Where It All Started
It began with Adam and Eve and has continued throughout the centuries . . .
Thelma Doswell, Certified Genealogist and Blackwell Family Historian, has traced the African-American Blackwell Family back to the slave auction block when, in 1735, an African woman named Amar and her daughter, Tab, were purchased by plantation owner James Glenn Blackwell.1
The African woman and her daughter became our ancestors. Amar and Tab arrived in Yorktown, Virginia, on the slave ship Doddington from their native land, which had been the location of the great Ghana, Mali, and songhay Empires of West Africa in 1735. Their tribe is believed to be the Soninke ethnicity of Bakel, Senegal, West Africa.
Tab became an efficient chamber maid, cook and housekeeper under the apprenticeship of her mother, Amar, on the plantation in Yorktown, Virginia. Tab was separated from her mother, Amar, and the then-familiar plantation in Yorktown, Virginia, in circa 1753 when she was loaned to Robert Blackwell of Lunenburg County, Virginia, by his father, James Glenn Blackwell. (The inventory of Robert's estate affirms that Tab was a woman in his household in Lunenburg County, Virginia, valued at $30 in 1787. (Will Book 3, pp. 349 and 360, Lunenburg Court House, Virginia).
Odofo [Jack], an African of the Ashanti ethnicity in West Africa, was brought to Virginia in the mid-18th Century. He was bought by James Goodwin of York County, Virginia, from a man named Burras. Odofo was hired out to Robert Blackwell of Lunenburg County, Virginia, in circa 1753. Robert took Odofo to his plantation in Lunenburg County where he lived and worked and married Tab. Odofo was a Christian gentleman, moralist and preacher who believed in the family altar.
Tab was left without a husband when James Goodwin died in 1757, and willed Odofo to his son, Peter Goodwin, who took Jack to King William County, Virginia.
Odofo died in Prince Edward County, Virginia, and Tab died in Lunenburg County, Virginia. They had five children: Harry, Lucy, Will, Siller, and Lucky (Sucky).
Odofo also had a daughter, not borne by Tab, named Amy. She was owned by John Blackwell, but came to Lunenburg County in 1765. Amy married Caesar, an African who was sold in 1829 to the Alabama Baptist Association for $625. He then went about preaching among his people in Lowndes County, Alabama. Amy bore five children: Suralso, Bitt, Billy, Cesaire, Jr. (Caesar, Jr.), and Tom. Suralso, Bitt, and Billy were owned by Robert Blackwell in 1787. Cesaire, Jr. (Caesar, Jr.) and his mother, Amy, were owned by John Blackwell in 1832. Tom was owned by Joel Blackwell in 1849.
This is where we begin the journey of tracing and updating our family limbs. . . .
On August 29, 1959, the first African-American Blackwell Family Tree was unveiled at the family reunion in Warfield, Virginia. This Oral History tree, designed on a 6' x 8' canvas, has 1,500 names inscribed on its limbs and leaves with one gold leaf to commemorate Arthur Ashe, Jr., for his tennis champion success. The tree without roots dates back to 1789.
Incomplete family limbs were researched back to 1735, and the updated family tree with roots with 3,333 family names on limbs and leaves of the 9' x 12' canvas that was unveiled 12 years later at the family reunion on October 30, 1971, in Blackstone, Virginia.
Some of the undeveloped limbs were extended and 20 years later, on October 26, 1991, at the family reunion in Atlanta, Georgia, the 10' x 14" family tree on canvas with 5,000 family names from 15 states, Africa, Canada, Germany, and Haiti was unveiled.
It will go on and on and on . . . However, the story will never be lost, because together we will keep it alive in our hearts, our minds and our lives. It is unique because it is ours, and we are proud to be Afumerind2 Blackwells!
1The surname Blackwell was adopted by our English slave owners from a town in Derbyshire, England. “Blackwell was descriptive of a deep, cool spring or well gushing from black, hillside rocks.” Many Blackwells of America trace their ancestry to the ancient English family of this name. They started in this country with the traditional "three brothers," who came over early in the 17th century. Robert Blackwell, the eldest, considered the founder of the Long Island family, was owner of the well-known "Blackwell Island" in New York. He also owned the estate "Ravenswood," which is now Long Island City. The progenitor of the South Carolina family was Samuel Blackwell, who located in Caswell County. Joseph Blackwell was responsible for the founding of the Virginia family. (Taproots, a Virginia Legacy, by Paul R. White, Sr.)
Robert Blackwell was the first Blackwell recorded in the Virginia Colony. He came from England to York County, Virginia in 1645. His son was James Glenn Blackwell. (Herald Eyes and Ears, by Thelma Short Doswell)
2 Afuamerind is a word coined by Thelma Short Doswell from our AFrican, EUropean, AMERican, and INDian ancestry.
Missing Links, Thelma Short Doswell
Herald Eyes and Ears, Thelma Short Doswell
Taproots, a Virginia Legacy, Paul R. White, Sr.