Sam Lemon family history


Sam Lemon family history
Lemon, Sam

Genealogy of the Ridley Family

by Sam Lemon, Ph.D.

This genealogical information involves my maternal ancestors, the Ridley family of Media, PA. This history was compiled from the family's oral tradition, genealogies, archival documents and photographs, and the U.S. Census. The oral history and most of the vintage photographs were passed down to me by my maternal grandmother, Maud Ray Ridley Ortiga, the only child of William Henry Ridley, Esq., and his wife Josepha Constancia Philips. The archival documents were obtained by me through primary research.

The history of the Cornelius Ridley family of Media, Pa. is intertwined with the history of America, and provides a compelling connection to major events, culture, and society. 

First generation

The story begins with the birth of Cornelius Ridley in 1839, near Capron (called "Jerusalem" at that time) in Southampton County, Virginia, in the slave quarters of the Bonnie Doon Plantation owned by his father, Col. Thomas Ridley, III. Eight years earlier in 1831, the Nat Turner Rebellion occurred there. As head of the Southampton County militia, Col. Ridley was instrumental in helping to capture Nat Turner. Col. Ridley's grandfather, Col. Thomas Ridley, I, fought at the Battle of Brandywine with the Virginia Regiment during the American Revolution. The Ridleys emigrated to Virginia from England in the mid-1600's. Over the generations they became wealthy and influential planters, statesmen, and soldiers.

Cornelius was the illegitimate slave son of Col. Ridley. He reported that he "never knew his mother." While no information concerning Conelius' mother is known to the family, she was almost certainly a mulatto slave on the Ridley plantation.

By the end of the Civil War, the Ridleys owned six plantations in Virginia. Col. Thomas Ridley, III, was one of the wealthiest planters in Virginia, who owned some 300 slaves. On the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules of the U.S. Census, perhaps a dozen are designed as "mulatto." A 12 year old male mulatto slave appears on the 1850 Schedule, and later appears on the 1860 Schedule, both of whom are highly likely to be Cornelius. Cornelius was very fair skinned and looked like a Ridley family member. He was treated well on the plantation and worked as a carriage driver for the family. This position gave him rare trust, and an opportunity to move about the county and acquire critical geographic knowledge, which few slaves had, because it was deliberately kept from them.

Cornelius Ridley met, courted and married Martha Jane Parham (born 1840) who was enslaved on the Fortsville Plantation of John Y. Mason. Located at the intersection of Sussex, Southampton, and Greensville County, VA. Martha Jane's parents were George Day and Mary Moore but nothing else is known about them. Her experience was diametrically opposed to Cornelius', as she was forced to be a breeding woman beginning at the age of 14, until she escaped the plantation in 1864 with just two of her children.

Cornelius and Martha Jane had a slave marriage in Virginia, known as "jumping the broom." Cornelius escaped slavery by walking 300 miles to Media, PA, probably in 1861 just before the start of the Civil War. Almost certainly, with the help of Quakers, since the Blackwater Quaker Meeting was located in Southampton County, not far from the Bonnie Doon Plantation. Because of his red hair, green eyes, and light complexion, Cornelius said he was never stopped or questioned along the way, because everyone he met assumed he was a white man.

After arriving in Media, he was given shelter by Isaac and Elizabeth Smedley Yarnall, who were members of Providence Friends Meeting and lived with them for a period of time. He got work as a delivery driver for Hawley & Snowden's Hardware Store in Media, driving a mule team wagon.

Martha Jane, with two of her children, nine year old George and two year old Rachael, her brother, Andison Parham and his two year old daughter Sarah, waited until the Union Army was marching by their plantation on the way to Petersburg, and escaped to the Union lines where they were given refuge. Martha Jane and Andison found work at the Union army camp during the siege of Petersburg 1864-1865. She carried water and did laundry for the soldiers, while her brother cut wood and drove a wagon for the troops.

At some point during or near the end of the Siege of Petersburg, Martha Jane and her brother, along with the three children, made their way to Arlington Heights, a refugee camp at one of the Union forts encircling Washington, D.C. Andison got a job as a gardener at Arlington National Cemetery, formerly the property of General Robert E. Lee which was seized by the Union Army to bury the dead.

Andison remained in Alexandria, VA while Martha Jane traveled north. Martha Jane and her two children continued on to Pennsylvania, certainly with the help of Quakers and the Underground Railroad, to reunite with Cornelius in Media, PA. It's very likely she had other children she was forced to leave behind, but nothing is known about them, and she never spoke of her life in Virginia.

Second generation

After living temporarily with Isaac and Elizabeth Smedley Yarnal, Cornelius, Martha Jane, George (Washington), and Rachael moved to the County Poor House. Afterward, they lived in what is now called the Minshall House, at Front Street and Providence Road, across from the Providence Friends Meetinghouse. Their son William Henry Ridley was born there on June 12, 1867. In 1871, his sister Rosa Ann was born, likely at the Minshall House.

Since Cornelius and Martha Jane both had jobs, he was a delivery wagon driver and she did laundry and white washing of houses, they saved enough money to buy a new house at 308 N. Olive Street, in Media. The house remained in the family for a century before the property was sold and the house torn down. Cornelius and Martha Jane were prominent members of the community and were attended the Campbell A.M.E. Church at 3rd & Olive Streets in Media.

William was sickly as a child, with some illness that affected his sight. Though he started school late, he graduated from Media High School with honors, on June 12, 1887. He then "read law" in the office of Louis H. Richards, a prominent local attorney. Four years later he passed the bar exam and was admitted to the Delaware County Bar as its first Black attorney, on March 23, 1891.

William Ridley was widely respected in the legal, and local community, serving both Black and white clients. He was also a member of the Philadelphia Bar. His legal career spanned an amazing 54 years, paving the way for other Black attorneys. He was a mentor to Robert A. Wright, who became the first Black judge in Media in 1960. He enlisted in the Spanish American War in 1898, but the war ended before his regiment was shipped out. In 1917, he enlisted in the Colored Officers Training School at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa.

He met his future wife, Josepha Constancia Philips (1858-1950), of St. Croix, through mutual friends in Washington, D.C., where they were married on October 10, 1889. Josepha was a refined woman, and a clairvoyant, who often took in sick children because she had a knack for healing. Their only child, Maud Ray Ridley, was born April 29, 1891 (died December 1985).

Of Cornelius and Martha Jane's three other children, the eldest, George Washington Ridley (1855-1933) owned a contracting business that worked on the foundation of Media High School in 1915. He later became a District Justice in Nether Providence. He is buried in Eden Cemetery in Collingdale with his siblings and parents.

Rachael Ann Ridley (1861-1944) became a secretary, and had one child, Elizabeth "Bessie" Ridley Nicholson.

Rosa Ann Ridley (1871-1956) became a nurse who had four children. One son, Casper Miller White, fought with the renowned Harlem Hellfighters (369th Infantry) in WW I, and along with his entire regiment, was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French military.

In 1920, William, locally referred to as "Lawyer Ridley," purchased a new home near 5th & Olive Streets, at the end of the Olive Street trolley line, where he and his wife Josepha, and Maud and her children resided.

Third generation

Maud Ray Ridley was the first child of color baptized at Christ Episcopal Church in Media, in 1891. She was a devoted lifelong member of the church. She had eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood. She was a great inspiration to me and was my link to my ancestors. Everything Maud told me about them turned out to be true, which I was able to confirm through documentary research. William H. Ridley died February 1, 1945, at his home in Media. His father Cornelius died in 1922, and his mother Martha Jane died in 1919. All are buried at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, PA. I continue to live in her house today, the house her father purchased in 1920 on North Olive Street.



Lemon, Sam, “Sam Lemon family history,” Media Historic Archives, accessed April 15, 2024,