Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Black or Mulatto Sewalls of Maine

The New England Genealogical & Historical Register is publishing a paper written by Eben Graves regarding the black or mulatto Sewall families of Maine.  It is very interesting and, although absolute proof does not exist for all the family links, what Eben has researched and presented is compelling.   [Thanks to Eben for an early glimpse of the paper, in exchange for some basic proofreading...!]

Between census findings, DNA evidence and records of William Dunning Sewall's family found in Illinois, I am pretty well convinced that my son's Sewall lineage is of African descent.  I suppose it would not be impossible that George, son of William Dunning Sewall, returned to Maine as a young man, thus linking my son's family back to the Sewalls from England, but there is also a report that an older Sewall member told someone he'd heard there was black blood in the family.  There are still one or more DNA tests to be run, but I assume further evidence of African descent will  be found.

I thought there would be more physical signs of African-American lineage in the family members I know or have seen pictures of.  However, as Eben says, the families have considered themselves white - and been enumerated as such in federal censuses - for generations.  Many a black or mulatto Sewall married a white woman, back to the late 1700's. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I am currently stuck on the parents of George Washington Sewall, who married Lucy Briggs and had 14 children, one of them being Edward Sewall, great-grandfather of my son Rane.

In email correspondence with Eben Graves, a long-time Sewall researcher, it appears that there were two George Washington Sewalls born the same year in the same [approximate] place [in Maine].  One was the son of William Dummer and Mary Ann Sewall [a descendant of a well-researched Sewall family originally from England].  The other George Washington was perhaps the son of John Sewall, a colored or mulatto man.

Wm Dummer Sewall, father of the 1st above mentioned George Washington Sewall, is said to have died 1839; GW would have been age 10.  There is a suggestion that Wm Dummer died in Illinois, and perhaps his widow remarried.  However no definitive trace has been found of the family that I know of. 

The primary links to John Sewall are (a) in one [and only one] federal census, George Washington Sewall and his family are listed as mulatto.  (b)  one proven descendant of G.W. has taken a DNA test which showed results linking him to African bloodlines. (c) in 1850 the only possibility I found for GW was a Washington Sewall [white] living with [supposed] mother Paulina and siblings Octavia and Charles; all but GW were enumerated in various other census years as mulatto in the household of the mulatto John Sewall.  Eben also feels that there is a link as to the respective families' residences, although they do not appear in the same place at the same time.

It also seems strange to me - but is a matter of indifference to Eben! - that there are no family names passed from generation to generation which might more obviously link the John Sewall family with George Washington Sewall's family.  I have not done research in Maine before, so perhaps it was not common to do so, but in most if not all of the other families I have researched, it was commonly done.  In glancing quickly through the known descendants of George Washington Sewall and his son Edward, this appears to hold true - the only common name that I caught was a daughter named Lucy for her grandmother.  So perhaps this is telling in another way - as if the family wanted to reinvent itself.  If Eben is correct, the earlier censuses more commonly enumerated the family as mulatto, but as time went on, this changed to "white".  I don't know the history of black people in Maine...

Am currently interested in contacting any other proven descendant of George Washington Sewall and his wife Lucy Briggs, to take part in the DNA studies.  As Eben says, the more "samples", the better.