Travel

A wreck on the first day at sea.

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The Colonies and India (London, England), 9 April 1898.

Rev. Owen L.W. Smith, his wife Adora Oden Smith, and their daughter Flossie took passage on the African Steamship Company steamer Dahomey, which sailed from Liverpool to his assignment as ambassador in Monrovia, Liberia, on 6 April 1898. Hours after leaving port, the ship struck rocks near Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales. Passengers and crew were safely evacuated, but the ship remained stranded for 14 days before it could be floated off and returned to Liverpool. The incident was investigated, and a magistrate held: “The Court having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the stranding of and material damage to the said vessel were due to the improper navigation of the master, Mr. James G. Cawthorne, whose certificate, No. 34,575, the Court suspends for a period of six months from the date hereof.”

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.

Aunt Charlotte’s excursion tickets.

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Wilson Times, 2 October 1896.

  • Frank Pridgen
  • Charlotte Brinkley — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Dick Brinkley, 65; wife Charlott, 49, cooking; and children Hilliard, 30, Nancy, 27, schoolteacher, and Bettie, 23, nurse. In the 1908 Wilson city directory: Charlotte Brinkley, nurse, 135 Ash. Charlotte Brinkley died 11 June 1912 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she resided on Ash Street; worked as a nurse; was married; and was born in Halifax County to Solomon Davis and Nancy Thorn. She was buried in Halifax County. Dr. W.A. Mitchner certified Brinkley’s death, and Nannie Brinkley was informant.

They filled up with bug juice.

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Wilson Advance, 17 September 1891.

  • Hood Phillips — in the 1880 census of Tarboro, Edgecombe County: minister H.C. Philips, 37, wife Emma, 34, and children Louisa, 12, Hood, 9, Walton, 6, and Cornelius, 3. On 18 May 1893, Hood S. Phillips, 22, of the town of Wilson, son of H.C. and E.E. Phillips, married Phillis Gay, 24, of the town of Wilson, daughter of Wiley and Catharine Gay. Rev. H.C. Phillips performed the ceremony at the A.M.E. Zion church. Witnesses were Annie Mincy, Annie Thorn and Alex Warren. Hood Phillips is listed as a barber living at 623 Viola in the 1908 Wilson City directory. He died 22 February 1919 in Wilson.
  • James Grant Taylor — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: railroad worker Jordan Taylor, 35, wife Jane, 22, and children James Grant, 7, Manora Ann, 4, General Washington, 3, and Lilly Green, 1.
  • Alex Warren — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: laborer Pompee Warren, 54, wife Della, 26, and sons John, 12, and Alexander, 2. In 24 December 1896, Alex Warren, 23, married Ida Davis, 22, in Wilson. Baptist minister W.T.H. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of Emma Burton, Mary Davis and Isaac Thompson. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 367 Spring Street, ice factory blocker Alex Warren, 34, wife Ada, 36, and son John, 19, the latter two, factory workers. Alexander Warren died 4 January 1948 in Wilson. Per his death certificate: he was born about 1879 in Wilson County to Pompie and Della Warren; had worked as a laborer; resided at 403 E. Walnut Street; and was buried at Rountree cemetery. His neighbor John Parks of 405 E. Walnut was informant.
  • Chas. Yellock
  • Thomas Ellis

“Bug juice” was a slang term for low-quality whiskey.

Atlantic Coast Line.

They went where the train went. Clutching tickets. Piled suitcases tied with rope. To a cafe in Norfolk. A government job in Washington. A Philadelphia dock. A season of day’s work in the Bronx. A school year in Brooklyn. The Atlantic Coast Line took them. It brought them back. It took them again.

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Atlantic Coast Line system map, circa 1900. Wilson is midway through the column of stops stacked across eastern North Carolina along the stretch of railroad that had formerly been the Wilmington & Weldon.

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Standing in the railroad crossing at Nash Street, passenger train station at left, looking North. Wilson, May 2016.

Havana-bound.

Passport applications for only two Wilson County African-Americans have surfaced in Ancestry.com’s on-line database, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925. One was Isaiah Prophet Thorne. The other — equally ecclesiastically named — was Evangelist James Freeman.

E.J. Freeman applied for a United States passport in September 1919, just a few days before his ship, the S.S. Mascotte, was to sail for Havana. He reported that he was born 10 June 1885 in Wilson, N.C, and that he lived in Pearson, Florida, and worked as a laborer.

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Pearson was apparently “Pierson,” a tiny agricultural town in Volusia County about 20 miles inland from Daytona Beach. The men who swore to Freeman’s identity lived a ways north in Jacksonville and northwest in Lake City. That J.M. Rhodes had known Freeman for 15 years gives some idea of the length of time Freeman had been out of North Carolina.

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Waiting in Key West, Freeman received his passport in time for departure to Cuba, but he did not stay long. On 14 December 1919, he appeared on the list of United States citizens sailing from Havana to Tampa aboard the S.S. Miami.

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The steamships Mascotte and Miami belonged to the Peninsular & Occidental S.S. Company, which plied the waters between Tampa, Kay West and Havana.

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Palm Beach Post, 16 April 1918.

Just a year before his voyage abroad, Evangelist Freeman registered for the World War I draft. He was living at the time in Yelvington, a crossroads across the Saint Johns River from Palatka, Florida. He listed his employment as “minister of the Gospel,” but, according to the 1920 census, his employer Will Tilton was a potato farmer.

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