By Linda Cunningham Fluharty - October, 2000.
Since I first embraced this wonderful world of genealogy in 1996, there has been one exciting discovery after the other. The famous pilot, Chuck Yeager, is my husband's second cousin; their grandmothers were sisters. My husband and I have more than 30 Revolutionary ancestors, including many pioneers of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
But I have to say that the single most exciting and enriching discovery is that I have an ancestor who is listed as "FREE-COLORED" in the 1820 and 1830 Greene County, Pennsylvania census records.
My father's mother was Mary Angela Pearl, who lived her entire life in the Benwood-Boggs Run-Brown's Run area of Marshall County. Her parents were William Andrew Pearl and Mary Alice Higgins. William Andrew, the son of John and Sarah (Maris) Pearl, was born 16 Oct 1876 in Perry County, Ohio. After his marriage, he resided in Benwood and held the position of City Assessor for 16 years, after his retirement from Wheeling Steel Corporation. William died in Wheeling Hospital on 7 Aug 1950.
As I was growing up, my immediate family didn't see too much of our Pearl relatives, although many of them lived in Marshall County. For some reason, I always thought our Pearls had come from Ireland. In fact, it was my great-grandmother Pearl, the former Mary Alice Higgins, whose parents were born in Ireland. (And there was an IRISH Pearl family in the same area of Marshall County.)
Not long before his death in May 2000, my dad sent me a photo of our Pearl ancestors. The photo is William Andrew Pearl, left, his siblings, Dora, Ed and Charles, with their father, John Pearl. Dad and I had been amazed to look at our William Andrew Pearl, with his black hair and high cheekbones, and see our own striking resemblance to him.
Soon after I put the photo online, I sent a copy to Joan Moore, a Pearl "cousin," who I knew was researching this family. She sent me a letter and mentioned, almost in passing, that John Pearl's father, Lawrence Pearl, was a mulatto. - Lawrence would be my gr-gr-gr-grandfather.
Since I thought the Pearls had come from Ireland, I was very surprised!
I went to the library and looked at the census film, at first concluding that Joan was mistaken; I couldn't find Lawrence Pearl at all. But, indeed, he was there, at the end of the film on the "Free People of Color" schedule. Without question, he is the Lawrence Pearl married to a white woman.
Within a week, I had gathered an abundance of information about the Pearls, and Joan Moore sent me much more. I immediately put the data/notes online to share it with other researchers of this family.
I was very excited about this revelation and I did share the story with a number of people - - but my dad was NOT among them! He was a racist, unsurpassed in his hatred of people of color, specifically African-Americans, but it extended to Asians, as well. I knew that he could not cope with this news and I decided that he could never be told. Truly, he would have blown his brains out!
This was interesting because as a child I never heard anything about my dad's prejudice. Living in West Virginia, there were very few blacks and absolutely none in the rural area of our home. But in his late years, particularly after O. J. Simpson was acquitted of double murder, Dad had become pre-occupied with his hatred of blacks and had even stopped watching the Pittsburgh Steelers because they had a black quarterback!
But our story is this:
Lawrence Pearl was born in 1793 in Frederick County, Maryland and he married Susannah Nichols, a white woman, in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1814.
It is believed that Lawrence was the descendant of former slave, Robert Pearle, of Maryland, who rose to prominence as a planter and was a slave owner.
In the 1810 Greene County, Pa. census, are Daniel & Basil Perril/Perrel/Pearl, both Free-Colored, born in Maryland.
In 1820 and 1830, Lawrence Pearl, free-colored, is also in Greene County with his white wife. No positive familial connection has been made between Lawrence and Daniel and Basil but they were all listed as Free-Colored and they were all from Maryland. It is very probable that Lawrence was closely related to Daniel and Basil.
Factually, all we know is that our Lawrence Pearl, born in Maryland, is listed as Free-Colored in the two censuses.
According to research done by Marlene Bransom, a native of Greene County, Pa. and a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, there was a great deal of racial mixing in Greene County in the 1800s. A petition was circulated in an attempt to stop the racial mixing, at which time some families moved from the area to places such as West Virginia, Indiana and Ohio.
My Lawrence Pearl had purchased property in Greene County in 1828 and in 1836, he sold the land and moved to Morgan County, Ohio. Colored people in Pennsylvania also lost the right to vote in 1837 and this was not reinstated until after the Civil War. Perhaps the growing anti-colored sentiment influenced the move to Ohio.
Noteworthy here is the fact that with this move, Lawrence CROSSED THE COLOR LINE. In all subsequent censuses, he and his descendants are listed as white.
Because he was very light, did he make a calculated decision to escape from his "colored" heritage? Certainly, life was better and easier for white people. Or did he see himself as white? - Or in this early time, did he simply go with his color, which was light. Did the census takers in Morgan County, Ohio record "white" as the race because they looked white?
Of interest to me is that some white Maryland families, such as DEAVER and MARSHALL, from the same area as the early Pearls, were with the Pearls and inter-married with them in Maryland, Greene County, Pa., and then in Morgan County, Ohio. For example, Lawrence Pearl's second wife was Margaret Marshall and his daughters married Deavers. Next door to Lawrence and Margaret, is Affadilla DEAVER. She was the second wife of Reuben H. Deaver, the father of Henry T. & Reuben H. Deaver Jr., who married Lawrence's daughters, Sarah Ann and Ruth, respectively. Affidilla Deaver, born in Maryland, is listed in the Directory of Underground Railway Operators, AFFIDILLA MOODY DEAVER.
Reuben H. Deaver was the son of Abraham and Nancy (Lincoln/Linkin) Deaver. According to some researchers of the family, Nancy was the aunt of President Abraham Lincoln.
I have become very familiar with the families in Marshall County, some of whom are descendants of the racially mixed, early Greene County families. Not long ago, I updated the censuses to include race, which is very important and relevant to our research.
I am sharing my story with the hope that others will come forward and share their pieces of the genealogical puzzle that include people of color.
Genealogy is not for the faint of heart and we have to accept what we find. But all too often, people want to either candy-coat or ignore the aspects of their heritage that they find less savory. My siblings and I are extremely pleased and proud of this discovery about our heritage. But I am well aware that some people will not be comfortable with any aspect of this subject.
NOTE: (2008) -- Dr. Mary Clement Jeske wrote an article, "From Slave to Slave Owner: The Life of Robert Pearle of Maryland," published by the Maryland Historical Society in Maryland Historical Magazine, Spring 2008. She describes the evolution of slavery in the Chesapeake: Robert Pearle of Maryland.
We descendants of Lawrence are indebted to Marlene Bransom of Pittsburgh for her extensive research of the African-Americans in Western Pennsylvania. Her work, which includes Greene County, revealed that Lawrence Pearl is listed as "Free-Colored" in the 1820 & 1830 Greene County, Pennsylvania census records. Marlene's research was the impetus for our search for his roots and led us to Robert Pearle. Like Dr. Jeske, Marlene presents the records in an historical context that sheds light on race and the intermingling of the white and black families in Western Pennsylvania.