Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reuben Melvin; 1756 - 1860 His Story

Reuben Melvin, my 2nd great grandfather, lived to be 105.
He passed away in 1860 before his people were emancipated.
Was he ever a slave? We're not certain. Let's see what we can learn from our notes.

It was in September of 1984 that I first heard of my great great grandfather, Reuben Melvin. My cousin Wilma sent me this letter.
"Reuben Melvin was born 1756 - died 1860 no dates are recorded".
Are you kidding?!? This was one of the most exciting moments of my genealogical life! Before 1984, I knew [almost] nothing of my Ancestors. 
The letter continued to list the names of births, marriages and deaths - according to the family bible.
My cousin was in possession of the family bible. I never knew of its existence. My father, deceased in 1977, never mentioned it; it was about his side of the family. It would be some time afterwards that I would actually hold it in my hands.

Published in 1876, the only thing done to the bible was the cover replaced. I made photocopies of the title, birth, marriages and death pages. The bible was placed in my possession until I left New York state for good in 1993. The Family Bible remains with family in NYS; considered to be it's home. 

There's Reuben, on the second line of the birth page. His wife, Iantha, is on the first. We have guessed that the early entries were written by their daughter, Emma J. Melvin. A good genealogist or family historian would want more proof that the birth and death dates for Reuben are accurate. This record  would also suggest that Emma's daddy was 95 years old when she was born! Let's move on...

According to the 1860 federal census for the Town of Barton, Tioga County, New York, Reuben Melvin is 105 years old. It is doubtful that I'll ever find a death certificate for dear Reuben.
What else do I know about my 2nd great grandfather?
In 1860, his property is worth $300.00 and his personal estate is worth $50.00. He has five children living with him with three attending school; and he's from Maryland. Iantha is listed as being 48 years old. Hmmn...
The 1855 New York State census gives us an idea of when Reuben came to Tioga county. Years ago, the Tioga Historical Society in Owego, NY sent me this record:

Reuben is 80, a farmer from PA and has been in Tioga county for 24 years.
Iantha is from Long island, age 42, and been in the area for 23 years. That would suggest that Reuben arrived in this area in 1831 and Iantha in 1832.
[note to self, how and why did they meet?]
Going back in time to 1850, Reuben is, according to the census, 70 years old and from PA; Iantha is 38; their property is worth $100.00.
There are three children in the household, George, Harriet (my future great grandmother!) and Emma.
The 1845 New York State tells Reuben's story this way:
Name                    Males   Females    Total
Reuben Melville       4                  1          5
Somehow, that doesn't add up. There should be more females than males. If the numbers are transposed, then the son George must be out of the household and the three children are girls. Is Reuben 65 and Iantha 33?

The 1840 federal census for Reuben has him in the 'Free Colored Persons 55-100' category.
There's a male under 10. That could be George, as he was born on February 1, 1839 according to the family bible.
There's a female under 10; must be Fannie born on April 3, 1831.
Finally, a female in the 24 -36 column. That's got to be Iantha. They're all free persons of color.
Continuing our journey backwards, we pick up Reuben's trail in a book.
This information was abstracted from the book "History of Waverly, N.Y. & Vicinity" by Captain Charles L. Albertson. A copy of "History of Waverly, N.Y ." is at the Steele Memorial Library, in Elmira, N.Y. Capt. Albertson took this down from original records surviving in the early 1940s. On page 71 of this book it states:
"....On the site of the George H. Grafft residence at No. 452 Cayuta avenue lived Rufus Darrow, a blacksmith and his shop stood on the northeast corner of the same lot. The property was later purchased by John L. Sawyer and the blacksmith shop occupied by a colored man named Reuben Melvin..."
I don't have a date for this event. However, if the 1855 census is accurate, then this happened around 1831 or after.
Before that, Reuben is in Brooklyn, New York. Here, from a book by Dorothy Porter titled 'Early Negro Writing, 1760-1837" we learned that he was expelled as preacher in 1828:

Finally, I can go back no further than 1826 with this entry:
Melvin, Reuben (Male)   Date: 1826 
cleric (a) Clerical Office(s): Subordinate Preacher of the African Methodist  Episcopal Church
-Listed in Spooner's Brooklyn Directory, for the years 1826, 1827, SPOONER, Alden. Brooklyn, N.Y. 
Published by Alden Spooner, at the Office of t he Star, No. 55,  Fulton Street, June, 1826
Reuben was a preacher in Brooklyn, got expelled, went upstate became a farmer, married Iantha, had children, and lived to be 105!
He was either born in Maryland or Pennsylvania.
Was he ever a slave? I don't know. Yet.
As always; To be continued....
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