Back in May, my cousin’s wife Raquel Tomlinson expressed to me that she seems to match a lot of African Americans whose roots hailed from North Carolina. What is interesting about her claim is that she is from Jamaica. Several members of the Our Black Ancestry page on Facebook have expressed that their DNA is matching people in the West Indies, too. Most of them have North Carolina roots.
Well, three weeks ago, a new cousin appeared in my database. His name is Troy G, who is 27 years old and from North Miami Beach, FL. Mr. Gayles indicated on his profile that both of his parents are from Montego Bay, Jamaica! Most interestingly, 23andMe predicts our relationship to be 4th cousins; we share 16 cM (0.21%) of DNA across 1 chromosome segment. Troy ranks 64th in my Relative Finder database, which now has 481 people total to date. It increases monthly as more people get tested. In my opinion, this is closely-related considering that his family is from Jamaica, and I have no knowledge whatsoever of anyone within the first several generations of my family being from the West Indies. With us being “predicted 4th cousins,” apparently our common ancestor(s) is somebody that’s not-so-far down in the family tree, possibly within 6 generations. Fourth cousins share the same great-great-great-grandparent(s). To make things even more fascinating about our DNA match, I personally see a slight resemblance between us, especially when I was his age, which was just a few years ago. J (Note: 7/19/2013 - Troy decided after all that he doesn't want his photo revealed; therefore, it has been removed. Take my word for it. There was a resemblance.)
Incredibly, I discovered that Troy is not the only person of Jamaican descent with whom I share DNA. Currently another person in my RF database, whose profile is currently set to anonymous, answered that all four of his/her grandparents were born in Jamaica. I share 8 cM (.10%) of DNA with this unknown person. But because of these matches, 23andMe predicts that I have ancestry from Jamaica. Troy and I aren’t so distantly related, in my opinion; therefore, it raised several questions. Who? What circumstances? When? Where? How?
I began to think about Raquel’s observation. Even during our phone conversation, she expressed, “I have a lot of relatives from North Carolina.” Perhaps, my connection to Troy and this unknown person is via an ancestor who was born in North Carolina? Perhaps, a parent or grandparent of that ancestor may have been brought to North Carolina from the West Indies? I have only one maternal ancestor who was born somewhere in North Carolina – my great-great-grandmother Polly Partee, who was born there around 1825. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to trace back further than her to date. Somehow, she became enslaved on Squire Boone Partee’s plantation near Como, Mississippi before 1851. I have several Mississippi ancestors who were originally from North Carolina on my father’s side. Was there a definitive link between the West Indies and North Carolina? (Update - 9/20/2013: my father's 23andMe results are in, and Troy matches my father, too. He also shares 16 cM (0.21%) with my father.)
According to a number of sources, North Carolina played a very small role in the transatlantic slave trade because of its geography. The string of islands that make up the Outer Banks created dangerous conditions for slave ships to land on most of coastal North Carolina. Consequently, most slave ships opted to dock in ports to the north or south of the state. One exception was Wilmington, which is located on the Cape Fear River. Wilmington became a slave port because of its accessibility. Other accessible North Carolina ports that saw some slave importation activity were Brunswick, Edenton, Beaufort, and New Bern. Therefore, slave trading in North Carolina has largely gone unstudied. Fortunately, I found some slave trading data that provided a snapshot of slave trading activity in the state. Interestingly, it shows a strong link between the West Indies and North Carolina. (Source: The Seaborne Slave Trade of North Carolina by Walter E. Minchinton)
According to historian Walter E. Minchinton, this record of the number of enslaved people imported into North Carolina is still incomplete. However, this snapshot reveals a small yet steady flow of trade into the state during the 18th century. Enslaved people arrived almost every year between 1720 and 1775, except the periods of war in the 1740s and 1757-1761. After the American Revolution, the trade revived and continued until 1790. Enslaved people were brought into North Carolina from both other mainland colonies and the West Indies, with the largest percentage (48%) coming from the West Indies. Much fewer came directly from West Africa. This pattern was different for South Carolina, which played the largest role in the transatlantic slave trade. The majority of enslaved people transported into Charleston were directly from West Africa. Historian James Rawley estimated that of the 83,825 enslaved persons imported into South Carolina from 1700 to 1775, approximately 67,269 (80%) were brought directly from Africa. (Brawley, James A., The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 332-33).
I thought of my great-great-grandmother Polly Partee when I read the following Minchinton’s notation about one of the recorded North Carolina imports. Coincidence?? The notation stated: The sloop Polly (104 tons) of Montego Bay, Jamaica brought Negroes from thence in 1787 and twice in 1788. Hmmmmm…..