2016 in review (and we have a date!)

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The past year has been a highly successful one, as our project continues to move forward in exciting ways. First and foremost, we have a date for the exhibition.  “Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photography of William Bullard,” will open at the Worcester Art Museum on Saturday, October 14, 2017 and continue through February 28, 2018.   Last month the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities awarded WAM a major grant to support the exhibition.   Clark University continues to be an active partner in this project.  Clark  is providing financial support  for  the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue and will help us develop and maintain  a website to supplement the exhibition and guarantee an ongoing  virtual life for the Bullard exhibition after it closes at the museum.  This spring, Nancy Burns of WAM and I will  co-teach a seminar at Clark, “Public History: Race, Photography, and Community,” in which Clark students will  play an active part preparing the exhibition by researching and  writing text for the photographs and  helping to develop the website.  We’re very grateful to Dean Matt Malsky  for his enthusiastic support for this class and project.

In June, we held the first  of several meeting of the Community Advisory Board.  Originally  organized to help us connect with family members and to help spread the word about the project, the board has taken on new responsibilities in helping shape programming around the exhibition as well as long-term projects that will continue after the exhibition closes.   Members include Benetta Kuffour, George Smith, Maureen Carlos, Yvette Tolson, Thomas Doughton, and Frederick Freeman.  We appreciate their dedication and many contributions!

Frank and I continued to meet with descendants last year.  Among our meetings was a delightful day  in June spent with Doris Oswell Brunot and Dr. Raymond Jackson in Washington, DC, great-grandchildren of David T. Oswell.  We have long been fascinated by David Oswell, whom Bullard photographed holding his viola, not long before his death in 1902.   Known as “Professor Oswell,” for his long, distinguished career as a teacher of violin and guitar in Worcester,  Oswell was born in Boston in 1834 and moved to Canada in the 1850s–likely seeking safety from the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act that placed all northern blacks, free born or not, in danger of being kidnapped into slavery.  Oswell married Adeline Watson of Portland, Maine, in 1855, and they had five children. Daughters Addie,  Jennie, and  Sylvia often accompanied their father in musical performances in Worcester, Boston, and other parts of New England. Professor Oswell, who was also a barber, also had his own orchestra and wrote several operettas.   At the time of his death, the Boston Guardian noted that “it can truthfully be said of him that he never had an enemy in the world.”

 

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Advertisement for Prof. David T. Oswell, March 3, 1884, New York Globe

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Dr. Raymond Jackson, great-grandson of Professor David T. Oswell

Dr. Raymond Jackson, and his lovely wife, Inez, hosted our meeting at their home in Sliver Spring.  We were thrilled to meet two of his descendants and to share the photograph of their great-grandfather with Raymond, Inez, and Doris, especially as they had never seen his image.   Doris also provided us with valuable information about the Oswell family. To make the day even more special for us, Dr. Jackson  played a piece for us on  his beautiful Steinway grand piano. Musical talent runs very deep in the Oswell family! Like his great-grandfather, Dr. Jackson has had a distinguished career as a music teacher. He is  retired Professor of Piano at Howard University.  Moreover, he has had an outstanding career as a concert pianist and has played all over the world.  We thank him for sharing his remarkable talent with us!

 

 

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I also had the privilege of meeting with Larry and Nick Schuyler.  Frank recently found a photograph of their grandfather, Raymond Schuyler, on a sled with his children, taken on John Street.  Raymond,  a native of Troy, NY,  came to Worcester in the 1880s and was married to Rose Bates of Vergennes, VT.  Raymond worked for the railroad and the family lived at 51 John Street, a house that remains in the family to this day.  He and his family were members of All Saints Episcopal Church and Raymond was a Mason and was the oldest member of Worcester’s NAACP chapter when he died in 1956.

I had a pleasant surprise when Brian McClain of Florida,  called me phone in November.  A descendant of George Ringels,  Brian came up on ancestry.com several months earlier as author of a family tree that included George Ringels.  Although we did not meet in person, we connected through Skype and had a wonderful conversation and I was able to show him the photograph of Ringels.  As noted elsewhere in this blog, we cannot post the photographs until after the exhibition in October. But I’ve learned that Skype is a good way  to give you a view of your ancestor’s photograph, especially if you live far from New England.

Two dedicated Clark students deserve a big shout out for their help with this past year.   Gabrielle Seligman first began her research with us as a student in my Public History seminar in Spring 2015.  She then continued as a LEEP fellow over the summer and continued her research in her senior year, investigating  the history of the Beaver Brook neighborhood.  Digging in to city planning records, real estate records, city directories, and other sources, she wrote a compelling narrative of the neighborhood’s history and constructed a website http://www.thebeaverbrookneighborhood.com that invites former Beaver Brook residents to post their memories.   Joe Viola was our LEEP fellow in the summer of 2016 and greatly added to our research archive.  Working through city directories and the Boston Guardian, he compiled an extensive list of Worcester’s black organizations and their officers, from 1890 to 1910; found out a great deal about the fraternal organization, the Knights of Pythias (a Knight is featured in the Bullard photographs); and researched the history of revival meetings in the city as well as the revival meetings at the Sterling Campground.  Thanks, Joe and Gabby!

It’s exciting to have the exhibition in sight.  Frank and I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to research these photographs and look forward to their presentation in October 2017 at the Worcester Art Museum.  Thanks to all who have helped us along the way!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Juneteenth!

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On Saturday, June 25th, we had the pleasure of presenting the Bullard photos at the Juneteenth Festival in Worcester.  What an incredible day!  Not only did we enjoy sharing the collection with all  who stopped by our table, but we also met many people whose families are represented in the photos.  We look forward to following up with you soon!

Thanks to the Black Heritage Juneteenth Festival Committee for this opportunity and to the many people who visited our table on Saturday.

 

Meetings with Family Members, Fall 2015: Thanks for all of your help!

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We had so many wonderful meetings with family members in the last several months and want to thank all of you for the time you spent with us and the stories and memories that you shared.. In September, Yvette Tolson organized a gathering at Clark

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Clark University gathering

University where we met with representatives of the Perkins, Shropshire, Tolson/Johnson/Clark family, all of whom are descendants of people photographed by Bullard. We shared the Bullard photos, heard many wonderful stories about the Beaver Brook neighborhood, and gathered valuable family information from those present.

We also met in September with Eleanor and Bill Hawley and Stanley Gutridge who shared their memories of Worcester and Beaver Brook.

In October, we had the pleasure of meeting with Laura Pearson and her daughter,  Benetta Kuffour, descendants of Bethany Veney. If you have never read the remarkable story of this former Virginia slave who came to Worcester in the 1860s, do it now! http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/veney/veney.html

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Bethany Veney

 

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Laura Pearson and Benetta Kuffour

Veney and her family lived in the Beaver Brook neighborhood, where she owned several homes.  While Bullard did not photograph her, he did  take photos of  two children that he listed as  “Jackson Children.” Veney’s daughter, Charlotte, was married to Aaron Jackson.  And while the ages of the children do not match the ages of their children, Benetta Kuffour has suggested that they may be relatives of the family as family members regularly visited from Virginia.

 

I also had the pleasure of meeting with Abdul Muwwakkil, a descendant of New Bern migrants as well as the Hazard family,  who passed on valuable information about his family roots and growing up in Worcester.

Also in October, we made a presentation of the photos after Sunday services at the Belmont AME Zion Church. Thank you to the Rev. Talley for hosting us, to Yvette Tolson for making arrangements, and to the congregation for our warm welcome and your interest in this project.

Elizabeth Hill, a descendant of Anna Lovett Latham, a migrant from New Bern, North Carolina, and her nephew welcomed us to her home in November.  Bullard photographed both Mrs. Latham and her mother.  Mrs. Hill told us about Anna Latham’s involvement at John Street Baptist Church, her wish to be a missionary,  and the mission society at the church that still bears her name.   She also shared memories of the Harra sisters, photographed by Bullard.

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Elizabeth Hill

 

Thanks to all of you for your invaluable contributions!

The Camden-Worcester Connection

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The Rev. T. Willard Lewis

In my last post, about my research on the Perkins family, I promised to reveal what I believe is the link between Camden and Worcester–the connection that brought about the migration not only of the Perkinses but also likely influenced other Camdenites, such as the Brevard,, Rhodes, Carlos, and Boykin families, to come to Worcester in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   Like the migration links between New Bern and Worcester (see my book, First Fruits of Freedom), the Camden-Worcester connection was also forged in the Civil War.  In this case,  the initial connection between South Carolina and Worcester came about through the personal relationship between  a sympathetic white minister and two freedpeople, Mary and Jacob Stroyer

In 1862, the Rev. T. Willard Lewis,  pastor of Worcester’s Laurel Street Methodist Church,  departed for Beaufort, South Carolina, as a missionary to newly liberated African Americans. (Some sources claim he was the first Northern missionary among black Carolinians.)  When Charleston fell to Union forces in 1865, Lewis moved to that city to organize black Methodists under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North.  As early as 1867, Mary Stroyer, Celia Perkins’ sister (see previous post), worked for Lewis as a cook and laundress. That year, she opened an account at the Freedmen’s Bank in Charleston.  Her application notes her employment with the Rev. Lewis, who signed her application and to whom she gave the right to deposit and withdraw money from her account.  Mary’s application also lists her birthplace as Camden; Celia Perkins and Kitty Hudson as her sisters; June McCray as her father (with the designation “sold away”) and Pleasant as her mother.

By the time Mary worked for the Rev. Willard, she was married to  Jacob Stroyer.  Jacob had been a slave of Col. M.R. Singleton, and raised on his large plantation 28 miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina.  In 1879, Stroyer published a narrative of his life as a slave, My Life in the South, that historians have cited extensively. [You can read it at http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/stroyer85/stroyer85.html. For more on Stroyer and the other Worcester Slave Narratives, see McCarthy and Doughton, From Bondage to Freedom: The Worcester Slave Narratives (2007).]

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Mary and Jacob Stroyer  built a close and trusting relationship with the Rev. Willard.  The minister seems to have been especially impressed with the couple  and likely used his Worcester connections to help further  Jacob’s education.  In 1870, Jacob arrived in Worcester and after attending evening classes for several years enrolled at  Worcester Academy where he completed a two-year course in 1874. (McCarthy and Doughton, From Bondage to Freedom, pp. 176-77).  Mary  probably arrived in Worcester sometime in this period.

According to the 1880 census, Mary and Jacob Stroyer lived at 3 Lilly Street.  Jacob listed his occupation as “book agent” and Mary worked as a domestic servant.  But by that time, Jacob had been ordained a minister and founded and pastored the Colored Mission in Salem. Moreover, in 1878, Mary  commenced legal proceedings against Jacob, accusing him of desertion.  Jacob continued to be listed in the Worcester City Directory until 1881 and by 1883 Mary had a separate listing.

In 1880,  Mary purchased a house at 3 Bath Street in Worcester. Edward and Celia Perkins lived with Mary in 1882 and then moved nearby, living at 36 Abbott and 1 Winfield Street.  Mary  was active in the AME Zion Church and Good Samaritan Lodge until her death, at age 35, in 1888.  In her will she left the Bath Street property to her sisters, Celia Perkins and Kitty Hudson. Celia appears to have purchased Kitty’s half of the property and she and Edward lived there until their deaths in the 1920s.    The Bath Street property remained in the Perkins family for approximately twenty more years. The family had photographer Bullard photograph the house around 1900 and the property served as backdrop for numerous Perkins photos in the Bullard collection.

As for the Rev. Lewis, the minister died of yellow fever in 1871 in Charleston, still ministering among the freedpeople.  His tombstone on Sullivan’s Island describes him as “The Freedman’s Champion, Counselor, and Friend.” Little did he know that his support of one couple–Mary and Jacob Stroyer– would help pave a path to Worcester for many South Carolina families seeking opportunities unavailable to them in the South.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Ghosts in Camden, South Carolina

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Patriarch of the Worcester Perkins family, King was born in 1802 and died in 1912 at age 110. This photo is from the Camden (SC) Chronicle at the time of his death.

Patriarch of the Worcester Perkins family, King was born in 1802 and died in 1912 at age 110. He fathered 23 children. This photo is from the Camden (SC) Chronicle at the time of his death.

“Down here chasing ghosts, are you?”  “Yes!”  I happily answered the greeting of a fellow researcher at the Camden (SC) Archives and Museum.  The Perkins family, represented in  35 photos in the Bullard collection, has intrigued me since I first laid eyes on their photos. This summer I got the chance to research their place of origin.

Research in the census, SC digital newspaper collections, and Worcester records raised many questions that drew me to Camden.  How had Edward and Celia Perkins managed to become landowners as early as 1870, only five years after emancipation? What, if any, was their connection to the prominent Chesnut family, from whom they purchased their land? Why had they lost their land and migrated to Worcester in 1879? Why and how did they end up in Worcester, the first of several Camden families that settled in the Beaver Brook neighborhood?

These were just a few of the questions that drew me to the Sand Hills of South Carolina.  And within the first hour of my research at the archives, I knew that this trip was worthwhile.  Through digitized South Carolina newspapers that I accessed before my trip,  I found a tiny blurb that stated that King Perkins, Edward’s father, died in 1912 at the age of 110.  And sure enough, the Camden Chronicle, available at the archives, featured two stories–with photos of the ancient King–on the front page when he died.  Full of all kinds of valuable information, the articles revealed that King had been a slave of “General Chesnut”–that is James Chesnut, husband of the famous Civil War diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut.  (Chesnut resigned his seat as U.S. Senator from SC when SC seceded in 1860 and served as a close advisor to Jefferson Davis during the Civil War. ) As the archives had Chesnut’s plantation account book, I was able to find King and Tish, King’s wife, as well as “King’s Edward” listed among Chesnut’s numerous slaves.  Land records at Kershaw County’s Registry of Deeds and Probate Office revealed more details about how both King and Edward managed to acquire land from the Chesnut plantations on Knight’s Hill after the Civil War. Edward lost most of his land during Reconstruction when he was unable to pay taxes. He and Celia migrated to Worcester soon after, in 1879. (I recently learned why they chose Worcester–I will reveal this in a later post!) Additional family members followed in Edward and Celia’s wake: two brothers, Abraham and Thomas; sister Rose; niece Patsy, nephew Isaac, to name a few, all of whom Bullard photographed.

Land records also revealed that many of the Perkins family kept strong links to Camden, purchasing land there after moving to Worcester and having their bodies interred on Knight’s Hill.  On a beautiful, late spring evening I made my way to St. Paul’s Methodist Church Cemetery in Knight’s Hill and found the Perkins plot where, I suspect, several of the Worcester Perkins, Patsy and Isaac, were buried in plots that are now unmarked.

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St. Paul Methodist Church Cemetery on Knight’s Hill, Camden, SC

The grave of King Perkins, Jr., son of King, brother of Edward.

The grave of King Perkins, Jr., son of King, brother of Edward.

I came home with a treasure trove of information about the Perkins Family of Camden that has allowed me to further piece together their fascinating family story and has lead me to new information here in Massachusetts (More on that soon).

I want to thank Lon D. Outen, Research Assistant at the Camden Archives and Museum for helping me access so many records in my week there. Thanks also to W. Guerry Felder, who took time off from his own research and generously guided me to numerous sources and helped me navigate land and probate records at the Kershaw County Courthouse.

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Camden is also the birthplace of Larry Doby, second African American major leaguer in the modern era, after Jackie Robinson. His statue stands outside the Camden Archives.

The life and death of William S. Bullard

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Learning more about the life and death of William S. Bullard, the photographer, allows Janette and I to add one more piece to the century old puzzle that we are constructing.  Having spent a number of  days walking cemetery grounds in Worcester, MA in search of the final resting place for some of the people of color that we have been studying, it was a slight deviation of research today as I drove to Putnam, CT to find the grave of their photographer William S. Bullard.  William committed suicide in 1918 very shortly after the death of his mother, Ellen (Barrett) Bullard.  Records indicated that he was buried next to his mother at Putnam Heights Cemetery and that is exactly where a fellow researcher, Katie Richards, and I found him.

There  was much more to learn this day, however, as we observed a small gravestone next to his and his mother’s.  On one side of this tiny stone was the word “Georgie” and on the other  side was “George B. son of C.E. and E.M. Bullard, Died Mar. 25, 1876 aged 11 ms 16 ds”.  There it was: one critical part of William’s family puzzle.  We have one glass negative of an early tintype photo that shows William’s parents, Charles and Ellen, surrounded by six youngsters, all boys.  All our investigations, however, could only account for 5 boys about whom there was much information and here was the answer: the oldest son, George, died in infancy and never made it to the 1880 Census.  We had thought for the past year that William, born in 1876, was the eldest son.  While this may seem to be of small consequence it is another “piece of the puzzle” that allows us to look back 100+ years at an portrait that is gradually bringing into focus the life and family of this unknown itinerant white photographer who, for reasons unknown at this time, captured unique and dignified images of people of color in his community.

We have located two grandchildren of William’s brother Marcus.  A trip to visit with these two very elderly ladies is in the planning stage and will be be reported in this blog after the visit.  They may have family stories to share that could possibly give us some insight into William’s life but if not we surely have many photos of their father and grandparents that will be new to them.  These kind of visits with descendants make all the work so very meaningful.

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Clark Students Add New Findings!

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Some members of  my Public History class

Some members of my Public History class

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This past semester, students in History 288/388 Public History seminar at Clark University did an outstanding job researching William Bullard’s photos of Worcester’s people of color.  At the start of the semester, each student chose a photograph to research. Frank Morrill made prints for each student and was “on call”  all semester, attending class and fielding numerous email queries. In addition to my guidance through genealogical and other on-line resources (they soon were teaching ME about on-line sources!), the students participated in workshops conducted by two nationally-known historians. Maureen Taylor, “the nation’s foremost photo detective,” according to The Wall Street Journal,  presented a workshop on how to read historic photographs for clues. Historian Scot French of the University of Central Florida, a pioneer in the field of digital history, shared his expertise with us, particularly the wonders of digital mapping, as well as his experiences working with the Holsinger Collection. (Rufus Holsinger of Charlottesville, VA,  was a contemporary of William Bullard, also a white photographer with a large black clientele.) Librarian Joy Hennig of the Worcester Public Library guided us through the many rich resources of the Worcester Room, which the students put to good use.

The students embraced their research with great dedication. Having the names and faces of people in the past with the goal of telling their stories ignited a passion for historical research.  As one of them put it, “I felt a real responsibility to them.”   Students experienced both the frustration and joy of research.  As one wrote in her final report, “Research is a vulnerable experience.  You can put so much of yourself into it and end up with very little or nothing to show for it.”  Her ultimate conclusion: “Dead ends happen, but you gotta move on.”

By moving on and displaying a great deal of grit and determination, they came up with some truly significant findings–and many leads to follow up.  While I can’t include all of their findings here, I will list some highlights:

  • Zach Richall, who researched the photo of Solomon Pierce, found out that Solomon was named for his grandfather, who enlisted in the Massachusetts 54th at the age of 42, and was the oldest man in that famous Civil War regiment. Solomon’s uncles also fought along side their father, with Harrison killed during the 54th’s assault on Fort Wagner.
  • Rosanna Cruz-Solla documented the involvement of Eugene Shepard in the Raymond Rifles, a “colored militia unit” in Worcester.
  • Zena Wolf researched the Native American roots of the Johnson family and used the 1859 Earl Report to discover more about the family “and the way Native Americans were seen in society and through the law.”
  • Corrine Jachelski explored several promising mapping options for the project and constructed some sample maps that incorporated historic photos of the Beaver Brook neighborhood and with the current neighborhood, providing a view of “then” and “now.”
  • Ben Davis sketched out the context of Reuben Griffin’s service with the Massachusetts Sixth Regiment in the Spanish-American War.
  • Gabby Seligman uncovered information about the life of D.T. Oswell, an accomplished music teacher,  orchestra leader, and barber.
  • Sarah Salzman, piecing together some fragmentary evidence, came up with a compelling theory about the identity of “George Ward”, who has been a mystery to us.
  • The “Perkins Working Group”–Eliza Lawrence, Alex Jeannotte, and Alicija Podbielska–while individually researching Martha, Rose and her brothers, and Anna Perkins, respectively– worked cooperatively on the extended Perkins family and came up with a treasure trove of information about them. We learned, for example, that both Isaac and Martha (Patsy) had their bodies returned for burial in Camden, SC, reflecting the long-term family ties to their ancestral land; that Edward was the pioneer in leading many family members to Worcester from Camden, and first appears in the City Directory in 1880; that Rose returned to Camden to care for her aged father, who died in 1912 at age 110.  Through their hard work we have been able to untangle the family relationships in the extended Perkins family and to tease out more of their fascinating story, from slavery  and emancipation in South Carolina, through Reconstruction and the loss of their land there, to migration to Worcester.

One of the students summarized her experience in her final report: “Though the research process can be so stressful and tedious, it is one of those things that we should all do at some point. In the midst of the madness, it is hard to fully see all of your research gains.  I obviously did not  find as much as I was hoping to find, but I can really say that this research has impacted me a lot and has taught me more in a semester than the hours of slides and lectures I see and hear in a year.”

Thanks to all of my students in History 288/388 Public History for your many contributions!