As a historian, you should tell the truth. We live in an era where people like to distort facts to fit their narrative. Trying to bury history is wrong and trying to change facts is corrupt. Good or bad, I always tell the stories of my ancestors. I’m excited to share the story of my Grandpa York.
America knows the story of slavery all too well. People talk about it, many historians have debated about it, and Americans never agree on its details. A lesser-known fact in American history is that of quasi-free Black Americans. Prior to the Civil War, not every Black person experienced slavery. My maternal ancestors come from a history of slavery in Berkeley County, South Carolina. My paternal ancestors, however, go back decades in this country as quasi-free Black Americans.
My great-grandmother Adele Matilda Merritt was born on Saturday, September 27th, 1913, in Greenwich, Connecticut. The President at the time of her birth was Woodrow Wilson. Adele was the daughter of John Sherman Merritt and Lelia Bell Robinson. John and Lelia were a beautiful couple. Adele’s grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Roselle Glover, born in 1871, was a poet. Adele’s great grandmother, Huldah Peck, was born on July 9th, 1833. The President at the time was Andrew Jackson.
In 1830, America had over 2 million slaves. My South Carolina ancestors were in that number. There were also over 300,000 free Black Americans. My Connecticut and New York ancestors were in that statistic. Huldah was one of the few to be born free.
My 4th great-grandmother, Huldah, grew up with privileges many Black girls never had during that time. Learning how to read and write, having a documented baptism, and living in a diverse community would have shaped her self-concept. Her maternal grandfather was named York Felmetta. York Felmetta is my 6th great-grandfather. Historian Jeffrey Bingham Mead describes the Felmetta family as, “one of the earliest black families in the Town of Greenwich.”
York is the oldest Black ancestor in my family that I have identified so far. He was born in colonial America c. 1771. Rev. Isaac Lewis, Sr., D.D., performed his baptism at Second Congregational Church in Greenwich on Saturday, November 24th, 1792. That was the same year of the second presidential election of George Washington. That was 230 years ago.
By 1801, York was married to Grandma Tamar, and the couple had a baby girl, my 5th great-grandmother Nancy. York and Tamar were Black Americans who lived free in Connecticut and New York. Though their lives were not perfect, they laid the fabric down for me to live and thrive today. The couple had two more children, and York conducted business with men across different states.
On December 8, 1803, York had a promissory note against Elnathan Husted for $132.75 in Greenwich, Connecticut. On May 29, 1805, York had another one against Caleb Russell for $90.00 in New Rochelle, New York. There was an endorsement on the promissory note on August 26th, 1808. York was a hardworking, family-oriented, Black American man.
York Felmetta died in February of 1809 at 38 years old. He left a family, money, and a lavish estate inventory complete with a silver watch, two cows, an umbrella, and two spinning wheels. He also left something that no one could put a price on. York Felmetta left a legacy.
About The Author: Dennis Edward Richmond, Jr. (born February 11, 1995) is an author, genealogist, freelance journalist, historian, teacher, speaker. Richmond is the founder of the New York-New Jersey HBCU Initiative. He released his book, He Spoke at My School: An Educational Journey in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. A strong advocate for education, Richmond founded the Dennis E. Richmond, Jr. Scholarship For Black Excellence.