African-American Settlers

Posted on September 24, 2018


African-American Settlers*

Joseph Lyons was an interesting person. Most records say he was born in 1783; the 1850 Census says in the West Indies (Caribbean); others say New York, England and France. One

explanat ion is that since Joseph was born on the Island of St. Lucia, wh ich was a French colony captured by the British in 1794 during the French Revolutionary War and was the only island that permanently switched hands. A great many African people in the West Indies in the 1790's were slaves. Revolutionary France abolished slavery in 1794, but England rein stated it in some islands it captured as St. Lucia. Slavery was finally abolished by England in 1833. By the 1840 's Joseph had immigrated to the United States.

He married a woman named Rachel, 30 years his junior, from Schenectady around 1845 and about this time, the couple moved to central New York. In 1850, they were living in Clay and he was working as a labor er. By 1855, the y were living in Cicero where Joseph was a cooper. Both were recorded as unable to read or write. Until 1860, it is recorded that they lived with a black man named Jacob Brown in Cicero. The last record of Joseph in the 1865 New York State census list s him as a pauper , aged 75, in the Onondaga County poorhouse (some building s are still standing). There is no further record of Rachel. Of interest, the 1865 census also states he had been married three times and had a total of 18children. No names were st ated.

The Francis and Lewis families lived together in a sing le house on Morgan Road around 1870. The two families were related by marriage. Charles Lewis was married to Sarah Jane Francis. Charles and Edward Lewis were the sons of Charles L. and Mary Lewis of Syracuse. Both were living in the Town of Salina in 1860, where they worked as salt boilers in the salt industry .

Charles L. Lewis had moved his family to Syracuse from New Jer sey in the 1830' s, t raveling on the newly build Erie Canal. The Francis family moved to Clay from somewhere in Pennsylvania as John Francis is recorded as having been born there. In both families, the members had mostly, if not all, never been slaves.

Charles Lewis and his brother -in-law, Charles Francis, were in the basket weaving business

together using the local willow s. The main industry was based in Liverpool and was important in the transporting of salt from the industry around Onondaga Lake. John Lewis, the 66 year old father of Sarah Lewis, Charles's wife, worked as a farm laborer on many of the local farms. Edward Lewis, Charles's brother did the same. By 1880, both families had moved back to Syracuse.

Caesar Ten Eyck was the first named African-American resident in Clay appearing in the 1830


Census as head of a household. There were only six other African-Americans living in Clay at that time. He was between 36 - 54 years old and a woman was 36 - 54 years old. Also in the household was a woman 24 - 35, two boys 10 - 23 and a boy under 10 years old. The Dutch name Ten Eyck is known here in Clay, in Albany, and in the Hudson area. Caesar, or an ancestor, may have been adopted by or given the surname as a slave or free man living among the Dutch settlers in Central New York. The family does not appear before or after 1830.

*Research by Zachary Peelman, MSEd, especially old Census Files

Dorothy Heller, Historian

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