Friday, January 11, 2008

William Robert Newman

This is a picture of my grandfather, William Robert Newman, Sr., born February 27, 1857 in Bryantown, Maryland.

01-14-2009 UPDATED INFORMATION: His father was Sylvester William Newman (born about 1830 and died about 1868); Sylvester was the son of John Newman and and the grandson of William Newman. Sylvester married Mary Jane Harley on January 20, 1932 in Bryantown. Mary Jane (born about 1832 and died 1916) was the daughter of James Harley and Mary Collins.

The Newman family traces our history in Maryland to the 1600's through oral history, property records, and census data. Other historical sources include baptismal and marriage records from local Catholic parishes.

Oral tradition identifies Newman ancestry as a mix of Native American (Indian), English, French, and German. We trace our family history to Charles County {God bless you} and Prince Georges County, Maryland; as do other families of mixed ancestry with well documented histories. Our kinship group includes these Maryland families: Newman, Harley, Proctor, Savoy, Swann, Butler, Penny, Thompson, Watson and Neal. The ancestral mixture of the individual family varies, but collectively our kinsmen include those families with some degree of Native American, European, and/or African ancestry.

Oral history tell us our kin were not the Indian sort driven from their land, nor the wealthy European settler sort of folk, nor the African slave sort. "Wesort" (WEE sort) are our own.

Researcher and writer Mario de Valdes y Cocom makes a good point in observing "throughout the seventeen and early eighteen hundreds free people of black and white ancestry intermarried not only among themselves but with families of Indian and white ancestry".

My grandfather was born during the last days of Franklin Pierce's presidential term. During his childhood the U.S. Civil War was fought (1861-1865), abolition of slavery in Maryland occured (1864), Lincoln was assasinated (1865), and the period of Post- Civil War Reconstruction began (1865-1877). On July 6, 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

The world continued to change as William Robert Newman reached adulthood. The first two stroke engine was built in 1876, the same year Bell and Watson filed a patent on the telephone. The Gilded Age (1878 - 1889) had begun.

Twenty years after the Civil War, America began to see families from rural and farm communities move to urban centers in search of better economic opportunities and an improved quality of life. Reconstrution is marked by the changing economic, political and social conditons of the nation. Historians note these changes both opened and closed doors of opporutnity. The notorious 1896 Plessy vs Ferguson ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation. The court case was birthed by tensions related to Reconstruction. With the ruling, Jim Crow had come of age.

During this era, William Robert Newman married Irene Mary Harley, his oldest brother James married her sister Margaret, and his older brother Richard married her sister Bertie. His younger brother John Albert married Sarah Ann (who was not a Harley sister). His sister, Alice Lucinda, married Lonnie Robinson. And his sister Sarah Olivia married Roy Proctor.

On February 6, 1883 Willam Robert Newman and Irene Harley married in Washington, D.C. Their children who lived to adulthoood were Herman Martin (born 1883), Walter (born 1884), Grace Elizabeth (born 1887), Mark (born 1889), Louis (born 1892) and Lena (born 1893). During the mid-1890's Irene died leaving Robert Newman with at least six children ranging from adolescent to toddler.

William Robert Newman married Mary Frances Proctor on September 26, 1898. Prior to marriage, Mary Frances had worked in a doctor's office. Though unable to read or write, she learned midwifery and natural remedies - skills she would contine to practice while living on P Street NW. In addition to raising her stepchildren as her own, Mary Frances Proctor Newman gave birth to nine children: Paul Augustus (my father), Mary Myrtle Irene, William Robert, Jr., Agnes Cerelia, Ralph, Thomas Alexander, and twin daughters Marion and Margaret. Sadly daughters Theresa, Marion and Margaret died in early childhood; while daughter Agnes and son Ralph died in their twenties.

It was in the mid 1920's when the adult children pooled their money to purchase the house at 125 P Street NW in Washington, D.C. Though Papa was nearly 70 years old he continued to work as a "huckster", selling groceries and meats to businesses and households in northwest Washington D.C. He delivered his goods from a horse-drawn wagon.

During his lifetime the United States grew from 31 States to 48 States. As an adult he lived through Reconstruction, The Gilded Age, two market crashes, the Great Depression, and two World Wars. He saw the invention and mass use of the telephone, the automobile, radio, televison, and passenger airplanes. Though he experienced the death of his first wife and the deaths of some of his children, William Robert Newman, Sr. lived to celebrated his 50th Wedding Anniversary with his wife Mary Frances.

On March 6, 1950 at the age of 93, William Robert Newman passed away. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Washinton, D.C.

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