“Hidden-in-plain-sight, meaning – That at some point in time seems to be hidden, but actually is not hidden and is easy to be found.”
Three years ago, around this time for Black History Month, I was so honored to tell my 3-part story titled ‘Yardley Through The Years’, sharing photos and documentation about my family, the Lees; an African American family from Historic Yardley Borough. To date, I’ve been able to trace my family history in Yardley Borough back to the early 1900s through my maternal grandmother, Sarah Johns Coney, and her first husband Jerimiah Coney. Their home was located on South Canal Street (aka the “Boat Yard”).
(Left) Sarah Johns Coney - c. 1940s sitting on her Yardley Borough home porch. (Right) Sarah, Jerimiah, and their baby daughter at their home on 192 S. Canal Street.
This past year, my expanded historical research has led to discovering additional families who are the descendants of the Derry family, the oldest known African Americans in Yardley, going back to 1790.
Husband and wife, Granville “Sonny” Mayo and Helen “Marie” Vaughn Mayo
MEET THE MAYOS
Granville Ernest Mayo and his wife, Helen Marie Vaughn Mayo, are a lovely married couple, both 87 years old, and life-long Yardley Borough residents. They are the proud parents of four children (two of whom also reside in Yardley Borough), 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild (with another expected soon).
Granville, also affectionately known as “Sonny” to family and friends, was raised by his maternal grandparents, William and Sarah Coleman, in the home they owned on South Canal Street (a.k.a. the “Boat Yard”). When Sonny was around 11 years old, his grandmother passed away. He was then sent back to live with his parents, John Granville Mayo (his namesake) and Janetta Mae Coleman Mayo, who lived on South Bell Avenue (a.k.a. the “Flats”).
Marie grew up not too far away. She was born Helen Marie Vaughn, though went by Marie since Helen was her mother’s first name as well. Marie’s grandmother, Carrie Derry (sister of Willis Derry), raised her in her home on South Bell Avenue.
Sonny and Marie have known each other since childhood, along with many other close-knit African American Yardley Borough families. Both Sonny and Marie completed school throughout the Pennsbury School District and graduated from Pennsbury High School.
IT’S ALL RELATIVE
Sonny and Marie graciously welcomed me to interview them at their current family home, located on Pennsylvania Avenue in the Flats. The house was originally built in 1890 and first belonged to Marie’s great aunt and uncle, Willis and Mattie Derry. Sonny and Marie, pictured here, are proudly holding a beautiful family tree album titled, “Our History,” a multi-family, multi-generational project spearheaded by descendants of the Coleman family and other extended family members.
This beautifully printed album consists of a very thorough and detailed collection of photos and family connections that include such surnames as Derry, Robinson, Jacobs, Coleman, Nicholson and Mayo. Members of these families are related to each other in some way or another, and have all documented their roots in Yardley Borough.
During our sit-down, Sonny questioned me about a cousin of mine named Bea. I shared that her mother is my Aunt, the late Winifred Coney (daughter of my maternal grandmother, Sarah Johns Coney). Turns out, Bea’s father was Lawrence Coleman – Sonny’s great uncle. Lo and behold, a family connection! We were both delighted to acknowledge our shared cousin Bea.
Marie shared memories about her childhood experiences on South Bell Avenue where she was raised in the home of her grandmother, Carrie Derry. Many of these houses in Yardley Borough are kept in the family. Marie’s daughter currently resides in Carrie’s former home. She is a 4th generation Derry descendant. Marie stated she attended the Yardley School beginning there in the first grade, as all African American children from Yardley Borough did at that time.
Historically, so many African American children in their younger years were raised by their grandparents. They lived in multi-generational households due to the sacrifices made by parents in their younger years who were working for other families, first by enslavement, then by their fierce sense of survival. Many African American women were required to work outside their homes. Looking at these 1940s - 1950s era photos of these good and strong women from Yardley Borough, makes me so very proud to be a descendant of women like these!
(Left to right) Ann Hutchings, Mrs. Elam, Margaret Chapman, Edith Nicholson, Flossie Chapman, Mrs. Hodge.
WORK, LIFE & YARDLEY DUCK
What a compelling story Sonny shared with me about how his father, John Granville Mayo, arrived in Yardley Borough around the turn of the century 19TH century…
John was just 15 years old. He was living with his grandparents in Danville, Virginia. These wise and caring folks took a leap of faith and provided their beloved grandson the amount of $15 (a lot of money for that time period) and instructed him to travel from their southern town going north as far as his money would allow. John got as far as Trenton, New Jersey, departed the bus, and asked where he could find some farm work, since that was what he knew he could do to survive and make an honest living. He was directed to travel over the nearby Delaware River and into Yardley Borough.
Subsequently, he was taken in by a Quaker named Amos Satterswaite who had a farm located on Yardley-Makefield Road. 15-year-old John was welcomed to live, eat and work with the Satterswaite family. Early on, John was very reluctant to eat at the same table he was invited to with this Quaker family, most likely due to his upbringing in the segregated south during that time in America’s history. Nevertheless, John thrived on with his “adopted” Quaker family and employer until he was around 21 years old.
African American women workers at McCormick Duck Farm
John’s first suit, automobile and other living essentials were purchased for him by Mr. Satterswaite. Eventually, John received word that his own family also made it up north and had settled in nearby Newtown. John married Janetta Mae Coleman.
Like many other African Americans back then, John went to work at the John C. McCormick Duck Farm located on Dolington Road in Lower Makefield Township. Jerimiah Coney, my maternal grandmother’s first husband, also worked here. Many women were employed plucking and preparing ducks, that were then shipped throughout the East Coast from the Poconos to NYC. Patrons of fine restaurants could order a “Yardley Duck!” The McCormick Duck Farm closed in the 1950s.
I believe in every family and in each generation arises a “Griot” – a term that originated in West Africa meaning storyteller of family histories and genealogies.
The Griot meticulously compiles and documents the information of the past, and loves to share what is discovered. After all, it is a spiritual gift to seek out and listen to one's elders and other family members.
In the generation before me, my Aunt Winifred “Winnie” Coney and Uncle Earl Newkirk (through the photos he captured) were our family’s Griots. In my current generation, I have picked up this torch. For the past several years I have been grilling my uncle Earl and my sister Janice with questions and documenting this information about our family and Yardley Borough neighbors. For me, it is an absolute honor to now be our Griot and recorder.
The Yardley Borough Police Department was established in the 1950s. Chief Lee Caroll (far right) stands next to Mayor Edward Robinson, the first African American mayor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1977-1989) and a relative of Marie Mayo’s. C. 1978.
Many thanks to the Yardley Historical Association (YHA), the curators of so much of Yardley Borough’s history that includes its Quaker founders, the families, the wonderful traditions, parades and activities, The Friends Meeting Houses and other diverse religious places of worship, the Civil War connections, the Underground Railroad “stations,” and so much more that includes Yardley’s African American history weaved in so much of it to help me compile this information. Special thanks the late Helene Derry Giles, Stella Torgoff, and Juanita Robinson (the wife of the late Edward E. Robinson, the first African American Mayor of Yardley Borough and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). In 1985, these ladies organized and conducted Yardley’s first Black History event and exhibit. It was held at the Old Library by Lake Afton in Historic Yardley Borough. THE YARDLEY NEWS article ‘Yardley’s black history ‘proves to be rich’ dated March 28, 1985, provides very thorough details all about it.
Photos from the collection of the Yardley Historical Association at The Old Library by Lake Afton
This past year I have been conducting my own research, interviewing Mr. and Mrs. Mayo for this blog, becoming a member of the YHA, and my recent visit to the Old Yardley Library reviewing these photos and documents. This has led to this full circle time in my life! Please know, myself and my sister Janice, as teenagers, worked in this same building during the 1960s. At that time this historic landmark, Yardley Borough’s first library, was still a working library. (We were perhaps the first and only African Americans to work here).
My hope for this blog is to tell the story of Yardley Borough’s African American history and how it connects to the story of Yardley Borough’s history, as well as Lower Bucks County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s histories. All rolled into one, this is America’s History, all of us can celebrate during Black History Month and every month – in Plain Sight!
ADDITIONAL PICTURES OF THE PAST
The Derry Family is the oldest known African American family line in Yardley Borough, dating back to the 18th century. (Left) Julia B. Miller, wife of John Derry. (Right) several Derry family members on the porch on South Bell Ave.
William Derry of Yardley led an African-American club team to victory in 1896. William is in the dark suit in the top row. To the left of William is John Derry. Morris Derry is seated on the far right.
As early as 1817, a black congregation was meeting in an old hay barn in the “Flats.” In 1877, a church was built on South Canal Street on the “Boat Yard”. It became part of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) conference in 1893. This is the oldest place of worship built in Historic Yardley Borough. I’m so happy to discover the two little girls standing shoulder to shoulder, face front are my cousin Debbie Cann and my sister, Janice Lee.
This photograph documents the early presence of African Americans being part of everyday life of Historic Yardley Borough. Charles Elam is a relative of Sonny’s
The First Baptist Church on the other South Canal Street (located directly behind the current Wawa store) was built in 1915 and is still an active African American Church. Sonny fondly remembers attending Sunday school at this church as a child. Several members of his family and neighbors are members of this church.
Photo Credits: The collection of the Yardley Historical Association at The Old Library by Lake Afton, Images of America Yardley, By Vince Profy, Coney Family photo album.