Thursday, February 17, 2011

Flora Stewart - Black History Month in Londonderry

Here is a selection of conflicting stories about Londonderry’s most famous black citizen of the 19th century. Flora Stewart’s photograph was published in 1867, but the stories that accompany her image vary from book to book. There doesn’t seem to be much in common with these myths. Even her age at death seems to be incorrectly recorded in the town records, just like Ginger Harvey, another black woman living in Londonderry at about the same time. (Please click here to read the post http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2010/09/ginger-harvey-of-londonderry.html for the story of Ginger Harvey, who died in 1865.)




------------------------

Stewart Clan Magazine, by the Clan Stewart Society in America, Inc, Volume II, No. 2 (August, 1923) page 56 has a short paragraph on Flora Stewart of Londonderry, New Hampshire, “…Flora Stewart of Londonderry, a negress, who died Aug. 17, 1868, at the age of 118. It is thus recorded in the published vital records of Londonderry, but few of us will believe it: she would have been 61 years old when her son George was born. This Flora Stuart was liberated from slavery about 1815 by some member of the Stuart family who had settled in Virginia, and with her pickaninnies Isaiah, George Washington and Salona sent for security to Londonderry, where they lived out their lives.”

------------------------

Londonderry, by the Londonderry Historical Society, Acadia Publishing, 2004, page 29

“ “Old Flora” Stewart came to live in Londonderry on Rockingham Road in 1810, when she was 60. She was said to have been freed from slavery by the Windham man who bought her. Gov. Fredrick Smyth invited her to his home in Manchester in 1867 and had her photographed in a studio. She was a faithful member of the Methodist Church and was loved by those who knew her. She died in 1868 at age 118 and is buried in Valley Cemetery.”

-----------------------

History of the Town of Candia, Rockingham County, NH, by Jacob Bailey Moore, Manchester, NH: George W. Browne, 1893, pages 459 – 460.

“An Aged Colored Woman- Mrs. Flora Stewart, who lived several years in Candia as a servant for William Duncan the trader, was born a slave in Londonderry in the family of a man by the name of Wilson. She took the name of Wilson from her owner and lived with this family until her marriage with a colored man named Stewart. She had two sons who also lived with Mr. Duncan and worked upon his farm several years. After leaving Candia, about the year 1835, Mrs. Stewart returned to Londonderry where she resided until her death, nearly twenty years ago. From the circumstance that she was born on about the same day as that upon which a child of her master’s came into existence, it is known that she lived to a very remarkable old age. Many of the people of Londonderry and others who were well acquainted with her history are confident that she was about 118 years old when she died. A few years before she passed away she was brought to Manchester by John D. Patterson of that place and a photograph was taken of her form and features.”

----------------------------

The New York Times, Published 19 May 1867, accessed by Google News Archives

“The Oldest Person in New Hampshire

A correspondent of the Manchester Mirror furnishes the following facts about FLORA STEWART, who has lived half a century beyond the allotted three score and ten. He says:

“In Londonderry, NH, about two miles northwest of Derry Village, near the line of the Manchester and Lawrence Railroad, resides FLORA STEWART, a negress, one the slave of the the grandfather of SAMUEL WILSON SIMPSON, now 80 years of age, whose mother at his birth was nursed by FLORA. She is reputed to be 120 years of age. Mr. SIMPSON has data proving it to be not less than 119. FLORA is full of vim, with remarkably retentive memory. She has been a long time a member of the Methodist Church, and on one of my visits to the lady I learned that she had just completed the rereading of the Testament. Mr. SIMPSON gave her a bill, and without spectacles she looked at it and said, “Why, WILSON, this is $5.” Her memory embraces the incidents of a century.” “

-------------------------------

Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 33, Number 5060, 15 June 1867, page 3

“A negress named Flora Stewart is living at Londonderry (N, H.) who is 120 years old. She was the slave of the grandfather of Samuel W. Simpson at that town, who has reliable data establishing her age. She is vigorous, and can read without the of; aid of spectacles, and her memory retains; with clearness the incidents and events of a century”

------------------------------
The URL for this post is
http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2011/02/flora-stewart-black-history-month-in.html

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

9 comments:

  1. Yes, she does look elegant in this photo, despite her years. The only thing I see in common with all the stories about Flora Stewart is 1.) great respect, and 2.) great age.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Now this was interesting. I would love to see any deeds/estates or emancipation records of this woman. My 3rd great-aunt had a child at the age of 61 so this is possible, and many on that line have had children between 55-60. Not as rare as purported in indigenous people either. What seems to be agreed upon, is she is plus 115, remarkable in its own right!I would think however, there were more records of her slavery.

    ReplyDelete
  3. As you can see, she still lived to be over 100 years old. I bet she had some stories she could tell you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The words "surely goodness and mercy..." seem to resonate for me. Reading essentially why she was rescued-- she nursed his mother-- and thinking about what I saw recently in the Wentworth genealogy (in a very different way), the human connection is what so often draws people in.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Heather-- thinking about NH people like the Cartlands, it is so inspiring to me to see how the Quakers risked so much-- over and over again. Their quiet collaboration rescued people thru the Underground Railroad, and their network was essentially invisible or quietly ignored by neighbors. They did not need that "personal contact" to spur on their desire to help, just a belief and commitment to act on that belief. The interesting contrast (again apparently written with, for want of a better word, "affection", is read in the Wentworth genealogy, I think it was Paul2. He apparently had a few slaves that he named and cared about... He referenced them with what I would call "affection", and "left" them to three family members, whom he also referenced with affection.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think there was some fascination with centenarians in this era. I came across a similar subject in Derbyshire, England who was photographed and feted in the 1860s. The claims about Edward Foster's life were remarkable, if true, so I decided to see if I could verify any of them.
    http://photo-sleuth.blogspot.co.nz/2010/04/portrait-of-portraitist-and-local.html
    Well, it was a long exercise in patience, but eventually I proved that he was not 103 when he died, but a mere 91 years old. In a series of articles which you can follow from the first in the series, if you are interested, I detailed many of his real achievements, although many proved to be pure invention. See the final article for the denouement:
    http://photo-sleuth.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/edward-foster-part-5-good-hand-at.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, Brett, I really enjoyed reading your articles. What a lot of research you were able to do on Edward Foster. It is very hard to find anything on enslaved people in this time period, unlike your Edward of noble birth.

      Delete
  7. The question of age is a curious one. Growing up, I ran into a number of people who did not even know for sure what day or year they were born. No records were kept and the family never made a fuss over birthdays. Hard to imagine but it accounts for some folks perhaps guessing that they or others were older than they actually were.

    ReplyDelete