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I am a family historian writing about my genealogy research and  communities of color primarily in the Southeast, especially North Carolina, as those of you who followed my previous blog on backintyme.biz (Margo Lee Williams’s Blog – currently not available for viewing) or  read my books (Miles Lassiter and From Hill Town to Strieby) know. I will be continuing to do the same here. In addition, I will post information about DNA and its place in genealogical research as well as other topics of historical and genealogical interest. So stay tuned! For a free copy of 10 Tips for African American Genealogy Research, go here

#52Ancestors – At worship: The Rev. Islay Walden and the founding of Strieby Congregational Church

One hundred fifty years ago, on 2 July, Islay Walden, after graduating from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was ordained in the Second Reformed Church of New Brunswick (Reformed Church of America). By the end of the week he had left New Brunswick and was on his way back to North Carolina as a Congregational minister under the auspices of the American Missionary Association (AMA).[1]  By November 1879, he was back in Randolph County, North Carolina, where he had grown, having moved in with his sister, Sarah, and her family.[2] The area where they lived was known as Hill Town, because so many Hill family members lived in the small community in the Uwharrie Mountain area of southwestern Randolph County.[3]

Islay Walden Oval

When Islay Walden returned to the Lassiter’s Mill postal area of southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina, he established a Congregational church and “common school,” as AMA one or two teacher schools were called, in an area in the Uwharrie Mountains called “Hill Town.” It is likely that he ultimately decided to take this post because it was in the same community where his sister, Sarah (Callicutt/Walden) Hill, wife of Emsley Hill, lived.

The church reportedly was called first, “Promised Land Church.” According to Aveus “Ave” Lassiter Edmondson, in an article that appeared in Asheboro Magazine in 2011, Priscilla Hill (affectionately known as “Granny Prissy”), Emsley Hill’s mother, helped build the brush arbor that was used as this early meeting place.[4] Walden’s job as AMA missionary, however, was to plant a permanent Congregational church for the community. This church was called the First Congregational Church of Randolph County.[5] DeBoer (2015) noted that “If a church in the South is named First Congregational and was founded during Reconstruction, it is generally a predominantly black church started by the AMA.”[6]   Walden’s church would eventually be named Strieby Congregational Church and School, after the Rev. Dr. Strieby, the same prominent Congregational minister and Corresponding Secretary of the AMA who had attended his ordination.[7] Kate Lassiter Jones believed that it was Rev. Strieby who helped Walden found the church, but in fact it was the Rev. Joseph Roy, the Field Superintendent, who assisted.

In November 1879, Rev. Joseph Roy reported in The American Missionary, the magazine of the AMA, on Islay’s early efforts:

“The Field Superintendent assisted [Rev. Islay Walden] in organizing a Congregational Church of thirty members.”  Roy stated that a man in Hill Town offered “three acres of land and timber in the tree for all the lumber needed for a church school-house, and that man was an ex-slave.”[8]

It is not clear to whom he was referring since the Hill, Lassiter, Andy other families living in the area were primarily free families dating back before 1850.

In May 1880, Walden, as agent for the AMA, purchased a six-acre plot of land from a neighboring white family, Addison and Cornelia Lassiter, on which the church was built.[9] According to Kate Lassiter Jones, who grew up worshiping at Strieby:

“Men and women gathered from every direction to plan for the building. A two-wheeled ox cart hauled six huge rocks for the foundation. Logs, lumber and service were given. The weather boarding for the 60’x30’ building was finished by hand, mostly by our late Uncle Julius Hill.”[10]

Strieby Church original deed
Deed for Original First Congregational Church of Randolph County, North Carolina Property

Dr. Roy noted that he met with three committees, one from Hill Town, one from what would become Salem Church, in Concord Township about eight miles away, and one from Troy, in neighboring Montgomery County, where the AMA was in the process of establishing Peabody Academy. At this point the AMA did not have an ordained preacher for each location so it was decided there would be a circuit.

“So we organized a circuit for Brother Walden, one Sabbath at Troy and the other at Salem Church and Hill Town, with one sermon at each place. The Quakers promise a school at Salem. A public school will serve Hill Town for the present, and a competent teacher must be secured for the Academy.”[11]

Strieby Church tax plat
Strieby Church Tax Plat – Parcel 295967

The Church members at Hill Town quickly became involved in the wider life of the Congregational Church and the American Missionary Association. A report of the 1880 Conference held at Dudley, N.C., noted that representatives traveled 130 miles to attend. In describing the progress of the church at Hill Town, it said, “A gracious revival and a meeting-house under way are the fruits of the first six months of the life of this church.”[12]

old strieby church w people
Original Strieby Church Building, Randolph County, North Carolina

The following year, in 1881, the report again mentioned Islay and others from the congregation:[13]

“Rev. Islay Walden and his delegate, Deacon Potter, together with three others, came fifty miles in a one-horse wagon to attend the Conference. One of the party, Mrs. Hill, now a widow, has had twelve children, forty grand-children and twelve great-grand-children. She had never seen the (train) cars nor heard a railroad whistle till she came to the Conference. …The sermon Friday night was by Rev. Islay Walden; text, the first Psalm.”

The “Mrs. Hill,” referenced here was most likely “Granny Prissy,” Priscilla (Mahockly) Hill, the matriarch of the Hill family of Hill Town in southwestern Randolph County. “Deacon Potter” could have been Thomas Potter, her son-in-law, married to her daughter Mary Jane Hill, or Thomas’ brother, Ira Potter, married to daughter Charity Hill.

Priscilla Mahockley Hill
Priscilla Mahockley Hill, 1792-1911

Just three years later, on 2 February 1884, at the young age of 40, The American Missionary reported Islay’s death and eulogized him:[14]

“… He rallied the people, developed a village with school-house and church, secured a post-office and became postmaster. Here he labored four years, blessed with revivals, and was honored by the people, black and white. His wife an educated and judicious missionary teacher was of great assistance to him in all his work …”

Islay was buried in the Strieby Church Cemetery.

Islay Walden gravestone
Gravestone of the Rev. Islay Walden, 2 February 1884, Strieby Church Cemetery

For the next 120 years, Strieby Church has served as the spiritual and cultural center for the Hill families and other families of color living in southwestern Randolph County. As time went on and the older community members died, many descendants of those families, moved away from the Strieby community, whether to other parts of Randolph County, other parts of North Carolina, or other parts of the country. However, many also return to Randolph County on the fourth Sunday of August for the annual Homecoming Service. In addition, many descendants continue to bury their loved ones in the church cemetery next to their ancestors whose lives were shaped and nourished by their worship at Strieby.[15]

Strieby Church with sign and bell tower 07-05-2014
Current Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ, Randolph County, North Carolina

References

[1] This account is based on the chapter, “Return to Hill Town,” in my book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, 2016), pp. 81-92.

[2] 1880 US Federal Census; Census Place: Union, Randolph, North Carolina; Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 196C; Enumeration District: 224; Image: 0683. Emsley Hill, head; Islay Walden, boarder. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] Williams, M. L. (2016). Return to Hill Town. In, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing), pp. 81-92.

[4] Grant, M. (2011). Strieby? Never Heard of It. Asheboro Magazine, 1(11), 56-58. Retrieved from: Asheboro Magazine On-line

[5] Addison and Cornelia Lassiter to H. W. Hubbard, (22 May 1880). Randolph County, North Carolina Deed Book. 42:199.

[6] DeBoer, C. M. (2015). Blacks and the American Missionary Association. Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ (Volume I). Retrieved from: UCC.org

[7] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[8] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[9] Addison and Cornelia Lassiter to H. W. Hubbard, Islay Walden, Agent. (22 May 1880). Randolph County, North Carolina Deed Book. 42:199.

[10] Jones, K. L. (1972). History of the Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ. Souvenir Journal for the Dedication of the New Church Building: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ (Strieby, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ), p. 2.

[11] Roy, J. L. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary. Volume 33(11):334-335. The American Missionary

[12] American Missionary Association. (1880). Conferences: North Carolina Conference. Annual Report of the American Missionary Association (Volumes 30-39), 34(3), 72. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[13] American Missionary Association. (1881). Anniversary Reports. The American Missionary Association (Volumes 30-39), 35(7), 211. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[14] American Missionary Association. (1884). Items from the Field. The American Missionary, Volume 38:51. Retrieved from: The American Missionary

[15] Williams, M. L. (2016). Part V: Strieby Today. From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing), 373-390.

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#52Ancestors – My First Road Trip to Randolph County, North Carolina

Perhaps the most significant road trip I’ve taken was the one I took with my mother in 1982. I had been doing genealogy for several years when I made contact with Kate Lassiter Jones, my maternal cousin, a descendant of Miles Lassiter, my 4th great grandfather, from Randolph County, North Carolina. Neither she, nor my mother, nor I had ever heard of one another. When she learned of our relationship, she was as excited as we were and suggested that my mother and I “come on down” to meet our many cousins. It would be an important trip for both my mother and me. My mother spent her first four years of life in Greensboro, North Carolina in neighboring Guilford County. After her mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918, her grandmother, Louise, took my mother and her baby sister to live with family in New Jersey. When her own mother, affectionately known as “Grandma Ellen,” became ill and died a couple of years later, “Mama” Louise, my mother and her sister, Vern went to Asheboro, in Randolph County, to care for Grandma Ellen, but after she died, Louise decided to stay. They stayed another three years before Louise decided to return to New Jersey permanently. My mother was seven years old. She had not been back to North Carolina again until our road trip, 61 years later.[1]

Louse Smitherman Phillips and Elinora Phillips Lee circa 1915
Louise Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram & Elinora Phillips Lee, circa 1916.

In September 1982, my mother and I made our pilgrimage to Asheboro and Randolph County. It had been 61 years since my mother had been in North Carolina. She marveled out loud that it was her daughter that was taking her back. She also lamented that my dad, who had   died in April, had not lived to make this trip—a trip he had often said he wanted to make. We had mapped out our route. We would travel south on I-95, past Richmond, Virginia, then south of Petersburg, we would take I-85 through southwestern Virginia, across the North Carolina border. I-85 would take us past the exits for Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Hillsboro, and Burlington. Once arriving in the Greensboro area, we would look for, and exit onto State 220, headed south. Finally, not far from the business district of Asheboro, we would exit onto State 49, going south toward Charlotte.

Margaret & Margo Williams 1982
Margaret Lee Williams and Margo Lee Williams, Christmas 1982. Photo by Elverna Lee Means.

We were very excited as we drove to meet our cousins, wondering if we would be welcome, if we would have things in common, if all would be congenial. We even made contingency plans – if we did not feel comfortable, we would stay a couple of days (instead of the planned week), make our excuses, and drive out to Asheville, in the Great Smokies.

Once on 49, we were to look for the second crossroads, where we would turn right and then left onto what is now called Lassiter Mill Road. As we made the turns, we passed Science Hill Friends Meeting. I recognized it from the book, Farmer, about the surrounding community known by that name. We were truly in the country as we rode along past farms and woodlands. We began to realize and be amused by the fact that we were now quite a few miles from the city of Asheboro, yet we knew that the postal address was still Asheboro. We would drive along these quiet, rolling country roads for almost half an hour before realizing that we were coming to the crossroads with what is now High Pine Church Road, the road on which Kate lived. As we approached the crossroads, I recognized a house to my left as being the one from the picture sent to me by Carolyn Hager, an historian at the Randolph County Historical Society, the one from the book, Farmer.

Lassiter Family Home, Lassiter Mill Road - 1982
Lassiter Family Home Place, Lassiter Mill Road, Asheboro, R Phoandolph County, NC. Margaret Williams, my mother is standing to the right. Photo by Margo Lee Williams

Driving around the corner onto High Pine Church Road, we were now approaching Kate Jones’ home. As we drove up the driveway, Kate, her husband, George “Ikie” Jones, and a couple of dogs greeted us. “Do we look related?” she asked with a big smile. Then, with hugs and kisses she ushered her new cousins into the house. Actually, we did look related, especially my mom (I look more like my dad’s people). How amazing to see people who looked like my mom after a lifetime of only seeing two people that looked like my mom: her sister, Vern, and me.

Margaret Lee Williams and Kate Lassiter Jones - 1982
Margaret Lee Williams & Kate Lassiter Jones, Asheboro, NC, September 1982. Photo by Margo Lee Williams

Kate was a medium brown color, browner than my mother, her face was oval rather than round like my mother’s, but it was the eyes that surprised me. They had the same shaped eyes. Later, when I met Kate’s brothers and sisters, they were varying shades of brown, some round-faced, others with longer more oval-shaped faces, but they had the same shaped eyes.

Descendants of Miles and Healy Lassiter
Family members, descendants of Miles Lassiter, assembled for a dinner in honor of our visit to Asheboro, North Carolina, September 1982. Photo by Margo Lee Williams.

.Kate  answered my questions enthusiastically, telling who married whom, the names of their children, where they lived. While she didn’t remember having ever heard of our family, or having met my mother, her brother, Will, claimed to have remembered my grandmother, my mother’s mother. Despite that, they knew many of the people and places my mother remembered from her early childhood, including her grandmother Louise’s sister, Adelaide, my 2nd great grandmother Ellen’s other daughter.

Margaret Williams, and Will Lassiter
Margaret Lee Williams & William Josiah Lassiter, “Will,” September 1982. Photo by Margo Lee Williams.

Kate promised to take us to see these places, even to go up to Greensboro, in neighboring Guilford County, to visit the street where my mother had lived briefly as a little girl before her own mother died in the Flu epidemic of 1918, and before moving to New Jersey the first time. The house there was next to North Carolina A & T University, where from her yard, during World War I, she could watch the “Colored” soldiers train. In addition, Kate invited many other cousins to come by the house to meet us. Again, while many of these relatives knew some of my mother’s other cousins (most of whom, like “Grandma” Ellen, were now dead) they were unfamiliar with my mother.

Margaret Williams at A & T University, Greensboro -1982
Margaret Lee Williams at North Carolina A & T University, September 1982. Photo by Margo Lee Williams.

During our stay with Kate, she took us out to see the land. She drove us around the Lassiter Mill area, (part of New Hope Township) along Lassiter Mill Road, pointing out the homes which had belonged to family members. She also drove us along High Pine Church Road, pointing out additional family homes, the fields that they farmed, and areas that they timbered. What I realized was that many of these homes were probably on the land that had been passed down to them by Colier Lassiter, Kate’s grandfather and brother of Nancy (Lassiter) Dunson, my 3rd great grandmother. Later, I asked Kate’s brother Will where the land was that he had bought from my 2nd great grandmother Ellen, daughter of Nancy. He said it was across the road (Lassiter Mill), going toward the Uwharrie River. He said he kept cows on the land.

Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo land
The pasture land that originally belonged to “Grandma Ellen,” Ellen (Dunson) Smitherman Mayo.

I was beginning to wish I had been able to be a part of this family during my growing up years. I realized I had missed something special, but I was grateful that I was now being embraced by my newly found cousins. I realized this was the most important road trip I had ever taken. I’m particularly grateful for the many visits we had after that. They are especially precious memories now because they are all gone now, Kate, all her siblings, including her brother Will, her husband “Ikie,” and my mother. I miss them all.

References

[1] This account is based on Chapter Two, “On the Road to Randolph County,” in my book: Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, 2011)

#52Ancestors – DNA– My Great Grandmother: Ellin Wilson

Ellin Wilson/Gainer Williams was my great grandmother. She was married to my great grandfather, Joshua W. Williams.[1] My Aunt Lutie, who was my father’s older sister and our family historian, about whom I have written before,[2] grew up around Ellin, her grandmother and her aunts and uncles, the sisters and brothers of her father, William G. Williams, my grandfather.[3] Aunt Lutie told me that Ellin was the daughter of Fannie Gainer,[4] whose husband was Alex Gainer,[5] but who was not the father of Ellin. However, Aunt Lutie said that she used Gainer as her maiden name and she even gave it as a middle name to my grandfather,[6] her oldest child, as his middle name. Clearly, she had great respect for Alex Gainer. I was also told that Ellin and her mother Fannie left South Carolina and went to Florida in search of Fannie’s other daughter and Ellin’s half-sister, Carry,[7] after the end of the Civil War. To date I have not located any South Carolina records that definitively identify Fannie or Ellin in South Carolina, even though both were reportedly free-born, but indentured. Of course, until now, I really wasn’t sure what family’s records to investigate.

Ellin Wilson
Ellin Wilson/Gainer Williams, 1854-1924

The Research

I found Fannie and Ellin for the first time in the 1870 census. Fannie was living with Alex Gainer.[8] Ellin was married to my great grandfather, Joshua, with my grandfather, Willie, who was one year old.[9] They were all living in Suwannee County, Florida. Carry was living with her husband, George Manker.[10] Going further, I was able to locate the marriage record of my great grandparents. According to the record, my great grandmother’s maiden name was “Wilson.”[11] That was great to learn, except that wasn’t one of the names I had identified from other documents.

Death certificates of Ellin and those of her children that identified her as their mother had various surnames associated with her. Her own death certificate said her father’s name was “George Johnson.”[12] My grandfather’s death certificate identified her maiden name as Ellen Gaynor.[13] Those of at least two of her children said her maiden name was Ellen Wilkinson.[14] So, what was it? Standard genealogical research never turned up any more than this. I hoped that DNA might be helpful.

DNA Evidence

I made the assumption that whoever Ellin’s father was, his first name was very likely George. I could also surmise that his last name ended in “son.” Maybe it was Wilson; maybe it was Johnson; maybe it was Wilkinson; regardless, it probably ended in “son.” I began searching my DNA results for the different surnames in the various databases where I had tested and on GEDmatch, where I had uploaded my results. Neither Wilson nor Johnson provided any cluster of matches. Wilkinson, on the other hand, was more promising.

I began noticing that there were matches who all seemed to have in common that they were descendants of Samuel Wilkinson and Esther McBride, or their son, William Wilkinson and his wife, Drucilla Hampton. William and Drucilla Wilkinson had a son, George.[15] While the family had roots in North Carolina, many family members, including George, had migrated to South Carolina, to the York, South Carolina area that Aunt Lutie claimed Ellin told her she was from (this despite some records stating she was born in Georgia).[16]. With this information, I began to develop a family tree branch for the Wilkinsons, but I did not attach them to Ellin. I left the branch free floating in my tree database.

Recently, Ancestry has created something called Thru-lines, where their algorithms identify potential common ancestors based on DNA matches as well as information from family trees. However, it must be reiterated that I had not attached any Wilkinson family members to anyone who was on my family tree as an actual genealogical family member. In other words, the place on the tree where Ellin’s father’s name should be listed was blank. Despite that, Thru-lines placed William Wilkinson as a possible third great grandfather.  With that, I decided to add George’s name as Ellin’s father. Consequently, I was able identify thirty-eight individuals as DNA matches. These individuals represented descendants from virtually every child of William and Drucilla (Hampton) Wilkinson, as well as the siblings of Drucilla Hampton and the siblings of William Wilkinson.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have a document yet that places my great grandmother in the home of George Wilkinson or any of his family members. What I do have is enough presumptive evidence to begin researching the various family members’ records to see how I can make the definitive connection. However, even without a document, the many DNA matches tell me that somehow they are my family; somehow I am their family.

References

[1] “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch, Joshua Williams and Ellin Wilson, 05 Nov 1868; citing Marriage, Suwannee, Florida, United States, citing multiple County Clerks of Court, Florida; FHL microfilm 1,007,156. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[2] Williams, M. L. (2018, 6 Jan). Blogpost:  #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Start: Lute Odette Williams Mann, 1894-1985. Personal Prologue. Retrieved from: margoleewilliamsbooks.com

[3] New Jersey, State Census, 1905 [Database on-line]. Ellen Williams, head; Lute Williams, age 11. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch, Frances Gaynor in entry for Ellen Williams, 09 May 1924; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,031,493. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[5] “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch, Alex Gainer and Frances Gainer, 14 Jan 1874; citing Marriage, Suwannee, Florida, United States, citing multiple County Clerks of Court, Florida; FHL microfilm 1,007,156. Familysearch.org

[6] Death Certificate of William Gaynor Williams, 6 October 1953, New York, New York. Bureau of Records and Statistics, Department of Health, City of New York. Certificate #156-53-121719. Certified Copy in possession of author.

[7] “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch, Dwelling #52, Family #57 Alex Gainer, head, Frances Gainer, wife; Family #58 Carry Manker, head; Dwelling  #53, Family #59: Joshaway Williams, head; Ellen Williams, wife; citing enumeration district ED 145, sheet 286C, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d), roll 0132; FHL microfilm 1,254,132. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[8] 1870 US Federal Census: Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida; Alex Gainer, head; Francis Gainer. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 693B; Image: 522; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] 1870 US Federal Census: Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida; Josh Williams, head; Ellen Williams, wife. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 686A; Image: 507; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] 1870 US Federal Census, Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida: George Manker, head; Carry Manker. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 693B; Image: 522; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch, Joshua Williams and Ellin Wilson, 05 Nov 1868; citing Marriage, Suwannee, Florida, United States, citing multiple County Clerks of Court, Florida; FHL microfilm 1,007,156. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[12] “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch, George Johnson in entry for Ellen Williams, 09 May 1924; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,031,493. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[13] Death Certificate of William Gaynor Williams, 6 October 1953, New York, New York. Bureau of Records and Statistics, Department of Health, City of New York. Certificate #156-53-121719. Certified Copy in possession of author.

[14] “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch (, Ellen Wilkinson in entry for Edward Williams, 19 Jun 1939; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,109,537. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org; And “New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch, Ellen Wilkinson in entry for Calvin Williams, 19 Apr 1933; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,070,580. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[15] 1850 US Federal Census: Prosperity, Mecklenburg, North Carolina; William Wilkinson, head; Drucilla Wilkinson; George Wilkinson, age 11. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 52B; Image: 112. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[16] 1870 US Federal Census: Fort Mill, York, South Carolina; George Wilkinson, head. NARA Roll: M593-1512; Page: 410B; Family History Library Film: 553011. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

 

#52Ancestors – In the Newspaper – An Interesting Ordination: The Rev. Islay Walden

The Rev. Islay Walden was a formerly enslaved poet from Randolph County, North Carolina. He had graduated from the Normal Department at Howard University in Washington, D. C. He then traveled to New Jersey where he was one of the two first African American students at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. The other young man was John Bergen. Interestingly, they were both vision impaired.

This article on Walden’s ordination appeared in the New York Evening Post, a paper of William Cullen Bryant. It detailed not only the events of the ordination itself, but also gave a substantial biographical sketch of Islay Walden’s life, most notably here, that Walden was the first African American to be ordained from the Seminary. A transcription of the article appears below.[1]

Figure 23-Islay Walden Ordination article Evening Post
An Interesting Ordination, Evening Post, 2 July 1879

 

An Interesting Ordination

How Islay Walden, a Young Colored Man Obtained His Education –

From Slavery to the Pulpit.

New Brunswick N. J., July 1, 1879

The ordination of Islay Walden, a young colored man, took place in this city this afternoon, the laying on of hands having performed by the classis of NJ in the Second Reformed Church. Considerable interest was manifested in the ordination in the fact that Mr. Walden was the first colored man who was ever graduated of the theological seminary of the Reformed church of America which is in this city, and from the fact that he is the first candidate from the colored race who has been ordained by the New Brunswick classis or any other classis in New Jersey.

Mr. Walden has had to struggle against apparently insurmountable difficulties to obtain an education. He was born in NC and he and his mother were several times sold as slaves. The price obtained for both when Walden was a babe in arms being $800. His father escaped from slavery by running away from his master and getting to Indiana on a forged passport. Young Walden was declared free when he was 22 years old and then he was ignorant of even the letters of the alphabet. At this age however, he formed a determination to become a teacher. He left home and traveled to Washington DC, where by force of his entreaties he was allowed to enter Howard University.  He remained there for more than six years and obtained a good education, notwithstanding that he was almost blind, defective vision being an infliction which came with his birth. After graduation at Howard University, he came north selling a small volume of poems of his own composition to obtain funds to pursue a theological education. He made applications to be admitted into the seminary at Princeton College, but Dr. McComb interposed some objection that very much disheartened Walden. He was more successful at New Brunswick, where Prof George W Atherton of Rutgers College interested himself in his behalf and introduced him to the faculty at the theological seminary. About the time Walden was knocking at Prof Atherton’s door, seeking an admission, the Rev. Dr. C. D. Hartranft, formerly of the Second Reformed Church of this city but now Professor of the Hartford Theological Seminary brought word that a member of the Rev. Dr. Coles’s Reformed Church at Yonkers N. Y. had just left a legacy of $8500 for the education of a colored man.  The Board of Education of the Reformed Church then took Mr. Walden under their care and he entered the theological seminary for three years course with another colored man named John R. Bergen. His innovation met with no opposition from the other students, but instead the utmost good feeling prevailed throughout the three years of his life there. The colored students although both suffered from defective vision kept their places in the classis and not infrequently distanced the white students in efficiency and aptness. They were both graduated last month and have been licensed to preach by the New Brunswick classis. Mr. Bergen will be ordained once his field of labor is decided upon. He has expressed a desire to go to Africa, but his physician thinks his constitution as not robust enough for that climate. Mr. Walden has been engaged by the American Missionary Society to go south and labor among the freedmen. The Reformed Church has no missionaries in the south or Mr. Walden would have gone there under its auspices.  At the ordination services this afternoon, the Rev. Dr. J. L. See, President of the Classis and Secretary of the Board of Education presided. The Rev J. M. Corwin, of Middlesex N. J., preached the services. The other clergymen who participated, were the Rev. Dr. W. H. Campbell, President of Rutgers College, the Rev. Dr. Lord of Metucheon NJ. The Rev. Messrs. Jacob Cooper and Doolittle of Rutgers College, the Rev. Dr.  D. D. Demarest, Professor of Pastoral Theology and the theological seminary, and the Rev. Dr. Van Dyke of Hertzog Hall of this city. The Rev. Dr. Strieby, Secretary of the American Board of Missions was also present.

Reference

[1] Evening Post. (2 July 1879). An Interesting Ordination. (New York, NY). Retrieved from: Fultonhistory.com

 

#52Ancestors – Large Family: The Seven Children of Miles and Healy Phillips Lassiter

Miles and Healy Phillips Lassiter lived in Randolph County, North Carolina. They were my 4th great grandparents. Miles was born around 1777, and Healy around 1780. Miles was enslaved and Healy was a free woman of color. Thus, all seven children were born free, because a child took its legal status from its mother. The children were: Emsley Phillips Lassiter, Abigail Phillips Lassiter, Colier Phillips Lassiter, Susannah Phillips Lassiter, Wiley Phillips Lassiter, Nancy Phillips Lassiter, and Jane Phillips Lassiter. All the children, except Emsley, lived their entire lives in North Carolina.

The Children of Miles Lassiter and Healy Phillips

Emsley Phillips Lassiter was born about 1811, in Randolph County. About 1832, Emsley emigrated with a Quaker neighbor, Henry Newby, to Indiana.[1] He settled first in Carthage, in Rush County, but eventually moved to an area called “the Beech,” an independent community of mixed-race individuals mostly from northeastern North Carolina and Southside Virginia.[2] There Emsley met and married Elizabeth Winburn, daughter of Tommy Winburn and Anna James, originally from Halifax County, North Carolina.[3] They raised nine children: Sarah, Elizabeth, Nancy, Misa, Wiley, Cristena, William, Mary Anna, and Anna. Emsley died 10 March 1892, in Indianapolis.  His wife, Elizabeth, died 21 April 1908, in Marion, Grant County, Indiana.[4]

Beech Church (2)
Historic Beech Church, Rush County, Indiana. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 2013

Abigail Phillips Lassiter was born about September 1812, in Randolph County.  She never married. She spent her whole life on the family farm. She died about 1920 (no death record has been found).[5] There is little information about her life. One detail about her life is that she was blind in her last years. Her grandniece, Kate, was often tasked with helping her get around. There is no way to know whether her blindness was due to cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration, all conditions that can afflict the elderly. Abigail is buried in an unmarked grave in Strieby Congregational Church Cemetery.[6]

Abigail Phillips Lassiter Ceramic Pot
Ceramic Pot belonging to Abigail Phillips Lassiter. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 1982

Colier Phillips Lassiter was born 6 November 1815, in Randolph County, according to family records.[7] With Emsley having moved away, records indicate that Colier fulfilled the roll of eldest son. This was evident after their father Miles died in 1850. Although most of his siblings lived on the family farm, he was the one who handled all the legal and financial transactions.[8] Colier was a respected member of the Lassiter Mill community as evidenced by being a delegate to the Constitutional Congress of the State of North Carolina, after the Civil War.[9] Colier married Katherine Polk, daughter of Mary “Polly” Polk and John McLeod.[10] Together, Colier and Kate had five children, four of which lived to adulthood: Bethana Martitia, Spinks (who died in infancy), Amos Barzilla, Rhodemia Charity, and Ulysses Winston.[11] Colier died about 1887. Because the family says he was a Quaker, it is believed he was buried in the Uwharrie Friends Cemetery.[12] Kate died 19 December 1906 and is buried in Strieby Congregational Church Cemetery.[13]

Figure 18-Uwharrie Cemetery Marker-NC Yearly Meeting (2)
Uwharrie Friends Meeting Marker, Lassiter Mill Road, Randolph County, NC. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 2011

Susannah Phillips Lassiter was born about 3 October 1817, in Randolph County, according to family documents.[14] Very little is known about her. She is not found in any records after 1850 and is considered to have died before 1860.

Wiley Phillips Lassiter was born about 13 May 1820, in Randolph County, according to family documents.[15] Wiley was a carpenter/cabinetmaker/painter. He had a thriving business, including making carriages for a community store-owner, Michael Bingham. In a lawsuit, Bingham claimed that Wiley owed him money, but Wiley counter-sued stating that Bingham had not paid for several carriages and horses Wiley had on-sale at the store.[16] To pay for his legal expenses Wiley mortgaged his land. The court ruled in Wiley’s favor at first, but when Bingham died, it reversed itself. Wiley lost all his property. He had to borrow money in order to pay his legal debts. He took his wife, Elizabeth Ridge Lassiter[17] and their children to Fayetteville, in order to find more work. He was partially successful, but not enough so. His inability to pay some of his loans resulted in one creditor publishing in the newspapers that he would have to sell Wiley, even though he was born free, in order to recoup his loan to Wiley.[18] The sale did not happen. Based on a letter written later from Wiley to his brother Colier, it appears he was able to get a loan from not only his brother, but also from a family friend. However, there was a new twist. Wiley and his family were very sick, possibly with scarlet fever which had become epidemic about 1858, which made it very difficult for him to work and make the needed monies to repay his loans. Exactly what happened after that is unclear. He was still alive and free in 1860,[19] but apparently died sometime after that and before 1870, when his widow and children were found living in Randolph County again.[20]  Wiley and Elizabeth had eight children: Parthenia, Abagail, Nancy Jane, Julia Anna, Martha, John, Addison B., and Thomas Emery.[21] Elizabeth was not found in any records after 1870 and is assumed to have died at that time.

Wiley Lassiter sale notice

Nancy Phillips Lassiter was born in February 1823, in Randolph County, according to family documents.[22] She was my 3rd great grandmother. She married Calvin Dunson, a blacksmith, about 1856, however, there is no record extant.[23]  Nancy had one daughter, Ellen (my 2nd great grandmother), before marrying Calvin. With Calvin she had four children: Sarah Rebecca, Harris, Mary Adelaide, and Martha Ann.[24] The family lived on the family farm. After her death, about 1890, her daughters Ellen and Adelaide began feuding over their shares of the land. The feud resulted in a lawsuit and legal division of the land among all the descendants of Nancy’s father, Miles Lassiter.[25] Nancy is buried in the Old City Cemetery, in Asheboro, Randolph County.[26]

Nancy Dunson Grave Marker
Stone Marker in the Old City Cemetery, Asheboro, Randolph County. Nancy Dunson’s name is included. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 1982

Jane Phillips Lassiter was born 7 January 1825, in Randolph County, according to family documents.[27] There is not much information about her life. It appears she never married. She is not in the 1860 census, but Wiley Lassiter’s 1858 letter to his brother references her assistance to his family who were all sick. They were living in Fayetteville at the time.[28] Jane was apparently living in Salisbury, in Rowan County, in 1870.[29] She was awarded a share of the family farm in the 1893 court decision that divided the family property among all the heirs of her father, Miles Lassiter.[30] There is no reference to her after that.

References

[1] Williams, M. L. (2014). The Emsley Lassiter Family of Randolph County, North Carolina and Rush County, Indiana. Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, 32:59-78. See also: Williams, M. L. (17 February 2019) Blogpost: #52Ancestors – At the Library – Emsley Phillips Lassiter in the Lawrence Carter Papers. Personal Prologue.

[2] Vincent, S. A. (1999). Southern Seed, Northern Soil: African-American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900 (Bloomington & Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press).

[3] Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001 [Database on-line]. Emsley Lassiter and Elizabeth Winburn married: 28 March 1845, Rush County. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] Williams, M. L. (2014). The Emsley Lassiter Family of Randolph County, North Carolina and Rush County, Indiana. Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, 32:59-78.

[5] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Abigail Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 105.

[6] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Abigail Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 107.

[7] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Colier Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 107.

[8] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Colier Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 107-110.

[9] Calvin [sic] Lassiter, in Delegates to the Constitutional Congress, North Carolina, Lassiter Mills District. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, NARA #843-32:107.

[10] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011[Database on-line]. Calier Lassiter and Catherine Polk married: 26 September 1854, Randolph County. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Children of Colier Lassiter and Katherine Polk. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 120-123.

[12] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Colier Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 107-110.

[13] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [Database on-line]. Katie Lasiter Memorial at Strieby Congregational Church Cemetery. Find A Grave. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

[14] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Susannah Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 111.

[15] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 111.

[16] Randolph County Genealogical Society. (1981). The Willie Lassiter Petition. The Genealogical Journal, V(1): 38-42.

[18] Williams, M. L. (21 March 2018). Blogpost: #52Ancestors – Week #12, Misfortune: Wiley’s story. Personal Prologue.

[19] 1860 US Federal Census; Fayetteville, Cumberland, North Carolina; Wiley Lassiter (Index says “Sprister”). NARA Roll: M653-894; Page: 248; Image: 497; Family History Library Film: 803894. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[20] 1870 US Federal Census: Asheboro, Randolph, North Carolina; Elizabeth Lassiter, head. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 287B; Image: 24; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[21] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Children of Wiley Lassiter and Elizabeth Ridge. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 123-126.

[22] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Nancy Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 116.

[23] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Nancy Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 116-117.

[24] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Children of Nancy Lassiter and Calvin Dunson. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 123-127-130.

[25] Anderson Smitherman, et al., v. Solomon Kearns, et Ux. Deed Book 348:156. Family History Library #0470851. See also: North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston, Probate Date: 1892. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[26] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Nancy Dunson Memorial at Asheboro City Cemetery. Find A Grave. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

[27] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Jane Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 119.

[28] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter. Miles Lassiter (Circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing) 114.

[29] 1870 US Federal Census, Salisbury, Rowan, North Carolina; Jane Knox, head; Jane Lassiter, Domestic Servant; NARA Roll: M593-1158; Page: 580A; Family History Library Film: 552657. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[30] Anderson Smitherman, et al., v. Solomon Kearns, et Ux. Randolph County, North Carolina Superior Court Orders and Decrees, 2:308-309. Family History Library Microfilm #0475265. See also: North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston, Probate Date: 1892. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

#52Ancestors – Bachelor Uncle: uh, Cousin, Charleton Joshua Williams, Jr.

Try as I might, I could not find a bachelor uncle. My father had only one brother, who married; my mother had no brothers. My paternal grandparents each had brothers, all who married. My maternal grandmother (I’ve yet to identify my maternal grandfather) had brothers who all married, and so it goes back to my fourth great grandparents, all known male siblings were married. However, I had a paternal, male first cousin who did not marry. He was old enough to be an uncle, so I’m substituting him as my bachelor uncle.

Charleton Joshua Williams Jr
Charleton Joshua Williams, Jr., circa 1918, Jersey City, New Jersey

Charleton Joshua Williams, Jr., called, “Son,” was the oldest son of my father’s only brother, Charleton Joshua Williams, Sr., whom we called, “Jimmy.” Son was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1917,[1] exact date unknown, to my uncle and his wife, Julia Sinkler, who was originally from Dorchester County, South Carolina, near Charleston.[2] In 1920, three years after Son was born, his younger brother, Earle, was born.[3] By 1930, the family was living with Julia’s sister, Ida Sinkler Sterrett, in New York City.

Charleton Joshua Jimmy Williams Sr
Charleton Joshua “Jimmy” Williams, Sr.
Julia Sinkler Williams
Julia Sinkler Williams

In 1932, tragedy struck the family when Earle was hit by a car and killed.[4]  I’m not sure what impact this had on the family. Surely, they must have been devastated, but there is some evidence it was more destructive than one might expect. In 1940, Uncle Jimmy and Son were living in New York, as lodgers, without Julia. Son was working on the railroad, as a waiter, like his father.[5] I assume they were actually working together. I have yet to determine where Julia was. Was she just traveling to visit family? Had she moved away? I don’t remember anyone commenting on any of this. I do know that Earle’s death would influence my life as well. As part of teaching me how to cross the street safely, my mother admonished me that if I was not careful to look in both directions could result in being hit by a car and killed, like my cousin Earle. I confess that I did relay that history to my daughter, but I didn’t recount it as mantra-like as my mother had.

Earle Williams
Earle Williams, 1920-1932

Wherever Julia went, she returned. Sometime in the 1940s the family bought a home in Queens, New York City, not far from where my parents bought our home. There the three of them lived the rest of their lives.

I don’t ever remember any discussion of Son dating anyone. In fact, there was a lot of discussion about how he had never left home and seemed unusually attached to his mother. My parents suggested that this attachment had prevented him from forming relationships with potential marriage partners. Somehow, I think it all went back to the death of Earle. I think Son felt he had to compensate. I think Julia clung to Son in fear that she would lose him, the same as she had lost Earle. I think it trapped them both. One indication that was true was that Son had changed his name from Charleton Joshua Jr. to Charleton Earl. In fact, I was in high school before I learned that his name was supposed to be Charleton Joshua Jr. Whenever he introduced himself, he said his name was Earl. Reflecting on it now, all these years later, I think young Earle’s death was toxic for Son and Julia both.

Charleton Earl Williams, WWII
Charleton Joshua “Earl” Williams, Jr.

Julia fell ill and died Thanksgiving weekend, 1966.[6] On the one hand, Son seemed somewhat lost without her, but several months later he seemed to be coming out of his shell. He began to date my mother’s sister, Verne (Elverna) Lee Means. Son and Verne were a year apart in age[7] and had known each other from the 1930s when my parents married,[8] and they were in their teens.

Elverna Elizabeth Lee
Elverna Lee “Verne” Means, 1918-2000

By early summer they were discussing getting married. Everyone was very pleased. By everyone I mean my parents, my father’s sister, and Uncle Jimmy. I was pleased as well, as I was very fond of them both. Now that Julia had passed, Son dropped by to visit more frequently and I got to know him better. He and my Aunt Verne seemed very well suited.  They both seemed happier and my mother was very happy for them both. She felt they had each had unfortunate tragedies and now they had a chance to be happy, together. Alas, it was not to be.

When Fourth of July came, Son decided he would drive from New York to pick up my Aunt Verne from her home in Washington, DC, and bring her back to New York to enjoy the holiday. I wasn’t there that night. I was away visiting a friend in Hawaii. My mother said that they got back late and despite being very tired, Son, Earl, went to work his overnight shift at the Post Office. Sometime in the early hours of the morning a phone call awakened everyone to tell them that Son, Earl, had died, suddenly, at his desk.[9] To say that everyone was devastated would be an understatement. This tragedy was so overwhelming for my mother that she was too overwrought to attend the funeral. My father said that he and Aunt Verne stayed up each night that week into the wee hours of the morning, mourning Son’s loss and discussing all that one discusses when a loved one dies.

Charleton Son Williams-portrait (2)
Charleton “Earl” Williams, 1917-1967

No one informed me of Son’s death. My mother reasoned that there was nothing I could do, so there was no need to burden me with sadness while I was away. It was a couple of mornings after I had returned from Hawaii, in early August, while I was eating breakfast that my mother, clearly ill at ease about something, suddenly walked over to the table and put a prayer card in front of me. It actually didn’t register right away. Once I realized what it was, I was in shock. My mother reminded me that Son had cardiovascular disease. She speculated that the round-trip car ride and lack of rest before going to work had been too taxing. It seems as plausible as any explanation. I noted the date, 4 July, on the prayer card. I told my mother that I had experienced a very disturbing dream that night and wondered what it meant. I speculated it was somehow tied to this tragedy at home. Who knows, but I’ve always believed so.

I think Son’s loss always hung over our family in some unspoken way. My aunt never contemplated marriage with anyone again. She wouldn’t die for another 32 years, oddly enough, also on a July Fourth weekend.[10] I think my mother felt that both my aunt and Son had been cheated of happiness. I think my father just simply thought it was a very sad turn of events. I think he felt sorry for my aunt. As for me, I’m sure now they are happy together.

References

[1] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Ida Sterrett, head; Charlton Williams, relative, age 12. NARA Roll: 1576; Page: 35A; Enumeration District: 0985; Image: 156.0; FHL microfilm: 2341311. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] 1900 US Federal Census; Census Place: Dorchester, Dorchester, South Carolina; Florence Sinkler, head; Julia Sinkler, daughter, birth month/year, Dec 1895. NARA Roll: 1526; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0068; FHL microfilm: 1241526. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Ida Sterrett, head; Earle Williams, relative, age 10. NARA Roll: 1576; Page: 35A; Enumeration District: 0985; Image: 156.0; FHL microfilm: 2341311. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948 [Database on-line]. Earl Williams, died: 1932. Retrieved from: Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] 1940 US Federal Census; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Grace Nailer, head; Charlton Williams, age 23, lodger; Charlton Williams, age 42, lodger. NARA Roll: T627-2667; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 31-1807. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Find A Grave Memorial. Julia Williams, Died: 25 Nov 1966. Buried, Evergreen Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

[7] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Elizabeth, Union, New Jersey; Louise Ingram, head; Elverna Lee, granddaughter, age 12. NARA Roll: 1387; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0073; Image: 289.0; FHL microfilm: 2341122. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] 1940 US Federal Census; Census Place: New York, Bronx, New York; Herbert Williams, head; Margaret Williams, wife. Roll: T627-2467; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 3-272B. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] Find A Grave Memorial. Charlton E. Williams, 8 [sic-this date is not correct, it was 4 July 1967, he was buried on 8 July] 1967. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

[10] U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current [Database on-line]. Elverna L. Means, died: 2 July 2000. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

 

Minnie Moses, Mother of 1930s Dancer Fay Ray, and The US Expatriation Law of 1907

In response to a concern about dual citizenship, Congress passed the Expatriation Act of 1907.[1] One provision mandated that women who married foreign born men would automatically lose their citizenship and be considered citizens of their husband’s country. If they were not eligible for said citizenship, they would then be stateless. Either way, they were no longer US citizens. It is interesting that the concern didn’t extend to US men who married foreign born women. I only learned about this law within the past two years. I don’t remember anyone mentioning this to me prior to that. Just recently I found a real-life example in my own research.

Fay Ray
Fay Ray, August 2006, at the 100th Year Celebration of her sister-in-law, Kate Lassiter Jones, Randolph County NC. Photo by Margo Lee Williams

I was doing some background research on the nightclub singer and dancer of the 1930s and 40s, (and later, member of Silver Belles) Fay Ray. Fay was the second wife of my 2nd cousin, 3x removed, Clark Lassiter.[2] I learned from a biography written about her that her father’s name was Dave Moses and her mother was Minnie Parrot. They lived in Natchitoches, Louisiana.[3] I was hoping to learn more about her background. The article mentioned that her mother died when she was still very young, and her father then married an Alma Barnes. For reasons not stated, she was sent to live with another family.

Since Fay was born in 1919, I looked in the 1920 census for the family. I found them quickly. Dave, Minnie, and Fay were living in Natchitoches, Louisiana.[4] I noted something which was not mentioned in the biographies I had read about her, Fay’s father, Dave Moses, was born in Syria. I wanted to be sure that I had the right family, so I kept looking for additional information. I looked for a death record for Minnie, but I found nothing. I did find Dave and Alma, no Fay, in the 1930[5] and 1940[6] censuses. Each census noted that Dave was born in Syria. I was also able to locate Dave’s naturalization records.[7] It noted that he immigrated from Syria in 1912, by way of Brazil, but he didn’t remember the name of the ship. He said his name when he immigrated was Deeb Moussa.[8] He also mentioned his wife’s maiden name, Alma Barnes. I had the right Dave Moses.

I went back to look at the 1920 census to see if I could identify something that would tell me anything about Minnie, Fay’s mother. That’s when I saw it. Next to Minnie’s name, in the citizenship column it said, “Al,” Alien. Yet the places of birth for her and her parents were listed as Louisiana. In accordance with the Expatriation Act of 1907, Minnie had lost her citizenship as a result of marrying Dave. Dave had not been naturalized yet; he was still a foreign national. Thus, Minnie had become a Syrian national at best, stateless at worst. Did she realize that? I have no idea. Fay, on the other hand, was considered a citizen, by virtue of her own birth in Louisiana.

Fay Moses 1920 census
Fay Moses in the 1920 Census, Natchitoches, Louisiana

Another anomaly found

From everything I have read and those conversations that I did have with Fay, I believe she was estranged from Dave and Alma. According to her biography she was about eight when Dave married Alma and they sent her to live with another family. I found her in the 1930 census living with Albert Graham and his wife Gladys. She was eleven years old.[9] According to her biography, she was not treated well by the Grahams, so she ran away that year.[10] The census revealed yet another unusual piece to Fay’s background.

In 1920, Dave, Minnie, and Fay, were listed as “w,” white. In 1930 and 1940, Dave and Alma were also listed as white. On Dave’s naturalization papers, he was listed as white. However, in 1930, and for the rest of her life, Fay would be known as a person of color (exact terms changing with the times). What happened?

Fay Moses in 1930 census
Fay Moses in the 1930 Census, Natchitoches, Louisiana

Truthfully, I have no idea why or how Fay slid across the color line, but I can speculate. I have no idea what either of Fay’s parents actually looked like. Someone from Syria could be very fair or very brown. I am assuming that Dave was more on the fair side since he was able to live out his life during segregation as a white man. What about Minnie?

As noted even less is known about Minnie, but in the biography about Fay it states that Minnie was from Houma. Houma is an area that continues to have a strong Native American presence. It is possible that Minnie had a mixed Native background with fair enough coloring to pass for white, but with such “dark” features as black hair and dark eyes. This is purely speculation. The real-life Fay was “fair,” but swarthy, with dark hair and dark eyes. It’s entirely possible that Alma, who was white, with unknown features, did not wish to raise a swarthy complexioned girl, whose dark features would always raise questions about the family’s “whiteness.” On the other hand, Fay’s background was clearly divergent from that of the average African American. Fairer complexion has often carried questions of whether a person thought they were “better than” their darker friends or family members, thus creating tensions. Leaving the smaller rural communities for the more cosmopolitan cities could provide better acceptance for people of all skin hues. If I am right about this scenario, it is no wonder that Fay never reconciled with her father. I can’t imagine what pain she must have felt at being given away.

Fay Ray Lassiter on tour
Fay Moses (Left) on tour with the 1942 production, Ship Ahoy, with Ethel Love (Middle) and Olive Sayles (Right). From Celebrating Fay, by Kurt and Klaus

In the end, this is all speculation. What we do know is that Dave and Alma sent Fay away and she went from a white home to a black home. Fed up with bad treatment, she left, eventually becoming the dancer and star, Fay Ray, who married my cousin.

References

[1] Brown, T. B. (17 March 2017). That Time American Women Lost Their Citizenship Because They Married Foreigners. Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed. Retrieved from: NPR.org

[2] North Carolina, Marriage Collection, 1741-2004 [Database on-line]. Fay Moses and Clark Lassiter, married: 27 October 2002, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] Kurt and Klaus. (n.d.). Celebrating Fay. Unpublished manuscript (Copy in possession of the author).

[4] 1920 US Federal Census; Census Place: Natchitoches, Natchitoches, Louisiana; Dave Moses, head; Fay Moses, daughter. NARA Roll: T625-617; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 38. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Natchitoches, Natchitoches, Louisiana; Dave Moses, head; Alma J Moses, wife. Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 0003; NARA Microfilm Series T626. FHL microfilm: 2340534. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] 1940 US Federal Census; Census Place: Natchitoches, Natchitoches, Louisiana; Dore [sic] Moses, head; Alma Moses, wife. NARA Roll: M-T0627-01414; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 35-3B. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[7] Louisiana, Naturalization Records, 1836-1998 [Database on-line]. Dave Moss, Petition. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] The only record that the author has found so far that seems to match the naturalization information is: New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [Database on-line]. Diab Moussa, Arrival 7 Sep 1913, New York, S. S. New York, from Southampton, England. NARA Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: 2169; Line: 10; Page Number: 65. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Natchitoches, Natchitoches, Louisiana; Albert Graham, head; Fay Moses, Adopted Daughter. Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0001; FHL microfilm: 2340534. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] Kurt and Klaus. (n.d.). Celebrating Fay. Unpublished manuscript. (Copy in possession of the author).