My name is Dennis Richmond Jr. and I’m a 26-year-old Black man from Yonkers, New York. Since March of 2008, at the age of 13, I’ve been researching my family history. In 2017, I discovered my connection to the Felmetta family. Today, you’re going to meet Mr. York Felmetta and Mrs. Tamar Felmetta, my Black great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents. Six times.
The Felmetta family was one of many quasi-free Black families in the Antebellum North. Professor Patricia Hinton Koger teaches us that these Black families were quasi-free because even though they weren’t slaves, they didn’t experience all the freedoms of their white counterparts. During the Antebellum period, the Black Felmetta family was located primarily in New York and Connecticut. They would later travel to Georgia.
Based on my research, the surname varies in spelling. Spellings include but are not limited to; Felmetta, Felmette, Felmetty, Falmetta, Falmetty, Filmetty, Filmetta, and Filmetty. My connection to a Felmetta ancestor begins with my 5th great-grandmother, Nancy Felmetta Peck. My father, Dennis Richmond Sr., was born in New Rochelle, NY in September of 1955 to my late grandmother, Joyce Marie Watkins Jones. Grandma Jones was born on July 26, 1937 in Greenwich, Ct. She was raised in New Rochelle with her three siblings. When I was little, Grandma Jones said that we were, “part Irish and Native American.”
Grandma Jones’s mother, my great grandmother, Adele Matilda Merritt, was born in Greenwich on Sept. 27, 1913. She became a practical geriatric and a baby nurse. Her father, John Sherman Merritt, was born Dec. 28, 1889 in Greenwich. He worked four jobs and they killed him. Grandpa John’s grandmother, his father Edward B. Merritt’s mother, Huldah Peck Merritt, is extremely well documented.
Grandma Huldah was born in Greenwich on Tuesday, July 9, 1833 to George Peck and Nancy Felmetta. George was a member of Stanwich Congregational Church on Taconic Road in Greenwich. The couple waited until the day that Huldah turned four months old to get her baptized. On Saturday, Nov. 9, 1833, Grandma Huldah was baptized at Stanwich.
As a quasi-free Black girl growing up in Connecticut, she knew many other young children with her status. She grew up with the children of the Black Purdy, Merritt, Felmetta, Green, Bush, Lyon and Mills families. In 1850, there were over four dozen people around Grandma Huldah’s age who she would have known. One of at least six children, Grandma Huldah and her siblings would interchangeably use their father’s surname, Peck, and their mother’s maiden name, Felmetta.
Grandma Huldah’s entire family was literate. Her parents stressed education and made sure that all their children went to school. Huldah Peck, Robert O. Felmetta, Mary Jane Peck, Washington Felmetta and Ann Genette Felmetta were all educated Black children. I’m in awe that I have whole families of Black ancestors who were literate, landowners and residents of the Antebellum North.
Grandma Huldah fell in love with a man who was a widow for over five years. Abraham “Abram” Merritt, a son of Charles Merritt and Catherine “Caty” Merritt, Abraham lost his wife and daughter before his 28th birthday. Heartbroken, it took years before he remarried and had children again. He found comfort in Huldah. The couple got married in Greenwich and had close to ten children.
Grandpa George and Grandma Nancy had taken in a young man named Charles Myers. He knew the family extremely well and worked as a laborer as George did. Aunt Mary Jane Peck ended up marrying Charles Myers in Greenwich and having over ten children with him.
Aunt Ann Genette Felmetta, the girl’s younger sister, married a Civil War veteran named Robert Peterson. Their brother, Uncle Robert O. Felmetta, married Margaret Merritt. Margaret was born October 10, 1831 and was one of four children born to Robert Merritt and Elizabeth “Betsey” Freeman. The last of the Peck/Felmetta children, was the baby, Uncle Washington. Uncle Washington Felmetta married Esther Ann Todd on March 20, 1863.
The Peck siblings were raised in privilege but even that couldn’t protect them from racism and discrimination. On Sept. 18, 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. Even though they were all born and raised in freedom, the family had to make sure that they always stayed alert. Not just that, but the family lived in Connecticut, a state that in the 1830s and 1840s still had slavery. Not to mention that below the Mason-Dixon Line, there were still Black families in shackles. It must have been mentally draining to wake up every day and know that your cousins in the South were enslaved.
Five days before Grandma Huldah was baptized, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1833, her Uncle James Felmetta petitioned the court of New York City to become the administrator of his mother, Tamar Felmetta’s estate. Grandma Tamar was born c. 1773 and died Oct. 30, 1833 at around 60 years old. I know that James is Huldah’s uncle because, in the petition, he lists one of the children of Tamar as Nancy. James and Nancy were both born in New York and they were both the children of Tamar Felmetta. Boom.
Uncle James Felmetta, Grandma Nancy’s brother, married Elizabeth “Eliza” Husted on Oct. 20, 1824. The couple had almost ten children, including Cousin Prudence and Cousin Susan. Susan and Prudence would play with Huldah, Mary Jane and Ann Genette when they were little girls. Prudence outlived her parents and at least one of her siblings. She died on March 7, 1875.
My amazing girlfriend, Nimwé Lavi Odijé, and I have been researching my family a lot this year. Earlier this month, we drove up to the Westchester County Archives in Elmsford, NY so I could look through their records. After looking through dozens of old documents from the 1700s and 1800s, I was presented with information on a Black man who lived over 111 years ago. His name was York Felmetta. After looking through his documents, I found a record signed by Grandma Tamar. In it, it read, “Tamar Felmenter widow of York Felmenter late of the town of New Rochelle…” That was it. That document solidified that Grandma Tamar’s husband was Grandpa York. Boom.
Grandpa York was born c. 1771 somewhere on the border of New York and Connecticut. When he was nineteen, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 1790, he joined Second Congregational Church in Greenwich. He was baptized two days later. Grandpa York did business with Elnathan Husted of Connecticut, Caleb Russell of New Rochelle, and Samuel Titus of New Rochelle. Samuel owned and operated the Titus Mill-Pond in New Rochelle. Grandpa York may have very well worked in that area.
It was around February 1809 when Grandpa died in New Rochelle. He didn’t get a chance to make his 40th birthday. I always thought that my family was in New Rochelle since the 1930s but now I know that my family was not only in New Rochelle in the early 1800s but that my family was well-off. Grandpa York died and left a wife and at least three children. Some of the items listed in his Estate Inventory included but were not limited to; a cow, a table and six chairs, a washtub, a large spinning wheel, a hat, a handkerchief, a coat, a vest, and a bunch of beds.
Grandpa York and Grandma Tamar had siblings, cousins, and without a doubt, they had parents. Grandpa York had at least five to seven brothers. One of his brothers was able to purchase land with buildings already on it. Another one of his brothers had two daughters, whose families ended up in Tarrytown and Yonkers. Grandma Tamar had family across New York City.
Grandpa York’s grandniece’s obituary stated that the Felmetta family was, “part Indian.” I’m excited to know that I’ll be working diligently this year to piece together the lives of my Colonial, Black, New York City ancestors. Slowly but surely, I’m getting closer to documenting a connection to the continent of Africa.
Grandma Tamar lived in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan. She died with $600 in cash behind in the city. She’s buried in the Second African Burial Ground in Manhattan. Grandma Huldah and Aunt Mary Jane are both buried in the African American Historic Cemetery in Westchester County, New York. Their maternal grandparents, my 6th great grandparents, Grandpa York Felmetta and Grandma Tamar, were two beautiful, Black, people, who were married and in love, roughly 222 years ago.
Dennis Richmond Jr., M.S.Ed. is founder and director of The NYNJ HBCU Initiative.