Author: Pam Jones-Nill

Surprises ahead in 2020!

It’s been a while since my last post but 2020 has started off with a few surprises for me and I’m catching up now. 

Non Fiction Festival -February

I completed the NF Fest in February. I’m truly thrilled to say I completed the 28 Day challenge and feel inspired to continue focusing on my non-fiction manuscripts. A bit of a new focus for me, but certainly one of great interest.

I live in New York State and as an adoptee, I was not able to obtain my original birth certificate. By law, adoptees received a “post-adoption” birth certificate listing their post-adoption name, birthplace and birth date. Only the birthplace and date were accurate, and the name on that certificate was the name given by the adopting parents.

The Governor of New York signed a bill in 2019 allowing all adoptees, over 18, to apply for and receive their original birth certificate. The law took effect on January 15th in 2020. I was so excited. By 8:30 am on the 15th, I had already applied online and received confirmation that my request had been received. I later saw news stories of hundreds of people lined up to apply in person and that was only in New York City. New York is a big state and I realized this was a big deal and not just for my own curiosity. Thousands of people were also wondering about their biological history. 

My Birth Certificate arrived about three weeks ago.  Much sooner than expected! So, now what?

I have my biological mother’s name, the time of my birth, her address at the time of my birth, and where she was born. I’ve shared some of this information with a biological cousin I found through DNA. The journey is just beginning.  

Francine Semon (left), Sandi Brewster-Walker (center) and myself (right)

Armed with this scant information, I signed up for an African American Genealogy workshop at the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead, NY.  Sandi Brewster-Walker, Historian / Genealogist and former Deputy Director of the Office of Communications in the Department of Agriculture during the Clinton Administration, guided us through some useful tools for Genealogy researching. Before the start of the discussion many participants, were surprised to learn we had multiple connections to the town of Huntington. Myself included, since I grew up there. After the discussion, the connections continued. Over cheese and crackers, I accidentally found out that I was in this workshop with a relative of my brothers’ brother.  Weird but true!  My brother reconnected with his biological family a couple of years ago. Luckily, I still had photos on my phone to share. After some very reunion like laughter and stories, I left there with more family than I when I woke that morning. I also left with the tools, education, and support to seek even more.  I can’t wait to find the next surprise.

My 300 Year Old Friend – part 2

This will be my last Black History Month related post for 2019 but I can’t promise I won’t revisit my friend Jupiter Hammon.


I took advantage of a long plane ride this week to continue researching my friend Jupiter Hammon.  Cedrick May edited The Collected Works of Jupiter Hammon, published in 2017.  This is my second time reading this collection and it will not be the last.

The new insights into the life of Jupiter Hammon from Cedrick May are very different from in previous biographies published on Hammon.  While it is a joy to read the written, published works of this important African-American poet it is equally important reading the notes and comments from Mr. May.  His interpretation of Hammon’s writings in parallel with the historical happenings of the time help to center Jupiter to his surroundings.

Researching a person of color, and African-American slave born in 1711 is not the easiest thing to do, but is sure is fun. There are no paintings or illustrations of his image.  The camera had not been invented yet at Jupiter’s birth, or by the time of his death, estimated around 1806.  The fact that there is so much material documented for Jupiter is astounding and most likely related to the fact that his owners were successful businessmen and in the habit of maintaining copious documentation.

I can’t explain my almost obsession to Jupiter but I’m all in now.  I’ll be scheduling more time at the Lloyd Harbor Historical Society and other historical resources as I continue my research.

African American Entrepreneur

I’ve done a really bad job of keeping my posts consistent.  I think my daily post plan was too aggressive.  Truly, I love selecting the African Americans that I am highlighting this month.  This is a, “it’s not you – it’s me,” moment if ever I saw one.

To salvage the week at least, I’m calling attention to a local African American that is not widely well known.  I’ve found the following brief article to share in this post.


Sam Balton 3
Samuel Balton           Photo courtesy of SCHS

Samuel Ballton, 1838-1917 – Entrepreneur, musician, “Pickle King of L.I.”

Sam Balton 2
Photo courtesy of huntingtonny.gov

Born into slavery in Virginia, escaped in 1862 from forced labor (repairing the Confederacy’s Virginia Central Railway), then made two attempts to rescue his wife and family, the second successful, enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment (U.S. Colored Troops), which helped occupy Richmond in 1865, guarded enemy prisoners, and ended its service in Texas. Honorably discharged, he disappears from the record, until 1873, when he reappears in Greenlawn, L.I., NY, where his business and real estate acumen began to really shine, along with the diversification of his many business interests and private and government contracts. Ballton acquired, leased, and rented land growing at one point 1.5 million cucumbers and starting a pickle trade. He became one of a leader in the growth and development and political life of Greenlawn. Several of the homes he built are still standing today. There is an annual Greenlawn Pickle fest held by the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Society in his honor.   Read more about Samuel Balton’s fascinating life.

Sources:
“The Pickle King of Greenlawn” (Huntington History)


For all the popular historical African Americans remembered through history, Long Island is rich in forgotten or nearly forgotten African American history.  Researching their stories and working to tell them, even in this small blog, is a celebration of their lives, accomplishments.

 

My 300-year-old friend

Today’s post is about my 300-year-old friend, Jupiter Hammon.  There are no known photos of Jupiter but I’m enjoying learning about his life on Long Island.  This was definitely not in any history book in high school.  Ironic too, because he lived only a few miles from my high school.

Jupiter was born into slavery on October 17, 1711, in the manor house of Henry Lloyd in Lloyd’s Neck on Long Island. A slave of the Lloyd family, Jupiter read and studied the bible and was also the first African American published in the United States.  Jupiter became known as a preacher to the slaves on Lloyd Manor and in surrounding communities. He was a gentle person and he taught the gospel of the bible and encouraged slaves to be dutiful yet learn the true teachings of Christianity.

He will bring us all, rich and poor, white and black, to his judgment seat.                              – Jupiter Hammon

Let all the time you can get be spent in trying to learn to read.                                                    – Jupiter Hammon

 

Miss Phillis Wheatley supports General George Washington

Today’s subject is Miss Phillis Wheatley.  Taken from her home in Africa and sold as a slave aboard a ship named Phillis, she was sold to John Wheatley as a servant for his wife. Her intelligence was evident and she was educated by the Wheatley family that owned her.

That education was unheard of for a woman, let alone an African slave. Phillis is credited with being the first African American published in Europe in 1773.  Phillis-Wheatley-book-bw1.jpg

 

 

 

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In a communication to General George Washington, she wrote, “Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side. Thy every action let the goddess guide.”

While slaves of the time were being offered freedom by the British in exchange for loyalty to the British crown, Miss Wheatley displayed her support for the Continental Army.  Her support earned her an invitation from General Washington to visit General Washington at his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Her patriotic writings, in later times, were not held with the same enthusiasm.  Phillis Wheatley died in her early 30s in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 5, 1784.