Former Hesston College instructors Sharon Cranford, Wichita, Kan., and Dwight Roth, Hesston, have released their book, “Kinship Concealed: Amish Mennonites/African-American Family Connections” (Legacy Book Publishing, 2013) – the story of Cranford’s, an African American Baptist, and Roth’s, a white Mennonite-Episcopalian, unexpected shared heritage.
Part semi-autobiographical and part historical fiction, the book documents the historical multi-racial lineage of Amish brothers Jacob and John Mast who immigrated from Switzerland to Philadelphia, Pa.
Jacob, Roth’s ancestor, stayed in Pennsylvania and became the first Amish bishop ordained in the United States while John, Cranford’s ancestor, left the Amish church and moved south during the peak of slavery in America.
John’s grandson, Rueben, became a slave owner in North Carolina and fathered a child with a slave girl – the child became Cranford’s great-great-grandfather, Charley Mast.
The duo will celebrate the book and family connections with a gathering for descendants of Jacob and John Mast on July 29 at Conestoga Mennonite Church, Morgantown, Pa., near where Jacob Mast lived and ministered more than 250 years ago.
Cranford and Roth did not know each other until they were both teaching in Hesston College’s social science department – and they definitely didn’t know about their common lineage.
During a casual lunch gathering on campus in 2004, Roth’s attention was grabbed when he overheard Cranford’s tell another colleague that her great grandmother’s maiden name was Mast. He quickly noted that his mother’s maiden name was also Mast.
Roth, who taught at Hesston from 1973 to 2010, had an interest in his family’s genealogy and asked a few questions of Cranford to see if they might stem from the same Mast branch. When Cranford answered Roth’s questions correctly, the two made their way to the college library to further explore their unexpected discovery in the C.Z. Mast Geneaology book. There, their suspicions were confirmed when they found both family lines.
To read more, see this week's print edition.