analysis of my DNA had been refined since the ever-increasing pool of people tested had provided more data. The updated ethnicity estimate, based on more than 44,000 reference samples, told me my ancestors were from Scotland (36%), England and Northwestern Europe (34%), Wales (16%), Germanic Europe (10%), and Ireland (4%).
All this leads to the point of this posting: the discovery of new-to-me cousins. The Ancestry DNA test provides more than your ethnicity results. They also provide a list of DNA relatives who have also taken this test, sorted by their degree of relation to you, revealed in lengths of identically-patterned DNA. Some of these people you may know and some you don’t. Some have kindly added their photograph, but most have not. Some have identified themselves with their name, but most provide only an email address. Some have linked their extensive and well-documented Ancestry family trees, but they are truly few and far between.
Ancestry gives you a list of your DNA
matches as well as a number of ways to explore the
data. You can even contact your cousins who have
given their permission to be contacted.
I discovered that the list of cousins grows from here, and I was curious to find others I knew. Besides, the Ancestry email caught me on a particularly slow COVID-defined day. Leisurely scrolling along, I found twenty of my 3rd cousins had been tested. Although there were several familiar family names, I didn’t know a single one.th cousins. At last I saw a name I recognized. My cousin Grover Lewis had been tested. I was still counting cousins, although I was about to give up the extra effort of counting as the list seemed endless, when . . . 99, 100, 101, 102. Huh? Hmm. 103, 104, 105. What? I scrolled back to 102 and looked at her photo and then clicked through to her ethnicity estimate. I scrolled on to 105 and looked at his. Both were a bit Scottish and English. Other European locales showed up, but the majority of their DNA patterns, 60 to 80 percent of them, were related to Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Western Bantu, Benin, Togo, and Mali ethnicities.
Scroll, scroll, scroll. Faster now, I was just looking at the photos. After about a half hour, I scrolled past more than 1,000 of my DNA-defined 4th cousins and among them I found 25 African-Americans who had identified themselves as such by adding their photo. There may have been more, but as I said, not everyone submits a photo and clicking through on over 1,000 people to drill down to their ethnicity percentages required more time that I was willing to spend.
By now it was clear to me that I had found a truth that most of us White people know, on an intuitive level, but have never confronted as fact: great-great grandfather, or his brother, or someone else not too far removed from me, raped the people he enslaved.
At first, I was in some form of denial. I though the “White man in the woodpile” had to be my North Carolina great-great. After all, he was the largest slaveholder of the slaveholding bunch of great-great grandfathers and uncles. Could I somehow determine this?
In fits and starts over the last couple of weeks, I have gathered my 25 new-found cousins onto a spreadsheet and started comparing them. I grouped them by the number of centimorgans (cM), the length of a piece of matched DNA, that I shared with each. I graphed their ethnicity percentages from European and African geographical origins.
I discovered that not all 4th cousins are the same. Ancestry lets you click on a cousin to group them with others who share the same ancestor. These shared DNA groups are designated by a length of DNA exhibiting the same pattern.
For example, my closest Black cousins, Mercedes and Jonathan, share the same 35-cM-long pattern of DNA with me, so we all descend from the same ancestor. So do six other people culled by Ancestry from the list of more than 1,000 4th cousins and sorted into this DNA pattern group.
Pamela, Edwin, and I share a DNA pattern 23 cM in length with 19 other 4th cousins and one 3rd cousin.
Alexis, Charlene and I share a different 23 cM long pattern with six other people.
Jon, me, and 27 other people, including my son, share yet another identical 23 cM DNA pattern.
Jamaal, Jean, four other cousins, and I share the same 20-cM long pattern.
Many of my new-found Black cousins share a length of DNA with me, yet they share no patterns or ancestors with any other Black cousin in my group of 25.
All of this suggests more than one of my White ancestors was an abusive master. There wasn’t just one “White man in the woodpile.”
So far, I have tried to triangulate to figure out who the shared ancestor is in the grouping of nine people that includes Mercedes, Jonathan, and I. By examining the genealogies linked by some White cousins in the group, I tried to see if I share a common ancestor with them. Examination of a Mathews County, Virginia, cousin's family tree shows we are related through the children of Henry Digges (1767-1823), but it’s complicated: my third uncle married his granddaughter.
In another triangulation, I found a White cousin in the group with Pamela, Edwin, and I who has a number of Mathew’s ancestors with the Forrest surname. My paternal grandmother was a Forrest, and there are Forrests in other paternal and maternal branches of my family tree. But I can’t make a connection. Also, I learned while preparing for my UK trip that Forrests, Forsters, and Fosters, a surname spelled variously once people started writing and recording names, can be related. I've got Fosters on my maternal side.
I've surfed through other groupings for relations. The same surnames pop out, but no direct line yet. My assumption that one North Carolinian was to “blame” seems to be misdirected. My Mathews, Virginia, ancestors are implicated by my work thus far.
Importantly, what this shows me, and I am saddened and ashamed to realize, is that the sexual abuse of female enslaved people was all too common. This realization, that most American Blacks have White ancestors, has already resulted in my viewing every Black person I see in a different light. If he’s not my cousin, then he is very likely the cousin of my White next-door neighbor, business colleague, or friend from church.
Sunday, August 9, 2020
A Select History of Mathews County, Virginia: 17th, 18th & 19th Centuries and The Family of Robert and Ann Hall. It's a very well-compiled and well-written historical documentation, full of evidence surrounding the origin, environment, and events of their lives. I can hardly read a paragraph without adding a fact or two about one of our common ancestors to my Ancestry database.
While reading my cousin's book, I have discovered another slaver to confess: my fourth great uncle Spencer Hall (1760-1793). His sister, Ann or "Nanny" (1756-1820), and her husband, Peter Foster (1757-1819), are my fourth great grandparents. Peter, Spencer, and another Hall brother, Robert, served together on the Henry during the Revolutionary War in defense of the Mobjack and Chesapeake Bay coasts of Mathews, where British ships were frighteningly visible to area residents. Shallow-draft galleys like the Henry were a force developed to defend the homeland from British sailors who might come ashore to forage for food and supplies. Peter was on board as a ship carpenter, but the Hall boys were seamen who would eventually be transferred to a larger Virginia Navy ship, the Tartar.
In his book, Cousin Conrad posits that after the American Revolution, Spencer may have signed on with a merchant vessel or privateer with a home port of Salem or Beverly, Massachusetts, since he married Mary Ober in 1781, the daughter of a Salem, Massachusetts, mariner. The extended Ober family was prominent in Massachusetts-based maritime pursuits and Conrad mentions seven Obers who held important crew positions on ships between 1777 and 1781.
Soon after they were married, Spencer and Mary Hall had two children, although both died young. Later they had three more sons, Spencer, Jr. (1787), Israel (1790), and James Levette (1793). Spencer was often at sea, enjoying good commercial success in his ventures. By 1786, he was partial owner of the schooner Polly, but in December of that year it was badly damaged when driven onto a Barnstable, Massachusetts, beach by an Atlantic gale. The vessel and cargo were put up at auction, as advertised in the Essex Register on March 26, 1787. In 1790, he and a partner registered the Mary Ann. Likewise, it was lost with its cargo, this time in the "graveyard of the Atlantic," off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. On August 30, 1790, the Essex Register shipping news lists him as captain of the Mary, returning from Spain.
Later that year he bought the 82-ton schooner, Union. "The record is silent on the Unon's activities in the first two years of his ownership, but in 1792 Spencer became involved in the slave trade," states Conrad Hall. "Perhaps he succumbed to it out of desperation. He did have significant debts . . . and a successful voyage involving the slave trade was typically highly profitable. It would have been an option since his home port, Salem, was deeply involved in the slave trade, as were other New England ports."
Unitarian minister and pastor of the East Church in Salem, William Bentley, noted in his diary that "Capt. Spence Hall died in the Guinea Trade," as the slave trade was known. "He has left a wife and six children, belonging to the English church in this town. He has been an unfortunate man, & thus sought 'base means for his redress.'" Bentley's comments suggest he had to take on the high-risk venture to meet his family obligations and "unfortunate" financial situation. Although he lost his life, Spencer must have benefited from the profits of his slave trading ventures, for his wife and children appear to have lived comfortably thereafter.
Back in Mathews, little is known about brother Robert. He may have continued in a maritime career, was probably unmarried, and died by 1847. His bounty land, awarded for service in the Revolutionary War, was claimed for the benefit of the family by brother Thomas Hall.
Spencer's shipmate and my fourth great grandfather Peter Foster lived on Mathews' North River, west of the Halls. He also lived a long life and died in 1819. According to the 1810 US Census, he also counted 19 enslaved people in his and Nanny's household.
Detail of the Mobjack Bay and Mathews from Fry, J., Jefferson, P. & Jefferys, T. (1755) A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. [London, Thos. Jefferys] Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/74693166/
Friday, July 31, 2020
My grandmother, Laura Belle Foster (1890-1976), thought the world of her little brother, my Uncle Howitt (Howitt Hodge Foster, M.D., 1893-1980). He was the last child of great grandfather Henry Howitt Foster (1851-1930), who had eight children with his first wife, Madeline Debnam (1850-1885), and three with his second wife and my great grandmother, Belle Catherine Hodge (1863-1893). You may have noticed that Great Grandmother Belle died in the year Uncle Howitt was born. Since his father, Henry, was 42 years old with ten other children to feed and a business to run in Mathews, Virginia, baby Howitt was sent to live with Belle’s parents in Wake County, North Carolina. There Howitt grew up with his grandparents and then his Aunt Fannie. He became a doctor like Fannie’s husband John Smith, and practiced family medicine in Norlina, North Carolina, for the rest of his life.
On the back of the photo of Martha, Uncle Howitt wrote, “I called her my ‘colored mamy’ as did rest of family and she was treated as one of us as long as she lived. She had her own room and own things which were furnished by my grandpa and grandma.”
The thought of this makes me feel uncomfortable. The way my family swept formerly enslaved people into their households as servants who worked without agency was not unusual for the time. Yet I still feel uneasy and awkward about how to reconcile this past, let alone do something about it. Although I wasn’t raised by a Black woman, I have friends and relatives my age (ahem, 65) who were. And there were plenty of people descended from those who were formerly enslaved who did the cleaning, cooking, and yard and farm work at our house in Gloucester and my grandparents’ home in Mathews. I have a history of white privilege that I have known for a long time, but like so many others, current events are calling me to look and think about racism anew.Overlooked No More: Nancy Green, the ‘Real Aunt Jemima,’ says that the Aunt Jemima logo is an outgrowth of Old South plantation nostalgia and romance. This may have rung true at the time of the Columbia Exhibition, but thank goodness most people today aren’t nostalgic for a “Gone with the Wind” past. As my mother would say by way of explanation, “it was just the way things were.” Accept it and get over it. But what white people are waking up to now is that such things as a syrup brand and a statue of Robert E. Lee are legacy items from that “just the way things were” time. We cannot just get over it. They are hurtful to some and harmful to us all as we move our diverse society forward. Aunt Jemima was a brand. Nancy Green was a real person. She had a job, was a church missionary, had a family, and died in a car crash in 1923. The United Daughters of the Confederacy tried to erect a monument to “faithful colored mammies” on her grave, but the measure was not approved. Thank goodness. One less monument to tear down today.
The New York Times article which gives agency to Nancy Green references an earlier article by Riche Richardson, an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at CornellUniversity. She writes that the Aunt Jemima logo is “grounded in an idea about the ‘mammy,’ a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own. Visually, the plantation myth portrayed her as an asexual, plump black woman wearing a headscarf.”
Martha died between 1920 and 1925. I don’t know if she had a husband or children. The only documentation credits her with no life of her own. I have walked around graveyards in Wake, Franklin, Granville, and Warren counties looking for ancestors. I never thought to look for Martha and I wonder if she’s buried with her white family.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Monday, July 20, 2020
A broader understanding of Mathews’ role in shipbuilding and trade is not well known beyond a few historians. Perhaps this is due to the uncomfortable conclusion to which it leads: our ancestors were involved in people trafficking. I intend to do more research in this area as part of my work in family history. The little I have done so far reminds me how much more there is to know about Africa and the slave trade that was left out of my lily-white education.
Although I’m sure more than one of my Mathews ancestors was involved in the slave trade, my 2nd great uncle Alexander R. Hudgins’ (1824-1843) story is perhaps the most telling. He died at the age of 19 in a shipwreck off the coast of East Africa, according to this death announcement from the Baltimore Sun, on 8 Sept 1843:
So, what exactly was he doing at Quilliman on the coast of East Africa? We’ll probably never know the details, but it seems obvious, really. Young Alexander was involved in illegal slave trade.
According to Smithsonian's Slave Wrecks Project, more than 12 million Africans were enslaved during the trans-Atlantic slave trade era (1525-1867) and an estimated 1,000 ships are believed to have wrecked with slaves on board when headed for the Americas, the portion of the triangle known as the Middle Passage. The Project is an international collaboration exploring the slave trade through research and maritime archaeology in order to produce new histories and narratives that reshape the way we understand the past.In 2014, Project researchers found a shipwreck off South Africa’s, Cape of Good Hope which was the first archaeological documentation of a ship carrying a cargo of enslaved people. Its story is told at the National Museum of African American History & Culture along with the story of the last slave ship headed to America, the Clotilda. As far as I know, the brig Ann has not been found. If it has, my inquiry into Uncle Alexander may result in a small reordering of the way we think about Mathews’ pre-Civil War shipbuilding and seafaring history. Quelimane (spelled Quilliman in the 19th century). traders sold gold and slaves to the Portuguese, who had settled in the seaport by the 16th century, and its slave market grew in the 18th and 19th centuries. Beginning in 1808, the United Kingdom outlawed the Atlantic Slave Trade, making it illegal for British ships to transport slaves. The Royal Navy established a presence off the west African coast to enforce the ban and soon negotiated treaties with other countries to intercept and search ships for slaves. From 1819, the US Navy made an effort to prevent slave trade and in 1842 it was agreed they would work with the United Kingdom to abolish the trade, which was considered piracy (robbery or criminal violence by ship). By this time the trade had expanded from the west coast to the east coast of Africa.
Many enslaved people from the east coast would be sold in Brazil, still one of the largest slave trading nations, where the British call to cease trading was defied. During the Atlantic slave trade era, Brazil received more African slaves than any other country. An estimated 4.9 million slaves from Africa were brought to Brazil during the period from 1501 to 1866.
The story of an American slave ship named Kentucky which was involved in the Quelimane-Brazil trade in 1844 is told on a University of Kentucky website. This slave trade operation also ignored treaties banning trade but the ship was eventually found by a British armed vessel. Trapped in the Angozha River in Mozambique, the crew set the ship on fire and escaped by land. This took place just a year after Alexander’s brig was lost at Quelimane and makes me want to know more. So does another fact I read about the last slave ship, the Clotllda: her captain was William Foster. Could he be related to me too?
Uncle Alexander’s sister was my second great grandmother, Anne Macon Hudgins (1830-1859), also of Mathews, who was the first wife of Joseph Finch Foster (1819-1896). Foster held 11 enslaved people on his Rose Hill Plantation in 1860. Uncle Alexander and Grandmother Anne’s father was Mathews’ legendary shipbuilder Lewis Hudgins (1797-1866). He lived with his wife, my third great grandmother, Elizabeth L. Williams (1804-1850) at Fitchett’s Wharf. According to the Virginia Highway Marker there:
The marker does not include the fact that in 1860 Lewis Hudgins enslaved 22 people. It also did not include information from Civil War Officer Reports that refer to Lewis Hudgins as “a noted rebel” who was the leader of a Confederate smuggling and resistance party “calling themselves the Arabs.”
Some twenty years before the Civil War, when Lewis and Elizabeth’s first son was 19 years old, they had four boys and three girls at home. Alexander may have left a crowded home for the seafaring life several years earlier. After his son's death, Lewis would have two more children with Elizabeth. In 1846, they named a son Alexander R. Hudgins in memory of their first born. Lewis would have three more with his second wife by the time of his Civil War exploits, and afterwards a few more children as well as a third wife before his death in 1866.
Saturday, July 4, 2020
War and slavery. Two practices that I’m not drawn to as a writer and I am challenged to put my thoughts down on paper about either one. I haven’t found the words. It’s been easy for me to look the other way. I hope that by writing this blog I will be able to confront the legacy of my Southern slave-holding ancestors.
So, to get started, without celebration or blame, I speak their names:
4th Great Grandfather Thomas Healy (1746-1813), Middlesex County, Virginia
Healy was recommended as ensign in the county militia in 1778. Later, he was made captain and qualified as major after the war, in 1794. He furnished the Continental Army with 900 pounds of grass beef, a cart and driver for 2 days, and one gun, for which he sought reimbursement after the war. According to the US Census of 1810, his household included 8 white and 32 enslaved black people.
4th Great Grandfather Peter Foster (1757-1819), Mathews County, Virginia
Virginia’s navy of the revolution lists Peter Foster as a ships carpenter. He served on the Henry under Captain Robert Tompkins, and received a bounty as a Revolutionary War veteran. According to the 1810 US Census, his household included 7 white and 19 enslaved black people. Peter Foster was married in 1776 to Ann "Nanny" Hall and his father-in-law was Robert Hall, whose sons Robert Jr. and Spence served with Peter on the Henry.
5th Great Grandfather Burwell Bell (c. 1754-1824), Wake County, North Carolina
When he was called up, Bell paid for a substitute, Jacob Newsom, to take his place. During the American Revolution, Newsom served 4 tours of duty for a total of 30 weeks of service in 1780: 3 tours for others and 1 for himself as a draftee. In 1832 at the age of 70, he petitioned to receive a bounty for his service. According to the 1798 US Census, Burwell Bell’s household included 6 white and 8 enslaved black people, and by the 1800 US Census there were 10 white and 15 enslaved black people in his household.
5th Great Grandfather Henry Harrison Macon (1745-1790), Louisburg, North Carolina
Macon served as a captain in the North Carolina militia. He was wounded at the Battle of Camden, 10 August 1780, and imprisoned by the British in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1781, he was granted leave to ship his tobacco crop in order to defray debts contracted while he was imprisoned. He died at the age of 45 in 1790, before the first US Census was taken. During the 1810 Census, his son and my 4th great grandfather, Nathaniel Macon (1778-1843), reported 6 white and 7 enslaved black people in his household.
After writing the previous blog post, about my Black cousins , I remembered a book sent to me by a seventh cousin in my Foster line of desce...
A distant cousin of mine, Conrad Hall, recently published a book about the descendants of our fifth-great-grandparents, A Select History o...
Mathews, Virginia , is off the beaten path today, but during the age of sail, its Chesapeake Bay location was ideal. The Virginia Gazette , ...
After writing the previous blog post, about my Black cousins , I remembered a book sent to me by a seventh cousin in my Foster line of desce...