Episcopal priest

The final resting place of Rev. John Perry and family.

I’ve written here of Rev. John W. Perry, the Episcopal rector who served both Tarboro’s Saint Luke and Wilson’s Saint Mark’s for more than a decade beginning in 1889. 

I was headed out of Tarboro back toward Wilson yesterday when a sign at the edge of a somewhat shabby cemetery caught my eye — it was Saint Luke’s graveyard. The cemetery was established in the 1890s and likely contains many more graves than its headstones would indicate. Rev. Perry, his wife Mary Pettipher Perry, and several of their children are among the burials. 

The Perry family plot lies in the shadow of this impressive light gray granite marker. 

Rev. John W. Perry 1850-1918 He served St. Luke’s Parish for 37 years with honor to his Maker and himself.

Mary Eliza Pettipher Wife of Rev. J.W. Perry 1854-1929 Our lives were enriched because she lived among us.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, March 2023.

Rev. John H.M. Pollard, rector of Saint Mark’s.

Rev. John H.M. Pollard.

Rev. John H.M. Pollard led the congregation at Saint Mark’s Episcopal for two years. Writes Patrick Valentine in The Episcopalians of Wilson County: A History of St. Timothy’s and St. Mark’s Churches of Wilson, North Carolina, 1856-1995:

John Henry Mingo Pollard succeeded William Perry as minister in charge in 1900. Pollard, consecrated a priest in 1886 and noted for his work in Charleston, S.C., served as North Carolina’s Archdeacon of the Convocation Work Among Colored People (1900-1908). He took a sharp cut in pay to come to North Carolina but the field ‘is larger and the Church atmosphere more congenial.’ Pollard appears to have been a sincere, thoughtful, positive man of great energy. ‘Most people say that the Church is not making any progress …. The Church as she is, is good enough for me.’ ‘The fact [is] that this small work has a very large influence for the good in the diocese.’ In addition to at St. Mark’s, Pollard had charge of six other missions.

“Under Pollard’s direction the number of communicants increased to twenty-six. When he came to Wilson he cited the need for a missionary home and school house, estimated at $500, as one of three top priorities for colored missionary work in the diocese. Pollard was in charge for two years, then was succeeded by Basil B. Tyler who stayed two years. [… After Tyler left,] John Pollard returned briefly and was then succeeded in September 1905 by yet a third Reverend Perry, Robert Nathaniel Perry.”

Photo courtesy of “A Visual History of the Diocese,” https://www.episdionc.org/uploads/images/a-visual-history-of-the-diocese_580.pdf

The death of Rev. B.B. Tyler, killed by falling timbers.

Death certificates were newly required in 1909, and undertakers sometimes struggled to complete the personal information section accurately. The basic facts are clear though. Fifty-two-year-old Basil B. Tyler, a minister and native of Piscataway, Maryland, was “killed suddenly by falling timbers.”

What was Rev. Basil Benjamin Tyler, an Episcopal priest, doing in Wilson, and how did he come to his death under a pile of logs?

The News and Observer answered the second question. B.B. Tyler was part of a construction crew building a new Contentnea Guano factory. A truss gave way, sending twenty-three more trusses cascading into one another and destroying the building. Carpenter Junius Woodard and laborer Tobe Bellamy were badly injured. White workers Frank Batts, Speight McKeel, and George Farmer suffered bruises. Basil B. Tyler was killed.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 24 November 1909.

The horrible circumstance of Rev. Tyler’s death is clear here, but the reasons he was in Wilson stirring cement at a guano factory are still confounding. He was ordained a deacon in 1883 in the Diocese of Albany, New York, and in 1888 transferred to the Diocese of Virginia, where he headed a mission in Hampton.

On 1 November 1888, in Manhattan, New York, New York, Basil Benjamin Tyler, 29, minister, born in Prince George’s County, Maryland, married Alice F. Davis, 22, born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, daughter of Thomas Davis.

By 1892, Rev. Tyler was deacon in charge of Saint Philip’s Chapel in Charlestown, West Virginia.

Baltimore Church Advocate, 6 February 1892.

By 1900, the family had returned to Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they appear in the 1900 census of Aquasco District: clergyman Basil B. Tyler, 40; wife Alice F., 38; children Basil B., 10, John J., 8, and James E., 5 months; and boarder Wade W. Butler, 13. Rev. Tyler and his son James were born in Maryland; Alice Tyler and son Basil were born in Virginia; and son John was born in West Virginia.

Baltimore Sun, 29 October 1900.

The published text of Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire’s address to the Episcopal convention, delivered in 1903, lands Rev. Tyler in Wilson as deacon of Saint Mark’s Church.

Consulting Patrick Valentine’s The Episcopalians of Wilson County: A History of St. Timothy’s and St. Mark’s Churches of Wilson, North Carolina, 1856-1995, I found this:

“… [Rev. John Henry Mingo] Pollard was in charge for two years, then was succeeded by Basil B. Tyler who stayed two years.

“Tyler had been admitted as a candidate for holy orders in Washington, D.C. He then transferred to Virginia, and came to Wilson in 1902. That very year the bishop had to omit St. Mark’s on his Visitation because of the ‘prevalence of small pox among the Negroes’ but visited the next two years. ‘The congregations of late have been generally good,’ Tyler reported in 1903, by which we assume he meant generally ‘good’ in size.

“According to his successor, Tyler ‘was a man of scholarly attainments, an interesting speaker, and most eloquent preacher.’ There were rumors, however, that Tyler’s wife was leading a scandalous life and had the minister ‘completely under her thumb.’ In any case, he ‘failed to arouse any interest in the people scarcely and was forced to with draw [sic].’ He left in 1904 for South Carolina.”

Valentine adds in a footnote: “Tyler later returned to Wilson, was baptized ‘by immersion in the creek hard by,’ and became a Baptist before he ‘crossed the river,'” i.e. died in the wreckage of a collapsing building.

What happened to Tyler between 1904, when he left Wilson to assume a new pastorate in South Carolina, and 1909 when he returned, disillusioned with the Episcopal Church and constrained to manual labor that would kill him?