Monday, June 11, 2018

A dodgy legend cited in 1733

Rabbit trails to the ancestors 

© 2018 Christy K. Robinson

 While researching the lives and stories of your ancestors, have you ever lost the thread of your original search when you find a different ancestor and a previously unknown factoid, which you must sniff out? That happens to me all the time. It's called a rabbit trail. The idea is that a rabbit meanders through a yard, randomly nibbling on the garden, then leaves the scene before a dog comes along and tries to sniff out its scent.

I was looking for information on ancestor Giles Slocum's excommunication from the Baptist Church of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and found an old book called Materials Towards a History of the American Baptists (by Morgan Edwards, 1770). Paging through, I recognized names of several ancestors including Rev. Nathaniel Jenkins (seventh great-grandfather), of whom I've written elsewhere in this site.

Rev. Jenkins was one of a wave of immigrant Welsh Baptists who ministered in New Jersey and Pennsylvania from the late 1600s to the late 1700s. He arrived in 1712, married to Esther Jones, with a family of three small daughters and a toddler son. Five more children were added until 1729.

Immediately, he went to work in a loan office, and was elected to the colonial legislature, as well as serving as pastor of the Baptist church in Cape May, New Jersey, a whaling community. Though I can't find details of what "bloody flux" caused a major epidemic and die-off in New France and New England and the ports of New Jersey, some historians think it was measles or dysentery making the rounds from 1714-1720. Rev. Jenkins had to comfort the dying and their families.

In 1721, Jenkins was able to stop an assembly bill that would have punished people who held different religious beliefs than the majority of Christians, including him. See Another Brick in the Wall of Liberty.

In addition to preaching at Cape May, he spoke often at churches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In 1728, he was called to pastor at Shiloh, New Jersey, where he served both "Keithians" or Seventh-day Baptists, and Baptists who met on Sundays.

Good man! Educated, well respected, hard working, advocated for the right to religious liberty, was beloved by his parishioners, and esteemed by his colleagues.

In 1559, in the first years of Queen Elizabeth's reign in England, a Welshman named Humphrey Llwyd published Cronica Walliae, a history of Wales that included a legend that Prince Madog ap Owain of Gwynedd had tired of fraternal fighting for the Welsh crown after Owain died in 1170, and had sailed away to discover America. He formed a colony of Welsh people among Native Americans. He returned to Wales and brought another ship of Welsh people and supplies back to North America. After that, there was no report of him.

Politically, this colonization by a Welsh prince could mean that Spain's claim on the New World through Cristobal Colon (Columbus) would be negated and the British could lay claim to the continent by right of first discovery 300 years before Columbus. Don't forget that Spain and England were enemies, mostly over Catholic/Protestant issues, but also over trade. The story grew in the 1700s, with the addition that this tribe of Welsh Indians had beards. A legend grew that Madog's people had built stone structures like a castle, laid out streets, and eventually had children with the Indians. Early explorers were supposed to have met Indians who could understand or speak Welsh. The thought was that Madog had sailed west to America and north on the Mississippi River and his colony had integrated with and become the Mandan tribe of North Dakota. There is, of course, no evidence or slight possibility that a Prince Madog ever came to America, but why would that stop a Welsh storyteller from promoting the myth on a long winter's evening? The tale was told for more than 300 years. Even Thomas Jefferson told Merriwether Lewis to investigate whether this story was a possibility, in 1803.

In 1733, when Rev. Jenkins was 54 years old, he and some colleagues wrote a letter to the British Missionary Society, which is contained in the 1770 Baptist history book. This is the explanation of the letter, and the letter itself.
           Morgan Edwards wrote: "Though it be doubtful whether a nation of ancient Britons (usually called Welsh Indians) 
do exist in America yet the grounds of the conjecture are not to be despised. It is no longer than 1767 
since some Indians from the back of lake Superior averred at Quebec 
"That far westward of them was a tribe of white people who wore beards, and dressed differently 
from the Spaniards, French and English ; that they had the use of arms, possessed a well improved 
country, but were very shy of the black Indians, &c." 
           See the account published at London in the Ledger of Feb. 2, 1768. However, our forefathers believed there were such a people, as appears by their letters, one of which (addressed to the British [Missionary] Society, and dated Philadelphia, Mar. 1, 1733-4) is as followeth. 

It is not unknown to you that Maddoc Gwynedd, prince of Wales did, about 500 years ago, sail to the westward with several ships and a great number of his subjects; and was never heard of after. Some reliques of the Welsh tongue being found in old and deserted settlements about the Mississippi, make it probably that he sailed up that river. And we, being moved with brotherly love to our countrymen, are meditating to go in search of them; but are discouraged by the distance of the place, and uncertainty of the course we should steer. If you can give us any information and direction, together with some help to bear the expence we shall find men adventurous enough to undertake the expedition; having no other end in view than to carry the gospel of peace among our ancient brethren; and believing it will be to the enlargement of the british Empire in America, and a proof of prior right to the whole continent, should we happily succeed."

We remain, Gentlemen, Your loving countrymen,
Nathaniel Jenkins, John Davis,
Benj. Griffiths, David Evans,
Joseph Eaton, Rynallt Howel.

 Keep in mind the context here. This is is British colonial America, 40 years before the Revolution, and 70 years before the Lewis & Clark Expedition to the West Coast. The Welsh ministers of Pennsylvania and New Jersey had been born and educated in Wales, and had spent decades already in America, without returning to their native country for a professional visit or vacation. Learning a Welsh story about their ancestors would have quickened their hearts. Combined with missionary zeal, it would have been very exciting to meet their "cousins" and convert them to Christianity.

For more information on the legend of Prince Madog and the Welsh Indians, click HERE.

 Christy K Robinson is author of this website and these books. Click the book titles to find them in paperback and Kindle.
·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother (2018)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Slave owners in the family tree

 My mother, Judith Anson Robinson, did much of the family interviewing, letter writing, ordering of books and microfilms from genealogy libraries, and traveling to midwestern and northeastern states to learn our family's heritage back to the first colonists to America. Together, when I was a  teenager, we discovered the gateway families that led back to some very famous medieval names. Mom kept up her hobby after I went off to university, and when we got a 1984 Macintosh computer and put the mini-floppy discs into the hard drive, she filled up her copy of Personal Ancestral File version one. She had to call the PAF programmers in Salt Lake City and tell them they needed to build a bigger mousetrap. After my mother passed away, I continued to research some of the more obscure names or previous dead ends, which is much more fascinating to study than famous royal or aristocratic types.

One of the things that would have broken my mother's heart is that despite most of our family coming from Yankee New England (where some Puritan colonists traded in Native American and African slaves), or being Quaker abolitionists, there were a few slave owners hiding up in our family branches, on her side and my father's. They bought human beings at a market, and kept them captive to labor on their lands, sometimes in worse living conditions than the domestic animals were treated.

In my research on my father's side of the family (Robinson in New England and later Indiana and Iowa; and Carter in Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana), I found a Mary Brent who married James Carter in the early 18th century. In Ancestry.com, someone tagged a photo to Mary Brent's father, Hugh Brent, and this is it--a deed of two slaves from father to daughter. Mary was only 13 years old at this time. Her father died six years later.

With the help of my friend Jo Ann Butler, author of three books on 17th-century Rhode Island, I transcribed the document.

Know all men by these Presents that I Hugh Brent of ye

p’ish [parish] of Christ Church in ye County of Lancaster aforesd Psnt [Present] for and in

Consideration of the natural love & affection which I have and bear

Unto Mary Brent my Daughter Have Given and Granted And by

these presents doe for my selfe my heires Extor [Executor] and admnstr give

and grant unto the aforesd Mary Brent one Certaine mul-

latoe slave named and commonly known by the name of Jack

and one Certaine negroe slave named and commonly known

by the name of Mingoe To have and to hold the aforesaid

Negroe and mulatoe slaves unto the aforesaid Mary Brent

And the heirs of her body Lawfully begotten and if she dyes with

out such issue that if ye aforesaid negroe and mulatoe slaves shall

be and remaine unto to my son Charles Brent and his heirs for ever.

In witness whereof I have hereunto putt my hand and Seale ye this

12th  day of September anno Dom 1710

Hugh Brent    The seale

Signed sealed & deliverd

In presence of

John Turberville

Wm Dare

Recognized in Cur [Court?] County Lancaster [Virginia] 11 day October

Anno Dom 1710 & Recorded  Rob Taylor
Human beings with only one name, doomed to a lifetime of forced labor. And if they had children, the children belonged to the masters and could be sold away or kept, but they, too, were slaves for life. Forever.

Mingoe, a "certain black," meaning that he certainly wasn't of mixed race, had no parents or children recorded. Perhaps Jack, the "certain mulatto," was the son of Hugh Brent, or Hugh's father? We'll never know because slaves' genealogies were not recorded.

Encyclopedia Virginia says that
'Salvation came to the colony in the form of smoking tobacco, or what King James I called a "vile and stinking custom," when John Rolfe cultivated a variety of tobacco that sold well in England. In 1619, a General Assembly convened, bringing limited self-government to America. That same year brought the first slaves to Virginia. For most of the 1600s, white indentured servants worked the colony's tobacco fields, but by 1705 the Virginia colony had become a slave society. Nearly all power was in the hands of white male landowners, who ran the government and, by law, belonged to the Church of England. Women who married and worked at home were considered "good wives"; those who refused such "proper" roles were considered troublesome.'
This Hugh Brent, 1660-1716, my seventh great-grandfather, was born to parents who emigrated from Kent, England, in 1642. They received lands at the mouth of the Rappahannock River in Virginia, at present-day Weems. Hugh was 11 when his father died, and 14 when his mother passed. He was still a teenager when he married Katherine Swann and started his family.

Hugh's youngest child, Mary Brent, the girl in the document, married at age 27 to James Carter, another tobacco planter with slaves. When James died in 1743, he left a will naming slaves he was giving to his wife and adult children.

Item I give my son HUGH two negroes Mingo & Sharlott. [This is 32 years after Mary Brent Carter was given a man named Mingoe. Could this be the same man?]
Item I give my Son CHARLES [my ancestor] and his heirs two negroes Sue and Winny and their increase.
Item I give to my Daughter Ann and her heirs two negroes great Dick and Hannah with her increase.
Item I give to my daughter CATHERINE and her heirs two negroes Robin and Dinah with her increase.
Item what negroes I die possessed of not yet willed or bequeathed I leave to my dear and loving wife MARY during her widowhood only and after her marrying again or decease to be equally divided among my surviving children.
Item my personal estate I leave to he equally divided among my wife and children or the survivors of them.
Another ancestor, Capt. Thomas Carter, owned numerous plantations, which would have been "staffed" by probably hundreds of slaves. When he died in 1700, he left his wife, Catherine Dale Carter, a "negro named Dick," the home plantation, and a third of his personal property.

In sorrowful memory of Jack and Mingoe, Dick, Sharlott, Sue, Winny, Hannah, Robin, and Dinah, and hundreds more African slaves of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the families they were torn from. 

I hope to call you family when we meet in heaven someday.

Monday, October 2, 2017

How I research my history and genealogy books

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Diana Milne talks to Christy K Robinson - author, editor, organist and jam maker extraordinaire!

© Diana Milne 2017 © Christy K Robinson 2017  
I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!
Christy K Robinson is author of the books:
We Shall Be Changed (2010) Inspiration
Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013) Vol. 1 of biographical novel
Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014) Vol. 2 of biographical novel
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014) Nonfiction, topical, 17th century
Effigy Hunter (2015) Nonfiction, travelogue, medieval history, genealogy
Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother (2017) Nonfiction, topical, 17th century
First things first. I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
“Christy, we’d love to employ you as one of our editors here at [magazine or book publishing company in California] at a decent salary, and offer you three weeks’ paid vacation every year in UK or Europe. What do you say?”  
“Heck, yeah! I can start last week.”
And then I could still research and write, teach piano to three or four kids a week, grow some veggies, and play keyboards for churches, but for fun, not scratching out a living.
If your latest book (Effigy Hunter) was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
I have actually mapped out Effigy Hunter as a PBS show, with a reporter (not me) doing stand-up shots in various cathedrals or ruined abbeys around the UK and Europe. I need to find commercial sponsors like travel agencies and airlines, a producer, video crew, etc., and I’ll happily write the scripts.

 As for my fiction and non-fiction set in the 17th century, I’d love to see a multi-year TV series between England and New England about the first founders—not of the United States in 1770s, but of the founders in the 1630s. Their issues still resonate today. Lead role? This world needs more Colin Firths in it. 

What made you choose this genre?
First, I’ve been a history lover since I was in primary grades, and then I subscribed to archaeology magazines for years. I helped my chronically ill mother with family genealogy in the 70s, and did a lot of it on my own after she passed. I created a six-by-nine-foot pedigree chart that hangs on my wall, and I stuck laser-print headshots of every ancestor I could find, next to their name. Like millions of other people, I can trace my lines back to some important people, and books had photos of their effigies, so they got copied and stuck onto the chart. Then I finally earned enough mad money to book my trips to UK and Europe, and after much research and not a few hunches, I became an Effigy Hunter myself. I passed on most of the touristy sites, but looked up old abbeys, country churches, and cathedrals. In my professional life, I’ve been a book and magazine editor since my university degree, so nonfiction and a topical format, rather than a character-driven plot, is my forte.  Even my novels are as close to truth as I can make them.
It’s difficult to assign a genre to Effigy Hunter, as it’s a locator and description of nearly a thousand effigies in the UK and Europe, plus stories about some of the people memorialized in stone. It’s travelogue, history, genealogy, photos, and a bit of a romp, as one reviewer put it. A search of the internet, Amazon, and various booksellers reveals that this is a unique book—nothing like it. 
How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
If I’m working on a historical novel, I only need for characters to be born during my timeline! And in my non-fiction, I only require that they be dead (so there’s a burial place to write about). 
If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Yes, in research for my biographical novels on Mary Dyer, I found that one of my secondary characters had a sister who was a transvestite. She was baptized a female, then disappeared from records (except for her portrait as a young man), then was buried as a woman with her same birth name, not a married name. She came from a very famous family in the mid-17th century, and I think they supported her and allowed her to live as a man. I’d like to make her a heroine/hero against child-traffickers, which was as terrible then as it is now. I do have two villains in mind, who were Puritan preachers as well as scoundrels. She never had children, but her siblings had descendants, one of whom is currently a member of the House of Lords. I’ve written to him several times, but no answer. I can’t afford time off my self-employment, or the travel expense, to go back to UK and sort out details. 
Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
Conscious. By nine years old, I’d turn in school reports as if they were articles in a newspaper. No one taught me that. I just did it. Then the teacher published one of them on the purple mimeograph machine in the school office, and I knew I had a future in writing. I was a teen reporter for Arizona’s largest newspapers during my last two years of high school, and hoped for a career in journalism, either newspaper or magazines. My mother was my best writing coach, and she’d have me study an encyclopedia article, then rewrite it using a thesaurus. The best advice from a professor? Write to a specific audience, and even better, a face. That helped develop my “voice” as a writer. Editing and writing newsletters, magazines, websites, and other short-form was easy and fun, but writing fiction came very late. I have a vivid imagination, but I dread just making up a story. 
Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Neither love nor hate. It’s OK. The real question is: Christy’s homemade fruit jams—merely delicious, or crack?
My kitten plays Godzilla in a recent batch of jams.
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
Nope. No sound track. No favorite pair of jammies. No alcohol. But it’s almost impossible to write unless it’s after 9pm. I can research any time, but writing won’t happen earlier than that. 
I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
I promise not to answer, except that I am never-married and childless. 
Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Historical research, digging deep in libraries and archives. *shivers* 
Coffee or tea?
Depends on the country. Tea in the UK because your coffee is too strong, and your tea is smooth and mellow (Yorkshire Gold for me). Coffee in the US. My parents were from Minnesota, and Minnesotans are born with coffee in their circulatory system, so... 
How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I have a rough layout in a Word document, and a detailed, multi-column timeline in Excel, and expand from there. I’ve been a magazine and newsletter editor since 1982, so I project several months ahead of today, and I’m always thinking of what will interest the reader: anecdotes that fit the facts, images, recent news that correlates to historical events, etc.
If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
Comic Sans. (Kidding! I hate Comic Sans. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest the armpits of the designer of Comic Sans.) Georgia is very readable. My editing clients lately have preferred Calibri in their manuscripts, but it’s dangerously similar to Comic Sans. 
Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The personal papers of the (real) characters of my biographical novels. I have high-resolution images of four of their business letters, but I want their notes, personal letters, a journal, the family Bible, etc. I don’t know if they exist, but I suspect there might be some detailed reports written by Mary Dyer’s husband, to Spymaster Thurloe in the 1650s, that would be in the British Library. Online, and transcribed, I believe I have found a letter from Oliver Cromwell to William Dyer, though Dyer’s name is not attached—the situation is unique to him. 
Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Nope. My biographical novels were as close to the actual events and timelines as I could make them. But digging up stories for nonfiction Effigy Hunter was fun because I had to wonder: what grave sins did these men commit, that they had to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and pay for some big ol’ churches to be built to get themselves busted out of purgatory? 
How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
C’mon, I’m still researching my novels published in 2013 and 2014! (For my blogs, I tell myself.) As for research trips, yes, I’ve been to UK five times, and they were all about research—because research is fun. I took hundreds of photos on those trips that became valuable resources when I finally got around to writing Effigy Hunter. I put together a book trailer with those photos. https://youtu.be/LHGCVmgDe9k 
Also, I travelled to Boston and Newport in New England for concentrated research. I was gratified to find that my book-learnin’ and Google Maps street views were true to life, according to natives of the areas. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, thousands of miles away. 
Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
Well, there was one fellow integral to the story that I tried to research, but he was so odious, even to his descendants, that only one man in 400 years wrote a very apologetic biography of him. He was still alive at the end of my novel because he killed my heroine.  However, I did carefully research the others, even the villains, so they wouldn’t be flat cartoons, but three-dimensional human beings. And of course, in the nonfiction Effigy Hunter, they all died. Every one. Not one lived to tell the tales. 
Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Lines are totally blurred in genealogy websites. Enthusiastic hobbyists will post and propagate all manner of mistakes and suppositions. However, I trust peer-reviewed journals, modern history books (but not Victorian ones), and census or military records. In some cases, I found information and made connections that no one in 400 years had thought of—but they happened. I wrote them into my books, and now, several years later, the fact/fiction border is blurry to me. 
What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I’m such a nerd. Straight history far more than historical fiction. Biography. Science and political news. 
What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
Whatever Indiana Jones would drink. I mean, Effigy Hunter is adventure travel. 
Last but not least... favourite author?
I could give you my “least favorite author” if you hadn’t typed that ellipsis in there. But for a favorite, I think I’m going to go with the apostle, St. John the Beloved. (That handily avoids playing faves with the authors I’m privileged to hang out with.) I learned that people cannot be told enough times that they are loved. Loved by humans, loved by pets, loved by God, or loved by the “Universe.” They need to hear it. And John the apostle said it a lot. By the way, Diana, I love you and your humor. 
More about Christy K Robinson, including her history blogs, at http://ChristyKRobinson.com