London Woodard, Penny Lassiter Woodard and the London Church.

On 14 February 1970, the Wilson Daily Times published a full-page article detailing the life of London Woodard, founder of London’s Primitive Baptist Church.

London Woodard was born enslaved in 1792. He was recorded in the estates of Asa Woodard in 1816 and Julan Woodard in 1826 (in which he was recognized as a distiller of fine fruit brandies.) In 1827, James B. Woodard bought London at auction for $500. The same year, London married Venus, a woman enslaved by Woodard. In 1828, London was baptized and appears as a member in the minutes of Tosneot Baptist Church. Venus was baptized in 1838 and died in 1845.

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Transfer of title to “a negroe man by the name of Lonon” from Nathan Woodard to James B. Woodard, 1928.

J.B. Woodard’s second wife died in 1837, and he hired Penelope Lassiter, a free woman of color, as a housekeeper and surrogate mother to his children. Lassiter, born 1814, was the daughter of Hardy Lassiter, who owned a small farm south of Wilson. She met London, who was working as overseer, at Woodard’s. In 1852, Penny Lassiter bought 106 acres for $242 about five miles east of Wilson on the Tarboro Road.

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In 1854, Penny Lassiter purchased her husband London, then about 62 or 63, from J.B. Woodard for $150. In 1858 Lassiter bought another 53 acres near her first tract and purchased 21 acres in 1859. The same year, she sold a small parcel to Jordan Thomas, a free man of color [who was married to her step-daughter Rose Woodard.] In 1866, the years after he was emancipated, London Woodard bought, subject to mortgage, a 200-acre parcel.

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In 1866, London Woodard was granted authority to preach “only among his acquaintances,” i.e. African-Americans. A member of Tosneot Baptist donated an acre of land to build a black church, regarded as the first in Wilson County. London Woodard was licensed to preach in 1870.

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London Woodard preached his last sermon on 13 November 1870. The next day, he suffered a stroke and fell into an open fireplace. Despite severe burns, he was able to dictate a will before his death.

The history of London Church for the 25 years after Woodard’s death is murky. In 1895, white churches Tosneot and Upper Town Creek dismissed several African-American members in order that they might establish an independent congregation at London’s. [London Church reorganized under the umbrella of the Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Association in 1897.]

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By the terms of his will, London Woodard provided for his wife Penelope; sons William, Hardy, Haywood, Howell, Elvin, Amos and London; and daughters Treasy, Rose, Pharibee, Sarah, Harriet and Penninah. (Deceased son John’s daughter was apparently inadvertently omitted.)  “A few facts” about Woodard’s children follows.

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Receipts for payments for taxes and accounts for Penny Lassiter and London Woodard.

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This building was moved around the corner to London Church Road. It has long been abandoned and collapsed in 2017 after suffering serious storm damage the year before.

Studio shots, no. 77: Benjamin and Phereby Barnes Artis.

Benjamin and Phereby Artis, Winstead Studio, Wilson, circa 1895.

This photograph was published in a 1987 Daily Times article about the history of photographers in Wilson. The caption identified the subjects as Benjamin Artis Jr. and wife Phariby Woodard Artis. However, this identification is incorrect (if understandably so). Benjamin Artis Senior, born about 1824, married Phereby [Phariby, Ferebee, etc.] Woodard, daughter of London and Venus Woodard. Their son, Benjamin Artis Junior, born about 1849, married a woman with the same name as his mother, Phereby Barnes, daughter of Silas and Rose Barnes. The photograph above — whose subjects are middle-aged, rather than in their 70s — depicts Ben Artis Jr. and Phereby Barnes Artis.


For an earlier post about this photograph, please see here.

Photograph contributed by the late Wilson historian Hugh B. Johnston Jr. for “Say Cheese!,” Wilson Daily Times, 23 May 1987.


94 acres, more or less.

Just two years into freedom, Patrick Williamson paid $163 to purchase his first real property at auction. According to his descendants, some of the land remains in the family’s hands:

This Indenture made the 28th day of January 1868 between Thomas Lamm administrator of Martin R Thorn deceased of the County of Wilson State of North Carolina of the first part & Patrick Williamson of the county & State aforesaid of the second part, Whereas at the Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions held for the County of Wilson on the fourth Monday in October 1867 it was ordered by the said court in a said cause then pending in said court wherein Thomas Lamm administrators petitions that the land mentioned in the petition in this case be sold  on a credit of six months &c and Thomas Lamm in pursuance of said order did on the 22nd day of October 1867 sell at public auction the tract of land hereinafter described having first been given lawful notice of the time & place of sale by advertisements at which sale the land was struck off to Patrick Williamson for the sum of one hundred & sixty three dollars that being the high bid for the same & whereas said party of second part having complied with the terms of said sale & whereas the said Williamson hath fully paid off said purchase money together with all Lawful Interest, Now Therefore the Indenture witnesses that the said Thomas Lamb administrator had granted bargained sold & conveyed to the said party of the second part his heirs & assigns The tract of land in the county of Wilson known as the Martin R. Thomas tract adjoining the lands Wilie Lamm Ransom Thorn et al containing ninety four acres more or less to have & to hold the same to him & his heirs forever      Thomas X Lamm

A Barnes

The Execution of the foregoing deed was duly acknowledged before me by Thomas Lamm the subscriber this 29th day of Dec 1868 Let the same be registered.    A Barnes Probate Judge

Deed book 2, page 568, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson, Wilson County.

The Washingtons arrive from Goldsboro.

This Indenture made the twenty ninth day of December in the year one thousand eight hundred & sixty six (1866) between Richard H Blount of the county of Wilson & State of North Carolina of the first part & Jerry Washington of the Town of Goldsboro of the County of Wayne & State of North Carolina of the second part. Witnesseth that the said party of the first part for & in consideration of one hundred dollars $100 lawful money of the United States to himself paid before the delivery hereof, hath bargained, sold & by these presents doth grant & convey to the said party of the second part his heirs & assigns forever all of a certain piece or parcel of land lying & being in the county of Wilson & State of North Carolina which is known & described as follows to Wit beginning at the line of Arthur D Farmer in the County road to Goldsboro near the Town of Wilson & running with the line of said road seventy yards to a corner thence at a right angle from said corner directly back one hundred & forty yards to a corner thence again forming another right angle & running in a straight line with parallel with the aforesaid Goldsboro Road to the aforesaid Arthur D Farmers line Thence with street line back to the beginning forming a parallelogram in figure & containing by estimate ten acres, together with all the appurtenances & all the estate, title & interest of the said party of the first part therein, and the said party of the first part doth hereby covenant & agree with the said party of the second part that at the time of the delivery thereof, the said party the first parties ts the lawful owner of the premises above granted & seized thereof in fee simple absolute & that hw will warrant & defend the above granted premises in the quiet & peaceable possession of the said party of the second part his heirs & assigns forever. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand & seal This 29th day of December one Thousand eight hundred & sixty six  R.H. Blount

Signed sealed & delivered in the presence of C. Lee Parker, Henry E. Benton


Newly freed Jerry Washington and Jane Washington registered their four-year cohabitation in Wayne County in 1866. Just before the year ended, Jerry Washington bought ten acres of land just outside Wilson town limits and moved his family 25 miles north.

Six years later, Washington paid $1000 for another ten acres on the south side of town.

Deed book 2, page 238, Register of Deeds office, Wilson.

Freedom’s eldest.

The 1870 census of Wilson County, North Carolina, recorded 47 African-American men and women reportedly born in the 18th century. Nearly all had been enslaved and had spent 65 or more years in bondage. Forty-five reported having been born in North Carolina; two, in Virginia.

They were:

In Gardners township: Archebald Artis, 70, wife Rosa, 64, with Tamer, 23, and George Bynum, 25.

  • Harry and Rachel Atkinson, born 1788 and 1795.

In Gardners township: Rachel, 75, Harry, 82, and Isaac Atkinson, 60.

  • Hagar Atkinson, born 1795.

In Springhill township: Thomas Hinnant, 60, wife Hester, 40, and Mahala Hinnant, 4, with Hager Atkinson, 75.

  • Hannah Barnes, born 1786.

In Stantonsburg township: Toby Barnes, 56, and Hannah Barnes, 84.

  • Charles Barnes, born 1792.

In Black Creek township: Charles Barnes, 78, wife Chaney, 60, and Robert Barnes, 11.

  • Violet Barnes, born 1793.

In Stantonsburg township: Drawrey Barnes, 42, wife Violet, 35, and children Sylvia, 15, Sophia, 10, and Esther, 1; Della Edmondson, 24, and Susan, 1; and Violet Barnes, 77.

  • David Barnes, born 1796.

In Stantonsburg township: David Barnes, 74, and wife Venus, 54.

  • Archie Barnes, born 1797.

In Wilson township: Rosa Farmer, 35, with children Gray, 18, Turner, 17, Mary, 16, Thomas, 13, Daniel, 12, Leah, 10, Jefferson, 8, Louisa, 10 months, and Anna, 3, plus Arche Barnes, 73, who worked as a cooper.

  • Lucy Barnes, born 1800.

In Black Creek township: Lawyer Barnes, wife Lizzie, 28, and Lucy Farmer, 70.

  • Rhoda Beaufort, born 1800.

In Wilson township: Rich’d Beaufort, 54, Esther, 35, Rodah, 70, Richard, 14, and Spicey, 13.

  • Guilford Dew, born 1800.

In Black Creek township: Guilford Due, 70, Milbroy, 20, Amos, 22, Penny, 19, Amanda, 4 months, George, 4, William, 8, and James, 7.

In Wilson township: teamster Cally Speight, 23, Margaret, 26, and Ann Speight, 13; Abel Edwards, 84, Argen, 72, Issa, 20, Gracy, 23, and Ann P. Edwards, 5.

  • Hannah Ellis, born 1780.

In Saratoga township:  Jackson Ellis, 45, wife Margaret, 36, and children Hannah, 17, and Hewel, 11; Hannah Ellis, 90; and Lucy, 2, and Mary Simms, 1.

  • Virginia Everett, born 1794.

In Joyners township: Hardy, 55, and Selvia Farmer, 48, and Virginia Everett, 76.

  • Nancy Farmer, born 1799.

In Wilson township: Reuben Farmer, 68, Nancy, 71, and Luke Farmer, 11.

  • Dolly Fisher, born 1790.

In Stantonsburg township: Henry Newsom, 33, wife Fanny, 27, and children Caroline, 3, and Ellic, 1, and Dolly Fisher, 80.

  • Patsey Forbes, born 1800.

In Wilson township: Henry Forbes, 48, wife Louisa, 43, children Charles, 15, Georgiana, 9, and John, 21, plus Patsey Forbes, 70.

  • Abraham and Jonah Hines, born 1785 and 1800.

In Saratoga township: Abraham, 85, and wife Jonah Hines, 70.

In Springhill township: Benjamin Hoketts, 70, wife Clapsly, 60, and Haywood, 27, Daniel, 18, Cain, 16, and Sarah Hoketts, 16, plus Willie Nicholls, 8.

In Old Fields township: Willis Jones, 70, wife Sarah K., 61, and children Willis K., 23, Phaton A., 20, and Bethana, 18.

  • Cassa Jordan, born 1800.

In Wilson township: Squier Coleman, 47, wife Nancy, 36, and children Gray, 18, Mary, 16, Afonza, 9, Margaret, 4, and Thomas Coleman, 2; Cassa Jordan, 70, Riley Jordan, 7, and Thomas Jordan, 25.

  • Penelope Joyner, born 1786.

In Black Creek township: Cherry Barnes, 20, and Penelope Joyner, 84.

  • Martin Locust, born 1789.

In Old Fields township: Martin Locust, 81, in a household headed by white farmer Matthew Lamm, 28.

  • Mariah Locust, born 1798.

In Taylor township: Mariah Locust, 72.

In the Town of Wilson: Estha McGowan, 70, and Alice McGowan, 16.

  • Miles Pipkins, born 1790.

In Cross Roads township: Virginia-born Miles Pipkins, with Anna, 40, Samuel, 10, Richard, 8, and Cherry Pipkins, 6.

  • Judah Mercer, born 1780.

In Saratoga township: Jubiter Parkus, 25, wife Charlotte, 26, and children Nicy, 6, Lucy, 5, and Ida, 11 months, plus Virginia-born Judah Mercer, 90.

  • Leah Moye, born 1780.

In Stantonsburg township: James Moye, 51, wife Edith, 50, children Delsey, 18, Harriet, 16, George, 10, and Warren, 8, plus Learh Moye, 90.

  • Rachel Pitts, born 1790.

In Joyners township: Robert Pitts, 67, wife Violet, 50, children Nicey, 19, and Rinah, 14, plus Rachel Pitts, 80.

  • Caesar Pittman, born 1795.

In Gardners township: Cesar Pittman, 75, and wife Hester, 60.

  • Cherry Rogers, born 1790.

In Saratoga township: Watson Stanton, 65, wife Rosa, 53, children Richard, 15, Adeline, 13, Feribee, 8, and Louisa, 21; midwife Cherry Rogers, 80; and Hardy Barnes, 20.

  • George Rountree, born 1790.

In Taylor township: George Rountree, 70, wife Portice, 66, and children Rich’d, 23, Rose, 23, Sallie, 19, and Ellic, 4.

  • Trecy Scott, born 1790.

In Wilson township: Robert, 40, and Pennie Amerson, 55, with Trecy Scott, 80.

  • Isaac Simpson, born 1795.

In Old Fields township: Isaac Simson, 75.

  • Bryant Simms, born 1790.

In Stantonsburg township: Jeffrey Simms, 24, wife Caroline, 22, and an unnamed one month-old infant, plus Bryant Simms, 80.

  • Anaka Stevens, born 1800.

In Wilson township: Anaka Stevens, 70, and Louisa Stevens, 20.

  • America Taylor, born 1790.

In the Town of Wilson: Harriet, 35, Turner, 14, and William Battle, 53, America Taylor, 80, and Henry Epps, 10.

  • Liberty and Virginia Thomas.

In Gardners township: Liberty, 74, and Virginia Thomas, 72.

  • Abram Thorn, born 1780.

In Wilson township: Abram Thorn, 90, and wife Gilley, 67.

  • Sabra Ward, born 1800.

In Stantonsburg township: Gatlin Barnes, 31, wife Jane, 22, and children Henry, 4, and Bud, 1, Sabra Ward, 70, and Sarah Barnes, 34.

  • Dinah Whitley, born 1800.

In Stantonsburg township: Levi Barnes, 45, wife Olive, 50, and children Samuel, 19, Charles, 10, Rachel, 18, and Celia, 15; Adeline, 23, Dinah, 70, Dewry, 12, and Richard Whitley, 42.

  • London Woodard, born 1791.

In Gardners township: London Woodard, 79, wife Penelope, 59, and children Trecy, 20, Hardy, 19, Haywood, 18, William, 15, and Peninah, 13.

  • Cilla Woodard, born 1800.

In Stantonsburg township: in the household of white farmer James Woodard, Cilla Woodard, 70.



Howard Farmer had a voting record.


County Man, 96, Has 74-Year Voting Record

By Claude Starling

For some voters the task of remembering the last time they cast a ballot is a formidable one, for others the memory of that first ballot often escapes them.

But Howard Farmer remembers the last ballot he case. He also knows the first ballot he ever cast, and he remembers a whole lot of those in between.

Farmer’s last ballot was cast June 4 in the Wilson County Democratic Party’s runoff primary to nominate a sheriff’s candidate.

And his first ballot?

Well, Howard Farmer voted Republican that first time — casting a ballot for then incumbent President William McKinley in the election of 1906.

McKinley and his running mate, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, outpolled free silver Democrat William Jennings Bryan and his running mate, Adlai Stevenson (grandfather of a a more famous son of a more recent era), for the presidency and vice presidency that year.

For most of us the names McKinley, Roosevelt, Bryan and Stevenson, are little more than names out of history books. But for Howard Farmer they were real. Howard Farmer was 22 years old when he cast that first ballot 74 years ago.

Th election was something of a milestone for him — a black man, son of slave parents, voting in a Southern state, casting a ballot for the first time in his life.

It was almost his last election. Various statutes enacted in following years prevented many Negroes from again going to the polls. It was a long wait — 14 years until he again voted, this time in a local election.

Voting became a habit with Howard Farmer and he claims he hasn’t missed an election since, especially not a presidential election. It’s a record few voters can match.

Today, Howard Farmer is a retired tobacco farmer and landowner who lives in his own home on his own farm in Taylors township at Rt. 2, Elm City.

He is married to a second wife and what time isn’t spent in gardening and around the house is spent religiously — he has been a preacher since 1920 and only last week was asked to preach in area church services.

He was born Feb. 2, 1878 in Wilson County, a son of Alford Farmer, who derived his name from the Wiley Farmer plantation on which he was born a slave. His mother was a slave on another nearby plantation near the intersection of N.C. Highways 97 and 58, said Farmer.

To the best of his knowledge he was one of five sons and three daughters — he is unsure about aunts and uncles due to fact that slave families were sometimes broken up by their owners.

Farmer spoke little of his early years, but he did explain the loss of his left eye at age 15 in an incident involving a white landowner’s son.

According to Farmer, he was visiting on a neighboring farmer’s land and the man asked him to help in the harvesting. When he refused, the man, angered by such a refusal, struck him across the side of the head with a weeding hoe, destroying his left eye.

Later the man was convicted by a local jury for assault and ordered to pay Farmer $50 and costs of court — an action Farmer said was “unheard of” in those times: a white man being order to pay for injuries done a black man.

Even though the offender is “long once dead,” said Farmer, no malice was held. To Farmer, the incident is simply an occurrence out of his past.

Howard Farmer was probably more fortunate than most young Negroes around the turn of the century. He received an education — through high school — at what was then Farmer’s School (named for Wiley Farmer.)

In 1900, he was living in Nash County sand voted that first time at Joyner’s Crossroads in that county. “Most all of us (Negroes) were voting Republican at that time, ” he remembers.

In 1903 he married his first wife Sarah at a location near what is today the Rocky Mount Wilson Airport. They built a frame house on the Walter Pridgen farm near Elm City and Farmer, in addition to working on the Pridgen farm, worked in a nearby saw mill

He remembers putting $100 in an Elm City bank in 1906 and leaving it on deposit until 1913 when he and his wife purchased a lot and built a house on Pine and Beal streets in Rocky Mount. But only a year later, he rented a farm from an area man named Offie Parker. Three years later, he rented a second farm. Later Farmer and three of his brothers-in-law purchased the two farms.

Farmer said he paid $9,000 for the 56-acre tract he purchased. He later bought another 140-acre tract but that has since been sold. A few acres of the original 56-acre tract have been sold off for building lots, but Farmer still holds title to more than 40 acres of the land he first bought more than 50 years ago.

In 1920 Farmer became a preacher — he said he was converted in 1909 — in the Missionary Baptist denomination. From 1931-33 he pastored a Lucama area church, which had called him. He got 35 cents each Sunday for his expenses and the final year the congregation raised $16 for him, he noted.

In 1922, Farmer’s only son Quentin, was born. He was educated in county elementary school and graduated from Wilson’s Darden High School — the only black high school in the area at that time. Quentin now resides in San Francisco, Calif.

Howard Farmer has a grandson, James, serving in the U.S. Army in Germany, and one great-grandson, James Anthony Farmer, who, with his grandfather, visited Howard Farmer a week ago.

Howard Farmer hides his years well. The events he has witnessed, the men he has met, seem like turning back the pages of history.

Farmer returned to the ballot box in 1914 and remembers voting for local candidates: county commissioners. The exact years faded in his memory, but the first local candidate he can remember casting a ballot for was John Thompson, a Wilson County commissioner. Howard Farmer claims he hasn’t missed an election since and has been a registered Democrat in Wilson County since 1914, casting his ballots in Taylors township.

The first automobile he remembers is a 1913 Model T Ford; he remembers Booker T. Washington; and more recently he remembers — but not too fondly — his first airplane ride: he was 95 and flew a 727 “Whisperjet” to California and a 747 “Jumbo” jet on the return trip; he knew Martin Luther King and went to New York once to meet him.

“Everything is better now,” said the 96-year-old Farmer when asked to compare life as he he has known it to the life now possible, and cited “better opportunities” for black man and women.

But, in an afterthought, he added “Maybe not necessarily what it ought to be but it is better.” Religiously speaking, he said “We’ve got to live right; it doesn’t matter what church you join; if you don’t live right, hell is our own.”

Farmer’s health remains robust. His son took him to a doctor recently and was advised to let his father “do whatever he wants to do; whatever makes him happy.”

There will be no surprise if Howard Farmer continues to do a little gardening, to do some guest preaching, and, in November, to see him visit the polls in Taylors Township — it’s what he’s been doing for most of his 96 years anyway.


— Wilson Daily Times, 6 July 1974.


On 18 September 1868, Alfred Farmer, son of Charles and Sarah Matthews, married Precilla Strickland, daughter of Carey Williams and Rhody Taylor, in Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Alfred Farmer, 38, wife Priscilla, 34, and children Henry, 11, Charley, 9, Pharo, 5, and Howard, 1.

In the 1900 census of Rocky Mount township, Nash County: widowed farmer Zanie Winstead, 56, her children Josha, 20, Sarah E., 19, and Emma, 15, and grandson Clarance, 2, plus boarder Howard Farmer, 22, a farm laborer.

On 10 February 1903, Pharaoh Farmer applied in Nash County for a marriage license for Howard Farmer, 25, son of Alfred and Priscila Farmer, of Wilson County, and Sarah Eliz. Winstead, 25, daughter of Reddick and Zanie Winstead, of Nash County. The marriage took place the next day at the home of Sarah’s mother in Rocky Mount township, Wilson County.

In the 1910 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Howard Farmer, 31, and wife Sarah, 31.

On 12 September 1918, Howard Farmer of RFD 4, Elm City, registered for the World War I draft at the Wilson County draft board. His registration card reports that he was born 2 February 1878, that he worked as a farmer for Offie Parker, and that his nearest relative was Sara Lisa Farmer. He signed his card with an X.

In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Howard Farmer, 42, and wife Sarah, 42.

In the 1930 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Howard Farmer, 52, wife Sarah, 51, and son Quinton, 7.

In the 1940 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Howard Farmer, 61, wife Sarah, 61, and son Quenten, 17.

Howard Farmer died 1 October 1980 in Wilson, North Carolina.

Dick complains that I keep his sister’s children.

State of North Carolina }

Wilson County     }

I B.F. Briggs

The Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions hereby Certify that at October Term A.D. 1865 the Court apprenticed to Mrs Elizabeth Whitley seven children to wit – Drury age 10 years, George 16 years, Easter 14 years Turner 18 yrs Sophia 14 yrs Robert 12 yrs Adelade 16 years of age &c

Given under my hand and seal of office at office the 6th day of April A.D. 1867

B.F. Briggs, Clerk


Stantonsburg N.C. April 6th/67

[illegible] H.G. Norton

Goldsboro N.C.

Dear Sir

Yours of the 2 Int to hand contents noticed you stated that Dick Whitley (col) complains that I keep his sisters children without his consent & refuses to let the same return to him. I have not got the children nor have not had nothing to doe with them at all. My wife had the children bound to her at the time they were bound. We did not know whire Dick Whitley was and think that he had not been in the county for Several months, the children has in the neighbourhood, two uncles & grand mother & none of them has not complained at all in reguard to the children. Dick has not made any application for the children, nor does nothing for the support of his old helpless Mother, We are willing to doe any thing that is legal or right: in regard to them we send now a copy of the indentures, if you desire that I should come down inform me

Very Respectfully           /s/ Gray Whitley


Stantonsburg NC, Apr 22nd, 1867

Maj. N.D. Norton

Yours of April 20th is to hand regarding five children who are at present working with my wife. In reply I would State that your letter of April 2nd came duly to hand makeing inquiries about said children, and I wrote to you at one, acknowledgeing the receipt of said letter, but failed to address it to you officially in the envelope and suppose from this cause you have not received it. The children alluded to, are as you have been informed, orphans, having lost both parents. Their mother during her lifetime and while a slave belonged to my wife, and after the close of the war, they having no protector, my wife made application to the county court of Wilson and had them bound to her. In my former reply to your letter of April 2nd I give you a correct statement concerning the children and enclosed also the certificate of the county court clerk of Wilson to the effect that the said children had been bound to my wife, I regret that the letter and certificate have not reached you. If you desire it, I will obtain and forward to you another certificate from the clerk of the county; the children have been brought up by my wife from infancy and have living near them two uncles and two aunts, who seem to be willing that I should retain them, and theas I imagine should have some voice in the matter. They have never raised any objections to my keeping the children, and the children seem to be willing to remain with me. I think that as a majority of the living relatives of the children are willing that they should stay with my wife she having raised them and the children seems to be well contented thus far and I really think that we should be allowed to keep them. Dick has not been seen in this vicinity for 12 months which he has living near us an Old Mother almost helpless he does nothing for her nor seems to care nothing for her so I think if he had the children but little assistance they would get from [illegible] Hopeing to hear from you soon and also hope that the above explanation may be satisfactory I am

Yours truly, Gray Whitley


Farmer Gray Whitley, 55, and wife Bettie appear in the 1870 federal census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County. No black children are listed in their household, nor are any elsewhere with the names listed above.

Freedmen Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1863-1878 [database online],

Received at Toisnot Primitive Baptist.

Hugh Buckner Johnston was way ahead of his time when it came to preserving documentation of the genealogies of Wilson’s African-American community. What follows is first in a series of abstracts, with my annotations, from his Black Members of Tosneot Baptist Church (The Wilson Primitive Baptist Church), 1824-1874, compiled in 1984.

John Thomas founded Toisnot Primitive Baptist Church in 1756 and built its first edifice on his farm. A historic marker memorializes the site near present-day Tartt’s Mill Road and Highway 42, east of Wilson. In 1802, the church moved about 3 miles west to a more central location among its membership. The community that sprang up around it — in the area of present-day Tarboro and Kenan Streets in Wilson — was known as Hickory Grove. From 1859 to 1902, the period covering most of the memberships listed here, the church, now called Wilson Primitive Baptist, met in this edifice:


Noted Mr. Johnston: “My present alphabetical listing of black members of Tosneot (now Wilson) Primitive Baptist Church as preserved in its earliest surviving Minute Book 1820-1874 will provide the reader with a clear idea of the potentiality of another source of information about many of the religiously oriented adults. The aforesaid church had several black members as early as the 1920’s, but a great many of them in 1866 and afterward had moved their memberships to London’s Primitive Baptist Church which functions as this day in accordance with their traditional rules of faith and practice.”



  • Zaley Adams died 3 April 1871. She was probably the Zaley Daniel received into membership on 27 August 1870.

On 24 July 1866, Zallah Adams and Abraham Thorn registered their 8-year cohabitation before a Wilson County justice of the peace.

  • Alfred was baptized 28 August 1852.
  • Avret was baptized 23 September 1855.


  • Warren Barefoot was received on 25 May 1867 and “liberated” to preach on 10 August 1872.

In 1869, Warren Barefoot, son of Jacob and Milly Dawson, and Sarah Lassiter, daughter of Silas and Orpha Lassiter, applied for a marriage license in Wilson County, but did not register their marriage. [Jack Dawson and Millie Barefoot registered their 18-year cohabitation on 16 August 1866.] In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Warren, 21, and Sarah Barefoot, 20. Warren Barefoot died in 1874 as revealed in Wilson County estate records. In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Silas Lassiter, 56, wife Orpah, 50, and children Penina, 24, Pharaoh, 20, Milly Ann, 19, and Gerusha Ann, 14, plus Sally Barefoot, 32, and children Mandy, 9, George, 6, and Warren, 5.

  • Amey Barnes was received on 23 October 1869.

On 11 August 1866, Andrew Barnes and Amy Willaford registered their 30-year cohabitation before a Wilson County justice of the peace. In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Drew Barnes, 58, wife Amey, 55, and son Drew Barnes Jr., 18. In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson: Drew Barnes Snr., 71, and wife “Anne,” 69, who suffered from dysentery.

  • Charles Barnes, enslaved by Gen. Joshua Barnes, was baptized 22 June 1851 and was presumably the same Charles Barnes liberated to preach on 28 June 1873.

Three Charles Barneses appear in the 1870 census of Wilson County. One, age 78, married to Chaney Barnes, lived in Black Creek township. The next, age 39, lived in Gardners township. The last, age 26, born in Maryland and married to Jackian Barnes, lived in Wilson township.

  • Eady Barnes, enslaved by James Dew Barnes, was received on 22 August 1863 and expelled before 1870.
  • Cloah Barnes, enslaved by Jacob Barnes, was baptized 26 September 1830.
  • Gilbert Barnes, enslaved by Davis Barnes, was excluded from membership on 25 September 1824 for “fighting a white man,” but restored on 21 August 1829.
  • Isaac Barnes, enslaved by Jesse Barnes, was a member before 1820.
  • Judah Barnes, enslaved by James Barnes, was dismissed by letter on 22 November 1835.
  • Judith Barnes was received on 22 July 1871.

Possibly, in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson: Judy Barnes, 65, with son Mack Barnes, 19, and granddaughter Martha Rountree, 25.

  • Margaret Barnes was baptized 24 May 1874.
  • Myney Barnes was a member before 1870.
  • Reddic Barnes was baptized 23 October 1853 and excluded 26 November 1865 “for Runing away from his Master before he was freed by the Proclamation.”

Redic Barnes and Spicy Barnes registered their 12-year cohabitation on 4 June 1866 before a Wilson County justice. In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Redick Barnes, 51, wife Spicey, 50, and children Jolly, 16, Ida, 15 and Harry, 11.

  • Robert “Bob” Barnes, enslaved by Joseph Barnes, was restored to fellowship on 23 February 1822.
  • Tom Barnes, enslaved by James Barnes, was received on 28 October 1832 and dismissed by letter in November 1835.
  • Luezer Battle was received on 20 August 1860.
  • Rose Battle was a member before 1870.
  • Martha Blackwell was a member before 1870.

On 25 August 1866, Martha Blackwell and James Rowe registered their 4-year cohabitation in Wilson County.

  • Mary Blount was received on 21 May 1870.

Probably, in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson: Reuben Battle, 30, Edna Battle, 25, Mary Blount, 23, and Elizabeth Blount, 17.

  • Charity Blow was received on 20 August 1869.

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Charity Blow, 32, with children Joseph, 18, Senday, 9, Thomas, 3, and Lucind, 1.

  • Harry Brooks was received on 23 July 1870 and excluded 23 September 1871 “for Drunkness & fiting.”

On 20 August 1866, Harry Brooks and Selah Daniel registered their 3-year cohabitation in Wilson Cunty.

  • Anna Bynum was received on 25 May 1872.
  • Calvin Bynum was received on 24 May 1873.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson: Thomas Hardy, 30, and wife Mary, 30, plus Calvin Bynum, 22.

  • Eliza Bynum was received on 8 June 1872.
  • Gatsey Bynum was a member before 1870.

On 25 August 1866, Allen Bynum and Gatsey Bynum registered their 16-year cohabitation in Wilson County. In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Allen Bynum, 30, wife Gatsey

  • Harry Bynum was received on 22 April 1871.

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Osborn Buck, 23, Harry Bynum, 31, Mary Bynum, 28, and John Bynum, 26.

  • Oliff Bynum was received on 27 April 1872.
  • Thomas Bynum was received on 21 October 1871 and liberated to preach on 14 June 1873.

In the 1870 census of Gardners, Wilson: Thomas Bynum, 30, wife Bethana, 28, and children James, 11, Oliver, 9, Mary, 6, and Levinia, 4.

Copy of Johnston’s compilation courtesy of Wilson County Public Library; photo courtesy of

Wiley Short’s legacy.

I Wiley Short, of the County of Wilson and State of North Carolina, being of sound mind and disposing memory, do hereby make this my last Will and testament in manner & form following, to wit.

1st It is my will and desire that are all my just debts and funeral expenses shall be paid by my executor, hereinafter named, out of the first money that comes into his hands as part and parcel of my estate.

II. I hereby give and devise to my illegimate son George Short, all my real and personal estate of whatsoever name and description to him and his heirs forever.

III. I hereby constitute and appoint Seaborn Farmer in whom I have confidence, my lawful executor to take possession my property after my death, and after paying my just debts as above stated to deliver the said property to my illegitimate son the said George Short.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this the 3rd day of January 1894.     Wiley (X) Short {seal}

Witnesses Eli Felton, J.A. Clark


In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farmer Willie Short, 50, and son George, 3.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: in household #198, 13 year-old George Short, farm laborer, in the household of Elizabeth Hunt, a 53 year-old white woman. At #200, Willie Short, 53, a farmer.

On 19 October 1889, George Short, 23, son of Wiley Short (living) and Violet Thompson (dead), a resident of Toisnot township, married Martha Ann Barnes, 21, daughter of Foy and Sarah Barnes of Toisnot.