Within the “African-American” community it is not widely known that many of our ancestors managed to hold on to their heritage despite the brutality they endured in efforts to cause them to forget their identity. In this article we provide more evidence that our forefathers spoke and wrote in Hebrew, often gave their children Hebrew names, and in many cases referred to themselves as “Israelites”.
In the early 1800’s a community was established in Prince Edward County, Virginia that consisted of freed slaves who called themselves Israelites. Richard Randolph, a former slave owner who was also a cousin of Thomas Jefferson, documented in his will before his death in 1796 that he desired that his 90 slaves be granted their freedom and 400 acres of his land. In 1810 his widow honored his wishes; freeing the slaves and granting them 350 acres of land. The former slaves are responsible for giving the name “Israel Hill’ to the community they established on the land, and the residents of the community called themselves “Israelites”.
It is within reason that we ask ourselves if these former slaves, who established the once thriving community of Israel Hill, were making a statement about their cultural identity or simply likening themselves to the ancient Israelites who were once freed from captivity in Egypt. We should perhaps consider the possibility that throughout their generations they were taught by their elders that they were in fact the children of Israel. As we have covered in previous articles, there is much historical evidence to support this notion.
Today there remains a few “African-American” families who live in Israel Hill; at least one of which that is believed to consists of descendants of the early settlers. Over the last three generations many Israelites left to pursue opportunities in surrounding areas. Much of the area is now wooded and uninhabited. However, this community was once nearly as populated and well organized as the later developed “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Harriet Tubman – “The Moses of Her People”
It is commonly known that Harriet Tubman is often referred to as “the Moses of her people” due to her contributions in facilitating the Underground Railroad. However, what is probably less known is that she was given a Hebrew name at birth. Additionally, many of her relatives carried names of Hebrew origin.
Harriet’s birth name was Araminta, which is a given name in Hebrew meaning ‘lofty, noble, or elevated in character and spirit’. Here we have provided a short list of a few of her relatives along with the meaning of their names in Hebrew:
Linah (Harriet’s sister)...... Hebrew name meaning ‘dwelling, lodging’
Mariah (Harriet’s sister)......Hebrew name meaning ’Yah has said’, ‘Yah is my teacher’, or Moriah meaning ‘Chosen by Yah’
Ben (Harriet’s brother).......Hebrew name meaning ‘son’; Benjamin meaning ‘Son of my right hand’
Rachel (Harriet’s sister)......Hebrew name meaning "ewe" or "little lamb"
Moses (Harriet’s brother)...........’To deliver’ or ‘draw out’
First African Baptist Church
The First African Baptist Church, constituted in 1777, is known as the oldest black church in North America. This church, which is located in Savanah, Georgia, operates a museum which displays memorabilia dating back to the 18th century. The current church building is located in the Savannah Historic District on Franklin Square and was built in the 1850s by both free African Americans and slaves. What we find most unique and interesting about this building is that the upstairs balcony contains some of the original pews made by the slaves. On the sides of the pews are what the church historians describe as “cursive Hebrew”. By most accounts these carvings are referred to as tribal symbols of the slaves who made the furniture. These markings from centuries ago suggest that the slaves who built this furniture spoke and wrote in Hebrew.
Bridging the Gap
All of this information, when viewed collectively alongside the records found within the African Names Database is profound to say the least. Through the collaborative efforts of researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, the W.E.B DuBois Institute of Harvard University, and other research institutions around the world the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database has already provided empirical evidence that thousands of the men, women, and children who were transported from the shores Africa had names of Hebrew origin. Though the slave owners deliberately stripped away much of their language and customs we can still see evidence that our forefathers who were led away into captivity maintained some recollection of their heritage. Not only did the Israelites who arrived in the Americas by way of slave ships have Hebrew names, but they often gave their children Hebrew names, they established communities as Israelites, and they engraved evidence of their cultural identity into the furniture in their early places of worship.