From the introduction to Hugh Buckner Johnston’s The Woodard Confederate Letters of Wilson County (1977):
“’Uncle London’ Woodard (1792-November 15, 1870) was one of the most respectable black men of his area and time. Having been married about 1817 to James Bullock Woodard’s Venus, he was purchased by this planter on May 24, 1828, and became his overseer and distiller. London was baptized into the fellowship of the Tosneot Primitive Baptist Church on August 24, 1828, and Venus on August 4, 1838. This good woman died about the end of 1845, leaving several children to mourn her loss.
“In 1846, he married Penelope Lassiter, daughter of Hardy Lassiter. She had become an indispensable part of the James B. Woodard household after the death of his first wife in 1837. ‘Aunt Pennie,’ a free woman of light color, who worked hard, saved her money, and bought land. On September 18, 1854, she also bought ‘Uncle London’ and made him a free man. He was ‘liberated to preach’ on April 21, 1866, and in the following December Mrs. Elizabeth Farmer gave him one acres upon which he soon erected ‘London’s Primitive Baptist Church‘ which is still in existence.”
While London Woodard may have lived essentially as a free man after his purchase by Penny Lassiter, there is no evidence that he was in fact emancipated prior to the end of the Civil War. Thus, while Penny and their children appear as Lassiters in the 1860 census, he does not.
London’s Primitive Baptist Church was organized in 1870, weeks before London Woodard suffered burns that led to his death. Twenty-five years later, his congregation erected a simple wood-frame building on what is now Herring Avenue. That building was in use until 1992, when members moved into a new brick church. To save the landmark from demolition, descendants of Elizabeth Farmer donated a nearby site to which the structure was moved.
I took this photo of the 1895 church in May 2013, when the building, though compromised, was in relatively decent shape.
Since then, a tree smashed into the chancel during a storm, dragging the front gable backwards and plunging the beadboard ceiling to the floor. All but the very front of the nave was crushed, and London’s Church cannot be saved.