Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 10 February 2012 00:00
Denise Evans-Sheppard is one of those Oyster Bay people who can say “my great-grandparents lived here.” It is something that happens more often than you might expect in this historic village that many families truly call home. For Denise and her relations – home is on The Hill, where the family homestead is located off Pine Hollow Road and where she still lives with her husband, Kelly Sheppard, and son Kai. “My husband and I were married in Hawaii,” she said. They named Kai, 7, in third grade at Vernon, after one of the wonderful people they met in Hawaii. “It means love in Hawaiian and life in Hebrew. I researched the name,” said Denise.
Research is one of the things she does most naturally. For many years she has been known as the family historian; last year she decided it was time to write the family’s history in the book, The Struggle Within, that she discussed at the Oyster Bay Historical Society meeting on Feb. 7.Joseph Carll, her great-great uncle was an “editor-printer” for the Oyster Bay Pilot newspaper. “He was one of the editors and printers and the only one of his siblings that had that trade. The Struggle Within is about the struggles of race and family to be focused and decided to stay in this area for over 150 years. We have struggled to maintain our property, The Hill.”
There is even more to the story of the Carll family. “My great-grandfather was married to a white woman. In 1862, David Carll married Mary Louisa Appleford. It was one of the first interracial marriages to have been taken place in Oyster Bay. They were married by a Presbyterian minister, Tom Rice. When my grandfather was growing up, he knew many of his cousins on his grandmother’s side of the family – he was going to school with them – I don’t know today if they are still around. It would be nice if they were still here and it would be nice to see what their perspective was and interesting to know their stories,” said Denise.
She said, “My great-grandmother is not buried with the family in Pine Hollow Cemetery. She is buried in East Norwich. She was not allowed to be buried there, together with her husband. She died in 1899, and she is buried in East Norwich.”
Ms. Evans-Sheppard said, “Mr. and Mrs. Weeks donated the property for the cemetery, as well as the church property to the Hood African Methodist Episcopal Zion Congregation which I belong to. The founders of the church had been conducting their religious studies in their homes when the Weeks decided to donate the cemetery land and the church land, ‘to the colored people’ as they were called.
“The cemetery was ‘for the colored people’ but Reverend Nelson has allowed other people to be buried there. Some are Catholic and some Jewish - other denominations and other races. So my thing was - it could be a good thing because my great-grandmother is not there but maybe we can have a headstone for her too, or a marker.
“Actually I would love to establish a historic district in Pine Hollow, the gateway to Oyster Bay. Telling the story that they were free people and worked hard to make the community the best it could be at that time. They also served in many of the nation’s wars.
“David Carll was born in 1795, his parents were free and he was a free person of color. His parents Louis and Catherine Robinson came from Cold Spring Harbor and lived on the Jones estate near the fish hatchery and attended the St. John’s Episcopal Church.
“I love history. I would consider myself a historian. I love the fact that I can share my history with others and those interested in it. It’s a wonderful history,” she said.
Denise Evans-Sheppard said she has been working on the book this past year. She said, “I finally decided to sit down and pen it. But there was a lot of research before that: researching the census, collecting family photographs and speaking to relatives. Vanessa Williams (the Miss America of 1984) contacted me regarding the television show Do You Know Who You Are?, which she appeared on, and asked me and other relatives to help with. I spoke to the producers and with Mr. John Hammond (Oyster Bay Town Historian who appeared in the TV show talking to Ms. Williams). The producers came from California and I assisted them with photographs and introduced them to Joseph Carll’s daughter, Peggy Carll, who will be 91 in August. She lives in Oyster Bay in the Norwich Gates apartments.”
The TV program Who Do You Think You Are? told the story of Vanessa Williams’ connection to David Carll, a soldier in the Civil War who was from Oyster Bay and is buried in Pine Hollow Cemetery. “She contacted me and several other relatives and town historian John Hammond,” Denise said.
Mr. Hammond told the story of the TV show saying, “There were two particular units that fought in the Civil War that were more than passing interest to Oyster Bay: the Harris Light Cavalry, the unit that the most number of Oyster Bay soldiers were in: 124 served in the unit; and information on the 20th and 26th U.S. Colored - which were the black regiments that were formed. That was the one we featured in the television show I was in with Vanessa Williams - that her great, great grandfather David Carll of Oyster Bay served in. That was the regiment that James Roosevelt, TR’s uncle, formed. He was the bookkeeper for the Union League of New York City.”
Ms. Evans-Sheppard said, “Peggy Carll is excited in seeing the family and the information that will be discussed at the Oyster Bay Historical Society on Tuesday, Feb. 9.”
She herself is excited by telling the story of her family. “Wow, this is about someone directly related to me - David Carll. I’m so happy to have other people interested in hearing the story. It’s nice to share it with the community,” she said.
Denise said, “With all the other issues going on in the world, we decided to stay in Oyster Bay. It was always a struggle to sustain and maintain our living here.”
Over the years the family has maintained close relationships centered around the family homestead. She said, “The way our Carll descendants refer to this area is as The Hill. Now I’m living in a house my mother was born in and grandfather and great-grandfather were born in. It’s fun when the descendants come back. Frank Carll and Gilbert McDonald were here every day, growing up. Their parents bring them every day. And Vanessa Williams came visiting the great aunts and uncles regularly. But now that they are gone - they have passed on - they don’t come back as often.
“It’s good to know that I am close with my first cousins to fourth cousins. I know them and they all have a relationship with each other and are all tied to The Hill as far as coming back and hearing stories told by our grandparents.”
“That was basically the premise of the book,” she said. “My grandfather had told me what had transpired in the family when he was a kid but in school they didn’t teach that. When I grew up the Civil Rights Movement was just beginning. My mother said my great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran... but I sort of pooh-poohed it.
“Research introduced me to the members of the family who didn’t live here. I went to the Town of Oyster Bay archives and the census material and found out that what my grandfather told me was true.
“It was a journey for me. It’s like a bug you catch and can’t stop. The journey is worth it.” She said she loved seeing John Hammond, Oyster Bay Town Historian writing about her family when he had a column in The Oyster Bay Guardian on the history of the area. “I found Mr. Hammond’s research was interesting at that time and it confirmed what my grandparents said.
“It makes the whole community so much better when we can embrace each other’s cultures,” she added.
Ms. Evans-Sheppard graduated from Oyster Bay High School in 1984. She graduated from C.W. Post with a BA in criminal justice in 1989, and with her master’s degree in criminal justice in 1999.
Denise has been working for Nassau County since 1990. “I began in 1993, working in ‘Juvie Hall’, right now I’m a supervisor in one of the facilities. We deal with juvenile delinquents and offenders. We currently merged with the Department of Probations. It’s hard with all the cuts happening in the county and not knowing what will happen next. It’s really scary and we’re putting in a lot of time, trying to do our best. We are doing a service for the kids. They need structure and stability and that’s what we try to do for them. They often come back and say, ‘Ms. Sheppard, I’m doing well. I’m working or I’ve gone to school and graduated.’ Then you see them later. Now they are parents and you see their children are coming through the system and you see that it’s a cycle that is hard to break. But if you save just one, you know you are doing okay.
“With my son, we try to raise him with sports and activities so he doesn’t have any room to do anything else,” she said. Her husband Kelly Sheppard is an assistant to CSEA Local President Jerry Larasuda. “So we both have to be walking on eggshells,” she said, explaining the feeling of being in a part of the Nassau County Police System that is currently experiencing staff cuts.
“I’m not telling all the stories in this book, but I‘ve received a few offers to do other things and I’m looking to see where this will lead me. I’m happy to have spoken to people who know my family and to Peggy Carll and Frank McDonald. Peggy Carll attends the senior center in Oyster Bay every day and she has been such a help with photos and information on her siblings in the Carll family. It’s nice to see the different cultures and nice talking to Frank,” Denise said. It’s nice to think that there is more to hear from Denise.
Ms. Evans-Sheppard had copies of her book and CD for sale at the Oyster Bay Historical Society. For more information please call 922-5032.