Sunday, July 1, 2018

Did your Irish ancestors worship in a church like Clonfert?

© 2018 Christy K Robinson 

My maternal grandmother told my mother at some point in the 1960s that their ancestors were "Scotch-Irish." My mom did years of research, and refuted that family legend. In fact, on the grandmother side, they were almost all English. On my maternal grandfather's side, English and German. However, on my dad's ancestry, besides the English, Dutch, and Welsh forebears, there were numerous Irish and Scottish ancestors who emigrated to Virginia in the 17th and 18th centuries, then moved north through Kentucky to Ohio. 

I don't know why they came: were they refugees escaping the slaughters imposed by the Cromwell army or the conquest of King William of Orange; or were they Protestant and leaving the Catholic environment; or did they seek economic security in America? They were landowners, so I don't think they were indentured servants, and they were members of the Anglican church in their communities in Virginia, so probably not Catholic. They all arrived 150 to 200 years before the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. My guess is that they wanted a chance to better their children's lives and be their own bosses, not dependent on Ireland's system of oligarchy, rich lords and hard-working but starving tenants.

Clonfert, Ireland, 1200+-year-old cathedral.
Photo © 2001 Christy K Robinson

My ancestors came from several places on their emerald isle: Dublin, County Antrim, central Ireland, Cork, and elsewhere. They bore names like McClure, McCullough, Swinney, McFatridge (McFetrick), Neal, and Allen.

Practically in the center of the island is the diocesan Cathedral of Clonfert, Church of Ireland in the Anglican Communion, which is Protestant in a country dominated by Roman Catholicism. 

This County Galway church started as a small Romanesque barrel-vaulted space, possibly as early as 600-800AD. The spherical objects around the doorway are carved heads (saints? clan chieftains?), probably reminiscent of the Celtic belief that if you take an enemy's head, you take its power. Some of the spheres have faces, and others look like brain cortex, with curvy vine figures on the surface.

In the 1100s, when the Celtic church was reformed and conformed to the Roman church, Clonfert was enlarged, the roof raised, and a west tower was added, which accounts for the rest of the wide face of stonework.

 On the south wall of the chancel is a small 15th-century stone carving of a mermaid holding a Gospel book in her hand, signifying St. Brendan the Navigator, who was a seafaring missionary. Legend says that he and 14 monks reached America and returned to Ireland. Their leather-covered sailboats are described HERE. St. Brendan's story may have been the basis of the story of Prince Madog of Wales, who was said to have landed in North America in the 1100s. See my article on Madog and Nathaniel Jenkins.

Brendan founded a monastery at Clonfert in the 500s which is rumored to have taught both boys and girls in its school. St. Brendan is allegedly buried there. The church was built later, perhaps in the 800s, and in the 1100s, the church was enlarged by the Norman occupiers. There probably were north and south transepts which gave a cross shape to the church, according to archaeological studies, but for hundreds of years the chancel and nave have had a rectangular shape.

Google map of Clonfert
Google street view of Clonfert Cathedral
There's not much evidence of where, specifically, our Irish ancestors came from because of political and social upheaval. But we can close our eyes and listen to the echoes and whispers of a thousand years ago.

 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)

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.