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rich oliver

People of Note

Photographs, ledgers, account books, obituaries, and correspondence can provide us a glimpse into the lives of early African-Americans. Through these sources we can gain an important perspective on their existence. For some, such as Richard Oliver, Judy Jackson, and John Hasbrouck, fortunate enough to have been memorialized in our memory of the past through the accounts of others and personal ledgers, there is enough information to sketch an outline of their fate. For others however, we often only have a nameless photograph, further condemning them to periphery of our historical landscape. While we know what their clothing looked like, where their hair met their brow, and the way in which they gaze at us from the past, we can only speculate on their thoughts, opinions, hopes, and dreams. Their weathered faces, overworked hands, and dignified postures are all we have to flesh out the crucial part of our community they represented.

When Richard Oliver (image on left) enlisted in the 20th United States Colored Infantry during the Civil War, he hoped he would be returning to his wife Ann and their two children, Maggie and James. Richard almost made it home, but succumbed to malarial fever aboard the steamship Northern Lights, just 18 days after being discharged from his service. With the help of Joan Miller, Richard Oliver's great, great granddaughter, we have been able to construct a timeline of their family going back to slavery. Carrying Huguenot and Dutch surnames such as Freer and Brodhead, this family's heritage has been intertwined, for better or worse, with the histories of families descended from the original colonial inhabitants of this region. While the fates of their enslaved ancestors can now be somewhat unearthed, this family's heritage remains chained to this region, far away from where their African roots are buried.

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