Perhaps you can relate: the other day, when Google flashed up their daily doodle with an homage to a lady by the name of Barbara May Cameron, I was prepared to ignore it completely. I don’t usually pay much attention to the headlines of the day—for me, today’s “news cycle” just has a way of making everything way too complicated. However, perhaps it was the artwork, or what’s left of this old curmudgeon’s curiosity, but I decided to go back and take a second look. Just who was Barbara May Cameron, and why did I need to know about her?
I admit, I was surprised to learn about the life of a rather incredible person, who clearly made a great impact on the communities she championed during the course of her short life. Barbara May (Lind) Cameron (22 May 1954—12 February 2002) was a writer, artist, and activist. A Hunkpapa Lakota from the Fort Yates band of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she worked at the intersection of her Native American and lesbian identities. She advocated for LGBTQ+ acceptance in Native American communities, and spoke out against racism within LGBTQ+ spaces.1 It’s easy to see why she deserved the respect she garnered. However, I wanted to know more about her than what might have appeared in the media—and as you may be able to predict, I found myself curious about her ancestry.
She was born in 1954 at Fort Yates, North Dakota, the tribal headquarters of the Standing Rock Sioux—as I dug in, I was immediately met with Barbara’s rich Native American ancestry.2 Yet as I perused family trees and vital records adjacent to the immediate generations surrounding her, I noticed something that surprised me: her paternal grandfather was a man named Andrew Larson Lind, born in Sweden.3 Before I knew it, Barbara’s lineage had taken me many places. I found French Canadians and Dutch lines that had married into both sides of her Native American heritage. Then I found the name of her great-great-grandfather, Charles Hiler Gage (1847-1879), and things took an interesting turn.
You see, Charles’ own great-great-grandfather was Obediah Newton (1702-1753). Obediah’s life was well-documented, and his origins extend back to—you guessed it—Massachusetts. His wife was a woman known in the old genealogies as Abigail.4 I could find no hint of Abigail’s maiden name in those genealogies, or in any records I was able to peruse. However, this “Abigail” is found in a whopping 1,904 online family trees, and is presumed to be one Abigail Baxter, the daughter of John Baxter and Desire Gorham. These family trees suggest that Abigail is the great-great-granddaughter of Mayflower passengers John Howland, and his wife Elizabeth Tilley.
I know, I know: online family trees should be taken with a grain of salt, or several. Nevertheless, there is a possible mention of said Abigail Baxter in the Boston Evening Transcript who may or may not be our “Abigail” in question.5 While this mention of Abigail will still require a quick trip to the Family History Library, still it will be good to see just what clues about her might yet exist. Will she prove to be the “Abigail” referred to in published genealogies and the presumed Abigail Baxter, daughter of John and Desire? It’s hard to say. Any incidental records don’t seem to support that John and Desire ever had a daughter named Abigail, and as of yet I’m unable to determine if the Newton and Baxter families intersected well enough to make this potential “Abigail (Baxter) Newton” even possible.
When I first started looking, I never expected that the ancestry of Barbara May Cameron might claim a descent twice over from a Mayflower passenger, even anecdotally. It strikes me as somehow wonderful that a woman like Barbara, a true and avid activist for Native American and LGBTQ rights, should have more or less parts of the same ancestry, as well, me. It reminds me of the connections between us, even with all our differences, and the complex history that continues to shape all of us today. From her roots in the Native American tribes of the upper Midwest and lower Canada, to her Swedish and French Canadian fur trapping forbearers, to her ties to Dutch settlers, and yes, to the possibility of her Mayflower descent, Barbara May Cameron was about as American as it gets.
1 “Happy Birthday Barbara May Cameron, Legendary Lesbian Native American Activist” https://www.them.us/story/barbara-may-cameron-google-doodle
2 “Barbara Cameron” https://prideisaprotest.com/5
3 See: U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, Ancestry.com, for Andrew Lind 1884-1945
4 “Abigail” as taken from: Leonard, Ermina Elizabeth (Newton),. Newton genealogy, genealogical, biographical, and historical, being a record of the descendants of Richard Newton of Sudbury and Marlborough, Massachusetts 1638, with genealogies of families descended from the immigrants Rev. Roger Newton of Milford, Connecticut, Thomas Newton of Fairfield, Connecticut, Matthew Newton of Stonington, Connecticut, Newtons of Virginia, Newtons near Boston. De Pere, Wis.: B.A. Leonard, 1915, p. 75
5 American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI), Ancestry.com, for “Abigail Baxter” Volume 11, page 119, Oct 1932.