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.

February 12, 2019

Phillis Ganges


Migrations/Residences: Arr. Philadelphia, Penna., 4 Aug. 1800[1] as a captive aboard the schooner Phoebe[2]; 1800: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Penna.[3]; 1804: Upper Merion Township, Montgomery County, Penna.[4]; 1850: Tredyffrin Township, Chester County[5]; 1870:

Parentage/Family: Unknown

Birth/Baptism:  1790,  Africa[6]
Death/Burial:  d.  18 Apr 1872, probably  Chester County, Penna.;  bur. Great Valley Baptist Church Cemetery, Tredyffrin Twp., Chester Co. , Penna.[7]

Married:  Possibly[8]

Groom: [Unknown] Burr

Parentage/Family:  Unknown

Birth/Baptism:  Unknown

Death/Burial:  Unknown

Land/Property:  none located

Institutions:  none identified

Community: probably a member of the Great Valley Baptist Church, Tredyffrin Twp., given the memorial stone erected to her there and her 2nd master, David George was a trustee.[9]

Education: was to receive three quarters day schooling before termination of her indenture; could not read or write in 1850.[10]

Military: no military service identified.

Occupation: Housewifery[11]

Estate: none located

Children: none identified



Date: 3 Oct. 1800

Term: 8 y.

Skills taught: Housewifery; three quarters day schooling

Master/Mistress  John William Godfrey

Residences:  Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Penna.[13]






Date: 11 Apr. 1804

Term: unstated, but since the original indenture was assigned, presumably for the remainder of the indenture term, until 3 Oct. 1808

Skills taught: Housewifery; three quarters day schooling (as per original indenture).

Master/Mistress  David George (177?-1822)

Residences 1800, 1810: Upper Merion Twp., Montgomery Co., Penna.[14]; 1814: Bristol Twp., Philadelphia Co., Penna.[15] 1822: Bristol Twp., Philadelphia Co., Penna.[16]

Parentage/Family:  his wife, Mary Jane Godfrey was a sister of John William Godfrey, Phillis’ first master.


Death/Burial: 25 Jan 1822[17]

Community 1800: Trustee of the Baptist Church of the Great Valley. His farther George is buried in the graveyard there.



[1]. The first newspaper reports of the arrival of the Phebe were dated August 5, 1800. See for example, The Philadelphia Gazette and Daily Advertiser, Vol XVII, No. 3667, 5 August 1800, p. 3. Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert received a letter from prize master Calvin Stevens dated August 4 requesting instructions on how to proceed. See United States. Office of Naval Records and Library, Naval documents related to the quasi-war between the United States and France & Naval Operations From June 1800 to November 1800, Washington : U.S. G.P.O., 1938. Vol. 6, p. 232.

[2] Abolition Society of Pennsylvania, Indenture Book D 1795-1835, Papers of the Abolition Society, HSP, Collection 490, Series IV, Ams .061, fol 50.

[3] Indenture from Phillis Ganges to John William Godfrey of Philadelphia, Papers of the Abolition Society, HSP, Collection 490, Series IV, Box 2 Folder 17. Front Back

[4] Ibid. Phillis’ indenture was transferred to David George of Upper Merion, J. W. Godfrey’s brother-in-law, on April 11, 1804.

[5] 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009, Tredyffrin, Chester, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_764; Page: 360A; Image: 724 (accessed Oct 12 2018). Phillis was enumerated as Phillis Burr. There is a 1870 census enumeration in Tredyffrin for a black woman, Phillis Burroughs, aged 103, born Virginia. This may be the same woman, but the stated facts differ sufficiently that we are not citing it here without further evidence. Phillis has not been located in the 1860 census.

[6] 1850 Census enumeration suggests 1792 as the year of birth. Phillis’ indenture to J.W. Godfrey has an 8 year duration  which, given the standard indenture terms for a female’s indenture was either 4 years or the period needed to reach age 18, places her year of birth in 1790, used here.

[7], Burial Index record for Phillis Ganges, , accessed 12 Oct 2018. The church has erected a memorial marker with the following inscription:

“Erected by the Great Valley Baptist Church in memory of Phyllis Burr who was born in Africa, brought to America in the slave ship “Ganges” and sold into slavery to pay her passage and died April 18th, 1872 aged nearly 100 years.”

While the stated facts are a bit off the mark, this inscription is one of the few tangible indications, other than the surname, that directly links an individual to the Ganges.

[8] 1850 Census gives Phillis surname as Burr; headstone inscription identified her as a Ganges captive. Surname change suggests the possibility of a marriage, but no marriage record located to-date.


[10] Indenture to J. W. Godfrey includes his commitment to provide schooling; 1850 Census indicated Phillis could not read or write, however.

[11] Indenture, Phillis Ganges to J.W. Godfrey.

[12] Indenture, Phillis Ganges to J.W. Godfrey.

[13] Indenture, Phillis Ganges to J.W. Godfrey.

[14] Indenture, Phillis Ganges to J.W. Godfrey.

[15] Administration Bond, Estate of Mary George, Philadelphia Orphans Court, Administration File 263, 1814.

[16] Inventory of Estate of David George, Philadelphia Orphans Court, Administration File 36, 1822.

[17] Inventory of Estate of David George, Philadelphia Orphans Court, Administration File 36, 1822