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Finding Quander: The journey of one of America’s oldest documented black families

The Quander Family is one of the oldest and consistently documented African-American family names in the United States of America.

Michael Quander

Published: 11/17/2017 2:22:38 PM
Updated: 9:00 PM EST November 19, 2017

The Quander Family is one of the oldest and consistently documented African-American family names in the United States of America.

It is not every day that a black family in America can document its roots dating back to more than 330 years into the history books.

Often, records of African-American slaves were not accurate or documents were not kept at all.

Families were torn apart and lost history, languages, and their names.

As the Quanders prayed inside of a family home in Northeast, D.C., you could see their story shining through their eyes.

“I definitely have felt a lot of pride,” Jamila Stone, Vice President of Quanders United, said.

It was like the history could be felt overflowing onto the dinner table.

The family sat together with a promise to never let their story and legacy fade away.

“I said ‘oh, yes Lord.’ This is our story,” Robin Whitmore-Quander said. “This is the Quander story right here.”

The Quander story at Mount Vernon

A portion of the Quander story takes you to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

At the time of Washington's death, records show the first president of the United States of America and first lady owned more than 300 slaves.

The slaves had various jobs at Mount Vernon, but most of them worked the fields on several farms across the nearly 8,000-acre estate.

Records at Mount Vernon show President Washington began questioning the morality of slavery during his life span, but he kept his views a secret until his death.

President Washington freed the slaves he owned in his will of 1799.

However, more than half of the slaves at Mount Vernon were still considered property of Martha Custis Washington’s family and neither she nor the president had the right to set them free.

Despite his will, the 123 slaves Washington freed weren't released until two years later in 1801.

On the list of slaves to be freed was a young woman raised on the River Farm named Nancy who later became known as Nancy Carter Quander.

Exploring my family's history

As a Quander raised in D.C. I have always known the history but never explored past the surface level to connect with my family’s storied past.

The story of discovery within the Quander family goes deep, and my personal journey started at home with my father.

“Of course, everybody says my father looks like me,” Michael Quander, Sr. said. “I think the resemblance is there,” he laughed.

Michael Quander, Sr. is my father, and his parents’ names are Clarence Claudius Quander and Helen Quander.

Clarence Claudius and Helen Quander had a total of seven children.

Quander Historical Society 

Clarence Claudius’ parents were Clarence Aloyisius Quander, Sr. and Jennie Thomas Quander.

Family documents trace my father’s direct family line to his great-great grandparents in the early 1800’s.

Their names were Charles Henry Quander and Lucinda Hodge who had at least 14 kids together.

My grandfather, Clarence Claudius Quander, served in the army and later died as a civilian when my dad was 10 years old.

“The pain you feel from a loss is always going to be with you for the rest of your life,” Michael Quander, Sr. explained.

Michael Quander, Sr. and some of his siblings credit their grandmother, Jennie “Nanny” Quander for instilling family values in them.

Still, things were never the same after his father, Clarence Claudius Quander, passed away.

“He made sure that we always went around to visit other family members and things of that nature, but his passing – we kind of reverted into ourselves and we stayed just amongst ourselves. We didn’t branch out and reach out to other family members,” Michael Quander, Sr. said.

My father’s story helps to explain me and my sister’s early disconnection from the Quander family.

"Details of the Quander family's history and legacy were right at my fingertips."

Details of the Quander family’s history and legacy were right at my fingertips.

It was just a matter of making calls, sending emails, and showing up at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) at Howard University to do the work.

The full Quander Family archives are located at the MSRC, “one of the world's largest and most comprehensive repositories for the documentation of the history and culture of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world.”

While I always knew the documents existed, I’d never seen them with my own eyes.

Rohulamin Quander, who is the founder and president of the Quander Historical and Educational Society, spent years digging through archives in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Cousin Ro, as many family members call him, also documented oral history told by elders in the family.

“Everybody of the Quander family was not enslaved by George Washington, but the connection to George Washington is real. The family from the Quander from Mount Vernon – real,” Rohulamin Quander said.

Oral history traced the Quander name back to Ghana in West Africa where family members have reconnected.

Oral history traced the Quander name back to Ghana in West Africa where family members have reconnected.

“Now, this picture is very important because it is just a tree, but it represents a lot,” Rohulamin Quander explained as he shared pictures of his excursion to Ghana.

Historians said African ancestors revealed slave traders captured Egya Eduam Amkwando at a location between two family villages and was taken away.

Amaquandoh (Amkwandoh) Family members gather in the court yard of the Amaquandoh (Amkwandoh) Memorial House (Quander Historical Society, Inc.)  

“This is the Amkwandoh home. There they are standing and posing,” Rohulamin Quander continued to show pictures.

It is believed the name Quander came from Amkwandoh of the Fanti Tribe.

One theory from ancestral family members explained the name was lost in translation when slave ship masters believed the Ghanaian name Amkwandoh sounded like “I am Quando.”

By the 1700’s, the “o” in “Quando” faded away and was replaced with an “er.”

The name transformed to what we now know as Quander.

The name transformed to what we now know as Quander.

“Being able to really connect – as you said – the family name from ‘Amo,’ ‘I am Quando,’ to ‘Quander,” Sandy Rattley said at the dinner table.

It is believed Egya Amkwandoh had two sons – Henry Quando and another who seemed to have disappeared.

“We always remember hearing there were Quanders that were all related and that there were two brothers. One went one direction and one went the other.”

“We always remember hearing there were Quanders that were all related and that there were two brothers. One went one direction and one went the other,” Rose Quander recalled.

The Quander family is broken up into four main branches

While there are a lot of gray areas and things we just do not know, one of the oldest documents shows a list with a variation of the Quander name in the 1670’s.

Another one of the oldest documents about the Quanders came from the Maryland side of the family during the colonial days in 1684.

The record still exists in Annapolis at the Maryland State Archives.

“Today we’re going to look at the Charles County wills for Henry Adams,” Maya Davis, who is a research archivist for the study of the legacy of slavery in Maryland with the Maryland State Archives, said.

Henry Adams was a colonial legislator and slave owner in Charles County, Maryland.

His will is the oldest detailed document in the country where a variation of the Quander name is found.

“And there we have ‘it is my will and pleasure that immediately after my death that Henry Quando and Margaret Pugg be freed to all intents and purposes as though they were no negros.’ So, there you have the first reference to your ancestors here,” Davis read and explained.

Rattley said, “The idea of coming together has always been very central to who we are.”

The Quanders have had reunions every year without fail since 1926.

“At one point when Ronald Reagan was president talking about the oldest documented black family in history. Say what? I think I might have been in high school when I heard about that,” Michelle Reedy, President of Quanders United, expressed.

The family’s tricentennial reunion was celebrated in 1984 and received national recognition and media coverage.

The Quanders were also involved in helping to preserve slave history at Mount Vernon where remains of dozens of slaves have been found in unmarked graves.

The slaves’ graves have no tombstones, and it is unknown exactly how many bodies are in this ground.

“We looked around through the trees. Some of our ancestors are buried right here among us,” Robin Whitmore-Quander remembered attending one of the family reunions. “It was just – I mean just cold chills just came over me.”

A memorial for slaves was established, and an exhibit to display what slavery was like at Mount Vernon exists.

It is called ‘Lives Bound Together,’ and Nancy Carter Quander is listed as one of the 19 slaves whose story is highlighted.

Nancy became a Quander after marrying a free man named Charles Quander.

There are no clear records of where Charles Quander came from before he married Nancy, but it is believed that all of the Quanders are decedents of Henry Quando, his lost brother, or Egya Amkwandoh.

Mount Vernon’s first black interpreter guide was a Quander named Gladys Quander Tancil, and another family member – Jay Quander -- also worked there.

“I’m like wow. It’s almost like we’ve come full circle. Our parents used to be slaves, forefathers – slaves here, but my son – he’s the director of food and beverage. So, you know that was really something,” Henrietta Marie Quander said proudly.

The Quanders went from being slaves and farmers to teachers and administrators.

“We used to raise chickens, a cow, and a pig,” Florida Quander-Ford said.

“They inspired me,” Evelyn Quander-Rattley, a 93-years-old family member said about her aunts. “I look to them for inspiration and because of them I became a teacher.”

The family broke free from chains and became heroes for people to look up to.

Nellie Quander was a co-incorporator and first international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc.

Elizabeth “Sis” Quander was a singer with Duke Ellington.

Paul Quander was a former deputy mayor for public safety and justice in D.C., and Rohulamin Quander is an author and retired judge.

General Vincent Brooks is also a descendant of the Quander family.

He is currently the United Nations Command and Combined Forces Command over the United States Forces Korea.

“The Quander name kept showing up in the right place,” Rohulamin Quander said proudly.

The Quander name can be found on Quander Road School in Fairfax County and several street signs across the DMV area.

The Quander name can be found on Quander Road School in Fairfax County and several street signs across the DMV area.

“Everyone in the area knows something about the Quander name,” Jamila Stone said.

Evelyn Quander-Rattley said, “It stands for something. It is up to us as elders to try to pass that on.”

The experiences make us who we are, and, like many families, we do not know everything.

Parts of the Quander backstory are lost somewhere between the pages of history that may never be uncovered.

“I took this interest to make it a very important project to document, verify, share – to preserve and share,” Rohulamin Quander said.

Sitting around the dinner table, Quander family members said the key to preserving history and protecting a rich legacy is through education, faith, and focus.

This African-American family hopes that through their stories of perseverance and rising from the ashes that people are inspired to dig deeper into their own heritage and stand strong in the face of adversity.

“That candle is still burning. It hasn’t gone out. We are that flame to keep the candle burning,” Robin Whitmore-Quander said.

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