CHARLES TOWN – There are ties between relatives of our nation’s first president and African-Americans who spent their lives enslaved in Jefferson County, and a daylong workshop this weekend will shed light on some of them.
Anyone interested may attend the panel discussion featuring Sarah Brown – a resident of Austin, Texas, who is a descendant of one of George Washington’s brothers – and African-American genealogy experts who have traced their roots to West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle including Joyceann Gray, Monique Crippen-Hopkins, Shelley Murphy and Marsha Smith. (A sixth researcher, Nikki Landerkin, won’t be able to attend as planned because of a medical issue.)
“What we found when we came together: Shared Roots Beneath Jefferson County’s Walls” is set to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at historic Fisherman’s Hall. The event will include formal presentations as well as a question and answer session.
The event again brings together women linked both by slavery and their ties to Jefferson County. In past years, the women have held private get-togethers at Harewood, the Charles Town home of Washington descendant Walter Washington.
The workshop’s presenters say they want to make their findings available to the widest possible audience. The women expect Saturday’s session will help them learn more about their individual families – from each other and from members of the public who attend.
“In each family story, there are brush strokes still needed to complete a full picture of the past,” reads a promotional handout for the event.
Brown traces her roots back to John Augustine Washington, a younger brother of the first president who lived from 1736 to 1787, and his son, Bushrod Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court justice who died in 1829 and is buried at Mount Vernon.
Brown’s maternal ancestors lived at Claymont Court just outside of Charles Town until 1904 when they left to homestead in Washington State and she was raised in Michigan.
She grew up knowing only the barest details of her family’s history as enslavers and remembers her mother telling her only that the practice was common place at the time.
But after an uncle’s death in 2009, Brown began to review handwritten family records and was astonished to discover that the Washingtons had enslaved more than 550 people over six generations.
Seeing page after page with the names of enslaved men, women and children set her on a quest – she would work to connect with people whose ancestors had been forced to spend their lives enslaved by her ancestors and would get as much genealogical and other family information into their hands.
Unlike the openness that Brown has extended, Gray said she’s run into descendants who will not share family information with her – despite DNA tests that confirm the families ties.
“If [relatives] won’t talk with you, then [the research] stops you right there,” the Sterling, Va., resident explained in an interview earlier this year.
On Sunday, Brown and Murphy will share some of their Jefferson County-related findings as the Middle Potomac History Researchers meet at 2 p.m. at Happy Retreat.
The 90-minute event is free and open to anyone, according to organizers of the group that normally meets the third Tuesday of each month in Berryville, Va.
At the historic home of Charles Town founder Charles Washington at 600 Mordington Ave., Brown will share her findings on the enslaved and enslavers at Claymont while Murphy’s presentation will focus on her research into the free people of color in Jefferson County.
Murphy has spent more than a quarter-century researching her family’s roots, which extend to the Roper and Goens (and Goings and Goins families) in Jefferson County.
The Charlottesville, Va., resident also is the coordinator of the Midwest African-American Genealogy Institute. She regularly presents genealogy workshops to national conferences.