Second Anniversary Update

It’s now two years since I began the Ganges Families History Project and continuing  in the spirit of an annual holiday letter, here’s what’s transpired in the past 12 months.

While the search for original sources continues, my emphasis over the past year has increased its emphasis on taking the information I’ve already found and bringing it together into a more coherent narrative.  This has taken two forms: continuing to update the Ganges Families web site and presenting my research results in public presentations. Many thanks to the African American Genealogy Group of Philadelphia and the Main Line Genealogy Club for giving me the opportunity to organize my thoughts. I’m now prepared to take the story out further when opportunities arise.

So, without further ado, here’s the “Top 10” highlights for the past year:

  1. Documenting what is know of the voyages of the Schooner Prudent and Phoebe. Of particular interest is a document describing the consignment terms for 45 of the Africans enslaved aboard the Phoebe at Bance Island, including an 8% contingency for “Loss occasioned by death.”
  2. Documenting the two federal court cases, U.S. vs. Schooner Prudent and U.S. vs. Schooner Phoebe that resulted in the First Ganges being freed.
  3. Adding a table of (very) short biographical sketches of the men involved in the court cases.
  4. Adding a glossary of common legal terms found in the court cases.
  5. Continuing to profile the lives of individual Ganges, including Phillis, Abraham, PeterPeter “Guinea Pete”, Sado and Debby Ganges, and moving to a new, standard profile format that’s much easier for me to create and maintain.
  6. Verifying that the remains of the “Old Lazaretto” – the quarantine hospital where the First Ganges were treated and where six of them were probably buried – are very unlikely to have survived. The site is currently under the control of the Corps of Engineers in a location dubbed “Disposal Area Number 2”. This is where the Corps deposits spoil coming from its dredging operations on the Delaware Rive. A summary map is available here.
  7. Assisting Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Cassie Owens on an article describing the Pennsylvania’s indenture process at the turn of the nineteenth century, including an interview with a living descendant of Samuel Ganges of Chester County.
  8. Completing a high resolution map of the Philadelphia area showing the locations where the First Ganges were indentured.
  9. Preparing and presenting the aforementioned talks on the project.
  10. Drafting a summary and map of the Ganges voyage from Philadelphia to Cuba and back (not yet published here), including a yellow fever epidemic aboard that ultimately killed more than twenty crew members.

I have made progress on the web site in the past year, but it still has a way to go before “completion.”  My enthusiasm for the topic hasn’t waned and  I intend to carry on. Watch this space and, if you are so inclined, write me.

First Anniversary Update

It’s been about a year since I began the Ganges Families History Project and in the spirit of an annual holiday letter, I thought I’d summarize what’s transpired in the past 12 months.

I began the project with a certain level of uncertainty, wondering whether there was both a need for it and whether there were sufficient sources available to take the story beyond where it was when I started. I am happy to report that the answer to both questions is yes.

As I point out in the About section, much of the story to-date has focused on the capture and arrival of the Ganges Africans in Philadelphia in 1800. Much less well-covered are: the fates of the Ganges after they were indentured out into the Philadelphia area; the voyage of the U.S.S. Ganges; the court cases that resulted in their being freed; the attempts by their captors to recover their property and, when that failed, to recover their losses from one another; the origins of the Schooners Prudent and Phoebe in the United States and Africa; the fates of the men (and they were all men) in Newport, Charleston, London, Bance Island (Sierra Leone) and Havana whose business it was to kidnap men and women in West Africa and bring them across the Atlantic for sale in the West Indies. The historic record has something to tell us about all of these, not just in general terms but specifically about the Ganges’ story.

The research has taken me (virtually) across four continents to a broad variety of repositories holding pertinent materials. The “Top 10” highlights include:

  1. Locating the geographic coordinates  of the “Old Lazaretto” on State Island where the Ganges Africans were treated on their arrival. It is probably the final resting place for those who died while in quarantine. There is nothing on the site now, about a mile NNE of Fort Mifflin. ( 39°53’19.79″N 75°12’23.61″W See: Henry Gannet, A Dictionary of Geographic Positions in the United States,  Washington DC, US Government Printing Office, 1896., p 70,  (Google Books))
  2. Reviewing the indentures and bonds of individual Ganges Africans and placing them with masters and mistresses throughout the Philadelphia area. These, together with a register (Indenture Book D, AmS.061), allowed me to identify the 126 Ganges who lived long enough to be indentured, the master or mistress to whom they were indentured and, for all but 7 cases, their first place of residence. The Survivors section of this web site now includes this information.
  3. Completing high resolution scans of the Ganges-related indentures and bonds held in the Abolition Society Papers (boxes 2 and 3A) at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. These will ultimately be made available on the Society’s web site.
  4. Conducting preliminary research on Ganges families from Chester County, Pa. at the Chester County Archives, and Chester County Historical Society. This formed the basis of this site’s first personal profile for Samuel Ganges.
  5. Locating of published accounts of the lives of several Ganges Africans, including Dabbo (Duke), Sado, Peter, Phillis, and David Ganges.
  6. Locating the original ship’s log for the U.S.S. Ganges at the Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis. It includes the specific log entries documenting the capture of the schooners Prudent and Phoebe.
  7. Locating records pertaining to the libel and condemnation of the Prudent and the Phoebe in the minutes and case files of the U.S. District Court for Pennsylvania, originals held by the National Archives, Northeast Region.
  8. Locating letters held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania from the owners of the schooner Phoebe to one of their attorneys, William Tilghman.
  9. Locating letters pertaining to the case U.S. vs Schooner Phoebe in the letter book of George Augustus Cushing, at Harvard.
  10. Locating records of a South Carolina lawsuit identifying the owners of 45 of the slaves aboard the Phoebe. They were London slave merchants John and Alexander Anderson and their agent/factor at Bance Island, Sierra Leone, John Tilley. A summary of the court case, Anderson et. al. vs. Moncrieff has been published. Original court papers are also available at the South Carolina Archives.

I am still wading through these sources and more as I construct the Ganges’ story.  This web site still has a long way to go before I will be satisfied that it is something approaching a coherent whole. Nonetheless, I’ve learned a lot in the past year and gained much personal satisfaction from the work. I intend to carry on. Watch this space and, if you are so inclined, write me.

MK
February 12, 2019