Friday, February 12, 2010

The Labors of Hercules

On Monday, Luckie Daniels at Our Georgia Roots posted a passionate plea for a more open discussion on slavery issues, and for those with information on slave records not to withhold it.

At 12:17 a.m. Tuesday morning, before I shut the computer down for the night, I commented that I was unaware of any slave ownership in my ancestry, so I had nothing to contribute to a conversation, but I agreed that those with information had a duty to share it in some manner.

I arrived home from work Tuesday afternoon approximately 4:15 p.m., retrieving the copy of The Records of the Van Every Family from my mailbox. By 4:30 I knew I would never again be able to say what I had written 16 hours before. My 8th great grandfather, Myndert Frederickse, owned a slave.

I always knew it was possible I'd uncover ancestors with slaves, as I do have a second great grandfather, Ebenezer Denyer, who fought for the Confederacy. But my research on my 19th century Southern ancestors turned up no signs. And it's very easy to forget that slavery existed in the North, too. There were 10,000 slaves in the state of New York as late as 1820. [source]

I didn't discover the information on my ancestor in some dusty archive. It's in a family genealogy published in 1947, and oft-cited in surname discussion groups online. However, this passage hasn't been discussed:
There are other references to Myndert in the early New York records, important only insofar as they give a picture of life among the Dutch colonists...."Hercules, ye negro of Myndert Frederickse confessed to the fellonius taking out of his master's house a small chest containing wampum belonging to ye Poor of ye Lutheran Church which he broke open without ye gate by ye waterside with an ax."
Mary Blackadar Piersol, author of the genealogy, cites The Annals of Albany, by Joel Munsell. I found the work scanned on Google Books, and the below two clippings.

The Annals of Albany isn't the only location I've found that this case is cited. It appears in several other Albany histories, as well as a 1944 issue of The Journal of Negro History.

I've also uncovered another brief mention of Hercules, several years after the 1686 incident. He's referenced in Swan of Albany: a history of the oldest congregation of the Lutheran Church in America, by Henry Hardy Heins, 1976, page 34. Unfortunately, Google Books doesn't allow a 'full view' of the page, and I have only been able to grab a few 'snippets.'

The teasers here are tantalizing. A discussion of Myndert's last illness? (He died in 1706, so this would have been 20 years after the trial of Hercules.) Hercules is referred to as an "assistant." It's possibly a euphemistic whitewash, but it could also mean that Hercules had been freed in those twenty years, and remained in the employ of his former master as a free man. If the latter, it suggests a possible story of forgiveness and redemption.

The book isn't at any library near me, so I am going to have to see if I can order it through inter-library loan to learn the details of its content.

While I haven't learned much if any genealogical information about Hercules, I have added him to my database using iFamlyforLeopard's "Associated Person" field.


Luckie said...

TransDutch, in the spirit of the transparency shown to me following my post, I must return the courtesy.

I will be honest, I FULLY expected my comments to go unanswered & joked about how by Tuesday, all of my 200+ followers would be gone.

It's a post I didn't want to write but knew I had to. My Ancestors are deserving & I am their medium.

Thank you for taking my comments in the spirit they were written -- a gesture to remove the "cloak" & allow open dialogue.

I asked & you answered. Thank you.


P.S. I must say, I do love your Ancestors sense of timing!:-)

Sandra Taliaferro said...


You and this post are a perfect example of "A Friend of Friends". Thanks for sharing.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Excellent post, John. Thank you. Randy Seaver's "Best of..." got me here, today. I read Luckie's post earlier today. Great conversations on an important subject.
Thanks again for sharing your story and additional research.

Bill ;-)

Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Thanks so much for being so open and willing to post this information so soon after you discovered it. As you've discovered, there were many slaveowers above the Mason-Dixon line, so many folks who think it impossible that they have slaveowners in their ancestry are probably missing the opportunity to share information just like this. Thank you so much.