Somewhere in Between White and Black on the Chestnut Ridge


Ruth Ann (Minerd) Kennedy and son Howard

Sharing a tender moment with her young son, Ruth Ann (Minerd) Kennedy and her extended family faced a lifetime of hardship in and around the Chestnut Ridge communities of Philippi and Grafton, WV due to the color of their skin.

As with her brother, Civil War veteran William Minerd (the Photo of the Month for July 2011), as children of a Pennsylvania German father and Native American mother, they were considered “colored” and in the eyes of society was neither white nor black, even though they could “pass for white.” This included exclusion from attending school with white children; paying extra taxes; being called such derogatory terms as “guinea” and worse; and losing certain legal rights because their birth records were willfully destroyed by local government officials.

Sadly, Ruth Ann died at an age far too young, in 1900, at 48 years of age, having brought 11 lives into the world. She rests today in an unmarked grave.

Over the years, her offspring have been among the more than 190 Minerd cousins who intermarried with the Mayle-Male clan. In 2014, some of her descendants appeared on the PBS Television program Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. to explore their common Mayle-Male connections. Among them, Brenda (Cook) Tabler, will be a guest panelist with our cousin Irita (Goins) Canady at our upcoming Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor Reunion to share their amazing experiences with Dr. Gates and the show.

Ruth Ann was born in 1852 in Taylor County, VA (later West Virginia), the daughter of Jacob and Ruth (Adams) Minerd Sr.

The father was a “Dutchman” (Pennsylvania German), and he lived just a few miles from the farm in the Fayette/Somerset County, PA, border region where his presumed grandparents Jacob and Maria (Nein) Minerd Sr. were pioneers in the 1790s. The mother was a Native American, and , Ruth Ann and her siblings thus were considered of mixed race (or “mulatto” in the language of the mid-1800s).

As an 18-year-old, in 1870, Ruth Ann gave birth to a son, whom she named Stephen T. Minerd. The boy was raised by Ruth Ann’s parents. It’s believed that the name of the boy’s father was “Edward” (last name unknown) as this was passed down verbally in the family. Stephen’s life was spent shuttling back and forth between relatives’ homes in Barbour County and Athens County, OH.

Four years later, in 1874, 22-year-old Ruth Ann married Josiah “Joe” Kennedy Sr. (1850-1929), the 24-year-old son of Jefferson and Lacy Ann “Lathie” (Mayle) Kennedy. The wedding took place in Josiah’s native Barbour County.

The Kennedys had 10 children of their own — Josiah Kennedy Jr., John H. Kennedy, Sarepta A. Mayle, Opha Cleophas Kennedy, Thomas “Jefferson” Kennedy, Benjamin “Harrison” Kennedy, Ressie “Ray” Kennedy Sr., Leslie Kennedy, Howard Lee Kennedy Sr. and Nancy Catherine Mayle. The father of these children them to be of Indian racial heritage.

A typed manuscript, on file today at the Philippi Public Library, states that the Kennedys were part of a large group of mixed-race families who lived in West Hill, “in a sort of separate world of their own, shunning close contact and conventionalities with whites and blacks alike.” The group was said to be “enterprising farmers and trappers … But for some reason, public sentiment against them on the part of the whites, caused them to move into West Hill section of Taylor so named because it is west of the Tygarts valley river overlooking the fertile valley lands owned before the Mayles, Crostons, Kennedys, etc., arrived.”

The lesson learned from studying these families, quoting Dr. Gates: “It’s always been my belief that the more we understand about our past, the more we’ll understand how fundamentally connected we all are.”

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