A.M.E. Zion 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.

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.

Another Jackson Chapel?

Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church looms over the intersection of East Nash and Pender Streets. It is one of the oldest African-American churches in Wilson County and for much of its existence was one of the largest congregations. Jackson Chapel A.M.E. Zion though?

This deed reveals that there was such a church in Wilson County just before World War I. In November 1917, Lizy and William McCoy, Rosa and Gray Speight, Robert and Annie Bynum, Arch and Lilly Bynum, and Tamer Bynum (the heirs and widow of George Bynum) sold a parcel of land for $200 to W.F. Leak, John Williams, Melinda Leak, James Anderson, G.W. Leak, Alexander Leak, Floyd Ellis and J.T. Jackson, trustees of Jackson Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church. The parcel, measuring just over an acre, lay beside the Norfolk Southern Railroad track “near the Town of Evansdale.” (Evansdale has never been a town. It is crossroads community that, in its heyday, was centered around the intersection of what are now Evansdale and Graves Roads.) If the church were ever constructed, it no longer stands, and the congregation has disbanded. (George J. Leake, however, a grandson of William F. and Malinda Leak born in 1929, became an A.M.E. Zion minister, rising to the office of bishop before his death at age 51.)

The Bynum Family

On 31 October 1869, Puss Artice, daughter of Arch and Rosa Artice, married George Bynum, son of Thos. Drake and Eliza Bynum, at Arch Artice’s. [“Puss” was the nickname of Tamar Artis Bynum.]

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Archabald Artis, 70; wife Rosa, 34; Tamer Bynum, 23, and [her husband] George, 25.

In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer George Bynum, 35; wife Tamer, 30; and children Arch, 7, Roser, 6, Lesey, 4, and Robert, 3 months.

  • Arch Bynum — Arch Bynum, 23, of Wilson township, son of Geo. and Tama Bynum, married Lilly Woodard, 20, of Wilson, daughter of Webster and Liza Woodard, on 27 February 1896. George Woodard applied for the license and the marriage took place at Webster Woodard’s in the presence of Rosa Bynum, Johnie Moore and Richmond Mercer. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Arch Bynum, 37, odd jobs; wife Lillie, 31; and children Nnes, 11, Junis, 7, George, 4, Rena, 2, and Ressie, 2 months.
  • Rosa Bynum — Gray Speight, 47, of Greene County, son of Noah and Synty Speight, married Rosa Brooks, 40, of Stantonsburg, daughter of George and Tamer Bynum, on 24 November 1925 in Stantonsburg. Rosa Speight died 24 August 1967. Per her death certificate, she was born 12 March 1874 in Wilson County to George Bynum and Tammer Artis; was a widow; had worked as a farmer. Informant was Louise Hinnant.
  • Lizy Bynum — On 30 June 1897, W.J. McKoy, 25, of Wilson, son of Alex and Ellen McKoy, married Leacy Bynum, 20, of Wilson, daughter of George and Tamer Bynum, at George Bynum’s residence. In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, farmer Will McCoy, 34; wife Leesie, 32; and children Joe, 11, Lossie, 9, Nancy, 8, Robert, 4, and Mary, 3.
  • Robert Bynum — Robert Bynum, 22, of Stantonsburg, son of George and Tamy Bynum, married Florence Barnes, 22, of Stantonsburg, daughter of Stephen and Adline Barnes, on 4 January 1905 at Steave Barnes’ in Stantonsburg. Robert Bynum, 31, of Wilson, son of George Bynum, married Annie Darden, 21, of Wilson, daughter of C.F. Darden and Mattie Darden on 11 December 1912 at C.F. Darden’s in Black Creek.

The Trustees

  • W.F. Leak — in the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, farmer William F. Leak, 53; wife Malinda, 40; children L[illegible], 17, Albert, 15, Arron, 12, David, 9, and George, 3; son-in-law Lubia Oliver, 27; daughter Lucy, 21; and brother George W. Leak, 43, widower. In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Evansdale Road, farmer William Leak, 57; wife Malinda, 54; widowed daughter Mannie Hicks, 34; and brother George Leak, 54.
  • John Williams
  • Melinda Leak
  • James Anderson
  • G.W. Leak — George Washington Leak.
  • Alexander Leak — in the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Evansdale Road, Alexander Leak, 44, wide Elizar Jane, 39; and children Junous, 21, Octivis, 20, James, 15, Wyley, 9, Mamie, 12, Rosa, 5, and Addie, 1.
  • Floyd Ellis — in the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Evansdale Road, tenant farmer Floid Ellis, 44; wife Mollie, 42; and children Floid T., 12, King A., 10, Joe M., 5, John A., 3, and Mary Reb, 6 months.
  • J.T. Jackson

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This abandoned general store building stands beside the Norfolk-Southern railroad at Evansdale Road and Graves Road. Unused since at least the 1950s, it was likely the heart of the community in which the Bynums and Leaks lived. There is no trace of a church along the railroad.

Five years after this purchase, a terrible tornado tore through Evansdale, killing an African-American school teacher and leaving families, including William Leak’s, homeless. Was Jackson Chapel destroyed in this storm, never to be rebuilt?

Deed book 111, page 399, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson; photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2020.

Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church.

Now at 1626 Martin Luther King Parkway (formerly East Nash Street), Trinity, Wilson’s second A.M.E. Zion church, was originally located on Banks Street.

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1928).

Wilson Daily Times, 16 October 1948.

This granite plaque is affixed to eastern end of the church’s front porch:

Jesse T. McPhail is memorialized for his nearly 70 years of service to Trinity, which he joined just after his 19th birthday.

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In the 1910 census of Dunn, Harnett County: on Washington and Pearson, lumber mill laborer Arnold McPhail, 25; wife Norah, 20; and children Jesse, 3, and Ellis, 18 months.

In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Arnold McPhail, 35; wife Nora, 29; and children Jessie, 13, Ellis, 11, Isibell, 9, Neressa, 7, Ethel, 5, and Paul, 2; and niece Ruby Monroe, 3.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 813 Mercer Street, owned and valued at $1500, truck farmer Hardy Hinnant, 38; mother Mollie B., 35; son George, 8 months; and roomer Jessie McPhail, 24, bank elevator boy.

On 29 March 1931, Jessie McPhail, 24, of Toisnot, son of Arnold McPhail, married Minnie Barnes, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Frank and Chaney Barnes. Elder W.C. Chavers, minister of the “U. Holiness Church,” performed the ceremony in Wilson in the presence of Hardy Hinnant, Dave [illegible] and Arnold McPhail.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: post office janitor Jesse McPhail, 32; wife Minnie, 27; and children Jesse Jr., 8, Clarence, 7, Milton, 5, Geraldine, 4, Ester, 3, Nathaniel, 1, and Minora, 4 months.

In 1942, Alen McCrimmon registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 17 November 1923 in Wilson; resided at 9 Carolina Street; his mailing address was 1114 Carolina Street; his contact was Jesse McPhail, 7 Carolina Street; and he was unemployed.

Jesse Thurston McPhail died 24 May 1994 in Wilson.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2019.

He lived a fine Christian life.

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 July 1944.

In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Wade Barnes, 33; wife Adline, 25; children John, 6, Willis, 3, and Varina, 1; and Dury Simons, 60.

On 23 November 1894, John A. Barnes, 21, of Wilson County, married Sarah Jane Staten, 23, of Wilson County, at Margarett Staten‘s in Wilson. Witnesses were Aaron Sharp, William Weaver and George Weaver.

In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County:  day laborer Johnny Barnes, 25; wife Sarah, 29; and children Victoria, 10, Robert, 8, Ella, 2, and Johnny, 8 months.

In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: John Barnes, 36, church preacher; wife Sarah, 38, dressmaker; and children Robert, 16, Mary E., 12, John E., 11, Wade, 8, Rosa L., 4, and Frank, 3.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: on Lipscomb Road, farmer John A. Barnes, 44; wife Sarah J., 45; and children Ella M., 22, John, 20, Wade, 17, Rosa L., 15, Frank, 12, Willie C., 10, Bessie M.C., 8, Roy L., 7, and Elson, 6. John Jr. and Wade worked as wagon factory laborers.

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: at 739 Lipscomb, owned and valued at $2000, farmer John A. Barnes, 55; wife Sarah, 55; aunt Lucy Bynum, 65; and son Frank W., 23, cook at cafe.

Mary Ella Barnes died 24 March 1934 at Mercy Hospital. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 July 1897 in Wilson County to John Allen Barnes of Wilson County and Sarah Jane Staton of Tarboro; was single; worked as a laundress; and resided at 403 Viola Street.

In the 1940 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: at 739 Lipscomb Road, garden worker John A. Barnes, 65; wife Sarah J., 71; son John A., Jr., body work-Hackney Bus Bodies; daughter-in-law Emma, 35, laundry; son Wade, 36; grandson James D., 17; and grandchildren George, 15, Odell, 13, and Margaret McAllister, 10, and Inez Tart, 9.

John Allen Barnes died 20 July 1944 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 January 1879 in Wilson County to Wade Barnes and Adeline Bynum; was married to Sarah Jane Barnes; lived at 739 Lipton [Lipscomb] Street; and was a preacher.

Like a blazing meteor.

Another encomium for Rev. J.H. Mattocks, A.M.E. Zion minister, this time in W.H. Quick’s Negro Stars in all Ages of the World (1898):

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“… At the ensuing Conference he was appointed to the church at Wilson, N.C., where for one year he was kept on the go. Like a blazing meteor he flashed here and there in interest of his beloved Zion; but like a fixed star of the first magnitude his light was unfading. Wilson has never before nor since been so mightily stirred. …”

[The church was Saint John A.M.E. Zion, which yesterday celebrated its 150th anniversary.]

 

Pioneer for Zion.

PC 2 12 1944

Pittsburgh Courier, 12 February 1944.

This second obituary of Susan Pyatt, mother of Hannah Pyatt Peacock, made special mention of her role in organizing Pyatt’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion, just inside Edgecombe County. The congregation still meets in a tiny edifice on Temperance Hall Road, a few miles east of Elm City.

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Photograph courtesy of Google Map.