Maritcha Lyons on Family

My paternal grandparents were George Lyons, born in 1783, and Lucinda Lewis, born in 1790, in Dutchess County, New York State. Grandfather, the second of the name, was directly descended from an African who, landed on Long Island, had married a squaw of the Shinnecock tribe; their offspring thus becoming automatically free. Among a family of eleven children, my father, Albro Lyons, was born February 10, 1814, at Fishkill-on-Hudson. His mother was of Dutch and Indian extraction; had light hair, blue eyes, and the phlegmatic disposition of the Hollander. A thrifty, busy, silent woman, she lived a simple life absorbed in the discharge of household duties until her decease in middle life.

My maternal grandmother, Elizabeth (Hewlett) Marshall, was distinctly a poor white of English descent. Her mother’s name was King and that of her mother’s mother, was Bartlett, good old English appellations. She had one brother, James Hewlett, a “play actor” as stage performers were derisively styled in bygone days. She and her sister Mary, in common with girls of their station, were apprenticed; grandmother lived with the Quaker family of Mott until an early marriage. Before she was twenty she had become wife and widow. She shortly wed again to John Bray and joined Abyssinian Baptist Church. After a few years Mr. Bray also died. Her final matrimonial venture was the union of her fortunes with those of my grandfather, Joseph Marchall, a native of Maracaibo, Venezuela. His family, after the continental fashion, had planned for him to enter the Roman priesthood. This was so contrary to his desire that he hastily and secretly left home. Future intercourse with his family was restricted to an infrequent correspondence with one of his sisters. ,br>
Settling in New York City, he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (Mother Zion) and lived until my mother was fourteen years old. Contented in exile, he worked so diligently as a house painter that he became able to purchase four lots of the ground now included in the domain of Central Park. He also built on Collect, now Centre Street, a house for his family. This was located directly opposite the site of the original Saint Philip’s Protestant Episcopal Church edifice. After his decease, grandmother erected a rear house and converted the basement of the front dwelling into a store in which she opened a bakery. When, in her declining years she became a member of our household, the avails accruing from the sale of this property sufficed for her personal needs. With Bible and spelling book, cheered by tender ministrations, though partially paralyzed, her release was awaited in patience and with faith, for she was a woman of deep religious convictions. Though she had toiled arduously and suffered much, labor and sorrow were to her only the “Chastening of the Lord.” She was the mother of twelve children, of whom but four survived infancy, three of these dying in the final flush of maturity. Having attained four score and two years, she expired January 21, 1861. Just before her decease she prophesized: “Slavery will be abolished; I shall not live to see it, but God is just.”

Upon her marriage, mother became a tenant in the Collect Street house. Three girls were there added successively to the family, but before the advent of two, the first baby had gone unto that school “where Christ Himself doth rule.” From Collect Street we removed to Pearl Street where a fourth daughter made an appearance. The next removal was to Oliver Street where all hearts were gladdened by the arrival of a son.

Father meanwhile had gone into partnership with a William Powell who kept a Seaman’s Home. On becoming sole proprietor and extending the business, he re-opened the home in a large brick house he had bought on Vandewater Street. In addition, he started an outfitting store for seamen on Roosevelt Street. For years both branches were prosperous till at last he attained a financial standing which justified anticipations of solid material success.

From: Maritcha Lyons, “Memories of Yesterdays, All of Which I Saw and Part of Which I Was—An Autobiography”