Sentimental Sunday: House History

The Israel Crane House, part of the Montclair Historical Society, was built in 1796.

Last Saturday,  a man I’ll call Jake who grew up in my new house showed up at my front door with his teenaged son.  This happened to me at our old house too – twice.  I must be sending messages through the ether: come tell me your story and that of my new home.  And so, he did.  Jake’s dad was handy and made the built in cabinets in the basement, a cedar closet and even a flagstone porch, one of the things that sold me on the house.  Jake and his five siblings spent countless hours sliding down the hefty wooden banisters, (something I’ve banned my kids from doing) and playing with their dog in the back yard (something my kids can’t wait to do).  He had a funny story about his sister getting locked in her bathroom (now my girls’) their first night in the house and his dad chiseling away at the jam to free her.  (There is still a notch in the wood).  His mother was an avid gardener and I am the benefactor of all her hard labor: The apple tree she planted is starting to drop hard green fruit that will ripen as the weather warms. Her lillies are just starting to stretch their orange faces toward the sun.  From her peonies, I’ve clipped two full bouquets. But the best part of the visit was when he went to his old bathroom and looked at himself now in his 40s in the same mirror where he learned to shave as a teen, probably around his son’s age.  My husband didn’t skip a beat.  He told him to take the mirror.  It was his after all.  Maybe some day, his son will learn to shave in it too. Nothing better than returning something to its rightful owner.

Knowing the history of a house I find grounding.  It gives me a sense of place, something I seem to always be reaching for.  So, it seemed fortuitous that our new house is just down the street from our town’s historical society.  The Montclair Historical Society is housed in part in the Israel Crane House, a Federal Revival style landmark home built by a local entrepreneur in 1796.  I pass it every day as I take my daughter to school.  After sleeping in a slave dwelling at another historical society back in March, I  got curious about my local historic society and learned that Crane had slaves.  Ever since, whenever I pass Crane’s house, I look up into the fancy lattice work on the attic windows where I imagine the slaves probably lived and I blow a kiss or smile or just say amen.

Crane had at least two slaves living in the house named Dine and Joe, but that’s the extent of what is know about them…for now. Currently, the MHS is trying to find out about more recent history of African Americans in the Crane House. They’re undertaking an oral history project about the years from 1920 to 1965 when the Israel Crane House served as the YWCA for African Americans.   Luminaries from Langston Hughes to W.E.B. Du Bois came and spoke there. There will be an update on the project at MHS’s  annual meeting on June 19th.

If you or someone in your family remembers the Montclair YWCA, contact the historical society and share more of the stories this house has to tell.

Friend of Friends Friday: Slaves of Dr. Alexander Stuart

Yesterday, I started preparing for a discussion on my family’s history that I will deliver next month at Washington College where my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart attended school. As I flipped through my Stuart files, I came across an appraisal for the estate of William’s father (my fourth great-grandfather), Dr. Alexander Stuart.  The appraisal was part of my genealogy to-do list:  documents I’ve had for a while, but have only glanced at.  Back in April when I visited Washington College for the first time, I learned that Dr. Stuart lived in Queen Anne and Kent County, Maryland, fought in the Revolutionary War and died in 1806, two years after marrying his second or third wife.    He left his son,  William, as the executor of his estate as well as the guardian of  his children.   Yesterday was the first time I noticed  that listed in the appraisal were several slaves.

Here are the names, ages and appraised values I was able to make out:

  • Tom, 40 years old, $250
  • Adam 38, $260
  • Richard (last name that I can’t read), 57, $5
  • Sam, 19, $270
  • Enoch, 18 (to serve 10 years), $180
  • Peter 15, $180
  • Simon 10,  $180
  • Hagar, 11, $120
  • Sarah, 7, $40
  • Rachael, 1, $10

If anyone can make out the other names or words after some of their  names, I would appreciate hearing from you.  The more information available, the more likelihood some researcher will be able to find another branch on their family tree.

slaves listed in Alexander Stuart's 1806 estate appraisal found on familysearch.org

Friend of Friends Friday: 20 Slaves of William R. Stuart

Manifest of the Pioneer, a ship that transported 20 slaves from Baltimore, MD to New Orleans, LA. The passengers were enslaved by my third great-grandfather, Col. W. R. Stuart.

Yesterday, while she was looking for something else, my cousin Monique found the above manifest on Ancestry.com.  It names 20 slaves aboard the Barque Pioneer transported from Baltimore to New Orleans and owned by our ancestor, Col. W.R. Stuart.  It was a surprise to find this document because we’d searched for slave manifests before and never found anything connecting with our family’s history.  (Just goes to show the importance of going back and retracing your steps.  New documents are being added to places like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org all of the time.)

But it was no surprise that the Colonel owned many slaves. In 1853, he placed an ad in a newspaper in order to sell them because he was dissolving his partnership in a Baton Rouge-based cotton plantation. (I suspect the passengers on this ship went to work on the Colonel’s plantation). That article was hard to swallow, but this manifest is heart wrenching.   The last passenger, a boy, 4’4″  tall, was only 11 years old, the same age as my oldest daughter.  No other passenger with the same last name is listed, so little Tom Iona was probably sold away from his family.  But the painful reality of this document is assuaged by its value to researchers. It gives both first and last names of the passengers as well as their  ages.  That’s a lot more information than normally provided about slaves.  Hopefully this information will help a fellow researcher connect with their ancestor.

Here are the names and ages of the slaves aboard the Pioneer on July 20, 1848:

Joseph Cedars, 23

Charles Smith, 21

Richmond Lewis, 29

Lewis Fisher, 20

Edward Henderson, 20

Carter Lewis, 27

Elija Parker, 30

Dennis Snowden, 20

Wyatt Tabor, 26

Samuel Walker, 28

Ezekiel Mathews, 35

Gabriel Bayler, 37

Frank Taylor, 28

Ephraim Jackson, 28

Nelson Holoway, 30

Alford Bensen, 20

Ruffin Baker, 28

John Gordy, 22

Robert Mitchell, 28

Tom Iona, 11

100 Stirling Family Slaves

After spending all day amongst friends to begin the new year, my family and I sat down at our dinner table to celebrate the last day of Kwanzaa.  This African-American holiday  helps restore and root us in our African culture lost in the Middle Passage. It seemed fitting to end this restorative holiday and begin a new year by listing the names of about 100 slaves I came across while researching my family tree.  Hopefully by listing these names found in the Lewis Stirling Family Papers, archived at Louisiana State University, some family researcher will be connected with their ancestors.  All of the following people were enslaved to Lewis Stirling of West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana and were listed in a mortgage as collateral. These names and any other of enslaved people I come across in Louisiana will be listed on the page, “Enslaved Communities of Louisiana.”

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