#52Ancestors – Surprise! Elmer Augustus Dade, My Great Uncle and Vaudeville Star. Who Knew?

In fact, I did know that Elmer Dade was my great aunt, Iva Mae Williams’ husband and that they had a son, Elmer Dade Jr., who was buried with his mother in our family cemetery plot, at Mount Olivet Cemetery, in Maspeth, Queens, New York City.[1] So it stood for many years. I had found everyone in the census of 1930[2] and 1940,[3] but I wasn’t researching my great aunt and uncle, I was trying to push our family line backwards, beyond her parents, my great grandparents, Joshua W. Williams and Ellen Wilson Gainer Williams. I’m not sure what happened first, but at some point, I did read the occupation column and noticed that Elmer Sr. was an actor. Given the time period he lived in, it was not a stretch to imagine he was possibly involved in Vaudeville. Little did I know!

Iva Mae Williams "Babe"
Iva Mae Williams, Aunt Babe, circa 1910

About three or four years ago, I was contacted by Deborah Lowe Wright, Director of the Pickaway County Historical Society, from the Pickaway County, Ohio,[4] asking if I had additional information about Elmer, other than what was in my on-line Ancestry tree and that there was an annual luncheon in Ohio honoring the founding families and others of note, from Pickaway County. I was encouraged to attend the following year’s event. I had a conflict and did not attend.

Subsequently, I set about adding documentation to Elmer’s Ancestry profile. In 2016, I was contacted again by Deborah Lowe Wright. She provided me with additional information about Elmer’s background. She told me that Elmer’s family originated in Orange County, Virginia, moving later to Pickaway County.[5] She asked if I had much information about his career in Vaudeville. She hadn’t found much at that point. I went out to Google to look for information and found for the first time that Elmer was a well-known performer and agent![6] I was wishing my parents and especially my father’s sister, Lute Williams Mann, were still alive. I knew that “Aunt Lutie” knew her “Aunt Babe” well. Surely, she had more information. Alas, I will never know.

In the intervening years, additional newspaper articles mentioning Elmer and his public appearances have become available on-line. Deborah Lowe Wright had created clippings that made my research easier.[7] His appearances around the country were met with great acclaim. He and his dance partner, and then wife (before he was married to my great aunt), Malinda Allen, were called “Royal Entertainers.”[8]  How exciting! However, there were other surprises, not totally unexpected, but nonetheless jarring.

Right now, in Virginia, there is a great upheaval over the discovery of pictures believed to be the governor, when he was in college, attending a party in black-face.[9] So, it is a subject in the forefront of my thought as the governor’s behavior and responses are hotly debated. Thus, it was more startling than it might have been at another time, to find that Elmer was known for some of his “black face” performances.  Before the current controversy, I would have considered it simply an historical reality, not having any immediate relevance to my current world. While certainly a racist image, it was what white audiences wanted to see. Thus, even African American performers sometimes felt obliged to perform in black face (I’m sure begrudgingly) in order to survive financially in a hostile world.

In 1925, the Cincinnati Enquirer noted that,

Malinda and Dade, whose ancestors hailed from Africa, are programmed as royal entertainers, and they are. It is not related to what court they are attached, but yesterday’s audience set up a court of its own and voted Malinda and Dade its prime jesters. Dance? Of course, in typical plantation style …[10]

Malinda and Dave "plantation dance?
Cincinnati Enquirer, 2 November 1925

The Muncie Evening Press wrote,

The Keith-Albee vaudeville will include Malinda and Dade, a clever tea mof [sic] blackface comedians who give negro dialect and song offerings.[11]

The Pittsburgh Press said,

Malinda and Dade, chocolate colored entertainers from the southland, will sing and dance in that whimsical fashion of the real Negro.[12]

The “real Negro?”

On the other hand, The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that Malinda and Dade were, “a pair of colored singers and comedians who are exceptionally gifted.”[13] Am I just feeling jaded and suspicious? “Exceptionally gifted?” Was that a genuine compliment? Does it mean exceptionally gifted despite being chocolate colored, blackface, royal jesters who sing and dance like real Negroes? I’m feeling sad, uneasy, and angry.

I have a hard time picturing my great aunt or any of my Williams family as “prime jesters,” or “plantation style” dancers, or being sympathetic to such behavior. Did Aunt Babe know exactly what he was doing? Did she just ignore it, content that he brought the money home? Was she more enamored with the fame than bothered by racial indignities? Did it seem removed from her life as homemaker and mother? I’ll never know.

I did find an article that dated from the time period during which Elmer and Aunt Babe were married, a 1939 funeral notice for another vaudeville star, Mae Brown, who performed with her deceased husband, Garland Howard as Howard and Brown. [14]  The funeral services were at historic St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, in Harlem.[15] Among those mentioned as having sent floral arrangements were, “Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Dade.”[16]

There are some interesting anomalies regarding my great aunt and Elmer. I have yet to find their marriage record. They are listed as married in the 1930 census,[17] the 1940 census,[18] and his World War II registration.[19] According to the Social Security Death Index, he died in 1971 in the Bronx, New York.[20] However, I have not found a death record for him. I suspect that is because the New York City death index records later than 1965 are not public.[21]

Elmer Dade WWII Draft Registration
Elmer Augustus Dade, World War II Draft Registration.

Despite my discoveries about my great uncle’s blackface performances, I still take pride in his career. He was part of theater history, the good and the bad. As usual, I wish I had known more about this earlier, before everyone who had first hand knowledge was dead. That’s the eternal lament of a genealogist and family historian.

References

[1]  Burial plots of Iva Mae Williams Johnson Dade and Elmer Dade Jr. Section R, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Maspeth, Queens, New York. Certificate in possession of the author.

[2] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Christina Hill, head; Elmer Dade, brother-in-law; Iver Dade, sister. NARA Roll: 1574; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0930; Image: 275.0; FHL microfilm: 2341309. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] 1940 US Federal Census; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Elmer Dade, head; Iva Dade, wife. NARA  Roll: T627-2650; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 31-1108. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] Collins, S. (18 Jan 2018). Author presents research on Circleville’s African American History. Circleville Herald (Circleville, Ohio). Retrieved from: circlevilleherald.com

[5] 1900 US Federal Census; Census Place: Circleville Ward 3, Pickaway, Ohio; Elmer Dade, “father’s birthplace: Virginia.” NARA Roll: 1313; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0102; FHL microfilm: 1241313. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Uno. (19 Jan 1952). Burlesque Bits. The Billboard (Nielson Business Media, Inc.), p. 46. Retrieved from: Google Books

[7] Dlowewright.  Retrieved from: newspapers.com

[8] Elmira Star-Gazette. (5 Jan 1924). At the Elmira Theaters, Majestic (Elmira, New York), p. 7. Retrieved from: newspapers.com

[9] Kelly, C. (7 Feb 2019). Virginia governor apologizes for ‘racist and offensive’ costume in photo showing people in blackface and KKK garb. CNN. Retrieved from: cnn.com

[10] The Enquirer. (2 Nov 1925). B. F. Keith’s–Vaudeville (Cincinnati, Ohio), p. 5. Retrieved from: newspapers.com

[11] Muncie Evening Press. (25 Oct 1925). Theaters: Wysor Grand (Muncie, Indiana), p. 12. Retrieved from: newspapers.com

[12] The Pittsburgh Press. (18 Nov 1923). Joe Brown at Davis Theater in New Act (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), p. 45. Retrieved from: newspapers.com

[13] The Philadelphia Inquirer. (9 Oct 1923). ‘Miss Philadelphia’ and ‘King Neptune’ (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), p. 15. Retrieved from: newspapers.com

[14] Snelson. F. B. (25 Nov 1939). Mae Brown, Well Known Actress Dead. The New York Age (New York, New York). Retrieved from: newspapers.com

[15] St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church. (n.d.). Our History. Retrieved from: stmark138.com

[16] Snelson. F. B. (25 Nov 1939). Mae Brown, Well Known Actress Dead. The New York Age (New York, New York). Retrieved from: newspapers.com

[17] 1930 US Federal Census; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Christina Hill, head; Elmer Dade, brother-in-law; Iver Dade, sister. NARA Roll: 1574; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0930; Image: 275.0; FHL microfilm: 2341309. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[18] 1940 US Federal Census; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Elmer Dade, head; Iva Dade, wife. NARA  Roll: T627-2650; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 31-1108. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[19] U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [Database online]. Elmer Augustus Dade. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[20] U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [Database on-line]. Elmer Dade, Date of Death: Aug 1971. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[21] New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. (12 Jul 2017). New NYC death indexes available, 1949 – 1965. Retrieved from: newyorkfamilyhistory.org

 

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#52Ancestors – At the Library – Emsley Phillips Lassiter in the Lawrence Carter Papers

Carthage Public Library-Aug 2013
Henry Henley Public Library, Carthage, Indiana. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 2013

In 2013, I was researching the story of my 4th great uncle, Emsley Phillips Lassiter, born free around 1811, he was the oldest of the children of my 4th great grandparents, Miles Lassiter and Healy Phillips Lassiter, from Randolph County, North Carolina. Emsley had moved with the Quaker migration of the 1830s to Indiana. I had gone to Indiana to visit the community to which he moved, called the Beech Community, near Carthage Indiana. With the help of friend and distant relative, Nancy Barry Kline, and Carthage library board member, Claire Mercer, I was able to do research at the Henry Henley Public Library in Carthage, Indiana, even though the library was technically closed for the afternoon. This library was very important to my research because it is the home of the original, but unpublished, collection called the Lawrence Carter Papers.

Emsley Phillips Lassiter in the Lawrence Carter Papers

Lawrence Carter home - Carthage, Indiana - Aug 2013
Lawrence Carter Home, Carthage, Indiana. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 2013.

Lawrence Carter was born in 1905 and descended from a Beech Community family. Carter wrote several notebooks about its history, especially the families of Beech Community.[1] He devoted a small section to my 4th great uncle, Emsley,[2] in which he first quoted Thomas Newby (who had published information on those whom he called the “colored pioneers” of Carthage[3]), reiterating that Emsley traveled with Henry Newby (Thomas’s father) in 1832, and that Emsley lived with and worked for Newby in those early years in Indiana. However, that cannot be completely corroborated. Henry Newby is listed in the 1840 census, but there were no people of color counted as living in his household.[4] Since Emsley married Elizabeth Winburn on 03 Apr 1845,[5] in Rush County, they should have been listed in the 1850 census, but they were not. They could not be accounted for as living in her father’s, (Tommy Winburn) household either.[6]  Even a page-by-page search did not yield their whereabouts. Searches of other counties, even other states, have yielded nothing.  However, Carter mentioned that at one point “Em” lived in the “old Baptist Church House,” which may explain it. A census taker, who was not from the immediate community would not likely think there was anyone living in a church. That may explain 1850, but it did not answer the question of where he was in 1840. His whereabouts in the 1840 and 1850 censuses was even more puzzling based on his real estate purchases during the same time period.[7]

Margo Williams under Henry Henley portrait at Carthage Public Library-3 Aug 2013
The Author in front of Henry Henley Portrait, Public Library, Carthage, Indiana. Photo by Nancy Barry Kline, 2013.

Again, like Newby before him,[8] Carter also claimed that another Beech resident, Farley Lassiter, was a cousin of Emsley’s. This author had never heard of a Farley (also known as Farlow) before. Inquiry of various Lassiter family members in the Lassiter Mill community in Randolph County revealed no one there had heard of Farley either.

Margo Williams at Carthage Public Library-4 Aug 2013
The Author at the Front Desk, Henry Henley Public Library, Carthage, Indiana. Photo by Nancy Barry Kline, 2013.

In the 1840 Rush County census it was noted that there were two Lassiter (“Laston/Laster”) families of color: one was “Farlow,”[9] the other was “Patient” (“Patience”).[10] Farlow’s household only had one adult male and one adult female, presumably he and his wife, Martha (Bass). Patient’s household listed two possible adult males: one in the 10-23 age category; the other in the 24-35 age category. Judging from later census records, one of those adults was most likely Seth Lassiter, born about 1814-1815,[11] which hovers around the crossover age of 23-24. Emsley, on the other hand, would be firmly in the 24-35 age category based on the birth year of 1811, which was most consistent over time, making him 29 in 1840.

This also seemed to eliminate the possibility that he was living at his father in-law Thomas Winburn’s home. Winburn’s household showed no males in that age category.[12] Thus, the most likely explanation was that Emsley was living in the Patient/Patience Lassiter (Laston/Laster) household.

Because of the way the 1840 census is recorded, generally listing families alphabetically, it is often difficult to determine who is neighbor to whom. However, Farlow/Farley is listed on page 42, with John Roberts and Willis Roberts (both families of color originally from Northampton County, North Carolina), while Patient/Patience is listed only one full page away from Henry Newby. She is on pages 409-410, and he is on pages 411-412.  It should be noted that although Patient/Patience and Farlow/Farley have been determined to have come from Randolph County, the exact nature of their kinship bonds to Emsley has not been determined.[13]

Margo Williams at Carthage Public Library Aug 2013
The Author Reviewing Pages from Lawrence Carter’s Notebooks. Photo by Nancy Barry Kline, 2013.

Carter’s essay on Emsley mentions several other pieces of information. According to Carter, Emsley had a sister named “Penn,” presumably short for “Penina,” a name which he and Elizabeth gave to one of their daughters.[14] However, since all the children of Miles and Healy (Phillips) Lassiter have been identified through Randolph County, North Carolina records as well as private, Lassiter family, records, this is unlikely.[15] On the other hand, his wife, Elizabeth, did have a sister named Penina. This is most likely the “Penn” to whom Carter was referring.[16]

Carter also claimed Emsley moved to Grant County and died there. The above census review indicates otherwise. However, he did move to Grant County. According to historian Stephen Vincent, in his book, Southern Seed, Northern Soil, he moved there about 1865.[17] It is not clear why he moved to Grant County. Although there was a Weaver community there and his daughter, Mary Anna, later married a Weaver,[18] he was not living in the Weaver community. He was living in Fairmount, near Henry Winslow, from North Carolina, and probably a member of the large Quaker Winslow family that migrated to Indiana about the same time as Henry Newby. As noted above, however, Emsley returned to Rush County by 1880. Again, in contrast to what Carter wrote, Emsley died in Indianapolis, on 10 March 1892.[19] Exactly when he moved to Indianapolis is not known, but sometime in the late 1880s, since he does not appear in available city directories before that time.

Margo Williams at Carthage Public Library-rev-2 Aug 2013
The Author at the Henry Henley Public Library, Carthage, Indiana. Photo by Nancy Barry Kline, 2013.

Emsley’s widow, Elizabeth, was found living with daughter, Cristena Laster Overman,[20] in Center (Marion), Grant County, in 1900.[21] Elizabeth died there on 21 April 1908. She is buried at Estates of Serenity, Marion, Grant County.[22]

 

References

[1] Moore, W. L. (Processor) (2012). Lawrence B. Carter Notebooks, N.D. In Manuscript and Visual Collections Department, William Henry Smith Memorial Library. Indiana Historical Society. Retrieved from: IndianaHistory.org

[2] Carter, L. (n.d.). “Emsley Lassiter,” in original unpublished notebooks at the Henry Henley Public Library, Carthage, Indiana (Copies provided by Nancy Barry Kline).

[3] Newby, T. T. (1916). Colored Pioneers: Emsley Lassiter. Reminiscences of Thomas T. Newby (Carthage, Indiana). Retrieved from: Archive.org

[4] 1840 US Census, Ripley, Rush, Indiana; Roll: 93; Page: 209; Image: 425; Family History Library Film: 0007729, Henry Newby, head. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] Rush County, Indiana. General Index to Marriages, 1822-1907, FHLM #1630369 Items 3-4, and Marriage Records v. 6-8: 152, 1843-1861; Emsley Lassiter and Elizabeth Winburn. Family History Library Microfilm #001630189. See also: Ensley Lassiter, “Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959,” Retrieved from: FamilySearch.org

[6] 1850 US Census, Ripley, Rush, Indiana; Roll: M432-170, Page: 537B; Image: 336. Family Number: 728, Thomas Winburn, head. Retrieved from Ancestry.com

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

[8] Newby, T. T. (1916). Colored Pioneers: Farlow Lassiter. Reminiscences of Thomas T. Newby. Retrieved from: Archive.org

[9] 1840 US Census, Ripley, Rush, Indiana; Roll: 93; Page: 214; Image: 435; Family History Library Film: 0007729; Farlow Laston, head. Retrieved from Ancestry.com

[10] 1840 US Census, Ripley, Rush, Indiana; Roll: 93; Page: 208; Image: 423; Family History Library Film: 0007729; Patient Laston, head. Retrieved from Ancestry.com

[11] 1850 US Census, Ripley, Rush, Indiana; Roll: M432_170, Page: 550B; Image: 362, Family Number: 916; Seth Lassiter, head. Retrieved from Ancestry.com

[12] 1840 US Census, Ripley, Rush, Indiana; Roll: 93, Page: 211; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 0007729; Thomas Winburn, head. Retrieved from http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=1840usfedcenancestry&rank=1&new=1&MSAV=1&msT=1&gss=angs-d&gsfn=Thomas&gsln=Winburn&msrpn__ftp=Indiana&uidh=hx1&pcat=CEN_1840&fh=0&h=2040288&recoff=7+19+20&ml_rpos=1.

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

[14] 1870 US Census, Fairmount, Grant, Indiana;  NARA Roll: M593_317; Page: 41B; Image: 86; Family History Library Film: 545816;  Emsly Lasters, head. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[15] Williams, M. L. (2011). 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.) pp.103-130.

[16] 1850 US Census, Ripley, Rush, Indiana; Roll: M432-170; Page: 537B; Image: 336; Thomas Winburn, head. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[17] Vincent, S. A. (1999). Southern Seed, Northern Soil: African-American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900 (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press), p. 200, n14.

[18] Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 [database on-line] Grant County, Marriage Records Volume II Book 7:199.  James Weaver and Mary Lassiter. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[19] Indiana Deaths, 1882-1920 [database on-line]. Name: Enssly [sic] Laster. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[20] Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001 [Database on-line]. Cristena Laster and Joseph Overman, 29 April 1881, Rush County. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[21] 1900 US Federal Census Place: Center, Grant, Indiana; Joseph Overman, head; Elizabeth Lester [sic], mother-in-law. NARA Roll: 373; Page: 23B; Enumeration District: 0030; FHL microfilm: 1240373. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[22] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Elizabeth Laster, 21 April 1908, Estates of Serenity, Marion, Indiana. Find A Grave. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

 

#52Ancestors (2019-1) My First United States Colored Troops (USCT) Ancestor: Silas Lightfoot (1844-1884), Co. A, 2nd Inf. USCT

I had no family oral history of anyone serving during the Civil War. I had not found any names of any direct ancestors when searching databases for the Civil War, specifically, none of my ancestors of color, either in the regular military or in the USCT. However, when planning for a trip to Tallahassee, I looked up places of interest to visit. I was going to be visiting the Eaton Archives at Florida A & M, to donate some items that belonged to my grandmother, Lela Virginia Farnell Williams, who had been among the first students.[1]  I thought I might have time to see some other places before leaving town (I didn’t as it turned out). I found the website of the 2nd Infantry USCT Living History Association,[2] which had a muster roll of those in the units.[3] On it was Silas Lightfoot. I knew that the name of the husband of my great grandmother’s sister, Harriet Jacobs was Silas Lightfoot. I had a USCT ancestor, albeit a collateral in-law, but who’s quibbling? I began to research his background.

Silas Lightfoot was born on 25 December 1844,[4] in Southampton, Virginia.[5] He was my 2nd great uncle by marriage, being married to Harriett Jacobs,[6] sister of my great grandmother, Sallie Jacobs Farnell. On 23 June 1863, he enlisted in Company A, 2nd Regiment US Colored Volunteer Infantry, on Craney Island, Virginia,[7] located in the waters of the Elizabeth River where Hampton Roads, Portsmouth, Newport News and Norfolk converge. It was off the waters of Craney Island that the Merrimac was sunk in 1862. Craney Island was thus under Union control.[8]

craney island
Craney Island, Virginia

In 1863, General Benjamin Butler, at nearby Fort Monroe, the Old Point Comfort, was faced with the decision of whether to return fugitive slaves, since President Lincoln had said the war was not about slavery. Butler chose not to do that, resulting in over 1600 freed slaves, identified as “contraband,” seeking refuge on Craney Island.[9] Apparently, Silas was one of them.

Silas was described in his enlistment papers as 19 years of age, 5 feet 9 inches, dark skinned, with dark eyes, dark hair, and a farmer. He was enlisted by a Captain Wilder for three years and subsequently mustered in by Captain Cogswell. He was assigned to Fort Monroe,[10] where he would serve until February of 1865, when he was transferred to Fort Taylor on Key West, Florida, where he served as the Post baker.[11] His service records, however, indicate that he had several different occupations. In April 1864, he was assigned as a carpenter with the Quartermaster’s department.  In May 1864, he was assigned to the Medical Director. He served in that capacity until November, when he was assigned as a hospital attendant.

miusa1861m_089621-00566 (2)
Enlistment Record of Silas Lightfoot

Silas mustered out of the military 5 January 1866, in Tallahassee, according to the record of military service in the Bureau of Pensions file, for his widow, Harriet, dated 13 November 1890.[12] On 6 October 1868, he married Caledonia Hinton there.[13] They had two children, Robert and Frances (“Fanny”).[14] Caledonia died 28 May 1874, in Madison, Madison County, according to a neighbor, Sallie Garvin.[15] and the children went to live with relatives.[16] Subsequently, on 7 November1874, in Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida, Silas married Harriett Jacobs.[17]  They would go on to have three children: Silas Jr., Charlotte, and Willie Caledonia.[18] Charlotte was most likely named after Harriett’s mother, Charlotte Jacobs,[19] and Willie Caledonia appears to have been named for his first wife, Caledonia.

th-1951-31502-8286-31 (2)
Marriage License of Silas Lightfoot & Harriet Jacobs, 6 November 1874, Suwannee County, FL

By 1880, Silas was working for the railroad and was living in Orange County, in what would become Sanford, now in Seminole County.[20] However, on 25 March 1884, he died[21] intestate. Harriett petitioned the court to be named Administratrix of the estate and was so granted.[22] The following year, on 21 August 1885, she sold her property in Live Oak, Suwannee County, to her sister, Sallie Jacobs Farnell, with the contingency that, on her death, it be passed next to Sallie’s daughter, Lela Virginia Farnell, my grandmother.[23]

img_3528
Widow’s Pension of Harriet Lightfoot

In 1890, Harriett filed for a widow’s pension, which was granted.[24] In support of her application, her brother, Green Jacobs, submitted testimony that he was personally aware of the date of death for Silas Lightfoot.[25] In 1916, in support of an application for an increase in pension benefits, another of Harriet’s brothers, Richard Jacobs, provided a statement in support of her claim, commenting that their family members were dead, except a younger brother “Joe.”[26] It is assumed he meant other than her children. Also, as part of the request for increased benefits, friends John Morague and A. S. Stokes provided testimony wherein Harriet was described as a woman with,

“no property except a small lot and house thereon that she resides on in Sanford, Florida, and that said claimant … has to work to maintain herself and family and that she has no other means of support than her labor… derived from washing and cooking and that she has no other source of income whatever.”[27]

The increase was granted.

silas lightfoot tombstone (2)
Silas Lightfoot Tombstone, Page Jackson Cemetery, Sanford, Florida (Photo from Find a Grave).

Harriett died 24 August 1945, in Sanford, Florida.[28] There is no headstone for Harriet, but it is assumed she is buried next to Silas in Page Jackson Cemetery, in Sanford, Florida.[29]

References

[1] #52Ancestors—Heirloom: The Autograph Book (Blogpost). Personal Prologue: Family Roots and Personal Branches. Retrieved from: margoleewilliamsbooks.com

[2] 2nd Infantry Regiment United States Colored Troops Living History Association. Retrieved from: the2ndusctlha.org

[3] Silas Lightfoot (#716), Company A, Private In/Private Out. In Muster Roll of the Officers and Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Regiment United States Colored Troops. Retrieved from: Muster Roll–2nd Infantry USCT

[4] Silas Lightfoot (25 December 1844-25 March 1884). Find A Grave. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

[5] U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 [Database on-line]. Silas Lightfoot. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Silas Lightfoot and Harriet Jacobs, 7 Nov 1874, Suwannee County, Florida. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[7] U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 [Database on-line]. Silas Lightfoot. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] Craney Island – Virginia Places. Retrieved from: Virginiaplaces.org

[9] Craney Island – Virginia Places. Retrieved from: Virginiaplaces.org

[10] U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 [Database on-line]. Silas Lightfoot. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 [Database on-line]. Silas Lightfoot. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[12] Military Service: Silas Lightfoot in Pension Application # 447.541 (13 Nov 1890). War Department Record and Pension Division. Veterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[13] Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Silas Lightfoot and Caledonia Hinton, 6 October 1868, Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[14] Declaration for Original Pension of a Widow, Child or Children under Sixteen Years of Age Surviving: Harriet Lightfoot. “His by a former marriage: Robert, born 1870; Frances, born 1873.”  Veterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[15] General Affidavit of Sallie Garvin18 April 1892. Veterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[16] 1880 US Federal Census Place: Precinct 1 and 2, Putnam, Florida; Nathaniel Hinton, head; Fanny Lightfoot, niece. NARA Roll: 131; Family History Film: #1254131; Page: 37A; Enumeration District: 130. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

And, Florida, State Census, 1867-1945 [Database on-line]. Edith Austin, head; Robert C. Lightfoot, great nephew. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[17] Florida, County Marriages, 1823-1982 [Database on-line]. Silas Lightfoot and Harriet Jacobs, 7 Nov 1874, Suwannee County, Florida. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[18] Widow’s Pension: Harriet Lightfoot, 447541. Silas, born 16 Dec 1879; Charlotte, born 18 September 1881; Willie Caledonia, born 18 July 1883.  Veterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[19] 1870 US Federal Census, Place: Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida; William Jacobs, head; Charlotte Jacobs, Harriet Jacobs. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 686A; Image: 507; Family History Library Film: #545632. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[20]  1880 US Federal Census, Place: Precinct 2, Orange, Florida; Silas Lightfoot, head. NARA Roll: 131; Family History Film: #1254131; Page: 429B; Enumeration District: 126; Image: 0501. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[21] Declaration for Original Pension of a Widow, Child or Children under Sixteen Years of Age Surviving: Harriet LightfootVeterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[22] Florida, Wills and Probate Records, 1810-1974 [Database on-line]. Silas Lightfoot, Deceased; Hattie Lightfoot, Administratrix. Probate Packet 91, Orange County, Florida. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[23] Suwannee County Deed Book I:431-432. Harriett Lightfoot to Sallie Farnell and Lela Virginia Farnell, 21 August 1885. Family History Library Film #008584052. Retrieved from: Familysearch.org

[24] Widow’s Pension: Harriet Lightfoot, 447541. Veterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[25] General Affidavit, Green Jacobs, 9 February 1892 and 18 April 1892, Sanford, Florida, in support of Claim for Pension by Harriet Lightfoot. Veterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[26] Notarized Statement of Richard Jacobs, 22 December 1916, Sanford, Florida, in support of Claim for Increase in Benefits by Harriet Lightfoot. Veterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[27] General Affidavit, John Morague and A. S. Stokes, Sanford, Florida, in support of increase of pension benefits, Harriet Lightfoot. Veterans Application Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[28] Death Compensation or Pension Award Account Card, Payee: Harriet Lightfoot, Died 8-24-45. Veterans Administration Claim File XC2666685. Copy in possession of author.

[29] Silas Lightfoot (25 December 1844-25 March 1884). Find A Grave. Retrieved from: Findagrave.com

1891, the Year of the African American Woman Postmaster: Elinora Wilhelmina Farmer Walden of Strieby, Randolph County, North Carolina

Recently, I saw a Fb post noting that Minnie Cox, of Indianola, Mississippi, was the first African American woman postmaster. In searching for information on her, I learned that she was appointed by Benjamin Harrison in January 1891,[1] however, the town of Indianola made her life difficult, complete with death threats. Despite these difficulties, Cox was reappointed by McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. During her third term, as anti-black attitudes increased and her situation became increasingly dangerous, Cox attempted to resign. Teddy Roosevelt, who was now the President, refused her resignation, preferring to close the post office and reroute the mail to a different town rather than cave to the bigotry of Indianola.  Cox left town for her own safety. When the post office reopened, Cox did not return as the postmaster. She did return to Indianola, but never again as postmaster.[2] The story was compelling, but I was certain she was not the only African American woman postmaster from the time period. I had to check, but I knew that Elinora W. (Farmer) Walden had been postmaster in Strieby, Randolph County, North Carolina, in the same time period. I quickly looked it up.

I was right. Elinora Walden had been appointed in the same time period. In fact, she was appointed in May 1891, the same year as Minnie Cox.[3] Minnie may have been the first, but clearly President Harrison was willing to appoint others, like Elinora.

Elinora Wilhelmina Farmer Walden

Elinora Wilhelmina Farmer was born in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey 28 November 1857,[4] to John A. and Catherine Farmer.[5] Elinora was the oldest of seven siblings; she had one brother and five sisters. At this time, nothing is known about the specifics of her education, however, she went to Randolph County (NC) as a teacher indicating she probably had some formal training. In addition, she had been involved in a school program in New Brunswick.

1870 census john farmer family new brunswick nj
1870 Census, John Farmer Family, including daughters, Elinora and Phoebe Farmer, Newark, New Jersey

Elinora and her family were very likely members at historic Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in New Brunswick in 1827.[6] It was here that she probably met New Brunswick Theological Seminarian, (Alfred) Islay Walden.[7] Walden preached at the church at least occasionally, including just before his graduation at the end of June 1879.[8] Also, Elinora and her sister, Phoebe,[9] were involved apparently at the Students’ Mission, that Islay ran during his years at the seminary (1877-1879). They were most likely the E. Farmer and P. Farmer mentioned in an article about the mission that appeared in the New Brunswick Daily Times.[10]

The relationship with Walden very likely included writing letters (none of which are known to still exist) after he returned to southwestern Randolph County, in 1879, as a missionary with the American Missionary Association (AMA).[11] In 1880, Walden established the First Congregational Church of Randolph County and started a school in an area of the Uwharrie Mountains, called Hill Town because of the large number of Hill families living there, including Walden’s sister. He was also charged with leading a church called Salem, about eight miles away.[12] Having a partner for his life and mission must certainly have seemed appealing, because Walden returned to New Jersey in 1881 and married Elinora.[13] Elinora returned with Walden to Randolph County, becoming the Principal and primary teacher of the school. In addition to the typical academic subjects, Elinora worked with the youth, helping to develop their spiritual and prayer life.

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

In late 1882, or early 1883, Walden petitioned the federal government for a new post office to be placed in the community of Hill Town, which by then also had a general store. The post office would eliminate the long trip to the Lassiter’s Mill Post Office that had been serving the community. He also proposed that the new post office be known as “Strieby,” after the Rev. Dr. Strieby, Corresponding Secretary of the AMA, whom Walden admired.[14] The Post Office was established in 1883; Walden was the first Postmaster, appointed 31 May 1883. No longer known as Hill Town, the community would henceforth be known as Strieby, including the church and school, which became Strieby Congregational Church and School.

Walden’s tenure was short. The following 2 February 1884, he died from acute Bronchiteis (more likely pneumonia).[15] Elinora was widowed, in charge of the school, but the Rev. Zachariah Simmons came from Salem Church to be the pastor. Also coming to help her with the teaching was Henry Ruffin Walden, a cousin from neighboring Moore County and a student at Hampton College in the Normal program.[16] Though several years her junior, Elinora and Henry would marry on 13 December 1888.[17]  Henry would finish his studies at Hampton and return to Strieby to help Elinora with the teaching.

In 1890, Elinora’s sister Phoebe married Harris Dunson,[18] who lived in the nearby Lassiter Mill community, about three miles away, situated along the Uwharrie River. It seems likely that Phoebe helped with the school, which may have been the reason she came to Randolph County. She probably came to help her sister after the death of Islay Walden.

appointment of elinora w. walden as postmaster
Appointment of Elinora W. Walden as Postmaster, Strieby, Randolph County, North Carolina, 7 May 1891

On 7 May 1891, Elinora was appointed Postmaster at Strieby.[19] In a strange replay of the tenure of Islay Walden, Elinora died in February of 1892.[20] Having no children, Henry, as Administrator of her estate, distributed $400 to her sister, Phoebe Dunson.[21] She was buried in Strieby Church Cemetery alongside her first husband, Islay Walden.

figure 31-eleanora walden gravestone
Gravemarker of Elinora W. Walden, Strieby Church Cemetery, Randolph County, North Carolina. Photo by Margo Lee Williams

Elinora’s death was considered a terrible loss to the community, especially because a secondary school at Strieby, called Garfield Academy, with Elinora as Headmistress, seems to have been abandoned. The academy would have eliminated the necessity for students to leave home to attend boarding schools in order to further their education.  With Elinora’s death the secondary school was discontinued. There’s no written record this researcher has found to date that explains why.[22]

Henry Ruffin Walden who was teaching at Salem School, returned to Strieby to take over the School. Eventually, he would remarry. He married a teacher, Theodosia Hargraves,[23] who did not come from Randolph County. Henry and Theodosia would leave Strieby after a few years. Like his cousin, Islay, Henry would go on to become a Congregational minister, serving churches in Charlotte and High Point,[24] before dying in Winston Salem.[25]

A Final Thought

It Is remarkable that at a time when Jim Crow laws were becoming more prominent, when women and people of color could not vote, at least these two women, Minnie Cox and Elinora Walden were trusted with the authority of being Postmaster of their local post offices. I can’t help but suspect there were others whose names have been lost to history, but whose stories need to be told.

References

[1] U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 [database on-line]. Minnie M. Cox, appointed 16 Jan 1891, Indianola, Sunflower, Mississippi. Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971 Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] Boyd, D. and Chen, K. (2014). Minnie M Cox: A Postmaster’s Story. The History and Experience of African Americans in America’s Postal Service. Retrieved from: Smithsonian National Postal Museum

[3] U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 [database on-line]. Elinora W. Walden, appointed 7 May 1891, Strieby, Randolph, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] New Jersey, Births and Christenings Index, 1660-1931 [Database on-line]. Name: Farmer, Gender: Female; Father: John Farmer. Date: 28 Nov 1857, New Brunswick, Middlesex Co., New Jersey. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] 1870 US Federal Census; Census Place: Newark Ward 2, Essex, New Jersey; John Farmer, head; Elenora Farmer, age 11 [sic]. NARA Roll: M593-879; Page: 167B; Image: 339; Family History Library Film: 552378. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. (2015). Our History: About Us. Retrieved from: Mount Zion AME Church

[7] NBTS Anti-Racism Transformation Team. (25 February 2016). Slavery, Justice, and New Brunswick Theological Seminary: First African American Graduates. New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Retrieved from: New Brunswick Theological Seminary

[8] The Daily Times. (30 June 1879). City Matters. (New Brunswick, NJ), 3. Retrieved from:New Brunswick Free Public Library

[9] 1870 US Federal Census; Census Place: Newark Ward 2, Essex, New Jersey; John A. Farmer, head; Phebe A. Farmer, age 4. NARA Roll: M593-879; Page: 167B; Image: 339; Family History Library Film: 552378. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] The Daily Times. (3 January 1879 & 4 January 1879). Shoes for the Poor. (New Brunswick, NJ), 3. Retrieved from: New Brunswick Free Public Library

[11] 1880 US Federal Census; Census Place: Union, Randolph, North Carolina; Islay Walden, Boarder. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 196C; Enumeration District: 224; Image: 0683. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[12] Williams, M. L. (2016). Return to Hill Town. 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. 81-88.

[13] New Jersey, Marriage Records, 1670-1965 [Database on-line]. Alfred I. Walden and Elenor W. Farmer, married: 18 May 1881, New Brunswick, Middlesex, New Jersey. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[14] Williams, M. L. (2016). Return to Hill Town. 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. 90-91.

[15] National Council. (1885). Vital Statistics.  The Congregational Yearbook, 1885. (Boston: Congregational Publishing Society) Volume 7:37. Retrieved from: Google Books

[16] Williams, M. L. (2016). A Widow Carries On. 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. 93-94.

[17] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. H. R. Walden and Eleanor W. Walden, married: 13 Dec 1888, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[18] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Harris Dunson and Phoebe Farmer, married 3 Apr 1890, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[19] U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 [database on-line]. Elinora W. Walden, appointed 7 May 1891, Strieby, Randolph, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[20] American Missionary Association (AMA). (1892). Obituary: Mrs. Henry R. Walden. The American Missionary, 46(3):91. Retrieved from: Google Books

[21] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. Administrators Bonds, Henry R. Walden, Administrator; Estate of Elinora W. Walden. Probate date: 17 Feb 1892, Randolph County Court. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[22] Williams, M. L. (2016). A Widow Carries On. 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. 96.

[23] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Henry R. Walden and Theodosia E. Hargrave, married:11 Sep 1898, Randolph County. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[24] Williams, M. L. (2016). A Widow Carries On. 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. 96-98.

[25] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1976 [Database on-line]. Rev. Henry Ruffin Walden, date of death: 20 Jan 1951. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

 

Lindsey Ingraham’s Trail of Tears

Recently, I had the good fortune to speak with a family elder, Carlotta, with whom I had never spoken previously. In fact, I had only learned of her existence about a year before. She is in her eighties, with a mind that is sharp and she has family memories of which I had no knowledge. She is descended from my 2nd great grandmother’s sister, Mary Adelaide Dunson, who was married to a man named Solomon Kearns.[1] While talking to Carlotta during the Christmas holiday season, she began to tell me a story about Solomon’s father, whom she identified as “Lin Ingram.” I had seen his name before, but had not heard anything about him, nor could I find him in the 1870 census in Randolph County, North Carolina or after. Solomon’s mother Lydia or “Lettie” Kearns had children with another man, Noah Carter beginning around 1860, so I had assumed Lin had died. Carlotta told a different story.

Marriage License of Solomon Kearns and Fannie Brite

Marriage License of Solomon Kearns and Fannie Brite

Carlotta explained that Lin had been enslaved. He heard that he and others were going to be sold away from Randolph County. He was determined that it would not come to pass. Carlotta said he fought back when they tried to take him away. She said he fought hard. At some point his owner supposedly said that he had fought hard and he could see he was tired. The owner said that Lin should take a rest, it would be alright. Carlotta said that when Lin laid down to rest, the owner sent his men in to overcome Len, shackling him and leading him away. According to Carlotta, young Solomon watched as his father was led away. He reportedly told his children later that Lin kept trying to look back, as though to try to capture the memory of his family, understanding he might never see them again in life.

Lin was transported to Louisiana. He was part of what is now being called “Slavery’s Trail of Tears.”[2] It would have been a difficult and arduous journey on foot from the North Carolina Piedmont, through the Appalachians, south to Louisiana. Carlotta said that he did come home to Randolph County after the end of the Civil War and Emancipation. However, he didn’t stay. He went back to Louisiana, never to be heard from again. I wondered what happened to him.

Lindsey Ingraham, 1870 Census, LaFourche, Louisiana
Lindsey Ingraham, 1870 Census, LaFourche, Louisiana

It didn’t take long to locate Lin in Louisiana, under the name of Lindsay Ingraham, from North Carolina. That was the name found on a marriage record for Solomon and his first wife, Fanny Brite (Bright).[3] In 1870, Lin was living in a town called Raceland, in LaFourche County.[4] He was married to a woman named Mary. They had three children, Thomas, Clementine, and Randolph Ingraham. Unlike his children in North Carolina (Clarkson, Solomon, Sarah, Vinis, and Mariam), who went by the surname Kearns, their mother’s maiden name, Lin’s children in Louisiana used the Ingraham name. By looking at the birthdate of his presumed youngest daughter in North Carolina, Mariam,[5] the oldest of his children, Thomas, in Louisiana, it appears that he was transported to Louisiana between 1850 and 1854. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate the family in the 1880 census. Since Lin and Mary cannot be found on the 1900 census either, it appears both may have died before 1900. Additionally, neither Thomas nor Randolph has been found in the census after 1870.  On the other hand, daughter Clementine has been identified from 1900[6] until her death in 1934.[7]

Clementine married Alfred Mack in 1894.[8] However, it appears their relationship had begun years before. Their first child is recorded as born in 1879.[9] There is no evidence that Alfred Mack had been married before Clementine. Together, Alfred and Clementine had ten children: Albert, Louis, Rebecca, Clara, Horace, Morris, Ressie, Lawles, Yulus, and Muriel.[10] Clementine died in 1934;[11] Alfred died in 1957.[12]

References

[1] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Solomon Kearns and Adelaide Dunson, 17 Apr 1890, Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] Ball, Edward. (2018). Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from: Smithsonian Magazine on-line.

[3] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Solomon Kearns and Fanny Brite, 10 Apr 1886, Cabarrus County, North Carolina; Father: Lindsy Ingram; Mother: Lydia Kearns. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] 1870 US Federal Census; Ward 4, Lafourche County, Louisiana; Lindsay Ingraham, head; born: North Carolina. NARA Roll: M593-516; Page: 469B; Family History Library Film: 552015. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] 1880 US Federal Census, Tabernacle, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Luther, head; Mary A. [sic], wife. NARA Roll: 978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page: 67D; Enumeration District: 214. Mariam “Emma” Kearns Luther died before death certificates were mandated in North Carolina. There is also no information about parents on her marriage records. However, she names at least two of her children after siblings who can be identified as the children of Lydia Kearns, including Solomon, before Lindsay is presumed to have been sold. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] 1900 US Federal Census, Police Jury Ward 10, Lafourche County, Louisiana; Page 3. Alfred Mack, head; Clementine Mack, wife. Enumeration District: 0036; NARA T623; FHL microfilm: 1240567. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[7] Louisiana, Statewide Death Index, 1819-1964 [database on-line]. Clementine I. Mack, died 25 Oct 1934, LaFourche County, Louisiana. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] Louisiana, Compiled Marriage Index, 1718-1925 [Database on-line]. Clementine Ingraham and Alfred Mack, married 10 Sep 1894, LaFourche County, Louisiana. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] 1900 US Federal Census, Police Jury Ward 10, Lafourche County, Louisiana; Page 3. Alfred Mack, head; Albert Mack, son, born Jul 1879. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] 1900 US Federal Census, Police Jury Ward 10, Lafourche County, Louisiana; Page 3. Alfred Mack, head. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com 

See also: 1910 US Federal Census, Police Jury Ward 10, Lafourche County, Louisiana; Albert Mack, head. NARA Roll: T624-517; Page: 32A; Enumeration District: 0048; FHL microfilm: 1374530. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] Louisiana, Statewide Death Index, 1819-1964 [database on-line].  Clementine I. Mack, died 25 Oct 1934, LaFourche County, Louisiana. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[12] Louisiana, Statewide Death Index, 1819-1964 [database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Alfred Mack, died 27 Jan 1957, LaFourche County, Louisiana. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

#52Ancestors – (35) Back to School: Uharie Freedmen’s School

Uharie District Payment - Freedmen's Bureau
Freedmen’s Bureau record of payment for a school.

Not too long ago, a friend and supporter, Marvin T. Jones (Chowan Discovery Group, Inc.), was researching Freedmen’s Education records in an effort to identify the involvement of members of his community of Winton Triangle in Hertford County, North Carolina. He was reviewing receipts for monies received for rent or other supplies that were signed by Winton Triangle residents when he began to notice receipts referencing both Asheboro and “Uharie.” He downloaded copies and forwarded them to me. I noticed that receipts referencing “Uharie,” were signed by “A. O. Hill.”  I was not surprised to learn there was a school in Asheboro, but the school in Uharie (as it was spelled on the receipts) I did not know about. That school was of great interest to me.

Uharie School Receipt
Uharie District School Receipt signed by A. O. Hill

Uharie

While researching reports of the American Missionary Association (AMA) for my book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Associaion in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Backintyme Publishing, Inc., 2016), I came across a reference to a school already existing in the Uwharrie area when the Rev. Islay Walden returned to the area after graduation from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey. I knew from my research that the nearby Quaker community had run a school in the area. I thought the reference in the American Missionary was to that school, but that school was further up the road, closer to the old Uwharrie Friends Meeting House. On the other hand, this Freedmen’s school seems to have been in the Uwharrie, possibly in the area called Hill Town. It may have been the basis of a public school referenced in the article.[1]

Priscilla Mahockley Hill
Priscilla Mahockley Hill, 1792-1911

Hill Town was said to be called such because of the large number of Hill family members that lived there. Most people have believed that it referred to the descendants of Ned Hill and his wife, Priscilla Mahockley Hill. However, there were also white Hills who lived in the area and A. O. Hill was one of them. Was there a connection between A. O. Hill and those people of color who lived in the Hill Town area of the Uwharrie that would have predisposed him to take responsibility for the school?

Uharie School receipt 2
Receipt signed by A. O. Hill for Uharie School District

“A. O. Hill” was Aaron Orlando Hill, born about 1840, son of Aaron Orlando Hill, Sr. and Miriam Thornburg, Aaron Sr.’s second wife. Aaron Sr. can be found on the 1840,[2] 1850,[3] and 1860[4] censuses. He died in 1863. Ned Hill was a free person of color also known to be living in the area. However, he could not be found any further back than 1850. Since the 1840 census only lists heads of families and enumerates others in the household, including any free people of color and slaves, it was very likely that Ned and his family were living in someone else’s household. The most likely places to look were the homes of any Hill families living in the area. They could have been living in some other family’s home, but the logical place to start was with Hill family members. After researching each of the families, it turned out that the only Hill family with free people of color living with them was Aaron Orlando Hill Sr.[5]

Uharie School receipt 3
Uharie District School Receipt signed by A. O. Hill

The Aaron Hill family were Quakers. It seems reasonable that he would have free people of color living with him. Ned’s family originally may have been slaves of Aaron’s parents, before Quakers condemned slavery and began freeing their slaves as well as helping slaves of non-Quakers to gain their freedom.  There were six free people of color living in Aaron’s household. Ned and Priscilla had four known children living at the time of the 1840 census (Nathan, Charity, Calvin, and Emsley),[6] which would equal six individuals. As stated above, Aaron’s was the only Hill household with any free people of color. While currently not proven beyond any doubt, the evidence supports the probability that these six people were Ned and his family. Certainly, such a close relationship and his Quaker background could have predisposed the younger Aaron to be willing to take responsibility for the Freedmen’s school that served the Uwharrie community.

Uharie School receipt 4
Signed Receipt by A. O. Hill for Uharie School District

By the time the Rev. Islay Walden had returned to the community in 1880, to begin his missionary work and start a school under the auspices of the American Missionary Association (AMA), Hill Town and the neighboring Lassiter Mill community were already primed to want a school and the educational opportunities it would bring. It was a logical next step to build their own school with the help of the AMA. Thus, Hill Town, which would later become Strieby, apparently already had a strong tradition of education by the time Walden returned, making them eager to have a school over which they could exercise leadership and direction for the first time. The Uwharrie Friends School and the Freedmen’s School had prepared them for this.

Aaron O Hill Tombstone-2
Aaron Orlando Hill Tombstone Retrieved from Find a Grave.

Aaron Hill did not remain in Randolph County. By the time Islay Walden was actively building the church and school in Hill Town, Aaron had moved to Carthage, in Rush County, Indiana, where many other Quakers, including several of his old neighbors from Randolph County, had moved. He died there in 1926.[7]

 Endnotes

[1] Roy, J. E. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary, 33(11), 334-335. Retrieved from: Project Gutenberg

[2] 1840 US Federal Census, South Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 77; Image: 160; Family History Library Film: 0018097.  Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] 1850 US Federal Census, Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head, Dwelling 895, Family 814. NARA Roll: M432-641; Page: 135A; Line 19; Image: 276. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] 1860 US Federal Census; Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. Dwelling, 1230; Family 1214. NARA Roll: M653-910; Page: 221; Line 11; Image: 446; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] 1840 US Federal Census, South Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 77; Image: 160; Family History Library Film: 0018097.  Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Williams, M. L. (2016). Descendants of Edward and Priscilla Hill: Generation 1 (pp. 163-172). 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 Inc.).

[7] Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 [Database on-line], Aaron Orlando Hill, died: 27 Mar 1926, as cited in Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1926 – 1927; Roll: 05. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

 

#52Ancestors – (30) The very colorful Harvey

Harvey Scott Williams
Harvey Scott Williams (1927-1987), Courtesy of Keith Williams

Harvey was an artist, and colorful. He loved to have a good time. “Party Hardy” could easily have been his personal motto. He was also my brother. We were half siblings. He was the younger of two sons of our father from his first marriage, I was the only child of our father’s second marriage. Thus, there was a twenty-year difference between Harvey and me.

L-R_ Robert Arthur Williams, Harvey Scott Williams (2)

Harvey was born in September 1927, in New Jersey, to Herbert Randell Williams and Emma (Scott) Williams. He was their second son. An older child, Robert Arthur Williams was born to them in 1925.[1] By the time he was ready to go to High School, his parents were divorced, and our father had remarried.[2] All lived in New York City.

Harvey showed early interest and talent in art.  Harvey’s talents were sufficient for him to be accepted at New York’s High School of Music and Art. Unfortunately, graduation did not see him launched into a career in art. By that time, the United States was involved in World War II. He and his brother both joined the military; Harvey joined the army.[3]

Towards the end of the war, Harvey married a young woman, Elizabeth “Betty” Butler, whose father ran a successful funeral home business in Harlem.[4] By 1946, they welcomed their only son together, Keith Van Williams.[5] However, the marriage didn’t last long.

Keith Williams, Renee Williams, Margo Williams
Keith Williams, the late Renee Williams (daughter of Robert), & Margo Williams

By 1951, Harvey began taking classes at the Art Students League in New York. Since he had to work a regular job and he was now a single parent, he took classes on Saturdays. It appears from his records that his formal classes focused on painting the human figure.  I remember him taking me (sometimes along with our father) to visit his classes. Both he and our brother loved to see if they could elicit some level of shock; they especially liked to upset my mother (she was an easy mark). In this case, he took a certain pleasure in taking us to see his classes devoted to the human figure by drawing and painting nudes. Of course, once you visited a classroom of nudes, it was done. I’m sure I was fascinated the first time, after all, there was an entire room of nude individuals, but after that, it was not new and no longer novel. It was just a room full of nude individuals who all had to sit still so that the students could create their paintings. I suspect my mother wasn’t thrilled that he took me there, but my father was there, which I’m sure ultimately was the key. Although I’m sure there were interesting discussions behind closed doors. What I do remember about visiting the classroom on several occasions is that some of the students weren’t very good.

Harvey felt that mastering the human figure, especially hands, was important to overall perfection of technique as an artist regardless of chosen artistic style of preference.  I remember from conversations we had when he visited that he made a point of learning about the anatomy of the human body, particularly the musculo-skeletal details. Although portrait painting was not his preference, he understood that it could bring income, and I note that his subjects always seemed to be painted with depth, color, and dimension that remind me of Renaissance painters, but they are not in true Renaissance style .

Keith Williams by Harvey 1957
Keith Williams by Harvey, 1957

Two portraits that would have special meaning for our family were painted in 1957 and 1958. In 1957, he painted a portrait of his son, dressed in Native American regalia (not authentic) designed from his imagination (and created by his then wife), on an imaginary background.

In 1958, he painted a portrait of me, seated on the piano bench in front of my piano, in our living room. It was intended as a birthday gift for our father and was arranged between Harvey and my mother. Since I got out of school at noon on Fridays, he came Friday afternoons for about seven or eight weeks to work on the painting. I have no recollection what he did with the wet canvas each week while it dried. It obviously couldn’t stay at our house lest our father see it. The portrait was unveiled at a family birthday celebration. I don’t think it was the same day, but shortly thereafter that he brought the portrait of his son, Keith, and gave it to our father. They  hung in our living room until I sold our home after my mother’s death. What I remember most about these and most of his paintings were the rich, vivid colors that he chose. However, it was not those paintings or that style of art that would bring him fame.

Margo Williams painted by Harvey 1958.JPG
Margo Williams by Harvey, 1958

Although his student records show that Harvey focused on the human figure,  His principal instructor was an artist who had other interests and undoubtedly had a strong influence on Harvey’s favorite style of painting, surrealism. His instructor was the internationally known Ernest Feine (1894-1965). Feine was considered a graphic artist primarily, producing prints and lithographs. As far as I know, Harvey produced exclusively oil paintings. Feine’s style of art was decidedly modern and at least one biography states that “Ernest Feine’s artwork often focused on bringing out the humanity of a space while simultaneously deconstructing it into abstract shapes.”[6] Harvey relied more on the symbolism of shapes. It seems to me that he pointed his viewer in a direction, but the sparseness of his symbols invited the viewer to ultimately make the journey his/her own. Thus, I see Feine’s influence, but ultimately, they were very different artists.

Harvey student records Art Students League
Harvey’s student records at Art Students League, 1951-1963, courtesy of Robert Rogers, Baylor University

Around 1961, Harvey began a relationship with someone who would help bring him fame. Although the economy was different then, it cannot be said that Harvey received any truly significant remuneration for his work. He would receive $25 per painting to create works that could be produced as record album covers, specifically, gospel record album covers. The company that contracted with him was Savoy Records (and affiliates), headed by Herman Lubinsky, whose grandson, T. J. Lubinsky, is well known for his “My Music” shows on public television, featuring virtually every era of music.

Elete Jubilee Singers - Regent 6107 - eBay
Gospel Album Cover by Harvey, as seen on Ebay. Courtesy of John Glassburner.

Harvey’s cover art was so successful and, I know now, so different from anything that had been seen on gospel album covers previously that his covers became important components of the albums.[7] Notably, these covers in his surrealist style, used vivid colors and sparse but strong religious symbolism. I once asked his son whether Harvey was a gospel music fan, because I did not remember him being particularly religious. Keith said, no, he was a classical music fan, and no, he was not religious. I find it interesting that someone who never discussed religion and wasn’t a fan of gospel music could produce such spiritually evocative artwork. Clearly, there was a side of Harvey we saw but didn’t recognize.

Harvey would occasionally drop by on a Friday or Saturday afternoon to show us the latest cover. What I don’t think any of us realized was that Harvey had produced over two hundred covers, including some for jazz artists such as Coltrane. Harvey would produce album covers for Savoy until about 1969.[8] I don’t know what ended the relationship. What I do know is that the original canvases were not kept.

Icarus by Harvey.JPG
Icarus by Harvey, owned by Margo Williams

Harvey had other art success during those years. He was a regular exhibitor at the Greenwich Village Art Festival. My family and I would usually try to go to see his work. Most of his canvases were surrealist, but he also had some landscapes. I don’t remember any nudes.  He always sold out. I also remember that he had a one man show at a Madison Avenue art gallery. It was upstairs over another shop. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of that gallery. However, in 1959, he received a Ceceile Award and his works were on exhibit at the Ceceile Gallery on West 56th St., in New York. [9]

 

Harvey & father with painting - George Korval (2)
As seen in Pittsburgh Courier, July 1959, courtesy of George Korval and John Glassburner. Proper name of painting is Gift of the Magi.

Harvey would also begin teaching classes on Saturdays at the Art Students League. Once again, I would visit the school and meet some of his students. By this time, I was in high school and Harvey was willing to take me along on some informal social gatherings at a popular restaurant called The West End on occasion. He would also pick me up sometimes to go see his son Keith in school football games. Unfortunately, a disagreement with my mother put an end to those activities. I learned later that Harvey was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis and would be forced to give up his art. He could no longer hold his brushes.

By 1964, I was off to college in the Midwest. I did not have any ongoing interactions again until the late 1970s when our father was ill. I know my father saw him regularly, usually meeting up with him for lunch where he worked, and he may have dropped by the house briefly to say hello, but I didn’t see him.

I would see Harvey for the last time at our father’s funeral in 1982. Although he sat with the rest of the family in the church, he did not go with us to the cemetery. I never spoke with him that day. My mother and I arrived at the church and we were immediately gathered for the procession into the church. Upon leaving, my mother and I went straight to the limousine, but Harvey, Keith, and Keith’s wife, Lucille left. I never spoke to him again, although I believe my mother did hear from him occasionally. One afternoon in 1987, my mother called me in Maryland where I was living to tell me that Harvey had died. I wish we had had another opportunity to interact, to find a new, more forgiving relationship. Such is life. Harvey is buried at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island (New York).[10]

Fortunately, after several years, Keith, his family, and I rekindled our relationship. We noted that we did not know what had become of Harvey’s canvases, meaning his oil paintings. We each searched on-line for any hints, but nothing seemed to show up. Then one evening, Keith called to say his daughter, Kahlil, had found something about Harvey. He said he would send me the link right then. It was the link to Harvey, at harveyalbums.com.[11] What a shock! Harvey was a cult figure! It said his album covers were coveted around the world.  It also said no one knew who Harvey was. It was even speculated that Harvey was a pseudonym, possibly even for Lubinsky himself! Both Keith and I quickly wrote corrections in the comments. He commented that Harvey was his father; I commented that I was Harvey’s sister. With that, we began an email relationship with the website’s owner, John Glassburner, leading to others who have expressed new, renewed, or increased interest in his album covers, as well as his canvases. In fact, we’ve been able to be in contact with several individuals who had purchased his oil paintings in the past. I’m thrilled to know that his work will not end in oblivion.

Endnotes

[1] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, New York, New York; Emma Williams, head; Robert Williams, son, age 14; Harvey Williams, son, age 12. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02671; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 31-1947B. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, Bronx, New York; Herbert Williams, head; Margaret Williams, wife. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02467; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 3-272B. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] National Cemetery Administration. (2006). Harvey Williams, death: 24 Jan 1987. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 [Database on-line]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] 1940 US Federal Census: New York, New York, New York; Leroy Butler, head, funeral home owner; Betty, daughter, age 11. NARA Roll: M-T0627-02664; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 31-1701. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] New York, New York, Birth Index, 1910-1965 [database on-line]. Keith Williams, 15 Oct 1946. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Brand-Fisher, S. (n.d.). Ernest Feine (1894-1965): Biography. The Caldwell Gallery. Retrieved from: http:// www.caldwellgallery.com.

[7] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from: www.harveyalbums.com

[8] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from: www.harveyalbums.com

[9] Prize Winner. (July [illegible] 1959). Pittsburgh Courier. Retrieved from: http://fultonhistory.com

[10] National Cemetery Administration. (2006). Harvey Williams, death: 24 Jan 1987. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 [Database on-line]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] Glassburner, J. (2010). Harvey. Retrieved from: www.harveyalbums.com