Passport applications for only two Wilson County African-Americans have surfaced in Ancestry.com’s on-line database, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925. One was Isaiah Prophet Thorne. The other — equally ecclesiastically named — was Evangelist James Freeman.
E.J. Freeman applied for a United States passport in September 1919, just a few days before his ship, the S.S. Mascotte, was to sail for Havana. He reported that he was born 10 June 1885 in Wilson, N.C, and that he lived in Pearson, Florida, and worked as a laborer.
Pearson was apparently “Pierson,” a tiny agricultural town in Volusia County about 20 miles inland from Daytona Beach. The men who swore to Freeman’s identity lived a ways north in Jacksonville and northwest in Lake City. That J.M. Rhodes had known Freeman for 15 years gives some idea of the length of time Freeman had been out of North Carolina.
Waiting in Key West, Freeman received his passport in time for departure to Cuba, but he did not stay long. On 14 December 1919, he appeared on the list of United States citizens sailing from Havana to Tampa aboard the S.S. Miami.
The steamships Mascotte and Miami belonged to the Peninsular & Occidental S.S. Company, which plied the waters between Tampa, Kay West and Havana.
Palm Beach Post, 16 April 1918.
Just a year before his voyage abroad, Evangelist Freeman registered for the World War I draft. He was living at the time in Yelvington, a crossroads across the Saint Johns River from Palatka, Florida. He listed his employment as “minister of the Gospel,” but, according to the 1920 census, his employer Will Tilton was a potato farmer.
Wilson native Isaiah Prophet Thorne‘s peripatetic lifestyle criss-crossing Europe as an entertainer required that he periodically apply for passport renewals and demonstrate his continued allegiance to the United States.
In the earliest document I’ve found, dated 1909, 24 year-old Thorne asserted that he was a singer, that he had left the U.S. in 1898, and that he was temporarily living in Berlin, Germany.
In 1915, his application required additional information revealing that his father was dead; that he was now working as a vaudeville artist in Naples, Italy; that he had last left the U.S. in February 1910; and that he needed his passport to travel in Italy, Egypt, Tripolitania [Libya], Greece, France, Spain and England “performing in vaudeville.”
This application contained a small photograph affixed to its reverse and appears to list a contact relative: Warren Thorne, 604 Spring Street, Wilson.
Two years later, Thorne again applied for a renewal, indicating that he was a theatrical performer who had left the United States in September 1907 (which conflicts with the statement above) and was now staying in Saloniki, Greece.
World War I was raging, and Thorne had joined the British Colonial Force. He was required to submit an Affidavit to Explain Protracted Foreign Residence and to Overcome Presumption of Expatriation. He confirmed that he had last been in the United States in 1907 and had spent the intervening years performing in England, Germany, Holland, Russia, Denmark, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Italy and Greece. He claimed that he did not pay income tax because he made too little income, and he was not sure when he would return to the U.S., but was willing to do so “if called for service.”
The interviewing officer, American Vice-Consul H. Earle Russell, concluded that Thorne’s explanation for his protracted foreign residence was satisfactory and that he was “entitled to protection as an American citizen.”
In 1920, Thorne again applied to renew his passport. This application erroneously asserted that he had first left the U.S. in 1888 (when he was only 3), but revealed that his father was named Preston Thorne. It also yields a beautiful black and white image of the man.
Isaiah P. Thorne apparently never returned to the United States. I have found only one additional source of reference for his life — in the final pages of The Black Russian, Vladimir Alexandrov’s astounding biography of Frederick Bruce Thomas, the Mississippi-born son of former slaves who built a fortune of millions as the owner and impresario of renowned restaurants and nightclubs in Moscow and Istanbul: “Frederick died … on Tuesday, June 12, 1928, at the age of fifty-five. Because [his wife] Elvira was out of the country, all funeral arrangements were made by his friends. One of these was Isaiah Thorne, a black man from North Carolina who had worked for him at Maxim and who became his token executor.”; “Isaiah Thorne effectively adopted [Frederick’s sons Bruce and Frederick Jr.] when [their mother] Elvira was away ….”; “On November 25, 1930, at Thorne’s instigation, Fred and Bruce went to the American consulate general in Constantinople to apply for a passport” because “he wanted to help them escape the hardships of their lives in Turkey by taking them with him to North Carolina, where he had family.”; but “Thorne did not succeed in taking the boys to the United States because he could not raise the money ….”
Box 4495,Volume 002: Constantinople, Emergency Passport Applications, Argentina thru Venezuela, 1906-1925; U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line], http://www.Ancestry.com
The passport application of John Barnes of New York, New York, born in Wilson, North Carolina, seeking to travel with his wife Martha to travel to Liberia on the Black Star Line.
Here’s John in the 1900 census of Saratoga, Wilson County, with Allen and Calliann Barnes, and younger siblings Mary L., Dilla, Corinna, Willie and Bennie Barnes.
“Calliann” may have been his stepmother, as Wilson County marriage records show that Allen Barnes, 22, married Caroline Best, 20, on 19 March 1885, when John was a little more than a year old.
Martha Barnes was the daughter of Dan and Lishy Ann Bynum, as shown in her and John’s Wilson County marriage license:
The handwritten notes affixed to the center and top of the right-hand page of John’s application read: (1) This man intends to travel on a boat owned by Garvey. Probably is a member of Garvey U.N.I.A. He is a laborer and wishes to go to a country where there are 2 million natives with nothing to do. This Division hopes psp’t will be refused. J.W. (2) I should be glad to refuse this man a passport but I do not see how we can do it. WRC[illegible] (3) I concur with above. Nothing tanglible against him. P. Adams 7-14-21 (4) Mrs B[illegible] Please issue. We have nothing personally against this man. He is a laborer and probably too ignorant to cause any trouble. P. Adams, 7-14-21.
Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925, Roll # 1690, Volume # Roll 1690 – Certificates: 65250-65625, 14 Jul 1921-15 Jul 1921, National Archives and Records Administration.