FAMILY HISTORICAL INFORMATION
Richard (Gaskins) Stewart was part African, part French and part Native American; he wore his hair long and tied in the back. He was a slave of the Parks family of Kinsale, Virginia. The Parks family's farm was known as "Federal Hill". He was born 1836 in Westmoreland County, Va, the first child of John (Gaskins) Stewart and Winnie Sydnor. Little is known of his early years; however, at some point he became a seaman. Richard Stewart was a ship's steward who for reasons unknown refused the Gaskins surname. Oral history states that he took the surname of Stewart since everyone aboard the ship called him steward. His parents and his siblings also took the Stewart surname. As the informant who reported the death of his father (John Stewart) Richard Stewart gave the surname of his grand parents as Stewart and not as Gaskins.
Richard Stewart met and fell in love with Harriet Braxton. To be with her he asked her owner to buy him, but was told that he was "too noble" and would cost too much to purchase. It is said that Richard crossed his eyes and appeared stupid. Having done this he was purchased by Harriet's owner.
Oral history also states that during the Civil War, on one occasion when the Union Soldiers came through the area Richard hid in a haystack to avoid being confiscated. During another raid he was instructed by his owner to hide the cattle in the woods to prevent the Union Soldiers from finding them, however the cattle were found, slaughtered, and carried off. Upon hearing the soldiers approaching, Richard Stewart hid in a hollow tree trunk. It is said that on one raid, when a union soldier tried to force his way into Harriet's cabin she drove him off with a cudgel. Harriet was the daughter of a former slave owner and took the surname of her step father Henry Braxton, a free man whom her mother married.
Richard and Harriet shared a very rich life and were the parents of 17 children. They no doubt instilled a strong sense of pride and dignity in their family. Four daughters who suffered the indignities of 1880's Jim Crow laws, went on to win a lawsuit challenging "separate but equal" facilities in public transportation and would later settle in Baltimore, MD. Several of his sons worked and settled in the Ambler, Pennsylvania area. In 1900, at the age of 64, Richard composed a letter to his son Nelson (100 hundred years later, it still is in the possession of Nelson's grand daughter, Lillian). A few generations later, several of Nelson's granchildren would find it necessary to challenge "separate but equal" facilities in education.