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The Ghylls

The British Isles

I don't know a lot about the history of African descendants in the British Isles. I do know that Blacks, especially throughout the British Empire have a long history and tradition serving as seamen. In the early 1800s, nearly 20 percent of all ship crews sailing in and out of American ports were African-Americans. (Source: W. Jeffrey Bolster, "Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail," Harvard University Press, 1997.)

Blacks of African, American and British descent regularly sailed between the Caribbean, America and London. In 1807, the British Slave Trade was abolished. In 1834, the British Parliament abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. By the 1880s, London saw a steady decline in its Black population as West Indian planters brought in fewer blacks and as restrictions were established on immigrants from Africa. Small Black dockside communities began to build up in London's Canning Town, Liverpool and Cardiff. (Source: Thomas L. Blair, "The Shaping of Black London: A capsule history of Black Settlement in Britain's Capital", Chronicle World,, Internet.)

It is with this background in mind, that I introduce the first known ancestor of the Ghyll Family.

Three Generations of Seamen

Seymour Ghyll

Seymour Ghyll was born in Wales. His wife, Mary Watts, was born in Barbados. When Seymour Ghyll immigrated to Barbados, the authorities changed the spelling of the family name from Ghyll to Gill, which was a common name in Barbados. Years later when Seymour's son, Seymour Fitzgerald Ghyll, immigrated to America, he changed the family's name back to its original spelling of Ghyll.

Seymour and Mary Ghyll had two children, Seymour Fitzgerald Ghyll and George Ghyll. (Note: After Seymour's death, Mary Watts remarried. Children from that marriage settled in the United States, but that's the subject of another story.)

Seymour Fitzgerald Ghyll

Seymour Fitzgerald Ghyll was born in 1885 in St. Michael Parish, Barbados, West Indies. Just before his father died, Seymour made young Seymour Fitzgerald promise to take care of his younger brother George. Seymour thought that the only way that he could accomplish it was to take a job on a ship. At age 15, he lied about his age to get hired on with a crew. He initially worked out of Barbados. Later in his career, he sailed out of Boston, working for the Clyde Steamship Company (a.k.a. Clyde Line). By the end of his career, Seymour served as a steward for the Clyde Line.

Seymour Fitzgerald Ghyll married Constance Editha Chase. In 1906, Seymour and Constance Ghyll had their first child, Athlene Arnesta Ghyll. Constance immigrated to America with six of her friends in 1913. Her daughter Athlene remained behind in Barbados with her mother, Lavinia Chase. During the day, Athlene was taken care of by her aunt, Melda Spencer, Constance's half-sister. After several years of working and saving money, Constance paid the passage of another lady, so that the lady could bring Athlene to America. Athlene Ghyll, my grandmother, arrived in America on August 5, 1919.

Seymour and Constance had their second and third child in America, Seymour Fitzgerald Ghyll, Jr. in 1918 and Cameron Leon Ghyll in 1922.

Seymour Fitzgerald Ghyll later married Maude Calvert. Seymour, known by the family as "Pop", died in 1961.

(Source: Athlene (Ghyll) Sobers on 6/12/97, 6/16/97 and 6/19/97, Personal interview.)

George Ghyll

George Ghyll was born on March 10, 1890. He immigrated to the United States on June 15, 1909. He arrived on Ellis Island aboard the Steamship Titian. (Source: Immigration Record for G. Gill, American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island,, Internet.)

George Ghyll, like his father and brother, also became a merchant seaman.

George Ghyll died of acute appendicitis onboard a ship, New Year's day 1930, off of Ambrose Lightship, outside of New York Harbor. The ship may have been the Mohawk.

Seymour and George: Brothers at Sea

The records at the American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island documents several instances between 1919 and 1922 where George and Seymour served as crewmembers aboard merchant ships. The table below shows information taken from the original ship manifests when they arrived at Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

Voyages of Seymour and George Ghyll

Arrival Date Name Ship Departed From
22-Jan-1919 George Ghyll S.S. Sassenheim Antilla, Oriente, Cuba
30-Apr-1919 Seymour Ghyll S.S. Beatrice  
19-Jun-1919 George Ghyll S.S. Beatrice Matanzas, Cuba
19-Jun-1919 Seymore Ghyll S.S. Beatrice Matanzas, Cuba
17-Oct-1919 Seymour Ghyll S.S. Beatrice  
27-Oct-1919 George M. Ghyll S.S. Carolyn Rouen, Seine-Inferior, France
02-Feb-1920 George H. Ghyll S.S. Carolyn Lisbon, Portugal
13-Mar-1920 Fitz S. Ghyll S.S. Beatrice Smyrna, Turkey
02-Jul-1920 Beymore F. Ghyll S.S. Riverside Bridge Constantinople, Gibraltar
18-Dec-1920 Seymour F. Ghyll S.S. Riverside Bridge Swansea, Wales, UK
29-Mar-1921 Geo A. Ghyll S.S. Clare San Juan, Purto Rico
24-Apr-1921 Geo A. Ghyll S.S. Clare San Juan, Porto Rico
01-Aug-1921 George Ghyll S.S. Megali Hellas Piraeus, Attica, Central Greece, Euboea, Greece
15-Feb-1922 W. A. Ghyll S.S. Ruth Santiago de Cuba, Oriente, Cuba

Note: The table above maintains the errors contained in the original Ellis Islands manifests or transcribed into the Ellis Islands Records database.

I assume that most of the voyages of George and Seymour Ghyll were routine. However, one trip, probably in 1917, was far from routine.

During World War I, Seymour and George served together aboard a steamship that was torpedoed by a German submarine. The attack occurred in the middle of a shift change. One of the brothers was coming off duty, while the other was coming on. They had paused for a moment on deck to talk with one another when the torpedo hit. The ship was cut in half, and for several weeks, until each had written home, neither knew if the other had survived the attack. It turns out that different ships rescued each brother. One was picked up and taken to England, while the other was picked up and taken to Northern Africa. It was 6 months before each was able to return to America and see the other.

(Source: Waynett A. Sobers, Jr., December 25, 1999, Interview.)

Today, descendants of the Ghyll family primarily live in the New York City area.

To-date, my genealogical research does not support GHYLL as the correct spelling of the family name back in Wales. We know that while in Barbados, the family name was spelled GILL. It was later changed to Ghyll in America. We're not sure how it was spelled in Wales.

Missing Links

Please help me further my research.

The Ghylls migrated from Wales to the United States through the British West Indian Island of Barbados. Apparently, while in Barbados the spelling of the family name changed to Gill. Upon arrival in the United States, the spelling was restored to Ghyll. No data on the families of Seymour or Seymour Fitgerald Ghyll (or Gill) could be found in the Barbados Archives. It's possible that family records were lost in a fire at my grandmother's church, St. Mathias, in Christ Church, Barbados. As a result, I'm seeking any information that may be available on the Ghylls from Wales. I'm also interested in learning more about African descendents from Wales or elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Information can be e-mailed to me at

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Updated February 12, 2020
Donald L. Hinson, Jr.