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AfriGeneas Genealogy and History Forum Archive 2

One Who Crossed "The Line"

Here's an interesting tale of discovery that illustrates "race" is not a visible phenomena- especially after a few generations. It's also informative for us making searches (some of your "lost" relatives may have "gone over", so do not judge them harshly for decisions made during Jim Crow, but explore ALL likely relatives of yours in census and city directories. From now on I will.

Peace and Blessings,


Since I thought the Pearls had come from Ireland, I was very surprised!

I went to the library and looked at the census film, at first concluding that Joan was mistaken; I couldn't find Lawrence Pearl at all. But, indeed, he was there, at the end of the film on the "Free People of Color" schedule. Without question, he is the Lawrence Pearl married to a white woman.

Within a week, I had gathered an abundance of information about the Pearls and I immediately put it on a web page so it could be easily shared by other Pearl researchers. I also subscribed to the POC Mailing List and took over the PEARL List.

I was very excited about this revelation and I did share the story with a number of people - - but my dad was NOT among them! He was a racist who was unsurpassed in his hatred of people of color, specifically African-Americans. I knew that he could not cope with this news and I decided that he could never be told. Truly, he would have blown his brains out!

This was interesting, because as a child I never heard anything about my dad's prejudice. But in his late years, he had become pre-occupied with his hatred of blacks and had even stopped watching the Steelers because they have a black quarterback!

But our story is this:

In 1699, James Cranford, a member of the Maryland Assembly, was struck by lightening and killed. Among his possessions, listed in his will, was "one negro man named Robin."

In 1722/23, John Cranford, son of James, gave land to "my friend Mulatto Robin." This would seem to be the same Robin mentioned in James Cranford's will. Subsequently, Mulatto Robin acquired substantial land in Frederick County, Maryland and owned slaves. He changed his name to Robert Pearl.

In his will, dated 3 Sept, 1765, Robert Pearl named sons Daniel and Basil Pearl, the latter inheriting the plantation.

This family appears in numerous court records, including several references to their being mulattos who married white people.

Lawrence Pearl was born in 1793 in Frederick County, Maryland and he married Susannah Nichols, a white woman, in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1814. We do not know who his parents were.

In the 1810 Greene County, PA census, are Daniel & Basil Perril/Perrel/Pearl, both free-colored, born in MD. They would seem to be descendants of Mulatto Robin, the progenitor of the Pearl families in Maryland.

In 1820 & 1830, Lawrence Pearl is also in Greene County with his white wife. No familial connection has been made between Lawrence and Daniel & Basil but they were all listed as Free-Colored and they were all from Maryland. It is reasonable to speculate that Lawrence, too, is somehow a descendant of Mulatto Robin, also called "negro" in the James Cranford will of 1699. (*See note)

But factually, all we know for certain is that our Lawrence Pearl is listed as Free-Colored in the two censuses.

According to research done by Marlene Bransom, a native of Greene County, PA and a teacher in the Pittsbugh Public Schools, there was a great deal of racial mixing in Greene County in the 1800s. A petition was circulated in an attempt to stop the racial mixing, at which time some families moved from the area to places such as West Virginia, Indiana and Ohio.

My Lawrence Pearl had purchased property in Greene County in 1828 and in 1836, he sold the land and moved to Morgan County, Ohio. Colored people in Pennsylvania also lost the right to vote in 1837 and this was not reinstated until after the Civil War. Perhaps the growing anti-colored sentiment influenced the move to Ohio.

Noteworthy here is the fact that with this move, Lawrence CROSSED THE COLOR LINE. In all subsequent censuses, he and his descendants are white.

Because he was very light, did he make a calculated decision to escape from his "colored" heritage? Certainly, life was better and easier for white people. Or did he see himself as white? If he descended from Robert Pearl, formerly Mulatto Robin, his family was prosperous landowners in Maryland - - and they owned slaves and were hardly oppressed.

Or in this early time, did he simply go with his color, which was light. Did the census

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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