Brooklyn, New York: Seeking freedom, Robert M. Phinney of Weeksville

Map showing the location of Weeksville and Crow Hill, early 19th-century African American communities in Brooklyn, New York. Source: Sidney’s map of twelve miles around New-York : with the names of property holders, &c., from entirely new & original surveys (1849). New York Public Library

Robert M. Phinney (alias Finney), was born enslaved, about 1818, in Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina. In the 1840s, he escaped slavery via the maritime Underground Railroad, and eventually settled in Weeksville, Brooklyn, New York. Weeksville was established shortly after New York abolished slavery in 1827. The community was named after James Weeks, a longshoreman and one of the earliest African American landowners in the area. Weeksville has been featured in recent publications, as longterm efforts to preserve the history of the site are threatened by a lack of funding and other resources.1

Raleigh, North Carolina: The Death of Thomas H. Williams, Oberlin Cemetery

Thomas H. Willliams

(1830-1898)

Mr. Thomas H. Williams, who was born October 10, 1830, in Pittsboro, N. C., died at his residence in Oberlin on January 11, 1898. He came to Raleigh in 1866 and in the fall of the same year moved to Oberlin, where he resided until his death. He was a carpenter, and for about thirty years was in the employ of the late Mr. Thomas H. Briggs. He enjoyed the confidence and respect of all of our citizens. His was a Christian life. He leaves a wife, six sons, two daughters and twelve grandchildren to mourn his loss. His funeral, which was largely attended by people of both races, was preached at the M. E. Church in Oberlin Wednesday of last week by Rev. R. H. W. Leak, assisted by Revs. McDonald and Nunn. He was an old and honored member of Excelsior Lodge of F. and A. Masons, and was buried with Masonic honors by the fraternity, M. W., James H. Young, Grand Master, at the request of the W. M., J. J. Worlds, officiating. We extend our sympathy to the bereaved ones. – The Gazette, January 22, 1898.

Warren County, North Carolina: The Henry Williams Family Cemetery

The Henry Williams Family Cemetery from the road. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 2, 2016. All rights reserved.

The Henry Williams Family Cemetery is located in Sandy Creek Township, Warren County, North Carolina. I first noticed it a few years ago, as we traveled along the winding state routes of Warren on a routine family research trip. From the road, I’d spied the tip of what appeared to be a lone headstone amidst the felled trees, limbs, and other debris, and decided it warranted further inspection. In rural areas, it’s quite common to see small, family cemeteries along the roadside, situated in front yards, or in the middle of fields. I’d considered our extensive family roots in Warren and surrounding counties, and couldn’t help but wonder, was it a possible family member?