Through the Daniels family, my mother’s western Pennsylvania family is descended from the interesting and colorful Beebe family of Long Island. Samuel Beebe (1631-1712) left Broughton, Northamptonshire, England in 1650, sailing to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After settling for a time in New London, Connecticut, he eventually ended up on Plum Island, a small island in Long Island Sound. Samuel was able to accumulate enough wealth to purchase the western half of Plum Island about 1700. One of his daughters was Agnes Beebe, who married John Daniels of New London. In the early 1800s, their great-grandson Kinsey Daniels (1758-1821) moved to Slippery Rock, in western Pennsylvania.
After Samuel Beebe died in 1712, his Plum Island holdings were inherited primarily by Agnes Beebe’s brother, Samuel Beebe Jr. Samuel Jr. lived a wealthy, comfortable life on Plum Island. He was called “King Beebe” and the “Lord of the Islands”. A large rock located in the water just off Plum Island was referred to as “Beebe’s Throne”.
Unfortunately, our Samuel Jr. got himself embroiled in a complicated tangle with the law and basic ethics when he decided that he had the right of ownership over an African American woman and her children.
Samuel’s in-laws, James and Elizabeth Rogers of Connecticut, owned a slave woman named Joan. In James Rogers’ will, he specified that none of his slaves should be “sold or given away in lifelong bondage”. After his death, his wife Elizabeth decided nevertheless to give Joan to her daughter Elizabeth instead of a monetary inheritance, to serve in the daughter’s house until the mother’s death. Joan lived for a time as a free woman, and married a free black man named John Jackson, with whom she had several children.
Samuel Jr. decided that he was entitled to ownership not only of Joan, but also her children. In 1710 he seized Joan and one of her sons, and brought them back to Plum Island. Two of the Rogers sons fought the seizure in court, but Samuel’s actions were judged legal. In 1711 Joan, her son, and a newborn daughter were able to escape Plum Island. Joan’s husband John traveled on a small boat, under cover of darkness, across the Sound to Beebe’s Plum Island home. Sneaking into the house, he was able to retrieve his wife and two children without waking the Beebe family. Joan was taken to Connecticut and quickly moved on to hide in Rhode Island.
Samuel was so outraged at his loss of “property” that he hired two men and traveled north to Connecticut to find Joan, eventually tracing her movements to Rhode Island. The governor of Rhode Island forced their return to Beebe, who successfully prosecuted his wife’s brother John Rogers and Joan’s husband John, for aiding in the escape. John Rogers was jailed from September 1711 to March 1712. Beebe sold Joan to his attorney John Livingston, within two weeks of her re-capture. Although Joan and John Jackson were reunited for several years, Joan tragically never regained her freedom, and was again sold years later.
John Rogers and his brother James are considered among the first American political activists who worked against slavery. They come down to us as one of the positive aspects of the story of King Beebe.
- A World Unto Itself – The Remarkable History of Plum Island, New York, Ruth Ann Barmson, Geoffrey K. Fleming, and Amy Kasuga Folk (Southold Historical Society, Southold New York), 2014
- June Cross’s Interracial family tree, Front Line, PBS.org, 2014
- For Adam’s Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England, Allegra di Bonaventura, 2013.