Church

The history of Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church.

BETHEL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

The Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church was founded in 1900 on a bank of Contentnea Creek at Woodard’s (also called Peacock’s or Ruffin’s) Bridge in an old stall. The pastor was the Reverend Mack Daniel.

Water from the creek flooded the floor causing it to decay. By a deed dated July 1, 1900, Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Stanton, Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Hales, Mr. and Mrs. H.E. Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. L.F. Hales, and Mr. G.W. Stanton transferred to Mr. Henry Bernie, Mr. Daniel Harriss, Mr. George Applewhite, Mr. Green Edmundson, Mr. William Edmundson, and Mr. Joseph Jones, trustees of Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church, a lot on the road from Moyton along the road to Ruffin’s Bridge. On this lot measuring thirty five yards along the road and seventy-five yards deep a church building was erected.

In 1920, the church was moved into the town of Stantonsburg. Mr. John Yelverton transferred a lot adjoining Mr. Macon Whitley to the trustees.

The Reverend A.J. Jones, the church’s second pastor, was serving at the time of the move. Serving on the trustee board at this time were Mr. Robert Farmer, Mr. Daniel Harris, Mr. Jesse Ruffin, Mr. John Edwards, Mr. Sampson Edwards, and Mr. Henry Bernie. Serving on the mother board were Mrs. Annie Edwards (mother of John Edwards), Mrs. Arkansas Harris, Mrs. Hannah Bernie, and Mrs. Nelia Edwards (daughter of Robert Farmer.)

Two years after the church was built, the Reverend Rose resigned. Following him in order and with their approximate times of service were: Reverend A.G. Dunston, Reverend (Slender) Jones, Reverend C.W. Jones — 1933-1935, Reverend Stewart — late 1930s, Reverend Pridgen — 1940 (1 year), Reverend Pearsall — 1950 (less than one year), Reverend W.B. McCoy — 1958-1959, Reverend L.V. Kennedy — 1960-1967.

During this time the church building destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt in the 1960s. The Reverend Kennedy returned and stayed until his death in late 1968. The Reverend Dunston returned and served until the end of the year. Reverend H.R. Campbell — 1968-1977, Reverend H.B. Shaw — 1978 (1 year), Reverend C.C. Cornelius — 1978 (serving 1981).

Stantonsburg Historical Society, A History of Stantonsburg (1981).

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[N.B. This history does not square with the 1877 deed for the purchase of a lot by Lawrence Ward on behalf of “the A.M.E. church known as Bethel.” The 1877 lot appears to be the same one described above.

Bethel buys its acre.

In November 1877, steward Lawrence Ward, acting on behalf of Bethel A.M.E. [Zion] Church, purchased the acre of land on which its church stood on the road leading from Stantonsburg to Contentnea Creek near Ruffin’s Bridge. The church is now located about a mile north of Stantonsburg, but its cemetery remains on the original acre. Ruffin’s Bridge was originally known as Peacock’s Bridge, and Peacock’s Bridge Road runs east of present-day NC Highway 58. 

Deed Book 14, page 366.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County } This deed made this the 16th day of November 1877 by F.M. Moye of Wilson County and State of North Carolina to Lawrence Ward of said County & State holding the office of Steward in the A.M.E. church known as Bethel Witnesseth that the said F.M. Moye in consideration of Twenty Five Dollars to him paid by the said Lawrence Ward as the representative of said church the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged have bargained & sold by these presents do bargain & sell & convey to the said Lawrence Ward and his successors in office for the benefit & use of said Church a certain lot of land in said county, it being the land on which the building of the said church is situated on the North side of Big Contentnea creek near Ruffins bridge and on the east side of the road leading to said Bridge and is a part of the tract of land Known as the Davis land containing one acre To have and to hold the aforesaid lot of and all privileges thereto belonging to the said Lawrence Ward and his successors in office for the benefit & use of said church And the said F.M. Moye covenant that he is seized of said lot of land in fee and has the right to convey the same in fee simple and that he will warrant & defend the said title to the same against the claims of all persons whatsoever In testimony whereof the said F.M. Moye have hereunto set his hand & seal the say & year above written  /s/ F.M. Moye   Attest J.K. Peacock, J.S. Ellis 

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In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Lawrence Ward, 25, farmer, owned $1000 in real property; wife Mary, 20; and daughter Mary A., 3; Chloie, 14, Lydia, 11, Jennie, 10, and Patrick Pope, 7; and Sophia Ward, 48.

In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Lawrence Ward, 38; wife Mary, 29; daughter Mary, 14; mother Sophia, 58; and farm worker Henry Lane, 12. [Their proximity in 1870 and 1880 to the house and plantation of Dr. David G.W. Ward suggests that Lawrence and Sophia Ward had been owned by the doctor in slavery.]

In the 1900 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: Laurence Ward, 55, farmer; wife Mary, 43; mother Sophia, 84; and granddaughter Amie Yelverton, 13.

In the 1910 census of Pikeville township, Wayne County: Lawrence Ward, 66, farmer; mother Sophia, 98; wife Mary, 60; and granddaughter Amy Yelverton, 21.

Lawrence Ward died 29 August 1918 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1831  in Wilson County to Sophia Ward; was married; was a retired farmer; and was buried in Wayne County.

Deed book 14, page 366, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson; aerial photo courtesy of Google Maps.

While building Saint Alphonsus.

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“St. Alphonsus Catholic Church met at Reid Street Center in 1938 while the church was being built. The photograph was submitted by James “Casey” Ellis.” Wilson Daily Times, 20 April 1999.

If you can identify any of the parishioners, please let me know.

The colored brethren of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church.

In 1946, the Wilson Daily Times published an article by Hugh B. Johnston commemorating the history of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church. I’ve excerpted below the sections that mention the church’s African-American members.

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Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, Asheville Post Card Co., undated.

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“On April 24, 1920, the Church agreed to begin construction as soon as possible and to include a baptismal pool, memorial windows for a number of outstanding members, and a balcony for the convenience of remaining colored brethren.”

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“A gallery for colored members ran entirely around the second story of the [1859] church, excepting the end above the tall, broad pulpit.”

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At a conference held at the Tosneot Baptist Church on Sept. 23, 1865, “a proposition was made and agreed to that all colored members that had ‘left their owners before the proclamation of freedom was made, and gone to the Yankees should be dealt with and excluded if they could not give satisfaction of their disorder.’ … [N]one of the offending members appeared … [and when they failed to appear at a postponed date,] motion was made to expel them: on which motion servants Thomas Farmer and Redic Barnes were expelled from all rights of the church.”

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“As a result of the formation of London’s Primitive Baptist Church for the convenience of the colored membership who were being served outside of regular meetings by Elder London Woodard, a conference was held at the Tosneot church on May 21, 1870, and “the following resolution was adopted by unanimous consent of the members, white and colored, that in the future, as before, the white members of the church shall have the entire control of the discipline and government of the church as this place. [This understanding was entered into the minutes] so as in after days there could not be any misunderstanding between the white and colored members of this church.”

Wilson Daily Times, 19 November 1946.

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Some thoughts:

  • The balcony in the back of the 1920 church is visible starting at 1:29 of this Youtube video.
  • What African-Americans were members of Wilson Primitive Baptist as late as 1920? Do the church’s records exist?
  • I have been unable to identify specifically Thomas Farmer and Reddick Barnes, the members who audaciously took their freedom into their own hands.
  • “The formation of London’s Primitive Baptist Church for the convenience of the colored membership who were being served outside of regular meetings” by London Woodard sounds like more like a recognition of a new reality: Toisnot’s black members had left to worship among themselves under a charismatic black preacher. It’s not surprising that those who remained unanimously agreed that white people would control the church.

Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, 1859-1920. The gallery for black members ran along three interior walls. Marion Monk Moore Collection, Images of North Carolina, http://www.digitalnc.org.

 

Rev. Foster, strong race man.

Among the many pastors who passed through Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church on their way to prominence, Rev. Richard A.G. Foster ranks among the most accomplished. An early and vocal proponent of equal rights, Rev. Foster spent an impactful couple of years in Wilson, as seen here and here and here and here.

In April 1951, Color magazine called Rev. Foster “The Most Powerful Negro in New Haven” in an in-depth article that credited the “strong race man and … public-spirited citizen” with “doing more for race relations in New Haven than any other person.”

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“In New Haven, Conn., the folk will all tell any visitor that Rev. Richard A.G Foster is the most powerful Negro in town. Rev. Foster is not a rich man, but he’s a man who knows how to get things down. A strong race man and a public-spirited citizen, he is credited with doing more for race relations in New Haven than any other person.

Operates Like One-Man F.E.P.C.

“Within two years Rev. Foster secured more than 2700 jobs for Negroes in the city, and he has been directly responsible for getting Negroes jobs in many factories and plants which previously refused to hire colored help. He demanded more money for domestic workers such as cooks, maids, butlers, and chauffeurs and got it! Foster helped raise theirs salaries more than 100 per cent. As a result of his efforts, Negroes are employed in the city’s welfare department as investigators and stenographers. He gave New Haven its first Negro city court clerk, and got several Negroes jobs in the police department.

Helped Levi Jackson Play At Yale U.

“The powerful pastor of Varick Memorial Church for eleven years molded public opinion in favor Levi Jackson’s acceptance to play football at Yale University. Rev. Foster served on the Board of Aldermen from 1943 to 1950, during which time he sponsored and engineered the passage of the F.E.P.C. bill. Always fighting hard for the rights of minorities, the New Haven minister saw to it that public workers employed in his district included Negroes — and as a result, the district is now the cleanest and has the best lighting.”

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He is now fighting to obtain appointments for Negroes to various important local and state commissions, and he feels that a member of his race should serve as assistant to the states attorney. Appointed by the late Governor James L. McConaughey, Foster is the only Negro on the Rent Control Board for the New Haven district.

Twenty-Five Years of Church Leadership

It was Bishop W.J. Walls who recognized Rev. Foster’s excellent qualities of leadership eleven years ago, and appointed him to Varick Memorial Church. Now celebrating his 25th year in the ministry, and his eleventh at the New Haven church, Foster has built up an enviable  record. When he first came to Varick Memorial his weekly salary was a mere $35, and the church membership was only 37, although the enrollment listed 227 members. Today the church has over 1100 members, and his salary has increased proportionately. He is, at present, directing a $25,000 mortgage fund for his church.

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Rev. Foster attended school at Livingston College, chief educational institution of A.M.E. Zion, Hood Theological Seminary, and did graduate work at Syracuse University.

[The caption under the top photo on this page: “‘Most of our people,’ said Rev. Foster, ‘have religion that is only mouth-deep. What we need is religion that reaches the center of the spirit and whole of the being.’ ….”]

Many thanks to Rev. Foster’s daughter Marianne Foster for sharing this article.

The Junior Mission Circle goes on a tour.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 November 1941.

  • First Baptist Church
  • Lealia Hilliard — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Lelia Hillard, 36, born in South Carolina, lived in Florence, S.C., in 1935, teacher at Lucama Grade School, and husband Rufus Hillard, 43, fireman at City of Wilson power plant.
  • Margaret Bridgers — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: furniture company truck driver Jessie Bridgers, 32; wife Margret, 27; and children Elizabeth, 6, Jessie Jr., 5, and twins Saul and Carl, 2.
  • Elsie Hobbs — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1205 Atlantic Ave., rented for $12/month, Hadie, 39, and wife Elsie Hobb, 32, both of Wayne County. Hadie’s occupation was “sick”; Elsie was a cook at Coon High School.
  • Mary Mitchell
  • Rosa Sutton — in the 1940 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Arthur Sutton, 29; wife Rosa, 26; and children James J., 7, Rosa Lee, 3, Sarah Jane, 1, and Ellen Gray, 3 months.
  • Cora Parker — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: James Parker, 25, Carolina Laundry employee; wife Lois, 19; mother Cora, 47, cook; and son William, 18 months.
  • Nannie Barbour
  • O.M. Royall — Ossie M. Royall.