New Bern’s Jeffrey R. Midgett has done has done something that no other descendant of William Dove has been able to do: prove his direct ancestry, thus allowing him to be inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution.
William Dove was a free African American farmer and logger who lived out his life in the Cahooque Creek area of Harlowe in the late 1700s. The great grandson of an Asian Indian princess who had been taken from a royal harem and sold into American slavery in the late 1600s, he would sign up to fight in the American Revolution with the 9th North Carolina Continental Troops 1779.
He was one of several Harlowe freedmen to sign on. They would fight around New York and encamp in Valley Forge under George Washington, and take part in the siege of Charleston and fight other southern battles at the end of the war – and then they were forgotten by history until African American genealogist Maria Cole uncovered them, including a relative of her own. Those men have since been known as the “Forgotten Fourteen.”
As a result, in 2016 the Patriot Isaac Carter Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution was founded. While descendants of a number of the men were inducted, one man’s descendants was not: William Dove.
Midgett said that he has always been aware of much of his family history, as told to him by his father, but the story of his great-great-great grandfather William was new to him. He had been aware of his great-grandfather, another William Dove, but didn’t learn about the original William Dove until he saw the names of the Forgotten Fourteen patriots and wondered if he might be an ancestor, as well.
Midgett approached his friend, researcher Cynthia Marlowe of New Bern, some five years ago to see if she could help find out.
Over time, Marlowe did just that, traveling as far as Maryland and rooting through endless documents for what she said was a remarkably difficult task. She said that, for Midgett to be inducted into the SAR, he had to have absolute proof of his ancestry. “Knowing is one thing,” she said, “but proving beyond a doubt with documentation?”
Proving the tie to Dove was a particularly tough nut to crack. “It turns out there’s a whole group of people who are referenced as ‘Dove-ers’ (by genealogical researchers),” she said – for several years numerous Doves have tried to prove their ties to William, but never to the satisfaction of the SAR.
Part of the problem, she said, is that history has so many William Doves listed. Also, records of African Americans of the period are spotty at best.
Ultimately, Marlowe discovered the Dove story actually went back to a young woman named Maharani Narayan, who was part of a harem – royal wives – of the Maharaja Chandran in East India. Enemies of the maharaja captured her and she was put upon a British ship and ultimately sold as a slave in the royal colony of Maryland. She took on the name Mary Dove, choosing her last name from the ship she sailed on.
Mary, according to Marlowe – who has written a book, “Sold!” about Mary’s story – said she told her children that, one day, her Indian family would come and seek her. They did – but not for nearly 80 years.
It was Mary’s granddaughter – a second Mary – who, after being found by those East Indians, took her master to court, claiming that, as an Indian, her slavery was illegal. Her master, sensing that she would win her case, and who had fathered children through her, fled the state for Craven County. But her Indian relatives followed and petitioned the local courts where Mary and several of her children and grandchildren, including William Dove, were set free in 1749.
Proving that Midgett’s great grandfather William was in turn grandson to the patriot William Dove was especially tricky, but Marlowe said she found her breakthrough while going through old criminal records. “We actually found a link where one of his sons had a child, and he felt that child was not being properly taken care of (by its mother).” She fought him in court and “William Dove and his wife Mollie appeared on behalf of their son and testified: the needed documentary evidence was now in her hands.
She and Midgett contacted the North Carolina SAR she said, and the man they approached “Kind of sceptically took a look at what we had.” He was surprised, she said, “and he said, ‘You may have found it.’”
In the end, she said, the SAR accepted Midgett – and his son Jeffrey Midgett Jr – as the first qualified descendants of William Dove. The state historian for the SAR, Ronald Bonham, is sponsoring his induction.
Midgett was inducted into the Isaac Charter Chapter on Sunday, August 22 at Piney AME Zion at 1430 Temples Point Road in Harlowe at noon. He expects his son and grandson to be inducted down the road.
“I’m very proud to know that my family fought for this country, has been in this country for a long time, and made many contributions,” he said. He added that evidence showed that Dove had often fought for his rights in the courts. He is also proud that he has roots that involving freedmen going back to the 1700s.
He said he has no idea what will happen in the induction ceremony on Sunday. “I’m just proud to go down and stand there in honor of my great-great-great granddaddy, how we fought for our freedom and we persevered, even when the deck was stacked against us.”