The Bryant Library Local History Collection celebrates Juneteenth, our country’s newest federal holiday, by remembering some of the Roslyn residents who would have been alive to hear of the momentous event that took place on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas. Whether their ancestors were free or had been enslaved, they would have celebrated the freedom heralded by the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
While there is no record of annual celebrations among the documents in the Collection, a news clipping dated August 26, 1893 reports that a “celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. and celebration of emancipation of America” had been held in Glen Cove the previous week. Roslyn residents would likely have joined their neighbors and friends to attend this event.
Today we remember:
William Henry Fowler, born in 1840, who joined the Union Army in 1863 at the age of 23. Traveling to Providence, Rhode Island to enlist, Fowler served in a regiment of the US Colored Heavy Artillery. After his discharge in 1865, Fowler returned home and married Margaret Eato, whose family had roots in North Hempstead dating back to the 1700s. William and Margaret settled in Roslyn, where he worked long hours as a laborer. Nicknamed “Bullwagon” for his strength, Fowler was proud of his military service and was a member of the segregated William Lloyd Garrison Post of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic). He attended Roslyn’s annual Memorial Day ceremonies at Roslyn Cemetery, and was buried with full military honors in the G.A.R. plot in Roslyn Cemetery on his death in 1932. In her short memoir of her early life in Roslyn, Fowler’s great granddaughter Peggy Carpenter, born in Roslyn in 1926, recalls her pride as a little girl seeing “Grandpop Bill” “riding in an open car with the mayor on Memorial Day.”
George Washington, Sr. who was once enslaved in Virginia but migrated to Long Island after the Civil War. Born in Virginia around 1845, he and his wife, Fanny, settled first in Port Washington before moving to Roslyn. Employed as a farm laborer, Washington later worked on the Mackay’s Harbor Hill estate, delivering coal and hauling ash, and as a general mechanic for tin smith Willet Titus’ business on Old Northern Boulevard. The Washingtons raised seven children in Roslyn. Their youngest child, George V. Washington, Jr. (1887-1959), was the longtime caretaker of Roslyn Park and responsible for winding the clock in Roslyn’s Clock Tower.
Hewlett Hicks (1826-1909), whose father had been enslaved on a local farm, owned property in Roslyn Heights that remained in the family for generations. His daughter Marcellena, born in 1866, married Eugene Pearsall in 1888, joining two families with deep roots in the community. They raised seven children in Roslyn. The memoir of the youngest, E. Arrell Pearsall, is housed in the Local History Collection along with a large collection of family photos that are being digitized.
While few, if any, images of these men and women exist today, we can see their visages in the faces of these unidentified community members, collected in the albums of Mrs. Marcellena (Hicks) Pearsall. Like those in generations before and after, we imagine them looking back in dignity and with pride at the legacy they left.
Their lives and those of their descendants are a testament to long-held dreams of freedom, hopes for the future, and the resilience of African Americans that is celebrated across the country today.
From the Bryant Library Local History Collection - Happy Juneteenth!
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