family reunion

Thank you, Freeman-Hagans family.

I was honored to be asked to speak at the Freeman-Hagans reunion last night — the first family reunion I’ve addressed beyond my own. The family is fortunate to have richly documented genealogical knowledge, so I knew I couldn’t just show up and tell the Freemans about the Freemans. As I considered topics, I remembered a passage in Mary Freeman-Ellis’ fantastic The Way It Was in which she vividly described attending services at London’s Primitive Baptist Church. As genealogy is brought to life, so to speak, by an understanding of the contexts of our ancestors’ lives, I decided to talk about the history of the church that was so central to the lives of Eliza Daniels Freeman and several of her children. My thanks to Patricia Freeman for the invitation;  to the Lillian Freeman Barbee family for sharing their table with me; and to all who welcomed me so warmly.

London Church twelve years after it was moved from its original location on Herring Avenue. A hoped-for benefactor had not materialized, and the building was beginning to break down. Wilson Daily Times, 31 March 2004.

Here’s the inspirational excerpt from Mary Freeman-Ellis’ memoir:

“… Aunt Lydia [Freeman Norwood Ricks], Uncle Lovette [Freeman], and Julius [F. Freeman Jr.] were members. Once a year, usually early spring, the church had its annual meeting. People came from near and far. A great deal of time was spent inside the church during the service. This was the annual ‘Big August Meeting,’ I used to hear Aunt Lydia say, lots of preparation occurred during the year to cleanse the heart, soul and the mind in order to be able to receive communion. The church grounds, as they were called, were set up with long wooden tables with benches to sit on. Each table was covered with a sheet then a white table cloth.

“I had never seen so much food any place before. There was fried chicken, roast beef, roast pork, potato salad, slaw and several tin tubs with iced cold lemonade. There were also several kinds of pies and cakes. This was the first time I had ever seen anybody eat only cake and fried chicken together. We tried it and it was good. People ate, greeted each other with big hugs and the preacher did his share of hugging the sisters. London Baptist Church was a primitive church; I never understood that term.

“Although the fellowship of the church grounds was a vital part of this Big August Meeting, what transpired inside was the thing that had us traumatized. For example, the services started with the pastor greeting the congregation. The membership was made up of all blacks and the women far outnumbered the men. The service continued with a long prayer, going into a song led by the pastor. There was no organ or piano. Most of the songs appeared to have anywhere from five to eight verses. I was familiar with the hymn, Amazing Grace, but had never heard it sung the way the Primitive Baptists sang it. The preacher would read off two lines as follows: ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. It saved a wreck [sic] like me.’ The congregation would follow with these same two lines. The pastor would continue with, ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.’ This was called ‘lining a hymn.’ The preacher took his text from the Prodigal Son. He had him going places and doing things I had never heard of before. Since we were children, we knew to keep quiet because this was a house of worship and it was good manners to sit quietly. We had also begged Aunt Lydia to take us and we did not want her to know how disappointed we were. There was very little going on for children other than eating when the time came.

“We could not get home fast enough to tell Mother and Dad about our experience, especially how hard those wooden benches were. I wanted the center of attention so I began relating each thing as it happened. Dad momentarily looked up at me for a moment with a sheepish grin on his face. He said, ‘You know you were not forced to go.'”

“It’s so nice to see/ All the folks you love together …”

I’m not sure what resonates most: the over-excited child in a hotel room, the O’Jays, the picnic, the slightly bored teenagers, the teeshirts, the cemetery cleaning, the banquet, the Electric Slide, the history lecture, the camera up in folks’ faces. Everything about this video screams BLACK FAMILY REUNION, and this one is a gathering of the Carters in Wilson in 1990.

I paused the tape at 4:34. The wall of ancestors. I recognized these names. This was a gathering of the descendants of George and Nancy Parker Carter, with the Mary Ida Carter Brockington branch exceptionally well-represented.

I hope the next generation of Carters is somewhere planning the 2020 reunion — and that they’ll film it and share!

Hat tip to Zella Palmer for leading me to this gem, and thanks to Ronald Steele, who blessed us all by posting it to Youtube.

South Carolina roots: the Britton family reunion.

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 June 1977.


In the 1910 census of Indian township, Williamsburg County, South Carolina: farmer Waders Britton, 33; wife Emma, 34; and children Prince D., 6, Eda M., 5, Elizabeth, 4, Manda A., 2, and Joseph S., 9 months.

In the 1920 census of Ridge township, Williamsburg County, South Carolina: farmer Waiters Britton, 46; wife Emma, 33; and children Prince, 15, Etta, 13, Carry, 11, Jane, 10, Florence, 8, Cora, 6, and Nettie, 2.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County, North Carolina: farmer Waitren B. Britton, 50, born in Florida; wife Emma, 52, born in South Carolina; and children Elizabeth, 22, Phoebe, 20, Ruth, 18, Emma Jr., 14, Sarah, 11, and Johney, 6, all born in South Carolina; and boarder Idee Howard, 22.

Emma Britton died 29 June 1931 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 58 years old; was born in Florence, South Carolina, to James Meyers and Amanda Bostic; had been farming on the “Tillman farm” since 1928; and was married to Watus B. Britton.

Walter Britton died 4 May 1933 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was a widower; was 58 years old; was born in Florence, South Carolina, to Walter and Feebie Britton; was a widower; and worked as a day laborer. Emma Britton was informant.

Mary Ruth Lofton died 22 May 1963 at her home at 807 East Vance Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 8 August 1913 in South Carolina to Watis Britton and Emma Myers; was married. Informant was Benjamin Lofton, 807 East Vance.

On 9 November 1964, Charles Jennette, 45, twice divorced, born in Belhaven, N.C., City of Norfolk garbage collector, married Elizabeth Britton Stewart, 53, twice divorced, born in Florence, S.C., beautician, daughter of Watties Bonwell Britton and Emma Myers, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Rev. Phoebe Ann Britton Cotton died 15 December 1971 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 28 February 1916 in South Carolina to Waitis Barnwell Britton and Emma Britton; was a widow; resided at 1303 Carolina Street; and was a minister. John Cotton of Augusta, Georgia, was informant. She was buried in Jones Hill cemetery.

Elizabeth Jennette died 4 February 1980 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 June 1910 in South Carolina to Watis Barnwell Britton and Emma Myers; was married; lived at 1600 Lane Street; and was a beautician. Sister Sarah B. Applewhite was informant.

Sarah Addie Britton Applewhite died 12 November 1986. Per her death certificate, she was born 28 April 1919 in South Carolina to Watis Britton and Emma Myers; was widowed; worked as a belt operator at Export Tobacco Company; and lived on Lane Street Extension. Daughter Janifer A. Burns, Chesterfield, Virginia, was informant.

The Edwards family reunion.

On the Fourth of July 1954, the Edwards family — 200 strong — held its 20th annual reunion in Nashville, Nash County, North Carolina. Rev. Buck H. Edwards of Wilson County, the oldest living family member, gave the invocation prior to a dinner of barbecue, fried chicken and slaw.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 July 1954. 

The tradition continues! On 4 July 2019, Edwards family members gathered in Wilson to celebrate their 85th annual reunion.

Special thanks to Carla Edwards Williams, granddaughter of B.H. Edwards, for the photo!

Reid reunion.

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Wilson Daily Times, 26 July 1971.


In the 1900 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Gray Read, 47; wife Lucy, 37; and children Joseph R., 18, Nancy L., 7, Elija, 5, Mart Eva, 4, Jona, 3, and Lucy, 5 months.

In the 1910 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Amos Read, 64; lodger Gray Read, 57, and children Gray, 18, Eligh, 15, Margrett, 13, and John, 13.

Elijah Reid, 21, of Gardners township, son of Gray Reid, married Ida Hagans, 18, of Gardners, daughter of James and Hannah Hagans, on 13 January 1915 on the Old Whitehead farm. Witnesses were Robert Hilliard, Lawrence Hagans and J.B. Owens.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: James Hagans, 53; wife Nora, 50; sons John, 18, Joe, 18, and Laurence, 16; daughter Etta, 21; grandchildren Elizabeth, 15, Sudie M., 13, Leeoma, 10, David, 5, Bessie M., 3, Lillie M., 1, and Charlie Reid, 4; and daughter Ida Reid, 32.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: tobacco factory laborer Elijah Reid, 49; wife Ida, 44; and children Willie, 12, Troy, 8, Sudie, 20, Naomie, 17, David, 15, Bessie, 14, Eula, 9, and Ester, 6.

Naomi Reid, 21, born in Wilson to Elijah Reid and Ida Hagans, married Oliver Lee Howard, born in Wilson to Will Lucas and Lena Howard, were married 28 January 1943 in Norfolk, Virginia, where both resided.

Lillie Mae Reid, 20, daughter of Eligha and Ida Reid, married William Atkinson, 26, son of Lester and Martha Moore Atkinson, on 25 February 1951 at 300 South East Street, Wilson. Witnesses were Mildred Reid, 911 Washington Street; Howard Hopkins, 703 Manchester Street; and David Reid, 300 South East STreet.

Ida Hagans Reid died 29 June 1967 at her home at 300 South East Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 21 August 1896 in WIlson County to James Hagans and Hannah Bynum; was married to Elijah Reid; and worked as a tobacco factoryhand. Elizabeth Reid was informant.

Elijah R. Reid Jr. died 26 March 1977 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 7 October 1917 in Wilson to Elijah Reid Sr. and Ida Hagans; was married to Mildred Coel; worked as a minister; and resided at 911 Washington Street.

Elijah Reid Sr. died 24 August 1982 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 2 August 1894 in Edgecombe County to Gray Reid and an unknown mother; resided at 804 Hines Street, Wilson; was a widower; and worked as a self-employed repairman. Eula Wilkins of Washington, D.C., was informant.