To give someone or something a Proper Name is to acknowledge it as having a real and valuable existence, independent of its use to oneself, in other words, to acknowledge it as a neighbor — W. H. Auden

Studying slavery is a serious thing. It can be very, very difficult, very challenging, to think about that time. Going through the farm book, going through letters about sales of people and so forth, but it seems distant, it seems really, really far away and you can kind of become detached from it. At least I can. There are moments when it comes up to you and you feel very, very deep emotion or anger and all these kinds of things, or admiration for the people who managed to make it through that — Annette Gordon-Reed [0]

This project is an outgrowth of my volunteer work at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where I devoted several months effort to abstract  indentures and manumissions from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society Papers[1]

Among these documents are indentures and bonds relating to the African slaves freed by the USS Ganges in 1800, brought to Philadelphia from the Caribbean, placed under the guardianship of the Abolition Society and then indentured out to residents of  the five-county area. They were all given the surname Ganges.

Wanting to learn more, I naturally turned to the internet where I found a number of articles about “The Ganges Incident” but as an experienced – if not professional – genealogist, I was disappointed to find that there was not much information about the Ganges Africans themselves. Articles would typically end with something like:

… others thrived, lived, married, and had families of their own. They eked out a new life in this country, and their descendants, some still carrying the surname Ganges, can be found throughout Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas today. [2]


Apparently most eventually became part of Pennsylvania’s population of free blacks.[3]

Even the the Mormon’s Family Search catalog, which indexes tens of thousands of published genealogies, returns a single result for the surname “Ganges” — and that is for the surname “Gangestad.” [4] PERSI has no entries under the surname Ganges. [5]

So, here I had found an opportunity to work on an historically relevant group of people (but not in overwhelming numbers),  with an unusual surname, at a place and time where record keeping was good and about whom nothing had been published.  To a genealogist, this can be described in one word: “catnip.”

Consequently, I have undertaken a project to systematically explore the descendants of the Ganges Africans and, to a lesser extent, the citizens of Pennsylvania who took them in as well as the owners from Newport, Charleston, Sierra Leone, and London who expected to benefit from their kidnapping and sale.  This web site is the place where I will present the ongoing results of my research and invite others to participate by sharing their knowledge of the Ganges family.

Michael Kearney
Wayne, Pennsylvania
March 2018

About the site header image

The site’s header image is a detail taken from a copy of a work by Scottish artist Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901). Titled Capture of the Slave Ship, it appeared in the 1865 volume of The Sunday Magazine.  [5] While not contemporaneous with the Ganges‘ interdiction of the Prudent and Phoebe in 1800, the image captures the drama and poignancy of that moment when enslaved Africans, terrorized and suffering, are offered the rescuing hands of a white mariners:


[0] Annette Gordon-Reed, President Andrew Johnson’s Legacy, online video at 3 min. 15 sec.
https://www.c-span.org/video/?437338-4/president-andrew-johnsons-legacy&start=315 , accessed July 30, 2018.
[1] http://hsp.org/news/hsp-launches-new-database-genealogists-scholars  (accessed March 2018).

[5] J. Noel Paton, Capture of the Slave Ship, “The Sunday Magazine for 1865“, Thomas Guthrie DD ed., (London and Edinburgh, Strahan and Company, 1865), p 289; online, google.com/books ( https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Sunday_Magazine/NP1gCgyvt9YC?gbpv=1 : accessed 27 Aug 2022) .