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.'”

Seeking descendants of Alfred Boyette.

I recently shared news of an exciting September event — Joseph McGill’s visit to Boyette slave dwelling, sponsored by Johnston County Museum of History.

Beth Nevarez let me know that Todd Johnson, Executive Director of Johnston County Heritage Center, has researched a connection between the Boyette slave cabin and Alfred Boyette, whom we met here and here. Johnson is seeking descendants of men and women, like Alfred Boyette, who might have inhabited the small, plank-clad house.

George Boyette owned the farm on which the Boyette dwelling was built and the enslaved people who lived there. In 1844, Boyette drafted a will that include a bequest to his son James Boyette of “one negro boy named Alford.”

Other enslaved people named in the will were Silvy, Carolina, and James Henderson, who were bequeathed to George’s son Larkin G. Boyette, and Maryan, who was designated for daughter Martha Brotten [Broughton]. William and Hardy Hinnant were witnesses to Boyette’s signature.

Boyette’s estate entered probate in 1852. A property inventory lists nine enslaved people — Sylva, 37; Caroline, 16; James, 14; Alfred, 12; Maryan, 9; Annylise, 7; Wm. Hardy, 4; Emsly, 3; and Jol, 10 months. Sylvia is likely the mother of the children.

 James Boyette lived in present-day Old Fields township, Wilson County. The 1860 slave schedule lists him with eight enslaved people — a 28 year-old woman; an 8 year-old girl; a 19 year-old man [likely Alfred]; and five boys, aged 12, 9, 7, 4, and 2.

On 20 January 1867, Alfred Boyette and Liza Barnes were married in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Alfred Boyette, 26, farm laborer; wife Eliza, 29; and Julius Freeman, 21, carpenter. [Freeman, of course, was the father of O.N. and Julius Freeman Jr., among other. We know he was born in Johnston County, but have no concrete information about his life before 1870, or his relationship, if any, to Alfred or Eliza.]

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spring Street, Alfred Boyette, 40, working on street; wife Eliza, 45; daughter Sylvia, 9; and boarder Albert Barnes, 22, working at ice house. [Sylvia was apparently named for her father’s mother.]

On 18 November 1897, Alfred Boyette, 55, son of Hady [Hardy] Hinnant, married Mrs. Mary Armstrong, 37, daughter of Raford Dew, at the home of Raford Dew in Wilson township. Missionary Baptist minister M. Strickland performed the ceremony in the presence of Bush Dew, Moses Dew and Henry Melton. [Was Alfred Boyette’s father the white Hardy Hinnant that witnessed George Boyette’s will, or an enslaved man named Hardy, who is listed among people enslaved by Johnston County farmer James Hinnent, or someone else with that name?]

In the 1900 census of “genater” [janitor] Alfred Boyett, 59; wife Mary, 32; and children Alfred, 1, Etna, 9, and Willie, 13.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Alfred Boyette, 75, laborer for court; wife Mary, 40; and children Millian, 21, and Willie, 18, both factory laborers, Edna, 11, and Gincy, 9.

Jincy McBride died 3 November 1925 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 September 1901 in Wilson to Alford Boyett and Mary Dew; was married to Harrison McBride; and worked as a tobacco factory day laborer. Informant was Mary Dew, 304 Walnut Street.

Amie Lee, who died 18 December 1928 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, was possibly Alfred Boyette’s sister. Per her death certificate, she was 91 years old; was born to Hardy Hinton [Hinnant?] and an unknown mother; was the widow of Henderson Lee [a United States Colored Troops veteran]; and lived at 1296 East Edenton. [In the 1880 census of Wilders township, Johnston County, Amy Lee, 30, is the head of a household that includes Hardy, 15, Octavia, 12, Elizabeth, 3, and Aaron, 1.]

James Boyette Sr. died 4 March 1960 at his home at 504 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 February 1899 in Wilson County to Alfred B0yette and Mary Magdalene Dew; and worked as a laborer. Informant was James Boyette Jr.


Are you an Alfred Boyette descendant? If so, please reach out to Todd Johnson at

In memoriam: Alexander Edwards, age 92.

My parents’ long-time neighbor passed away last week. Alexander Edwards was a well-known and skillful brickmason, one of the last of a multi-generational family line of brickmasons and other building tradesmen that began when carpenter Julius F. Freeman Sr. sent his sons O.N. and Julius F. Freeman Jr. to famed Tuskegee Institute. The Freeman brothers’ maternal first cousins Benjamin A. Harris Sr. and Harry B. Harris followed them into the masonry trades and, eventually, Ben Harris’ sons and nephew, Alex Edwards, took up the trowel.

Mr. Edwards was a fine neighbor and my father’s great friend, a loving husband and father, a dapper dresser, and a craftsman of the old school. May he rest in peace.

Photo courtesy of

206 South Powell Street.

This house lies a block beyond the border of the East Wilson Historic District on a lot carved from land once owned by Oliver and Willie Mae Hendley Freeman.

The legal description of this lot is: “Beginning at a stake at Daniels corner running along Daniels line 140 feet to a stake westerly; cornering, thence southerly 50 feet to a stake; cornering, thence easterly 140 feet along Freeman line to a stake on Powell Street; cornering, northerly on Powell Street to the beginning 50 feet. It being the identical property conveyed to Preston Ward and wife, Edna Ward by deed of O.N. Freeman and wife, Willie Mae Freeman dated November 22, 1924 and recorded in Book 153, Page 470, Wilson County Registry.”


In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Ward Preston (c) plstr Powell nr Finch

In the 1928 and 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Ward Preston (c; Edna) plstr h206 Powell

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Powell Street, owned and valued at $1200, Preston Ward, 27, public building plasterer; wife Edna, 26; and children Preston, 10, Elonzy, 8, Johnie, 6, Janie, 5, Virginia, 3, and Sylvester, 8 months.

Edna Ward died 2 January 1939 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 35 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jesse Taylor and Martha Ellis; and lived on Powell Street, Wilson.

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Powell Street, widower Preston Ward, 38, building plasterer; sister Annie, 26; and children James P., 20, building plasterer, Alonza, 18, Johnny Lee, 17, Rosa, 14, Virginia, 12, Sylvester, 10, Ruby, 8, Doris, 6, and Golden, 2.

In the 1940s, the address of this house seems to have vacillated between 206 and 224 Powell.

In the 1941 and 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Ward J Preston (c; Pauline) plstr h206 Powell; Ward J Preston jr plstr h206 Powell

In 1941, James Preston Ward Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 1 January 1920 in Wilson County; lived at 305(?) Powell Street, Wilson; his contact was James P. Ward Sr., 305 Powell Street; and he worked for Jones Bros. & Co., Wilson.

In 1942, James Preston Ward registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 15 August 1903 in Wilson County; lived at Route 4, Box 24, Wilson; his contact was C.L. Darden, 108 Pender Street; and he self-employed as a plasterer.

In 1942, Alonzo Ward registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 20 August 1921 in Wilson County; lived at 224 Powell Street, Wilson; his contact was Preston Ward, 224 Power Street; and he worked for Preston Ward [sic], Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C. The card is marked “deceased.”

In 1942, Johnnie Lee Ward registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 15 April 1923 in Wilson County; lived at 224 Power Street, Wilson; his contact was Preston Ward, 224 Power Street; and he worked for T.A. Loving & Co., Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C.

Alonzo Ward died 21 July 1944 at N.C. Sanatorium, Quewhiffle, Hoe County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 August 1921 in Wilson to Preston Ward and Edna Taylor; was single; was a student; and lived at 224 Powell Street, Wilson.

On 10 September 1965, the Daily Times reported that James P. Ward had been granted a license for an addition to his house:

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2022.

State vs. Albert Freeman.

To stave off responsibility for caring for poor women and their children, unwed mothers were regularly brought before justices of the peace to answer sharp questions about their circumstances.

On 1 October 1866, Martha Cooper admitted to Wilson County justice of the peace William G. Jordan that she had fourteen month-old and two month-old children whose father was Albert Freeman. Jordan ordered that Freeman be arrested and taken to a justice to answer Cooper’s charge.

I have not been able to identify either Cooper or Freeman.

Bastardy Bonds, 1866, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.