Lett Settlement Reunion... Zanesville, OH
Direct and collateral descendants of Jemima Banneker Lett—sister of Benjamin Banneker—gathered in Zanesville, Ohio on July 18 to July 20, 2003 for a family reunion. This event was especially significant because Ohio celebrated its 200th birthday in 2003. The Letts are one of the first, and the largest African-American families to settle in Ohio. Jemima married Samuel Delaney Lett (pdf) of English and Native American lineage, and of their eight children, seven migrated with their families and settled in Meigs Township. The Lett Settlement was a self-sustaining community of mixed race families, with the Letts, Calimans and Guys forming ties with each other through marriages and common family backgrounds while living in Maryland and Virginia.
These families were pioneers in Ohio, in the areas of civil rights, education and voting. The Lett Settlement descendants reflect a rich heritage and history. Ohio became like a hub for the Underground Railroad where there were jobs and opportunities for freed slaves.
Lett family history can be traced back to 1683 and the arrival of ancestor Molly Welsh, an English dairy maid and the grandmother of Benjamin Banneker, America’s First African-American Man of Science. After serving seven years as an indentured servant for being falsely accused of the crime of theft, Molly Welsh was freed and eventually purchased her own small farm in Maryland. While she prospered, she knew that she would need help on the farm, and began to save money. Although Molly was opposed to slavery, she purchased two slaves and after a period of time freed both. She eventually married one of them—who was named Bannaka—an African Prince from the Wolof Kingdom of Walo, located in Senegal. Molly took her husband’s surname which eventually became Banneker.
The couple had four daughters, the eldest of whom was named Mary. Mary married a former slave, who had converted to Christianity and changed his name to Robert and took his wife’s last name. They had five children; a son and three daughters... Benjamin, Jemima, Minta and Molly.
Benjamin is noted in United States history as an astronomer, whose accomplishments included building a wooden striking clock after studying the workings of a pocket watch, assisting in the boundary survey of Washington, D.C., and publishing numerous almanacs for Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The major events at the reunion took place at the Muskingum County Fairgrounds. Members of the Board of Directors of The Friends of Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum, Inc. journeyed to Zanesville with an extensive exhibit to share information and acknowledge the history, legacy and preservation of Banneker’s life and times. Other exhibitors included a Black American Western exhibit, the Underground Railroad, Paynes Crossing which was provided by the U.S. Forest Service, the Colored Troops and related Civil War History, the Cumberland Families Photographic Display, U.S. Civil War Naval Pictorial and Artifacts, Sons and Daughters of Slavery, and researched genealogical information.
The event opened with a prayer of thankfulness and guidance, a citation was presented by Zanesville Mayor, Jack Fenton, and recognition given to Ruth Caliman Brown who at 101 years of age is the oldest living descendant. Individual family histories were presented to include... Storytelling, “Life of Molly Bannaky”, by Ms. Virginia Keeping, and “Virginia and Carolina Plantation Life” by Ms. Alexandra Lett. On Sunday morning, the Letts and related family members traveled to Lydiesburg cemetery to pay homage to the ancestors buried there.
Robert Lett, the coordinator of the reunion said he has never met a person in his great extended family that was shy to talk about family history. Gwen Marable, the 5th generation great granddaughter of Jemima Banneker Lett is a member of The Friends’ board.