Research reveals hidden truth of lineage

Shweta Karikehalli | The Daily StarHartwick Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs Harry Bradshaw Matthews sits in his office with a Senate of Maryland recognition of the United States Colored Troops Institute for its contributions to the understanding of African life in America. 

A Hartwick College associate dean will share his research about an African-American descendent line almost lost with the distortion of history at an international conference.

Harry Bradshaw Matthews, also Hartwick’s director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs and founding president of U.S. Colored Troops Institute for Local & Family History, will present at the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society in Maryland on Saturday, Oct. 12.

His research, he said, led him to correct a false assertion by a religious historian that a famous interracial marriage in 1682 was between Native American John Puckham and a white woman.

Puckham’s wife was revealed to be Jone Johnson, a black woman, and the great-granddaughter of Anthony Johnson, who was one of more than 20 enslaved Africans forcibly brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 to be sold to colonists.

“The significance of the study is that this marriage that took place in 1682 was hidden,” Matthews said. “That cut off the possibility of African-Americans and others being aware of this lineage from that point up until today.”

The research took several years, Matthews said. Matthews is a genealogist and said his own family history has been identified nationally as one of the 24 most useful case studies in family research.

He said that when he noticed there was very little written about the Johnson family, he knew something was off.

“When I started digging deeper and didn’t find what I was looking for I became a little concerned,” he said. “After I looked at the African-American scholars I began to look at other individuals who have done genealogical work over the ages. And that’s when I gradually started to piece things together.”

Matthews said he is bringing a copy of the 1832 census for Somerset County, Va., with him to the conference. After a slave rebellion in 1831 led by Nat Turner, counties in Virginia and Maryland decided to create a special census that specifically identified every black person, free or slave, in those areas, he said. This census is significant because it will help many African-American families in the state of Maryland identify early relatives before 1850 by name, Matthews said.

The presentation is a reflection of Matthews’ book, “The Family Legacy of Anthony Johnson: From Jamestown, VA to Somerset, MD 1619-1995.”

 Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

Recommended for you