#52Ancestors – Where there’s a will…

[O]r even where’s there is none, there is a lot of information to learn.  In African American research, finding enslaved ancestors before 1865, usually requires research into the potential slave owner’s records, of which the probate records are particularly useful.  Such was the case when I was attempting to determine the relationship between “Maria Green,” my great grandfather’s (Randel Farnell) mother, and her likely owners.

Randel Farnell
Randel Farnell

I had learned Maria’s name from my great grandfather’s death certificate;[1] I also had some oral family history. The oral history said that he had a half-brother, who was white, named “Gus Farnell.” It also mentioned another half-brother, this one a person of color, named Henry. Randel’s death certificate named “Jack Farnell,” as his father.[2] Finding documented relationships among all these individuals would hopefully lead to the name of Maria’s owner, as well as confirm family oral history.

Doc C-Randel Farnell DC
Randel Farnell Death Certificate

My great grandfather’s 1928 death certificate said he was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia. However, my great grandfather lived much of his life in Florida. From 1880 to 1920, he can be found listed in the census in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida.[3]  In 1870, he was living in Lake City, in neighboring Columbia County.[4] There were several white Farnell family groups in Columbia County at that time as well, but no “Gus.” In 1860, John, Daniel, and James Farnell, along with their probable families were living in Hamilton County, which is just north of Suwannee County.[5],[6] Georgia was the place of birth recorded.  In James Farnell’s household a Mary, and an Augustus were recorded. He was a potential candidate for the “Gus” in our family’s oral history. In 1850, only James Farnell and his family were found in Hamilton County.[7] The others were found in Dooly County, Georgia, a neighboring county to Pulaski.

When looking in the 1840 census for Pulaski County, Georgia, where Hawkinsville is the county seat, I found the James Farnell family.[8] There was an older enslaved woman and an enslaved child included in the enumeration. This would have been before my great grandfather was born. Farnell was a singular surname in Pulaski County. The only person identified as old enough to be James’ father in earlier censuses was Elisha Farnell. I surmised that somewhere in the records of either Elisha or James, or both, I would find information about Maria.

I had seen Elisha’s name in an on-line tax record dated 1818.[9] According to it he was a substantial landowner with 24 enslaved persons. The 1820 census recorded 26 enslaved persons.[10] He was not found in any census records after 1820. Turning to the minutes of the Court of the Ordinary, I was able to determine that Elisha died sometime before May 1823. Knowing that he had married a second wife, Priscilla Biggs, in February of 1823,[11] it could be determined that he had died sometime between February and May 1823. In May, a probate was opened, but there was no will. Elisha had died intestate. On 6 May, Letters of Administration were issued with the posting of a bond in the extraordinary sum of $30,000.[12]

005778373_00365 (2)
Elisha Farnell Letters of Administration

Regardless of the existence of a will, property and debts must be addressed. One of the first acts of the probate is to inventory the property. Included in Elisha’s inventory were the enslaved. On the inventory was an enslaved girl, “Mareah, $325.”[13] That confirmed that a Maria/Mareah was owned by Elisha.

005778373_00390 (2)
Elisha Farnell Inventory

Now I needed to link her to James, and thereby to Augustus “Gus.” To do that I looked for the final distribution of the estate. In the distribution, Elisha’s widow Priscilla, and his supposed children, Mary, William, Benjamin, Daniel, John and James, are mentioned. Each, as part of the distribution, received one or more enslaved persons. James received “Mareah.”[14] His brother John received another female enslaved person in the distribution, a girl named Fanny.[15] That was interesting because Randel’s reported other, half-brother, Henry Farnell’s mother was listed in the 1880 Suwannee County census as Fanny Fuller, “widow,” born in Georgia.[16] They were both persons of color.

Doc B3-Division of Elisha Farnell estate Mariah to James Image 377
Elisha Farnell Distribution of Estate: Maria & Fanny

With the advent of the Civil War, Gus would serve as a musician with the Confederate Army.[17] He was captured and held at the prison in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia. He was released after taking an oath of allegiance 24 June 1865.[18]  His father James, would also see active duty, he died from gunshot wounds in a hospital in Winchester, Virginia.[19] What happened to James’ wife, Mary? It is assumed she died since she is not found in census or other records identified after the war was over. After the war Gus returned to Hamilton County, where he could be found marrying Mary Johns in 1867,[20] then again in 1870 to Georgia Vincent Goodbread, most likely in Columbia County where she lived.[21]  However, he was found living alone in Orange County in the 1870 census.[22] He would marry a third and final time in 1874 to Nancy Elizabeth “Nelly” Wheeler in Orange County.[23] He died in 1911, in Oviedo, Seminole County (formerly Orange County), Florida.[24]

Augustus P Farnell Confederate Jacket
Confederate Jacket of Augustus P. Farnell

What about Maria and Randel? Maria was found with her presumed husband, Frank Green, in the 1870 census in the Lake City area of Columbia County,[25] where Randel had also been found. Randel was listed with his wife, Sallie (Sallie Jacobs). There were four children named in the household, Anna, Richard, Maryland, and Joshua R.[26] My grandmother Lela wasn’t born yet; she wasn’t born until 1876.

Sallie Jacobs
Sallie Jacobs Farnell

About 1877, Randel and his family moved to Suwannee County, where his wife Sallie’s parents and siblings were living, coincidentally next to my paternal Williams great grandparents and grandfather in 1870.[27] Randel and family, including my grandmother Lela,[28] along with Henry and his mother could be found on the 1880 census living there.[29] Randel would apply for and acquire property in Live Oak, the county seat, through the Homestead Act.[30]

RHUSA2007B_FL0750-00489
Randel Farnell Homestead Certificate

He would raise his family in Live Oak, including my grandmother Lela, eventually dying there in 1928.[31]

Lela Virginia Farnell
Lela Virginia Farnell Williams

Thus, the probate of Elisha Farnell has established that a girl Mareaha (Maria) was listed among his enslaved property on his death. Additionally, there was a girl named Fannie on the inventory. Mareaha was distributed to James and Fannie to John. They were Elisha’s presumed children, based on the distribution, even though not explicitly so designated. James had a son Augustus, presumably the same “Gus,” that Randel’s family said was his half-brother. Fannie was presumed to be the same Fannie, who was mother of Henry, another half-brother, but more likely his cousin. Thus, even without a will, I was able to establish a relationship between my great grandfather, his mother Maria, his half-brother Gus, Gus’s father James, and finally to James’ father, Elisha Farnell.

[1] Florida Death Index, 1877-1998 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Randel Farnell, 1928. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7338/VRDUSAFL1877_0802-0043?pid=5021868&backurl=https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv%3D1%26dbid%3D7338%26h%3D5021868%26ssrc%3Dpt%26tid%3D66453873%26pid%3D36156388330%26usePUB%3Dtrue&ssrc=pt&treeid=66453873&personid=36156388330&hintid=&usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true

[2] Florida State Certificate of Death, Live Oak Suwannee County. Certificate No. 16372. Randel Farnell, 27 Oct 1928. Certified original in possession of the author.

[3] 1880 US Federal Census; Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida. Randel Farnell, head. NARA Roll: 132; Family History Film: 1254132; Page: 282A; Enumeration District: 145; See also: 1900 US Federal Census; Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida; Randel Farnell, head. NARA Roll: 177; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 0109; FHL microfilm: 1240177. See also: 1910 US Federal Census; Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida; Randell Farnell, head; NARA Roll: T624-168; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 0148; FHL microfilm: 1374181. See also: 1920 US Federal Census; Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida; Randel Farnell, head. NARA Roll: T625-231; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 149; Image: 783.

[4] 1870 US Federal Census; Columbia, Florida; NARA Roll: M593_128; Page: 396A; Image: 799; Family History Library Film: 545627. Randel Farnell, head (barely legible). Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263354_00799/2270561?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156388330/facts/citation/221436181427/edit/record

[5] 1860 US Federal Census; Hamilton, Florida; NARA Roll: M653-107; Page: 623; Image: 63; Family History Library Film: 803107. John Farnell, head; Daniel Farnell, head. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4211366_00063/10590249?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36265394957/facts/citation/221964730387/edit/record

[6] 1860 US Federal Census; Hamilton, Florida; NARA Roll: M653_107; Page: 580; Image: 20; Family History Library Film: 803107. James Farnell, head. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4211366_00020/10587170?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400968/facts/citation/221528135693/edit/record

[7] 1850 Us Federal Census; District 1, Hamilton, Florida; NARA Roll: M432-58; Page: 226B; Image: 445. James Farnell, head. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4193083-00445/18449607?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400968/facts/citation/222369565079/edit/record

 

[8] 1840 US Federal Census; Captain Baldwind’s District, Pulaski, Georgia; Roll: 49; Page: 172; Family History Library Film: 0007046. James Farnell, head. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8057/4185983_00353/1832324?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400968/facts/citation/960340791792/edit/record

[9] Some early tax digests of Georgia, Pulaski County, 1818 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell. Retrieved from: Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/25650/dvm_LocHist010509-00060-1/78?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156402732/facts/citation/222332731361/edit/record

[10] 1820 US Federal Census; Pulaski, Georgia; Page: 67; NARA Roll: M33-9; Image: 107. Elisha Farnell, head. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7734/4433224_00107/1480873?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156402732/facts/citation/221436747163/edit/record

[11] Georgia, Marriage Records from Select Counties, 1828-1978 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell and Priscilla Biggs, 6 Feb 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/4766/40660_307945-00020/926612?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156402732/facts/citation/221962935325/edit/record

[12] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell, Letters of Administration, 6 May 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8635/005778373_00377#?imageId=005778373_00365

[13] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell, Inventory, 22 Dec 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8635/005778373_00377#?imageId=005778373_00390

[14] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell, Final Distribution of the Estate, 30 Dec 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8635/005778373_00377#?imageId=005778373_00377

[15] Georgia, Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Elisha Farnell, Final Distribution of the Estate, 30 Dec 1823. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8635/005778373_00377#?imageId=005778373_00377

[16] 1880 US Federal Census; Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida; NARA Roll: 132; Family History Film: 1254132; Page: 287A; Enumeration District: 145; Image: 0340. Henry Farnell, birthplace, Florida; Frances fuller, mother, birthplace, Georgia. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4240124-00340/5113466?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/330004895943/facts/citation/960023926435/edit/record

[17] U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Augustus Farnell, Musician (Fifth Infantry), Enlisted 14 Mar 1862, Jasper (Hamilton County), Florida. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2322&h=119118767&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36265288846&usePUB=true

[18] U.S., Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. A. P. Farnell, Confederate, 5th Infantry. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1124/M598_107-0072/644879?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36265288846/facts/citation/960026071717/edit/record

[19] U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. James Farnell, Confederate, Private, F Company, 5th Infantry; Survived the war: no; Mustered out 15 Oct 1862, Winchester, VA. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=1555&h=425480&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36156400968&usePUB=true; See also: Compiled Service Records, Confederate States Army, [Public Photo on-line]. Ancestry.com. James Farnell, 16 Oct 1862, “Died from a Winchester gun wound.” Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/tree/66453873/person/36156400968/media/acd3f9c2-24c6-48d5-9083-02693855c18b?usePUBJs=true

[20] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Augustus P. Farnell and Mary I. T. Johns, 1867. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7836&h=398880&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36265288846&usePUB=true

[21] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Augustus P Farnell and Georgia Vincent [sic], 1870. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7836&h=398881&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36265288846&usePUB=true

[22] 1870 US Federal Census; Division 17, Orange, Florida; A. P. Farnell, head. NARA Roll: M593-33; Page: 438A; Image: 11; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263359_00011/3446040?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36265288846/facts/citation/223425741958/edit/record

[23] U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Augustus P Farnell and Nancy Elizabeth Wheeler, 1879. Retrieved from: https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7836&h=398882&ssrc=pt&tid=66453873&pid=36265288846&usePUB=true

[24] Find A Grave [Database on-line]. Augustus P. Farnell, 5 Mar 1911, Oviedo Cemetery, Memorial 31836248. Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/31836248

[25] 1870 US Federal Census; Columbia, Florida; Frank Green head; Maria Green, age 40. NARA Roll: M593-128; Page: 383A; Image: 773; Family History Library Film: 545627. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263354_00773/13827089?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156401066/facts/citation/221868130047/edit/record

[26] 1870 US Federal Census; Columbia, Florida; NARA Roll: M593_128; Page: 396A; Image: 799; Family History Library Film: 545627. Randel Farnell, head (barely legible). Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263354_00799/2270561?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156388330/facts/citation/221436181427/edit/record

[27] 1870 US Federal Census; Subdivision 9, Suwannee, Florida; William Jacobs, head. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 686A; Image: 507; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4263359_00507/448439?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400719/facts/citation/221857436539/edit/record

[28] 1880 US Federal Census; Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida. Randel Farnell, head. NARA Roll: 132; Family History Film: 1254132; Page: 282A; Enumeration District: 145. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4240124-00330/3564452?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156388413/facts/citation/221436181735/edit/record#?imageId=4240124-00330

[29] 1880 US Federal Census; Precinct 1, Suwannee, Florida; Henry Farnell, birthplace, Florida; Frances fuller, mother, birthplace, Georgia. NARA Roll: 132; Family History Film: 1254132; Page: 287A; Enumeration District: 145; Image: 0340. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4240124-00340/5113466?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/330004895943/facts/citation/960023926435/edit/record

[30] Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA; Federal Land Patents, State Volumes, Randel Farnell, Gainesville Land Office, Documents 4776 & 5637, Suwannee County, Florida, Issue Date 10 Feb 1885. Retrieved from: https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=FL0750__.489&docClass=STA&sid=x3bedxve.zyx

[31] Florida State Certificate of Death, Live Oak Suwannee County. Certificate No. 16372. Randel Farnell, 27 Oct 1928. Certified original in possession of the author.

 

Advertisements

#52Ancestors – Heirloom: The Autograph Book

Autograph Book Cover
The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell

On several occasions  people have said to me that no one really pushed them to go to college, then suggested that this had been my experience as well. My response was always the same.  As long as I could remember, my father and his sister, Aunt Lutie, would bring out a small autograph book and tell me that this was from their mother’s, my grandmother’s (born Lela Virginia Farnell) time in college, and I would be going to college just like her. When I was old enough to ask what school, I was told it was a “big school in Florida,” but neither my father nor his sister could remember what school. All Aunt Lutie knew was that it was in Tallahassee, and that it used to be called Tallahassee Normal. I lived in New York; I had never been to Florida; my father had never seen Florida; we had no idea what school it might be. Somehow, we didn’t really talk about the world of HBCUs. Certainly, we knew about Howard University, Fisk University, Lincoln University, Hampton University (then, Hampton Institute), and Tuskegee, but there were many others we did not know. I imagine if my parents heard their names they would have recognized them, but I don’t think they thought of them as a collection of schools under the specific umbrella that we do now, the “Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)”. Even though Aunt Lutie did go to visit family in Florida, her thoughts were primarily on family business and activities. She apparently wasn’t focused on college names.

FAMU was founded in 1887, in Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida. “Tallahassee Normal,” as my family called it, was one of two schools (one for whites, one for blacks) established that year by the Florida State Legislature for the education of teachers, and the first state supported college for African Americans in Florida.  My grandmother attended between 1889-1892.

Lela Virginia Farnell
Lela Virginia Farnell, 1876-1914

My grandmother’s autograph book was signed not only by fellow students, and teacher, “H. A. Miller,” from Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia, but also by: the founding President, Thomas DeSaille Tucker (“T. DeS. Tucker”); his wife Charity Bishop Tucker (“Mrs. C. B. Tucker”); English teacher and second assistant, Mrs. Ida V. Gibbs (“Mrs. Ida A. Gibbs,”), who was the wife of Thomas Van Rensalaer Gibbs, the first assistant. It Thomas Gibbs’ initial efforts in the Florida state legislature that ultimately led to the founding of the school.

Being too young for the Normal Course (a student had to be at least 16 years of age in order to enter the Normal Course) my grandmother was most likely in either the Academic Course or the Preparatory Course which preceded the Normal Course. Since records from that time were only kept on graduates, and my grandmother did not stay long enough to graduate, no record exists to support the family tradition that she “attended college” except her autograph book.

Despite the lack of other corroborating evidence, entries in the autograph book, Norris dated 3 June 1892, and Professor and Mrs. Tucker, each dated 25 June 1892 indicate that my grandmother, Lela, was probably a student participant in the three-day commencement activities of the historic first graduating class, then called officially, “The State Normal and Industrial College,” from 7-9 June 1892, with the graduation itself being held on 9 June, at the Munro Opera House. Whether or not my grandmother returned to classes in Tallahassee in the Fall of 1892 is not known, but on 12 February 1893, she married my grandfather, William Gainer Williams, in Live Oak, Suwannee County, where both the Farnell and Williams families lived.  With that, her college career was definitively over.

My college career would begin almost 100 years later, in 1964. I am absolutely certain that my grandmother’s autograph book was part of why I never considered anything other than going to college. In honor of the influence that little book had on me, in the Fall of 2014, I traveled to Tallahassee and donated the original autograph book and other family photographs to the Meek Eaton Black Archives at Florida A & M University.

Meek Eaton Black Archives at FAMU

Excerpted from: Williams, M. L. (1998). The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell. Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, vol 17(1). 

#52Ancestors – Week 6: Favorite Name – Vella Lassiter, Civil Rights Champion

Novella Anna Lassiter
Novella Anna “Vella” Lassiter, 1894-1994

I have chosen Vella Lassiter, whose full name was Novella Anna Lassiter, not because the name itself is my favorite over others, but because of who she was and what her name represents to me. I have written about her before. Unfortunately, through some unforeseen circumstances, that post is not currently accessible. However, this time I am pleased to be able to post this information because it is Black History Month and this year she is being honored in her home town for her courage in standing up against injustice. This post is excerpted primarily from my book on her family’s community, From Hill Town to Strieby.

Born 4 September 1894, Novella Anna Lassiter, “Vella” was the second of thirteen children (twelve of whom survived) of Winston and Ora (Kearns) Lassiter, of the Lassiter Mill community in Randolph County, North Carolina.[1] She was the granddaughter of Colier and Kate (Polk) Lassiter, and great granddaughter of Miles Lassiter, an early African American Quaker, about whom I have also written. Vella was my 2nd cousin three times removed.

Vella attended Strieby Church School, about two miles from her home in Strieby, in neighboring Union Township. Strieby was founded by the Rev. Islay Walden under the auspices of the American Missionary Association.[1] From there she went on to Peabody Academy in Troy, in the next county, Montgomery County, and then to Bennett College, in Greensboro. Vella graduated in 1913 from the Normal program and eventually earned her Masters’ degree from Miner Teachers College, in Washington, DC. (Miner became part of DC Teachers College which became the foundation for the Department of Education at the University of the District of Columbia.[2]) Vella went on to become a teacher, first back at Strieby, then the combined school at Red House School in the nearby Mechanic area, then at Central School, a Rosenwald school in the county seat of Asheboro, and finally at a school in Reidsville, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, where she taught for 40 years.  However, being close to her family, she often came home on weekends to visit, so it was in 1937.

 

Vella Lassiter Bennett College Diploma
Vella Lassiter’s Bennett College Diploma, 1913

Vella was returning to Reidsville on Easter Monday afternoon. She was on the first of her two bus trips. The first bus would take her from Asheboro to Greensboro, about 35 miles away in Guilford County. From there she would take a bus to Reidsville. She had bought her ticket and was seated on the bus – next to a white person. The bus was crowded and there were no more seats. The bus driver apparently objected to Vella sitting next to a white person. Vella was asked to give up her seat, get off the bus, and wait for the next one. Anyone who knew Vella knew she was a force of nature. Vella said “No.” The bus driver attempted to force her off the bus. Vella resisted. Eventually two policemen were needed to drag her to the door and throw her onto the sidewalk. She would later tell people there was no way she would make it easy for them to throw her off that bus. After all, she had bought a ticket and she was just as good as any white person.[3] 

Bus Case Hotly contested image (2)
The Carolina Times, 12 August 1939, p. 3

Vella called one of her brothers to come and take her to Reidsville, but she also called a lawyer, her cousin, prominent High Point, North Carolina, African American attorney, T. F Sanders (grandson of Wiley Phillips Lassiter and great grandson of Miles Lassiter). With his assistance (and that of prominent civil rights attorney, F.W. Williams, of Winston Salem) Vella sued the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line, on the grounds that they had sold her the ticket for that specific bus trip and consequently were required to transport her.[4] To everyone’s surprise she won the case in a jury trial in November of that year. She was awarded $300 in damages. The bus company appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court.[5]

Bus Company Will Appeal (2)
The Courier, 28 July 1939

Two years later in 1939, the decision was upheld by Judge Allen H. Gwyn.[6] Vella had won. In reporting the victory on 12 August 1939, The Carolina Times newspaper, published in Raleigh, wrote that: Possibly the most significant victory regarding the rights of Negroes was won in Randolph County last month when attorney P.[sic] W. Williams, prominent Winston-Salem lawyer emerged victorious in a suit against the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line.[7]

Wins Important Case image -clipped
The Carolina Times, 12 August 1939

Her success was particularly significant because there was only one other lawsuit before hers that had gone to the North Carolina State Supreme Court and won, that was a 1914 housing segregation lawsuit in Winston-Salem.[8]

Lassiter Family Home, Lassiter Mill Road - 1982.jpg
Lassiter Family Home, Lassiter Mill, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 1982.

After more than 40 years of teaching, Vella retired to the family home in Lassiter Mill, where she lived until her death in January 1994, at 99 years of age. She is buried in the Strieby Church Cemetery. [9]

Figure 50-Strieby Church Sign in memory of Vella Lassiter
Strieby Congregational C.hurch sign, in memory of Novella A. Lassiter, Strieby, Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 2014

 

Endnotes

[1] Novella Anna Lassiter, 4 September 1894 -2 January 1994. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/83486598

[2] Williams, M. L. (2016).  A Civil Rights Story: Vella Lassiter. In From Hill Town to Strieby (Crofton KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), pp. 155-159.

[3] UDC’s History. University of the District of Columbia-1851. Retrieved from: https://www.udc.edu/about/history-mission/

[4] Jones, K. L. (1993). Novella Anna Lassiter (361). The Heritage of Randolph County, North Carolina, pp. 343-344.

[5] Bus Case Hotly Contested in Randolph County. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 3. Retrieved from: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1939-08-12/ed-1/seq-6/#date1=1939&index=0&date2=1939&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&lccn=sn84025826&lccn=2014236904&lccn=2015236558&lccn=sn98058906&lccn=sn83045120&lccn=2015236794&lccn=sn92074045&lccn=sn92073929&lccn=2015236793&lccn=2015236573&lccn=2015236572&lccn=2015236571&lccn=2015236570&lccn=2015236569&lccn=2015236568&lccn=2015236567&lccn=2015236766&lccn=2015236765&lccn=2015236764&lccn=sn97064597&lccn=sn98058907&lccn=2017236906&lccn=sn96027351&lccn=2015236599&lccn=2015236750&lccn=sn92072987&lccn=2016236536&lccn=2015236585&lccn=2015236586&lccn=sn97064595&lccn=sn83025849&lccn=2014236900&lccn=sn85042324&lccn=2015236574&proxdistance=5&rows=20&words=Bus+Case+Contested+Hotly&phrasetext=Bus+Case+Hotly+Contested&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1&type3=on

[6] Bus Company Will Appeal Verdict. (28 July 1939). The Courier. Courtesy of Randolph Room, Randolph County Public Library.

[7] Wins Important Case. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 6. Retrieved from: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1939-08-12/ed-1/seq-3/

[8] Wins Important Case. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 6. Retrieved from: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1939-08-12/ed-1/seq-3/

[9] Gershenhorn, J. (2010) A Courageous Voice for Black Freedom: Louis Austin and the Carolina Times in Depression-Era North Carolina. North Carolina Historical Review, 87(1):85; and Williams, M. L. (2013). Vella Lassiter, 1937 Bus Suit. The Miles Lassiter Family of Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: http://mileslassiter.tribalpages.com/tribe/browse?userid=mileslassiter&view=78&ver=352&storyid=49456.

[10] Novella Anna Lassiter, 4 September 1894 -2 January 1994. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/83486598

 

 

 

 

 

 

#52Ancestors –Week 5: Miles in the Census

One of my early surprise successes in genealogy was finding Miles Lassiter, my maternal 4th great grandfather. I had learned from my 2nd great grandmother’s (Ellen) death certificate that my 3rd great grandmother’s maiden name was Nancy Lassiter, so I had gone looking for her in the census. I had worked my way backwards using her married name, Dunson, also learned from the same death certificate.[1]

Margaret Lee Williams - my mother
Margaret Lee Williams, my mother

I found her first as a widow in the 1880 census.[2] Ellen, or Grandma Ellen as my mother (Margaret) called her, was married and living elsewhere, but her sister Adelaide, whom my mother knew, was still in the household.  I moved back to the 1870 census. Both Nancy and her husband Calvin Dunson were living together with some of their children,[3] again, not including Grandma Ellen who was married and whom I had identified with her family living nearby in Randolph County.[4]

My mother knew almost nothing beyond Grandma Ellen. Grandma Ellen had died when my mother was about six years old, too young to really ask anything about her family history. For whatever reason nothing was passed down beyond that, so I had no real information about whether Nancy was free before 1865 or not. I figured I should see what I found, so I looked for her. There she was in 1860, with her husband Calvin, and this time with Grandma Ellen. The census said Ellen (EAllen) was about nine years old.[5] “Well,” I reasoned, “why don’t I keep looking? I wonder if she’s (Nancy) in the 1850 census?” So, I looked. Yes, there she was! She was living in the household with an older man, old enough to be her father, Miles Lassiter.[6] He was head of household. Also, in the household were some other young people who could very likely be her siblings: Abigail, Collier, Jane, and John. Another young person, Parthena, may have been a cousin, since she was listed in a different place in the order, but at this point I did not actually know the details. Also, in the household was another older man, Samuel, who could be Miles’ brother. One issue, of course, with the 1850 census is that relationships are not recorded. If you don’t already know the relationships, or cannot confirm them in the 1880 census, where they are for the first time recorded, you just can’t be sure.

I was feeling like I was on a roll, so I decided to see just how far back I could go. I looked at the 1840 census, but didn’t see anything. I’m not sure why I didn’t stop there, but I decided to see if there was anything in 1830. To my surprise, there he was, Miles Lassiter, free man of color.[7] I am still amused by noting that whoever did the indexing wrote it as Smiles, because the person recording his name on the census form seems to have written his first name over another name that started with “S,” but in doing so did not obliterate the “S,” leading the indexer to believe the “S” was part of his name.  Of course, the 1830 census is even more enigmatic than the 1850 census, because before 1850, only the head of household’s name is recorded. I could count tic marks, but it really wouldn’t mean anything without other information from other records. For that reason, Miles’ absence from the 1840 census, which also did not record names beyond head of household, didn’t necessarily mean anything. After all, he could have been living in someone else’s household, someone whose name I did not know and therefore, I had no way of confirming where he was. The only thing I could surmise at this point was that, he was a free man of color and, although he was not listed in the 1840 census, he was still alive in 1850, but not recorded in 1860, or beyond. Looking farther back was not possible because the 1820 census for Randolph County no longer exists and Miles was either too young or not financially independent enough to be head of his own household any farther back than that, or not even free any farther back. 1830 was as far back as I was able to go in the census.

I could assume that Miles had died sometime after 1850 and before 1860 by noting what because of those who were in the house with him in 1850. In 1860, as noted above, my 3rd great grandmother Nancy was living with her husband, Calvin, and their children. Collier, here called “Cal,” whom I believed to be her brother, was living nearby, apparently married and with two children; in his household, also, were two people who had been in Miles’ 1850 household, Samuel, who might be Miles’ brother and Abigail, who might be Collier and Nancy’s older sister.[8] Most of this information would be confirmed in later censuses, although Samuel would not live long enough to have his relationship recorded in the 1880 census. Abigail, about whom I wrote in a previous post, would live until sometime after 1910, and have her relationship as a sister confirmed in the census and other documents as well.

What the census could not tell me at that time was how long Miles had been free. Was he born free? If not, when was he freed? Who was his wife? Were these all his children? Who were his parents, and, of course, when did he actually die? Those questions would have to be answered another time, after a lot more research. Right then what was exciting was that I could tell my mother that she had free ancestors. Her response was priceless. “Yes,” she had heard that from her grandmother, Louise (who raised her and her sister), when she was a child. Of course, she had thought her grandmother was wrong and, well, crazy, because everyone knew that black people had been slaves! No teachers had ever said anything about free people of color. She really hadn’t learned anything more.

Mary Louse Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram circa 1915 (2)
Mary Louise Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram

In fairness, my mother was raised primarily in Elizabeth, New Jersey, away from most of her relatives. In fact, until I started this research around 1976, she’d never even heard of, or met, most of the people we would come to meet and with whom we would spend time in the coming years. Her grandmother, Louise, died in 1936,[9] only a year after my mother married and when my mother was still very young (22). It hadn’t occurred to her to interview (“grill”) her grandmother about their family history. My mother thought whoever was back in North Carolina from her grandmother’s time was undoubtedly dead. Little did she know.

I followed the family forward in the census, particularly the family of Collier/Colier/Calier. At the time, only the 1900 census was available. I was able to determine that there were descendants still living in the same community that Nancy and Grandma Ellen had lived. By this time, Abigail was living in the home of Colier’s son, Ulysses Winston (called Winston). He was married and had several children, Mable, Vella, Will, and Calier.[10] It was possible that in the early 1980s when I was doing this part of the research, one of them might still be alive, or their children, I thought. All I had to do was find a way to meet them, but that’s a story for another day.

[1] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Ellen Mayo, date of death: 12 June 1920; Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina; Father: Calvin Dunston [sic]; Mother: Nancy Lassiter. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1121/S123_110-2318/842351?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221711655280/edit/record

[2] 1880 US Federal Census; Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Nancy Dunson, “widow,” head. NARA Roll T9_978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page 1A. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4243412-00659/19787325?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400421/facts/citation/221710705046/edit/record

[3] 1870; Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head. Roll: M593_1156; Page: 400B; Image: 250; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4277632_00250/22963668?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400421/facts/citation/221710705187/edit/record

[4] 1870 US Federal Census; Census Place: Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Anderson Smitherman, head; Ellen Smitherman. NARA Roll: M593_1156; Page: 506A; Image: 465; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4277632_00465/22966086?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221436707299/edit/record

[5] 1860 US Federal Census; Free Population. Census Place: Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head; Nancy Dunson; EAllen Dunson. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237516_00429/38955713?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221436707272/edit/record

[6] 1850 US Federal Census; Free Population. Census Place: Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Miles Lassiter, head; Nancy Lassiter. NARA Roll: M432_641; Page: 136A & B; Image: 278 & 279. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00278/12941844?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400532/facts/citation/221436746765/edit/record#?imageId=4204420_00278

[7] 1830 US Federal Census; Census Place: Regiment 1, Randolph County, North Carolina; Miles (“Smiles”) Lassator, head. NARA Series: M19; Roll Number: 125; Page: 7; Family History Film: 0018091. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8058/4410684_00017/242848?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400532/facts/citation/221710701113/edit/record

[8] 1860 US Federal Census; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Cal Lassiter, head. Samuel Lassiter; Abigail Lassiter. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237516_00429/38955682?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657676/facts/citation/221782038907/edit/record

[9] State of New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate and Record of Death. Louise Ingram, Date of Death: 11 April 1936; Certificate Registered #436C. Copy in the possession of the author.

[10] 1900 US Federal Census; Population Schedule. Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Winson [sic] Lassiter, head; Mabel Lassiter, daughter; Vella Lassiter, daughter; Will Lassiter, son; Calier C. Lassiter, son; Abbigail Lassiter, aunt. NARA Roll: 1213; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1241213. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4117841_00117/50368995?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231719026/facts/citation/221780081585/edit/record

 

#52 Ancestors – Week 4: Invitation to Dinner

I have struggled with this week’s prompt. Seems simple enough, but there is probably not a single ancestor that I would not like the opportunity to sit and talk with, over food or not over food. So, should I choose one person and have an intimate dinner for two, or should I have a classic dinner party, based on the size of my dining room table? Would I learn more in the relentless grilling possible and opportunity to reveal intimate secrets with only one person, or would the lively conversation and potentially conflicting views of multiple voices elicit surprising revelations? The truth is probably either and/or both. Each has its strengths, and each has its weaknesses.

However, there are other parts to this decision. Do I want to talk with those about whom I already know a fair amount, but would love to know more intimate details about their perspective on their own lives, or do I want to talk to those about whom I have only learned a limited amount of information, and who seem to present a conundrum? Among these would certainly be several maternal ancestors. So often the women if mentioned at all are enigmatic figures. Of course, there are still a couple of male ancestors who are also enigmatic. Okay, so I must make a decision.

My decision combines a little of each of these quandaries. Unless I know that there will be many successive dinners, I must take advantage of the opportunity to speak with a few of these ancestors. So, I’m inviting Healy Phillips Lassiter, my 4th great grandmother and wife of Miles Lassiter, the Quaker. I’m also inviting Ellin Wilson Williams, my paternal great grandmother, as well as her mother, Frances “Fannie” (Smiley?) Gainer. I would also like to have my other paternal great grandmother, Sallie Jacobs Farnell, and her parents, William and Charlotte Jacobs. I would have to add here, Randel Farnell, my paternal great grandfather. Of course, I could not have such a dinner without the person I think I have found the most enigmatic, Joshua W. Williams, my other paternal great grandfather. It seems I am closer to that large dinner party than not. There could be others, but I think this time I shall limit it to these. After all, with nine for dinner, including me, we already need both leaves for the table.

  1. Healy “Phillips or Lassiter”, as she was known, was a free woman of color, and the wife of my maternal 4th great grandfather, Miles Lassiter. I have no idea who her parents were, or if she had siblings, much less who they were. She was born about 1782 most likely in North Carolina, but she didn’t live long enough to appear on census reports that recorded such information. She died about 1845. I don’t even know if Phillips was her maiden name. According to a letter written after her death and that of Miles, she had children from a previous marriage. It seems from everything else I know, she was most likely married to Nathan Phillips previously, the only other free Phillips of color in that time period, who also happened to live near where she lived. So, her maiden name could have been anything. Was Nathan in  fact her first husband? I would love to know what led to the end of her first marriage, since Nathan was still living near her in Randolph County when she was married to Miles. How did she and Miles become involved? In addition, I would like to know if she was born free, or if she was freed at an early age. What about her other children, presumably by Nathan?
  2. Ellin WilsonEllin Wilson Williams was my paternal great grandmother and wife of Joshua W. Williams, one of my other guests, as well as daughter of Frances “Fannie” (Smiley?) Gainer, whom I would also invite. I am fortunate enough to have a picture of Ellin, so it will be easy to recognize her when she arrives. Ellin was born about 1852 either in South Carolina or Georgia according to various census reports and her death certificate. Thus, my first question would be, “Which is it?” I had heard that she was an indentured servant and not a slave. If so, to whom was she indentured? Who was the “Millie” she reportedly had to care for? Did she know who was her father? I’ve seen the name on the death certificate, George Johnson. Is that accurate? If so, where did she get the name Wilson, which she used when she married Joshua? I don’t pick up information on her until she married my great grandfather in Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida. How and when did she get to Florida? How did she meet my great grandfather, Joshua? What is the real story behind the family’s move to New York City? What was life like for her there? Did she ever return to Florida to visit her sister Carrie?
  3. Frances “Fannie” Gainer was Ellin’s mother. Her information in the census says that she was from South Carolina around 1832. Where in South Carolina? Ellin told her granddaughter, Lute Williams Mann, that you went to Florida in search of your daughter Carrie, who was enslaved or indentured to a family in Columbia County, Florida. I know that Carrie married George Manker, who was also living in Columbia County, and then they moved next door to you in Suwannee County, where George was a teacher in the Freedmen’s school. In 1870, I noticed a Caroline Smiley living in Carrie’s home next door to Fannie. She was old enough to be her mother. Was she? Is Carrie named after her? She said she was born in Georgia, where? Who was her father?
  4. Sallie JacobsSallie Jacobs Farnell was my other paternal great grandmother. She was born in Eufaula, Barbour County, Alabama around 1843. She was born a slave. She was a seamstress. Her beautiful handwork can be seen in the dress she is wearing in the photo I am lucky enough to have. I would like to know what each of us wants to know, what was life like for her in slavery? How did she come to give birth to two children with her master, as the story has come down to me from her granddaughter, Lute Williams Mann? Was it the tragic story we have come to know of a master taking advantage of her because he had the power to do so, or is there more to the story? One never wants to hear the worst, but the truth is important. I note that those two children did not continue to use the Jacobs name, but used the Farnell name of their step-father. How did she come to be in Florida, in Columbia County, where I assume she married my great grandfather, Randel Farnell? How did she meet him?
  5. William Jacobs was reportedly Sallie’s father, but was he? According to the census, he was born in Virginia around 1811. How did he come to be in Alabama? How is it that after slavery the entire family was able to be together in Florida? How and why did he come there? Who were his parents? Did they come to Alabama, or were they left in Virginia? Were there siblings left behind in Virginia when he came to Alabama? Were there siblings left in Alabama when he came to Florida? Were there any children left behind in Alabama? Were his parents born in Virginia, If not, where were they born?
  6. Charlotte Jacobs was William’s wife and Sallie’s mother. She also said that she was born Virginia around 1818. So, I have the same questions for her as I do for William.
  7. Randel FarnellRandel Farnell was my great grandfather, husband of Sallie Jacobs Farnell. I know a lot about his slave owner family, but almost nothing about his enslaved mother, Maria. I have seen her name in the Farnell family records, but I don’t actually know anything about her. Who were her parents? Who were her siblings? Who were her other children? Did any of them come to Florida when the Farnells left Georgia and moved to Florida? When did she die? What about Randel’s relationship with descendants of his former owners? I’ve heard he had very cordial relationships with them, is that true?
  8. Joshua W. Williams was my paternal great grandfather, married to Ellin Wilson/Gainer Williams. In many ways he is my most enigmatic ancestor, even though I probably know more about him than the William and Charlotte Jacobs. It always seems to me I know so much about him, but somehow know so little. He was reportedly born in York, South Carolina. He was reportedly a free man of color. However, I don’t know anything about his family and have never found any evidence of him in South Carolina. Granted, I have not gone to York and poured over county records, but I really haven’t figured out where to begin, and fear I must just sit there day after day for at least a week or two going through everything hoping for a crumb of evidence to his identity. Like Ellin, he seems to drop out of the sky, landing in Suwannee County Florida in 1868 when they marry, then appearing in the 1870 census with their toddler son, William, my grandfather. They
    photo (6)
    William Gainer Williams

    are living in the home of a railroad agent named Henderson. Joshua seems to be fairly well educated and is reportedly a teacher in the 1880 census. According to the same census, and his granddaughter Lute Williams Mann’s information, he worked in a barber shop owned by his father-in-law Alexander Gainer, husband of Ellin’s mother, Frances. Based on a lawsuit that arose from polling irregularities, he was a Republican poll watcher in the election of 1880. He was one of many who testified in the congressional inquiry and lawsuit emanating from that complaint. I would love to know more about that. He was also the postmaster for Live Oak, the county seat, before dying in 1893, most likely from a stroke based on information, again, from Lute Williams Mann. So, who were his parents and siblings? What does the “W” stand for? When did he come to Florida? Where had he lived in South Carolina? Was it York as the family said? Was he in fact free?

That’s the line-up. I am not listing what will be on the menu because I would like to encourage at least the grandmothers to cook their favorite foods, because I didn’t grow up hearing about family specialties. They were all dead before I was born, and nothing seems to have been passed down from their generations. So, I would love to know what they would have served for a big dinner in their homes. I’d contribute to the meal certainly, but what a treat to see what they would bring. Naturally, we will have to take a group picture as well as individual pictures. I’m sure we would eat and talk into the wee hours of the morning about these and many, many topics, if only, as the song says, “heaven wasn’t so far away.”

#52Ancestors – Longevity: Abigail Phillips Lassiter, circa 1812-1920

Abigail Phillips Lassiter Ceramic Pot
Ceramic Pot Belonging to Abigail Phillips Lassiter

I have many examples of longevity in my mother’s family, who come from Randolph County, North Carolina. My mother, herself, lived to be just one month short of her 98th birthday, but there were several cousins who lived as long or longer. In recent years, there were five: Vella Lassiter (99), Will Lassiter (98), Clark Lassiter (97), Kate Lassiter Jones (100), and Aveus Lassiter Edmondson (101), all siblings. However, the person in our family who lived the longest of anyone as determined so far, was Abigail Phillips Lassiter, who lived to be between 104-110 years of age, based on public and private records.

Abigail was the daughter of Miles Lassiter and his wife Healy Phillips Lassiter.[1] Their marriage was what we would consider common-law because Miles was technically a slave, although he lived most of his life as if a free man. His wife, Healy Phillips, was a free woman of color.[2] Thus, Abigail was born free, per the laws that said that a child followed the legal status of the mother. Based on a private document in the possession of her grandnephew, the late Harold Cleon Lassiter, she was born in February 1812. Census records show birth years anywhere between 1810 and 1816.[3] She was last recorded in the 1910 census.[4] Family members, specifically those listed above (especially Kate) reported that she died in 1920, obviously before the 1920 census was taken. She was buried in Strieby Church Cemetery according to Kate, who was able to show me the depression in the earth over the site where she said Abigail was buried. There is no tombstone, or other marker.[5]

Abigail never married. Thus, she can be found under her name, Abigail Lassiter, in every census from 1850-1910. Since she was not married she always lived with family members. In 1850, she was living with her father, Miles, by then widowed.[6] After that, she lived in the home of her brother Colier and his family until he died circa 1893.[7] After he died, she lived with her nephew, Ulysses Winston Lassiter and his family, including his above-named children Vella, Kate, Will, Clark, Aveus, and Harold.[8] In her later years, Kate reported that she was blind. There is no way to find out if she was blind due to Glaucoma or Macular Degeneration, which I would like to know since I have Glaucoma. Kate said that she was responsible for helping “Aunt Abbie” get around. Unfortunately, Kate was of an age where she balked at this responsibility. Combined with a rebellious personality, she was not always a genuine help to Aunt Abbie; sometimes she was negligent, resulting in some minor injuries to Aunt Abbie. Of course, in later years, reflecting on that inappropriate behavior, for which she was punished, Kate had to admit that her behavior fell far short of exemplary.

Aunt Abbie’s name does come up in a few other documents, mostly land records. She is recorded in in several deeds over the years, reflecting the inheritance of property from her mother and father.[9] After her brother, Colier dies, she gives her portion of the inherited property to her nephews, Ulysses Winston and Amos Barzilla, in exchange for her care, indicating she could no longer perform farm or household chores, undoubtedly a result of her blindness as well as advanced age.[10] She did not leave a will.

Interestingly, although the state of North Carolina began officially recording births and deaths about 1913, there is no death certificate or indexed recording of Aunt Abbie’s death. There are two possibilities for this. First, the year of death, as remembered by Kate, when she herself was of an advanced age, was incorrect. I did not begin talking with Kate about our family history until the 1980s, when Kate was in her 80s. Trying to remember exactly how old she was when Aunt Abbie died could very likely be inaccurate. The second reason is simply that the death may not have been reported. The family lived in the country, about 13 miles from Asheboro, the county seat of Randolph County, and the nearest town. They might not have realized that they were supposed to report the death, or they did not think it important. Either explanation is plausible. Both could have contributed.

Sadly, there are no pictures that have survived of Aunt Abbie, despite her long life. Perhaps even sadder, is the realization that there are no stories that have been passed down that would tell us about her personality, her sense of humor, her interests or talents. The only tangible object from her life is a ceramic pot (pictured above) that has survived and is still in the family’s possession. Additional information about her family can be found in my books on her father, Miles Lassiter  and on the church where she is buried Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ.

[1] 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 and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 106-107.

[2] 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 and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 76.

[3] 1850 US Federal Census, Free Schedule. Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Miles Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 136. NARA #432-641. 1860 US Federal Census, Free Schedule, Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 148. NARA #653-190; 1870 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 24. NARA #593-1156. 1880 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, sister, p. 1. NARA #T9-978. 1900 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winson Lassiter, head; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1, Dwelling 15, Family, 16. NARA #T623-1213. 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.

[4] 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.

[5] 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 and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 107, #17n.

[6] 1850 US Federal Census, Free Schedule. Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Miles Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 136. NARA #432-641.

[7] 1860 US Federal Census, Free Schedule, Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 148. NARA #653-190; 1870 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 24. NARA #593-1156. 1880 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, sister, p. 1. NARA #T9-978.

[8] 1900 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winson Lassiter, head; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1, Dwelling 15, Family, 16. NARA #T623-1213. 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.

[9] Estate of Healy Phillips or Lassiter, Will Book 10:190-192. F(amily) H(istory) L(ibrary) #0019645.

[10] Abigail Lassiter to Winston Lassiter and Amos Barzilla Lassiter, Deed Book 90: 268. FHL #047255.

#52Ancestors – Photo: Kate Lassiter Jones, 1906-2006

Kate Lassiter Jones Aug 2006 celebration
Kate Lassiter Jones, 26 August 2006, A Celebration of her 100th Year

I chose this photo not so much because it is a favorite, although I do like it, but because it portrays the strong, determined, woman that I loved (and love) and admired, whose drive for justice led to her being dubbed the “Rosa Parks of Randolph County.” Kate was not one of my ancestors. She was my 2nd cousin three times removed on my mother’s side. She was my friend, my mentor, my genealogy/local history buddy, and Kate, well, Kate was a force of nature. On this Martin Luther King Holiday and Day of Service, I wanted to reflect on Kate and her commitment to social justice and civic responsibility.

Kate was born Katherine Martitia Lilly Lassiter on 23 November 1906, in the Lassiter Mill area of southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina, one of 12 children of Ulysses Winston Lassiter and his wife Ora Priscilla Kearns Lassiter.[1] They were a close-knit family that valued God, family, education, and community. Kate was educated first at her church run school in nearby Strieby. She learned early the lessons of sacrifice when it came time for her to attend secondary school. There was no local secondary school for African American children. If she and her siblings were going to continue their education, they would have to leave their family and community. Kate, like others of her siblings and friends before her, did just that. She attended Columbian Heights High School in Winston-Salem.[2] She told me she missed her family terribly, but understood the great sacrifice they were making to see to it that she got an education, so she was determined not to disappoint them.

After finishing high school, she attended Bricks Junior College, in Enfield, North Carolina, now the Franklinton Conference Center of the United Church of Christ.[3]  During summers she earned money for tuition by going on church sponsored missions to Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana. She earned degree in Social Work from Schauffler College (loosely affiliated with the Congregational Church and now part of Oberlin University) in Cleveland, Ohio, and another Bachelor’s degree in Curriculum and Teaching as well as an MA in Rehabilitation Counseling from Columbia University in New York.[4]

Kate’s career was illustrious. serving as an elementary school teacher in Roxboro, NC; Director of Rehabilitation Services at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City; the Director of the YMC in Montclair, NJ; Dean of Women at North Carolina A & T University; Director of Special Services for the Third Army at Fort Benning, Georgia; and an Extension Social Worker for the US Army Southeast Region, to name a few.[5]

Kate was a tireless church worker all her life. She was proud and active member of the United Church of Christ. She was the member of numerous committees, went on endless mission trips, was active with every congregation she ever belonged to, as she moved around the country. She was a moderator, trustee, and historian of her home congregation, Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ, in the greater Asheboro area of Randolph County. She also helped organize the fundraising program for the new church building when the historic building was condemned, saying “How can I turn my back on such a towering symbol in my life and see it sag and decay and cease to be?”[6] Her commitment and dedication would lead to her being ordained a Deaconess in the 1980s. I remember being disappointed that I could not make the trip from Maryland to North Carolina for this wonderful occasion.

Kate’s dedication was not limited to her vocation as social worker or even her commitment to church and God. Kate was a political animal. It’s odd that I don’t remember what she told me she was doing specifically during the Civil Rights years, but what I do know is that all the years I knew her, she was politically active and committed to the betterment of her community and state. Throughout her 80s and up to her early nineties, Kate would criss-cross not only the county, but also the state participating in voter registration drives. She would hold fund-raising parties on behalf of candidates she believed in, especially African American candidates. She was a delegate or alternate on several occasions to the Democratic National Convention. Even when she was not a delegate she was keenly interested. During the various campaigns, whether congressional or presidential, after some announcement was made or update given on the late-night news, I would call, and we would talk for hours about a candidate’s prospects, worry over the state of affairs of a campaign, or rejoice over hard won victories.  Her dedication led, in the 1990s, to being given the Kate Hammer Award as State Democratic Woman of the Year. She was thrilled. Thus, years later, I remember being sad and even frustrated that I could not talk with her when then Sen. Barack Obama was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President, and again when he won the Presidency. Oh, how I wished she had lived to see that day!

Kate was involved in many other community affairs. She was a President of the Randolph Black Leadership Conference; a member of Leadership Action of the Randolph County Social Services Department; a Vice President of the Eastside Improvement Association; Treasurer of the George Washington Carver School Project; and a member of the Executive Committee of the State Democratic Party. Over the years she was give the Randolph County Social Service Award, the Randolph County Mental Health Association Award, the Randolph County Commissioners’ Award, and the Randolph County NAACP Service Award. True to her interest in local African American History, she was also a Committee member for the Heritage of Randolph County (Volumes 1 & 2), making sure that the stories of local African American families were included.[7]

There are two stories that I remember that exemplify Kate’s spirit. The first I was reminded of earlier this year when Hurricanes Harvey and Maria hit. When Hurricane Hugo hit the coast of South Carolina in 1989, Kate watched the updates on the news like the rest of us, but her response was pure Kate.

In those years, Kate and her sister Ave were constant companions.  However, while Kate was fully retired, her sister, a nurse, had taken a job in a nearby nursing home.  Kate was watching the news the night after Hugo hit and learning about the devastation to Charleston. I don’t remember if we talked that night, but Kate called me the next night telling me she had just returned from Charleston. “Just returned?” I asked. “Yes,” she responded. She explained that when Ave came in that night she told her she thought they should go to Charleston to see for themselves and to see what they could do to help, which is just what they did. Now back she told me she was starting to organize trucks of food, furniture, clothing and other items that people would need to pick up their lives and start over. Kate was a doer, not just a talker. I have no doubt that if she was alive, she would have traveled to Texas or Florida and spear-headed a fundraising drive in support of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

I was reminded of the second story this week when listening to an interview with Dr. Benjamin Chavis.[8] He was talking about how he became involved in the Million Man March. Like Dr. Chavis and others of us, Kate heard Minister Farrakhan speak about having a Million Man March as a call to action to African American men. Kate was impressed. Kate was persuaded. Kate went into action.

Kate was not a man, but Kate believed in the message and she wanted to make sure that African American men from Randolph County understood how important the message was and the importance of participation in the March. Kate began calling men in the community she believed could and should help organize a contingent to join the March. Her enthusiasm was not met initially with equal support. She had to convince those she called that this was not about the Nation of Islam, or even about Farrakhan, it was about supporting fellow African American brothers in their efforts to commit to be the best men, fathers, husbands, community members they could be. It worked, and Randolph County was represented by 2 buses of men traveling to Washington, D. C. to participate.

Advancing years finally took their toll on Kate. Cancer, heart valve replacement, arthritis, a car accident, and dementia marred her nineties and slowed her activism though not her fervor.  At her 99th birthday celebration and again at her 100th, she challenged younger family members to make a difference, to find ways to give back, to be an example to younger generations, to be the change. It was very moving. Those who were there still talk about it.

Kate was blessed to see her 100th year. Since her birthday was in November, I pushed to have her birthday celebration in August during the Strieby Church Homecoming weekend, because so many family members would be able to take vacation and come to join us, and they did. Family and community gathered to celebrate her life and recount the many contributions she had made. She received numerous greetings and proclamations in her honor.[9] As another cousin said later, she was so glad I pushed for the summer celebration rather than her actual birth date which was on Thanksgiving Day that year, because on Thanksgiving Eve, just three hours before midnight and her actual 100th birthday, Kate went home. A week later, family and community gathered one more time at Strieby Church for her funeral, after which she was laid to rest next to her husband (George Jones), parents, siblings, cousins and ancestors in Strieby Church Cemetery.[10]

This Monday, as I attend events in honor of Martin Luther King, I will be thinking about, and be missing, Kate.

[1] 1910 US Federal Census; Census Place: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Winston Lassiter, head; Kate Lassiter, age 3. Roll: T624_1128; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0087; FHL microfilm: 1375141.

[2] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[3] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[4] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[5] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[6] Williams, M. (2016). 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), 375.

[7] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[8] Dr. Benjamin Chavis on The Rock Newman Show. (21 December 2017). PBS (WHUT – Channel 32). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2E_mTGws6s

[9] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones (Program Booklet).

[10]Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (1 December 2006 Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).