Religion

The story of Rocky Branch church.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 November 2000.

Highlights of this history of Rocky Branch United Church of Christ:

  • Shortly after the Civil War, six or seven people began holding regular worship services on the banks of Rocky Branch
  • Church celebrates Harvest Day in October, as it has done for seven generations. Nearly half who attended in 2000 could trace their ancestry to a founding church member.
  • Alice Shaw Stevens, daughter of Seth T. Shaw, was unofficial church historian, as her father had been.
  • A footbridge marks the location of the early gathering site, as well as the site of baptisms in the creek.
  • Though early records are scarce, it appears the church was formally organized in 1870 under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina Conference of Christian churches. Subsequent denomination mergers resulted in its current designation as Rocky Branch United Church of Christ.
  • A crude one-room building was erected early, and a cemetery plot purchased alongside it. Several improvements and additions were made over the years.
  • The church celebrated its centennial in August 1970.
  • In 1986, shortly after members paid off a mortgage on a new addition, lightning struck the church’s steeple and destroyed the edifice. Members met in a nearby church and the Rocky Branch Masonic Lodge building until a new facility was built.
  • The church had 15 pastors between 1870 and 2000 – Revs. Elisha Horton, Robert Pretty, William Allen, Haywood Horton, W.H. Dugger, P.R. Alexander, C.A. Harris (who served two terms), E.L. Sellers, W.H. Jeffreys, C. Hodges, L.E. Young, Eli Burton,and H.L. Hartsfield.

 

The teachers of Calvary’s church school.

CHURCH SCHOOL

Mr. S.H. Vick‘s zeal for Sabbath School work continued into his being superintendent of Calvary’s Church School for twenty-five years. Other superintendents following him were Mr. B.R. Winstead, Mr. William Hines, and Mrs. Henrietta Colvert, a registered nurse with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Some of the early teachers were Mrs. Lucy Thompson, Mrs. Della Barnes, Mrs. Mamie Faithful, Mr. B.R. Winstead, Mr. and Mrs. Mack Cannon, Mrs. Martha Spells, Mrs. Eleanor P. Reid, Mrs. Ethel Hines, Mrs. Sarah Hines, Mrs. Cortney Fitts, and Mrs. Mary Diggs.

The Sunday School pianists included Mrs. Susan Peacock Prince, Miss Rose L. Kittrell, Miss Naomi Freeman, Mrs. Doris Vick Walker, Miss Dolores Hines, and Mrs. Mary Ellis.

From “Historical Highlights of Calvary Presbyterian Church (USA), Wilson, North Carolina,” Adventures in Faith: The Church at Prayer, Study and Service (1989).

I joined to be with my husband.

On 25 October 2009, Wilson native Kay C. Westray sat for an interview with a member of Washington, D.C.’s Zion Baptist Church Historical and Preservation Commission’s Oral History Committee. Here is an excerpt:

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

BRISCOE: What is your name?
K. WESTRAY: My name is Kay C. Westray.
BRISCOE: When and when were you born?
K. WESTRAY: I was born on March 6, 1918 in Wilson, North Carolina.
BRISCOE: What were your parents’ names?
K. WESTRAY: My mother’s name was Melissa Hill and my father was named Lovet Hill.
BRISCOE: What is your educational background?
K. WESTRAY: I was educated in the Wilson, North Carolina public schools, and I graduated from Fayetteville State Secondary College in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
BRISCOE: What were the main jobs you have held?
K. WESTRAY: I worked as a clerk at the Veteran’s Administration. I quit that job in 1951. I am now retired.

BRISCOE: Tell me about your marital status and your family.
K. WESTRAY: Since September 6, 1947, I have been married to Lynwood C. Westray. We have been married for 62 years. We have one daughter, Gloria Westray Nuckles, who lives in Fort Stockton, Texas. She teaches at the prison school. We have no grandchildren.
BRISCOE: Where else have you lived?
K. WESTRAY: I lived in Wilson, North Carolina and in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I went to college. I came to Washington, DC in 1939.
BRISCOE: Thank you for telling me about your life up to now. Our next set of questions will ask about your Faith Life.

FAITH LIFE

BRISCOE: When and where did you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior? What was the name of that church?
K. WESTRAY: I accepted Christ as my Savior and got baptized at 8 or 9 years of age. My father took me to St. Johns AME Zion Church in Wilson, North Carolina. Rev. B. P. Coward was the pastor.
BRISCOE: Why did you join Zion?
K. WESTRAY: I joined Zion in 1947 to be with my husband.

——

In the 1920 census of Township 9, Craven County, North Carolina — farmer Hugh L. Hill, 34; wife Malissie, 32; and children Mamie, 8, Katie, 6, Evolena, 4, and William, 2.

Malissa Hill died 21 March 1929 in childbirth in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 38 years old and was born in Greene County, North Carolina, to Frank Jenkins of Pitt County and Allie Mae Fonville of Greene County. Henry L. Hill was informant.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 232 Manchester Street, rented for $18/month, widower Henry L. Hill, 44, sawmill laborer, and children Mamie E., 18; Evenlyne, 15, Katie B., 17, William, 2, Jessie M., 9, Emaniel, 7, Benjamin, 5, and Myrtina, 3.

Henry Lovet Hill died 25 August 1957 of a heart attack at Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church. Per his death certificate, he was born 31 [sic] November 1871 in Craven County to William Jackson Hill and Emma Jane Hill; resided at 507 Hadley Street, Wilson; was married; worked as a preacher and laborer; and “as a lay preacher he had just finished his sermon, turned to sit down, when he slumped over.”

Katie C. Westray, age 100, died “[o]n Monday, May 13, 2013; loving and devoted wife of Lynwood C. Westray; beloved mother of Gloria J. Nuckles. She is also survived by her sister Mertina H. Hill; and a host of other relatives and friends. A Memorial Service will be held at Zion Baptist Church, 4850 Blagden Avenue NW on Tuesday, May 21 at 12 noon. Interment private. Services by Stewart.”

Saint Alphonsus school.

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This photograph of a classroom at Saint Alphonsus School, which was affiliated with the all-black (except for the priest) Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church, probably dates from the early 1940s. According to a history of the school, in 1948 the church purchased a surplus Army PX and transformed into a school building with classrooms, offices and an assembly hall. The school faced Carroll Street (and the rear of the church) between Faison and Academy Streets. With nuns of the Oblate Sisters of Providence teaching, Saint Alphonsus School remained open until it merged with Saint Therese School in the late 1960s. The building was then rented to Concerned Parents of Wilson, Inc., a non-profit organization that founded and funded Kiddie Kollege of Knowledge to provide quality private kindergarten education for African-American children.

[Personal note: I attended Kiddie Kollege of Knowledge 1968-70. The photo below was taken at my graduation in the school’s assembly hall; I’m on the right, holding my Bachelor of Rhymes “degree.” — LYH]

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Photograph of Saint Alphonsus reprinted from Wilson Daily Times, 29 April 1999; kindergarten photo in private collection of B.A. Henderson.

Bishop of the United Holy Church.

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Encyclopedia of African American Religions (1993), eds. Larry G. Murphy, J. Gordon Melton, and Gary L. Ward.

——

Horace Bowen, 23, of Wilson, son of Robert and Sarah Bowen of Wilmington, North Carolina, married Sallie Stevens, 15, daughter of Norris and A.J. Stevens, all of Wilson, on 18 May 1913 in Wilson. A.J. Stevens Pittmon gave permission for her minor daughter to marry. (Norris Stevens was deceased.) Pentecostal minister Isaac Lewis performed the ceremony in the presence of George Wilson, Henry McCray and William Davis.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 806 Lodge Street, Henry Boans, 28, oil mill laborer; wife Sallie, 21; and children Jessie, 4, Elma, 2, and Joseph, 1; plus boarder Evonie Weeks, 23, a tobacco factory worker, and her daughter Jennie, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: cotton oil mill laborer Horace Bowen, 36; wife Sallie, 30, cook; and children Jesse D., 15, Joseph, 11, and Earlie, 0.

Horrace Bowens died 31 May 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he resided at 508 1/2 Church Street; was married to Sallie Bowens; was 57 years old; had been a preacher for 20 years; and was born in Wilmington to Robert and Sallie Bowens.

In the 1940 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: at 2331 Kedner Street, widow Sallie Bowens, 40, helper at tobacco factory; and children Joseph, 20, William, 40, and Earth, 9; and lodger Samuel Bowens, 28; all born in North Carolina but living in Pennsylvania before 1935.


Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson, February 2017.

George R. Murrain’s journey.

On 30 July 1928, Presbyterian minister A.H. George conducted the marriage ceremony of George R. Murrain, 25, of New York, son of George R. and Elizabeth Murrain, and Della Mae Whitehead, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Henry and Victoria Whitehead, in Wilson. Witnesses were Elizabeth Brodie, H.M. Fitts, and Pennie A. Bynum. The license notes that Murrain’s father was dead, but his mother resided in Africa.

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Immigration documents reveal that George Richard Murrain was the son of George Richard Murrain and Elizabeth Burnette Murrain, missionaries who traveled the world on behalf of the Church of the Brethren, one of the three historic peace churches. The elder Murrains moved for decades between South America, Africa, Europe and North America, a peripatetic international existence that George and Della Murrain also briefly carried out.

Digitized immigration records show some of the Murrain family’s travels.

“List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival” details passengers sailing from Liverpool, England, 31 July 1913, on the S.S. Adriatic, arriving at the Port of New York on 8 August 1913. The manifest included George Richard Murrain (the elder), 45, wife Elizabeth, 43, and their children Frederick, 15, Stanley, 13, Jeanie, 12, George, 10, Joseph, 8, Mona, 6, and Elliott, 5. The family’s last permanent residence was Hualondo, Africa, and their contact was Missionaries of Christian Brethren, Bile, West Central Africa.

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This “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival” shows passengers sailing from Southampton, England, 10 January 1922, on the S.S. Olympic. The manifest lists missionary Mary Augusta Murrain, 29, and students George Richard, 20, and Mona Elizabeth Murrain, 18. All were citizens of Great Britain whose last residence was Hualondo, Africa. Their father was G.R. Murrain, Missan Ingleza Bie Angola, and their final destination was Enfield, North Carolina.

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Mary, George and Mona Murrain apparently were detained upon arrival in the United States and appear on a “Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry.” The codes do not readily reveal the reason for their detention or how long they were held.

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On 27 July 1924, the Murrains arrived at the Port of Southampton, England, on the Zeelandia. The ship sailed originally from Buenos Aires, and the family boarded in Lisbon. Below is a portion of the “Names and Descriptions of British Passengers” showing George R. Murrain, 55, wife Elizabeth Augusta, 53, and sons Joseph Nathaniel, 20, and Elliot Sydney, 16. Angola was listed as their country of last permanent residence.

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On 29 August 1924, George R. Murrain the elder set sail to Canada on the S.S. Montclare. His “Declaration of Passenger to Canada” shows that he was married to Elizabeth Agusta; that he was a missionary; that he was born in the West Indies; was colored; was British; his religion was Brethren; was going to Canada for vacation; that he had visited the country before; that he first arrived in Canada via New York in 1914; and that his destination was Toronto.

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The trip ended in tragedy.

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There was no “British Guinea”; Murrain was likely from British Guiana, now Guyana, on the northeast Atlantic coast on South America. From “The Believers’ Magazine: For the Ministry of the Word and Tidings of the Work of the Lord,” John Ritchie, editor, volume 25, page 26 (February 1925).

Twenty years after George Murrain Jr. and Della Whitehead married, part of the family appeared on the “Manifest of In-Bound Passengers (Aliens)” arriving tourist class at the Port of New York, from Southampton, England, on the Queen Mary on 13 September 1948. The manifest shows Della Murrain, age 41, and her three children George, 11, Fitzgerald, 9, and Kenneth, 16. Della, George and Fitzgerald were United States citizens; Kenneth was British. The younger boys were born in West Africa.

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Another manifest dated 18 months later shows British citizen George Richard Murrain, age 47, of Route 4, Box 35, Wilson, North Carolina, arriving first class at the Port of New York on the Washington on 24 January 1950. The ship had left Southampton, England, a week earlier.

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George Richard Murrain died 31 August 1982 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 June 1902 in Silva Porto [now Kuito], Angola, West Africa, to George Richard Murrain and Elizabeth Burnette Murrain; was married; was a retired carpenter; and resided at 105 Tacoma Street. Della Whitehead Murrain was informant.

New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957; U.K. Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960; U.K. Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [databases on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Formerly principal of the Wilson graded school.

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REV. CHARLES H. SMITH, B.D.

Charles H. Smith was born in Jones County, near New Berne, N. C., in 1853, and is the son of Thomas and Harriet Smith. At an early age he entered the Northern school at New Berne, remaining there till he obtained a normal education, and then attended St. Augustine College, Raleigh, N. C., for three years. He occupied the position of principal of the Wilson graded school, giving entire satisfaction, until, becoming desirous of entering the ministry, he was ordained deacon by Bishop J. W. Hood at Salisbury in November, 1877, and given charge of Snow Hill Circuit. Here he so rapidly increased the membership that Bishop Hood divided the work, making two circuits. In 1880 he was ordained an elder at Tarboro, N. C. When he entered upon his duties as pastor of the Whiteville Circuit he found the Methodists and Baptists worshiping in the same church edifice, and at once set to work and built a beautiful church for Zion. A strong man was needed at Henderson, the Baptists being about to absorb the Methodists. Elder Smith entered his field, published a pamphlet on the proper mode of baptism, which obtained a general circulation, and soon became master of the situation. Henderson is now one of the strongholds of Zion in the North Carolina Conference.

In 1887 Rev. Smith was appointed pastor of St. Peter’s Church at New Berne and grandly entertained the General Conference at that church in 1888. A large debt on the church was canceled during his pastorate. While at New Berne he married the accomplished Miss Mamie Stanley, a teacher in the graded school of that city. Mrs. Smith makes a model minister’s wife. While a member of the North Carolina Conference Rev. Smith won the first prize in gold for the largest collection of General Fund. He was a member of the General Conferences of 1884, 1888, and 1892. He was transferred to the West Alabama Conference, where he erected a fine parsonage at Jefferson and relieved the church of debt. At Selma, Ala., he saved the church, which was about to be sold, and greatly reduced its debt. He is a strong temperance advocate, is generous and sympathetic, and an able scholar and theologian.