WE FORGET THAT black Americans have a rich history in the state of Maine — a history that Ahmad Adeyemi Aloya knows well and seeks to know better.

Aloya, 59, of Mountain View, California, researches his family history here when he vacations in Belgrade every summer, as he has done most summers over the last 30 years.

“Every time I come, I send emails and talk to people and there’s always something new,” he says.

Aloya and his family and friends love Maine and have an affinity for the state.

Aloya’s grandfather, John J. McAuley, lived in Augusta before he died in 1926. His grandfather had a restaurant connected to the State House but was born in Ilesha, Nigeria, West Africa, in the early 1880s and was from a royal family.

Around 1887, when tribal wars were ongoing in Ilesha and the British were colonizing the area, McAuley and his sister were kidnapped, taken to a slave holding site 200 miles away on the coast and placed on a slave ship bound for Brazil where slavery was not abolished until 1888. But the British intercepted the ship and took the siblings to Sierra Leone where they were off-loaded. While McAuley’s sister returned to Ilesha, he was acquired and freed by the Yates-Shattuck Company, a shipping company based in Boston and the village of Round Pond, in Bristol, Maine, which had offices in Waterville and Sierra Leone.

McAuley became a mentor to the young son of company owner Captain Alexander Yates and traveled to parts of Africa with Yates before arriving in Round Pond, where Yates still has family. He also worked out of the company’s Waterville office and lived briefly in Bangor.

Aloya learned recently through family research that the Waterville office was involved in the illegal liquor trade.

In 1902 McAuley married Eva Jones of Texas, whose parents had been born in slavery. The McAuleys lived in Augusta and had a daughter, Geneva, in 1917, and owned a business in which McAuley sold steamed hot dogs on the street.

The family then opened a restaurant that catered to people working in the state capitol. The restaurant was actually in the McAuley house where the food was prepared, and the house was attached to or adjacent to the capitol building. McAuley would run in and out with the food in the winter to deliver to the state workers, according to Aloya, whose mother, Geneva, was 7 when her father died at age 56.

“He got pneumonia, going in and out, and died in 1926,” Aloya said. “He was running the restaurant right up until his death.”

McAuley had a son, also named John, who started a restaurant called “McAuley’s,” and he was the first African-American Maine guide, according to Aloya.

“They used the name ‘McAuley’ as a brand for the restaurant and the guide business,” he said. “It became a well-respected name.”

That second John McAuley had a boy named John McAuley Jr. — a retired postmaster who lives in Augusta.

Aloya, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, with four brothers, remembers his mother always searching for information about her ancestors in Nigeria and in Maine. Aloya and his mother visited Nigeria twice during her lifetime and connected with relatives. They also spoke with officials at Waterville Historical Society about the Yates family and traveled to Round Pond, where they searched for Yates’ descendants to try to learn anything they could about McAuley.

Aloya said he thinks the Yates family had a home on Silver Street in Waterville, though he is not sure exactly where.

Much of what is known about McAuley is detailed in a chapter written by Aloya’s mother, Geneva McAuley Sheerer, who was a social worker, that is included in the book “Maine’s Visible Black History, The First Chronicle of Its People,” written by H.H. Price and Gerald E. Talbot.

Though his mother died in 2005, Aloya continues where she left off, searching for more answers to their heritage.

In July this year, he and about 35 family members and friends gathered in Belgrade again, where they announced recipients of an annual award they started two years ago to honor Ayola’s grandfather. Called the Prince Adeyemi Aloya Award, as that was the name his grandfather was born with before changing his name to John McAuley, the award celebrates faith, strength, courage and love of family.

It is given to people for a “lifetime of and continued service to God, Family and Community.”

Barack and Michelle Obama were among those given the award this year. Aloya mailed the award to the former president and first lady and recently received a thank-you letter from them.

When Aloya was born he was named “Bruce Sheerer,” but while attending Jacksonville State University in Alabama, from which he earned a bachelor of science degree, he changed his name to honor his grandfather.

Aloya, who works at a pharmaceutical company in California, called me recently, seeking information about his ancestry in Waterville. I found his story so compelling I told him I’d like to write about it.

Aloya says he welcomes any information people may have about his grandfather, the Yates family, the Yates-Shattuck Company or the shipping family’s travels to and from Africa. He may be contacted at 650-630-2037 or [email protected]

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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