Thursday, July 30, 2009

Henry & Hudson & The Mohican Indians

Recently I attended Henry & Hudson: The Namesake Celebration at Hudson, New York. New York State and the residents of the Hudson River Valley are currently celebrating the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s encounter of the river that now bears his name and its original inhabitants. In the Hudson area they were the Mohican Indians, who called the river the Muheconnetuk, the river that flows both ways.

The celebration was held at the new Henry Hudson River Park, created where once six large oil tanks stood. It is a lovely little park, a good reuse of the land. From there you can see the Athens Lighthouse and the Middle Ground Flats, now an island in the river between the cities of Athens and Hudson. To the south despite a hazy sky you could see the Catskill Mountains. The Mohicans called these the Blue Mountains.

Also present for the day was the replica ship of the Halve Maen, the Dutch ship that Henry Hudson sailed to the New World for the Dutch East India Company. Captain William Reynolds said there were long lines of people waiting to go on board since 9 a.m. that day. When I left at 4 p.m., there was still a long line. While people waited, they could view a display of native artifacts and antique navigational instruments, and listen to Dutch songs performed by Nanne & Ankie.

My friend Steve Comer and I had been invited to represent the Mohican people. Steve had a display on the Mohican Nation and its history. I prepared a binder with information on my father’s paternal family descended from Mohican and Wappinger people. I also brought my finger-weaving with me, giving people a brief insight into native technology.

It was a very pleasant day. The rain stayed away for most of it. I’ve always loved being by a body of water, whether a river, lake or ocean. I enjoyed talking to the people who came by. While waiting in line to board the Halve Maen (that unfortunately I didn’t do), I had an enjoyable conversation with a very nice Naval commander from downstate and his brother, who brought his family. They surprised me greatly by asking how to get to the bank of the “lake” in Philmont. They definitely asked the right person since I lived for 19 years in a house on the bank of the Philmont reservoir. I think it was the best view in town

Friday, July 24, 2009

African and Native American Family History Research

In Search Of Our Roots was a very interesting book, educating me on a topic that I knew little about. In some ways I find it difficult to identify with the subjects, because I have only one suspected African line from revolutionary-era Nansemond County in Virginia. In other ways I can identify, because my family history was not passed down either. All my grandparents were mixed European and Native American. In the same way African Americans didn’t talk about slavery, my family didn’t talk about their Native ancestry, and unfortunately their European ancestry as well. There was a lot to forget, too!

One day several years ago I happened to catch part of a radio program on western Route 66. It was focused on west Texas and Oklahoma. Someone said it w as all small towns and if you were Native and wanted a decent job, you didn’t tell them you were Native. The U.S. population was 90% rural before World War II. That means in the small towns they lived in, my most immediate ancestors didn’t tell their little children what their ancestry was so they wouldn’t tell others and start it on the small town grapevine. Add to that the European Christians’ need to dehumanize and demonize them to justify killing them or incarcerating them to take their land and you’re not going to find many families talking about their Native ancestors in the East. Some people still think the Native people were better off forcibly Christianized.

When I began researching my forbearers it became obvious that there were a lot of Native people in the East who evaded attempts to corral them and send them away. Instead they managed to live more or less independently in the larger American society. Especially in the earlier years of European settlement, Native people didn’t appear in vital records because they or the Europeans saw no need to add them. Native history was traditionally oral. Interestingly if you have a grand European gentlewoman in your background, it’s very likely she was Native. Likewise, there’s no such thing as an Indian, or Cherokee, Princess. Such stories are created about ancestors in a bid to gain acceptance by the families.

There is a percentage of White people in this country with what is called non-status Native ancestry. That is, they or their ancestors never lived on a reservation and never were put on a tribal roll. Since the history was so easily lost, it must have been a lot easier for them to pass as white. Some of us know we have Native ancestry and feel akin to that, yet we know little more.

There is a part of Native history that is akin to the stratification by shade and socioeconomic status in African American society. That is the status Native Americans’ reluctance to accept non-status Native people, lumping us with the non-native wannabees who have fallen for the European myths romanticizing Native people. In my experience it created people who were emotionally repressed, depressed and distant, spiritually and emotionally adrift, who having no seeming foundation to build on, have had trouble going forward.

We seem predisposed to look for differences between people. I’d think that one valuable lesson family history research should teach us is that there are more similarities between people than differences. We all have one thing in common, we live on Turtle Island and it's all our responsibility to save it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

In Search Of Our Roots

As previously mentioned, I devoured Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ book In Search Of Our Roots during a weekend marathon reading session. The book is derived from a PBS television series named African American Lives. It features the family history of nineteen African Americans, most of whom are widely known: Oprah Winfrey, Chris Rock, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Quincy Jones. Due to the oppressive way African Americans were treated, for the most part their backgrounds were eerily similar. The few exceptions stand out as the anomalies they were. Dr. Gates details the research done for each family line. Thus, he provides excellent examples to follow.

According to Dr. Gates, there were 3,953,760 slaves in 1860. Their ancestors came from many different ethnic groups in Africa, but were shipped from the western coast of Africa. In order to control them, the people who enslaved them did their best to rob them of personal identity. The information we take for granted, names and birth dates, was discarded. Family ties were broken, religion suppressed. Any relationships on this continent could be torn apart at a moment’s notice. Except for rare circumstances, information on slaves was rarely recorded. Most information on slaves comes from census records, slave schedules, runaway slave notices and wills.

As an epilogue, Dr. Gates instructs the reader on how to begin researching his/her own family tree. He provides invaluable printed resources for genealogy in general and for African American genealogy. Listed also are histories on slavery in America. In addition he recommends several sites with records pertaining to slavery and African Americans.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mohicans (Stockbridge) In The American Revolution

Some researchers think that all Mohican (Stockbridge) Indian men served in their own regiment in the American Revolution at the request of General Horatio Gates. That's not true. In researching the allied Van Gilder and Winchell families, I discovered that many family members served in the American Revolution in different units, including the famous Green Mountain Boys. The only way a researcher would know this is if they knew the families of the soldiers involved.

Determining what unit a man served in is not easy. The military terms used in this period are rather cryptic. I have a vivid memory of pestering a friend at work, asking him about Revolutionary War terms in an attempt to understand them. Keith was a great Rev War buff at the time. I did not feel so badly later on when I discovered that he was also descended from the same mixed English-German-Mohican-Wappinger family that I am and we're cousins twice over since he is related to me by cousins who married. Once you read this list, you may understand it was fate that made him a Rev War buff. I teased him royally by email after I figured this out, and it was difficult for me to fall asleep that night. I kept laughing.

Mohican (Stockbridge) Van Gilder Descendants
In The American Revolution

Continental Army:
Andrew Van Gilder
Benjamin Van Gilder
Daniel Van Gilder
David Van Gilder
Ebenezer Van Gilder
Isaac Van Gilder
Jacob Van Gilder
James Van Gilder
John Van Gilder
Joseph Van Gilder
Matthew Van Gilder Jr.
Nathaniel Van Gilder
Nicholas Van Gilder
Reuben Van Gilder
Stephen Van Gilder
David Winchell
Joel Winchell

Green Mountain Boys:
Henry Van Gilder
John Van Gilder Jr.
Jonathan Van Gilder

Albany County Militia:
Andrew Van Gilder
Henry Van Gilder
Jacob Van Gilder
John Van Gilder Jr.

Other Service:
Daniel Van Gilder
Joseph Van Gilder
(Battle of Saratoga)
Matthew Van Gilder Sr
(Battles of Saratoga, Burgoyne’s Surrender)
Eliakim Winchell Sr.
(Battles of Saratoga, Burgoyne’s Surrender)
Hezekiah Winchell Jr.
(Battles of Saratoga, Burgoyne’s Surrender, Mount Independence)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ancestors Who Served

In the spirit of the Fourth of July holiday, here is a list of ancestors who served in the military.

Seven Years’ War
Hezekiah Winchell Sr.
Zephaniah Wix

American Revolution
Isaac Beman
William Berryman
Berryman Brown
Richard Brown
Samuel Brown
Frederick Buckalew
William Gragg
Noah Hayden
William Hayden
Edward Houchins
Christopher Peavler
Cornelius Vanderveer
Richard Wells
Sampson Wickersham
Nathaniel Wilson
Eliakim Winchell
Hezekiah Winchell Sr.
Zephaniah Wix

Civil War
Adam William Baker
Albert Galantine Gatton
Jesse Hise
John Winchell

World War II
Avery Kenneth Winchell