What I knew was told to me in the form of a oral history.
The oral history of the Farmer family as passed down to me in brief. Our first black ancestor to arrive in America came in about 1619 or 1620, we don't know which for sure. He was one of the first Africans to come to America. He was not yet a slave, slavery came latter. His name was John Richard Hewing because he was an wood worker, a hewer of wood. My uncle is named after him. There weren't many women available among the whites and the blacks. So he took a native american woman as a wife. With her he had 7 children and so was born the farmer family. We lived in Virginia, and then Missouri as free farmers, were enslaved for a time, then escaped from slavery in missouri in 1820 or 1830. As I was told it we were not sure when.
That's a nice narrative here are the facts I found out.
As I traced my family line back I found incontrovertible evidence that my family once owned slaves. (The picture above has been altered so that you can see the line my direct ancestor is on, along with the meanings of each column, and the information needed to check if you really wanted to.)
I don't mean ol massa came into the slave quarters because he was lonely. I mean they were as written on census records "black", "Mulatto" ( and sometimes the exact same person is recorded as white) triracial "colored" people who owned slaves. That is the case with Jesse Farmer and with others in my family tree as well. While the records of what race they were considered is ambiguous, which could be a sign of significant Native American admixture, the above is not. Jesse Farmers son and father are reported as black or Mulatto, the census records establish the lineage clearly. This "black" man my great-great-great grandfather owned other black people in the immoral bonds of slavery.
The area of Missouri they lived in was known as "little dixie" , where tobacco was king. The people from there were migrants from the upper south, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee along with nothern North Carolina. Specifically the Farmers lived for a few generations around Cote Sans Dessein, Callaway county Missouri, and in Chariton Missouri. In about 1850 my family moved from Missouri to points father west. In particular to, Council Bluffs, Potawatomi county, Iowa, which at that time likely still had a significant Potawatomi population. As the history of the prairie band of the Potawatomi shows their situation was not cut and dried simple either. My grandfather, after whom I am named was named there in Council Bluffs by his grand mother, in the old matriarchal traditions of the natives, her name was Minerva Fields. She gave him the name Hontas Farmer... no one is really 100% sure what it means, other than a clue on our early ancestry. Minerva would in her old age move in with relatives in Newport News Virginia where she died.
For earlier generations their are records of owning hundreds of Acres of land in various parts of Virginia, at the same time. Even straddling two counties. Good tobacco planting land, while no clear records exist of them having slaves, it is likely.
From this much research I was abel to tell that my family was very mixed both genetically and culturally on both sides of my family.
Working further back
I followed a trail of family trees on this, well known and respected website for researching genealogy, which I will not name. Many family trees had side branches which overlapped with mine, and at least every other generation had clear official archived records which reinforced those links. I followed this trail until I reached the great great great grandfather of Jesse Farmer, Thomas Farmer the third and a wife simply named Ann... born 1660
This is a point where things become pretty sketchy. Before I tell you about Ann let's return to the oral history.
My first African ancestor, according to that story came here in 1620 or 1619 and was named John Richard Hewing. I had already read of the ship carrying the "20 and some odd negars" (verbatim as John Rolfe wrote it )to arrive in the new world when I began my research. To realize the significance say that last quoted word with a southern accent, like the way Jeff Foxworthy or Robert "Sheets" Byrd would say it. I'm 100% positive Rolfe just had trouble with Spanish or Portugese and for all we know how did the 20 and odd pronounce Negro? Either way I suppose having ancestors who were among the first to have that word used towards them sorta makes up for their descendants behavior. Recent scholar ship has uncovered where in the world those first 20 came from one of the African neighbors of the Portuguese colony of Angola. They were likely Christian, knew Portugese and their native language, and had valueable skills amongst them, notably the knowledge of rice agriculture, which is still practiced in Virginia and the east coast. Those first black people were not slaves but indentured servants, many of whom would eventually earn or escape to freedom one of those according to the oral history was John Richard Hewing.
What about Ann?
On a hunch for mysterious Ann I inserted the last name Hewing. Then I hit search for records. What I found was a interesting and very similar family history for a family named Hughes. They trace part of their lineage back to a John "Trader" Rice/Reese Hughes. He only appears on record in 1620 and after. They are not all in agreement about the John, nor about the middle name. These stories are passed among families which, at least appear caucasian. They think he came from either Wales or Scotland. No hard records, even of his arrival at Jamestown, (keep in mind this is from before the Pilgrims even landed. Every ancestor I have from Great Britain has a record of their arrival in Virginia. Not Hughes.) The timing, and the lack of records were big clues. A key piece of circumstantial evidence was that Hughes was married to one Nicketti, the sister of Cockacoeske and had a daughter named Elizabeth Hughes born 1650 with her. Cockacoeske was the Aunt of the last weroansqua of the Pamunkey Indians, known as "Queen Ann" Who lived from 1660 to about 1720. Cockacoeske's being Ann's aunt means that Ann was the daughter of Nicketti and her husband Hewing/Hughes would have to have been Ann's father. Though I suppose it is possible that Huges and Hewing are different men who would have been involved with the same woman. We may never know for sure. Different fathers one white, and one black producing daughters who respectively have to gain by being among the natives, VS having something to gain in white society could explain allot about that murky bit of US history. ( In case you are wondering Cockacoeske is supposed to be the daughter of uttamattamakin and Mattachana sister to pocahontas. Because the female line which would have inherited the wero hood, the "crown" if you will, apparently died out, leaving the relatives of Wahunseneca to carry on. The daughters of either Ann or Elizabeth Hewing/Hughes would be the rightful matrilineal heirs to that legacy.)
What I can conclude that is of general applicability, is that one should not take oral histories too seriously nor should they be discounted. Their was more than a grain of truth in the oral history passed down to me. That said it was influenced by the realities of the day. A history of being slave owners became a story of being slaves. A history of being related indirectly to Pocahontas, and decent from one of the first Africans to come here. This has made at least one member of my family angry...a afrocentric young man who perceives Native Americans as being white people. :smh: He'll have to get over it, as his relations too have much native blood. Finally I conclude that African americans who think they may be Afro-Amerindians, need to take care, gather data before you start looking, and look at the history of where your "black" or "mulatto" ancestors lived to get a feel for weather or not they were in indian country at the time.
Update (July 7th 2010)
______________________________________________________________________________________I have since writing this been able to fully flesh out the structure of my family tree. A life long project of mine will be to learn more about the lives of the people I have found.
I am not the only one who has noticed that Rountree's work while well intended and mostly reliable is not gospel. Just like myself she has to try to piece together a picture that makes sense from ripped pieces and not even all the ripped peices.
That’s all I say in the article (I just checked over it): that there are no 17th century documents about such a person, so that only oral history is left. I don’t pooh-pooh oral history. I don’t accuse anyone of lying—that’s Farmer’s perception, with heightened sensitivity showing through.