London Woodard

Another history of London Woodard and his church.

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Rocky Mount Telegram, 29 January 1960.

The take-away:

  • London’s Primitive Baptist is possibly the oldest African-American church in Wilson County.
  • London Woodard was born in 1808. In 1827, James Bullock Woodard purchased him for $500 from the estate of Julan Woodard.
  • In 1828, London Woodard was baptized at Toisnot Primitive Baptist.
  • In 1866, he sought permission to preach among his people.
  • In 1870, he was “dismissed” from Toisnot so that he could pastor the church he founded. He died lass than a month later.
  • London Church appears to have become disorganized after Woodard’s death, but in 1895, Toisnot P.B. dismissed several “colored brethren and sisters” who wanted to reestablish worship at London’s. The same year Union (now Upper Town Creek) P.B. released Haywood Pender, George Braswell, Dublin Barnes, and couple Charles and Rebeckah Barnes for the same purpose.
  • London Woodard married Pennie Lassiter, born free about 1810 and possessed of considerable property, including 29 acres purchased from James B. Woodard in 1859. [Penelope Lassiter was his second wife. His first, Venus, was enslaved.]
  • London and Pennie Woodard’s children were Priscilla (1846), Theresa (1848), Hardy (1850), Haywood (1852), William (1854), and Penina (1858). “Another child was probably named Elba, born in 1844; she was working for the John Batts family in 1860.” [London and Venus Woodard had nine children; Elba was not among either set.]
  • Many “old-time colored Christians” remained members of the churches they attended during slavery. Their children and grandchildren, however, gradually formed separate congregations.

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  • Haywood Pender — in the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Haywood Pender, 50, farmer; wife Feraby, 45; children Mollie, 39, and Ann, 8; and grandchildren Gold, 5, Nancy, 3, and Willie, 16. Haywood Pender died 15 July 1942 in Elm City, Toisnot township. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 October 1852 in Wilson County to Abram Sharp and Sookie Pender; was a farmer; was a widower; and was buried in Piney Grove cemetery, Elm City.
  • Dublin Barnes — in the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Doublin Barnes, 25; wife Eliza, 21; daughter Sattena, 2; and Jane Thomas, 12, farmhand.
  • Charles and Rebecca Barnes — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmhand Charley Barnes, 50; wife Rebecca, 57; and children John, 26, William, 23, Annie, 17, Tom, 18, and Corah, 12.
  • George Braswell

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 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.