Stewart Historical Highlights
The Buffalo Soldiers
Stewart & the Marcus Garvey
Hattie Gordon (a Stewart centenarian), in a newspaper article appearing in The Northumberland Echo (a Virginia newspaper) dated March 1,1973, stated that her grandfather, Richard Stewart, "was not always a Stewart, but a Gaskins until he was on a vessel, that was when he was real young. And after that he was a Stewart."
This seems to confirm oral history related by other members of the family which states that Richard Gaskins was a ships steward, and since everyone aboard the ship called him steward he took the surname of Stewart. No one seems to know the reason for the name change, however, it seems of such importance that his parents and all of his siblings also took the same surname. The "Gaskins" name is of French origin, and was originally spelled Gascoigne. The Gascoigne family came from England via Gascony France, and is believed to have originally held in slavery the ancestors of Richard Stewart. One branch of the Gascoigne family came to Virginia as early as 1636, where they intermarried with the Conways, Ewells and the Lee's. On Sept. 9, 1636, Thomas Gaskins ( the head of the Virginia line) received a grant of 300 acres of land in Accomac County, on Virginia's Eastern shore. The Gaskins family later crossed the Chesapeake bay and settled in Northumberland County, Virginia.
Other oral history states that the Stewart family "came across the river [ Hampton Hall Creek ? ] with the Parks family," which owned them at the time. This seems to imply that the Stewart family originally came from Northumberland County, Virginia, the ancestral home of the Gaskins family, who are believed to be the original slave owners. Death records show Richard Stewart's father, John Stewart, as having been born in Westmoreland County in the year of 1800.
Court records found relating to the death of John Stewart reveal that he died of pneumonia on March 1, 1881. It is interesting to note that the informant of the death is listed as Richard Stewart, his son, who gave the names of his father's parents as John and Peggy Stewart, absolutely disowning the Gaskins Name. The 1870 census list's John Stewart's occupation as a farm laborer, however oral history states that most of the family members were watermen. Richard Stewart's mother was Winnie Sydnor, an Indian. She probably died before emancipation as no records were found and nothing else is known of her.
Richard Stewart was part African, part French and part Native American. He is believed to be the oldest of nine children, and was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He is said to have worn his hair long ( possibly tied in the back ), and was a seaman in his early years. During the Civil War, when the union troops passed though the area he hid in a haystack to avoid being confiscated. On another occasion upon learning that union troops were in the vicinity, he was told by his owner to drive the cattle into the woods and hide them. However, the soldiers found, slaughtered and carried the cattle off to their boats. Hearing the soldiers approaching, Richard Stewart hid in a hollow tree trunk.
Richard and his father's first and middle names may
have been John Richard, a name which may have some significance with succeeding
family members since Richard named his first son John Richard. Other John's
After meeting and falling in love with Harriet Braxton, Richard Stewart asked her owner to purchase him; to which her owner replied, "I can't afford to buy you, you are too noble." To ensure that they could be together, it is said that Richard's owner or one of his daughters dressed him in tattered clothes and had him cross his eyes and appear stupid. He was then purchased by Harriet's owner.
Richard Stewart entered University Hospital in Baltimore Maryland on July 23, 1903, there he remained until July 30, 1903 when he died at 1130 P.M. The cause of death was listed as Nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) with a contributory cause of Uremia (severe kidney failure). He is buried in the cemetery at Potomac Baptist Church in Hague, Virginia.
Harriet Braxton Stewart was the daughter of Mary
Stuart Braxton. Oral history states that she and her sister, Malinda, were
fathered by their slave owner. She is said to have had blue eyes. She took
the surname of Braxton, her mother's husband's surname. She died about
1897. Her grandson, Harry Lee, recalls being told that when the Union soldiers
came through the area she drove one of them off with a cudgel when he attempted
to break into her cabin. Little else is known of her.