Primitive Baptist Church

Like jumping on a holy trampoline.

A number of readers commented on my recent post about Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Association, particularly sharing memories of Rev. Wiley Barnes and Corner Line Primitive Baptist Church, one of three Wilson County churches in the association. Rev. Hubert Tyson identified the location of another, Travelers Rest Primitive Baptist Church, which stood next door to Saint Luke Freewill Baptist Church at the eastern end of Church Street in Stantonsburg.

Rev. Tyson’s grandmother Lillie Thompson Fox Bass was a devoted Primitive Baptist and, even after migrating to Delaware, returned to Stantonsburg every year to attend the annual Association gathering. Says Rev. Tyson, who accompanied her visits to Travelers Rest and Corner Line:

“Ma Lillie was faithful. I always went inside with her. Boy, did I have questions. At first I thought they were singing in a diverse dialect, so she gave one of her old hymn books so that I could sing along. At least five preachers preached each service. No piano, but they didn’t need it. Their tribal rhythm was in the house. Everyone drank out of the same water dipper. Everyone hugged as well as kissed in the mouth (while they still had snuff in their mouth.) While singing, they partnered off with in-sync hand-shaking to the rhythm, rocking the weak shacking of the floor’s foundation. It was similar to jumping on a holy trampoline. I enjoyed taking her there.”

——

On 26 January 1919, Walter Fox, 21, of Greene County, son of Henry and Hattie Fox, married Lillie Thompson, 18, of Greene County, daughter of Will and Kitsey Thompson, in Lindell township, Greene County.

In the 1920 census of Bull Head township, Greene County, N.C.: Walter Fox, 22,  wife Lillie, 20, and Mabell, 3 months.

In the 1930 census of Eureka township, Wayne County, N.C.: Walter Fox, 35; wife Lillie, 34; and children Rosa M., 11, Walter L., 9, Willie, 7, Jessie L., 5, Minnie, 2, and Walter Jr., 6 months.

In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg, Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Main Street, widow Lillie Fox, 40, domestic, and children Rosa Lee, 20, cook, Walter Henry, 18, Willie, 17, Minnie, 15, domestic, Jesse Lee, 13, and Alexander, 9; plus lodger Willie Bynum, 16.

Lillie Thompson Fox Bass died 25 June 1988 in Lincoln, Delaware.

Thank you, Rev. Hubert Tyson, for sharing these memories!

Minutes of Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Association.

Primitive Baptist churches organized themselves in associations, and African-American congregations in Wilson County were members of several, including Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Association and Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Association.

In November 1918, the Eighth Annual Session of the Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Association met at Stony Creek Church in Nash County. On the first day, the delegates voted to hold the next year’s session at Corner Line Church in Wilson County. The published minutes noted that Bethlehem P.B.A.’s member churches had been members of Radicue P.B.A. until 1910, when “trouble arose” between an Elder A. Wooten and Elder N. Johnson of Few-In-Number Church in Edgecombe County. The men could not (or would not) agree to resolve the matter via ordinary channels, “[t]herefore, we the church at Few-In-Number, would not give up for our member to be tried in such an disorderly way. This is why they call us in disorder. We hope the Lord will show our brethren their wrong. This done by order of the church, assisted by five other churches joining us.” In other words, six churches broke with Radicue to form their own Association.

The minutes’ Table of Statistics reveals three Wilson County churches in the Association: Conner [Corner] Line, New Hope, and Traveler’s Rest. Elder S. Buston [Samuel Burston] of Sharpsburg helmed Corner Line, and Wiley Barnes and Peter Barnes were delegates to the Session from that church. The church reported having baptized no new members the previous year, but receiving one by profession of faith for a total membership of 16. New Hope had no sitting elder, but was represented by A. Horne and Kelley Johnson. The church had received one new member by profession, another by letter (from his or her home church), and had 14 total members. Traveler’s Rest was led by Elder J.H. Winston of Pinetops (in Edgecombe County) and was represented by B.F. Davis and Nathan Lucas. Though the church had only six members, it had baptized one the previous year and received two by profession. It had also dismissed two members.

From Minutes of the Eighth Annual Session of the Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Association Held With the Stony Creek Church, Nash County, N.C. (1918).

Edgecombe County’s Living Hope church hotel the 11th annual session in 1921. Elder Burston was moderator, and Brother Wiley Barnes was one of two men chosen “to stand to preach for the people.” That evening, Brother Barnes sang the hymn on page 490 (of an unnamed hymnal)* and preached from Acts 9:2 — “And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”

In October 1923, Bethlehem P.B.A. convened at Wilson County’s little Travelers Rest Primitive Baptist Church.

Cover, Minutes of the Eighth Annual Session of the Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Association Held With the Traveller’s Rest Church, Wilson County, N.C. (1923).

Elder Burston was again appointed moderator, and Brother Wiley Barnes was one of two men chosen to preach. On Saturday morning, Brother Barnes sang the hymn on page 530 and preached from Ezekiel 36:3 — “Therefore prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Because they have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side, that ye might be a possession unto the residue of the heathen, and ye are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people.”

As always, the Association closed its Session with its touching “Circular Letter”:

In 1925, Bethlehem P.B.A. held its annual meeting at Bethlehem Church in Edgecombe County. The Association favorably received a request from Diggs Chapel (in northeast Wayne County, just over the Wilson county line) to join the Association. Wiley Barnes of nearby Stantonsburg had been elevated to Elder and led this congregation.

The Association returned to Corner Line in October 1927. Elder Burston preached the introductory sermon from I Corinthians 1:1. Elder Barnes lined a hymn and preached from Exodus 3:7-8 — “7 And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8 And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” In 1927, Corner Line had 18 members; New Hope, 17; and Traveler’s Rest, 15. The delegates chose New Hope, “nine miles from Elm City and ten miles from Wilson,” for the next meeting.

Elder Burston died in 1930. Elder Wiley Barnes took over leadership of Corner Line and New Hope, in addition to Diggs Chapel. J.H. Winstead of Tarboro headed Traveler’s Rest.

——

  • Sam Buston — Samuel Burston died 29 April 1930 in Saratoga township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was about 50 years old; was married to Lucy Burston; was a preacher; and was born in Edgecombe County, N.C., to Henry Burston and Rachel Taylor. Lucy Burston, Sharpsburg, was informant.
  • Wiley Barnes
  • Peter Barnes
  • A. Horne
  • Kelley Johnson — in the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Kellie Johnson, 32; wife Bloomer, 26; and children Arthur, 10, Elizabeth, 8, L. Rosa, 6, Kelly Jr., 5, Willie, 3, and Bloomer, 2.
  • B.F. Davis
  • Nathan Lucas — in the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on the south side of Stantonsburg Road, tenant farmer Nathan Lucas, 49; wife Dilsey, 35; children James, 19, Dora, 17, Odell, 11, and Peter M., 4; sister Susan Lucas, 46; and grandson Lacey J. Edwards, 1 month. Nathan Lucus died 30 September 1921 in Stantonsburg township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate he was 52 years old; was married; worked as a farmer for H.E. Thompson; and was born in Johnston County to Amos Lucus. James Lucus, Stantonsburg, was informant.

I have not identified the locations of Traveler’s Rest and New Hope Primitive Baptist Churches.

*[Update: The hymnal may have been Hymn and Tune Book for Use in the Old School or Primitive Baptist Churches, compiled by Silas H. Durand and P.G. Lester and first published in 1886. The scores of the hymns include both shape-note and conventional notation.]

Minutes digitized at Divinity Archive, a project of Duke University Divinity School Library and partner institutions. 

African-American members of Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church.

Lower Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church, founded in 1783, was the second church organized in what is now Wilson County. The church’s nineteenth-century records includes names of enslaved and freed African-American members, who worshipped with the congregation as second-class Christians even after Emancipation.

Below are African-Americans included in a circa 1877 “List of Names Now Alive” with dates they were baptized and notes about church discipline. (The Primitive Baptists were hardcore about infractions of church rules, and it seems most members were “cut off” sooner or later.)

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  • Channey Pacock, col August 1871

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Chany Peacock, 46; son Geoge, 23; and grandson Preston Barne, 7.

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Benj’n Hardy, 25; wife Mary A., 30, farm laborer; and Litha, 14, farm laborer.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamin Hardy, 38; wife Mary Ann, 40; daughter Tillitha, 22; and mother-in-law Hester Hinnant, 65 [next door to Woodard Hooks, below.]

  • Isirah Lane, col Aug 14 1871, cut off

Perhaps, in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Isiah Lane, 40, keeping eating saloon, and wife Harriet, 38.

  • Milbry Hinnant col  Dec 10 1871

Perhaps, in the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Gray Hinnant, 26; wife Milbary, 24; and children Sally, 4, John, 3, and Everet, 1.

  • Rhoda Hollan col, Mar 9 1872, “cut off Aug the 12th 1876”
  • Fany Woodard col, Mar 9 1872, cut off
  • Sarah Brook col, June 9 1872
  • Woodard Hooks col, date of baptism unknown, excluded

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Woodard Hooks, 52; wife Venus, 53; and children Mahaly, 20, Mariah, 18, Gabriel, 16, Isaac, 14,  Bardin, 11, and Grant, 10. [Cross Roads township is adjacent to Black Creek township, and the boundary is within a very few miles from the town of Black Creek.]

  • Elizath Horn col, date of baptism unknown, deceased
  • James Barnes col, date of baptism unknown, deceased
  • Nathon Barnes col, date of baptism unknown, excluded
  • Mardel(?) Thompson, date of baptism unknown, cut off
  • Wister Barnes, date of baptism unknown
  • Petter Woodard col, June 8th 1873

In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Peter Woodard, 60; wife Renda, 60; farm laborer Adline Privett, 25, and her daughter Margaret, 6 months; and granddaughter Hetiway Ward, 3.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Peter Woodard, 70; wife Rendy, 52; and Jane, 13.

  • Trecy Woodard, June 8th 1873
  • F[illegible] Simms col, June 8th 1873, cut off
  • Mary Hardy col, Augst 11th 1873

See Benjamin Hardy, above.

  • Tilitha Hardy col, Augst 11th 1873

See Benjamin Hardy, above.

In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Blaney Barnes, 20, farm laborer.

Blany Barnes married Rachel Cooper on 10 August 1873 at J. Barden’s in Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Blany Barnes, 27; wife Rachel, 25; and children Larry, 6, Mary Ann, 4, and William Anderson, 2.

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: R.R. [railroad] laborer Blaney Barnes, 47; wife Rachell, 44; and children Anderson W., 21, Louettie, 16, and Charlie, 11; and boarder Dorch Wade, 23.

On 22 September 1903, Blaney Barnes, 50, married Diana Ricks, 45, in Spring Hill township.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County:  Blaney Barnes, 55, sawmill log hauler; wife Dianna, 44, farm laborer; daughter-in-law Louvenia Furgerson, 21, divorced; daughter-in-law Jane Barnes, 19; grandsons Hiliard, 7, and Joseph N. Barnes, 5; grandson Willie Furgerson, 4; and grandchildren Martha J. Barnes, 12, and boarder Troy Barnes, 23.

Blaney Barnes died 26 April 1915 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1844 in Wilson County to Sip Barnes of Wayne County, N.C.; was married; was a farmer; and was buried in Barnes graveyard. Wiley H. Johnson, Lucama, was informant.

  • Levi Bass col, July 12 1874, fined

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Levi Bass, 23; wife Heggar, 22; and children Burket, 3, and Lydia, 2.

  • Caroline Dawson col, Aug 8th 1874
  • Rufus Bass col

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Rufus Bass, 30; wife Caroline, 25; and Josiah, 6, Willie A., Rufus H., 4, and Rebecca F., 1 month; plus

  • Smithie Cooper col, Sept 12th 1874

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Watson Cooper, 26; wife Smithy, 25; and children Martha, 9, Margaret, 4, George, 3, and Sidney, 9 months.

  • Nellie Williams col, June 15th 1875

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer W. Williams, 50; wife Nellie, 43; servants Laura Williams, 15, and Nancy Winstead, 22, farm laborers; and Winnie Monday, 10, “no relation.”

  • Harriet Bass col, Oct 14 1875
  • Sarah Hagans col, Oct 14 1875

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer John Hegans, 31; wife Sarah, 20; children John, 3, Nancy A., 2, and Amos, 10; and Susan Hagans, 40, farm worker.

  • Julia Fealds col, Jan 8th 1876

George W. Fields married Julia Moore on 26 March 1869 in Pitt County, North Carolina.

In the 1870 census of California township, Pitt County: farmer Wash Fields, 35; wife Julia, 35; and children Haywood, 10, Mary, 4, and Jane, 1.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Washington Fields, 30; wife Julia, 35; and children Renda, 12, Penninah, 11, Jane, 9, Christany, 8, London, 6, William, 5, and twins Isaac and Jacob, 3.

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Washington Fields, 60; wife Julia, 53; daughters Chrischanie, 25, Amanda, 15, and Lutory, 10; grandson Peter, 10; and granddaughters Julia, 5, and Lillie, 7 months.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Washington Fields, 68; wife Julia, 70; grandson Peter J., 18; and granddaughters Julia A., 14, and Mary Lilly, 9.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer George W. Fields, 65; wife Julia M., 70; daughter Christina, 48; and grandson Willie, 10.

Julia Fields died 20 June 1924 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 102 years old; was married to Wash Fields; was born in Greene County, N.C., to Peter Woodard and Renda Woodard; and was buried in a family cemetery. William Fields was informant. [See Peter Woodard, above.]

  • Jane Barnes col, March 4th 1876, “Jane Hooks by Marridge”

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Stewart Hooks, 31, and wife Jane, 23.

In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: basket mechanic Stewart Hooks, 51, and wife Jane, 43, dressmaker.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek town, Black Creek township, Wilson County: on Railroad Street, Stewart Hooks, 60, basketmaker with own shop, and wife Jane, 50, dressmaker.

Jane Hooks died 6 April 1929 at the Wilson County Home. Per her death certificate, she was 64 years old; a widow; and was born in Wilson County to Ben Barnes and Hester Horn. Lovett Barnes was informant.

  • Phillis Daniel col, July 8th 1876, “fort by a Marridge Philis fort”
  • Nicie(?) Barden col, July 9th 1876
  • Fanie Newsom col, June 11th 1876, “Restored Sept 8th 1876”
  • Ester Barnes col, April 12 1877
  • Liddy Jordon col, June [illegible] 1877, [illegible]

Copy of documents courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III. Originals now housed at North Carolina State Archives.

Bellamy Chapel Primitive Baptist Church.

I wrote here of my discovery of Sharpsburg’s traditional African-American section, which lies mostly in Wilson County. Below, a better photo of old Bellamy Chapel Primitive Baptist Church (first known as Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist Church).

The church’s trustees purchased the property in 1915. The church building was already on the lot and, unusually, the deed contained a stipulation that the property would always be used for “church purposes.” If not, it would revert to J.H. Bellamy (whom I have not been able to identify.) At deed book 102, page 578, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office:

North Carolina, Wilson County } THIS DEED, made this September 24th, 1915, by and between M.V. Barnhill, Trustee, party of the first part, and Henry Reid, Robert Lewis and George Drake, as Trustees of the Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist Church, parties of the second part; WITNESSETH

THAT for and in consideration of the sum of Ten Dollars ($10.00) to him in hand paid, the receipt whereof expressly acknowledged, the said party of the first part, has bargained, sold, aliened and conveyed, and by these presents does bargain, sell and convey unto them, the said Henry Reid, Robert Lewis and George Drake, as Trustees as aforesaid, their successors in office and assigns, all that certain lot or parcel of land lying and being situate in Toisnot Township, Wilson County, North Carolina, being the unnumbered lot as is shown by plat of the Bellamy property, recorded in Book 78, page 170, Wilson County registry, to which plat and survey reference is hereby made for a more specific description of said lot; it being the lands upon which the Church aforesaid is now situate, said lot fronting thirty (30) feet on the East side of Railroad Street and running back seventy-five (75) feet. 

TO HAVE AND HOLD the aforesaid land and premises, together with all and singular, the rights, easements and appurtenances thereunto in any wise belonging unto them, the said parties of the second part, as Trustees as aforesaid, their successors in office and assigns so long as said premises may be used for church purposes, and no longer. Should the said premises cease to be used for church purposes, then and in that event said land shall revert to and become the property of J.H. Bellamy, and this Deed shall be held and deemed to be null and void.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, the said party of the first part has hereunto set his hand and seal, this the day and year first above written.  M.V. Barnhill, Trustee

Deed book 78, page 170, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

[Update, 4/26/2021 — As reader DC pointed out, I actually do know who J.H. Bellamy was. I needed merely to search my own blog. From C.L. Spellman‘s treatise on Elm City’s Black community: “J.H. Bellamy and his wife Cherry were among the first Negroes to move into the Sharpsburg vicinity. Bellamy was a preacher and a teacher. He did some good work in the general section in both these capacities. Together these two acquired a small tract of farm land. This was held up in his preaching and teaching as an example of what Negroes generally should do in order to succeed in life.”]

Where was Barnes Church?

Below, Guy Cox’s late 1960’s photo of historic Barnes Church, a Primitive Baptist church a few miles north of Stantonsburg. The church is said to have been established by African-Americans enslaved by Edwin Barnes. 

A search of current Wilson County’s on-line tax records shows a parcel nominally owned by “Barnes Church” on Old Stantonsburg Road.

Locating the parcel on a 1940 aerial view of the area reveals the church sitting at a slight angle to the road in an open sandy area within a grove. 

Eighty years later, the little wooded thumb of land remains, but there are no signs of Barnes Church, which ceased meeting in the 1960s.

Photos courtesy of the Wilson County Tax Department; Wilson County Aerial Photographs (1940), U.S.D.A. Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina; and Google Maps.

An introduction to Sharpsburg.

Per county GIS mapping data, there are two property owners remaining in Wilson County whose named include the word “Colored.” The first I know well — Elm City Colored Cemetery Commission. The second pulled me up short — Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist Church.

Though I have driven through it on U.S. Highway 301 hundreds of times, I know little about Sharpsburg, other than that its town limits straddle three counties — Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe. Because I’m not familiar with the locations of these boundaries, I have not looked closely at Sharpsburg as a source of material for Black Wide-Awake.

I pulled up the GIS map for Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist and was immediately struck by two things.

One, the Wilson County sector of Sharpsburg is cleanly bounded by SE Railroad Street on the west and Main Street on the north. Two, this is the historically Black section of town — the church is there, it is “across the tracks,” and its street names include Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

And then there’s this grainy Google Maps image of the church itself:

Per county tax records, trustees bought the lot at the corner of Railroad and Lincoln Streets in 1915 and built Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist Church in 1920. Another grainy photograph linked to the tax record and date-stamped 2016 shows a large sign mounted on the church tower that reads “Bellamy Chapel P.B. Church.” Bellamy Chapel appears to be defunct as well. 

I’ve added Sharpsburg Colored Primitive Baptist Church to my follow-up list. Stay tuned.

 

Corner Line Primitive Baptist Church, revisited.

I was on my way to Saratoga when I spotted a road sign for Cornerline Place and thought of this old church. The first post about Corner Line Primitive Baptist Church relied on Google Maps for a relatively recent photo. The up-to-date situation reveals not just the expected decay of an abandoned church, but quite intentional depredation as well.

Here is Corner Line straight on. At left, a collapsed wooden building, one room wide, with a gabled front.

The church’s plywood sign has rotted beyond help. As noted, Corner Line held worship services only once a month.

The church’s front doors are gone. As is half its floor, which, based on the straight cut across its width, appears to have been scavenged. The back of the church shows ordinary damage, collapsed ceilings from a rotting roof. The church’s original tongue-and-groove beadboard is visible under the wall’s faux paneling and sheetrock ceiling. Look closely at bottom left. That stump may have been one of the original posts supporting the church’s floor.

Corner Line Primitive Baptist, 2020.

Church 1/2 acre excepted.

Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 7.24.33 PM.png

In 1917, Atlantic Coast Realty prepared a plat map subdividing the James W. Hayes Farm near Elm City into ten parcels. The farm’s location is readily identifiable as the tip of the triangle formed by present-day East Langley and Haynes Roads. At the tip of the tip, this notation: “Church 1/2 A, Excepted.”

Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 7.25.22 PM.png

The original Little Union Primitive Baptist Church!

Plat book 1, page 40, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson; aerial view courtesy of Google Maps.

Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Church.

IMG_7913.jpg

Founded in 1896, Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Church met at the corner of East Green and Elba Streets for more than 75 years. The church building has been extensively modified, but if you walk around back …

There is this. A colored-glass window that, if not original, dates to an early iteration of the church.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, taken in November 2015 and July 2019.