At the time I started researching my family back in 1976, my goals were simple – find all my great grandparents. Of course, I was hoping their information would lead me back yet another and that would have been the icing on the cake. But after only a few months of family history research, I was staring at the name of William Hood, my 4th great grandfather. He is still one of the biggest surprises in all my years of doing Black genealogy.
William Hood was a White man born about 1757 in Ireland who immigrated to Pennsylvania before the American Revolution. By the time the war began, history finds William living on the frontier in Northumberland County near the western branch of the Susquehanna River.
This area was extremely volatile during the Revolutionary War because it was the farthest edge of the frontier where there were frequent attacks on the colonists by the British army, American loyalists and Native American tribes aligned with the British. Beyond this point, there was no colonial government and no protection. It was truly the wild, wild west.
There were several small forts in this area, most notably Fort Freeland. In late June, 1779 after repeated attacks by the British, a number of colonial families moved from their homes to live behind the walls of Fort Freeland.
Although there were rumblings of a pending attack, the colonists were completely unprepared when more than 300 British soldiers and supporters stormed the fort early on the morning of July 28, 1779. With all the able-bodied men already off to war, there were only 21 boys and old men to defend the fort. Seeing the hopelessness of their situation, the colonists soon negotiated a surrender.
News of the attack — but not the surrender – spread to a nearby fort and a relief party including my ancestor William Hood rushed to defend Fort Freeland. The battle that followed was one of the bloodiest of the American Revolution and pivotal because the fall of Fort Freeland left the colonial American frontier defenseless.
Although many people died that day, William Hood lived to tell about the battle in his own words which were written down many years later in support of the pension application of a fellow soldier’s widow. I found this record at the National Archives and discovered other first-hand accounts of the battle of Fort Freeland in records at the Northumberland County (PA) Historical Society.
William went on to marry Rebecca Lee. Her father, Sergeant Edward Lee was another of my Revolutionary War ancestors but more about him another time. My 4th great grandparents moved to Erie County, Pennsylvania where they settled in the little town of Waterford. I have visited the house they built in 1810 and the cemetery where they are both buried. William Hood died in 1840. Here’s the burial record:
Finding my patriot ancestor, William Hood led to my applying for membership in the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). In 1977, I became DAR’s first African American member – an amazing conclusion to a genealogy research project that seemed relatively simple in the beginning. It was an important lesson to me as a genealogist: always be prepared for the unexpected – and the extreme!
My Aunt Clara was the first person I knew who was passionate about family history. In 1976, when I decided to start researching our family, I didn’t know where to start. Somewhere I read that you should start by talking with your oldest relative. At that point, it was my maternal great Aunt Clara who was 81 years old.
Born Clarissa Mae Weaver on December 1, 1894 in Cleveland, Ohio, Aunt Clara grew into a strong, feisty woman with an opinion on everything and anything – whether you wanted to hear it or not. My childhood memory is that Aunt Clara was tall and imposing, the kind of person who commands attention when she walked in a room. And she sure got our attention.
In her later years, Aunt Clara had a little touch of dementia but that didn’t dull her memory of the old days. When she got us kids sitting still for long enough, that was her opportunity to share a family tale. Aunt Clara absolutely never missed those opportunities. I’m sorry to say, I don’t think I soaked up enough of the family history in those early days.
But I made up for lost time when I started doing genealogy in 1976. Aunt Clara was right there ready and willing to share all she knew. As I look back, her amazing enthusiasm about genealogy was infectious. And I caught it!
Over the next 8 months, Aunt Clara and I bridged the distance between my home in Detroit and hers in Cleveland with phone calls and letters – sharing and discovering more about our Weaver, Coover, Hood and Scribner family lines. But in September of that year, Aunt Clara fell and broke her hip. In a week she was gone.
Aunt Clara was my genealogy muse. I am so grateful for the time we had to share our mutual passion for Black family history and, more importantly, for me to get to appreciate Aunt Clara as the strong, endearingly eccentric and amazingly inspirational woman she was.
Who inspired you to start doing genealogy?