Claflin student finds slave ancestor’s bill of sale

Jul 11, 2016

When he was 13, Dennis Richmond Jr. watched Alex Haley’s Roots on television and became obsessed with his family’s history.

On Wednesday, the 21-year-old Yonkers man found a major root of that family tree, on a day and in a place that could not have been more significant.

Richmond and his uncle, John Sherman Merritt, sat in the Knapp House of the Rye Historical Society — a structure that dates to 1667 and is the oldest surviving residential building in Westchester County — and held in their hands a bill of sale.

The note shows one prominent Greenwich property owner, Daniel Lyon, selling property to another major Greenwich property owner, Nathaniel Merritt Jr., whose family gave its name to the Merritt Parkway.

The property Lyon transferred was “my Negro girl named Pegg” for a price of “Fifty Pounds New York Money.”

That "Negro girl" was Margaret "Pegg" Green, Richmond’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, who bore six sons, some of whom took the surname Merritt. (Some documents call her "Peg.")

Richmond found his way to Rye after learning that many Merritt papers were held there, not in Albany, where he had been told the bulk of genealogical records are stored.

“When they pulled out that document, it was so remarkable,” said Richmond, a senior majoring in African-American studies and education at Claflin University in South Carolina. "I got goosebumps."

He made his discovery one day before the 226th anniversary of the sale. Pegg Green was sold to Merritt on July 7, 1790.

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