So I think I found something I’ve been looking for for many, many years — the birthdate of Fr. Raphael Morgan, the first black Orthodox priest in America.
First, the backstory. Until now, the closest I’ve been able to get to nailing down a birthdate for Fr. Raphael is to say, “circa 1864 to 1871.” I got those dates by working backwards from a ships’ passenger manifests:
- Reported as 30 years old on a May 1895 ship manifest, suggesting a birth year of 1864-65.
- Reported as 38 years old on a December 1907 ship manifest, suggesting a birth year of 1869.
- Reported as 40 years old on a November 1911 ship manifest, suggesting a birth year of 1871.
- Reported as 45 years old on an October 1914 ship manifest, suggesting a birth year of 1869.
So, 1864 to 1871. That was as close as I could get — until now.
I was poking around on the genealogical website FamilySearch.org and stumbled onto the baptismal records of the Anglican parish of Clarendon, Jamaica. Now, you have to understand, the baptismal records of the Anglican parish of Clarendon, Jamaica are documents I have wanted to see for many years. I knew that Fr. Raphael (born Robert Josias Morgan) was born in Chapelton, Clarendon, Jamaica, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could find him in the local Anglican baptismal records. But that would require a trip to Jamaica, which, hey, that sounds great, but I can’t just fly to Jamaica for a little historical research project, you know? But the Internet — man, there’s SO MUCH to be found on the Internet.
OK, so I’ll stop beating around the bush. I actually found TWO Robert Josias Morgans in the baptismal records of the Anglican parish of Clarendon, Jamaica:
- The first Robert Josiah Morgan was born on April 23, 1863 and was christened on August 9 of the same year. His home, at the time, was in Clarendon, which is where Fr. Raphael always said he was born.
- The second Robert Josiah Morgan was born on October 7, 1866 and was christened on September 13, 1868. His home was in… well, I can’t read it. It’s written in a flowery cursive, and I can’t make out what it says, or find anything that matches online. But (1) it’s definitely not Chapelton (our Morgan’s reported birthplace), and (2) it looks sort of like “Kellets” or something like that.
Leave it to Fr. Raphael Morgan to make even a “Eureka!” discovery sort of ambiguous, with two Robert Josiah Morgans born in roughly the correct time frame. Which suggests three possibilities:
- Two Robert Josiah Morgans with no connection to each other were randomly born three years apart and baptized in the Chapelton parish. After all, Morgan is a common name in Jamaica (not so sure about Robert Josiah Morgan, though).
- The two Roberts are brothers — the first died in infancy and the second was given his name. This was fairly common in those days.
- The two Roberts are cousins or otherwise related in some way.
So it’s still a mystery, sort of, but I think we can safely narrow Fr. Raphael Morgan’s birthdate to either April 23, 1863 or October 7, 1966 (or, if you prefer, “circa 1863-66”). Which, incidentally, means that that Fr. Raphael fudged his age on most (or all) of the documents we have.
Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880, digitized and published at www.familysearch.org and accessed June 4, 2014.