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

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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

Edgecombe County, North Carolina: The escape of Harry, carpenter (1849)

The escape of Harry, carpenter (1849)

© Nadia Orton and Sacred Ground, Sacred History, 2014-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may not be used without prior written permission from Nadia Orton and Sacred Ground, Sacred History. If granted, full and clear credit shall be given to Nadia Orton and Sacred Ground, Sacred History, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. See: Consequences of Violations of the Copyright Laws.

On October 5, 1849, Guilford Horn, a slave owner in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, placed an ad in the Wilmington Journal for his fugitive slave, Harry, a carpenter.

A Personal Journey Through African-American Cemeteries – National Trust for Historic Preservation

Copyright Nadia Orton
At the gravesite of my great-great-great-grandfather Alexander Orton, 10th U. S. Colored Infantry, at Grove Baptist Church Cemetery in Portsmouth, Virginia.

I’ll never forget the exciting moment when I found the gravesite of Alexander Orton, my paternal great-great-great-grandfather. Born in 1842 in Virginia, he was a Civil War veteran and member of the 10th Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry.

Finding his last resting place was part of a genealogy project I’ve been pursuing for nine years now, keeping a long-standing promise made to an elder. Diagnosed with a serious chronic illness as a teenager, I needed a kidney transplant soon after college. My great-aunt gathered her entire church congregation to support my transplant fund, but held a lingering concern about our family legacy.

“Do not let our history die,” she told my father shortly before her passing in 2007. To honor her last wish, I vowed to make the most of my second chance and do my part in documenting our family history.

I’ve traced my father’s ancestry to 1630 in Virginia, and my mother’s to 1770 in North Carolina. Some of my ancestors were born free, while others were enslaved. Like Alexander, some enlisted in the Union Army to fight for freedom in the Civil War. They’d founded four African-American communities in Tidewater, Virginia, along with masonic lodges, banks, churches, and schools. They were oystermen, carpenters, farmers, teachers, Pullman porters, and teamsters at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. READ MORE