There are so many things I could talk about when discussing “branching out.” There’s the obvious branching out with research into collateral relatives and neighbors that has been very successful. I have over 33,000 people now in my on-line family tree, and yes, I’ve done some research on almost all of them. I don’t rely on other people’s research. Then, there’s the “branching out” in communications with others who are DNA matches or researching the same families. That’s always fascinating. I have met so many people that I would never have encountered without this research. However, sometimes, branching out means becoming involved in a project you would never have thought of until someone else began asking questions. Homesteading in Suwannee County is just such a project.
Those of you who have been following this site know that I have published three stories about Homesteading family members in Suwannee County, Florida: Randel Farnell, my great grandfather; Henry McGehee/McGhee, my great uncle’s father in-law, and Alexander Gainer, my 2nd great grandmother’s husband. All these stories have been submitted to the National Park Service for their Black Homesteaders project and were uploaded to their website. However, that wasn’t all.
Involvement with the National Park Service came about because of the volunteer service of genealogist and author, Bernice Bennett. Bernice realized through her own research into her great grandfather’s land that he was a Black Homesteader in the state of Louisiana. Bernice began talking to others and discovered that there were many Black Homesteaders in southern states, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and my state, Florida. She began encouraging us to write up our stories and submit them to the National Park Service. In that process, another discovery was made.
Another Florida Homesteading descendant, Falan Goff, who was also researching her family and submitting family stories, discovered an additional 50+ names of Black Homesteaders in Florida, in Gadsden, Levy, and Columbia counties. I began to wonder about Suwannee County. How many Black Homesteaders could I find in Suwannee County?
Thanks to the Bureau of Land Management’s interactive website, it is possible to see the names of every homesteader in every county.  There is basic information on the site, the name and patent numbers, the location of the property as well. However, to acquire the complete file, one must request the file from the National Archives, or go to the Archives oneself to find and copy the records. One thing that does not appear anywhere in Homesteading records is the race of the applicant. The only way to determine the race of an applicant is to do good old fashioned genealogical research on the person. For this basic piece of information, census searches are the most accessible and easiest to use.
I decided that one way to quickly organize the information would be to create a family tree database in Ancestry that was devoted to these Homesteader families. So, I created a “Suwannee County FL Homestead Family Trees” tree. Then, I went one by one through the Suwannee County names in the General Land Office Records on-line database. In addition to creating trees for each name I identified, I also created a spreadsheet. I was surprised at how many Black Homesteaders I was able to identify just for Suwannee County. I found an additional 43 names. I’ve done some preliminary research on each of the families, but I’m not ready to write their stories until I am able to acquire the Homestead case files for each of them—a project I hadn’t planned on! Now, I’m also planning to write a book about these families and their stories.
Another project I hadn’t planned on, but am delighted to take part in, is an upcoming book on Black Homesteaders of the South (History Press, 2022), edited by Bernice Bennett, for which thirty-five stories have been contributed. My three stories were just a small part, but the book will present the story to the world, a world (even the professional historian world) that has been completely unaware of the extent to which Black Americans in the Reconstruction era and beyond acquired land and potential generational wealth, despite the forces that did their best to wrest that wealth from their hands.
One final way my story has branched out is through the National Society Descendants of American Farmers (NSDOAF). NSDOAF is a lineage society that honors farming ancestors, but also provides scholarship money to students studying agricultural sciences in colleges and universities. I first became a member in honor of my maternal 4th great grandfather, Miles Lassiter. Now, I have honored my paternal great grandfather, Randel Farnell. I submitted not only a copy of the 1880 census which noted that he was a farmer, but also his final Homestead application testimony (4 October 1884) which was submitted in proof that he was living on and cultivating the land for which he had applied. In answer to questions about how much land was cultivated and for how many seasons he had grown crops, etc., he stated that he had built a “log dwelling (good) shided [sic], smoke house, stable & crib, 35 acres fenced,” beginning on “September 12, 1877, and that he had cultivated the “35 acres” for “7 seasons.”
In talking about this story with my daughter, she was curious about how this property had provided generational wealth. “Do we still own the land?” she asked. “No,” I told her. It was sold after my great grandfather’s widow, Priscilla (his second wife, not my great grandmother), died in the 1960s. “Why?” she asked. She went on to say it was folly, that we had sold away our wealth potential. I explained to her that it had done its job. None of the grandchildren lived in Live Oak, in Suwannee County any longer. No one wanted to go back to Live Oak, so the grandchildren, including my father, decided to sell the land and take their share of the profits. That way they could decide what investments, if any, they preferred. What had my father done with his share, she asked. Well, I answered, by that time our house was paid for, but I still had college bills. I said I didn’t know for sure, but felt it was likely that he had used the money towards my tuition. I explained that when I graduated, I had no student debt, adding how sad I was that I had not been able to do the same for her. I explained that the money from the sale of the property acquired through the Homestead Act of 1862, had provided generational wealth and opportunity by contributing to my education and probably similarly for the other family members. This was no small feat considering my father’s mother died when he was 10, and his father was largely absent, so he was raised by his 20-year-old sister who worked full time in service to a wealthy family. Nevertheless, he had a tradition of a landowning, educated family behind him that inspired him to be ambitious. Ultimately, my father worked for over 40 years in the U. S. Customs Service, rising to be the second in command of the Import Division in New York City, before the jurisdiction was reorganized making Newark, New Jersey the main office for the Port of New York, and he was a homeowner. I told her that I, and she by extension, had indeed benefitted from the generational wealth generated by (branched out, if you will) the Homestead property acquired by our ancestor, Randel Farnell, for which we can be justifiably proud.
 Williams, Margo Lee, 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, Inc., 2013). See: https://margoleewilliamsbooks.com/miles-lassiter/
 Bureau of Land Management, Randel Farnell Homestead Application #5637: “Homestead Proof-Testimony of Claimant (4 October 1884),” U. S. General Land Office Records, NARA Accession FL0750__489. Copy in the possession of the author.
Few things are more foundational than the ownership of property which can become the basis of generational wealth. There is another benefit to ancestral land ownership. Even when land does not pass into all members of the next generation, there is the tradition and normalization of land ownership within the family, which still provides a basis for a family culture and tradition of generational wealth.
My earliest knowledge that my ancestors owned property (other than the home where I grew up) came from my Aunt Lutie, my father’s older sister, Lute Williams Mann. She had been born in the mid-1890s and knew many of the paternal ancestors about whom I write. I was about seven when she first wrote down our family history for me, complete with biblical begats. As part of that story, she talked about the property the family owned in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida, where she was born, and spent the first six years of her life, before moving with her family to the New York/New Jersey area.
As Aunt Lutie explained it to me, her grandfather, my great grandfather, Joshua W. Williams, owned a significant amount of property in Live Oak. She drew some simple pencil maps of the property in relationship to other local landmarks. Once I grew up and began my genealogical studies, I learned it was not Joshua who owned the property, it was his wife’s family, his in-laws, one of whom was Alex Gainer, his father-in-law.
Alex Gainer was married to my 2nd great grandmother, Frances. However, he was not biologically related to me. He was not my great grandmother Ellin’s father. Still, he held a position of respect and importance in our family. According to Aunt Lutie, he was born in South Carolina. I have not been able to identify his home community, however, I did note that there was a couple of appropriate age to be his parents in Beaufort, Simon and Cecelia Gainer.[i] Aunt Lutie said Alex had served in some capacity in the Civil War (most likely as a servant in the Confederate army) where he lost a leg, and he had gone to Florida at the end of the war. According to his entry in the Voter Registration of 1867 for Live Oak, he had been in Suwannee County for four months previously. Alex worked as a farmer, barber, and store owner. And he owned land. Quite a bit of land.
In September 1868, the Pensacola and Georgia Railroad sold land in Live Oak, to Alex and his stepson in-law, George Manker. It was just a year earlier that the same railway company had gifted (but also received five dollars from the grantees) George and several other freedmen Lot 6, Block 41, in the town of Live Oak, for the purpose of building a school for the freedmen, where George would be a teacher. Though a “gift,” there were strings. If the land ceased to be used for the purposes stated therein (i.e., a school), the land would revert to the railroad company.
In 1870, Alexander and my great-great grandmother, Frances, were listed in the census with their son, Edward. However, Alex and Frances were not formally married until 1874, when they were married by Robert Allen, minister at the Baptist Church, now called the African Baptist Church. Also in the 1870s, Frances would purchase property. In 1871, Frances bought property from her son in-law, George Manker.  In 1874, she bought neighboring property from a Sheriff’s sale.  However, Alex would not purchase property again until he completed his Homestead claim in 1877.
On 11 May 1872, Alex filed his application #5609, for a Homestead claim for 39.89 acres. On the same date, he swore an affidavit stating that he had filed the claim but “by reason of distance” could not personally appear at the land office in Tallahassee. On 14 June 1872, there is a Receiver’s receipt for seven dollars paid to the Receiver’s office in Tallahassee.
On 1 June 1877, Alex’s witnesses, Caleb Simpkins and Robert Allen (the Baptist minister who married him), gave their testimony on behalf of his claim.  They testified that since 14 June 1872, Alex had
… occupied and cultivated and improved the NE ¼ of the SE ¼ of Section 26 Township 2, South of Range 13 East as a homestead from the date above continuously from the date above to the present time, and that this affidavit is made to enable him to complete his title to the said homestead…
It goes on to say that they were unable to go the General Land Office to give testimony “on account of distance and want of means to pay the expenses.” Thus, they gave testimony before the Justice of the Peace, “M. M. Blackburn,” in Suwannee County. They signed by making their mark. An additional sentence was added after their marks saying, “and he has built a house thereon, & cultivated about 10 acres, and made other valuable improvements.”
On 14 June 1877, Alex made his final affidavit in support of his claim. He stated that he had settled and cultivated his claimed land since 14 June 1872, that he hadn’t “alienated” the land, that he was the sole owner, and actual settler. He swore that he bore allegiance to the United States (I haven’t seen that in other family Homestead files) “and that I have not heretofore perfected or abandoned an entry und this act.” After paying an additional and final two dollars to the Receiver in the Gainesville office, he received his Final Certificate #1236. Notations in the file indicate however, that final approval was not until 11 May 1878 and the Patent was not recorded until 24 June 1878, in Land Record Book Volume 3, page 26.
Alex did not record the deed with the Suwannee County registrar right away. In June 1886, the Homestead claim was filed in Book J, page 288. However, in the very next entry, “Alexandre Gainer” sold to Justice of the Peace, M. M. Blackburn, the same property, for $500. Alex appeared for the last time in the deed records in January 1887, when he and Frances sold property to her daughter Carry (“Corra”) Manker, widow of George Manker.
Alex is assumed to have died sometime between 1887 and 1896, when his “widow,” Frances, sold property to James Moore and C. J. Manker, her grandson. Frances is believed to have died between 1896 and 1900. She does not appear in the 1900 census. In 1901 and 1911, daughters, Carry Manker and Ellen Williams (my great grandmother) sold the property bought in 1868 by George Manker and Alex to Jesse Manker, Carry’s grandson, and Mamie Edwards.  With that, the last of the wealth in property acquired by Alex and Frances was passed to a new generation along with the recognition of the importance of land ownership as a family value. Thus, despite the fact that none of this land was passed down to any of Ellin’s children or grandchildren, her descendants would become property owners in the communities to which they moved, creating wealth for new generations.
Alex and Frances were most likely buried in the inaccessible Old City Cemetery section of Eastside Memorial Cemetery in Live Oak, where most family members were buried.
 Pensacola and Georgia Railroad Company to Alexander Gainer and George Manker, Suwannee County, Florida, Deed Book B, page 131. Copy in possession of the author.
 “United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch, George Menker, Mar 1868; citing Residence, Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida, United States, NARA microfilm publications M1869. Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1861 – 1880, RG 105. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969-1978); roll 13; FHL microfilm 2,425,920 Retrieved from: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2QP-FPL6See also: “United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch, George Menker, May 1868; citing Residence, Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida, United States, NARA microfilm publications M1869. Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1861 – 1880, RG 105. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969-1978); roll 13; FHL microfilm 2,425,920. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2QP-FPB5
 Pensacola and George Railroad to Nathaniel Goodman, Samuel Sonesme, Lewis Fields, Alexander Oxham, and George Manker, Suwannee County Deed Book B, pages 134-135. Copy in the possession of the author.
 George Manker to Frances Gainer, Suwannee County, Florida Deed Book C, page 16. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Nathan H. Walker, by Sheriff, to Frances Gainer, Suwannee County, Florida Deed Book D, page 77. Copy in possession of the author.
 Alexander Gainer, Homestead Final Certificate 1236, 14 June 1877, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application 5609, 11 May 1872, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application Affidavit, 11 May 1872, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Linc Wilson, Receiver, Receiver’s Receipt 5609, Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application 5609, 14 June 1872. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Caleb Simpkins and Robert Allen, Witness affidavit, 1 June 1877. Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Alexander Gainer, Homestead Final Affidavit, 14 June 1877, Homestead Applicati on 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
 John Varnum, Receiver, Final Receiver’s Receipt, 14 June 1877, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Alexander Gainer, Homestead Final Certificate 1236, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Land Office Card, Gainesville, Florida, Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.
, Alexander Gainer to M. M. Blackburn, Suwannee County, Florida, Deed Book J, pages 288-289. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Alex Gainer and Frances Gainer to Corra Manker, Suwannee County, Florida, Deed Book K, page 136. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Frances Gainer to James Moore and CJ Manker, Suwannee County, Florida, Deed Book S, page 436. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Ellen Williams and Carry Manker to Jesse Manker, Suwannee County, Florida, 10 April 1901. Copy in the possession of the author.
 Ellen Williams and Carry Manker to Mamie Edwards, Suwannee County, Florida, 27 March 1911. Copy in the possession of the author.
In 1870, Washington, D. C. Mayor Sayles Jenks Bowen was up for re-election. It was a contentious campaign. Bowen was a controversial figure. He was a staunch abolitionist pre-Civil War. He was also a founder of and activist for the Republican Party.
Bowen was elected Mayor of Washington, D. C. in 1868.This was the first time that African Americans could vote in Washington. Their overwhelming support helped Bowen win, despite his minimal support in the European American community. Bowen’s agenda focused on economic and educational opportunity and integration for the newly freed African Americans. Unfortunately, he was so focused on those things that he neglected the basic activities of governing a city. Bowen was so focused on his own agenda that he diverted funds from city services and programs to support job creation for freedmen and school creation for their children. He was impatient with those in the Republican party who would not fully support integrated schools and full employment for the freedmen. He was even willing to invest large sums of his own personal money to augment these efforts. Understandably, he was very popular in the African American community. However, as noted, he neglected other important issues and was draining the city’s financial assets. As the 1870 election approached, many in the Republican Party began to organize along with Democrats against his campaign for re-election.
On Monday, 7 February 1870, the National Republican reported that the previous Saturday there was a “large meeting at Union League Hall.” The meeting had been advertised in all the local newspapers. The turnout reflected “the large number of citizens favoring reform in the affairs of the Republican party of the city, and who are opposed to the present municipal administration…” According to the article’s sub-titles, there were “Prominent Citizens Present,” and “Old Original Republicans in Council.” Among those whose names were mentioned as being in attendance was Islay Walden. Islay had only arrived in Washington around January 1868, based on Freedmen’s Bureau records. Was he being considered a “Prominent Citizen?” Prominent enough to be named? Apparently so.
One speaker, William H. Brown, Jr., of the Seventh Ward, an area east of the Anacostia River, referred to as being part of “Anacostia,” said that “an effort must be made to induce legislation to protect men in their exercise of the franchise.” He explained that “If a colored man attempts to vote a ticket other than that prepared for him by Corporation Attorney Cook and his satellites, he would be put to flight by a lawless mob.” It was reported that at this point, Islay Walden interrupted the speaker (Brown), asking if there was anyone assaulted other than those “colored men” who were voting for Democrats. Mr. Brown responded that Congress had granted “colored men” the right to vote and therefore their vote was their “with their conscience and their God, and it was not right that they should be disturbed in their rights by a lawless mob.” It would seem from his comment that Islay was loyal to Mayor Bowen and his administration. So, why was he at this meeting? Good question.
The meeting then went on to discuss and approve a constitution for the new reformed association now being called, “Independent Republican Reform Association.” The meeting went on to discuss the problems that had resulted from Mayor Bowen’s administration. At the end of the evening, a Chaplain J. M. Green spoke. He spoke in support of a Collector Boswell in Mayor Bowen’s administration. The reporter for the National Republican noted that Chaplain Green was “interrupted frequently by Isley Walton [sic], a colored man, who was evidently in favor of Mr. Bowen.” Apparently, Chaplain Green was not angered by the interruption but did grow frustrated as he “answered him good naturedly, finally giving way to allow Walton to deliver a harangue in favor of the present municipal administration.” Chaplain Green may not have been distressed by Islay’s interruptions, but it appears that others had heard enough since the meeting adjourned after Islay finished speaking. Nevertheless, the meeting was “characterized with the best order, and the proceedings conducted in a deliberative and impressive manner.”
Mayor Sayles Jenks Bowen was defeated in 1870 by his Democratic opponent, Matthew Gault Emery.
There have been other hints at Islay’s interest in the political landscape of his time. Not long after arriving in Washington, D. C., in 1868, he went to Philadelphia to attend the Republican Convention, where General Grant was nominated the Presidential candidate for that year. He talked about that trip in the introduction to, and in, his poem, “Ode to Mr. Dunlap and Family.”
1870 would have additional significance for Islay. That was year the Fifteenth Amendment was passed. Celebrations were held in Washington and around the country on 2 April 1870. Islay didn’t write a specific poem about his attendance of those celebrations. Rather, he references his presence in poems that address events around those celebrations. One poem he dedicated to a young girl, Clara Saunders, who helped him cross the street. The other referenced Charles Sumner’s speech at that celebration.
After reading about Islay’s assertiveness at the Republican meeting above, one cannot be surprised that Islay managed to have a personal meeting with President Ulysses Grant. In a letter to his niece, Catherine Hill, Islay mentioned that he had met the President, who encouraged him to never give up trying to get the education he sought. Islay added that he gave the President one of his poems. It would be wonderful if the poem was preserved somewhere among Grant’s papers in the Presidential Library on the campus of Mississippi State University.
Islay’s political boldness continued as years went by. By 1883, he had returned to his home community in Randolph County, North Carolina. There, he founded a church and school, then known as Promised Land Church and a school, called Promised Land Academy. Islay had long been an advocate for temperance and apparently was a strong advocate in his community, even doing so before the North Carolina General Assembly. In March 1883, Islay was able to convince the General Assembly to pass “an Act to prohibit the sale of spirituous liquors within one (1) mile of the Promised Land Academy in New Hope Township, …”
It is apparent that Islay Walden, who was a talented missionary and poet, was also a gifted politician. Sadly, he died at age 40, in February 1884, only a year after his victory in the General Assembly. I can’t help but wonder what he would have accomplished had he not died so young.
Although Promised Land Academy is long gone, after serving the community’s children for over forty years, including my maternal ancestors, the church has continued to serve those in the community and descendants of the founding families, for 142 years, this past October (2021). In 2014, the church site, now known as “Strieby Congregational UCC Church,” became a Randolph County Cultural Heritage Site, and in 2021, was named a United for Libraries Literary Landmark.
 Tindall, William, “A Sketch of Mayor Sayles J. Bowen,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 18 (1915), pp. 25-43 Retrieved from: JSTOR.org
 “Reform: Large Meeting at Union League Hall,” National Republican, February 7, 1870, p. 4. Retrieved from: Newspapers.com.
 Islay Walden, in Letter to Mr. Beckley, January 20, 1868, Records of the Field Offices for the District of Columbia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; NARA M1902, Roll 19. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
January 2021 – Speak Up Talk Radio announced the winners of 2020’s fourth quarter FIREBIRD BOOK AWARDS contest. Seventy-two winners were announced in 87 categories.
Among the winning entries were two from Maryland author Margo Lee Williams, whose books, titled From Hill Town to Strieby and Miles Lassiter, won First and Second Place respectively in the African American Non-Fiction category.
Authors and publishers from around the world submitted their work to the Firebird Book Awards. A panel of 12 judges within the writing and publishing space then read every book and independently scored each entry according to a set of standardized criteria that evaluates the quality of the writing as well as production aspects. Only entries with the highest of scores are awarded the coveted Firebird.
Patricia J. Rullo, founder of the Firebird Book Awards, says, “The quality of the entries were stunning and speak to the talent out there that needs a marketing voice. At Speak Up Talk Radio, our mission is to offer radio interviews and podcasting services to help authors expand their reach. In addition to additional prizes, our winners have the opportunity to be interviewed and aired on radio stations, iHeart Radio, Pandora, as well as 50 additional online venues, giving them new ways to speak up and share their work.”
Pat adds, “We’ve included a charitable component to our awards by making all entry fees tax-deductible to the author. In return, we personally make and send handmade fun and whimsical pillowcases to women and children in homeless shelters via Enchanted Makeovers, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. All entry fees fund this project. In this way, authors can get notoriety for their work while doing good for others. It’s been such a rewarding venture for everyone.”
The Firebird Book Awards run quarterly contests so authors can receive recognition on a timely basis. Authors from all genres, mainstream, independent, and self-published are welcome. Additional winning authors and titles as well as entry information is available at https://www.speakuptalkradio.com
“Mommy,” I called out. “Mommy?” I heard her walking with deliberation toward the Master Bedroom where I was in the “big” bed. Coming to the side of the bed she asked, “Yes? Did you need something?” “Mommy, what did you do with my other half minute?” She answered without skipping a beat, “I used it to make up your bed, why?” she asked in her calm, reassuring, mommy voice. I rolled back over, facing away from her and said to my “friend.” “She used it to make my bed.”
It was 1957. Frankly, I’m not sure what month. I think school was open, but I’m not sure if it was open, or was about to open. I just don’t remember that. I do remember that conversation as if it was yesterday.
It was supposed to be a fantastic day. I was getting a new bedroom suite. I was so excited. I was getting a full-size bed with bookcase headboard. There was also a dresser with three sets of drawers, two sets of moderate sized drawers flanking a set of smaller sized drawers. The dresser had its own full-size matching mirror. It should have been the best day. It wasn’t. Overnight I spiked a fever. It was very inconvenient timing.
I couldn’t stay in my old bed. It had to be dismantled and moved out, along with my other furniture. The new furniture was coming, that day. So, my parents moved me into the Master Bedroom. Now, it’s important to understand that for a house built in Dutch Colonial style in 1920, Master Bedroom meant nothing more than it was the largest bedroom. It was located on the front of the house. My room was the middle bedroom, both in location and size, the “back” bedroom, which overlooked the backyard, was once my nursery, now a guest bedroom when needed, but was primarily my mother’s sewing room. Next to the back bedroom was the bathroom. In other words, the Master Bedroom was all the way at the other end of the hallway from the bathroom. Not a great location for someone who was sick, including being nauseous. There was a solution, of course. My parents brought me a bucket of some sort. I believe it was a metal waste basket that could be easily cleaned.
I was sick. Very sick. I believe my fever must have approached 102. My mother was constantly running in and out of the room checking the thermometer. I was vomiting. She was dutifully emptying and cleaning the pail, then returning it to my bedside for the next unsettling event. She would wash my head, arms, and hands with cool washcloths. She would encourage me to suck on ice chips to keep from getting dehydrated. She would tell me to try to rest while she went off to attend to getting my room ready for its new accoutrements. Periodically, I would call her to ask if the furniture had arrived. “No, not yet,” she would say.
Doctors made house calls in those days. My pediatrician came early in the day. I adored Dr. Rosen. He was the best person, the best doctor, and seemed like another family member. He came, making the half hour drive from his offices. He checked my temperature, he listened to my lungs, he announced that I had the Flu. I don’t remember my mother’s comment, but her face looked concerned. However, she was always cognizant of how her reactions could affect me. Dr. Rosen basically said to continue doing what she was doing: aspirin, cold compresses, liquids, call him if there was any change. With that my mother thanked him for coming and began to usher him out. She told me she’d be back.
As the day went on, I developed a new symptom. I started to become delirious. I didn’t think it was so bad. I had a “friend,” an imaginary friend. We had fun talking and laughing. At some point, she “asked” me what happened to my other half minute. I told her my mother probably had it. That’s when I called her to ask. Apparently, Mommy was not enjoying my question. Alarmed, she called a neighbor, “Aunt” Perlene Dedick. Aunt Perl and my mother were close as sisters. She came over to see how I was doing and calm my mother’s fears. She suggested witch hazel baths. She was certain if my mother did them a couple times an hour that it would bring my fever down. So, they began.
Finally, mid-afternoon, the furniture had arrived. Mommy really was making up my bed and reassembling my things in my room. With the bed now made up and my fever beginning to break, I was finally feeling better. After my father got home and they had eaten dinner, they came to move me into my new bed. Sick or not, I was very happy.
My mother (and my father) continued to be attentive as they cared for me over the next few days. My fever finally returned to normal. I stopped vomiting. I was no longer delirious. Life returned to normal. I still have my furniture.
Years later I was talking with my mother when I had an “ah ha!” moment. I realized that the reason she was so distraught, though composed, was because she was having flashbacks, to 1918. In 1918, her mother had died in the “Spanish Flu” Pandemic. Seeing me delirious sent her right back to her four-year old self, watching her mother sick with the Flu and delirious, insisting that her own mother, my great grandmother, bring her her nine-month old baby, my aunt. Not long after that she was dead. My mother and her baby sister were orphaned. That event would color her entire life and even impact mine.
My mother was gripped by the fear that she would die before I was grown. Flu season brought additional fear and anxiety and flu shots became a part of my life. On the other hand, I was not afraid that I would not live to see my daughter grown, but I did make her aware (when she was old enough to understand) that there was always the possibility that something could happen to me. I worked hard to help her learn how to be self-reliant, but always know and remember that I loved her. She was taught relatively early, especially as the child of older parents, that death was a part of every life. Unfortunately, she saw a lot of it as she grew up.
My grandmother died on 11 November 1918, Armistice Day. For the rest of her life, that date, 11 November, would bring back those memories for my mother, causing her great sadness. Even as I moved away to college and later left New York, where my family lived, moving to the Washington, D. C. area, we always talked on 11 November. She would always relive those last moments.
“I don’t know why she insisted on doing it, but she got out of her sick bed to do some laundry and proceeded to hang it on the line outside. The next day she was clearly worse. She was delirious, but I think she knew she was dying because, suddenly, she got up and dressed in a new, all white suit she had recently made and then got back in bed. I crawled in the bed next to her. She asked for the baby to be given to her. A short while later she was dead.”
#52Ancestors – Fresh Start: How DNA rewrote my genealogy
After many years of research on my mother’s family, I had a solidly documented family tree. In fact, I had published a book on that family. Now, the central ancestor of that story, Miles Lassiter, is still firmly in place on my tree. My direct line to him is firmly established. He was my fourth great grandfather, my mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, father. It’s the spouses that were the problem. I couldn’t see it at first. After all, I had documented everything.
It all started when I became troubled over my efforts to confirm DNA documentation of my third great grandfather, Calvin Dunson, married to Miles Lassiter’s daughter, by his wife, Healy Phillips Lassiter, Nancy Phillips Lassiter. Miles was technically enslaved by the Widow Sarah Lassiter, but Healy, called Healy/Helia/Heley Phillips in most records, was a free woman of color. Thus, all her children with Miles were originally known in public records by the name “Phillips,” rather than Lassiter, since children followed the condition of their mothers, i. e., if enslaved they were enslaved, if free, then the children were free. After Miles was freed from the Widow Lassiter’s estate when purchased by his wife Healy, Nancy and her siblings began to be known by the Lassiter name, though not consistently.
One of the difficulties in determining when Nancy and Calvin married was that no marriage bond has survived. In fact, there may never have been one because they were not a requirement for marriage. On the other hand, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have sought one since Nancy’s brother, Colier, had one when he married Katherine Polk, though there was none found for the marriage of her other brother, Wiley Lassiter and wife, Elizabeth Ridge. To estimate the date of marriage for Nancy and Calvin, I used the birth date of their oldest daughter, Ellen, my 2nd great grandmother. According to the 1860 census, Ellen was born about 1851; however, her death certificate said 1854. Based on the census, it appeared that Nancy and Calvin had four other children: Rebecca, J. Richard, Martha Ann, and Mary Adelaide. I did find that J. Richard was the child of a possible rape. Nancy sued the perpetrator. I’ve never found any information on the named assailant. Additionally, it appeared that Richard died sometime after 1870. After that, he no longer appeared in the census or other records with the family and he was not named with the other siblings as an heir to the Lassiter estate. So, I determined that Nancy and Calvin married between 1851 and 1854.
Fast forward to my DNA testing. I kept looking for Dunson/Dunston matches. I found one in AncestryDNA. I had hundreds of matches but only one person had a Dunson in her family. Even at that, it appeared that it was one of her other lines that was my connection to her. So, she probably wasn’t a Dunson match.
While at a genealogy conference, I mentioned my puzzlement to some of my genie friends and colleagues. One mentioned that she was a Dunson descendant. With that we began searching to see if we were a match or if I matched any of her other known Dunson cousins who had DNA tested. She checked especially on GEDmatch, a third-party site when individuals having tested their DNA on various sites can upload their results, thus expanding their chances of learning about more family members. We did not find a single match. Not one. I figured that my branch did not have descendants who had tested yet or uploaded to GEDmatch. This was several years ago when the databases did not have the numbers of individuals who have tested that they have today. Still, it bothered me. I had it documented in multiple places, Calvin Dunson was the spouse of Nancy Lassiter and the father of Ellen. I couldn’t explain the DNA; it was a conundrum.
One day I was talking to someone, G. C., who was commenting on the connections between his Cranford ancestors, especially Samuel “Sawney” Cranford, and Miles Lassiter. He noted that they were both Quakers, members of the same Meeting. I commented that, apparently, we didn’t just have business and social dealings, but we were somehow related. I told him I had several Cranford DNA matches. I speculated that if he tested, we might be a DNA match as well. After we got off the phone, I was reflecting on our conversation, when I suddenly had a revelation. I realized that I needed to follow the DNA to find the answers. I needed to let the DNA tell me what the genealogy was, not just the paper trail.
It occurred to me that Sawney Cranford had played an important role in the lives of Miles and his brothers, Jack and Samuel, especially Samuel. When the Widow Lassiter died, a final stipulation of her husband Ezekiel’s will was enforced. According to the will, Miles, Samuel, and Jack were to be under the control of Ezekiel’s widow until she died. She died in 1840, at which time both estates reached final settlements. As part of Ezekiel’s final accounting, the only property mentioned were the three men, old men at this point. They were offered for sale. Miles’ wife, Healy, purchased him from the estate. Miles’ son, Colier, purchased Jack. Both men were purchased for nominal amounts of money. However, according to the estate information, Samuel had been a runaway, apprehended in Raleigh. There were associated expenses with his capture: newspaper ads, jail time, transport back to Randolph County. The fees, $262 worth, were paid by Sawney Cranford, thus purchasing Samuel. That’s the same Sawney Cranford who was G. C.’s ancestor. I realized that my DNA matches were also descendants of Sawney Cranford. A light bulb went off. I was descended from Sawney Cranford! If that was true, where was the connection? Sawney was a contemporary of Miles and Healy. So, his children were contemporaries of Miles’ children, well some of his children anyway. Sawney had children that spread over a wide time period. Based on the centimorgans (cMs), I shared a third great grandparent. Well, it wasn’t Nancy or Calvin was my first thought. That doesn’t make sense. I had the documentation, but the DNA seemed to be saying otherwise. Then I began to think back to some other documents I had.
After Miles died, it appears that there was a need to raise funds. Miles’ son, Colier, began purchasing interests in the family land from his siblings and then taking out a Deed of trust. As part of that process there seemed to be a hastily filed intestate probate for Miles’ wife, Healy, called “Healy Phillips or Lassiter.” Oddly the document had no date on them. However, they were filed in Will Book 10, which covered the years 1853-1856 with Healy’s papers mixed in with others from 1854 and 1855. In them, all the children, heirs, were named, including Nancy. She, like her siblings, was called “Phillips or Lassiter.” There was no mention of her being married in any of the above-named documents.
One clue to these legal actions seemed to be found in a letter written in 1851, on behalf of Colier, by Jonathan Worth, a local attorney who later became governor of North Carolina. In the letter, Worth stated that Healy had four children from a previous marriage, with whom it would be necessary to share her estate along with the seven children with Miles. The other alternative was to buy out the four other children. I’m speculating that the other documents pointed to efforts to raise the monies to buy out the four half siblings. What I realized also was that not one of these documents referred to my 3rd great grandmother, Nancy, as Nancy Dunson, wife of Calvin Dunson. Not one.
The first time Nancy is referenced as married in any public document located so far by me was in the lawsuit for the assault and subsequent bastardy bond in 1858. By that time, not only was there the son, J. Richard, subject of the lawsuit, but another sister, Sarah Rebecca, born about 1857. Therefore, there is reasonably solid information that Ellen was born between 1851-1854. There was one more piece of information that helped determine her age, her marriage certificate. The record I had seen does not mention her age. That’s okay, because using her date of marriage was sufficient.
Ellen Dunson married Anderson Smitherman on 23 Sep 1865, in Randolph County. I repeat, 1865. If Ellen was born as late as 1854, she would only have been 11 years old. I know that there were no regulations for minimum age in those days, but eleven is extremely young. I really can’t say that I can find another incidence of an eleven-year old marrying in my family. There may be some in other families, but not in mine. It is far more likely that Ellen was born in 1851 or 52. That would make her thirteen or fourteen when she married, still very young, but not unprecedented. With that reality, it was most likely that Ellen was not the biological child of Calvin Dunson, even though she carried the Dunson name, was named as one of his heirs, and his name was listed as her father on her death certificate. I realized Ellen was born five years before her next closest sibling, Sarah Rebecca, was born, or before any legal documents referred to Nancy as Nancy Dunson, wife of Calvin Dunson. Putting it all together, it appeared that my 2nd great grandmother Ellen was most likely the Cranford descendant.
Based on my DNA matches, it appeared that the most likely candidate was a son, Henry. My closest matches are with his direct descendants. Altogether I have identified 32 of my matches as Cranford descendants. At this time, I have no information that sheds any light on what led to Nancy having a child with Henry. They were not cited in the Bastardy Bonds of the time. I can’t really say I’m very concerned with that. What I do know is that I have since developed a very good relationship and communication with G. C. and other Cranford relatives. I also still have an interest in the Dunsons because Calvin and Nancy’s descendants are still my cousins. They do have a Dunson legacy.
DNA has expanded, broadened, my family connections and given me new perspectives on my relationship to my community, Randolph County. DNA has helped me break down brick walls and confirmed oral tradition and given me the surprise of rewriting my family story. Did I say “surprise,” singular? My mistake. Yup, I realized I had another ancestor who was well documented, but whom DNA said was not my ancestor, in the same family line! This time, it was my great grandfather, … but that’s a story for another day.
 1860 US Federal Census, Western Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head; Nancy Dunson, & Eallen [sic] Dunson, age 9; Sarah, age 3; Richard, age 1. NARA Roll: M653-910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 My DNA testing referenced in this article is specific to my matches at AncestryDNA.
 Obituary of Miles Lassiter. (1850, June 22). Friends Review iii,700.
 Estate of Healy Phillips or Lassiter. (1854-1855). Randolph County, Randolph County, North Carolina Will Book 10:190-192. FHLM #0019645. See also North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998. [Database and Images on-line] Henly Phillips. Digital Images: 1225-1229. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 Nancy Dunson v. John Hinshaw, 2 November 1858, Minutes of the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions, FHLM #0470212 or #0019653.
 North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database and Images on-line]. Anderson Smitherman and Ellen Dunson, 23 Sep 1865. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database and Images on-line]. William Dunston, 1892. Digital Images 1393-1398. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database and Images online]. Ellen Mayo, died: 12 Jun 1920. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1870 US Federal Census: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head; Nancy Dunson; S. A. R. (Sarah Rebecca); J. A. [sic] (J. Richard); M. A. (Mary Adelaide); and M. Ann (Martha Ann). NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 400B; Image: 250; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
I’ve written about and lamented what seemed like an unsolvable ancestry brick wall, the identity of my great grandfather Joshua W. Williams’s paternal line. I had researched his life from the first time he showed up in public records on marrying my great grandmother, Ellin Wilson/Wilkinson in 1868. I’d been told some information by my aunt, Lute Williams Mann, his granddaughter, however, he died in 1893, a year before she was born, thus she never knew him personally. I was able to confirm most of what my aunt told me through research and learn even more. However, with a name like Williams, I could never determine which, if any, of the many other Williamses living in Live Oak, Florida, were related to my great grandfather, especially since his widow and children (including my grandfather, William Gainer Williams) left Florida for the New York/New Jersey area about 1899.  With no information about extended Williams family members, I turned to DNA.
Because I was looking for a paternal line, I knew Y-DNA would be very important to helping me solve the puzzle, along with autosomal DNA. However, I’m a female. I don’t have Y-DNA. Unfortunately, my father and grandfather are both dead. My paternal uncles are both dead. My male paternal cousin is dead. Alas, both my half-brothers (my father’s sons from his first marriage) are also dead. Fortunately, I still had two options, my nephews Keith Williams (KW) and Christopher Williams (CW). I asked KW if he would take the Family Tree DNA (FtDNA) Y-DNA test. It showed that he had a European haplotype, R-M269, and one that is common in the United Kingdom. That was not a surprise, the family had always said Joshua’s father was of European descent.
The results didn’t seem to yield anything useful. His close matches had a variety of surnames, not just Williams. There was Jackson, Scott, and Hope. I tried to figure out their ancestral information, but in the absence of family trees, it wasn’t going anywhere. I was eventually contacted by two of the closest matches at the 67-marker level, one a Williams, the other a Hope. They were the two closest matches. The Hope contact was from the Clan Hope of Craighall Society. They invited us to join and offered help with the genealogy. Unfortunately, they were unable to make any more progress than I had.
The Williams contact was also a close match at the 111-marker level. The account manager, the niece of the match, provided family tree information. That family had roots in Arkansas and had also moved to Florida. Tracing the family back led to Tennessee and a Jeremiah Williams, but then the trail ran cold. Although my great grandfather had lived out his life from 1868 until his death in Florida, he and our family had maintained that his roots were in South Carolina – York, South Carolina, specifically. He had never lived in Tennessee as far as anyone knew or I could find through research. I figured that our connection went back additional generations, either to South Carolina or perhaps further to somewhere like Virginia or even the UK itself. However, we couldn’t figure it out. We just couldn’t find a link.
I followed another Y-DNA match from a lower marker match back through his line. It led from Arkansas to Tennessee to Virginia. There was no evidence that the family had a South Carolina connection. I concluded that we might be related back in Virginia, but clearly our closer ancestors had taken different paths. I needed to find a Williams family that went to South Carolina – York, South Carolina. It was time to turn back to my autosomal results.
I have tried to maximize my autosomal information by testing multiple family members. I have personally tested at AncestryDNA, 23 and also got Family Finder results for my nephew KW. I tested other family members, including CW at 23 (and me); my daughter Turquoise Williams and my niece, Melody
(MWM) at AncestryDNA. I uploaded my daughter’s and my niece’s results to Family Finder and Gedmatch. I uploaded KW’s results to MyHeritage and Gedmatch. I knew that our mutual matches should help identify our Williams family line. There was also a grandniece, Monica (MTM), who had tested with AncestryDNA. That meant there were four of us in AncestryDNA from the Williams line, two of us in 23 and me, three of us in Family Finder, and two of us in My Heritage. There were also three of us in Gedmatch. I was fortunate enough to know also that there were other family members who had tested and that their tests could help me further narrow my results.
The most helpful person who had tested in Family Finder was a half first cousin, once removed, NT. She was the granddaughter of my father’s half-brother, Willard Leroy Williams (WLW). Since WLW had a different mother than my father, any matches with his daughter had to be Williams-line matches. That could help separate those who might match us because of my father’s mother’s family.
[My father’s mother’s surname was Farnell. Several of those cousins have also tested with AncestryDNA, 23 and me, and Family Finder. Some of them have also uploaded to Gedmatch. Thus, I had a way to separate matches that are my Williams line from my father’s Farnell line. Sounds like it should have been easy to figure out, right? No, not at all.
I was able to sort my matches on AncestryDNA using the “Shared Matches” feature. As anyone knows who uses this database, many people do not have family trees linked to their results, or their trees are private, or the few people on their trees are living and therefore marked private. In other words, there was little to help figure out how these matches were related to my Williams family.
As it happens, most of my close cousin matches are from my mother’s family. I could quickly mark off my second cousin match and most of my third cousins, including those related to my paternal grandfather’s mother’s family (Ellin Wilson/Wilkinson). I found a few fourth cousin matches that were shared among our family test group, but none of the trees seemed to be helpful. I went back to look at the Y-DNA matches. I decided to drop back to look at the 12 marker matches. I found a couple of matches who hadn’t tested at higher markers but who listed a George Williams as their farthest back ancestor with dates of birth and death. This George was born in Wales and died in Virginia. I followed his family forward, but it didn’t lead to South Carolina.
At the same time, I decided to look more closely at my Ancestry matches. I found a 4th-6th cousin match who had a tree with Williams names in it. In fact, this match had two different Williams lines. I needed to determine to which Williams line I was most likely related. To a George Williams also in Virginia. George was a common ancestor, but every indication was that we had a closer common ancestor. It appeared to be George’s son Fowler. George had lived in Virginia, but Fowler lived in South Carolina. However, he didn’t live in York County, but in neighboring Lancaster County.
I had seven matches to descendants of Fowler that I had followed; four to his son Dr. James Jonathan Williams. Thus, I thought it possible that I was descended from him. I attached him to my great grandfather to see how it might work out. However, I was still suspicious that I had the wrong son. My great grandfather, Joshua, had ended up in Florida. I noticed that none of Dr. Williams’s descendants went to Florida. Interestingly, the one whose tree I was following lived not far from me in Maryland. I decided I needed to look at my matches more carefully and the descendants of Fowler to see what else seemed plausible.
I had a third cousin match who didn’t have any tree. She was my closest shared match with my Williams test group and the other descendants of Fowler I was following. If I could figure out how she was related to the family, I might find the correct son who was my great-great grandfather. This effort was helped by the using Ancestry’s Thru-Lines. Thru-Lines uses your matches’ family trees to suggest (it’s only a suggestion) how you are related to each other. This was going to be challenging, however, because my third cousin match, MH, had no family tree information listed, not even an unlinked tree.
While working through the descendants of one of Fowler’s other sons, George Washington Williams, brother of Dr. James Jonathan, I noted that many of George’s descendants had moved to Florida sometime around the end of the Civil War. They were not living in the same county as my great grandfather, but that wasn’t particularly surprising. I’m sure everyone was in search of opportunity wherever it led them. Perhaps more importantly, George, unlike his siblings, had moved to York County!
In following the descendants down to my match, EW, I noticed something else important, her mother’s first name was M; her married name was H! She was almost certainly my third cousin match, MH. To try to verify this information, I ran a background report on the website, “Been Verified.” What I find helpful about this site is that it gives you not only most recent contact information, but also address histories, relatives and associates. In looking up both MH and EW, it showed them as relatives of each other. I felt certain I had the right brother this time.
I tried to find probate information, hoping that an inventory would list those enslaved as well as having information about descendants. Unfortunately, George died in 1868, after the Civil War was ended. I decided to look at the 1850 slave schedule for York County. George was listed. He only had 8 enslaved people. All were marked “B” for Black, except one: a male infant marked “M” for Mulatto. Could this be my great grandfather. Joshua? He was reportedly born in 1850. He was the only infant listed. It certainly seems likely.
I’m still hoping to find a document associated with George that names Joshua, my great grandfather, Joshua. It would be the icing on the cake. Nevertheless, based on the many matches whom I have been able to add to my tree by researching the suggested links from Thru-lines, and even going back to my match list and picking out individuals whose trees provide a basis for further research, I can confidently say that I am a descendant of Fowler Williams’s son, George Washington Williams of York County, South Carolina. At long last, a 43-year quest for the answer to the question of who my great-great grandfather was, the father of Joshua W. Williams, my great grandfather, has come to an end.
 Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Marriage of Joshua Williams and Ellin Wilson, 5 Nov 1868. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 Florida, Wills and Probate Records, 1810-1974 [database on-line]. Probate of Joshua W. Williams, 26 Jun 1893, Live Oak, Florida. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; William Williams, head; Ellen Williams, mother. NARA Roll: 1108; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0616; FHL microfilm: 1241108. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 George Williams Find A Grave Memorial, born circa 1727, Wales; died 5 April 1794, Fairfax County, Virginia. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com
 North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [Database on-line]. George Williams, 1732-1777, Virginia. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [Database on-line]. Fowler Williams, born 1778, Virginia; died 1841, Lancaster District, South Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [Database on-line]. Dr. James Jonathan Williams, born 21 Aug 1821, Lancaster District, South Carolina; died 15 Aug 1873, Union County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850; Census Place: York, York, South Carolina; George Washington Williams, head. NARA Roll: M432-860; Page: 267B; Image: 309. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850; Census Place: York, York, South Carolina, Slave Schedule; George W Williams, owner: Male, Mulatto, age: 3/12 yrs. (3 months). Retrieved from: Familysearch.org
I first saw Mary “Polly” Polk/Pope’s name on the 1880 census. She was living in the home of Colier and Kate Lassiter, in the Lassiter Mill area of New Hope Township in Randolph County. The area runs along the Uwharrie River on the edge of the Uwharrie Mountains in what is today the Uwharrie National Forest. Mary was listed as “white,” the rest of the Lassiter family was listed as “black.” The census didn’t mention a relationship for Mary to the Lassiter family other than “boarder.” However, I already knew that Colier’s wife’s maiden name was “Polk.”
Colier and Katherine had married in 1854. Unfortunately, the marriage records in that time period did not ask the names of parents. Nevertheless, I speculated that Mary was very possibly Katherine’s (Kate’s) mother. At that time, I thought the “w” for white might have been accidentally written instead of “m” for “mulatto.” (Census schedules were transcribed from field notes which could lead to errors.) Mary was not living with the family in either 1870 or 1860. I didn’t find either Katherine or Mary in 1850, at that time.
In 1853, the year before Colier and Kate married, Colier Lassiter posted bond for the marriage of Sarah Polk and Nathan Case (known as Nathan Hill in all census records). It seemed likely the two women were related. In 1860, Nathan, Sarah and their children were identified as black. Like Katherine, I did not find Sarah Polk in earlier census records. Was it an oversight, part of an undercount?
Both Katherine and Sarah had married into large families that were founding members of the First Congregational Church of Randolph County, now called Strieby Congregational Church. Another member of that church community was “Aunt Harriet” Cotton. Harriet had married Micajah McDuffie, also known as Micajah Cotton in 1854. In 1860, Mary, called “Polly Pope,” was living with Micajah and Harriet. They were all being called “mulatto” in 1860. Mary was also named as Harriet’s mother on her death certificate, where she was listed as “Polly Pope.”
There was another Polk family in the area that seemed to be related, the Macam (Malcom) Polk/Pope family. Malcom married Nancy Jane Smitherman in 1865. In 1870, Malcom was listed as mulatto, but Nancy was listed as black. Around 1881, Malcom and Nancy would leave North Carolina and move first to Mississippi, eventually settling in Arkansas. In 1900, Malcom and Nancy and some of their children were living next door to the family of her nephew-in-law, Thomas Julius Hill, son of Nathan and Sarah Polk Hill, in Jefferson County, Arkansas. 
I was still looking for more information on each of these Polk family members. The fact that Mary, “Polly,” was living in “Aunt” Harriet Polk Cotton’s home in 1860 and Katherine Polk Lassiter’s home in 1880, convinced me that Harriet and Katherine were likely sisters. Additional searches found Mary living in neighboring Montgomery County in 1850 with two children, Malcom and Lunda. Mary was listed as white, but the children were listed as mulatto. They were living in the home of a John McLeod, just a few houses away from Micajah McDuffie, who was living in the home of Thomas L. Cotton. It seemed from this that Mary was most likely white. It also confirmed that Katherine, Harriet and Malcom were most likely siblings. It also seemed likely that Sarah was a sibling, based on Colier Lassiter posting bond for her marriage. It seemed a reasonable conclusion since he would go on to marry Katherine Polk and Mary would live with them in her later years.
I also found Harriet in 1850. Harriet Polk and Elizabeth Polk were living in the home of Levi Nichols. Harriet and Elizabeth were identified as white. Levi Nichols would develop a relationship with Hannah McDuffie Cotton, sister of Micajah McDuffie Cotton who married Harriet. Levi and Hannah would have two children by 1860 and be charged with fornication before they would eventually marry in 1867. At that time, Levi adopted the identity of a man of color. Similarly, when Harriet married Micajah in 1854, she adopted the identity of a woman of color. However, where were Katherine and Sarah in 1850?
Looking over my research and the 1850 census again for the southern part of Randolph County, where these families lived, I realized that I had been looking at Katherine and Sarah all along. They were living in the home of an older couple, Jack and Charity Lassiter. Jack was the half-brother of Colier’s father, Miles Lassiter. Katherine and Sarah were being called Lassiter. At this point I was fairly certain that they were not related to Jack, but possibly were related to Charity. Charity was old enough to be their grandmother. Jack, Charity, Katherine and Sarah were all identified in this record as white. In 1860, Jack and Charity were identified as mulatto. By 1870, Jack had died, and Charity was living in the home of Colier and Katherine Polk Lassiter, who had a daughter named (Rhodemia) Charity. The older Charity was identified as mulatto. Charity presumably died after 1870; she is not found again in the census.
Not everything about this family can be confirmed beyond a doubt. However, with the above information along with information from descendants (and DNA results), the following picture has emerged:
Mary “Polly” Polk/Pope was identified as white in 1850. Though identified as mulatto in 1860, she was identified again as white in 1880. She was not found in 1870. She is presumed to be the daughter of Charity (Polk?) Lassiter, identified as white in 1850, but mulatto in 1860. Mary is believed to have had the following children:
Katherine Polk, identified as white in 1850, who married Colier Lassiter, a man of color, in 1854 and was thereafter identified as a woman of color.
Sarah Polk, identified as white in 1850, who married Nathan Hill, a man of color, in 1853 and was thereafter identified as a woman of color.
Harriet Polk, identified as white in 1850, who married Micajah McDuffie Cotton, a man of color, in 1854 and was thereafter identified as a woman of color.
Elizabeth Polk, identified as white, but no further information is known at this time.
Malcom Polk/Pope, identified as mulatto in 1850. He married Nancy Jane Smitherman, a woman of color.
Lunda Polk, identified as mulatto in 1850. She was still living with John McLeod in 1860. No other information is known at this time.
It is difficult to know what prompted these women to choose men of color. Perhaps what is a better question is what about southwestern Randolph County made it a place where interracial marriages seemed to thrive with no obvious community opprobrium. I’m not suggesting that the surrounding white community was throwing these couples wedding celebrations. I am saying that unlike other areas in the South, these families were not being persecuted; the men were not being prosecuted or persecuted for having married these women. In fact, these families were landowners and leaders in their communities, reportedly respected by their neighbors, both white and black. What made Randolph County different?
Southwestern Randolph County was heavily Quaker and anti-slavery, but there was also a large Methodist population, some “Methodist Protestant,” some “Wesleyan.” There were also some enslavers, though very few had large numbers of enslaved people. Most people were family farmers with free laborer assistants. There was a significant number of free people of color, 92 in southwestern Randolph County alone in 1850. Many had been freed or born to those freed by their Quaker (primarily) enslavers in the 1790s or early 1800s as the Society of Friends began to require manumission of slaves as a prerequisite of membership. Quaker influences were strong in this part of Randolph County, but that’s not all. Randolph County was not a typical southern community.
In her book, Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (1992), Victoria Bynum talked about Randolph County’s rebellious history. Even today when talking to local historians they will tell you proudly that Randolph County was against secession. During the war, North Carolina had the greatest number of deserters from the Confederate army and Randolph County had the greatest number of these, 22%, compared with the state average of 12%.
Unionism, as it was called, was heavy in the “Quaker Belt,” especially Randolph County, Bynum stated. This was not just a matter of politics, but also economics. There were growing textile and tobacco industries, she said, artisans and yeoman farmers who didn’t want the disadvantages of competing with slave labor, along with the religious objections to slavery of Quakers, Wesleyans, and Moravians .
In discussing interracial relationships, Bynum said that counties such as Randolph’s neighbor to the south, Montgomery County, were more tolerant because they had only a small number of free blacks and a relatively homogeneous white population. I’m not sure I agree with her. I think the larger population of free people of color and the more diverse white population made Randolph a more accepting community than Montgomery County. I notice that not only Mary Polk and her children moved into Randolph County, but Levi and Hannah McDuffie/Cotton Nichols and Micajah McDuffie/Cotton did as well.
It is notable that Levi Nichols (a white male) and Hannah McDuffie/Cotton (a free woman of color) had been brought into Montgomery County court on charges of fornication. However, on close examination it becomes apparent that the accusations weren’t only because they were in an illicit, interracial relationship as much as they were being targeted for revenge from an ongoing feud involving Levi’s brother and niece. It seems entirely likely that their move to Randolph County was an attempt to get away from what had become a round-robin of accusation and counter-accusation, leading to lawsuit and counter-lawsuit.
One might have expected greater outcry over the relationships of the Polk women who were reportedly white and married free men of color. Yet their relationships met no known violence or any legal obstacles in Randolph County. Martha Hodes in her book, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (1997), points out that these white-black sexual liaisons (with or without marriage) in the antebellum South were not met with the violence that accompanied the post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow years, right into the Civil Rights era. She states,
“Scholars agree that the most virulent racist ideology about black male sexuality emerged in the decades that followed the Civil War, and some historians have recognized that the lynching of black men or the alleged rape of white women was comparatively rare in the South under slavery.”
Hodes admits that statistics are difficult to gather in the ante-bellum period because these relationships were not found in historical records under one universal category. Rather they were gleaned from a variety of records covering such categories as domestic violence, murder, fornication, adultery, bastardy, assault, and others. She notes that even the word “miscegenation” was unknown before the Civil War era.
Despite the lack of violence in the antebellum years, there was not necessarily acceptance or even tolerance, which she says implies a liberality of attitude. Rather, she says, these relationships were met with toleration, forbearance. She goes on to make the point that forbearance did not mean there wasn’t cruel gossip, or that individuals weren’t ostracized. What changed after the Civil War?
Hodes said that Frederick Douglass explained that accusations of sexual transgressions against white women increased with black men’s new political power, with the conferring of citizenship and the right to vote. Ida B. Wells observed that lynching, often as a result of accusations of sexual assaults on white women, was intended to suppress the black vote by the threat of deatn. By contrast, Hodes notes that these white-black relationships in the ante-bellum South did not threaten the overall social and political hierarchy. She states that “[f]or whites to refrain from immediate legal action and public violence when confronted with liaisons between white women and black men helped them to mask some of the flaws of the antebellum Southern systems of race and gender.” On the other hand, she notes that the children of these liaisons revealed those same flaws. It was often the presence of children that forced the parents into court on charges of bastardy. It is interesting to note here, that Levi Nichols (white) and Hannah McDuffie/Cotton (of color), were accused only of fornication in 1858. This despite the fact that by 1858, Levi and Hannah had two children, Elmina and Daniel. Nevertheless, they were not being charged with bastardy.
Without further research, I can only conclude that the level of toleration seen in Randolph County was a function of both the Quaker values prominent in Randolph County and the overall southern ambivalence that meant the white majority did not feel threatened as long as the overall political control remained securely in their hands. Whatever the reason, these families thrived. They acquired property, education, and relative economic prosperity, providing a solid base for future opportunity for their children and grandchildren, even in the absence of political power.
 1880; Census Place: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Mary Polk, Boarder. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 184A; Enumeration District: 223; Image: 0659. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Micajah McDuffee and Harriet Polk, married: 10 Sep 1854, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1860; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Micajah Cotton, head. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 211; Image: 426; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Harriet Cotton, died: 7 Oct 1920, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Macon Pope and Nancy Jane Smitherman, married: 23 Sep 1865, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1900; Census Place: Old River, Jefferson, Arkansas; Macon Polk, head. NARA Roll: 63; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1240063. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850; Census Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; John McLeod, head; Mary Pope, Malcom Pope & Lunda Pope. NARA Roll: M432_637; Page: 127B; Image: 264. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850; Census Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; Thomas L. Cotton, head; Micajah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M432_637; Page: 127B; Image: 264. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850; Census Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Harriet Polk, Elizabeth Polk. NARA Roll: M432_637; Page: 142A; Image: 293. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1860; Census Place: Beans, Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Hannah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M653_905; Page: 483; Family History Library Film: 803905. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 Bynum, V. (1992). Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 99.
 North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Levi Nichols and Hannah McDuffie, married: 28 Sep 1867, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1860; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Micajah Cotton, head; Harriet Cotton. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 211; Image: 426; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850; Census Place: Southern Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Jack Lassiter, head; Charity Lassiter, Catherine Lassiter, Sarah Lassiter. NARA Roll: M432_641; Page: 136A; Image: 278. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1870; Census Place: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Collier Lassiter, head; Catherine Lassiter, Charity Lassiter, age 75. NARA Roll: M593_1156; Page: 407B; Image: 264; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 Densmore, C. (n.d.). Quakers and the Underground Railroad: Myths and Realities. Quakers and Slavery. Retrieved from: Brynmawr.edu
 Bynum, V. (1992). The Women Is as Bad as the Men: Women’s Participation in the Inner Civil War. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 137-140.
 Bynum, V. (1992). The Women Is as Bad as the Men: Women’s Participation in the Inner Civil War. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 130.
 Bynum, V. (1992). The Women Is as Bad as the Men: Women’s Participation in the Inner Civil War. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), pp. 135-137.
 Bynum, V. (1992). Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 99.
 Bynum, V. (1992). Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), pp. 98-99.
 Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: The Historical Development of White Anxiety. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 1.
 Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: The Historical Development of White Anxiety. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 2.
 Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: The Historical Development of White Anxiety. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 3.
 Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: The Historical Development of White Anxiety. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 2.
 Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: Contradictions, Crises, Voices, Language. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 6-7.
 Hodes, M. (1997). Telling the Stories: Contradictions, Crises, Voices, Language. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth Century South (New Haven, CT and London, UK: Yale University Press), p. 7.
 Bynum, V. (1992). Punishing Deviant Women: The State as Patriarch. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press), p. 99n38.
 1860; Census Place: Beans, Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Hannah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M653_905; Page: 483; Family History Library Film: 803905. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
Recently, I was asked to research the ancestry of Elmina Nichols Spencer (1851-1928). It was around the time of the anniversary of the milestone Supreme Court ruling, Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia. That ruling struck down the anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia, and elsewhere, that forbade interracial marriage.
The legal restrictions on interracial marriage were never universal, although social mores against it were found everywhere. There were nine states that never had such laws: Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont & Wisconsin. Eleven states repealed their laws in 1887; fourteen more repealed theirs between 1948 and 1967. However, sixteen states still had laws in place in 1967 when the Supreme Court heard arguments against the practice in the Loving v. Virginia case.  Among those sixteen was North Carolina.
It was not difficult finding Elmina Nichols Spencer with her husband, Malcolm Spencer, and their baby, son, James, in the 1870 census. Elmina and Malcolm married in 1868. The marriage record said that Elmina was the daughter of Levi Nichols, “of color.” I looked then for Levi Nichols. I was able to find Levi and his wife Hannah in the 1870 census as well.
The 1870 census showed Levi, his wife Hannah, and their son Daniel. They were all listed as “Mulattoes.” Since the 1870 census listed Levi and Hannah as people with a mixed racial background, I thought it was possible that they could be found on the 1860 census as free persons of color. I knew that if I did not find one or the other that whichever person was missing was likely enslaved. I found both of them on the 1860 census, in neighboring Montgomery County. They were both free, but that was not all I found.
Apparently not married yet, Levi and Hannah were living in the same household. Hannah was listed under her presumed maiden name, “Hannah McDuffie.” There were also two young children, “Elinor” (Elmina) and “Daniel W.” Their last names were listed as McDuffie. Levi was listed as a farmer, with real property valued at $500 and personal property at $350. Hannah was not listed as employed. However, it was their racial designations that caught my eye. Levi was listed as “w” for white, but Hannah was listed as “m” for mulatto. The 1870 census had called them both “m” or “mulatto.” Had the census-taker made a mistake and omitted marking Levi’s column “m” for mulatto? I decided to take a look at the 1850 census.
In 1850, Levi was listed as a farmer in Montgomery County, with real property valued at $300. In his household were children, Harriet Polk, Elizabeth Polk, and William Northcot. They were all listed as “white.” I found Hannah McDuffie as well. She was living in the home of Elizabeth Hancock. Hannah she was listed as “mulatto,” just as she had been in the 1860 and 1870 census. She did not have any children living with her.
There is no evidence of another Levi Nichols who was a white landowner or a man of color owning land. So, how did Levi Nichols go from being a white man to a man of color? He was claiming to be married to Hannah, but that would be against the law. So, what was their relationship?
Additional research uncovered Levi and Hannah’s legal marriage record from 1867. Both Levi and Hannah were referred to as “of color.” Levi’s parents on his marriage certificate were listed as John and Zelpha Nichols. I looked for them, wondering, “Were they white, too?”
Looking at the 1850 census, I found John Nichols, his wife, Zilphia, and children, Thany, Noah, Mary, Gilbert, Amy, and Alby, who were all listed as white. They were enumerated just a few homes away from where Hannah McDuffie was living.
So, Hannah McDuffie, a free woman of color, a “mulatto,” who lived in the same general vicinity of the John Nichols family, of European descent, in 1850, went to live with Levi Nichols sometime after 1850, and was found living in his home by 1860, along with two small children. In 1867, Levi and Hannah marry. However, with the laws against interracial marriage, their marriage was illegal. It is safe to assume that Hannah could not pass for a white woman, especially if she remained in the community, but Levi could be considered a “light-skinned” man of color, a “mulatto,” even in his own community. I don’t have any information about how Levi was treated, but I am confident that his change of identity was not met with universal approval, whether from the white community or the African American community. How unusual was such a decision? It’s hard to say; there are no statistics of which I am aware. However, there are other examples in fiction and real life.
In Roots: The Next Generations (a fictionalized version of the last few chapters of Alex Haley’s Roots), Jim Warner, son of a former Confederate Army officer, falls in love with the Henning, Tennessee, African American school-teacher, Carrie Barden. When Jim refuses to give up the relationship, his father disowns him. Jim marries Carrie and they live their lives within the segregated African American community. Likewise, in The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, James McBride tells how he discovered that his white mother left her Orthodox Jewish family and community in Virginia and married two African American men (including McBride’s father), identifying herself as a “light-skinned” African American woman.
In a post-Civil Rights era, the need to change one’s identity to be able to marry and live with a spouse from a different racial background has faded away. However, in Reconstruction North Carolina, with its anti-miscegenation laws, there were only two choices if one wanted to stay in North Carolina, either live together without marrying, adopting whatever public stance was needed to avoid arrest, or change one’s racial designation, in order to be able to legally marry. All evidence available indicates that Levi chose the latter path.
 Lee, Robert E. (1963, 10 Nov.). NC Prohibits Any Marriage between Races. The Rocky Mount, N. C. Telegram. p. 7A. Retrieved from: Miscegenation Laws.pdf
 1870 US Federal Census. Place: Back Creek, Randolph, North Carolina; Macon Spencer, head; Almira [sic] Spencer, inferred wife. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 297A; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Randolph Marriage Bonds, 1800-1888]. Macam Spencer, of color, and Elmina Nicols, of color, 5 Mar 1868. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1870 US Federal Census. Place: Back Creek, Randolph, North Carolina; Levi Nicholds, head; Hannah Nicholds, inferred wife. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 298A; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1860 US Federal Census. Place: Beans, Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Hannah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M653-905; Page: 483; Family History Library Film: 803905. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850 US Federal Census. Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 142A; Image: 293. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850 US Federal Census. Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; Elizabeth Hancock, head; Hannah McDuffie, age 28. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 142B; Image: 294. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Randolph Marriage Bonds, 1800-1888]. Levi Nichols and Hannah McDuffie, 28 Sep 1867. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850 US Federal Census. Place: Montgomery, North Carolina; John Nichols, head; Zilpha Nichols. NARA Roll: M432-637; Page: 142B; Image: 294. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1860 US Federal Census. Place: Beans, Montgomery, North Carolina; Levi Nichols, head; Hannah McDuffie. NARA Roll: M653-905; Page: 483; Family History Library Film: 803905. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 Lee, Robert E. (1963, 10 November). NC Prohibits Any Marriage between Races. The Rocky Mount, N. C. Telegram. p. 7A. Retrieved from: Miscegenation Laws.pdf
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). 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. 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.
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 AsheboroMagazine 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. 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. 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.” 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. 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.”
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. 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.”
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.”
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.”
The following year, in 1881, the report again mentioned Islay and others from the congregation:
“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.
Just three years later, on 2 February 1884, at the young age of 40, The American Missionary reported Islay’s death and eulogized him:
“… 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.
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.
 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
 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.
 Addison and Cornelia Lassiter to H. W. Hubbard, Islay Walden, Agent. (22 May 1880). Randolph County, North Carolina Deed Book. 42:199.
 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.
 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
 American Missionary Association. (1881). Anniversary Reports. The American Missionary Association (Volumes 30-39), 35(7), 211. Retrieved from: The American Missionary
 American Missionary Association. (1884). Items from the Field. The American Missionary, Volume 38:51. Retrieved from: The American Missionary
 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.