Wilson Primitive Baptist Church

The colored brethren of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church.

In 1946, the Wilson Daily Times published an article by Hugh B. Johnston commemorating the history of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church. I’ve excerpted below the sections that mention the church’s African-American members.

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Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, Asheville Post Card Co., undated.

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“On April 24, 1920, the Church agreed to begin construction as soon as possible and to include a baptismal pool, memorial windows for a number of outstanding members, and a balcony for the convenience of remaining colored brethren.”

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“A gallery for colored members ran entirely around the second story of the [1859] church, excepting the end above the tall, broad pulpit. … The Negroes in the gallery followed the same seating arrangement was the whites with regard to the sexes, and they never came into the lower part of the church except at the time of holy communion.”

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At a conference held at the Tosneot Baptist Church on Sept. 23, 1865, “a proposition was made and agreed to that all colored members that had ‘left their owners before the proclamation of freedom was made, and gone to the Yankees should be dealt with and excluded if they could not give satisfaction of their disorder.’ … [N]one of the offending members appeared … [and when they failed to appear at a postponed date,] motion was made to expel them: on which motion servants Thomas Farmer and Redic Barnes were expelled from all rights of the church.”

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“As a result of the formation of London’s Primitive Baptist Church for the convenience of the colored membership who were being served outside of regular meetings by Elder London Woodard, a conference was held at the Tosneot church on May 21, 1870, and “the following resolution was adopted by unanimous consent of the members, white and colored, that in the future, as before, the white members of the church shall have the entire control of the discipline and government of the church as this place. [This understanding was entered into the minutes] so as in after days there could not be any misunderstanding between the white and colored members of this church.”

Wilson Daily Times, 19 November 1946.


Some thoughts:

  • The balcony in the back of the 1920 church is visible starting at 1:29 of this Youtube video.
  • What African-Americans were members of Wilson Primitive Baptist as late as 1920? Do the church’s records exist?
  • Of the enslaved church members who audaciously took their freedom into their own hands, I have been unable to identify specifically Thomas Farmer. However, Reddic Barnes remained in Wilson County.
  • “The formation of London’s Primitive Baptist Church for the convenience of the colored membership who were being served outside of regular meetings” by London Woodard sounds like more like a recognition of a new reality: Toisnot’s black members had left to worship among themselves under a charismatic black preacher. It’s not surprising that those who remained unanimously agreed that white people would control the church.

Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, 1859-1920. The gallery for black members ran along three interior walls. Marion Monk Moore Collection, Images of North Carolina, http://www.digitalnc.org.

Received at Toisnot Primitive Baptist.

Hugh Buckner Johnston was way ahead of his time when it came to preserving documentation of the genealogies of Wilson’s African-American community. What follows is first in a series of abstracts, with my annotations, from his Black Members of Tosneot Baptist Church (The Wilson Primitive Baptist Church), 1824-1874, compiled in 1984.

John Thomas founded Toisnot Primitive Baptist Church in 1756 and built its first edifice on his farm. A historic marker memorializes the site near present-day Tartt’s Mill Road and Highway 42, east of Wilson. In 1802, the church moved about 3 miles west to a more central location among its membership. The community that sprang up around it — in the area of present-day Tarboro and Kenan Streets in Wilson — was known as Hickory Grove. From 1859 to 1902, the period covering most of the memberships listed here, the church, now called Wilson Primitive Baptist, met in this edifice:


Noted Mr. Johnston: “My present alphabetical listing of black members of Tosneot (now Wilson) Primitive Baptist Church as preserved in its earliest surviving Minute Book 1820-1874 will provide the reader with a clear idea of the potentiality of another source of information about many of the religiously oriented adults. The aforesaid church had several black members as early as the 1820’s, but a great many of them in 1866 and afterward had moved their memberships to London’s Primitive Baptist Church which functions as this day in accordance with their traditional rules of faith and practice.”



  • Zaley Adams died 3 April 1871. She was probably the Zaley Daniel received into membership on 27 August 1870.

On 24 July 1866, Zallah Adams and Abraham Thorn registered their 8-year cohabitation before a Wilson County justice of the peace.

  • Alfred was baptized 28 August 1852.
  • Avret was baptized 23 September 1855.


  • Warren Barefoot was received on 25 May 1867 and “liberated” to preach on 10 August 1872.

In 1869, Warren Barefoot, son of Jacob and Milly Dawson, and Sarah Lassiter, daughter of Silas and Orpha Lassiter, applied for a marriage license in Wilson County, but did not register their marriage. [Jack Dawson and Millie Barefoot registered their 18-year cohabitation on 16 August 1866.] In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Warren, 21, and Sarah Barefoot, 20. Warren Barefoot died in 1874 as revealed in Wilson County estate records. In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Silas Lassiter, 56, wife Orpah, 50, and children Penina, 24, Pharaoh, 20, Milly Ann, 19, and Gerusha Ann, 14, plus Sally Barefoot, 32, and children Mandy, 9, George, 6, and Warren, 5.

  • Amey Barnes was received on 23 October 1869.

On 11 August 1866, Andrew Barnes and Amy Willaford registered their 30-year cohabitation before a Wilson County justice of the peace. In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Drew Barnes, 58, wife Amey, 55, and son Drew Barnes Jr., 18. In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson: Drew Barnes Snr., 71, and wife “Anne,” 69, who suffered from dysentery.

  • Charles Barnes, enslaved by Gen. Joshua Barnes, was baptized 22 June 1851 and was presumably the same Charles Barnes liberated to preach on 28 June 1873.

Three Charles Barneses appear in the 1870 census of Wilson County. One, age 78, married to Chaney Barnes, lived in Black Creek township. The next, age 39, lived in Gardners township. The last, age 26, born in Maryland and married to Jackian Barnes, lived in Wilson township.

  • Eady Barnes, enslaved by James Dew Barnes, was received on 22 August 1863 and expelled before 1870.
  • Cloah Barnes, enslaved by Jacob Barnes, was baptized 26 September 1830.
  • Gilbert Barnes, enslaved by Davis Barnes, was excluded from membership on 25 September 1824 for “fighting a white man,” but restored on 21 August 1829.
  • Isaac Barnes, enslaved by Jesse Barnes, was a member before 1820.
  • Judah Barnes, enslaved by James Barnes, was dismissed by letter on 22 November 1835.
  • Judith Barnes was received on 22 July 1871.

Possibly, in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson: Judy Barnes, 65, with son Mack Barnes, 19, and granddaughter Martha Rountree, 25.

  • Margaret Barnes was baptized 24 May 1874.
  • Myney Barnes was a member before 1870.
  • Reddic Barnes was baptized 23 October 1853 and excluded 26 November 1865 “for Runing away from his Master before he was freed by the Proclamation.”

Redic Barnes and Spicy Barnes registered their 12-year cohabitation on 4 June 1866 before a Wilson County justice. In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Redick Barnes, 51, wife Spicey, 50, and children Jolly, 16, Ida, 15 and Harry, 11.

  • Robert “Bob” Barnes, enslaved by Joseph Barnes, was restored to fellowship on 23 February 1822.
  • Tom Barnes, enslaved by James Barnes, was received on 28 October 1832 and dismissed by letter in November 1835.
  • Luezer Battle was received on 20 August 1860.
  • Rose Battle was a member before 1870.
  • Martha Blackwell was a member before 1870.

On 25 August 1866, Martha Blackwell and James Rowe registered their 4-year cohabitation in Wilson County.

  • Mary Blount was received on 21 May 1870.

Probably, in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson: Reuben Battle, 30, Edna Battle, 25, Mary Blount, 23, and Elizabeth Blount, 17.

  • Charity Blow was received on 20 August 1869.

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Charity Blow, 32, with children Joseph, 18, Lenday, 9, Thomas, 3, and Lucind, 1.

  • Harry Brooks was received on 23 July 1870 and excluded 23 September 1871 “for Drunkness & fiting.”

On 20 August 1866, Harry Brooks and Selah Daniel registered their 3-year cohabitation in Wilson Cunty.

  • Anna Bynum was received on 25 May 1872.
  • Calvin Bynum was received on 24 May 1873.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson: Thomas Hardy, 30, and wife Mary, 30, plus Calvin Bynum, 22.

  • Eliza Bynum was received on 8 June 1872.
  • Gatsey Bynum was a member before 1870.

On 25 August 1866, Allen Bynum and Gatsey Bynum registered their 16-year cohabitation in Wilson County. In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Allen Bynum, 30, wife Gatsey

  • Harry Bynum was received on 22 April 1871.

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Osborn Buck, 23, Harry Bynum, 31, Mary Bynum, 28, and John Bynum, 26.

  • Oliff Bynum was received on 27 April 1872.
  • Thomas Bynum was received on 21 October 1871 and liberated to preach on 14 June 1873.

In the 1870 census of Gardners, Wilson: Thomas Bynum, 30, wife Bethana, 28, and children James, 11, Oliver, 9, Mary, 6, and Levinia, 4.

Copy of Johnston’s compilation courtesy of Wilson County Public Library; photo courtesy of www.digitalnc.org.