Blog #51: My Ancestry

Read in German here!

Maroon—a word whose root is translated from the Spanish “cimarron”, which is based on the Taino Indian word meaning “Fugitive.” While the most recognized use of the word is associated with Maroons of Jamaica, Surinam, Brazil, and Haiti, there were Maroon communities of fugitive/escaped slaves in the United States, the Gullah and Geechee communities of South Carolina, and escaped slaves joining the Seminoles of Florida. They established semi-independent and self-governing communities located in inaccessible areas such as swamps, forests and mountain regions. Yet, the best recorded histories of Maroons are preserved from Jamaica’s s/heros as Nanny, Cudjoe, and Quao, who successfully fought the Spanish and British slavers in Jamaica. “These slaves—usually called Coromantees—were supposed to be the most fierce. These slaves, from the Ashanti-Fanti speaking peoples, were most feared by the slave dealers, and they featured prominently in the revolts. It is from the ranks of these Gold Coast Afrikans that the Maroons emerged.” “The major Maroon War in Jamaica, 1729-1739, was fought under the leadership of Cudjoe, the son of Nangua, a proud Ashanti.” For ten years Cudjoe and his brothers Johnny and Accompong of the Maroons of Cockpit County waged war against the British, resulting in a peace treaty in 1739. Nanny of the Windward Maroons became the spiritual leader and national hero of the Maroons.

After the 1739 treaty, the British broke the agreement by flogging two Trelawney Maroons in Falmouth in 1795, causing the second Maroon wars.

Beyond the Maroon wars, there were several Jamaican slave rebellions, including the rebellion by Tacky in 1760, and in August 1831 by Sam Sharpe and Daddy Thorpe, both of whom were preachers, organized a mass revolt. The revolt was quelled by the treachery of the British, who persuaded the fighters to relinquish their arms for blanket amnesty, they believing that England had ended slavery. However, after laying down their arms, over 1,000 were massacred, and Sam Sharpe, unrepentant, was executed in Montego Bay on May 23, 1832, proclaiming “I would rather die a slave upon yonder gallows than live in slavery.” However, as a result of Sam Sharpe’s rebellion, less than two years later, on August 1, 1834, the British Parliament legislated the abolition of slavery; the emancipation proclamation was read on the government steps of Spanish Town.

Although the emancipation proclamation was issued on August 1, 1834, Jamaicans continued to suffer the brunt of debenture servitude, the exploitation of land holders, and the ravages of hurricanes. Between 1850 and 1851, 20–30,000 died from a cholera epidemic and continued rebellions against white oppression. This included divisions, compromises, and betrayals within the oppressed population, as was the case in the Morant Bay Rebellion when Maroons were induced to protect Morant Bay, and capturing Paul Bogle, the leader of rebelling Jamaicans in 1865; he was hanged on the British ship HMS Wolverine on October 24, 1865. To this day, there remain remnants of neo-colonial controls in Jamaica, as its Constitution continues to express The Queen of England as the honorary protectorate of Jamaica.

It was during this period of heroic struggles, betrayal, and battles for freedom in April 1844, a Maroon named Joseph Herron was born in Jamaica, my Great Grandfather!

In September 1977, I was surprised by a visit from my grandmother Minnie G. Bottom, and her son, Uncle Joe, at San Quentin prison. I was to be paroled and taken to New York State to begin this sentence on September 19th, and she had to see me before I was moved. She said, “I came to visit because this will probably be the last time I’ll see you, and I need to tell you why you are the way you are.”

Having said that, I inquisitively looked at Uncle Joe, who simply instructed me, “Listen to your grandmother.”

My grandmother began telling the story of my Great Grandfather, affectionately called Papa Joe. “Your great grandfather was a Maroon from Jamaica, you know about the Maroons, don’t you?”

I nodded in the affirmative, and she continued.

“Well, he got into trouble in Jamaica and had to leave, eventually finding himself in Georgia. Being a free Black man who wasn’t used to being subservient, he once again got into trouble in Georgia and had to leave.”

I didn’t ask what kind of trouble, the implications were certain, and I began to create a picture in my mind that great granddad was not a man to be fiddled with. She went on telling the story.

“He started traveling through the Indian territory in a covered wagon, on what had become known as the Indian trail to Alabama, when he met a young Native American girl named Anethious Thomas in Natchez, Mississippi who was born September 1848, born on an Indian reservation. The reservation was governed under the Choctaw, Muscogee, Cherokee and Creek Council of chiefs. She was of the Creek tribe; the Creeks belonged to any of the 19 tribal groups that once occupied much of what is now Alabama and Georgia. Papa Joe and Anethious, affectionately known as Mama Leatha, were married and eventually settled in Louisiana.”

Again, I looked toward Uncle Joe to get some confirmation of what my grandmother was telling me. He smiled and generally nodded his agreement with what I was being told. Then, my grandmother got to the point of her visit.

“Now, here you are going around the country fighting the government, getting into trouble, and changing your name. You’re just like your great grandfather!”

I started chuckling, as I was surprised she made this kind of comparison. She went on to say:

“Yeah, your great grandfather, after he made his way to Louisiana in order not to be discovered for what had happened in Jamaica and Georgia, changed his name to “Bottom”, stating “I’m starting over from the bottom, so ‘Bottom’ will be my name.”

This is what my grandmother felt compelled to tell me before I was transferred to New York State to serve this sentence of 25 years to life. I have since learned that Papa Joe and Momma Leatha had twenty-three children born in Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana; 18 children survived. My grandfather Frederick Bottom was the 17th surviving child. Here I am providing the list of children and year of birth.

Joseph Bottom (Father) 1844
Anithious Bottom (Mother) 1848
Elisie Bottom 1875
Alsie Bottom 1878
James Bottom 1878
Josephine Bottom 1879
Jeremiah Bottom 1881
Jun Bottom 1881
Celia Bottom 1885
Salida Bottom 1885
Arlie Bottom 1887
Mary Ellen Bottom 1889
Amanda Bottom 1892
Susie Bottom 1893
Orlie Bottom 1894
Ollie Bottom 1895
Catherine Bottom 1896
Janie Bottom 1898
Frederick Bottom 1902
George Bottom 1906

My grandfather and grandmother told this story of Papa Joe after attending the funeral of Momma Leatha to their children, including Uncle Joe, my father Richmond, Uncle Frederick, Aunties Charli, Rose, Anita, and Minnie. I recently had this story confirmed by Aunt Minnie, who is in her 90’s.

My grandfather Frederick Bottom was a graduate of Tuskegee, and was a student of George Washington Carver. Family folklore is my grandfather is the one who grafted the peach and plum, producing the nectarine, but credit was given to Professor Carver. My grandfather rose to the ranks of 33-1/3 in the Prince Hall Free Masons, and became the Pastor of his church. My father Richmond Samuel Bottom, at age 16 began work at Acme Distributing Linoleum Company; he purchased the company after its original owner (Dick McCoy) retired. He later moved the company from downtown Oakland California to the area known as East Oakland Fruitvale District. Several years later he extended his business to include a Take Out Fish Fry and Market. He owned and operated these establishments until his death in 2001. He and my mother were married 10 years, they had three children. He had another child before my birth (I met him while in San Quentin I was 25); he also had 3 other children from his second marriage.

Before closing this abbreviated story of my lineage, it is important to share something of my maternal great grandparents. My great grandparents were Thomas E. Hicks and Willie Mae Hathaway. He was a warehouseman for S.P. Railroad and baseball player in the famous “Negro League.” My great grandmother one day decided she was going to get herself a baseball player, and went to one of the games in Wharton, Texas early to “Sashay” (according to my Mom). She successfully caught the eye of her soon to be husband, she having three children from that union (my grandmother Louise Hicks, 10/8/1919, Uncle Thomas E. Hicks, Jr., 2/8/1921, Aunt Dorothy Mae Hicks, 11/19/22). She had already given birth to a child (Uncle Leonard James Robichaux-Hicks 7/10/1918) before meeting her baseball player. My grandmother met Theodore Roosevelt Foreman (born 8/15/1915), who was a friend of her brother, Uncle Tom, and had one child, my Mom. My grandfather, known as T.R., was one of 11 siblings from the union of Hamon and Annie Mary Foreman. He worked as a Porter on Southern Pacific R.R., was a musician with his own Quintet (Ted Foreman Quintet), and eventually owned a restaurant business in downtown Houston, Texas, where my Mom’s childhood began.

Now, considering what my paternal grandmother revealed that one afternoon in the San Quentin prison visiting room, who’s to say if I had become a National League baseball player, my maternal grandmother would had pronounced I was like my great grandfather? (Ha!)

The following pictures were provided by Jalil's mother Billie. The first three are of Uncle Spencer Foreman, who was a racecar driver.

     

The next picture is an old one of the Foreman clan.


The Foremans
By Lee Roy Foreman

This picture was taken one weekend while my Grandmother was visiting some of her relatives. I will try to name some of the family to the best of my ability, reading from left to right.
#1 & #2 Hamon’s Cousins, sons of Grandmother Angeline Foreman’s sister in Northern Louisiana; #3 Uncle Talmage Foreman, World War I veteran and retired brakeman, Missouri-Pacific Railroad Company; #4 Uncle Talmage’s wife Mamie R. Foreman, School Teacher and Music Teacher, Eastern Star. Played concert for President Woodrow Wilson’s Inaugural Ball; #5 Mary Ruth Thomas, daughter of Mrs. Nettie Thomas, schoolmate of Lee Roy; #6 Alma Thomas, daughter of Mrs. Nettie Thomas; #7 Lucy Foreman (our sister) daughter of Hamon and Annie Mary. She was killed by a drunken driver at the age of nine. All schools closed for the funeral; #8 Aunt Laura Foreman-Greene; #9 Grandmother Angeline Foreman, daughter of a slave master. Born in the main house. A widow who married a Civil War Veteran.

From Jalil's Mom Billie: I’m not sure of the last sentence "A widow who married a Civil War Veteran" My interpretation is The Civil War Veteran is my grandfather Hamon's Daddy.

In either case, it is good to know something of your ancestry, the trial and tribulations of living and surviving in racist America. It will strengthen your consciousness of self, and perhaps offer some ideal of purpose beyond simple propagation of the species. From one generation to the next, we are tasked to raise our common humanity to higher levels of evolutionary consciousness as a species on this planet! Learn your ancestry and teach it to your children!

Remember: We Are Our Own Liberators!

Revolutionary Love and Unity
Jalil A. Muntaqim