Performing genealogical research on black families in America can be difficult; black Americans weren’t even included by name in the U.S. Census until 1870. However, by combing through the detailed sacramental records that were digitized for this project, we can start to piece together a small number of black families, some enslaved and some not, who lived in colonial Philadelphia.
All the records in this entry come from these five volumes, cited by volume number:
Quako and Hannah were married 2/2/1749. No last names are noted for bride or bridegroom, and both are recorded as “negroes slaves of Mr. Allen.” (Vol. 29, image 69.)
The records show Quako and Hannah had four children: Samuel, born 4/21/1749 and baptized 5/21/1749; Joseph, born 6/13/1751 and baptized 7/14/1751; James, born 10/29/1752 and baptized 12/3/1752; and Hanah, born 3/7/1755 and baptized 4/13/1755. (Volume 29, image 148 and Volume 30, images 5, 7, 9.)
Emanual Woodbee and Jane Linkhorn, both noted as “free Negroes,” were married on 12/19/1756. (Vol 30, image 32.) The records show they had five children: Jane, born 2/20/1762 and baptized 3/27/1763; Joshua, born 6/16/1765 and baptized 8/21/1765; Abraham, born 7/26/1766 and baptized 8/24/1766; Elizabeth, born 7/17/1770 and baptized 9/2/1770; and Charlotte Hannah, born 8/16/1772 and baptized 8/16/1772. Note that the last name Woodbee is later spelled Woodby, several children are listed with no last name, and in one case only the father’s name is listed. (Vol 31, images 6, 21, 31, 71, 89.)
William Keen and Cornelia Ray, both “free negroes,” were married on 10/3/1757. (Vol. 30, image 33.) According to our records, “Will & Cornelia, free negroes” had a daughter named Philip, born 1/22/1759 and baptized 3/4/1759. (It is possible the name was misspelled and should be Philis or Philippa.) Although no last name is listed for Philip, Cornelia is not a common name in the records and the dates fit. (Vol. 30, image 15.)
Polydore and Rose were married on 12/31/1767. No last names listed; both noted as slaves. (Vol. 36, image 25.) They had a daughter named Sarah, born Sept. 1771, baptized 3/10/1772. (Vol. 31, image 86.)
Fortune, “negro slave of Mr. Brown,” and Lucy, “negro slave of Mr. Philips” were married on 2/5/1771. (Vol. 36, image 38.) They appear to have had three children: George, born 3/31/1771 and baptized 5/1/1771; John, born 4/30/1778 and baptized 5/16/1779; and Ann, born 5/2/1783 and baptized 8/2/1783. (Vol. 31, images 77, 150, 196.)
Thomas Frederick, “a free Negroe,” married Elizabeth, a slave, on 3/27/1782. (Vol. 36, image 71.) They had two children: John Francis Frederick, born 12/16/1782 and baptized 5/4/1783, and Catherine, born 1/13/1785 and baptized 8/7/1785. (Vol. 31, image 217.)
Emanuel De Sylva married Judith Jones on 8/3/1783. They are noted as “Free Mulattos.” (Vol. 36, image 77.) It looks like Emanuel and Judith had a daughter named Mary Desylvas -such variations in spelling are common in the records- born 1/13/1785 and baptized 9/24/1786. (Vol 31, image 229,)
John Williams married Hager (no last name listed) on 7/14/1784. Both are listed as “negroes.” (Vol. 36, image 80.) Their daughter, Rachel, was born in August of 1782, which is prior to their marriage date. However, Rachel was baptized on the same date as the marriage, which makes the familial relationship very likely. (Vol. 31, image 205.)
Scipio married Elizabeth on 8/27/1784; no last names given, bride and groom listed as “blacks.” (Vol. 36, image 80). Peter Moore, son of Scipio and Betsy Moore (“negroes”), was born 8/31/1781 and baptized 9/23/1781. (Vol. 31, image 172.) Peter was born before the marriage of Scipio and Elizabeth, and Betsy is a variant of Elizabeth, but Scipio is a unique name in the records.
William married Hannah on 12/1/1787. No last names given, bride and bridegroom noted as “negroes.” (Vol. 36, image 92). Elizabeth Scot, daughter of William and Hannah, “blacks”, was born 10/12/1792 and baptized 5/31/1793. (Volume 36, image 267) This match might be tenuous given the common first names and lack of last names in the marriage record. I talk more about such difficulties at the end of this blog entry.
James Cole married Sarah Douglas (“blacks”), 5/16/1788. (Vol. 36, image 93.) They had a daughter named Sarah, born 7/1/1789 and baptized 7/26/1789. (Vol. 31, image 248.)
Anthony Smith married Hannah Bean on 12/4/1788. (Vol. 36, image 94.) They had a son, Anthony, born 6/8/1791 and baptized 10/28/1791, and a daughter, Margaret, born 11/15/1795 and baptized 3/28/1796. (Vol. 31, images 259 and 285.)
Peter B. Haines and Sarah Hickes were married on 10/23/1821. (Vol 36, image 239.) Stewart Douglas Haynes (again, such variations in spelling are common) was born to Sarah and Peter on 4/4/1825, and baptized on 4/14/1825. (Vol. 32, image 114)
James Alsep married Sarah Stockton on 5/23/1822. (Vol 36, image 242.) The “(c)” marking, as seen in this record, serves as shorthand for “coloured” in these records, and is in fact expanded to “col” in their son’s record. Charles Alsop, son of James and Sarah, was born 6/2/1824 and baptized on 3/8/1825. (Vol 32, image 114.)
There are more possible family connections to be explored in these records, allowing for all the complications of handwritten records of the colonial era.
For example, Jacob and Easter married on 10/7/1770. No last names listed, “Jacob slave of Mr. Rogers, Easter slave of Mr. Casdrop.” (Vol 36, image 36.) A couple named Jacob and Esther, identified as “negroes,” had a daughter named Juliet, born 4/3/1771 and baptized 8/26/1771 (Vol. 31, image 81.) Is it possible the name Easter (or Esther) was written down incorrectly, and these are the same person – wife and mother?
Sometimes the names of bride and groom in a wedding record match the names of mother and father in a baptism record, but the child was born before the wedding. This could mean that there are two different couples, or that the couple married after having a child. Furthermore, if there are no last names listed and the first names are common, it is hard to determine relationships with accuracy.
Some more examples of difficulty discerning familial ties in these records:
Example 1) Hagar and William, “Negro slaves of Judge Laurence” were married on 9/7/1774. (Vol. 36, image 52.) William Maclain, born 9/22/1761 and baptized 11/18/1768, is listed as the “Natural Son of William Maclain & Hagar Jones, Molattoes.” (Vol 31, image 53.) “Natural” here means born out of wedlock, which would explain the discrepancy in dates; however, would a couple described as “molattoes” in one record then be described as “negro slaves” in another?
Example 2) Thomas, negroe slave of Paul Oxe, and Chloe, negroe slave of I. Solter, were married “by consent of their owners” on 12/31/1775. (Vol. 36, image 56.) A son named Thomas was born to John & Cloe “Nagroe Slaves of Mr. Cross” only seven months previously, on 5/1/1755 (Vol. 30, image 3.) Is it possible the bride and groom were sold by Mr. Cross to separate owners, after they had a child? Although heartbreaking, family separation was a common enough cruelty inflicted on enslaved people at that time.
Example 3) Sarah Fletcher and Isaac Richardson married as “Free negroes” on 10/13/1777. (Vol 36, image 61). Less than three years prior, twin sons named Samuel and Isaac were born to Isaac and Sarah, “negroe Slaves of James Tilghman, Esqr.” and baptized on 7/17/1774 at two months of age. (Volume 31, image 112.) It is possible there were simply two couples with the names Sarah and Isaac; it is also possible that Sarah Fletcher and Isaac Richardson started their family while enslaved, and were not able to marry until they were later freed.
Example 4) Phillis and John, slaves of Edward Milne and Jonas Phillips, were married on 8/25/1779. (Vol. 36, image 65.) No last names were listed. The previous year, a daughter named Frances was born to John and Phillis Williams, “negroes.” (Vol. 31, image 148). (Frances was baptized 3/21/1779). Was she born to a different John and Phillis, or was she what was then called a “natural child,” although not noted as such?
Clearly, this kind of research can be very complicated and messy. However, with these records online and available to the public, the tracing of black American families in colonial Philadelphia has become a more promising endeavor.