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2014-08-20 / Columnists

A reporter’s walk along Albany Avenue

by Sandi Brewster-Walker

Part II

The Eagle reporter’s article that we have been discussing stated that the Rev. Charles Ackworth was being investigated. Ackworth was a boarder at 40-cents per day of Brother Squires, a Shinnecock and his wife a Montaukett Indian. The Squires lived in a “very comfortable home,” stated the reporter. The Squires were one of the original founders of the North Amityville church around 1814/15. The Eagle reporter began his questioning of Brother Burton about the problems between Rev. Ackworth and Bethel AME Church. BROTHER BURTON

This was the abode of Thomas Burton, “at home” and at the reporter’s service. Brother Burton is a little above the average height, not over black, with a slight growth of hair on his face, somewhat clouded eyes, and an inordinate small mouth and straight nose for one of his race. He seated the reporter in front of the stove and stood beside it toasting his hands as he talked. He lives with his only son in this wretched abode, his wife and a son having died some time ago. They do their own cooking and washing.

The reporter gave a stereotypical description of the 59-year-old Thomas Burton; however, it seems he could not understand Burton’s “small mouth and straight nose.” What the reporter failed to understand was, like Brother Squires, genealogy research shows Burton ancestors were members of the Montaukett, Shinnecock, Setauket and Unkechaug tribes. Burton’s family members had intermarried among the Harts, Sells, Smith and Payne families. The article continued...

“Yes, sir,” said Brother Burton, “there has been a little trouble in the church,” and then he proceeded to detail the circumstances.

The pastor of the little church, the Rev. Charles Ackworth, was placed in charge last June, by Bishop Payne. “He was quite illiterate and knew nothing of grammar, and we had to correct him very often,” said Burton. This was frequently done during the hour of worship by someone brother or another, either in the reading of scripture or the preaching of the sermon. He would say ‘division’ for ‘diversion,’ Brother Burton says.

The book and the bible on Burton’s table should have alerted the reporter that education was very important to the North Amityville community! Most of the Indian and people of color families had been sending their children to the Colored School #6 on Albany Avenue since 1832. The history of the school and the desegregation of the Village of Amityville schools will be discussed in another article.

Then the pastor made an innovation on the stereotyped form of worship, which displeased Brother Burton and others, “and we ‘rejected’ and ‘rejected’ bout that, but he kept at it all the same,’ remarked Brother Burton, with emphasis, and then, changing his position so that his left foot rested on the edge of the flour cask, Burton continued: “He insisted that we should recite the Apostles’ Creed and we rejected because we did not like to follow the Catholics; but every time we came together the creed was said clean through, so that the children had it by heart. But he never got it right, and that’s what we ‘sticked’ out on. You see, when he had said ‘descended into hell,’ he would say ‘and descended into heaven,’ and that was wrong. We told him about it often, but it made no difference. He used to go into the school and say the creed in the same way. Now, you see, a good many white folks come to the church, and they hear this and go away and laugh and call us ignorant, when we is not.”

Pastor Ackworth is about 45 years of age. He was formerly a slave and his name was Leatherberry. He changed his name to Ackworth because he was afraid that if slavery should be revived he would be reclaimed by his master. He was a preacher in Virginia before he came to Amityville, and had buried his wife. He is ‘a big feeling fellow,’ Brother Burton says.

Pastor Ackworth’s life experiences as a southern slave and freed man probably in Accomack County, Eastern Shore, Virginia where we find Leatherberry slave owners was a lot different than his Island congregation. He was also an eligible bachelor that was not related to members of the AME congregation, where everyone was a “cousin.”

The writer is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute and served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture. Writers can reach her in c/o the Amityville Record at acjnews@rcn.com.

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