I confess to some shock. Spring is relentless in eastern North Carolina; April is the scene of boundless vegetal fecundity. The green took my breath away.
Odd Fellows is fighting back.
The boundary between Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.
The winter’s hard work is not undone, however. Though new sprigs of wisteria sprout from the stubs of vines, young trees have been thinned out, and the forbidding leading edge of solid woodland has retreated a few dozen yards. We are likely to halt organized clean-ups during the summer in order to avoid some of the hazards of wild woods and to focus on several related projects. Thus, your help in the next few weeks is even more critical to maintaining the progress we have made. Please join us April 24!
Henry Tart’s headstone, which was nearly invisible from just a few feet away just months ago, is now readily seen from the woodline.
If you or your group were not able to join the Lane Street Project this past winter, I hope you will make plans to do so in 2021-22. Many hands make light work, and our ancestors need you.
Odd Fellows Cemetery from above, two days ago. I can’t stop marveling.
The dotted yellow line is the approximate boundary with Rountree Cemetery (12). Vick Cemetery is (13).
The dotted white line marks the approximate edge of the woods in 2020, then a nearly impenetrable wall of vegetation. Over the last three months, dozens of Lane Street Project volunteers have worked tirelessly to open up the cemetery’s interior, exposing to sunlight patches hidden for decades. Blooming wisteria can be seen at upper left, but the front and right sides of the cemetery are clear of this scourge.
The remaining numbers mark identified family plots (and a gate):
Below, Guy Cox’s late 1960’s photo of historic Barnes Church, a Primitive Baptist church a few miles north of Stantonsburg. The church is said to have been established by African-Americans enslaved by Edwin Barnes.
A search of current Wilson County’s on-line tax records shows a parcel nominally owned by “Barnes Church” on Old Stantonsburg Road.
Locating the parcel on a 1940 aerial view of the area reveals the church sitting at a slight angle to the road in an open sandy area within a grove.
Eighty years later, the little wooded thumb of land remains, but there are no signs of Barnes Church, which ceased meeting in the 1960s.
Photos courtesy of the Wilson County Tax Department; Wilson County Aerial Photographs (1940), U.S.D.A. Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina; and Google Maps.
Frankly, I didn’t expect much. I’d made similar appeals before and then spent hours tangled up in briers by myself. December 15, 2020, though, was different. Despite cold weather and Covid-19, a dozen people (and, critically, a newspaper reporter) came with pruners and rakes and surgical masks — and Lane Street Project stepped into its purpose. We’re still feeling our way to long-range plans, but short-term we’re exceeding my wildest dreams.
What Lane Street Project has done in three months:
Developed a fantastic core team of volunteers responsible for planning, promoting, supplying, and managing bimonthly clean-ups at Odd Fellows Cemetery, as well as strategizing about ways to encourage community engagement in the reclamation of these historic African-American spaces
Conducted two informal and five planned clean-ups at Odd Fellows Cemetery with a multi-ethnic, multi-generational crew of enthusiastic, hardworking volunteers
Built a tool bank for volunteer use during clean-ups
Recovered the gravesite of educator, businessman and community leader Samuel H. Vick; cleared the grave of Red Hot Hose Company chief Benjamin Mincey; and named and reclaimed the gravesites of 22 more individuals (bringing the total at Odd Fellows to 76), for which we maintain a detailed spreadsheet
Developed relationships with established organizations doing similar work in African-American cemeteries across the Southeast
Developed relationships with allies in local government, business, and the faith community, as well as individuals willing to invest time and talent to our efforts to preserve and protect the historic burial grounds of thousands of Wilson’s African-Americans
Begun to map the locations of graves at the site
Developed a plan for responsible defoliation of invasive plant species in Odd Fellows cemetery
We’ve accomplished a lot in three months, but there is so much more to be done. Thanks so much to those who have supported us with gifts of labor, tools, coins, cheerleading, signal-boosting, and prayer. Please continue to do so! Follow us on Instagram at @lanestreetproject; join us on Facebook at Lane Street Project; reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the coming months, we’ll be broadening our focus from clean-up to documentation and restoration, and we will need your help at every step.
Photo of Corp. Willie Gay’s headstone courtesy of Drew C. Wilson.
A deed of trust is essentially an agreement between a lender and a borrower to give legal title to a property to a neutral third party who will serve as a trustee. The trustee holds the property until the borrower pays off the debt owed to the lender. During the period of repayment, the borrower keeps the actual or equitable title to the property and generally maintains full responsibility for the premises. The trustee, however, holds the legal title to the property and is empowered to sell the property to satisfy the debt if the borrower defaults. Once the sale is complete, the trustee will distribute the proceeds between the borrower and the lender. The lender gets whatever funds are required to satisfy the debt, and the borrower receives anything in excess of that amount.
On 15 January 1940, the Wilson Daily Times published a notice of sale of six properties belonging to Andrew J. and Mary L. Townsend, who had defaulted on the terms of a deed of trust filed in 1938:
(1) adjoining the property of Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church, H.W. Farrior, and Owen Smith a lot on Banks Street purchased from O.L.W. and Cynthia Smith, recorded in Book 85, page 398, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office;
(2) a lot on the southern edge of Banks Street where Banks crosses a ditch that runs south into the Hominy Swamp canal, purchased from O.L.W. and Cynthia Smith, recorded in Book 111, page 361;
(3) adjoining the property of Louis W. Townsend, Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church and H.W. Farrior, a lot on the western side of Goldsboro Street and south of Banks Street, on the same ditch as above, purchased from O.L.W. and Cynthia Smith, recorded in Book 98, page 179;
(4) lot 14 in the Winona subdivision on Mercer Street (map recorded at Book 68, page 457) purchased from S.H. and Annie M. Vick and recorded at Book 116, page 273;
(5) adjoining the lands of John and Mary Lewis and S.H. Vick, a 50′ by 100′ lot on Mercer Street (lot 16 of Winona subdivision) purchased from S.H. and Annie M. Vick and recorded at Book 172, page 24; and
(6) lot 15 on the plat of Winona subdivision, a 50′ by 100′ lot on Mercer Street purchased from S.H. Vick and recorded at Book 68, page 457.
Andrew J. Townsend — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Andrew Townsend, 58, section hand for N.S. [Norfolk Southern railroad]; wife Lula, 49, tobacco factory laborer; children Lewis, 27, Rachel, 22, Louisa, 18, Christine, 16, Odell, 15, Hazel, 13, and Minnie Ruth, 11; and granddaughter Maybelle, 3.
Louis W. Townsend — Louis Townsend died 12 March 1932 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 29 February 1853 in Person County, N.C., to Dempsey Townsend and Margaret Thorp; lived at 408 East Hines Street, Wilson; was the widower of Henrietta Townsend; was a day laborer for a tobacco manufacturing company. Informant was Rachael Dixson, Wilson, N.C.
A notice in the matter of P.B. Deans vs. Shade Jones et al. ran for a month in the summer of 1883. The matter was an action for the partition of land, land that apparently was part of the estate of Willis Jones. Willis and Sarah K. Jones‘ children included Josiah Jones, Charity Jones Taylor (ca. 1827-1891), Jacob Jones (ca. 1828), Shade Jones (ca. 1832), Henry Jones (ca. 1840), Alexander Jones (ca. 1841), Noel Jones (1843), Willis Kingsberry Jones (ca. 1847), Payton A. Jones (ca. 1849), and Bethany Jones Barnes (ca. 1852). Two of Willis Jones’ children resided out of state, and the court ordered the notice commanding them to answer the complaint in the case. Charity Jones Taylor and her husband, Kingsberry Taylor, were believed to be in Indiana; Josiah Jones, in South Carolina.
Wilson Advance, 13 July 1883.
In fact, by 1883, Charity Taylor had been living in western Michigan for decades.
Kingsberry Taylor married Charity Jones on 4 July 1846 in Nash County, North Carolina. Both were free people of color. Jones for certain and Taylor likely lived in a section of Nash County that became Wilson County in 1855.
The couple immediately migrated to Indiana. In the 1850 census of Madison township, Jefferson County, Indiana: laborer Kingsberry Taylor, 29, owner of $100 real estate, born in N.C.; wife Charity, 20, born in N.C.; and daughter Sarah A., 3, born in Indiana. All were classified as mulatto.
They did not stay long. Mid-decade, the family moved more than 300 miles due north in Allegan County, Michigan. Per the History of Allegan and Berry Counties, Michigan, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Their Men and Pioneers (1880), Kingsbury Taylor was one of ten men who bought land in Section 28 of Cheshire township between 1852 and 1858. “A considerable proportion of the population are of the colored race, who merit notice in a history of Cheshire [township]. As a class they stand well for both sobriety, and industry. Many of them have farms upon which comfortable houses are built, and the land of which is improved and well maintained. They also have two church organizations, to which a liberal support is accorded, and of which mention is made farther on. They are by no means the least influential of the citizens of the township, and have won much credit for the ambition they display in their farming pursuits and the good reputation they have established in all their social relations. The first colored men to settle in the township were C. Tomison and K. Taylor, who located on the southwest quarter of section 28. The land owned by the colored people was mostly bought of the Indians when they departed.”
In the 1860 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan: Kingsbury Taylor, 35, farmer, owned $400/real property, $250/personal property, born in N.C.; wife Charity, 30, born in N.C.; and daughter Sarah A., 13, born in Indiana.
In the 1870 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan: Kingsbury Taylor, 52, farmer, owned $2500/real estate, born in N.C.; wife Charity, 42, born in N.C.; and daughter Sarah A., 22, born in Indiana.
In the 1880 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan: Kingsbury Taylor, 61, farmer, born in N.C.; wife Charrita, 48, born in N.C.; and daughter Sarah A. Brown, 33, divorced, born in Indiana.
On 17 September 1880, Foster H. Maxwell, 42, mason, of Manger, Michigan, born in Ross County, Ohio, married Sarah A.J. Taylor, 33, divorced, of Cheshire, Michigan, born in Jefferson County, Indiana, in Bloomingdale, Michigan. The marriage entry noted that they were black. [Maxwell was a Civil War veteran, having served in Co. D, 102nd United States Colored Infantry.]
Charity Taylor died 16 April 1891 in Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan. Per her death certificate, she was 63 years old; was born in N.C. to Wilis Jones and Sarah Jones; and was a farmer.
Illustrated Atlas of Allegan County, Michigan (1895). (Would that these types of plat maps existed everywhere.)
In the 1900 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan: widower Kinbury Taylor, 82, farmer, and granddaughter Nina Maxwell, 19.
In the 1900 census of Springfield, Clark County, Ohio: Sarah Maxwell, 52, and daughters Dayette, 18, and Christina, 14. All were classified as white. Sarah was married, and three of her five children were living.
On 5 June 1900, in Allegan County Circuit Court, Foster H. Maxwell, 59, was granted a divorce from Sarah A. Maxwell, 45, on the grounds of desertion.
Kingsbury Taylor died 3 November 1906 in Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan. Per his death certificate,
The Hartford Day Spring (Hartford, Michigan), 14 November 1906.
In the 1910 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County: Sarah A. Maxwell, 62, “own income,” and daughter Dayetta, 27.
In the 1920 census of Allegan, Allegan County: at 634 Academy, widow Sarah A. Maxwell, 72.
In the 1930 census of Allegan, Allegan County: at 634 Academy, owned and valued at $1000, widow Sarah A. Maxwell, 82, and granddaughter Betty A., 6.
Sarah Ann Maxwell died 11 September 1938 in Allegan, Michigan. Per her death certificate, she was born 29 August 1847 in Madison, Indiana, to Kingsburg Taylor and Charity Jones, both of Wilson, N.C.; was the widow of Foster Maxwell; lived at 634 Academy Street; and was buried in Lindsley Cemetery, Allegan. Dayette Maxwell was informant.
Kingsberry and Charity Jones Taylor were also buried in Lindsley Cemetery.
Christine Charity Maxwell Chandler (1885-1937), daughter of Foster H. and Sarah A. Taylor Maxwell.
Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user PatriciaPhillips212.
This 1928 plat map of property belonging to Oliver N. Freeman is readily recognizable in the present-day landscape, though it does not appear the land was subdivided as shown. (The area was described as “near” Wilson as it was outside city limits at the time.)
Plat Book 3, Page 39, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office, Wilson; aerial view, Google Maps.
It is impossible to list every African-American cemetery in the United States. Or even every abandoned African-American cemetery. Here, however, is the start of a running list of abandoned or abused African-American cemeteries whose particular circumstances have garnered media (or my) attention, and the organizations attempting to reclaim them. It takes its inspiration from the Adams-McEachin African American Burial Grounds Network Act, which proposes a voluntary national database of historic African-American burial grounds. This legislation would also establish a National Park Service program, in coordination with state, local, private, and non-profit groups, to educate the public and provide technical assistance for community members and public and private organizations to research, survey, identify, record, and preserve burial sites and cemeteries within the Network.
Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick Cemeteries, Lane Street Project, Wilson