June Cross's Interracial Family Tree


To June from Mario,

As I had so hoped and prayed, you do have a Pierce descent, after all! Although not one from Abraham, himself, the Thomas Pierce of Charlestown who is your ancestor is close enough. You see, because the John Pierce, to whom Abraham is first identified as servant was the patent holder for Plymouth, descendants of the handful of Pierces/Peirces/Pearces who arrived at about this time all claim to be related to him.

Abraham Pearce, as you will remember, is the Pilgrim whose racial identity became a highly controversial issue in 1981. When authorities begun breathing down the necks of federally funded institutions over the matter of minority inclusion a few months earlier, executives at the Plymouth Living History Museum were relieved that they had Abraham Pearce to showcase. Despite or, indeed, because of the enthusiastic reception he got in the press, the introduction of an African American Abraham Pearce to the Museum did not go over too well with certain portions of the local population especially those whose pretensions were expressed by membership in institutions like the Mayflower Society. Not only did this element succeed in getting rid of the black actor who had been hired to interpret the role of Abraham Pearce, it was also responsible for forcing the Museum to fire the curator who would not back down on the century old historical reading that this particular pilgrim was, racially, of African extraction.

What I wanted to point out in my WGBH "Say Brother" documentary on this controversy was that even as late as 1981, the New England establishment, probably one of the most powerful constituencies both economically and politically on the face of the globe, could not cope with the possibility that it had any Negro ancestry. Even though this African forebear of theirs had died more than three hundred years before, these for the most part dyed in the wool democrats and bleeding heart liberals could not rise to the occasion of what social good might have come of their recognition of a black Abraham Pearce as an American progenitor.

The Medicis

That Abraham was not simply a favoured servant but a member of the family is borne out by the fact that one of the Pierces of Barbados left him land there. The question raised, therefore, is whether or not Abraham's line is the only Pierce line to be considered as black. Indeed, while working on my own documentary, I had wondered what the relationship was between your own Thomas Pierce of Charlestown and Abraham of Plymouth. Because both a miniature and a full portrait of one of our local silversmiths (whose name completely escapes me for the moment) depicted him with features which might have suggested a partially African background, I ran a search into his genealogy and found a link to the Charlestown Pierces on his mother's side. Whether or not you would like to raise this possibility is entirely up to you but what I have succeeded in providing you with your Pierce connection, is an entree to what has, to date, probably been the most publicly followed and hotly debated example of a "passing".

Besides the particular Pierce ancestor of yours, you also descend from another individual who was referenced by the fired Museum authority in his defense of Abraham being black. Dolar (as in dolor and not dollar) Davis along with Abraham Pearce and one other individual are known to have been the first three settlers of Duxbury. In one document or other, (I'll have to go over my Blackamore notes) Dolar Davis, in an account of a preliminary expedition into that area, described his companion as a Negro. Since he did not mention Abraham Pearce by name and since there were, as far as can be ascertained, no other fitting this ethnic description in the area, the former Museum executive argued that this statement of Davis' was further proof of Pearce being one of the first two African Americans in the North East. The other, of course, was John Pedro who I have already pointed out elsewhere.

As I might have mentioned, why I was so excited about finding Pedro's descendants was that the Director of the Plymouth Museum used the singularity of the Abraham Pearce case to disprove it. Now that documentation has been found to demonstrate that John Pedro's descendants turned white just as early as Pearce's have been purported to, this particular tactic of the Director's can be invalidated.

In her book, "Tidewater Virginia Families: a social history" published in 1989, Virginia Davis correctly deducted that the father of Mathew Patriss whose descendants she wrote about in Chapter 6 was John Pedro or Petro. Since the land he sold in 1653 and which "doth run to ye Great Swamp" was located in Middlesex Co. VA, Ms. Davis was able to determine that the swamp was Dragon Swamp. She concluded, furthermore, that since the family of Elizabeth Mayo who Mathew married in 1678 had also owned land in that particular vicinity, Pedro and Patriss were variants of the same name which a couple of generations later became Peatross. With a name like this one, it is would not be too difficult to understand why descendants of this family would think themselves Welch in origin. Indeed, that is precisely what is claimed in the following biographical entry, but since Caroline Co. has for so long been the seat of this family, we can safely assume that this particular point of the reference is wrong. Besides, Ms. Davis had not yet made her contribution when the History of Virginia from which it is taken was published.

Although in my documentary we referenced this deed and a number of other John Pedro transactions I had tracked down in the VA land records, what I did not discover until several months after the broadcast are the rather dramatic circumstances of his death. In the Battle of the Severn, the skirmish in which the Protestant Virginians loyal to Cromwell attempted to route the Stewart Catholics of Maryland from their stronghold of St. Mary's, the Catholic faction lost. All the men were slated for execution but their women pleaded so hysterically that at last the victors relented and instead shot four, two of them being William Eltonhead, the wealthiest of the group and John Pedro, who was them living with him. With a Spanish name like Pedro it is not too difficult to understand why he would have ended up with the Catholic settlement of the colony. Indeed, since most of the documents recorded about him in Virginia had to do with Eltonhead's relatives or business associates, we can safely surmise that Pedro had been a client of his as well. Something else about these documents that should be pointed out in relationship to the Pearce controversy is the fact that in not one of them is there any mention of his race. Except for the possibility that in a census he is the individual referred to as "negro John", the only description of him as black can be found in a list of arrivals to the area which reads, "John Pedro arrived on the Swan aged 30." Because historians unanimously agree that since the Swan had sailed from New England, Pedro had first lived in Plymouth, having arrived with the Weston expedition in 1622 a year earlier than Pearce. So, even if Abraham Pearce is, for the time being, unacceptable as a Black Pilgrim, the figure of John Pedro is certainly eligible for such an important national icon.

Strangely enough, the only documented instance we have of an attempt to hurt or victimize anyone because of their Pearce background was orchestrated by Hitler's Minstry of Propaganda. Making use of an old tradition in the family of Jenny Jerome, Sir Winston Churchill's American mother, that she was distantly Indian, Goebels took the rumor one more step by declaring that she was instead of African descent. Because genealogists have never been able to identify the purported Native American in her family tree, it would, in retrospect, appear that the Germans were, after all, closer to the truth than previously thought even if not completely accurate. Through her Baker line, Jenny Jerome was a relative of the Pearces. Within the very first generation of both these families in Plymouth, three Baker siblings had married two daughters and a son of Abrahm Pearce . Even though she was descended from a brother who had not, it is easy to see how a researcher might have been genuinely mistaken. In point of fact, it is quite possible, considering how often African ancestry has deliberately been confused with native American, that this early relationship of the Bakers to the Pearces might have been the source of the Indian in the Jerome family.


The following is a sample genealogy of an Abraham Pearce descent to the Whitneys, the famous financiers of New York.

Abraham Pearce d. 1673 m. Rebecca

Isaac Peirce b. 1661 m. Alice

Isaac Peirce m. Judith Booth

Ebenezer Peirce m. Mary Hoskins

Job Pearce b. 1737 m. 1761 Elizabeth Rounsevill

Polly Pearce b. 1777m. 1797 Rev. David A. Leonard

a daughter m. David Merriweather, Governor Kentucky and New Mexico,

another daughter was the mother of Maj. John Hay 1838-1905, Private Secretary to President Lincoln, Secretary of State and Ambassador to Great Britain

Helen Hay m. Payne Whitney

John H. Whitney


Suppose I should flag to you is that according to an eighteenth century will still extant, your Pierce ancestess, Phebe, inherited her father's "negro girl" named Dinah. Interestingly enough, the fact that it was Capt. William Pierce who brought the first shipload of Africans to New England in 1638 has been used by both sides of the Abraham Pearce debate.

Don't know if its of any relevance but both a Tisdale forbear and the sister of one of your Pope antecedents were killed by Indians. Since her house, built in the 17th century was one of the longest surviving, a photograph is available should you want to use it.

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