Monday, October 26, 2009

Hempstead history: St. George's Episcopal Church

This is a new section I've decided to try called "Hempstead History," since so much of my genealogical research is tied to Long Island in general and the Hempstead area of Long Island specifically. I'm a bit of a history buff so I love learning everything about the people, times, and places, but in genealogy, the more complete a picture you can paint, the more you'll get to know your ancestors and the more you'll understand about your family and yourself. You can learn so much about a person or at least begin to form assumptions about them just from where they lived - what their occupation might have been, religion, ethnic background just to name a few. So in this section, I think I'll probably deal with specifics to my genealogical research - for those of you researching Long Island families, we're all tied together by our history, so even if it's not your specific family it will probably still apply. And if you've never heard of Hempstead, never even been to the East Coast, and just don't give a hoot about any Raynors, Seamans or Smiths, that's okay too - maybe just reading the things I discuss wlll give you new ideas about places specific to your own genealogical research that you've never considered before that might give you new insight into your family.

Okay, so the inaugural "Hempstead history" post is about St. George's Episcopal Church, located on Front Street in Hempstead. If you have colonial English Long Island roots, chances are you have someone in your family who was either baptized or married in this church.



For all my research, there are a lot of local historical places I've never been, so when I found myself in Hempstead last week, I decided to finally stop by St. George's and take some photos. Besides the church and rectory buildings, the whole church grounds are an old cemetery. The names are all familiar old families - Rhodes, Seabury, Weeks.




The original church was built in 1702, making this parish more than 300 years old. St. George's received a charter from King George in 1735 (which is whom I would assume the church is named after, right?) The current church building you see in these photos was built in 1822. Both the church and the rectory are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Not just Hempstead but most of Nassau remained loyal to England during the Revolution, so much so that Loyalist from other colonies fled here during the war, but because of that, British troops used St. George's as a headquarters as well.




By the 1700s, much of my family was located further south, closer to Freeport and the shore, but in 1787 my 8th great grandparents Jacob Raynor and Rebecca Raynor were married at St. George's and in 1815 my 4th great grandparents Richard Poole and Sarah Ackerly were married there as well.

To give you an idea of how old the current building is, when it was built:
* James Monroe, our 5th president, was in the White House...
* Abraham Lincoln was 13 years old...
* Missouri had just become a state the year before and there were only 24 states in the US...
* Ulysses S. Grant was born...
* Beethoven was still alive
* The California gold rush was still 27 years away...
* The transcontinental railroad was still about 40 years away...
* Davy Crockett had just begun his career in politics...

Also something I thought was extremely interesting and revealing that I discovered today while I was researching St. George's (many of their baptismal, marriage, and funeral records have been transcribed and can be found at www.longislandgenealogy.com) is that St. George's, but also other local churches such as Christ's Presbyterian, which was also in Hempstead, had black members. In the 1790s and early 1800s. A 1790 marriage record at St. George's reads "Jacob and Mary - freed blacks" and there is an 1850 death record at Christ's Presbyterian for 82 year old Jacob Johnson, who was listed as both "colored" but also as a church member. Amazing, amazing stuff. I'm sure the English settlers did not consider the black settlers to be equals, but I never thought they would be so forward-thinking as to allow early black Americans to be members of the same churches as them. Plus, when I think about it, I think of the Dutch, the English, and the American Indians, but I never much thought about the African-American population on early Long Island. Oh, the things we learn!

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