John Yeldell (aka Rev. Elijah Flemon): A 19th Century black political activist

elijah flemon

Rev Elijah Flemon is the elderly gentleman seated at the head of the table. Picture credit: African Americans in Mercer County by Roland Barksdale-Hall, Arcadia Publishing, 2009 via

Born in Edgefield, SC at the end of slavery, John would go on to become a household name in the America of the 1880s. He was more famous than Frederick Douglass for a spell. It’s a story that has fascinated me for years, once that my cousin Donya Williams shared with me.

The story of John Yeldell (aka the Rev Elijah Flemon) is worthy of a movie. Sincerely. The twists and turns are incredible.  However, as Donya Williams has written about him in her book, Comes to the Light: The Entangled Families of Edgefield County, it’s a story I have left for her to tell.

You can get a great overview of his history in the video below:

Quakers & Slavery: 50 shades of grey and then some

Researching my earliest African-descended ancestors and family in America has taken a decidedly left-field turn. Once again a foray into genealogy research has made me revise my knowledge of another aspect of American history. The subject matter? Quakers and slavery in the Colonial period and pre Civil war period.

I’m fairly certain that my high school history lessons mirrored those taught in any American high school in the 1980’s. We were given facts. Those facts were presented as facts without an invitation for critical thinking. The facts, in and of themselves, were never presented as right or wrong, good or bad. There was rarely any context. And there certainly weren’t any grey areas. History is a human affair. It’s not the pristine and sanitized subject that can be found in any classroom. It’s human, which is as nice a way as I can say that history is a dirty and messy affair.

If I’ve learned anything from studying the historical context of my ancestors, I know that history is rife with grey areas – a notion that sits uncomfortably with the American psyche. Since my return to these shores, I have re-learned that my fellow countrymen and women like things to be simple and straightforward. Black and white. Right or wrong. History is anything but. In this I hold an unapologetically non-American world view. Other regions around the globe thrive on tackling grey areas. It is the stuff of proper debates, whether political, in pubs, working men’s clubs or around the dinner table. And yes, I miss it.

There are at least 50 shades of grey when it comes to the history of slavery in America. It’s part and parcel of why Americans doggedly refuse to discuss it. There’s no established framework for having these conversations. Slavery only happened in the southern states? Wrong. The New England and Mid-Atlantic States abolished slavery after winning the American Revolutionary War? You might think that, but would actually be wrong (slavery in some of these states didn’t entirely cease until 1848). Free people of color had an easy time of it in the north before the Civil War? Wrong! Quakers didn’t own slaves and they were all abolitionists? Nul points there, my friend.

It turns out that understanding real American history, the unvarnished stuff, can provide new access routes to making genealogy discoveries. I’ll explain.

My link to the Quakers

A number of my mother’s enslaved ancestors in North Carolina and South Carolina were owned by – and the children of  – practising Quakers, or those who, while no longer practising Quakers, came from very old English Quaker families. Understanding the history and American origins of these enslaved ancestors requires an understanding of the histories of the families who sired them…and owned them.

For instance, in Edgefield County, South Carolina (including Old Ninety-Six, Abbeville and Greenwood Counties, which were created from parts of Edgefield), my ancestors were sired and owned by a few families with Quaker roots: Brooks, Edwards, Harling (originally, Harlan before moving to South Carolina), Holloway, Hollingsworth, Scott, and Stewart.

In Northampton and Halifax Counties in North Carolina, the Quaker families whose history is intertwined my enslaved ancestors, include: Bailey, Edwards (again), Harlan (again), Jones, Mendenhall, Moore, Peel(le), Pool(e), Price, Scott (again), Starr, Stewart (again), and Webb.

Many of my Quaker ancestors fled England and settled in Quaker communities in the English-controlled northern Irish provinces (i.e. Ulster and Antrim). From there, they settled in the following Pennsylvania counties when they arrived in the American colonies in the early 18th Century: Bucks, Chester, Cumberland and New Castle (now in Delaware).

Out of sheer curiosity, I Googled the phrase ‘slavery in Cumberland County, PA’ and a chapter of American history in Pennsylvania revealed itself. So much history, in fact, that I’m still working through a staggering reading list.

It’s a chapter of American history that puts my Quaker ancestors front and centre in the debate around slavery.

A little bit of historical context

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was the first corporate body in Britain and North America to fully condemn slavery as both ethically and religiously wrong in all circumstances. That’s what most of the history books tell us.

While admirable, this leaves out a nugget of overlooked history and back story. The Quakers were among the most prominent slave traders during the early days of the Pennsylvania colony. They bought slaves from British-controlled Barbados and Jamaica.  While the Quakers were also among the first denominations to protest slavery, their internal battle over slavery took over a century to resolve. The fight began in Pennsylvania. There, in April 1688, four Dutch Quakers sent a short petition “against the traffick of men-body” to their meeting in Germantown, PA:

image of the 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery

The two sides of the The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery. It was written in iron gall ink and has substantially faded. The document was the first public protest against the institution of slavery, and represents the first written public declaration of universal human rights. Image courtesy of The Germantown Quakers – Photos taken by conservators of the original document for Germantown Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends.

When the Quakers arrived in what’s now Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland in 1684, they arrived in a territory previously controlled by the Dutch (New Netherlands) and the Swedes (New Sweden). The Dutch and Swedes had an established practice of enslaving those of African descent for use in fur trapping. Yeah, I didn’t know that either. It’s all the more interesting for another reason. My mother’s mtDNA is approximately 20% Swedish. She has a direct Swedish female ancestor who was alive somewhere between 7 to 9 generations ago. Old Quaker bloodlines make up a substantial part of her family’s history in the Carolinas. While I have no idea of who this woman was, 7 to 9 generations ago fits this time period perfectly – when English Quakers met Swedes in the Colonial Mid-Atlantic states.

One form of punishment for European women who had children by black and mulatto men was the indenture of their children until the age of 28 (early Colonial period) or the enslavement of their children (later Colonial period). Did one of my Quaker ancestors purchase a female child from such a union? It’s certainly a line of inquiry to investigate. Critical Thinking would suggest this is the most likely explanation.

The 1688 petition had little traction or impact. For the next 50 years, similar scattered protests against slavery were published and spoken of to an indifferent or actively hostile North American public. Early opponents of slavery often paid a high price for their outspokenness. They were disowned by family and fellow congregants, and faced public ostracization.

William Penn flooded his “Holy Experiment” with Quakers whose descendants would later find their faith incompatible with slaveholding. The original Quakers, however,  had no qualms about it. Penn himself owned a dozen slaves, and used them to work his estate, Pennsbury. He wrote that he preferred them to white indentured servants, “for then a man has them while they live.” Benjamin Franklin too owned slaves (no, I didn’t know that either). In Penn’s new city of Philadelphia, African slaves were at work by 1684, and in rural Chester County by 1687. Between 1729 and 1758, Chester County had 104 slaves on 58 farms, with 70 percent of the slave owners likely Quakers. By 1693, Africans were so numerous in the colony’s capital that the Philadelphia Council complained of “the tumultuous gatherings of the Negroes in the town of Philadelphia.”

The Harlans: A Quaker family divided by slavery

My Harlan ancestors don’t appear to have owned slaves while they were in Pennsylvania.  Those who remained in Pennsylvania became outspoken abolitionists. Their cousins in North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky, on the other hand, who were no longer practising Quakers, did become slave holders. Alongside Quaker Harlan relations in Virginia and Maryland.  This one family shows 2 sides of the then contemporary slavery issue in America.

First up is my ancestral cousin, James Harlan (26 Aug 1820 – 5 Oct 1899) who was an attorney and a US Senator (1855-1865), (1867-1873) and a U.S. Cabinet Secretary at the United States Department of Interior (1865-1866) under President Andrew Johnson. He was as outspoken an opponent to slavery as one can find: .

Image for 'Legal title to property in slaves'

Image for ‘Legal title to property in slaves’: the speech of Hon. James Harlan, of Iowa, on the amendment to the constitution. Delivered in the Senate of the United States, April 6, 1864. The full speech can be accessed via:

John Marshall Harlan, Supreme Court collection,

John Marshall Harlan, Supreme Court collection, photograph by Handy Studios

For the opposing view, another ancestral cousin, John Marshall Harlan (1 Jun 1833 – 14 Oct 1911) who was a lawyer and politician from Kentucky who served as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was Secretary of State of Kentucky (1840–1844) and state legislator (1845–1851).

John is a study in contradictions. When the American Civil War broke out, he strongly supported the Union, yet vociferously opposed the Emancipation Proclamation and supported slavery. However, after the election of Ulysses S. Grant as President in 1868, he reversed his views and became a strong supporter of civil rights. His close relationship with his formerly enslaved, beloved mulatto half-brother, Robert James Harlan, might be credited for this change in his views. He is best known for his role as the lone dissenter in the Civil Rights Cases (1883,, and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896,, which, respectively, struck down as unconstitutional federal anti-discrimination legislation and upheld southern segregation statutes. These dissents, among others, led to his nickname of “The Great Dissenter”.

John is an interesting study in contradictions when it came to race relations in America. He was also something of a poster boy for the conflicting attitudes of the slave owners of the day. The journal article Plessy v. Ferguson: Harlan’s Great Dissent provides an excellent insight into these contradictory beliefs:

This is just one glimpse into how the issue of slavery impacted one of my ancestral families in the Civil War Era. It’s worth remembering that both of these men were contemporaries and were cousins from the same Quaker family. Meanwhile, in the south, they had numerous slave owning Harlan and Harling cousins fighting to preserve the Confederacy. In terms of family relations, it was a hot mess. A red hot mess. The kind of hot mess that isn’t covered in history classes.

So… what does this have to do with my genealogy research?

Plenty, as it turns out. I’ve stumbled across records that show some of my Quaker ancestors owned slaves in Colonial Pennsylvania. This could – or probably does – mean that they owned members of my mother’s family for far longer than I ever could have imagined. The roots for some of my mother’s African-descended lines probably stretch back to Pennsylvania in the 1660s onwards. That’s the first genealogy revelation I’m wrapping my head around.

an image for Negro Servant Returns, 1788-1821, Cumberland County, PA

Negro Servant Returns, 1788-1821, Chester County, PA. This is one page from this return, which lists owners and slaves. This page shows my slave owning Moore cousins, as well as the slaves they owned. I’m very interested in Silas (Moore, possibly) and Casia (Jones, possibly), two names that appear in my Northampton County, North Carolina genealogy research. The full return can be accessed via:

Slave Manumissions in Cumberland county, PA.

Slave Manumissions in Cumberland county, PA. Records of slaves manumitted (set free) by their masters that were filed with the Recorder of Deed’s Office. Staying with my Moore cousins, I’ve highlighted the slaves that were freed by the same family. The full record can be accessed via

The second point is that this earlier group of enslaved ancestors most likely came from, or had roots in, Bermuda or Jamaica or both – and not directly from Africa. A few may even have been present in the US long before the arrival of the Quakers, purchased by the Dutch and Swedish colonists who were in the region long before Britain claimed the territory as its own. That’s quite another thing to try and wrap my head around. It’s another layer of research complexity.

The third is that not all of my African American DNA matches will share common ancestors with me in the southern states. There are a handful of African American DNA cousins who are biologically connected to the same Quaker families as I am. However, they live in areas of Pennsylvania and Delaware settled by Quakers. They have no direction connection with southern states. Our common ancestors won’t be found south of the old Mason-Dixon line. Our connection will be with people who never left those old Quaker communities in the north. It helps us narrow the genealogy research field to find our common ancestors. It also gives us a more specific time frame to investigate within. Instead of looking over 250 years of family ancestry, we can cut this down to a 100 year window. I’ll take a time window of 100 years over one that’s 250 years any day of the week!

This history of my mother’s African-descended ancestors is largely entwined with the history of the Quaker families who owned them. Without individual histories of their own, I will only be able to trace them through various Quaker records and Last Wills and Testaments. This means following the trail from Pennsylvania to Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas – to the places where the descendants of these families settled and owned slaves. Added to this are the number of slaves freed by my Quaker relations over a 150 year period before the outbreak of the Civil War. These freed slaves received financial aid enough to relocate to Ohio, Illinois and Liberia – which is another subject for another post.

I’ve had my Quaker-related genealogy research epiphany. I don’t underestimate the time and effort it will take to follow the trail of documents back to Pennsylvania, or from Pennsylvania to the other states. I hope that by tackling the trail from both ends (from the beginning to the end, and vice versa) I can connect both trails in the middle to build an unbroken line of slaves owned by my Quaker ancestors.

The end of slavery in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s break with slavery was not a straightforward process. It didn’t end on a certain date. By 1790, the number of slaves in the state had fallen to 3,760. By 1810, it had fallen to 795. Slavery withered more rapidly in Philadelphia than in surrounding areas, in part because slaves did not live as long, nor have as many children, as they did on farms. In 1810, 94 percent of the slaves in Pennsylvania were in seven rural counties.

In 1779, Pennsylvania passed the first abolition law in America ( The measure was praised for embodying the spirit of enlightenment at the time, but its gradual terms were far from being a godsend.

The law did not emancipate a single slave. Not. One. Anyone who was a slave the last day before it went into effect on 1 March 1780, remained a slave until death; unless freed by his or her owner. All children born of slaves after the law took effect could be kept enslaved until age 28. So it would have been possible for a slave girl, born on the last day of February 1780, to live out her life in slavery. And for her children, theoretically born as late as 1820, to remain slaves until 1848.

Total abolition didn’t come to Pennsylvania until 1847.

Here are some online resources for researching Pennsylvania slaves:

  1. Chester County, PA Slave Records (Negro Servant Returns, Indentured Servants, Runaway Slaves and Slave Manumissions):
  2. Cumberland County, PA:

    3.The Slaves of Bucks County, PA:

    4. Slavery in Delaware (for New Castle County):


  1. Gary B. Nash & Jean R. Soderlund, Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and its Aftermath, Oxford Univ. Press, 1991.
  2. Edgar J. McManus, Black Bondage in the North, Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1973.
  3. John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time, Philadelphia, 1850.


When ancestral documentation trumps belief: The Harling-Harlan-Harland family

This post could almost be a companion piece to my post When the genealogy mistakes of others leads you astray: Elizabeth Bartellot Almost. I’ve learned quite a bit about family history research since then.

I’ve been intensively researching my Edgefield County, SC Harling family roots. I kept butting up against a brick wall that I had noticed in many other South Carolina-based Harling family trees online. The ancestral trail always went cold with my 7x great grandparents, Ezekiel Harling (1707-1754) and Hannah Oborn (born about 1707). The trees of their South Carolina descendants cite Germany as the place of birth for both. had provided plenty of hints for an Ezekiel Harlan and Hannah Oborn. The problem was, Ancestry’s hints were all for an English couple. So I temporarily ignored these hints in pursuit of any German ancestry records I could find. I was quite inventive. I used every form of the Harling name I could think of, including making it more Germanic by using the spelling Härling. I did find people with the variant spellings of the name. None, however, were the couple I was seeking.

I gave it a week.

Then I started accessing the records that Ancestry was offering for this couple. What a goldmine of information this turned out to be.

Ezekiel Harling and Hannah Oborn 1

Source: U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Swarthmore, Quaker Meeting Records. Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Description: This collection of Quaker meeting and vital records is one of the first of its kind. These records from monthly meetings have been brought together to form the most extensive searchable online database

Synopsis of the above record:

Name: Ezekiel Harlin Jr
Marriage Date: 23 Dec 1724
Marriage Date on Image: 23 Tenth 1724
Marriage Place: Delaware, Pennsylvania
Spouse: Hannah Oborn
Event Type: Marriage
Monthly Meeting: Concord Monthly Meeting
Yearly Meeting: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Title: Births and Marriages, 1693-1808
Meeting State: Pennsylvania
Meeting County: Delaware (part of the Pennsylvania colony at this time)

The above record sent me on a journey of family history discovery spanning 200+ years.

Ezekiel Harling and Hannah Oborn 2

Source: U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

Synopsis of the above record:

Name: Ezekiel Harlin
Marriage Date: 7 Dec 1724
Marriage Place: Delaware, Pennsylvania
Residence Date on Image: 07 Tenth 1724
Spouse: Hannah Obourn
Event Type: Marriage Intention (Marriage)
Monthly Meeting: Concord Monthly Meeting
Yearly Meeting: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Title: Women’s Minutes, 1715-1751
Meeting State: Pennsylvania
Meeting County: Delaware

 Ezekiel Harling was actually born with the name Ezekiel Harlan (sometimes spelled ‘Harlin’). He, and his wife Hannah Oborn, came from a long, long line of English Quakers. I’m going to go ahead and say they were English, and not Irish although both were clearly born in northern Ireland. Their parents and grandparents were English. I’d hate to muddy the genealogical waters by giving them an Anglo-Irish identity that a series of marriage, birth and death records just aren’t showing.

And what an amazing thing that turned out to be. Quakers thoroughly documented every aspect of their lives: their weekly meetings, marriages, births, deaths, excommunications, the travel of members from one Quaker community to another – everything. This enormous body of documentary evidence still exists. And it has been digitized (in America, at any rate).

Through these primary source records, I followed the Harling-Harlan trail back to 16th Century Harland family of County Durham in England. Along the way, I uncovered parts of history I’ve never known.

I’m not a Quaker scholar. I know very little about the religion. However, I do remember being taught that after facing persecution from the Church of England, many English Quakers left for the Netherlands, and from there to establish a colony in Pennsylvania. Or they went straight from England and Scotland to Pennsylvania.  I never knew that quite a number of English and Scottish Quakers went to Ulster and County Antrim in the northern part of Ireland. At least two generations of my Harlan ancestors were born in Antrim and Ulster before moving to Lancaster and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania, along with what looks like the majority of their local and regional religious community.

The Quaker bit explains why cousins within this family married members of their extended family generation after generation. They married members of their own faith. Existing in relative isolation, that also meant marrying someone from their own community or neighbouring communities.

Which explains why family names like Bailey, Breed(e), Gregg, Heald, Hollingsworth, Hoopes, Mendenhall, Pearce and Webb – and many others – appear with regular frequency. You’ll see these names in the records provided above. Over a few generations, this became one, enormous, extended family.

Naturally, I’m curious about how the Harlan name came to be changed to Harling when Ezekiel Harlan came to reside in Edgefield County, SC. I have some educated guesses.

My Virginia-based German-American Sheffey family became part of the English-descended elite that dominated southwest Virginia. They fashioned themselves after the dominant culture in this region of Virginia. The early 19th Century Sheffeys in Tennessee became part of the Scots-Irish community there. The Scheffe/Sheffeys of Pennsylvania and Frederick County, Virginia remained part of the German communities they lived amongst and maintained a strong German identity.

I’m guessing Ezekiel Harlan or his children did the same thing. They fashioned themselves after the leading, and genuinely German, families that dominated their community: families like Ouzts, Dorn and Timmerman. These are the families Ezekiel and Hannah’s descendants married into. ‘Harling’ does have a Germanic ring to it. Or perhaps the next generation of the family wanted to erase their Quaker connections. Or a mixture of both? I think they were partly successful in this. For 150 years, this line was ‘lost’ to the Harlan family. It’s only within the past few decades that it was re-discovered by members of the Harlan family.

The re-discovery thing is kind of interesting. A handful of their Harlan cousins left Pennsylvania for Union County, South Carolina a few decades after Ezekiel had left Pennsylvania. I’ve just located another Harlan branch that came to reside in Edgefield as well. I can only assume this wasn’t happenstance. And by that, I mean Ezekiel must have corresponded with his family back in Pennsylvania.

The records do seem to indicate, however, that connections with the family’s Pennsylvania roots were either lost through time or permanently severed.

It’s a shame. Reading through the Quaker records reveals an interesting and fascinating family history. I, for one, am thankful that the Quakers had one heck of an impressive administrative system – and such discipline when it came to the practice of documentation.

So what’s my takeaway point? Never fear to question established dogma when it comes to family history. If you keep coming up empty handed in your search, and if you keep coming across records that suggest an alternative answer to questions about an ancestor’s lineage…check those records out. Those records could prove a goldmine of information.

If you are researching your Harling-Harlan-Harlin-Harland family roots in America, I can definitely recommend the book below. It has been digitized and is available for free to read online. So far, i have found it to be incredibly accurate in the information it provides. in other words, the digitized records online supports the information provided in this old book. By the way, I’m a descendant of the George Harlan mentioned in the book’s title.

Harlan, Alpheus H., History and Genealogy of the Harlan Family, and particularly of the line of descendants of George and Michael Harlan who settled in Chester County, PA., 1687. 1914.

A tale of two Scheffe/Sheffey families in America: Northern vs Southern customs

There are some definite benefits in tracing a family line from its earliest starting point down through the centuries. You can begin to start all manner of trends. So while it may take a (seemingly endless) amount of time – you can get a deeper sense of how a family can change over time.

I’ve spent the past few weeks working through Peter Scheffe’s (1669 – 1749, Herschberg & Thaleischweiler, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany) female descendants. I still have a way to go…however, some interesting patterns have begun to emerge.  Specifically, these are patterns relating to the 18th and 19th Century American immigrants descended from these ladies.  The main families included in this maternal group are:  Ankney, Mattil, Hoh and Kieffer.

There is a distinct cultural difference between the American immigrant descendants of Peter Scheffe. This difference kind of neatly falls into two groups:  descendants who arrived in the American South and those who arrived in the North. Their journey and experience is almost a story of two different Americas.  

One family line is descended through Peter Scheffe’s son, Johann Adam Sheffey. The other line is composed of a group of families either descended through Peter Scheffe’s daughters or their daughters – maternal lines, in other words.

The American South & The Sheffey family

The identification of the Sheffeys with Virginia is so strong, and so prevalent, that I tend to forget that Johan Adam Sheffey actually settled in Frederick, Maryland. His daughters remained in Frederick, MD, where they married and raised families. Their descendants can be found there today. His sons did not. Daniel Henry Sheffey and Henry Lawrence Sheffey settled in Virginia.  Their brother John would go on to settle in Tennessee.

Daniel, Henry and John Sheffey would take wives from distinctly non-Germanic colonial families. Daniel Henry Sheffey first married Maria Hanson andthen Nancy Lewis. Henry Lawrence Sheffey first married Margaret White and, later, Ceny Nuckolls.   John Sheffey married Margaret Thompson.

For all intents and purposes, it seems, Johann Adam Sheffey’s sons left their German roots behind.

Despite being first generation Americans from immigrant German parents, these three Sheffey brothers appear to have made a conscious decision to break with the family’s German past. As men, it was perhaps easier for them to do this. They had the freedom to choose for themselves. The brothers were also far from the parental sphere of influence.

Virginia itself must have been an active factor, at least for Henry and Daniel. Virginia was the most Anglican of the colonies. That is to say, it was the most English and aristocratic. The English were quite adept at placing their stamp on societies. You either had to be one of them – or aspire to be like them – if you stood any chance of advancement within the English social structure. I don’t dismiss this as a motivating factor behind Daniel and Henry Sheffey’s transformations from German-Americans into American colonials.

John in Tennessee would have a slightly different journey from his brothers. His family married into the hybrid Scottish-Irish culture of Tennessee.

Here’s a quick visual snapshot of some of the Virginia and Tennessee families the brothers forged unions with through marriage:

Sheffey family marriages in Virginia and Tennessee

 The names the brothers gave their children were largely non-Germanic: Robert, William, Serena. Lawrence, James etc.  The brothers gave their children names that were, well, quite Virginian. Not to put too fine a point on it, Daniel, John and Henry’ and their children ‘went native’.  They –  and their descendants – became true sons and daughters of the American south. Within a generation there was nothing of the German about their families at all.

The Sheffey family in Frederick, Maryland

Adam Sheffey’s daughters, however, maintained close ties to their German roots. That’s hardly surprising as it would seem the town of Frederick had a large and tight-knit German immigrant community. Brengle, Geyer and Guiton (French-Germanic Huguenots) were the families Adam’s daughters married into. Their Frederick, MD descendants continued the practice of marrying into German-American families for decades afterwards. Mostly Germanic names feature amongst their children: Jakob, Michael, Johann, Friedrich, Sophia, Maria, Catherina, etc.

I don’t know what it was about Maryland that facilitated immigrant communities actively holding on to their cultural traditions. There does, however, seem to be a marked difference between Maryland and Virginia, the latter which almost seemed to demand compliance with the ‘Virginian way of life’. Then again, Virginia set itself at the pinnacle of southern society – its customs were to be the benchmark for southern society.

Whatever the difference, Adam Sheffey’s daughters and their descendants embraced their German heritage. They had far more in common with their distant relations in Pennsylvania than they did with their brothers.

Sheffey relations in the Northern States

Again, this relates to Adam Sheffey’s cousins, relations through the various female lines of the family: Ankney, Mattil, Hoh and Kieffer.

The families listed above, along with fellow émigrés from the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany, basically created a new Rhineland-Palatinate in the Pennsylvania areas they settled. These were vibrant, thriving recognisably German communities in every aspect – merely transplanted to the American colonies. In this instance, Pennsylvania. The religiously tolerant Pennsylvania made no demands upon them to leave their traditions and customs behind. German immigrants could remain German in language, customs and traditions.

This is so clearly shown in the census returns for Pennsylvania from the 1720s onwards. My distant Pennsylvania kin and their community used German names for their children. Nor did they anglicise the names.  Johann remained Johann, and not John. Friedrich remained Friedrich, and Frederick. The used the traditional naming conventions from their culture: Johann Jakob Ankney would be referred to as Jakob, and not Johann. Which was rather good as there could be as many as four or five Johann’s in one family – each differentiated by his middle name. For girls, Anna Catharina Kieffer would be an example. She would be referred to as Catharina.

The families they married into had recognizably Germanic names:

Ankney family marriages

I’m not sure when Germans began to settle upstate New York. However, by the time of the 1860 census, there was a thriving German-American community here too. Have a look at the 1860 census for Oneida in Utica County, NY:

1860 NY Census

1860 Census for Oneida, Utica County, NY – click for larger image

Nor did these German-American kin, or their community, leave these German customs and preferences behind when they quit Pennsylvania and New York for the mid-West in the 19th Century. As late as the 1940s census, I can see these practices in widespread use.  Nor did they cease in a preference for German spouses – or at least spouses from other German-American families. Scandinavians and Swiss got an occasional look in.

The census returns, even for the 1930s and 1940s, made me chuckle. You can almost hear the German-accented English which remained through the centuries. The surname Weiss is occasionally spelled as ‘Vise’ or ‘Wise”. The surname Hoh becomes “Hoey” or even “Hughey”. The name Jakob is spelled ‘Yalkob’. ‘Martha’ becomes ‘Merta’.

While I will probably never see a picture of these people, I can gain a semblance of familiarity for them by their accents, inadvertently recorded by a census taker.

So there you have it. A tale of two Sheffeys: one southern (ok, ok, Virginian!) and the other predominantly northern. Two different sides of a family that would take radically different paths in their adopted homeland.

Family history is history in microcosm: The Agné / Ankney Family

This past week has seen me (pleasantly) hijacked by some of the ladies in the Sheffey family. I will raise my hand and admit that I have neglected them shamefully over the past year. The quietude of the holiday period was the perfect time to redress this. So I began with Peter Scheffe’s daughter, Maria Magaretha Scheffe, wife of Peter Agné. This was the couple who inherited Peter Scheffe’s mill in Herschberg (Südwestpfalz, Rhineland-Palatinate) upon his death.

The saga of the Agné family is an incredible story. It is the story of the mass migrations of people in continental Europe during the 16th and 17th Centuries. It is also the story of 18th &  19th America, particularly the story of that idealology referred to as Manifest Destiny.


Edict of Nantes

The signing of the Edict of Nantes

The signing of the Edict of Nantes

As with many European families, the Agné family had some genealogy hurdles, namely a large number of variations in the spelling of its surname: Ankney and Anquenet were two of the most popular. Thankfully, however, this is a well-documented family. This is rare as they were largely a farming family. With that said, the family’s line has been traced back to Benjamin Anquenet Ankney born in 1575 who married Elisabeth Brase Prassin. The couple is associated with Pfalzburg, Lorraine  an area which has ping ponged back and forth between France and Germany for centuries. As you can see by the names, there is a distinct French connection.

image for the Edict of Nantes

Revocation of the Edict of Nantes – click for larger image

Religion would shape the family’s destiny in Europe. At some point in time the Agné family converted from Catholicism to Calvanist Protestantism. Without giving a long history lesson, relationships between French Catholics and French Protestants (called Huguenots) were bloody right from the beginning. These weren’t just bitter feuds, this was all out warfare which subsided with the signing of the Edict of Nantes on 13 April 1598 by Henry IV of France ( ). The edict was meant to restore national unity in France.  It was never an easy peace. The Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV (the grandson of Henry IV) in October 1685. The revocation of the edict drove an exodus of Huegenots to Protestant nations such as the Netherlands, England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Protestant-held principalities and duchies in Germany (The Germany we recognise today didn’t exist until the 1860s.) Agné and Ankneys can be found in all of them.

Benjamin’s grand-son, Peter Agné, was part of this exodus. He was born in Pfalzburg, Lorraine in 1650 and married Anna Ottilia Trautmann (born 6 May 1655 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany). It’s uncertain when the couple and their family fled Pfalzburg for Anna’s homeland of Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany. The best indication is the birth date for their first child, Anna Catharina Agné, which is 21 Jun 1679.  It’s not a coincidence that this fell within a period when anti-Huguenot reprisals had begun to resurface. Sensing the way things were going for Protestants in his homeland, Peter must have made the considered decision to quit and removed his family to his wife’s native land.

German territories were wracked by a series of wars throughout the early 18th century. The Palatinate region was particularly hard hit. As with most wars, famine followed. These factors combined and led to what’s called the German Exodus to Britain, The Netherlands and the American colonies from 1709. The Agné family held on until at least the middle of the 18th Century. And then, there began a series of migrations out of Germany to other Protestant lands and the American colonies.

Not all left their homeland. It’s worth noting that Peter Agné and Maria Magaretha Scheffe remained in Herschberg, as did their son Johann Adam Agné (1729 – 1779, d. in Pirmasens, Rheinland-Pfalz). The Mill the family owned and ran continued to operate for generations to come. Confirmed German Agné descendants (& family of Peter Agné and Maria Magaretha Scheffe) who move to the US:

  • Great Grandson: Jacob Agne (Birth 11 Aug 1795 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany | Death 27 Mar 1865 in Utica, New York, USA). He is recorded in New York with his wife Margaretha Salome (maiden name unknown) and sons Jacob & Carlin in 1860. I haven’t been able to definitively determine when this family group arrived in the US. Jacob was the son of Johann Adam Agné and Anna Barbara Ludi.
  • Nephew: Johann Theobald DeWalt Agne / Ankney (Birth 16 Nov 1727 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany | Death 4 Mar 1781 in Clear Spring, Washington, Maryland, United States). DeWalt Ankney (the surname spelling changed upon arrival in the US) arrived in 1746, aged 19. He settled in Pennsylvania at some point prior to his marriage to Jane Domer in 1748 in Lancaster County, PA.

Dewalt Ankney’s arrival in the American colonies falls roughly within a close time frame to Johann Adam Scheffe/Sheffey’s (Maria Magaratha Scheffe- Agné’s brother) arrival in the Maryland.

For those of you who like visuals instead of text, here’s how the above are related to one another:

The arrival of Agnés, Sheffeys & Scheffes in the US from Germany - click for a larger image

The arrival of Agnés, Sheffeys & Scheffes in the US from Germany – click for a larger image

The Agne/Ankey’s joined a growing German population in the American colonies of New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. War, religion and famine would appear to be the main reasons behind these migrations.


It would be fair to say that the Ankney family which settled in Pennsylvania prospered. They owned their own land which they farmed and the family grew. Believe me when I say I almost regretted researching this side of the family. It is enormous. I had allocated three days to research it. It took a week. But I am glad I persevered. Yet again, the family perfectly illustrates the pulse of history – this time on American soil.

The family did its duty, providing sons to the American Revolution. Afterwards, they returned to their farms in and around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And there I expected them to remain. After all, their Sheffey cousins remained where they were in Maryland and Virginia. After the Revolution, Pennsylvania was the breadbasket of the newly formed America. Those farmers who owned land prospered very well indeed. And here lays another mystery. They (very) extended family largely owned the land it farmed. It was part of tight-knit German-American community. They had every reason to stay where they were…yet, they didn’t.

image for the painting American Progress

This painting (circa 1872) by John Gast called American Progress, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she sweeps west; she holds a school book. The different stages of economic activity of the pioneers are highlighted and, especially, the changing forms of transportation.

From about the 1860s onwards, for the next decade, Akney and Akney left Pennsylvania and headed west. The first waves settled in Ohio and later pushed on to Indiana and Illinois. Later generations in the 19th Century settled Michigan as well as states further west and north, ultimately reaching California, Washington and Idaho. One branch even migrated to Canada, where they remained for a few decades before returning to the northern Midwest states. Apart from the foray into Canada, the family settled in regions and towns with large German immigrant, German-American and Scandinavian immigrant communities. This in part, is one key to the answer. However it doesn’t really explain leaving the security and prosperity of life in Pennsylvania behind for the entirely unknown…and dangerous.

Map representing the westward movements and concentration of the Germanic language in the US

Yet they did leave that security of the known behind. And their trek coincides with that period of time covered by Manifest Destiny, that widespread early to mid 19th Century belief that Americas were destined by God to command and own the remainder of the American territories not already claimed by British-ruled Canada ( Wave after wave of settlers from the east moved to the Midwest, which was also a popular destination with a new surge of immigrants. I’m not here to debate the ethics of Manifest Destiny and the ultimate outcome for the Native American population in these territories. I cite this as I don’t want to appear to gloss over that particular chapter of American history. As territory after territory was claimed by the US government, and as new states were formed, the Ankneys were there. In a very real and tangible way, the Ankneys, like many Midwestern American families, were a part of this expansionary history of America. They didn’t read about it in papers. They lived it.

In tracking and recording the Ankney family’s overall history, I’ve caught snatched glimpses of the pulses of history and how these pulses usually dislodge entire groups of people. It’s a dynamic that echoes to this day. I don’t really think we, as Americans, appreciate how this country was founded upon large scale and catastrophic events which led to the disruptions of whole groups of people. These disruptions came about through the convergence of circumstances far beyond the control of the common people.  That thought didn’t cross my mind until I began researching this particular family. The Ankneys – a family that has been on the move for the best part of 300+ years.

I’m smiling as I recall my new favourite phrase: family history is history in microcosm. Indeed, it is.

Family migration patterns: Roane family migration to Pennsylvania

My apologies for this being a rather long article. It goes to show just how many of the Roane family from Virginia migrated to Pennsylvania in general and Philadelphia in partcular!  The rest of my posts in this series will be much shorter.

So grab a coffee or a tea…and enjoy a leisurely read.

African-American Roanes, like the Sheffeys, had their own Diaspora from Virginia between the 1920s and 1930s. Like the Sheffeys, many Roanes went to Philadelphia and Baltimore. There the similarity between these two families ends. While the Sheffeys would opt for West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana  – and to a lesser extent the Mid-West states – the Roanes left Virginia for New York, New Jersey, Delaware and points further north in New England.

Philadelphia proved to be a very popular destination of choice for Roanes leaving their native Virginia counties. To say Philadelphia was not kind to them would be a colossal understatement. It literally killed them. Of all the Roane populations I’ve studied, those in Philadelphia fared the worst: premature deaths (if they made it past their twenties they were lucky), excessively high infant mortality rates and stillbirths plagued them. This dynamic seems to have established itself as soon as the first Roane migrants arriving from Virginia around 1880.

The transition from rural to urban could not have been an easy one. Mostly farmers in their native Virginia; living in densely populated neighbourhoods with poor air quality and sanitation must have been contributing factors. Whatever stresses may have prompted their migration from a largely agrarian Virginia seems to have been replaced with entirely new and alien sources of stress for which they were simply not prepared for. In this they were representative of typical agrarian populations adjusting to a new industrialised reality.

I’m left with the question of why so many Roanes followed in their cousins’ wake and continued to arrive in Philadelphia in droves…especially if they were aware of cousins dying young.

Of course this is the sister question to what was it about Philadelphia that enticed the first group of Roanes to settle there in the first place.

There were Roanes who moved to Philadelphia as a family group. They tended to initially live together in a shared household before establishing households of their own. These would appear to be in the minority. Scanning through the census records, most didn’t live near any other Roanes (this includes families associated with Roanes through marriage). Perhaps this has to do with the nature of cities. Cities don’t lend themselves to family groups occupying close quarters – people tend to live wherever there’s space available. What I did tend to note, in general terms, is these family groups tended to live in close proximity to other families from Virginia.

Another small side note worth mentioning. The Roanes I’ve tracked from Virginia to Philadelphia didn’t live in an exclusively black neighbourhood. White and black lived side by side through the early 1900s – at least in Philadelphia. The turn-of-the-century African-American Roanes lived next door to white families from American and immigrant families from Ireland, England and Europe.

The occupations of the Roanes in Philadelphia were pretty much what you would expect for that era. Male Roanes tended to work on the docks, on ships, on the railroad or as general labourers. The women were domestics.

The summary below will provide you with an overview of the numbers which relocated to Philadelphia, While I only site the heads of households, the majority of the men cited had wives and children who accompanied them – many sharing in the same dismal fate of a short life expectancy.


Roanes from unknown counties in Virginia

James Henry Roane (1879-?), parents and county of birth unknown, moved to Philadelphia around 1919 (WWI draft card) with his family. Interestingly, while he’s not living near other Roanes, he is living next door to Hills from Virginia. In 1920 he’s working for the Railroad.

Edward Roane’s (1856-?) county of birth in Virginia is unknown as are the names of his parents. However, at the time of his death he is recorded as resident in Philadelphia. He was buried in Richmond which might suggest he is a Henrico County, VA Roane. The online death record indicated he was married at the time of his death but doesn’t name his wife.

Arlie Roane (1888-1914), daughter of Richard L Roane and Arkansas “Sarah” Coleman (county unknown), is resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death.

ALBEMARLE County Roanes
Alexander Roane (1872-?), son of Watson Roane (1852-?) and wife Eliza, was resident in Philadelphia by the time of his marriage in 1897. In the 1900 census he’s listed as a stevedore. He’s not living near other Roanes or families associated with the Roanes through marriage. By 1910 he’s been promoted to Longshoreman. He’s still not living near to any Roanes, nor is he in 1920.

ESSEX County Roanes

Nearly half of Henry Clay Roane (1855-?) and wife Mary Eliza Dix’s children left for Philadelphia:

  • Daniel W Roane (1871-1913) was resident in Philadelphia at the time of his marriage in 1907. At the time of his death he is cited as being a fireman. In 1910 he and his wife are living a few houses down from her relations. He’s listed as being a labourer in a brickyard.
  • Henry Clay Roane Jr (1882-2003) was resident in Philadelphia around 1910 (census). He’s listed as a gardener for a private family. Henry is resident in Pittsburgh at the time of his death.
  • Viola Roane (1891-?) was also resident in Philadelphia around 1920. She’s a cook and living with a Gatewood aunt.

Lawrence “Lallie” Roane (1875-1908), son of Turner Roane (1870-1894) and wife Molly Payne, was resident in Philadelphia at the time of his death. I can’t find him in the 1900 Census records, which would tell me who he was living with in Philadelphia.

Robert Roane (1830-1895) and wife Octavia had 2 children leave:

  • Eugene Roane (1873-1909) arrived in Philadelphia between 1910 and 1920 (census) where he’s a waiter.
  • Charles Henry Roane (1868-1937) didn’t leave for Pennsylvania, He moved his family to Baltimore around 1900 (census) and then established himself and his family in Des Moines, Iowa by 1910 (census)

Payne Roane (1866-1926), son of Wyatt Roane (1840-?) and wife Sarah Ross, was resident in Philadelphia at the time of his death. I have been unable to find him in the 1900, 1910 or 1920 census records.

KING AND QUEEN County Roanes

Doctor David Lawrence “Lattie” Roane (1886-1957), son of Jacob L Roane (1832-1893) and wife Lucy T Holmes of Allentown, was resident in Philadelphia in 1930 (census) where he’s working for the railroad.

Alexander Roane (1903-?), son of Clarence Roane (1878-?) and wife Carrie  of Newtown,  left Virginia sometime after the 1920 Census. He’s recorded as resident in Philadelphia by the time of the 1930 Census and working in a paper mill. He is not living near any Roanes or families connected to the Roanes through marriage.

Alexander Roane (1865-1929) and wife Bettie Broaddus of Buena Vista had 2 children leave for Pennsylvania:

  • Joshua Roane (1891-?) left for Philadelphia at some point between 1910 and 1920 with his family. In 1910 he’s working in a lumber yard and in 1920 he’s working for a transit company. There are no other Roanes living nearby.
  • Annie Roane (1908-?) followed her brother to Philadelphia between 1920 and 1930. She is living with her brother and his family in 1930.

Patrick Roane (1854-?) and wife Lucy A Gaines of the 39th District, King & Queen County, had 2 children leave for Pennsylvania:

  • Ida Roane (1873-1898) was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death. With the 1890 census missing, it’s impossible to know who she was living with and/or if any family members were living nearby.
  • Leana Roane (1876-1898) was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death. As with her sister Ida, it’s impossible to know who she lived with.

At present, I haven’t been able to place Patrick Roane’s family line or Joshua and Annie Roane’s family lines into the overall family tree. This makes it difficult to assess if these three Roane family groups were closely related. Did they share a common ancestor? This lack of information also makes it difficult to gauge or if there were close ties between them.

KING WILLIAM County Roanes

An unknown Roane with wife Louisa/Apphia of King William County had 3 children leave for Philadelphia:

  • Patrick Henry Roane (1857-?) was resident in Philadelphia by the time of the 1900 Census.
  • Beverly Roane (1871-?) was resident in Philadelphia by the time of the 1900 Census.
  • George W Roane’s (1876-1900) death was recorded in Philadelphia

This makes this cluster of King William County Roanes early arrivals in Philadelphia. These family members moved as a group and lived together in 1900. By 1910, Patrick and Beverly had established their own respective households.

Wallace Roane (1855-1913), son of James Augustus Roane and Sarah Pollard, was resident in Philadelphia around 1880 (census).

Julia Roane (1860-1909), daughter of Wallace Roane (1812-?) and wife Ellen, was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death.

Julia Roane was Wallace Roane’s aunt.

Caroline “Carrie” Roane (1885-1905), daughter of Horace Roane (1847-?) of Mangohick District, was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death. She arrived in Philadelphia at some point between 1900 (Census) and 1905.

It’s worth noting that all of the Roanes from King William county were amongst the earliest Roanes to move to Philadelphia.

Philip Ransome Roane (1893-?), son of Henry Roane (1854-?) and Rachel Butler, moved to Delaware County, PA around 1930 with his family.

MIDDLESEX County Roanes

Lloyd L Roane (1899-?), son of William Roane (1873-?) and wife Frances, arrived in Philadelphia at some time between 1920 and 1930 (census).


Dorsey Roane (1855-?) and wife Alice R Thompson had 2 children leave for Philadelphia:

  • Alonzo Roane (1889-?) was resident in Westmoreland County at the time of the 1920 Census. By the 1930 Census, he was resident in Montgomery County, PA.
  • William Morris Roane (1888-1960) was resident in Philadelphia at the time of his death.

Richard Roane (1849-?) and wife Lucinda Johnson of Cople, VA had 2 children leave for Philadelphia:

  • John Philips Roane (1878-?) and his brother Richard Lee Roane (1880-?) both arrived in Philadelphia between 1900 (census) and 1910 (census).

Thomas Roane (1898-?) and brother Richard Roane (1902-?) of Cople, parents unknown, were resident in Philadelphia in 1930 (census). They share a house with Joseph Roane (1896-?) who may be the son of Anthony Roane (1861-?) and wife Elizabeth Eskridge.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting about Roane family moves to Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, new York, New Jersey & Arkansas. While nowhere near the same scale as the extended family’s move to Philadelphia, these smaller migrations build a bigger picture of a southern African-American family on the move north and west.

Family migration patterns: Sheffey migration to Pennsylvania

The next series of posts will cover family migration patterns for the various families I’m researching.  Again, it’s a means of pulling information out of dry census returns as well as marriage and death records. It’s a way of telling a story from dates and facts.

So here we go…

While I haven’t figured out what may have prompted ancestral family groups to move from one state to another…I have noticed that they tended to follow in the footsteps of others who went before them. They moved to places where their kin had established themselves.

Augusta County, VA Sheffey family groups
Samuel Sheffey (1835-1895) and wife Hester (or Esther) Bates had 2 children leave their place of birth for Pennsylvania:

  • Samuel Luther Sheffey (1875-?) settled in Lower Tyrone Township, Fayette County, PA at some point between 1897 (when he married) and 1910 (Census). The 1920 census has his family living in Alleghany County, PA until the time of his death.
  • Fred Clinton Sheffey, Sr (1890 – ?). While I haven’t been successful in tracing Fred Sheffey through the census records, his death is recorded in Pittsburgh.

Charles Sheffey (1849-?) and wife Hester had 1 child leave their place of birth for Pennsylvania: John Sheffey (1879-?) moved his family to Lawrence County, Pennsylvania between 1910 and 1920.

Harvey Sheffey (1857-?) and wife Anna Summons had 1 child leave for Pennsylvania: Gladys Sheffey (1895-1915) who was resident in Philadelphia at the time of her death.

Newton Sheffey (1846-?) and wife Millie/Minnie had 1 child leave for Pennsylvania: Charles Sheffey (1871-?) moved his family to Alleghany County, Pennsylvania by the time of the 1910 Census.

Samuel Sheffey, Charles Sheffey, Newton Sheffey and Harvey Sheffey were brothers. This means the first generation of Sheffeys who migrated from Augusta County, VA to Pennsylvania were all first cousins.

Pulaski County, VA Sheffey family groups
Craig Sheffey (b.1847) and wife Emma Lawrence Zett had 2 children who left the county to live in Pennsylvania:

  • Henry “Harry” Sheffey (1890-1974) moved to Pennsylvania with his large family sometime between 1920 and 1930. They initially settled in Alleghany County (1930). He was resident in Pittsburgh at the time of his death. A number of his children resided in Pittsburgh.
  • John William Sheffey (1893-1969) was resident in Lebanon, PA at the time of his death. It’s unclear when he left Virginia for Pennsylvania.

While the exact relationship between these two family groups to one another is unknown at the moment, the Sheffey families of Augusta County and Pulaski County were related. What seems to be apparent is the Augusta County Sheffeys moved to Pennsylvania first and were followed by their Pulaski County cousins. This is based on dates of birth (the Augusta County cousins were much older) and indications in the census records.

The question remains why. Did the first Sheffey to make the move from VA to PA do so in search of work or because of work or just in search of a better life for his family? There doesn’t appear to have been a Sheffey who moved to Pennsylvania prior to 1910, so what made Pennsylvania the destination of choice for these branches of the family?

What’s interesting is the timing of the move. Something happened between 1910 and 1920 that prompted a significant migration of my African-American ancestors to leave the South. Whatever the reason, it was strong enough to break the bonds between my ancestors and their places of birth and break the bonds between the family branches that moved and those which stayed behind. This is a theme I’ll be picking up in future posts.

All that’s known for certain is that in 1900 all of these Sheffeys were still resident in their native Virginian counties of birth. By 1920, they had moved to Pennsylvania.