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The Montiers 
An American Family's Triumphant Odyssey

 By Donald Scott

It’s something that many black families don’t like to talk about. But, the legacy of African Americans in the United States often translates to mixed racial compositions due to past interracial relationships, many of them forced upon black women who served as slaves or servants on white-owned estates. In my case, family folklore indicates that my maternal great-grandfather was produced when a white landowner, or slave overseer, walked into a cabin one evening and pointed at one of the black women and simply said: "You’re coming with me tonight."

The plain fact is many black elders – and their offspring – are simply afraid and ashamed of revealing such facts. It is an agonizing and extremely painful matter to deal with because so many black families find it hard to accept that they have the blood of the very people who brutalized their ancestors in every conceivable way, including rape.

Hence, one of the greatest strengths of a growing number of black families has been the ability to overcome the pain of the past to some degree and actually triumph to investigate their family heritages.

The story that I’m about to tell you – centering around the genealogy of a black family that extends to Pennsylvania’s late-1600s and Philadelphia’s first mayor, certainly differs from the story of my ancestors in Abbeville, South Carolina. There seems to be elements of actual love and positively the passing on of valuable property to the black woman in the so-called relationship. Yet, I also sensed some of the pain that so-often impacted early inter-racial relationships.

You see, I had been researching nearly six years ago that interracial alliance between the son of Mayor Humphrey Morrey – Richard – and his servant, Cremona, that germinated more than 2 ½ centuries ago in what’s today the small community of Glenside, Pa., just northwest of Philadelphia. That’s when the historical bulletin’s words almost brought tears to my eyes.

The jarring words in the archives of the Old York Road Historical Society indicated that the black Montiers had blood ties to a white Quaker, Richard Morrey, the son of Philadelphia’s first mayor, Humphrey Morrey, who took office way back in 1691.

I was also trying to confirm stories indicating that about 200 acres was bequeathed by Richard to Cremona, making her one of the first and largest black land owners in what would become the United States.

As my curiosity soared, I would learn of that early black family’s links to Philadelphia’s African-American colonial elite, including theologians Richard Allen and Absalom Jones1, as well as bloodline to a Civil War-era black artist2 who met and painted President Abraham Lincoln’s portrait. I would also learn of the family’s link to a co-founder of the NAACP who was imperiled while traveling the South during the Jim Crow era3, and its lineage to the African-American social activist, lawyer, actor and singer, the great Paul Robeson.4

My journey to trace the family’s history over the past 5 years or so has led me to historical archives, to an array of books and web sites about Pennsylvania’s black history, focusing on family trees, wills, tax lists, census reports, church records, old news clips and diaries. I’ve also interviewed a descendant of the Montier family and exchanged emails with researchers, as well as visited the family’s ancestral home.

Meanwhile, I was also intrigued because such a large tract of nearby land of 198 acres – today in the vicinity of Arcadia University and the comfy suburban community of Glenside – once included a cemetery with the remains of the family and other blacks who lived in a town called Guineatown, on or near Cremona’s land. The implications were tantalizing since similar cemeteries nationwide have been destroyed or built over, as indicated in a 1984 story I wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine concerning the discovery of the First African Baptist Church graveyard (circa 1800) while workers dug a subway tunnel at 8th and Vine streets, Philadelphia.

After checking the indexes of the Old York Road Historical Society Bulletin at the Jenkintown Free Library, near my Melrose Park home, I found these remarkable words about the Montiers, written by local historian Reginald H. Pitts, in his superbly researched 1991 article (in volume LI) entitled, “Robert Lewis of Guineatown, and ‘The Colored Cemetery in Glenside’”: “[Richard] Morrey, the younger son of Humphrey Morrey (d. 1716), the first mayor of Philadelphia and one of the ‘first Purchasers’ of land in what became Cheltenham Township, would have five children by his housemaid.” 

There was other mind-blowing information in the article that’s about Robert Lewis, the “eldest child of a love affair between Richard Morrey (c. 1675-1753), the leading landowner of the area and ‘His Negro Woman Mooney.’” Pitts noted: “On 22 January, 1746, New Style, ‘…Know ye, that the said Richard Morrey, as well for and in consideration of the good faithful service unto him done and performed by his now freed Negro Woman Mooney otherwise known as Cremona Morrey … do bargain and sell for consideration of one peppercorn…’ a total of 198 acres ‘on his land in Cheltenham,’” based on Pitts’ discovery of a “Deed of Bargain and Sale,” that can be found in the Philadelphia County Deed Book G-7:539-543, dated January 6, 1746, a document that I examined at the Philadelphia City Archives, 3101 Market Street.

In fact, William Pickens 3rd, a descendant of Cremona and Richard, whom I contacted by phone after learning he had lectured about his family at Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College) in 1999, has obtained and shown me copies of the original property deed. Pickens also showed me the deed for the family cemetery, established during the late 1700s.

Over time, Pickens, a slender gregarious man and one of the first blacks to graduate from the University of Vermont, relayed this fascinating story via a series of interviews – by telephone and in-person, as well as in written correspondence.

Pickens’ mother, Emilie Montier Brown, born 1901. Photo courtesy Donald Scott

As a boy growing up in Brooklyn during the early 1940s Pickens remembered his mother, Emilie Montier Brown (born 1901), talking about her black (Montier) family’s mixed blood ties to Philadelphia’s first mayor. She also spoke of their sprawling Philadelphia-area “farm” dating back to America’s Revolutionary War era and built circa 1772, originally as a two-room structure, according to an April 1990 “Historic Nomination Form” that I found at the Old York Road Historical Society archives.

And, as he matured, Pickens realized the great importance of his mother’s words concerning her Montier family estate, located in eastern Montgomery County’s Edge Hill section of Glenside.

He was told that it was part of a very early African-American community called Guineatown that’s been virtually forgotten by historians along with a family cemetery that disappeared following a 1963 road-widening project. “For almost one hundred and seventy years, a small cemetery was located in the Edge Hill section of Cheltenham Township on Limekiln Pike at Montier Road,” wrote Pitts in his 1991 article. “In 1963, the bodies were exhumed and carried off to a new resting place, and the ground itself became the foundation for several residences,” as illustrated in several old atlases (mid-to-late 1800s) that I found in the Old York Historical Society archives.

Yet, Pickens says he’s staggered by his family’s immense history. “The most amazing thing to me is my maternal family [mother’s side] has been in [the Philadelphia area] 300 years,” says Pickens, before America became a nation and “Philadelphia was just a tiny town” of several thousand.
“My family has been in America before George Washington was president …,” boasts Pickens, a descendant of the family’s Caribbean-born patriarch, John Montier, who married a daughter of the elder Cremona and Richard Morrey who was also named Cremona for her mother. “When people challenge if we’re Americans, I know that we were here!”

The story starts with a white slave-holding Quaker named Humphrey Morrey who received a 250-acre land grant from Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn, on May 23, 1683, according to Elaine Rothschild’s article, “Original Settlers and their Descendants,” concerning the history of Cheltenham Township that I spotted on the Internet at One of those slaves, who continued to work as a servant after being freed some time during the early-to-mid-1700s, was called “Mooney,” or “Cremona,” Rothschild noted. She became one of the earliest practicing black Quakers, according to Henry Cadbury’s online article, “Negro Membership in the Society of Friends.”

Earlier, Humphrey Morrey was appointed mayor of Philadelphia by the governing “assembly,” under which he served in 1691 when Philadelphia “for the first time [was] incorporated into a city,” says the Internet’s Virtual American Biographies at and city records that can be found at the Philadelphia Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia.

It was Morrey’s son, Richard, who had children with Cremona, according to Pickens and other historical researchers, including Pitts and Rothschild. “She was very young, and beautiful; and, he was old and her boss,” Pickens asserts.

“Sometime after 1735, he (Richard Morrey) began an affair with the young slave girl that produced five children,” including a daughter who was also named Cremona, wrote Pitts in a 1993 article for the Old York Road Historical Society Bulletin, “The Montier Family of Guineatown.” The children were, “Robert, born c. 1735, Caesar, c. 1737, Elizabeth, c. 1739, Rachel, c. 1742 and the youngest of them, Cremona Montier, born about 1745.”
For her service and, apparently, because of his intimate relationship with Cremona, the mayor’s son, Richard Morrey -- who had been married to a woman named Ann according to the will of their son Thomas Morrey -- bequeathed to his black mate 198 acres of land. I confirmed that Richard was married to Ann in UsGenWeb’s site of reproduced will abstracts in “Book E: 1726-1736: Philadelphia County,” as well as information indicating that Richard Morrey owned “Servants and Negros.”

Yet, after “Richard inherited his father’s plantation,” he “made a very special contribution to the nation’s history by being one of the first Americans to free his slaves and among the first to give them land for their own use,” notes Elaine Rothschild, in her Web article, “Original Settlers and their Descendants,” that can be found at

“He gave Cremona his surname and he made arrangements for the land to be owned by them for 500 years, an extraordinary development in itself, because she was a black woman,” Pickens notes, referring to the original will, something that I verified in my review of the document at the Philadelphia City Archives. “She owned more than one-fifth of his land. It had to be an extraordinary event in colonial America for a black woman to own such property.”

In fact, “Sometime after receiving land and her freedom [and the death of Richard Humphrey in the early 1750s], Cremona married John Fry, or Frey,” according to Pitts’ 1993 article, “The Montier Family of Guineatown,” likely a free black, also known as “African John Fry,” according to Cheltenham Township tax lists of the period.

Meanwhile, Cremona’s daughter, called “baby Cremona” as a child, married in 1766 a free black man and farmer named John Montier, said to possibly hail from Haiti. Indeed, I found an entry at, listing “Montier, John,” as having a family of 6 in “Montgomery County,” in Guineatown, likely named for what was referred to generally as the African continent.

“At the time the younger Cremona was being courted by John Montier, the small group of African-Americans living on the grant from Richard Morrey numbered about twenty. John and the younger Cremona married and soon had two sons, Joseph, born about 1768, and Solomon, born in 1770,” Pitts notes.

“They had four sons between 1768 and 1780,” Pickens’ own research shows. His mother’s family “came from the second son, Solomon (or Solon) Montier, a shoemaker,” he says. The couple had “two additional sons, Robert, born about 1775 and Hiram, born about 1780,” Pitts says, information that I verified by examining the micro-filmed abstract of Joseph Montier’s will (Abstract of Wills and Administrations, vols. 1-2, 1784-1850) at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust St., Philadelphia.

The first brother, Joseph, became a farmer “like his dad,” says Pickens, a graduate of the University of Vermont and New York University who worked for AT&T, Phillip Morris and Marine Midland Bank in various executive capacities before starting his own international executive search firm. Today, Pickens’ heads the Montier Foundation, a group dedicated to preserving the memory of his family. “Joseph Montier, the eldest son, married his first cousin, Mary Lewis and stayed on the farm with his parents,” Pitts noted, along with the following information.

“Another son, Robert, became a businessman in and around Philadelphia… He was a bottle-blower for tavern owners in Philadelphia,” a novel profession for that period. “However, though not much past forty, Robert Montier died suddenly, probably in the late summer of 1815,” leaving his wife and 10 children.

Most interestingly, brother Solomon, Pickens’ direct ancestor, “married Susanna G. Highgate, daughter of miller Moses Highgate,” and “lived at the Highgate family homestead for almost twenty years,” before moving to Philadelphia in 1860 with “his family of five daughters and a son to 519 South 6th Street.” He later worked as a “farmer, cook, painter (house painter?) and laborer,” microfilm information that Pitts retrieved from1860-1866 Philadelphia City Directories and available at local history repositories.

By the late 1700s, “tragedy struck” the family’s great matriarch, the elder Cremona. “Cremona Fry, probably not yet sixty, died about 1770. Soon after, John Fry remarried Margaret Reiter. “This union resulted in a family crisis,” Pitts notes.

It seems that because Cremona died intestate, leaving “John Fry, as her widower,” thus the “sole owner of the property,” the children that she mothered between Richard Morrey and John Fry argued over who had rights to the inheritance and property, says Pitts. Another account indicates that Fry himself was embroiled in the dispute and but that it was resolved by 1772 with an equal split of the proceeds.

By 1777, the American Revolution raged with a major battle occurring near Guineatown (known as the Battle of Edge Hill), which eventually grew to include about 20 African American families. During this period, “Cremona Frey Jr.” and “John Montier, a freed slave, (after whom a street and the graveyard were named)” had “built a two-story stone house,” on what’s today Limekiln Pike, just below Waverly Rd., in Glenside, according to Rothschild’s “Original Settlers and their Descendants,” article at

The “birthing room” is where the elder Cremona reportedly gave birth to at least several children. Photo courtesy Donald Scott

The Montier house’s original section was built in 1772 by John Montier. Today, the Georgian-style home stands with additions added throughout the 1800s. Photo courtesy Donald Scott

William Pickens III with his 10-year-old granddaughter, Breighan Camille Pickens, the issue of William Pickens IV. She is the ninth generation of the Montier family. Photo courtesy Donald Scott

As the 1800s approached, Solomon Montier, Pickens direct descendant, made shoes for inhabitants of Guineatown and likely lived with his parents, Pickens says and verified by Pitts’ research.

This fireplace in the kitchen area is one of the original  two rooms in the home, along with the upstairs  “birthing room.” Photo courtesy Donald Scott

However, as the 1820s moved in, “John and Cremona Montier had died – John at an unrecorded date in 1822; Cremona on July 31, 1825, at the age of eighty. Both died intestate. However, instead of having to deal with the problems that had arisen upon the death of the elder Cremona over a half century before, Joseph, their son, handled the situation with a competent and careful hand,” Pitts noted. He very adequately dealt with the Montgomery County Orphans Court in Norristown, becoming administrator of his mother’s estate, according to courthouse records.

The proceeds of Joseph’s transaction allowed Solomon to move “to Philadelphia, and set himself up in business” as a shoemaker. “His four sons Joseph, Richard, William and Hiram were all trained in the craft,” Pickens noted, adding that his family line can be traced back to brother Hiram.
In fact, Hiram, who died in Germantown on July 8, 1861, according to Pitts, at about age 80, was “buried in the family plot in Cheltenham,” after co-founding in Philadelphia the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Germantown, several miles southeast of the Montier home.
Meanwhile, Jane Montier, a dressmaker who never married and a daughter of Hiram, became the owner of the family’s properties in Cheltenham and Germantown (as shown in an atlas of the period), dying on November 30, 1883, at age 68.

The Reverend Amos Wilson, pastor of Bethel AME Church, was named administrator of the estate and sold Jane’s “property in Edge Hill to George D. Heist on April 30, 1886," according to historical documents and maps, with the cemetery remaining operational “well past World War I,” Pitts notes.

And although there’s no physical evidence of the cemetery, the home still stands.

In fact, Pickens and his family, including his wife Patricia, daughter Pamela and son, John Montier Pickens, had visited the home several times over the past decade or so. That’s a period when Eleanor McFadden, the former owner, allowed them to visit the Georgian-style home with its original downstairs sitting room and upstairs birthing room where Cremona likely bore at least several of her children, according to the new owners of the property, Christopher and Maureen Siegel.

In early March, the Siegels showed me the original rooms in the structure with superb hardwood floors and colonial windows in the building that’s been expanded throughout the 1800s. A barn, that was originally part of the Montier estate in the rear of the property, has been converted to a private residence, the Siegels say, as confirmed by several archival documents held by the Old York Road Historical Society.

The dynamics of Guineatown and the Montier family provide a fascinating peek into the lives of colonial-era free blacks and slaves in the Philadelphia area because it was without doubt one of the first such communities in North America. “We were slaves of [Mayor] Humphrey Morrey,” says Pickens, who points to the original land deed of the family’s Limekiln Pike burial site that’s dated September 22, 1798. Mayor Morrey “was a Quaker who had slaves,” remembers Pickens.

In fact, many early and wealthy Quakers through the mid-to-late 1700s, including Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn, owned slaves.5 In eastern Montgomery County, Pa. slaves were recorded in tax records up through the early1800s, my research indicates.

Leonora Coralie Brown, Pickens’ grandmother, born 1878. Photo courtesy Donald Scott

Today, although Guineatown’s burial site is gone, old maps indicate that it once stood between what’s today a Knights of Columbus building (once called the Edgehill School for black descendants of Guineatown and local Italians) and a private residence situated today on Limekiln Pike just below Montier Road – a street that’s named after Pickens’ ancestors.

In recent years, Pickens has tried to track down whereabouts of his family’s remains that were supposedly removed during the 1963 road-widening project. He has asked local and state officials if the bodies of the family and their friends have been entirely relocated or if some were left alone and simply paved over, he says. But, to this day, Pickens says that he has not received a clear answer, although he’s happy about Proclamations that Cheltenham Township have made in his family’s honor.

Still, my follow-up calls to local cemeteries, township officials, a review of archived local newspapers and even a visit to the state’s transportation department, has yielded no information regarding the fate of the approximately 75 bodies once buried in the cemetery.

Although upset and determined to find his family’s remains, Pickens still feels fortunate when he walks the land and rooms where Cremona Montier once lived and breathed.6

“We were here before America became a nation,” says Pickens, a proud grandfather whom relishes his family’s past and remembers Paul Robeson, Jr. as a young man singing at family and church events in the New York area. Robeson’s mother, the wife of Reverend William Drew Robeson, was the cousin of Pickens’ grandmother, he notes. “But, we have not always been treated like we’re apart of this country; our [Paul Robeson’s] persecution7 is a case in point,” says Pickens, the former head of the Paul Robeson Foundation in New York. “My granddaughter [Breighan Camille Pickens] is the [9]th-generation woman.8 We’ve come a very long way.”


1 A family chart entitled, “The Ancestry of Paul Robeson,” on Princeton, N.J.’s public library site at, indicates that Paul Robeson’s great-great grandparents were Elizabeth Morrey, a descendant of the Morrey family, and Cyrus Bustill, an original member of the Free African Society, founded by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. Allen and Jones broke off from the Methodist Church and founded two black denominations. Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church while Jones founded the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Historical documents indicate that Cyrus Bustill was close to both religious leaders. Documents and oral history indicates that members of the Montier family have been Quakers and African Methodist Episcopal church members over the years, including my March 16, 2004 interview of 92-year-old Daisy Royster who says she attended the Bethel AME Church of Germantown with Montier family members, adding that a branch of her family may be related to the Montiers. 

2 David Bustill Bowser was the grandson of Cyrus Bustill and noted for painting a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln while he sat live, as well as banners for the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, according to several historical sources, including the Howard University ArchivesNet that can be found online at Charles Blockson’s 2001 book, “African Americans in Pennsylvania,” says, “David Bowser was a self-taught African-American artist who began his career as a sign painter in Philadelphia. His early paintings included landscapes, portraits, emblems, and banners for local organizations such as a firemen’sgroup. His most noted works include portraits of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist John Brown. Bowser was actively involved in the anti-slavery movement, and during the Civil War designed regimental flags for the Union’s colored troops.” 

3 An Internet report concerning the infamous 1922 Rosewood, Florida massacre of blacks by white supremacists has an interesting notation about William Pickens, 3rd’s paternal grandfather, William Pickens, Sr.: “William Pickens, a black native of South Carolina, who served as field secretary for the NAACP from 1920-1942, wrote a letter to the white New York World. In it Pickens compared how the law was applied in New Jersey and in Florida” and condemned mob violence. He was also a noted educator and credited by some sources with co-founding the NAACP with W.E.B. DuBois. He spoke about black rights and the need to stop blacks from being lynched in the deepest reaches of the South. Pickens, 3rd, has served as an officer in various categories for the NAACP, and served on the board of several colleges, corporations and nonprofit agencies. As a point of interest, my father-in-law Wesley A. Brown (the first African American to graduate from the Naval Academy in 1949 and his wife Crystal Malone Brown, covered by Ebony magazine as the first black to integrate a sorority at the University of Vermont where Pickens attended) sent me a postal letter dated March 8, 2004 enclosed with an article from the February 23, 2002 issue of “The Baltimore Afro-American.” It noted that Pickens 3rd’s aunt, “Lt. J.G. Harriet Ida Pickens,” standing in full uniform in a photo with Ensign Frances Wills, “were the first female African-American U.S. Navy officers” or commissioned WAVES officers.

4 Henry Cadbury’s online article, “Negro Membership in the Society of Friends,” has a footnote reference about Robeson’s connection to the Bustill family, as noted in an earlier article by Anna Bustill Smith in the Journal of Negro History, x, 1925, pp. 638-644; cf. 645-647. It reads: "Perhaps the most famous member of this family is the actor, Paul Bustill Robeson ..., a great grandson of Cyrus Bustill.” Meanwhile, a Burlington City, N.J. web site at has an article, “Cyrus Bustill,” indicating that he was born in Burlington in 1732, the son of an English attorney and an African slave… During the Revolutionary War, he was commended for supplying American troops with baked goods at the Burlington docks, and reportedly given a silver piece by General Washington.”

5 Gary Nash’s “First City: Philadelphia and the Forging of Historical Memory,” published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001, indicates that “Penn owned a number of slaves and freed several during his lifetime. It was probably indicative of the deep financial difficulties he was in at the end of his life, when he had to mortgage his colony to pay his debts, that he amended an earlier will freeing his slaves and instead bequeathed them to his heirs. Along with indentured servants, these slaves provided the workforce at Pennsbury and at Penn’s townhouse in Philadelphia.”

6 A November 19, 1995 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, by writer Allie Shah, details Pickens’ rewarding visits back to his ancestral Montier home. A similar article in The Intelligencer, serving Montgomery County, Pa., was published January 2, 1991.

7 Charles L. Blockson, in his 2001 book, “African Americans in Pennsylvania: Above Ground and Underground,” notes that on pg. 65: “In 1956, after Robeson appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee, the State Department revoked his passport, prohibiting him from traveling abroad. He suffered continuous persecution and was roundly criticized by conservatives. His name was deleted from books, and church ministers and concert hall and theater officials were threatened if they invited Robeson to perform.” Robeson received such wrath after “working for civil rights and civil liberties,” Blockson notes. Furthermore: “During the cold war, because of his steadfast defense of the Soviet Union, Robeson was seized upon by the media, the U.S. government and the followers of Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who accused him of being a member of the Communist Party, tarnishing his name and remarkable achievements. Robeson never was a member of the Communist Party, however,” Blockson pointed out, adding that Robeson “moved to Philadelphia [4900 block of Walnut St. in West Philadelphia] in 1966 to live in retirement in the home of his sister, Marian Forsythe, for 10 years until his death on January 23, 1976.”

8 In a letter postmarked March 10, 2004 that I received from Pickens, he included a picture of himself and granddaughter, Breighan Camille Pickens, as well as the following information that provides the birth dates of his nine generations of ancestors, starting from John Montier: “1. John Montier – b. 1740; 2. Solomon Montier – b. 1769; 3. Hiram Montier – b. 1818; 4. Adrian Montier – b. 1843; 5. Leanora Coralie Brown – b. 1878; 6. Emilie Montier Brown – b. 1901; 7. William Pickens 3rd – b. 1936; 8. John Montier Pickens [Pickens 3rd’s son] – b. 1972” and 9. Breighan Camille Pickens, Pickens 3rd’s 10-year-old granddaughter. 

Donald Scott, a history columnist for the Journal-Register Co. and graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has written about history for The Philadelphia Inquirer, America’s Civil War and Everton’s Family History Network, in which an online version of the above story appeared. Scott has been a history lecturer in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Speakers’ Program and researcher for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. The assistant professor of English at the Community College of Philadelphia has taught at Temple University, Peirce College and Cheyney University. Scott resides in Cheltenham, Township, Pa.

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