African American Studies
INTERVIEWER: Mark Naison, Natasha Lightfoot, Brian Purnell
INTERVIEWEE: Richard Burbridge, Doris Burbridge
SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell
Richard and Doris Burbridge conduct genealogical research in order to find out more about their respective families’ history. Richard’s mother was from New Orleans and his father was from Biloxi, Mississippi. The couple met in Biloxi, and moved to New York, where Richard and his two siblings were born. Upon taking a genealogy class at the Queens Public Library in 1992, Richard decided to conduct some research on his own roots. He soon found out that his family also had roots in Kentucky: his great-grandfather (Thomas) was a slave who had been sold into military service during the Civil War. Records show that he was from Lexington, KY, and was 22 at the time. While his owners’ name was Fleming, the family name Burbridge came about because Thomas had been willed to the Flemings by the Burbridge family—this family included the controversial Union general Stephen “Butcher” Burbridge. He had a successful military career: he was one of 150 black officers total, as compared to 275,000 black men who fought in the war. Obviously, the vast majority of officers were white. During the war, Thomas fought in Kentucky and Virginia, and upon the South’s surrender, the regiment was sent to Texas to deal with the remaining rebel troops. At war’s end, Thomas Burbridge was granted his freedom, and he moved to New Orleans and then to Biloxi, where he died in 1885. Richard and Doris discovered that Thomas was literate at the time he was enlisted, and that he enrolled in Borea College, a small integrated school in Kentucky, after the war was over.
Doris Burbridge (nee Devonish) grew up in the Bronx. Born in 1936, she was raised by her mother because her father (who was from Barbados) had died before she was born. Her mother and father had met in the Bronx, and during his lifetime, Burbridge’s father was a stone-setter. He was also a Garveyite and was part of the United African League and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Her mother, born in 1898, was from Antigua, and arrived at Ellis Island in 1916. Unable to pursue her intended career as a doctor, she worked as a domestic, taking care of children. The Devonishes stayed involved in the New York Antiguan community, throughout the Bronx and Manhattan. They had a number of cousins living in the area, and so Doris had an “Antiguan” upbringing, complete with many different kinds of traditional Antiguan food. Her mother stressed education a great deal: all seven of the Devonish children graduated from high school, and Doris herself graduated from Hunter College with a degree in sociology. Doris found Bronx public elementary-middle education rather lackluster, especially when she attended Roosevelt High School and found a much more demanding curriculum.
In the last part of the interview, the Burbridges share some of their research methods and findings. Doris is descended from Antiguan fisherman and laborers, and Richard has found a wealth of connections between Thomas Burbridge and other members of the family. Both have done a large amount of research on their respective families, and they display a good deal of factual evidence for their claims, including naturalization applications, maps, signatures, receipts, etc. They encourage young people these days to ask questions about their ancestry and their roots, and to do some serious research for themselves, even when that requires a good deal of reading, travel, and persistence.
Burbridge, Richard and Doris. Interview 2. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Collection at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Burbridge, Richard and Doris Interview 2.mp3 (148224 kB)