Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Category: Biography

He is devoted to his call in the ministry.


The subject of this sketch, Franklin Kesler Bird, was born December 1, 1856, at Rutherfordton, N. C. He was the only child of his father, William Bird, who died when young Franklin was two years of age. He and his mother, Mary Martha, lived with his grandfather, the “Blacksmith,” Wylie Morris, until 1867, when his mother was married to Cain Gross.

By early industry and economy Wylie Morris succeeded in purchasing his freedom for $2,000, and marrying a freeborn woman. All of Franklin’s relatives were freeborn, and strict members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, until after the close of the war, when they connected themselves with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which remains the choice of the family. Young Franklin connected himself with the Church of which he is now a member at the age of eleven years, and soon afterward manifested much usefulness and devotion. His stepfather being engaged yearly in a large farming business, in which Franklin was regularly employed, together with the meagre school system of his home section, deprived him of early school advantages, except one or two months occasionally in some private or public school.

In 1869 his grandfather moved and settled at Newport, Tenn. In 1871, while visiting him, he was favored with one year’s instruction in the high school of that place, under Professor William H. McGhee as instructor. On his return to his native home he had made sufficient advancement to obtain a third grade teacher’s certificate, and taught his first school at Mykle’s Chapel Schoolhouse, near his home. This was the small beginning of an eventful life of public usefulness.

It was while teaching this small school that he grasped the opportunities of educating himself. He paid out of his income for private instruction to one Professor –, a white teacher, at the rate of $2 for three recitations each week at night, on condition that he would never divulge his teacher’s name. During this time he succeeded in completing his studies in arithmetic, grammar, geography, history, etc. He also cultivated his talent in vocal music, and while teaching the same his fame had reached Marion, N. C., from which place he received a call to the principalship of a large school, which gave him from five to six months’ employment in each year. He remained at the head of this school for six years consecutively, during which time he found his way to Biddle University, Charlotte, N. C., where he spent four terms, paying for the same with the money he obtained by teaching. He professed faith in Christ June 24, 1874, served in every local official capacity in his church, was licensed to exhort July 4, 1876; received local preacher’s license in November of the same year, and joined the North Carolina Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, at Salisbury, N. C., December 4, 1877. He took his first appointment in the following year at the hands of his Presiding Elder. Rev. S. S. Murdock, to a part of the Marion Circuit.

At the following Conference, Goldsboro, N. C., he was ordained deacon and appointed in charge of the entire circuit. This work was so enlarged that it became the work of two pastors at the end of his two years’ administration. At Lincolnton, N. C., in 1879, when the North Carolina Conference was divided, and the Central and North Carolina Conferences formed, he was appointed to Wilson Station, in the North Carolina Conference. At the end of the year the property, which had been long involved in litigation, was redeemed, and the church doubled in membership. At Tarboro, N. C., 1880, he was ordained to the office of an elder and stationed at Concord, N. C., where he rendered efficient service to Bishop C. R. Harris, as business manager of the Star of Zion. On April 7, of this year, at Wilson, N. C., he was united by marriage to Miss Agnes M. Barnes, a student of St. Augustine Institute, Raleigh, N. C.

During this year he also met President Mattoon, D.D., of Biddle University, with whom he arranged, and in the next year reentered the university, filling at the same time the pastorate at Biddleville Station. He remained in the university five terms, during which he completed the normal course and advanced rapidly in the classical course. He was considered by the faculty as being one of the brightest students in that institution. He is yet a student, and has mastered many of the studies most helpful to him in his work by persistent effort and private instructions.

In February, 1883, Bishop Hood secured his services by transfer, and stationed him at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Exchange Street, Worcester, Mass., where he rendered more than three years’ successful service, to the general satisfaction of the people. He was then removed to the church, corner Broad and Gregory Streets, Bridgeport, Conn. Here he had a splendid financial success. At the end of two years, feeling that his services could be more effective in the Southern field, he transferred back to his native State, and has since filled with success the pastorates at St. Paul Station, Tarboro, N. C., Farmer’s Temple, Washington, N. C., and St. James Station, at Goldsboro, N. C. He has filled the position of secretary in all of his Conferences, receiving all his ordinations under the administration of Bishop Hood, and has been in attendance upon the last three General Conferences, where he was an able representative of his Church and race.

While at the General Conference at Pittsburg, Pa., May, 1892, he received notice from the President of Bethany College, at Lumberton, N. C., that the trustees of said institution had, without solicitation, conferred upon him the degree of Divinitatis Doctor. Upon refusing to accept their proffer he found on his arrival home the certificate awaiting him at the express office. At his Conference on December 6, 1892, he was unanimously elected to the position of presiding elder, as the result of a long-expressed desire upon the part of the ministers, and was appointed Presiding Elder of the Wilmington District of the North Carolina Conference, where he is doing a great work in building up and extending the borders of Zion. He is unassuming in public life, affable, congenial in disposition, self-sacrificing, and devoted to his calling in the ministry.

From J.W. Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; or, The Centennial of African Methodism (1895).


In the 1860 census of Broad District 2, Rutherford County: Wiley Morris, 57, Louisa, 42, Wily, 23, Mary, 18, Wm., 17, Adelade, 14, David, 11, Franklin Keesler, 3, and Martha Morris, 20.

Well-known and respected.

“E-1 William Valentine

A free man of color, William Valentine was a well-known and respected barber in the 1850s. While his whereabouts during the Civil War are unclear, he was open for business again by 1869.”

Description of a bronze historical marker placed at East Innes and North Main Streets on Salisbury’s History and Art Trail,

In the 1860 census of Salisbury, Rowan County: William Valentine, 35, Rebecca, 25, Louis C., 8, and Horace R. Valentine, 10 months; all mulatto.


Carolina Watchman, 22 April 1870.

Not a drop.


William Simmons, the father of most all of the Simmons of Sampson County, was born in the eastern part of Sampson County, near Faison, N.C. In early life he married one Penny Winn, of Wayne County, N.C. William Simmons is now dead, but he has often often told the writer that he was of purse white and Indian descent, and judging from his features and general characteristics, we are quite sure that hsi statements were true, he having long black hair, and prominent cheekbones, and his color corresponding very strikingly near with the real Indian. His wife is living, and resides near Clinton, N.C. James Simmons, one of the sons of William and Penny Simmons, is a very prominent farmer, and has accumulated  quite a lot of real estate; also his hother brothers have shown a good share of industry, which has resulted in a similar accumulation. Percy Simmons married the daughter of Hardy A. Brewington.


The subject of this sketch was formerly Betsy J. Thornton. SHe married Green Simmons in 1843 in Clinton. She is the mother of William Simmons and has numerous grandchildren residing in Sampson County who claim to be free from all negro blodd. Betsy had grey eyes, straight hair, high cheek bones, and in general appearance was half Indian and half white.


The subject of this sketch lived in South Clinton township, Sampson County, but died a few years ago. His wife, still living, was Penny Winn who lived near Neuse River in Wayne County. William’s mother was Winnie Medline, who married Jim Simmons in Fayetteville, and she made an affidavit in 1902, in order that her son William could vote under the grandfather clause, that her mother was a white woman and her father was an Indian. She further states in her affidavit that there was not a drop of negro blood in her veins or those of her children. Her son, William Simmons, had dark brown eyes, straight hair and high cheek boones and light brown skin. He claimed that his grandfather and grandmother, on his father’s side, were Indians and came from Roanoke River, and never affiliated with the negroes. William Simmons has eighteen grandchildren whose parents have not intermarried with the negro race, and these children are without school advantages except by private subscriptions.

From George E. Butler, “The Croatan Indians of Sampson County, North Carolina. Their Origin and Racial Status. A Plea for Separate Schools,” (1916).


Made good.

“Colter’s entire life has consisted of challenges accepted and made good on. He was born on January 8, 1910, in Noblesville, Indiana, a small farming town about forty miles east of Indianapolis. On both side of the family his ancestors were free blacks who had settled in Indiana several years before the Civil War. Colter possesses a ledger tracing his mother’s family back to Britton Bassett, the son of a black man and a white woman in North Carolina, who was granted his freedom in 1797 when he was twenty-one and given a horse, bridle and saddle, and one hundred dollars. In the 1830s Bassett moved his wife and children to Indiana, traveling by night and hiding by day in order to elude slave hunters.”

— from the introduction to Cyrus Colter‘s The Rivers of Eros (1991).

[Sidenote: Britton Bassett, as the son of a white woman, was born free, not set free. Perhaps 1797 marked the end of his involuntary apprenticeship. He had a son Britton, who also had a son Britton and another named Daniel. Britton and Daniel married daughters of Montreville and Anna J. Henderson Simmons, who were born free in North Carolina and migrated to Indiana by way of Ontario, Canada.]

Windmill owner, justice of the peace.


George Riley Midgett, the windmill owner, married Nags Head couple

Coming to Roanoke Island on January 24, 1874 and anxious to be married was one Solomon Beasley, 19, of Nags Head. His bride too, was anxious to get married and get back home across the wintry Roanoke Sound as bad weather was making up.

As luck would have it there wasn’t a preachers or justice on the place they could locate except the late George Riley Midgett, colored Justice of the Peace, and to him they went in their troubles. He performed the ceremony which is believed to be the only known instance of a negro officer marrying a white couple in Dare County.

Solomon Beasley was the son of S. Beasley and Lydia Beasley, and has been dead for many years. He married Senia O’Neal who was the daughter of Isaac O’Neal and Sylinda O’Neal.

The record of this marriage may be seen in the office of Melvin R. Daniels, Register of Deeds of Dare County.

George Riley Midgett was born about 1845 and was never a slave, but always a “free” Negro. He was highly respected and called “Uncle George” by both races. Having become a magistrate, he was entitled under the laws of the time to elect in union with the eight or ten other magistrates, the members of Commissioner himself. He was, in time, elected to the Board of County Commissioners. He was, politically speaking, one of the most prominent Negroes ever to have lived in this region. After being a Commissioner of the County, he entered the Life Saving Service and stayed there until disabled. He is remembered as being somewhat fat, walking as if hobbled, and interesting in appearance especially when dressed in his white service uniform. His wife was called “Old Aunt Nancy” as familiarly as he was called “Uncle George”. She died about 16 years ago. They lived on the east side of Roanoke Island. Of their two sons, George Harvey lives near Manteo, and Clay is a lawyer in Phoebus, Va.

“Uncle George” did perform at least four marriages which were recorded, between members of his own race. There was the marriage of Pierce Toler, son of Dick Toler and Cynthia Davis, to Harriet Allen, daughters of Hallory and Harriet Allen, on Roanoke Island November 1, 1873. Pierce Toler was sensible, entertaining and a convincing talker. His living reputation says that in a business deal, he could talk the average white man out of $10 in as many minutes.

Then “Uncle George” married Monday Dough, son of George Dough, to Martha Midgett, daughter of Monday Midgett and Fanny Midgett, on Roanoke Island, January 10, 1874. About the best memorial Monday Dough left when he died was “Monday Dough Field” which is reached by a road which leads into the woods north of Manteo. It is now owned by Z.V. Brinkley. “Uncle George” next married Jeremiah Farrow, aged 23, son of Henry and Sarah Farrow, to Mary E. Jarvis, aged 20, on Roanoke Island January 24, 1874.

The fourth and last marriage accorded to “Uncle George” was that of Noah Simmons, age 21, son of Mary Simmons, to Amelia Allen, age 18, daughter of Harriett Allen, on Roanoke Island February 13, 1875. Noah Simmons was respected for his energy, common sense and truthfulness. He made a good living and built a comfortable home. After the recording of this final marriage by Uncle George, there was written by hand into the record the following:

North Carolina, Dare County Office of Register of Deeds

I, R.W. Smith, Register of Deeds, do hereby certify that the foregoing is a true and accurate copy of the register of marriage licenses issued in said County from its formation as such to December 7th, 1903, the same being transcribed and copied from former marriage register for whites and colored by order of the Board of Commissioners of said county by reason of the torn and dilapidated condition of former register. This December 15th, 1903.

There were no further recordings of ceremonies performed by “Uncle George” Riley Midgett, magistrate, county commissioner and one among the most distinguished Negroes in the County.

In more recent years George Riley Midgett was famed more for the huge windmill he owned near Manteo. It has been blown down and demolished now for over 35 years and prior to that time had long been inactive but it was a great curiosity and was visited by many people. A picture of the old ruins was sold widely as a souvenir postcard. In the old days it ground all the grain used on the island for meal.

Coastland Times, 25 July 1952

[Sidenote: Evidence suggests that George R. Midgett had, in fact, been enslaved, but I share this story until proof comes in.  — LYH]

He stopped and labored among them.

Evans, Henry. – Founder of a Methodist Church in Fayetteville, N.C. About the close of the eighteenth century, Henry Evans, a free Negro from Virginia, on his way to Charleston, S.C., to practice the trade of shoe-making, chanced to stop at Fayetteville. He was a licensed local Methodist preacher. He was so impressed with the condition of the colored people that he decided to stop and labor among them. This he did, working at his trade during the week, and preaching on Sunday. The town council ordered him to stop preaching. The meetings were held in secret. At length, the white people became interested in the meetings and began to attend them, and a regular Methodist Church was established. Although a white minister was in the course of time sent to take charge of the congregation, Evans was not displaced. A room was built for him in the church, and there he remained till his death in 1810.

Monroe N. Work, Negro Year Book and Annual Encyclopedia of the Negro (1912).

Free colored Craven County slaveowners.

One John Carruthers Stanley, negro, was born in Craven County, N. C, in 1772. His father was a white man and his mother was an African woman purchased from a northern slave trader in the West Indies, where the woman with other negroes had been carried direct from Africa. Captain Stewart was at the time sailing one of John Wright Stanley’s vessels, running between New Bern and the West Indies. In his boyhood the young negro John was apprenticed to a barber, at that time in New Bern, named John Carruthers; J. C. Stanley was generally known as “Barber Jack” toward the end of his life. He married a woman with more negro blood than he possessed, hence she was darker in color than her husband, though he was not light. In the year 1808 his mistress, Mrs. Lydea Stewart, the captain being then dead, had him emancipated by the North Carolina legislature. Then he advanced rapidly in property until he was the owner of sixty-four slaves, and at the same time there were forty-two negroes of both sexes bound to him by law for service. At that time he owned two large plantations a few miles distant from New Bern, one on Trent River called Lion Pasture, one on or near Bachelor’s Creek called Hope; on these his negroes were employed. He resided in New Bern and owned houses there. But finally after so much success, he engaged in speculations and went down hill even faster than he had gone up. In the meantime he had reared sons and daughters and had educated them. Some of these children owned slaves up to the civil war, and they held them rigidly to account. Stanley died some years previous to the war. This family had necesarily to move in a circle of their own; yet now and then the women would be invited to dinner by a few of the best citizens. One of the Stanley boys, John Stewart, taught free school in a small way and occasionally clerked in a store. He held slaves, as did his sisters, who never married, up to the emancipation proclamation.

There was a colored brick mason in New Bern named Doncan Montford, who owned slaves; he was a dark mulatto. One of his slaves, Isaac Rue, was also a mason; he sold him to a lawyer, George S. Altmore. Isaac’s wife was a free woman, a pure-blooded negress. They had children, who under North Carolina laws were free. One of their grandsons, Edward Richardson, was at one time postmaster of New Bern, appointed to the office by a Republican president.

From Calvin D. Wilson, “Negroes Who Owned Slaves,” Popular Science Monthly, vol. LXXXI (1912).

His earliest education.

Edward Austin Johnson (23 Nov. 1860-24 July 1944), educator, historian, attorney, and politician, was one of eleven children of Columbus and Eliza Johnson, slaves belonging to a large slaveholder in Wake County. Johnson acquired his earliest education from a free black, Nancy Walton, and after emancipation attended a school in Raleigh directed by two white teachers from New England. These “Yankee” teachers introduced him to the Congregational church, in which he was active for the rest of his life. …

Excerpt from biography of Edward A. Johnson,

I do not find many colored men engaged as chiropodists.

ImageDr. Jared Carey, Chiropodist and Manicure, is a very interesting character. My attention was called to him while lecturing in Cincinnati. He is a native of North Carolina, but left his native State before the war, coming to Ohio with some Quakers and free colored people. In his early life he worked on a farm and engaged in all kinds of hard work, and many a month got as pay only $6.00, which in those days was considered large wages for a farm hand.

Dr. Carey had a great desire to travel and took up the profession of Chiropody in order that he might better his own condition and in his profession visit some of the larger cities, which he did in both the United States and Canada. I do not find many colored men engaged as Chiropodists, and none that I have met are as well prepared to do the work as Dr. Carey. He has several rooms handsomely fitted up for his work at 43 Arcade, up-stairs, Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Carey gives employment to at least six people all the time. His patrons are among the best people in Cincinnati. In addition to his regular work he has written a book on Chiropody and Manicure. For quite a number of years he has, in connection with his profession, conducted a school of Chiropody, and quite a number of his pupils are engaged in their profession in other large cities. Dr. Carey is assisted in his work by his wife, who is quite an expert at both Chiropody and Manicure. She is a very refined and pleasant lady, who is much thought of by their patrons. Dr. Carey has by good management been able to purchase some valuable property. He has been an active and useful member of the M. E. Church. Any young person, either lady or gentleman, desiring to learn Chiropody or Manicure would do well to write Dr. J. Carey at 43 Arcade, Cincinnati, for full particulars as to terms. I am confident that in most any large town a good Chiropodist could do well, and I should like to see more of the colored people thus engaged.

From G.F. Richings, Evidence of Progress Among Colored People (1902).

James Edward Reed.

ImageMr. J. E. Reed was born of free parents in North Carolina, and knew nothing of slavery. He came to New Bedford, Mass., in 1878, where he attended school for two years; at the end of that time, in 1880, he secured employment as errand boy in Mr. G. F. Parlow’s photograph galleries of that city. Mr. Parlow found that the young man possessed very excellent qualities of mind, and as an evidence of his appreciation, asked him if he would like to learn photography. I need not add that Mr. Reed was only too glad to accept the offer. After mastering the profession he worked as an assistant to Mr. Parlow until 1888, when he formed a partnership with Mr. P. C. Headly, a young white man. The two young men bought out the gallery where Mr. Reed had learned his profession. This firm of Headly & Reed continued in business until 1895, when Mr. Reed bought out the interest of Mr. Headly. These young men were regarded as by far the best work-men in their line the city afforded. Their patrons were numbered among the very best people in New Bedford. To me, the most interesting phase of Mr. Reed’s work was his partnership with Mr. Headly, for I have always felt that one of the very best things that could be done, in solving what is called in this country the “Race question,” would be to bring white and colored men together in a business way, where they will have an opportunity to study each other as only those whose financial interests are blended can. I have no doubt but many comments, and doubtless unpleasant ones too, were made about the co-partnership of a white and colored man. But the fact that they succeeded, and won the respect and confidence of the best people in New Bedford, makes me hope we may hear of more such firms, in other parts of the country, for I am sure that it will prove helpful to both races to be brought more together in a business way. I can speak for Mr. Reed’s ability as an artist, having had work done in his gallery. I am also pleased to note that Mr. Reed is a very useful and energetic church and Sunday-school worker.

From G.F. Richings, Evidence of Progress Among Colored People (1902).

In the 1870 census of Parkville, Perquimans County: John Reed, 33, wife Mary Adeline, 31, and sons William Henry, 8, and James Edward, 6. In the 1880 census of New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts:on Sherman Street, John Reed, 45, carpenter, born Virginia; wife Mary A., 42, born NC; and sons James E., 16, and John, 7, both born in NC.

[Sidenote: The wording of the status of John Reed’s parents is ambiguous, and they are not found in the 1860 census. — LYH]