church history

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.

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.

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

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“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.”

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

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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.”

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“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.

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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.

Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, 1859-1920. The gallery for black members ran along three interior walls. Marion Monk Moore Collection, Images of North Carolina, http://www.digitalnc.org.

 

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.

 

Under Rev. Henry, Little Zion grew.

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Mack Henry, 51, wife Elen S., 38, and children James T., 14, Pochahuntus, 12, Emma G., 9, George B., 7, and Pattie L., 2. All were born in Virginia except Pattie, who was born in North Carolina. Mack, Ellen and James worked as tobacco graders.

In the 1910 census of Clayton, Johnston County, North Carolina: Mack Henry, 55, tobacco grader; wife Ellen, 45, cook; daughters Pocahontas Farmer, 23, and Emma Hinton, 20, washwomen; daughter Pattie L. Henry, 14; son William T. Henry, 10; daughter Jessie Maie Henry, 5; and granddaughters Elizabeth Farmer, 1, and an unnamed Hinton girl, 1 month.

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From Greater Little Zion Baptist Church History. Greater Little Zion is in Fairfax, Virginia, in an area of the city once called Burke.