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About Us

The Roberts, Thomas, and Bonds Family is a story of free people of color living through the era of slavery, segregation, and racial oppression.   In their lives, they have demonstrated  resiliency,  endurance, the ability to adapt  to hostile environments , and racist practices. These families were one of the first Black Pioneer Families, free people of color, to come to the wilderness in search of freedom from racial harassment, and oppression.  All had freedom papers from past indentures or slavery. They were a community of farmers  from North Carolina whom had tight knit family relations  built around the church. They had  hopes and dreams, of pursuing  a new life of freedom in the new state of Indiana, established in 1813 . 

"It is in the roots, not the branches,
that a tree's greatest strength lies."
~ Matshona Dhliwayo 

What kind of people were our ancestors?

As described in the book  Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, our African American beginnings were born upon the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Before our ancestor’s ship landed in the new colonies, we  had our own culture, languages, and communities rooted in Africa.  Kidnapped from West Africa, our historical journey was probably in the late mid 1600’s- 1700’s before slavery became a stronghold in the newly emerging colonies.  Ours is not an immigrant story but a story of resistance, resiliency, perseverance, faith, and survival.

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When our ancestors were kidnapped, they  were not allowed to bring their culture with them. On the 3–4-month long journey in the dark belly of a ship, shackled, hearing a strange language, our ancestors chose not to be swallowed by the ocean, like thousands of others.   We are the descendants of those who chose to live. 

 

Their hands had a knowing.  They knew how to hold a baby close, how to rock the child to keep her from crying.  Their hands knew how to mix herbs, how to get that just right flavor for a meal.  Their hands know how to beat and shape iron. They knew how to plant seeds to grow food to feed their families.   How to make garden tools and weapons. They knew how to make music to keep them company as they worked. How to sing and dance to celebrate, to mourn, and to worship to offer thanks. They knew how to use their minds.  Having lived in the kingdoms of Ghana, Songhay, and Mali, they understood learning, medicine, math, and science.     

 

They were strong willed, intelligent people with the fortitude to face and overcome whatever obstacles were placed in their way.  At some point they became free people of color.  

 

Free people of color were trained for the more skilled labors, while slaves did the hard labor. Even though they were free men and women they could be arrested and held until they could prove themselves free.  They could get their freedom papers and were required to show them upon demand to keep from being held in the local jail.  They needed white witnesses to their character and freedom.  Free blacks had a wide range of occupations, as blacksmiths, masons, carpenters, shoemakers, barbers, draymen, tailors, seamstresses, cooks, laundresses, etc.  

 

After surviving in Virginia and North Carolina the Roberts and Thomas families bought land and traveled by wagon across the mountains to the northwest territory, in search for a sanctuary free from racial harassment.  The land they bought in Indiana, was hilly, un-cleared land that was not being used for farming, but they would buy it inexpensively and clear it to make it tillable. Hard work was not an obstacle, but just another hurdle to clear.   

 

Our ancestors were successful free persons of color.  The number of land transactions they participated in Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana is astounding. It is pages of transactions, which would be overwhelming for the reader to decipher. The Roberts and Thomas forefathers were aggressive investors in land from the time they were freed in the early to mid 1700’s. 

Genealogy Maps

Our history begins with The Roberts Family in 1725 – when Margaret Roberts (1725-1789) gave birth to Ishmael Robert,  one  of 11 children, upon her death, in her will  she gave each of her children 2 shillings each. Margaret died in 1789 in Northampton County, North Carolina.​

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Children of Margaret Roberts

Margaret Roberts
1738 
 - 1789

Ishmael Roberts
1750
(1755?) - 1826

James Roberts
1756 - ?

John Roberts
1759 - ?

Unknown Spouse

Mary Roberts
- ?

Faitha (Scott) Roberts
- ?

Christian Stewart Roberts
- ?

Phebe Roberts
- ?

Hannah Roberts
- ?

Milla Stewart Roberts
- ?

Elizabeth Roberts
- ?

Delpha Roberts
- ?

Silvey Roberts

(See Tree Below)

Ishmael and Silvey Roberts Family

Ishmael  (1755 – 1826) , her oldest son, was head of the household of 10 other free people of color in 1790 . He received pay for serving in the Revolutionary War service from  June 3, 1777 to June 3, 1778 as a private in Colonel Abraham Shepard’s Company.  Colonel Shepard gave him a certificate which stated -

 

 

Ishmael was a smart businessman, he knew how to hold on to land, turn it into a profit, which turned into wealth. Ishmael was an aggressive land owner, buying and selling over 1,300 acres of land.  He was a land investor, not a farmer. 

​The  descendants  of Ishmael bought and sold over 2,325 acres of land in North Carolina.  Today that would be 4 square miles of land!  Even though a law had passed that did not allow people of color to carry guns, in 1841 Ishmael was allowed to carry a fire-arm after petitioning the courts.   He was married to Silvey, a Cherokee Indian, and they had 15 children. 

- "He was furloughed at Headquarters Valley Forge to return home with me who was enlisted in my Regiment for the Term of three years -and Retuned Home with me" to North Carolina. 

 

Children of Ishmael and Silvey Roberts

Silvey Roberts
1760 
 - 1827

Ishmael Roberts
1750 
 - 1826

Zachariah Roberts
1782 - ?

Elizabeth Roberts
1788 - ?

Benjamin Roberts
1792 - 1880

Elias Roberts
1793 - 1866

Aaron Roberts
1794 - ?

Margaret Roberts
1799 - ?

Mary "Polly" Roberts
1790 - 1876

"Pardon Boin" (Bowen) Roberts
1800 - ?

James Roberts
1800 - ?

Richard Roberts
1802 - ?

Delphy Roberts
1807 - ?

Lewis Roberts
- ?

Rebecca Roberts
- ?

Why Did Our Ancestors Leave The Carolina's

In 1791, 700 miles from the US shores, enslaved Haitian men and women led a slave revolt.  They were able to defeat the French Army, overtake the island, and set up their own government.  This sent fears throughout the US government, slave holders and citizens.  Several oppressive acts took place against free people of color.  

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Slavery became an intolerable system of human exploitation as the industrial revolution progressed in the South.  The enslaved persons used riots and were highly distrustful of any free Blacks who lived in their neighborhoods.

 

Beginning in 1826 and continuing through the 1850's, North Carolina passed a series of restrictive laws termed the "Free Negro Code" by John Hope Franklin.  Free African Americans lost the right to vote and were required to obtain a license to carry a gun.  Later restrictions on free Blacks took away their rights to preach, own a dog, own a mare, or any intoxicating liquor and could not move from one county to another without permission from the government.

Tensions arising from Nat Turner's slave rebellion in nearby Southhampton County, Virginia, played a major role in the passage of these laws. It is also possible that moves against the African American population helped to divert the attention of poor whites from their worsening economic conditions in the 1830's. Our ancestors chose to seek a new life in Indiana to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as a family.    

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