Monday, February 18, 2019



In 1853, eight years before the American Civil War, a Chamorro seaman named Benjamin Crowell, got married in an African American Baptist church in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Crowell is not a Chamorro surname, but many Chamorro whaling men in the 1800s changed their names, both their given names and their family names. They changed them in all sorts of ways, but sometimes completely! A Chamorro named José de la Cruz might become Arthur Washington, for all we know, once he settled in the United States.

Benjamin was 29 years old, so born around 1824, though people were notoriously imprecise about their ages back then. Many times it was all guess work. Sometimes they told outright lies, to be older or younger as the benefit may be.

He stated that his father's name was Pedro Crowell. The Pedro is believable; the Crowell, not so much.

It's no surprise that he ended up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, one of the main whaling centers of the United States in the 1800s. Quite a number of Chamorro men ended up there, some of them settling there for good.

His bride was Mary Anderson, a native of New York. The minister officiating at their wedding was the Rev. Cummings Bray, who was pastor of Second Baptist Church in New Bedford. That church, located on Middle Street, was founded for African Americans in 1844. The church served as a station for the Underground Railroad, sheltering runaway slaves moving from the South to the North.

Why Benjamin got married in an African American church is a mystery. Was it on account of his (we assume) dark brown skin? Was it on account of his wife Mary's race (we are not sure what it was)? Was it on account of an altogether different reason?

In 1863, Benjamin got married again. His second wife was Elizabeth Howland. They were married by a Justice of the Peace. In this record, Benjamin's parents are listed as Peter and Sarah Crowell.


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