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Family Mysteries

Helen Blackwood's Name

Harry, the Slave Accused of Murder

Helen Blackwood's name.

There are many sources (LDS archive submissions, even her bloody headstone!) which incorrectly state Helen's name as being "Ellen". Having taken the time to contact, order and currently have in my possession a legitimate copy of her birth parochial records, I can state with all certainty that the name she was born with was Helen, without a doubt. Occasional records often curiously state the birthdate off as well, but (again) I received the record copy from the General Registrar Office of Scotland itself.( click here to see cropped scan of her birth record. )

(Transcripted record reads: "Blackwood 28 July James Blackwood Miner [Janeha?] and Elizabeth Pride had a lawful daughter B. Helen m. present [m standing for "midwife"] b[unintelligible followed by a long line]".)

The mysterious circumstance regarding Helen's name is a curious one, indeed. According to the Russell (and others on George Barber/Ida May's line) family book Roots and Wings, George had Helen's tombstone changed to Ellen because that's what he believed it to be in truth, though even he questioned which was her name *really*. It's all speculation at this point in time, of course, but perhaps the arrival in America heralded a "new start" she felt she needed - perhaps she went by Ellen here, thus causing confusion. I know that around that time period in Scotland a woman was convicted of murder (along with her accomplices)...a woman with the name of Helen Blackwood. (see a pdf file of a broadside lamentation poem someone published at the time regarding the murder here)So perhaps she wanted to distance herself from the woman's infamy along with entry into The New World. Or perhaps they were related somehow. Again, speculation. Unless we feel inclined to dig through for parochial records of every sibling, cousin, aunt and uncle of Helen, it will remain just so. Besides. A little enigmatic flair can be interesting.

Anyways. Helen's cause of death is listed as "old age" according to the Utah State History Burials Database (see research links page) and she is buried in the Ogden City Cemetery under her alias of Ellen B. Russell.

Harry, a slave accused of murder.

From "The Virginia Gazette"; Oct. 29, 1797, number 858.

"New York, October 1.

The following extraordinary attestation of the Coroner of Bergen county was communicated by a Gentleman of such credit as leaves not the least doubt of its being genuine.

On the 22nd day of September, in the year of our Lord 1767, I Johannes Demarest, Coroner of the county of Bergen, and province of New Jersey, was present at a view of the body of one Nicholas Tuers, then lying dead, together with the jury, which I summoned to inquire of the death of the said Nicholas Teurs. At that time a Negro named Harry, belonging to Hendrick Christians Zabriskie, was suspected of having murdered the said Tuers; but there was no proof of it, and the Negro denied it. I asked him if he was not afraid to touch Tuers: He said no, he had not hurt him, and immediately came up to the corpse then lying in the coffin; and then Staats Storm, one of the jurors, said I am not afraid of him, and stroked the dead man's face with his hand, and then I heard a cry in the room of the people saying, He is the man, and was desired to come to the dead body, and was told that the said Negro Harry had put his hand on Tuer's face, and that the blood immediately ran out at the nose of the dead man Tuers, I saw the blood on his face, and ordered the Negro to rub his hand again on Tuers's (sic) face. He did so, and immediately the blood again ran out of the said Tuers's nose at both nostrils, near a common table spoonful at each nostril, as well as I could judge. Whereupon the people all charged him with being the murderer, but he denied it for a few minutes, and then confessed that he had murdered the said Nicholas Tuers, by first striking him on the head with an axe, and then driving a wooden peg in his hear, though afterwards he said he struck a second time with his axe, and then held him fast until he had done struggling; when that was done he awaked some of the family, and said Tuers was dying he believed.


Now, I know it's particularly unpleasant to find out ancestors of yours owned slaves. Harry makes the third slave I have found owned by the Zabriskie's (other two were called Jude and Tom). But, I suppose, you live with it. (If it makes up karmically, and you're related to my Rawson line, you're also related to Levi Coffin, whom helped free 2,000-some fugitive slaves in the Underground Railroad. Feel better? Good.) What makes this interesting to me is that the coroner in question is the husband of Rachel Zabriskie, whom was Hendrick C. Zabriskie's first cousin (her father Joost was the brother of our Christian Zabriskie, whom was Hendrick's father). Also, I find it queer that 1) a "jury" of obviously not impartial peers is called in AT THE SCENE OF THE CRIME, 2) Harry had no lawyer and it is vaguely mentioned that he changed his confession at some point thus making me think that he confessed out of fear of being lynched by a mob or worse and 3) SINCE WHEN DO DEAD BODIES ABRUPTLY BLEED ONLY WHEN THEIR MURDERERS TOUCH THEM? Uhmn, yes, unless we're currently on Planet Mongo, allow us to discard that insane troll logic for something more concrete.

What I would like to do, (and I encourage any other researchers to try as well) would be to look up probate and land records regarding the Tuers, the Demarests, Staats Storm and the Zabriskies. Were they involved in some way in the crime? That, my friends, is why it is a mystery.

So far, however, one uncovers easily enough a land deal with regards to Staats Storm, the Demarests and the Zabriskies:

"On 22 February 1804 (recorded 29 Feb 1804, Bergen C. R:374) Jacob P. Demarest of the Town of Harrington, farmer, with consent of his wife Sarah, conveyed to Staus Storm of same place, for $1600, a tract of 46-1/2 acres at Weremus in the Town of Harrington, beginnning at the NE corner of land nearby the W side of Bear Brook, bounded E by Publick Road leading to Paskack, land of Johones G. Ackerman; land of Zabriskie; S by land of said Staus Storm. Signed by Jacob P. Demarest, Sarah Demarest (her mark). Witnessed by Abraham Delamater; Abrm. Westervelt. ---children of Staats H. Storm & Margrietje." --1

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