Early history marked at Dennis farm
This home about 10 miles north of Nicholson, not too far off Rt. 11, is a part of a restoration project that will protect some of the region’s African-American heritage. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON
At the inaugural Dennis Farm Symposium held Thursday at site in the Kingsley area, Denise Dennnis spoke about her family’s history and the 153-acre farm that has remained in the family for seven generations. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON
BY STACI WILSON
The quest to preserve the site of her family’s ancestral home began “as really a notion,” Denise Dennis told a group of archeologists, historians, and local friends and family on Thursday, Sept. 12, at the first ever Dennis Farm Symposium.
Dennis is a descendant of Prince and Judith Perkins who were among the first 10 families to settle in what is now Susquehanna County.
The 153-acre Dennis Farm, part of the Dennis Charitable Land Trust, has remained in the same family for seven generations. Dennis is the President and CEO of the trust.
Prince Perkins, a free African American from Connecticut, came to the area in 1793 following his service in the Revolutionary War.
Dennis remarked on the early history of her family discovered in ledgers in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s collection,
“In this county, my family interacted with the residents of this county,” she said. A ledger indicates the family was issued credit by the country store. “This was a time when slavery was the law of the land,” she said. “It moves me deeply.”
Before heading from the Montrose Presbyterian Church to the farm site, Dennis said, “You can visit Monticello, and many plantations and they will tell you black slaves built them. But there are few – if any – places like you are about to visit – where an African American family owned and cultivated a farm and passed it on to generations in the 21st century.
Archaeologist Wade Catts, an Associate Director of Cultural Resources with John Milner Associates, described the seventh generation Perkins-Dennis Farm as a “remarkable place.”
At the first-ever symposium, held on the grounds of the farm, the Montrose Presbyterian Church and the Center for Anti-Slavery Studies, Catts said there were several lines of investigation that could come out of the information gained at Perkins-Dennis site.
The site is unusual, Catts said. The 1820 Dennis house is still standing. There are ruins of the 1800s Perkins’ home, stone walls and farm outbuildings. The site is also home to the only African-American cemetery in Susquehanna County.
The Dennis family also has amassed generations of family photographs, books and the family Bible.
“It’s a blend of family history, archaeology, and a landscape not found anywhere else,” Catts said.
He added that the Smithsonian Museum has recognized it as an important resource in the country.
Archeological work at the site began in 2008 under the direction of John Roby, who was with Binghamton University at the time.
Roby discussed the artifacts found over two years at the Dennis and Perkins’ homes on the property.
Dennis said there is still more work to be done. The 1820s home has been stabilized and there are plans to restore it to its original specifications.
Dennis also envisions adding a historical learning center at the site to house the artifacts and detail the family’s unique history.
At the cemetery on the property, Dennis said she remembered visiting the graves of her ancestors with her grandfather. “This is where they are now,” she recalled him saying.
She has also discovered her family in Susquehanna County histories. “We show up in all the literature here. We weren’t hiding up on the hill here,” she said.
The Dennis and Perkins family were a “typical middle class farming family for the period,” Dennis said. “They embraced the American dream – find a nice community, get a piece of land.”