Louretha Renfrow Johnson approached me after my talk at the public library last February. As its 150th anniversary approached, would I be willing to speak to church members about ways to document the church’s rich history? I leapt at the opportunity, and we set a date for mid-April. Coronavirus, of course, had other plans.
All the more reason that I’m happy to see that Rocky Branch United Church of Christ has found a scaled-back way to mark its sesquicentennial milestone and plans to go all out next year if conditions permit. I’m hoping they’ll still have me.
Highlights of this history of Rocky Branch United Church of Christ:
Shortly after the Civil War, six or seven people began holding regular worship services on the banks of Rocky Branch
Church celebrates Harvest Day in October, as it has done for seven generations. Nearly half who attended in 2000 could trace their ancestry to a founding church member.
Alice Shaw Stevens, daughter of Seth T. Shaw, was unofficial church historian, as her father had been.
A footbridge marks the location of the early gathering site, as well as the site of baptisms in the creek.
Though early records are scarce, it appears the church was formally organized in 1870 under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina Conference of Christian churches. Subsequent denomination mergers resulted in its current designation as Rocky Branch United Church of Christ.
A crude one-room building was erected early, and a cemetery plot purchased alongside it. Several improvements and additions were made over the years.
The church celebrated its centennial in August 1970.
In 1986, shortly after members paid off a mortgage on a new addition, lightning struck the church’s steeple and destroyed the edifice. Members met in a nearby church and the Rocky Branch Masonic Lodge building until a new facility was built.
The church had 15 pastors between 1870 and 2000 – Revs. Elisha Horton, Robert Pretty, William Allen, Haywood Horton, W.H. Dugger, P.R. Alexander, C.A. Harris (who served two terms), E.L. Sellers, W.H. Jeffreys, C. Hodges, L.E. Young, Eli Burton,and H.L. Hartsfield.
Established in 1870, Rocky Branch United Church of Christ is one of the oldest African-American congregations in Wilson County. The older section of its cemetery sits literally in its front yard. The newer section is on a plain just above the church, reached by crossing a footbridge over a tannin-stained branch. A small placard mounted at the bridge reveals that it was built by church members and dedicated to Seth Thomas Shaw Jr. (1895-1981) and Eugene Spells (1924-1988).
In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Celia Thompson, 40, and children Courtney, 17, Chany, 14, and Columbus, 7.
On 16 December 1880, Aaron Barnes, 23, and Chany Thompson, 23, both residents of Wilson County, were married at the residence of Ruffin Rose. Witnesses were Simon Barnes, Willis Hooks, and Grey Newsome.
In the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Aaron Barnes, 42, wife Chanie, 37, and sister-in-law[?] Tempie Peacock, 15.
In the 1910 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Aaron Barnes, 54, wife Chainie, 45, and mother-in-law Celia Thompson, 86.
In the 1920 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Aaron Barnes, 63, and wife Chanie, 62.
In the 1930 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Aron Barnes, 72, and wife Chanie, 72.
Arron Barnes died 6 October 1930 in Lucama. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1852 in Wilson County to Arron Barnes Sr. and Elvie Barnes of Wilson County, was married to Kannie Barnes, and worked as a farmer. He was buried in Pollie Watson graveyard. Chanie Barnes died 26 March 1936 in Lucama. Per her death certificate, she was born 1856 in Nash County to George Thompson and Celia Thompson of Nash County, was the widow of Aaron Barnes, and had resided on Main Street, Lucama.
George Cooper and Estella Smith Cooper
On 24 February 1877, George Cooper, 21, married Estella Smith, 19, in Wayne County.
In the 1880 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: George Cooper, 23, wife Estella, 21, sister Mary, 17, brother Mose, 13, and children Philipp, 4, Ritta, 3, and Marchal, 2.
In the 1900 census of Fremont township, Wayne County: George Cooper, 46, wife Stellar, 40, and children Aretter, 22, George B., 16, Juley, 14, James, 12, Mary, 10, Maggie, 7, Bessie, 4, and Royal, 3. Next door, Philipp Cooper, 23, wife Florence, 26, and Earl, 3 months.
In the 1920 census of Springhill district, Wilson County: Tack House and Moores School Road, George Cooper, 65, Stella, 55, and children [or grandchildren] Maggie, 25, Stella, 13, and Irene, 9.
Estella Cooper died 17 July 1931 in Springhill township. Per her death certificate, she was 74 years old and born in Wayne County to Jacob Smith and Littie Whitley, both of Wayne County. She was married to George Cooper Sr. and worked in farming. James Cooper was the informant.
George Cooper died 25 October 1940 at his home at 910 Mercer Street in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old and born in Duplin County to Warch and Warshell Cooper. He was buried at Rocky Branch. Informant was James W. Cooper, Wilson.
James William Cooper died 12 February 1967 at his home at 110 Fourth Street in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 24 July 1887 in Wayne County to George Cooper and Estelle Smith; worked as a fireman for James I. Miller Company; was a World War I veteran; and was married to Alberta A. Cooper.
Thomas Rice and Julia Watson Rice
In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Alfred Rice, 40, wife Amy, 30, and son Thomas, 13, and Gray Bailey, 24, all farm laborers.
In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Alfred Rice, about 52, wife Amy, about 35, and son Thomas, 22, a laborer, plus Thomas Pettiford, 2.
Thomas Rice and Julia Watson were married on 24 November 1881 in Johnston County.
In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Rice, 43, wife Julia, 43, children Siddie, 19, Annanias, 16, Savanah, 14, John, 12, and mother Amy, 60.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: hired man Thomas Rice, 53, in the household of white farmer Charles O. Hinnant. He reported having been married 27 years, but his wife is not listed with him.
In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Springfield and Red Hill Road, Tom Rice, 56, and wife Julia, 50.
Julia Rice died 25 July 1925 near Kenly in Springhill township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 July 1859 in Johnston County, was married to Tom Rice, and was buried in Rocky Branch graveyard. Tom Rice died 3 February 1927.
Louvenia Williamson Devine Bizzle
In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Elic Williamson, 44, wife Gracy, 29, and children John, 14, Lugen, 11, Joseph, 9, Jennie, 7, Mary, 6, Clem, 4, Sarah J., 2, and Poll, 1, all of whom had whooping cough.
On 22 November 1893, Alex Devine, 49, of Springhill township, married Louvenia Williamson, 24, of Springhill township.
Gracy Williamson died 14 September 1916 in Springhill township of pulmonary tuberculosis. Per her death certificate, she was born 28 May 1903 to Louvenia Williamson and Alex Vines.
On 23 October 1923, Washington Bizzle, 40, of Wrightsville, Georgia, married Louvenia Williamson, 42, of Crossroads township, at the courthouse in Wilson.
Louvenia Williamson Bizzle applied for a social security number in January 1938. Her application listed her birthdate as 5 May 1869 and her parents as Alec Williamson and Gracie Shaw.
On the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Lewis Freeman, about 55, wife Katy, about 25, and Violet Eatman, about 70.
On 16 December 1891, William R. Robinson, 20, of Old Fields, son of Katie Freeman, married Sallie W. Earp, 19, of Old Fields, daughter of Sidney and Nancy Earp at Sidney Earp’s residence.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson and Raleigh Road, widow Rachael Robinson, 71, and her daughter Katie Freeman, 52.
In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Old Raleigh Road, widow Rachael Robertson, 80, and her daughter Katie Freeman, 61, also a widow.
Katie Freeman died 29 November 1931 in Springhill township. Per her death certificate, she was a 78 year-old widow born in Wilson County to Virgen Deans and Rachel Robinson. Informant was Wm. Ruffin Robinson, Rock Ridge, North Carolina.
On 12 February 1893, Harriett Boykin, 20, daughter of Henry and Sylva Boykin, married Samuel Taylor, 26, son of Peter and Zilla Taylor, at Henry Boykin’s residence.
On 17 December 1897, James Boykin, 21, son of Henry and Silvy Boykin, married Mary Jane Kent, daughter of Ned and Liddie Kent.
In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Foster Boykin, 22, wife Ella, 18, and children James R., 2, and Alma, 1; sister-in-law Lily Whitley, 22; mother Silva Boykin, 81; and niece Eula M. Whitley, 3.
Sylvia Boykin died 12 January 1939 at her home at 507 Warren Street in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 90 years old, born in Wilson County, and her father [sic, probably meant to indicate husband] was Henry Boykin. She was a widow who had worked as a tenant farmer.
Spencer “Fox” Shaw and Tabitha Shaw
In the 1870 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Thomas Shaw, 36, wife Katy, 37, and children Frances, 16, Eliza, 14, Fox, 12, David, 11, Martha, 4, and Mary, 2.
In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Fox Shaw, 21, wife Bithal, 18, and daughter Mary, 2 months.
In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Spencer Shaw, 40, wife Tabitha, 41, and children George A., 17, James R., 11, Hattie, 9, Joeseph G., 6, Seth T., 5, and Albert S., 2.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson and Raleigh Branch Road, Spencer Shaw, 51, wife Bitha, 49, and children James R., 21, Joseph T., 16, Seth T.,14, Albert S., 11, Merlin S., 9, Willie H., 7, and Alice M., 5.
In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Shaw Avenue on Springhill Road, farmer Spencer S. Shaw, 60, wife Bitha, 60, and children Albert, 22, Marlie, 19, Willie, 16, and Alice, 14. Next door: Grocil Shaw, 26, wife Nettie, 16, and children Rosa, 2, and Grover C., 1
In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Buckhorn [illegible] Road, Spencer S. Shaw, 70, wife Bytha J., 70, sons William H., 24, and Seth T., 34, daughter-in-law Georgeanna, 24, and grandchildren Alice M., 4, Seth T., 2, and Franklin S., 6 months.
In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Seth T. Shaw, 44, wife Georgiana, 34, mother Bitha, 79, and children Alice M., 14, Seth T., 12, Franklin G., 10, George C., 7, Daisy May, 5, and James C., 3.
Bitha Shaw died 25 August 1957 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 30 June 1877 [actually, circa 1860] in Wake County, North Carolina. She was buried at Rocky Branch. Informant was Hattie Boykins.