The colored brethren of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church.

In 1946, the Wilson Daily Times published an article by Hugh B. Johnston commemorating the history of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church. I’ve excerpted below the sections that mention the church’s African-American members.

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 3.33.57 PM

Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, Asheville Post Card Co., undated.

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 3.41.52 PM

“On April 24, 1920, the Church agreed to begin construction as soon as possible and to include a baptismal pool, memorial windows for a number of outstanding members, and a balcony for the convenience of remaining colored brethren.”

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 3.45.05 PM

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 3.45.31 PM

“A gallery for colored members ran entirely around the second story of the [1859] church, excepting the end above the tall, broad pulpit.”

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 3.46.43 PM

At a conference held at the Tosneot Baptist Church on Sept. 23, 1865, “a proposition was made and agreed to that all colored members that had ‘left their owners before the proclamation of freedom was made, and gone to the Yankees should be dealt with and excluded if they could not give satisfaction of their disorder.’ … [N]one of the offending members appeared … [and when they failed to appear at a postponed date,] motion was made to expel them: on which motion servants Thomas Farmer and Redic Barnes were expelled from all rights of the church.”

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 3.47.14 PM

“As a result of the formation of London’s Primitive Baptist Church for the convenience of the colored membership who were being served outside of regular meetings by Elder London Woodard, a conference was held at the Tosneot church on May 21, 1870, and “the following resolution was adopted by unanimous consent of the members, white and colored, that in the future, as before, the white members of the church shall have the entire control of the discipline and government of the church as this place. [This understanding was entered into the minutes] so as in after days there could not be any misunderstanding between the white and colored members of this church.”

Wilson Daily Times, 19 November 1946.


Some thoughts:

  • The balcony in the back of the 1920 church is visible starting at 1:29 of this Youtube video.
  • What African-Americans were members of Wilson Primitive Baptist as late as 1920? Do the church’s records exist?
  • I have been unable to identify specifically Thomas Farmer and Reddick Barnes, the members who audaciously took their freedom into their own hands.
  • “The formation of London’s Primitive Baptist Church for the convenience of the colored membership who were being served outside of regular meetings” by London Woodard sounds like more like a recognition of a new reality: Toisnot’s black members had left to worship among themselves under a charismatic black preacher. It’s not surprising that those who remained unanimously agreed that white people would control the church.

The full load struck him in the shoulder.

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 2.54.25 PM.png

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 2.54.37 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 15 April 1930.


In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Casten Barnes, 28; wife Waity, 24; and children Austin, 6, Benjamin, 5, Etheldred, 4, and Aaron, 1.

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Gaston Barnes, 42; wife Waity, 35; and children Benjamin, 16, Aaron, 10, Nellie, 7, Willie, 5, and male infant, 17 days.

Per a delayed birth certificate, William Ichabod Barnes was born in 1884 in Wilson County to Gaston Barnes and Wattie Simms Barnes.

On 30 May 1906, W.I. Barnes, 22, married Madie Taylor, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Mike and Rachel Taylor, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister N.D. King performed the ceremony in the presence of William Mitchell, Alex H. Walker, Roderick Taylor, and Sarah Ward.

Henry Mike Barnes died 6 February 1912 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 5 December 1911 in Wilson County to W.I. Barnes and Madie Taylor.

William Ichabod Barnes registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 10 February 1884; lived at 401 Pine Street, Wilson; was a laborer for Export Leaf Tobacco Company; and his nearest relative was wife Maidie Barnes.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 401 Pine Street, tobacco laborer Samuel Ennis, 26, wife Maggie, 29, and children Freeman, 12, and Earl, 2; wagon factory laborer John Smith, 21, boarder ; and cafe owner William I. Barnes, 30, wife Madie, 27, and children Weldon, 12, Dorothy, 11, Rachel, 9, Ethel G., 6, Vera, 2, and Virginia R., 10 months.

Ethel Grey Barnes died 2 July 1923 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was ten years old; was born in Wilson to W.I. Barnes and Madie Taylor; and was a school girl.

Warland Barnes died 4 December 1926 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 19 years old; was married to Blanche Barnes; lived at 309 Pender Street, Wilson; was a common laborer; and was born in Wilson to W. Ichabod Barnes and Madie Taylor. He was buried in Rountrees cemetery, Wilson.

In 1942, William Ichabod Barnes registered for the World War II draft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his registration card, he was born 10 February 1884 in Wilson, North Carolina; lived at 1216 North Street, Philadelphia; and his contact was Mrs. Robert Stevens, 1000 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia.

William Barnes died 16 February 1954 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 February 1884 in North Carolina to William Barnes and Wattie Sims; lived at 1216 North Street, Philadelphia; worked as a laborer; and was separated. T. Dorothy Robinson, 1218 North Street, was informant.

Five generations of Barnes women.

Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 1.46.23 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 20 April 1950.

The caption identifies this as a photograph of five generations of an African-American Barnes family that lived on the Edwin Barnes farm, “one of the fine old plantations of the state.” There is no mention of the age of the photograph (I would guess approximately 1900-1910) or its provenance. The names of the young woman and baby at bottom left were unknown. “Old Aunt Rose” is at bottom right. Standing at top right is “Aunt Sylvia,” who was a cook for Edwin Barnes and then his daughter Mrs. J.T. Graves for forty years and was “famous for her chicken stew.” At top left is Aunt Sylvia’s daughter, Jane Barnes Simms.

To my surprise and disappointment, I have not been able to document Rose Barnes, her daughter Sylvia, and granddaughter Jane Barnes Simms. Can anyone help?

Edwin Barnes house.

Per Kate Ohno’s Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

“Edwin Barnes was born in 1816 and received training as a doctor. He married Elizabeth Simms, daughter of James Simms. Dr. Barnes’ practice extended from Stantonsburg too Wilson. Josephus Daniels described Dr. Barnes in the first volume of his autobiography, Tar Heel Editor. ‘He was the leading physician in Wilson, universally beloved. He never had an office. There were no telephones to call him when his services were needed. If he could not be found at home, he was usually at his favorite drugstore — favorite because interesting people gathered there to swap experiences and tell stories … Dr. Barnes never sent a bill to a patient of failed to respond to a professional call from those he know could not pay him. He was the model country-town doctor, responding to any calls, day or night, to distant country homes over bad roads.’ Dr. Barnes’ commodious house is situated in a grove of old trees between Wilson and Stantonsburg. The house was designed in the Greek Revival style and is one of the most outstanding examples of this style in Wilson County. Built circa 1840, the house stands two stories high and boasts two front doors, a common feature of Wilson residential architecture before the Civil War. Molded window and door surrounds with square cornerbacks are used throughout and the full-width shed porch is supported by graceful, flared, fluted columns. On the interior, the house has been minimally altered. The woodwork is original throughout, as is the floor plan. The two front doors lead to two front rooms joined by a connecting door. An enclosed stair with flat panel wainscot leads to the second floor. Both double-panel and eight-panel doors are used in the house and flat panel wainscoting with a molded chair rail enhances the main rooms. The vernacular mantels feature the use of narrow reeded boards.”


In the 1840 census of District 4, Edgecombe County: Edwin Barnes is listed as the head of a household that included one white male aged 20-29; one white female aged 15-19; one white female under five; and one white female aged 60-69. He also reported 14 slaves — two males under ten; one aged 10-23; one male aged 36-45; one male aged 55-99; one female under ten; four females aged 10-23; one female 24-35; and one female aged 36-54.

In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County: farmer Edwin Barnes, 32; wife Elizeth, 24; and children Louisa, 9, and Franklin, 6. Barnes reported $6500 in assets.

In the 1850 slave schedule of Edgecombe County, Edwin Barnes reported owning 32 enslaved people.

In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Edwin Barnes, 43; wife Elizabeth, 36; and children Lou, 20, Franklin, 15, Edwin, 9, and Dora, 4. Barnes reported $14,000 in real property and $56,780 in personal property (most in the form of enslaved people.)

In the 1860 slave schedule of Saratoga district, Wilson County, Edwin Barnes reported holding 48 enslaved people (who lived in only five houses). He also reported holding another 15 enslaved people “in trust for four minor heirs.”

Studio shots, no. 148: Cleora H.H. Barnes.

Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 5.31.17 PM.png

Cleora Hodge Hagans Barnes (1922-1999).


In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 809 Mercer Street, Alphonso Hodge, 26, cook at Taylor cafe; wife Lula, 24; and daughter Cleora, 7.

Charles Hagans, 21, son of Isaac and Essie May Hagans, and Cleora Hodge, 18 [actually, she was 14], daughter of Alphonso and Lula Hodge, married 24 October 1936 in Nashville, Nash County. Witnesses were Wilfred McCray and Lula Hodge.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1002 Mercer Street, drugstore delivery boy Charles Hagans, 21; wife Cleora, 19; and daughters Therrol, 3, and Lula Mae, 7 months.

In 1940, Charles Hagans registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 4 August 1919 in Wilson; his contact was wife Cleo Hagans; he lived at 1002 Mercer Street; and he worked for Herring Drug Store, 211 East Nash Street.

Raymond Barnes, born 10 May 1923 in Wilson County to George Barnes and Pattie Williams, married Cleora Hodge Hagans, born 12 July 1922 in Wilson County to Alphonso Hodge and Lula Hunt, both residents of Wilson County, married 30 October 1964 in Nashville, Nash County.

Alfonza Hodge died 11 March 1965 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, Hodge was born 25 December 1902 in Wilson County to Lenwood Hodge and Nannie E. Young; was a widower; lived at 1009 Railroad Street, Wilson; worked as a cook at Star Cafe. Informant was Cleora Barnes, 206 North East Street, Wilson.

Cleora Barnes died 19 April 1999.

Photo courtesy of user PHILLYEVANS44.

Cora Barnes Melton, centenarian.


Wilson Daily Times, 4 May 1993.

Wilson Daily Times, 4 May 1995.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 May 1997.


On 29 October 1917, John Melton, 26, married Cora Barnes, 25, at Zena Barnes’ in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Linnie Wilson, M.H. Wilson and Lorene E. Griggs.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Washington Street, carpenter John Melton, 28; wife Cora, 26; son Robert O., 1; and cousin Della Griswell, 24.

John Melton died 17 August 1933 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 July 1889 in Wilson County to John and Lucy Melton; was married to Cora Melton; lived at 1206 Washington Street; and worked as a carpenter.

In 1944, John Melton registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 11 September 1926 in Wilson County; lived at 1206 East Washington Street; his contact was his mother Cora Melton; and he worked at Imperial Tobacco Company.

In 1946, William Thomas Melton registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 11 October 1928 in Wilson County; lived at 1206 East Washington Street; his contact was his mother Cora Melton; and was a student.

Cora Barnes Melton passed away 4 May 1997, two days after the Daily Times featured her birth celebration.