In the early pages of cookbook-cum-family memoir Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, Norma Jean and Carole Darden describe the mystery of their grandfather Charles H. Darden (1854-1931)’s earliest years. As far as anyone knew, at Emancipation he walked on his own from Greene County to Wilson, where he planted his boot and raised himself by its straps.
While I have not discovered Charles Darden’s parents, the article below suggests that he did have family. The Gazette, an African-American newspaper published in Raleigh, periodically ran society columns covering towns in eastern North Carolina, including Wilson and Rocky Mount. On 28 August 1897, the columnist mentioned in passing that Miss Annie “Dorden” of Wilson was visiting her uncle, Peter Darden. Annie Lee Darden (1879-1943) was the oldest daughter of Charles and Diana Scarborough Darden. (She married John Mack Barnes in Wilson in 1903.) Peter Darden, then, seems to have been Charles Darden’s older brother.
Raleigh Gazette, 28 August 1897.
In the 1870 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County: house carpenter Peter Darden, 27, and Sidney M. Darden, 8. Peter claimed $100 in real property and $100 in personal property.
In the 1880 census of Rocky Mount, Nash County: house carpenter Peter Darden, 38, wife Edna, 27, and sons Walter, 10, Johnny, 8, and Wesley, 4.
In the 1900 census of Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County: on Frankling Street, carpenter Peter Darden, 55, wife Ednar, 49, and son Westry, 33, a carpenter, plus boarder Mack Maderson, a preacher.
Westry Darden died of tuberculosis on 15 January 1910 in Rocky Mount. His death certificate reports that he was born 17 October 1875 to Peter Darden and Edna Speights, both of Greene County and was married and worked as a carpenter.
In the 1910 census of Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County: at 230 Franklin Street, house carpenter Peter Darden, 70, wife Edna, 61, widowed daughter-in-law Lula, 22, and grandchildren Westray, 3, Walcott, 1, and Lula, 2 months.
In the 1920 census of Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County: at 230 Franklin Street, Peter Darden, 74, and wife Edna, 63.
Edna Darden died 30 March 1931 in Rocky Mount. Her death certificate reports that she had been born 8 May 1856 in Greene County to Redman Speight and Elizabeth Edwards. Peter Darden was informant.
Peter Darden died 9 February 1922 and was buried in Rocky Mount’s Unity Cemetery.
Both Mount Zion First Baptist Church and Saint James Missionary Baptist Church remain active congregations in Rocky Mount. Saint James celebrated its 130th anniversary in June 2015 and is described as the “2nd oldest African American Baptist Church in the Twin Counties area of Eastern North Carolina.”
Photo courtesy of Findagrave.com.