Free People of Color

The Kerseys.

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John Kearsey married Julia Richardson in Franklin County, North Carolina, in 1849. Both were free people of color. The couple migrated to the Town of Wilson prior to 1860.

In the 1860 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John Kersey, 37, blacksmith; wife Julia, 31; and children Louisa, 9, Dellah, 6, John, 5, and William, 1.  Kersey reported personal property valued at $300.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: blacksmith John Kirsey, 45, wife Julia, 42, and children Louisa, 19, Idella, 16, John, 13, Walter, 10, and Robt., 9.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: blacksmith John Kersey, 61; wife Julia, 53; and son Walter, 21; plus boarder William Joyner, who worked in the blacksmith shop.

John and Julia Kersey’s children included:

  • Louisa Kersey — Louisa Kersey Johnson died 15 January 1934 in Wilson after a fall from her front porch. Per her death certificate, she was 78 years old; was born in North Carolina to John and Julia Kersey; was married to Henry Johnson and lived at 503 Warren Street. Gertrude Jones, 309 Elba Street, was informant.
  • Ardella Kersey
  • John Kersey Jr.
  • William Kersey
  • Walter Kersey 
  • Robert Kersey — like Walter, Robert Kersey migrated to Indiana. Robert Kersey died 30 August 1902 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was 36 years old; was born in North Carolina to John Kersey and Julia Robinson; and worked as a laborer.

The apprenticeship of Nicey C. Hall.

Nicey Caroline Hall married Wyatt Lynch in Wilson in 1860 and seems to have spent the remainder of her life in Wilson County. However, she spent her childhood across the county line in northeast Wayne County.

In the 1850 census of the North Side of the Neuse, Wayne County: Lucy Hall, 45, with her children Sarah, 16, George, 15, Nathan, 13, Nicy, 10, Samuel, 3, and Esther, 6; plus Alford, 15, John, 14, Rhoda, 13, Julia, 12, and Rheuben Artis, 10; and Rufus Lane, 22. Next door: William Exum, a 25 year-old white farmer. The same year, per Wayne County apprentice bonds, Exum indentured the five Artis children to serve him as involuntary apprentices. (Lane had just aged out of his indenture too Exum.)

Under the laws governing the involuntary apprenticeship of free children of color, a mother could state her preference for the man to be named master of her bound children. When called to the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions in 1851, Lucy Hall informed the judge that she wanted her children to be bound to James Yelverton (probably Sr.) Instead, the court awarded the indentures of George, Nathan, Nicy C., Esther and Sam Hall to their neighbor, William J. Exum, on whose land they likely lived. However, the clerk neglected to record the indentures in the court minutes, and Yelverton took advantage of the oversight to have the children bound to him instead. Exum sued Yelverton, claimed that he obtained the indentures contrary to the rules of court, and the judge rescinded Yelverton’s indentures. The court then re-bound the Halls to Exum, who thereby consolidated his control over the labor of the free children of color living on his property.

The Yelvertons and Halls’ lives remained intertwined, despite the best efforts of William J. Exum. In the 1860 census of Davis district, Wayne County, James Yelverton (Jr.), 40, shared a household with Easter [Easther] Hall, 20, and her likely children Fanny, 7, and Puss, 5. Moreover, per family lore recently backed up by DNA testing, James Yelverton Jr. was the father of Nicey Caroline Hall’s first child, Susianna Frances Hall, alias Yelverton, born about 1857.

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On 5 June 1860, Wyatt Lynch married Nicey Hall in Wilson County.

In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: plasterer and brickmason Wyatt Lynch, 30, wife Caroline, 23, and daughter Frances, 3.

As revealed in this letter, while he was away at war, Captain Ruffin Barnes arranged with Wyatt Lynch for his wife to live with Barnes’ wife and perform household chores. Nicey Caroline Lynch butted heads with Barnes’ wife, however, and Barnes advised that she be sent back home.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: brick maker Wyatt Lynch, 48, wife Nicey, 35, and children Harriet, 4, and John, 1.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on the south side of the Plank Road, widow Nicy Lynch, 40, children Harriot, 13, John, 11, Noah, 9, Sammy, 7, and Mary Wyatt, 3, with mother-in-law Nancy Lynch, 98.

On 24 January 1899, Hattie Lynch, 33, of Wilson County, daughter of Wyatt and Nicy Lynch, married William Young, 46, of Wilson County, son of Manuel and Caroline Young of Mississippi. Primitive Baptist minister J.S. Woodard performed the ceremony.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, widowed farmer Nicey Lynch, 60, daughters Harriet Young, 35, and Mary Rhodes, 23, and grandson John Rhodes, 2.

On 7 May 1905, Hattie Lynch, 39, daughter of John and Nicy Lynch, married Robert Dixon, 33, son of William and Charlotte Dixon, in Wilson County. Witnesses were D.F. Scott, Mary Rhoads, and Charley Edward.

On 3 December 1907, Eddie Bullock, 27, of Wilson, son of Preacher Chanson and Andy Bullock, married Mary Rhodes, 27, of Wilson, daughter of [name not given] Linch and Nicie Lynch.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, farmer Robert Dickson, 37, wife Hattie, 46, mother-in-law Nicie Lynch, and nephew Johnnie Rhodes, 12.

Susiannah Artis died 11 September 1931 in Nahunta township, Wayne County. Per her death certificate, she was 74 years old; was born in Wilson County to Nicy Linch of Wilson County; worked in farming; and was married to Richard Artis.

Mary Wyatt Ellis died 10 October 1943 in Wilson township. Per her death certificate, she was born 16 May 1876 in Wilson County to Wyatt Linch and Nicie [last name unknown]; was married to Ruben Ellis; was a farmer; and was buried on the Lynch farm.

Harriet Hattie Dixon died 16 January 1958 in Wilson township. Per her death certificate, she was born 27 July 1865 in Wilson County to Wyatt Linch and Nicie [last name unknown]; was widowed; was a retired farmer; and was buried in a family cemetery. Hattie Anderson was informant.

Susanna Frances Yelverton Artis, daughter of Nicey C. Hall Lynch.

Documents detailing the proceedings in Exum v. Yelverton are found in Box 6, Apprentice Bonds and Records, Wayne County Records, North Carolina State Archives; photo of Susannah Artis courtesy of Teresa Artis.

Toney Eatmon’s sons.

Is it not clear whether Toney Eatmon ever lived in Wilson County, but his two known children did. The record is scarce, but:

In the 1850 census of Nash County, North Carolina, Tony Eatmon, 55, farmer, in the household of white farmer Theophilus Eatmon, 70. Tony was described as mulatto, and the belief that he was Theophilus Eatmon’s son is supported by DNA matching.

On 4 February 1868, Jack Williamson, son of Toney Eatmon and Hester Williamson, married Ann Boykin, daughter of John Harper and Alder Reid, at Jack Williamson’s in Wilson. [Per census records, Jack Williamson was born about 1835.]

Willis Barnes died 15 September 1914 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 73 years old; married; a farmer; and born in Nash County to Toney Eatmon and Annie Eatmon. Jesse Barnes was informant.

In short: Toney Eatmon was born free about 1795 (or perhaps a few years later), most likely in southeastern Nash County to Theophilus Eatmon and an unknown free woman of color. Whether he married is unknown, but he fathered at least two sons, Jack Williamson, born about 1835 to Hester Williamson, an enslaved woman, and Willis Barnes, born about 1841, to Annie Eatmon (or, perhaps, Barnes), an enslaved woman. Williamson and Barnes lived their adult lives in Wilson County. Toney Eatmon likely died between 1850 and 1860.

Bad debts.

Among the men whose debts to deceased Theophilus Grice were listed in an inventory of his assets were these free men of color — Lewis Artis, Thomas Ayers, Richard Artis and Jacob Artis. (Actually, Thomas Ayers’ ethnicity is ambiguous. He may have been white, but appears to have been closely related to free colored Ayerses in the county.) All likely were close neighbors of Grice in the area around Bloomery Swamp in western Wilson (then Nash) County.

Lewis Artis owed for two loans — $17.00 incurred in 1806, and $13.05 incurred in 1808. Thomas Ayers had owed $29.79 since 1818. Richard Artis owed $15.84 since 1819. Jacob Artis had owed $14.56 since 1810. All the debts were described as “desperate” and were unlikely to be recovered.

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Images of estate documents available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Nestus Freeman … of Ohio?

Eighty years ago today, a newspaper in a small central-Ohio town published a tribute to one of its citizens on the occasion of his 100th birthday. “Nestus Freeman, colored citizen of this city — ” Nestus Freeman? “Mr. Freeman was born in Wilson, North Carolina, on March 16, 1839.” Born in Wilson? Who was this Nestus Freeman?

The article mentions that Freeman ran away from slavery as a child (or, had never been a slave); began barbering at age 7; fought for the Union under an assumed name during the Civil War; worked on a riverboat between Pittsburgh and New Orleans; lived in Urbana and Richwood, Ohio, before settling in Marysville in 1880; had lost his wife in 1909 due to a house fire; and had at least two children, son Shirley Freeman of Marysville and daughter Gertrude Putnam of Cleveland.

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Marysville Journal-Tribune, 17 March 1939.

What information can be gleaned from readily available records?

On 13 March 1873 Nestus L. Freemond married Amanda E. Diltz in Champaign County, Ohio. A tiny notation in the corner of their license identifies them as members of Champaign’s tiny African-American community.

The young family relocated to a larger town in an adjoining county. In the 1880 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: barber Enfield Freeman, 30; wife Amanda, 26; and daughter Lydia, 5. [Later documents show Nestus’ middle initial as E. Was this for “Enfield”?]

In the 1900 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: Nathan [sic] Freemond, 51, barber, born Pennsylvania; wife Amanda A., 45, hairdresser; and children Lydia, 22, hairdresser, Shirley, 19, barber, Elsia, 16, and  Gertrude, 10.

Amanda Diltz Freeman died 1909 as a result of burns suffered in a catastrophic house fire. A local newspaper printed a sympathetic account of her last days:

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 20 May 1909.

In the 1910 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: at 301 North Maple, N. Freeman, 70, barber, born in Ohio, and children Lydia, 32, Shirley, 29, barber, and Elsa, 25, barber.

In the 1930 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: at 307 North Maple, owned and valued at $3000, widowed barber Nestus Freeman, 86, born in Pennsylvania; daughter Lydia M., 54; and son Shirley, 49, barber.

As Nestus Freeman entered his upper 90s, newspapers delighted in reporting on his picturesque life.

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 14 July 1937.

Saint Cloud (Saint Cloud, Minn.), 

A photograph!

Marysville Tribune, 31 March 1938.

Pittsburgh Courier, 25 March 1939.

In the 1940 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: at 10103 Yale Avenue, John Putnam, 63, shade cutter at department store; wife Gertrude F., 42; father James A. Putnam, 84; and father-in-law Nestus Freeman, 96, born in North Carolina.

At last, days before his 102nd birthday, Nestus Freeman passed away at his daughter’s home in Cleveland.

Union County Journal (Marysville, Oh.), 3 March 1941.

Here’s another death notice:

Marion (Oh.) Star, 5 March 1941.

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Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Marysville, Ohio, circa 1900. Nestus and Amanda Freeman’s funerals were held here, and they may well be pictured. Photo courtesy of Allen Chapel’s Facebook page.

Charles [Shirley] Freeman died 7 October 1948 in Orwell, Ashtabula County, Ohio. Per his death certificate, he was born 13 June 1886 in Marysville, Ohio, to Nestus Freeman of Wilson, N.C., and Amanda Diltz; was married; and had worked as a barber.

Gertrude Putnam died 5 February 1953 at Perry township, Stark County, Ohio. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 March 1885 in Marysville to Nestus Freeman and Amanda Diltz; resided in Orwell, Ashtabula County; and was married. She was buried in Oaklawn cemetery, Marysville.

So, was there a connection between Nestus Freeman of Ohio and Oliver Nestus Freeman of Wilson?

  • There is the obvious hint in their names. Was O.N. named after an uncle who left North Carolina long before he was born?
  • Though Nestus reported his birthplace as Pennsylvania to Union County census takers, it was recorded as North Carolina by a Cuyahoga County enumerator; as Wilson and Wilton, North Carolina, by two reporters; and as Wilson on a son’s death certificate.
  • Another hint lies in children’s names.

The graves of the Freeman family are marked by a single large red granite headstone in Marysville’s Oaklawn cemetery. Nestus and Amanda’s dates should read 1839-1941 and 1854-1909.

The back of the stone lists the Freeman children (except Gertrude in Cleveland.) Notably, two of Nestus’ children, Lydia and Daniel, shared names with two of O.N. Freeman’s siblings, Lydia Ann Freeman Norwood Ricks and Daniel Edward Freeman. And — surprise! — there’s a brother of Nestus, also named Daniel. Photos courtesy of Findagrave.com.

The dates given for Daniel Freeman’s lifespan seem unlikely. A 1792 birth year would have made him almost 50 years older than his brother Nestus. I did some searching for Daniel and — voilà!

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 15 October 1926.

Daniel Freeman, too, had held the title of Marysville’s oldest citizen! Daniel, age 102, died at the home of his brother “Nathaniel Freeman, the colored barber” in 1926. Daniel had only recently come to Marysville after working as a blacksmith in Cleveland for forty years. Per the article, Daniel was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in October 1924 to Mr. and Mrs. Lovett Freeman. In this telling, it was Lovett (not Nestus) who worked for years on a steamboat running from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. (Again, the names — O.N. Freeman had a brother Lovett Freeman, the oldest of Julius and Eliza Daniel Freeman‘s children.) And then the clincher — “He is survived by two brothers, Julius, a carpenter of Wilson, North Carolina, and Nathaniel [sic] of this city …”

Death certificate of Daniel Freeman, which lists his parents as Lovette Freeman and Lottie, maiden name was unknown.

Julius Franklin Freeman was born about 1844 in Johnston County, North Carolina. He appears in the 1870 census of Wilson as an adult, already working as a carpenter. Neither his marriage licenses nor his death certificate list his parents. Based on the above, however, it seems clear that Julius’ father was named Lovett Freeman and that he had at least two brothers, Daniel and Nestus.

The 1840 census of Johnston County lists a Lovet Freeman. The census taker apparently forgot to mark the columns beside his name to designate the age and color of members of Lovet’s household, but he was most likely a free person of color.  If this were Daniel and Nestus and Julius’ father, when did he and his family leave North Carolina? Did they first migrate to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania? Did Julius remain behind, or did he return, perhaps after the Civil War? Were there other children? The 1860 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, shows North Carolina-born blacksmith Mathew Freeman, 45; wife Fairly, 30; and children Daniel, 14, Henry B., 10, Lovet B., 9, Liza A., 7, Joseph G., 3, Hanna B., 3, and Bob, 5 months. Again, the names Daniel and Lovett. In addition, Julius had sons Henry and Joseph as well. Was Mathew Freeman perhaps a brother of Lovett Freeman?

Unlawful migration.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   } Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions October Term 1859

The Jurors for the State aforesaid upon their oath present that Gray Powel a free negro late of the county of Wilson on the 1st day of June AD 1859 at & in the said county unlawfully did migrate into the State of North Carolina contrary to the provisions of the act of the general assembly in such cases made & provided & that the said Gray Powel afterwards to wit up to this time doth yet remain in said State & in the county aforesaid contrary to the form of the Statute in each case made & provided & against the peace & dignity of the State    /s/ B.B. Barnes Solicitor

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In the 1850 census of Stephen Powell, 47, wife Synthia, 36, and children Gray, 9, Queen Anne, 8, Dolly, 7, Crockett, 3, and Noab, 1. [If this is the same Gray Powell, it suggests that he left his birth state prior to 1859, then returned, an act considered an “unlawful migration.”]

Slave Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

 

Snaps, no. 43: Mattie Taylor.

The genealogies of African-American families are often complex in ways that may surprise us. The fact that many African-Americans had white male ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries does not raise eyebrows. That many also descend from white female ancestors who lived in that time period is less well-known. The descendants of Elizabeth Taylor are one such family.

Taylor was born about 1815, probably in southern Nash County, North Carolina. She had at least five children, some of whom were white and others mixed-race, including daughter Abi Taylor.

Mattie Taylor (ca. 1877-1971), daughter of Abi Taylor.

In the 1850 census of Nash County, North Carolina: Elizabeth Taylor, 35, and children Mary Ann, 14, Hilliard, 12, Abi, 6, Bryant, 4, and Harry, 1 month. Abi and Harry were described as mulatto; the others white.

In the 1860 census, Kirbys district, Wilson County: Elizabeth Taylor, 42, farm laborer, and children and grandchildren Abia, 18, Bryant, 14, Jackson, 12, Kinchen, 10, and McDaniel, 7.  All were described as white except Abia, Jackson and Kinchen, who were mulatto.

In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County:  Abi Taylor, 35, and children James, 20, Levi, 14, Mike, 12, Sallie, 7, Martha, 3, and Richard, 1.

John Sharpe married Sallie Taylor on 20 April 1889 in Wilson County.

Mike Taylor, 20, of Gardners township, Wilson County, married Estella Pender, 18, of Toisnot township, Wilson County, on 18 January 1890 at Amos Pender‘s.

In the 1900 census, Gardners township, Wilson County: John Sharpe, 32; wife Sallie, 26,  and children Lossie, 7, Suckie, 5John, 2,  and Jennie, 5 months, plus Sam Sharpe, 20.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on the Elm City Road, John Sharp, 43, wife Sallie, 37, and children Lossie, 16, Mathosie, 14, Johnnie Jr., 12, Geneva, 9, and George, 7.

In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: on Rocky Mount Road, Mattie Taylor, 36, and children Gray, 14, Benjamin F., 8, Lee R., 7, Mary, 6, Annie, 2, and Hilliard, 6 months.

In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County:  Mattie Taylor, 30, and children Levy, 14, Mary, 13, Annie, 12, Hilliard, 10, Archie, 7, Joseph, 5, and Marvin, 3, plus Abi Taylor, 75.

In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: on New Wilson and Raleigh Road, farmer John Sharp, 53; wife Sallie, 48; and children Sardie, 24, Johnie, 22, Eva, 19, and George, 16, and daughter-in-law Mollie, 26.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Mike Taylor, 46, wife Estella, 35, and son James, 20.

On 12 December 1928, Mike Taylor, 57, married Elizabeth Evans, 45, in Wilson.

On 5 December 1929, Lee Taylor, 26, of Saratoga township, son of Mattie Taylor, married Sallie Barnes, 22, daughter of Cornelius and Maggie Barnes, in Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: three households in a row on an “improved dirt road,” Emmit Taylor, 30, and wife Clauddie 27; Arthur Taylor, 21; Hillard Taylor, 53, wife Annie, 48, and children Walter, 24, and Moses, 14; Lee Taylor, 26, wife Sally, 23, widowed mother Mattie, 56, her children Archie, 16, Joe, 15, and Marvin, 12; and widowed grandmother Abbie Taylor, 91.

In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: John Taylor, 65, wife Sallie, 59, and boarder Monroe Whitley, 45.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Mike Taylor, 60, wife Elizabeth, 41, and son Carlie, 12.

Abie Taylor died 24 October 1930 in Saratoga township, Wilson County.  Per her death certificate, she was 94 years old; was born in Nash County to unknown parents; and was the widow of Rutherd Taylor. Informant was Hilliard Taylor. [There is no evidence that Abie Taylor ever married, though she is sometimes listed as a widow in census records.]

Mike Taylor died 6 March 1932 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 May 1870 to Archie Taylor and Abie Taylor and was married to Elizabeth Taylor.  Informant was Mazie Taylor.

Hilliard Taylor died 24 August 1944 in Saratoga township, Wilson County.  Per his death certificate, he was 65 years old; was born in Wilson County to Wash Powell and Avie Taylor, both of Wilson County; and was married to Gussie Taylor. Informant was Walter Taylor.

Sallie Sharpe died 4 March 1955 at her residence at 314 South Goldsboro Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 May 1874 in Wilson County to Cage Archey and Abby Taylor and was buried at New Vester cemetery, Wilson County. Informant was Mrs. Lossie Mitchell, Lucama, N.C.

Mattie Taylor died 11 October 1971 at 129 Narroway Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was a widow; was born 15 August 1876 to an unknown father and Abbie Taylor, and was buried in Rest Haven cemetery.  Informant was Mrs. Mary T. Bynum.

Photograph courtesy of Ancestry.com user ________.

Mary Jane Stancil and family.

As shown here and here and here, the interrelated Ayers, Hawley, Rose and Taylor families shifted back and forth across the color line for decades. Despite highly publicized legal challenges to their status, most were accepted as white by about 1920.


Mary Jane Taylor Stancil (1867-1921), upper left. The infant is her son Oscar Stancil, who died in 1904. This may be a death portrait, a type of memento mori. The women at right at are unknown.

In the 1880 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Sallie Taylor, about 45; and her children William, 19, Jacob, 17, Jane, 14, Robert L., 12, Thomas, 10, and Luretta, 8, all mulatto.

On 12 September 1899, J.H. Stancil, 23, white, of Wilson County, son of Andrew and Nancy Stancil, married Mary Jane Hawley, 28, white, of Johnston County, daughter of Sally Ann Hawley, in Johnston County.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer James H. Stancill, 23, and wife Mary J., 20, both white.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Red Hill Road, farmer James H. Stansil, 32; wife Mary J., 41; and children Frederick, 9, and Viola, 8. James was described as white. The “W” beside Mary Jane and their children was marked through and replaced with “M” [mulatto]. [Similarly, on nearby Kenly Road, the racial designation of Elender F., 46, William M., 19, Mary L., 16, Maggie P., 13, Henry L., 11, Betsey P., 8, and Mamie G. Hawley, 4, were changed to match that of their husband and father John D. Hawley, 54, mulatto. John Hawley was Mary Jane Stancil’s brother.]

In the 1920 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer James H. Stancil, 42, wife Mary J., 50, and daughter Viola, 17, all white.

Mary Jane Stancil died 5 July 1921 in Oldfields township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 October 1867 in Wilson County to John Clark of Johnston County and an unknown mother; was married to John [sic] H. Stancil; and was white.

Josephus and Minnie Taylor Johnson and their oldest children Arthur, Fannie and Carl.

Josephus and Minnie Johnson took their fight to have their children admitted to white Wilson County schools to the North Carolina Supreme Court, and lost. Minnie T. Johnson was Mary Jane Stancil’s niece.

Viola Stancil Lucas (1902-1989).

Viola Stancil Lucas was the daughter of James H. and Mary Jane Taylor Stancil.

Many thanks to Linda Lucas Martin for sharing these family photographs.

 

Received of Penny Lassiter.

James B. Woodard registered the receipt he issued to free woman of color Penny Lassiter for the $150 she paid to purchase her husband London Woodard in 1855. Though not legally manumitted, London lived essentially as a free man for the next ten years until Emancipation.

Deed book 1, page 155, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

London Woodard, Penny Lassiter Woodard and the London Church.

On 14 February 1970, the Wilson Daily Times published a full-page article detailing the life of London Woodard, founder of London’s Primitive Baptist Church.

London Woodard was born enslaved in 1792. He was recorded in the estates of Asa Woodard in 1816 and Julan Woodard in 1826 (in which he was recognized as a distiller of fine fruit brandies.) In 1827, James B. Woodard bought London at auction for $500. The same year, London married Venus, a woman enslaved by Woodard. In 1828, London was baptized and appears as a member in the minutes of Tosneot Baptist Church. Venus was baptized in 1838 and died in 1845.

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Transfer of title to “a negroe man by the name of Lonon” from Nathan Woodard to James B. Woodard, 1928.

J.B. Woodard’s second wife died in 1837, and he hired Penelope Lassiter, a free woman of color, as a housekeeper and surrogate mother to his children. Lassiter, born 1814, was the daughter of Hardy Lassiter, who owned a small farm south of Wilson. She met London, who was working as overseer, at Woodard’s. In 1852, Penny Lassiter bought 106 acres for $242 about five miles east of Wilson on the Tarboro Road.

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In 1854, Penny Lassiter purchased her husband London, then about 62 or 63, from J.B. Woodard for $150. In 1858 Lassiter bought another 53 acres near her first tract and purchased 21 acres in 1859. The same year, she sold a small parcel to Jordan Thomas, a free man of color [who was married to her step-daughter Rose Woodard.] In 1866, the years after he was emancipated, London Woodard bought, subject to mortgage, a 200-acre parcel.

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In 1866, London Woodard was granted authority to preach “only among his acquaintances,” i.e. African-Americans. A member of Tosneot Baptist donated an acre of land to build a black church, regarded as the first in Wilson County. London Woodard was licensed to preach in 1870.

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London Woodard preached his last sermon on 13 November 1870. The next day, he suffered a stroke and fell into an open fireplace. Despite severe burns, he was able to dictate a will before his death.

The history of London Church for the 25 years after Woodard’s death is murky. In 1895, white churches Tosneot and Upper Town Creek dismissed several African-American members in order that they might establish an independent congregation at London’s. [London Church reorganized under the umbrella of the Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Association in 1897.]

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By the terms of his will, London Woodard provided for his wife Penelope; sons William, Hardy, Haywood, Howell, Elvin, Amos and London; and daughters Treasy, Rose, Pharibee, Sarah, Harriet and Penninah. (Deceased son John’s daughter was apparently inadvertently omitted.)  “A few facts” about Woodard’s children follows.

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Receipts for payments for taxes and accounts for Penny Lassiter and London Woodard.

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This building was moved around the corner to London Church Road. It has long been abandoned and collapsed in 2017 after suffering serious storm damage the year before.