June Cross's Interracial Family Tree

MOTHER' S FAMILY TREE

To June from Mario,

Besides a number of other Angell and a great many Minor connections to the Rogers family, I've come across an even closer relationship in your genealogy. In the line shared with President Harding which I've already pointed out, you descend from a James Rogers of Newport, Rhode Island, who writers claim to be either the father or a first cousin of John. He and his brother James are the founders of the Rogerenes, the sect I mentioned earlier. It is John who is thought to have fathered Adam Rogers, the mulatto. In fact, the arduous and relentless battle they waged over the freedom of Joan, a former Negro servant of theirs, and the incident that marks them as the first political agitators against slavery, might well have been prompted by the possibility that this woman was Adam's mother. We know, for instance, that John's wife divorced him in 1678, eight years after their marriage. Interestingly enough, this woman, Elizabeth Griswold, of the same stock as the two Connecticut governors with this surname, took as her third husband, Matthew Beckwith, another of your relatives on the Minor side. Since it was another decade before John Rogers fell in love with and married a white servant, Adam could well have been the result of the rather understandable inability of this otherwise admirable individual to live up to his often declared resolution that he would never re-marry but patiently wait for his wife.

In his struggle to obtain Joan's freedom John Rogers was jailed from September 25th, 1711 until March 25th of the following year. He had aided and abetted John Jackson, a freedman in the abduction of Joan, his wife, from Samuel Beebe, who claimed that he had inherited her from his mother in law, James Rogers' wife. Incidentally, Mary, Samuel's mother, was none other than the daughter of William Keeney, once master of the Hopewell, a ship which had been one third owned by Sebastian Keene, a free black from Massachusetts who later moved to Virginia.

Again, why the Rogers history could be such an important one is the fact that, except for the scant references to them in the few local histories of New London, Connecticut or the genealogies published (usually privately) by their descendants, scholars in African American history seem totally unaware of the landmark efforts of this family against slavery. The reason being, more than likely, that since the authors of what precious little had been written were white, they were more taken by the stance this group had so defiantly taken, not only against religious orthodoxy, but against government authority, as well.

The mulatto, Adam Rogers, wed Katherine Jones, a white, in 1702. Interestingly enough, Katherine had already borne a child out of wedlock for the John Jackson mentioned above. Her sister married Isaac Fox, a friend of the Rogers clan. In turn, a son of theirs married his first cousin, one of Adam's daughters. Ironically, two of Adam's great grandchildren would marry into the Beebe family, the same with which Adam's father had fought so relentlessly to obtain the freedom of Joan.

For the time being, however, it is the line from Adam, through his daughter, Katherine that has proven so historically rich. According to some writers, her husband, James Merritt, was of Huguenot parentage.

It was probably this French background which, in turn, contributed to their daughter, Esther's marriage to Pierre Geignard who was no less a personage than the brother of the governor of "Hispaniola", present day Haiti. According to one tradition, Peter Ganyard (as his name was anglicized) apprenticed himself to a cobbler in 1753; married and then for several years lived with his brother from whom he later inherited $3,000 in gold. Another tradition has Peter in Maryland, studying to be a priest, then in Boston where he met a Miss Merritt of Puritan ancestry. If these family stories are correct, then three of Esther and Peter's nine children were actually born in Haiti. As I've mentioned earlier, it was their horror at the slave system they encountered there that sent them packing back to Connecticut. Considering the political power that has for so long been vested in the hands of Haiti's coloured elites, I cannot help but wonder how typical or representative an example the Geignard experience might have been to the racial history of the island.

Rev Timothy Merritt It is one of Esther's brothers, James, who was the father of Timothy Merritt, the Methodist Abolitonist I've flagged to you. Born October 12th, 1775, he became a prominent minister who received postings throughout the North East. Although the two biographical sketches are fairly detailed, they did not cover his abolitonist activities adequately enough. Will try to compensate for that below.

Nineteenth century abolitionism encompassed a much wider range of effort than we might have appreciated. Indeed,the Garrisonian model which we take for granted was the order of the day, only emerged after an enormous struggle between various camps of anti-slavery sentiment. Not only because Merritt's was the largest religious denomination in the country at the time, but because as such it so accurately reflected the social attitudes of millions of Americans, that a look at how the Methodist Church confronted this moral issue is worth our while. Furthermore, Methodism provided a structure of conferences where ministers met to decide matters for rather large geographical areas. Since this system lent itself more easily to agitation than did the loose-knit congregationally governed churches, Methodist conference records reveal much more about the development of the movement. However, since this is not a documentary on Methodism and slavery, I'll try to be brief. In its attempt to accommodate Southern ideas on this peculiar institution, a whole range of compromises had been accepted by the Church. At the most liberal end of the spectrum was the political belief that what Immediatists like Garrison pushed for would prove politically destructive to the country. The conservative extreme was clearly articulated in the General Conference of 1840 which, besides instituting church regulations that complied with the laws of the slave states, declared that "the simple holding of slaves in the States where the laws do not admit of emancipation constitutes no legal barrier to the election or ordination of ministers..." The Conference quite definitively stated, as well, that "Slavery, as it exists in the United States, is not a moral evil."

The New England Church, on the other hand, had, as early as 1835, formed it own New England Wesleyan Anti-Slavery Society. Initially working together with Garrison and his associates were three of the most vociferous Methodist abolitionist activists, Storrs, Scott and Sunderland. As the editor of Zion's Herald, Timothy Merritt was the propagator in print of their ideology and in this position, therefore, and because of his age, one of the most respected of New England's Anti-Slavery stalwarts. At the Lowell Anti-Slavery Convention in 1838, for instance, Merritt was elected vice president.

The frustration caused by the conservatism in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of all denominations led many abolitionists to begin repudiating organized religion. Soon Garrison was calling for all true anti-slavery men to "come out" from "hyprocritical" churches that were tainted with the sin of slavery. However, as a concomitant to this approach, he also began to push theories of "no human government" which insisted that only God could rule and that civil government should therefore be ignored. Such a stance was, of course, too much for most abolitionist of any religious orthodoxy. The Methodists reply to Garrison was that the way to destroy salvery was not to create chaos by repudiating human laws, but to reform the existing government by voting for men who would abolish the laws that upheld racial servitude. The Lowell Convention at which Merrit presided, was in fact called to try to counter the course Garrison had taken. As the editor of Zion's Herald, Merrit ironically became an opponent of the Liberator's editor.

It would be interesting to know what Timothy Merrit thought of himself racially. From the show's point of view it is an important question since even with the abolitionists, by this point in time, "amalgamation" or racial intermarriage, had become a taboo. One of the more conservative Methodist ministers, for instance, felt confident that he could get the better of Garrison by accusing him of being a proponent of racial amalgamation. Perhaps even more telling, though, is that Garrison denied it categorically, pointing out that he neither advocated nor opposed marriage between the races. The charge, he went on, had been levelled "to exploit hostility to us and our cause" a "wicked subterfuge, worthy of fiends but utterly disgraceful to human beings." All the more telling was the accusation by another conservative that proof of the abolitionists' amalgamationist intentions could be seen in their desire to have children educated "without regard to complexion."

To provide you with a little more in depth look at the complexity of the abolionist movement in New England up until Timothy Merrit died in 1845, have xeroxed a few pages from "History of the New England Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1796-1910" by James Mudge. Should you need more I also have a copy here in the office of "Slavery and Methodism" by Donald Matthews.

discussions | blurred racial lines | audio stories | june's family tree | bi-racial portraits | how to search family trees | readings | reactions

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS