Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Category: Biography

From drudgery to prominence.

XVIII.

REV. NICHOLAS FRANKLIN ROBERTS, A. B., A. M.

        Professor of Mathematics–President of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina–Moderator of 100,000 Colored Baptists.

        AMONG the rising young men of the old “Tar Heel State” is the one whose name is at the head of this article. He has reflected honor upon the State that gave him birth; he is a young man who has risen from the drudgery of farm life to the prominence of a professor in a university, and is therefore a representative of his people. There are many older persons, of course, who might be selected, and some may bring the charge of “young men” against some of the characters in this book, but if in early life they have placed themselves at the head of great enterprises, it seems fitting that they should be noticed for the encouragement of others who come behind them. Then the depths from which some people rise, and the heights to which they climb, is worthy of notice. Now is there reason for the farmer boy who reads this sketch to be discouraged because he has hard work, plowing, cutting and hauling wood, caring for the pigs, feeding the cows, and other laborious work? It seems not to me. The advantages of a farm life are many, though there may be rough spots and difficult passages. Indeed, the days of a farmer are well spent in being influenced by nature and thus being led up to nature’s God. Boys in the country have their minds measurably kept pure and untainted by the things that destroy the purity of the mind, and many of these “young men” referred to are mentioned as a means of encouragement to those who still are behind in the race of life.

        He was born near Seaboard, North Hampton county, North Carolina, October 13, 1849. At the age of twelve years he relates that he had a thirst for learning, which made him apply himself to his books very diligently. He would study very late at night, often all night. The young man was especially apt with figures, easily leading the other boys, with whom he was associated, in all efforts at mathematical calculation. With ease every problem was solved by him in common school mathematics before he ever attended school. His mathematical mind was the subject of much comment, and he has only accomplished in that sphere what was prophesied for him. October 10, 1871, he entered Shaw University, then known as the Shaw Collegiate Institute. Here he pursued an eminently satisfactory life, entering the lowest grade and passing up the line through a college course, eliciting the praise and commendation of the president and faculty. May, 1878, he graduated with much honor and received the applause of his fellow-students and the congratulations of his friends.

        Having been converted March, 1872, and feeling a call to the ministry, he was ordained to the work of a gospel minister May 20, 1877. Rev. Roberts’ ability as a mathematician has steadily promoted him in this department of educational work, and the professorship of mathematics has been held by him in his alma mater ever since graduation, except one year when he labored as general missionary for North Carolina, under the auspices of the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York, and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. God has thus given him an extended field of usefulness where he might develop into a powerful man. Blount Street Baptist church, Raleigh, North Carolina, called for him to serve them as their pastor on July 2, 1882. This pastoral work has been done in connection with his work as professor, and they have been of mutual help to each other. There is great love existing between the pastor and the people, and the church has prospered, adding year by year to their numbers “such as shall be saved.” As a Sabboth-school worker, earnestness and love to God has characterized his life. From 1873 to 1883, a period of ten consecutive years, he has held the position of president of the State Sunday School convention, and in October, 1885, he was unanimously elected president of the State Baptist convention, which position he now holds, esteemed by all the brethren of the State. His position makes him the representative of 100,000 colored Baptists, and as such he is recognized and respected. His position in the university gives him prestige among the educated, and his indorsement by the convention shows the people are in favor of education.

From Rev. William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (1887).

In the 1850 census of Northampton County: Ransom Roberts, 60, farmer; Lavina, 50; Jonathan, 27, blacksmith; Peterson, 24, William, 22, and John, 20, laborers; Mary, 27; Atha, 78; and Nicholas Roberts, 2.

Nicholas Franklin Roberts. Died 24 June 1934, Raleigh, Wake County. Resided 401 Oberlin Road, Raleigh. Colored. Married to Mary S. Roberts. Retired dean of theological school. Born 13 October 1849 in Northampton County to unknown father and Mary Roberts. Buried Mount Hope. Informant, Dr. P.F. Roberts, Raleigh.

He maintained ties to politics.

In 1860 Henry C. Cherry, a 24 year-old free mulatto carpenter residing in Edgecombe County, owned no property. By 1870 he owned real estate valued at $1,000 and had already served as a delegate to the North Carolina Constitution Convention in 1868 and one term in the state assembly. In addition to maintaining his carpentry firm, during the 1880s Cherry ran a combination grocery and liquor establishment in Tarboro. Although he was elected to the state legislature for only a single term, Cherry also served on the county commission of Edgecombe. Further, Cherry maintained ties to politics though his three sons-in-law. His daughter Louise married Henry P. Cheatham, and his daughter Cora married George H. White, two of the most influential black officeholders in North Carolina during the 1880s and 1890s. These rivals were elected to the U.S House of Representatives North Carolina’s Second Congressional District for a total of four terms. Further, another of Cherry’s daughter, Georgie, was the wife of Eustace E. Green, a member of the state assembly from Wilmington.

From Robert C. Kenzer, Enterprising Southerners: Black Economic Success of North Carolina 1865-1915 (1997).

In the 1860 census of Edgecombe County: Henry Bonner, 30, carpenter, wife Charity, 18, daughter Harriet, 1, Willie Bonner, 23, carpenter, and Henry Cherry, 26, carpenter.

[Sidenote: Henry C. Cherry married Mary Jones in Edgecombe County on 14 March 1861, about a year after the death of Henry Lloyd, the white man who fathered her first two children. Georgie Jones, above, was Henry Cherry’s step-daughter. – LYH]

Self-evident facts.

SKETCH OF THE JONES FAMILY

John R. Jones is the son of Martha Jones, and his father was a white man. Martha Jones’ mother was one Polly Jones, a pure white woman, and her father was an Indian. She was one-half white, one-half Indian. John R. Jones, therefore, was three-fourths white, one-fourth Indian. He married Macy A. Brewington, the daughter of Hardy Brewington. They have a large family of boys and girls in their home, white predominating, seemingly in himself and his entire family. Martha Jones is now living and says the above statements are true. Also, judging from her features and general characteristics, it is a self-evident fact that she is of Indian and white extraction. The said Martha Jones also has another son and several daughters, who are undoubtedly of pure white and Indian blood.

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

Timothy Goodman and family.

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JONATHAN GOODMAN

The subject of this sketch is now 76 years old and resides in Honeycutts Township, Sampson County. His wife, now dead, was Dorcas Maynor. Their children and grandchildren attend the Indian school in Herrings Township. Jonathan Goodman’s father was Timothy Goodman and his mother was Nancy Maynor. The records in the Register of Deeds’ office of Sampson County show that Timothy Goodman was a large land owner before the Civil War, and after his death his widow, Nancy Goodman, was assigned dower in this land in Sampson County, according to these records. She was a typical Croatan Indian and showed no traces of negro blood. Jonathan’s grandmother was Nancy Revell, and the Revell family are now prominent Croatans in Robeson County.

SKETCH OF THE GOODMAN FAMILY

Timothy Goodman is the founder of this particular family in Sampson County. He is said to have represented in features and general appearance the Indian race, he having straight black hair, and his complexion being of reddish hue. His mother was one Sallie Hobbs. His father unknown. He married Nancy Maynor, a woman who was an excellent specimen of the Cherokee Indian race. Jonathan Goodman is the son of the above Timothy Goodman, and we are sure, judging from his general appearance, that he is at least three-fourths Indian, with only one-fourth white. His first wife was one Dorcas Maynor, Indian, daughter of Morris Maynor. Many sons and daughters were born to this couple, after which the first wife died, and he married his present wife, Lucy Faircloth, who was the daughter of a white woman by the name of Mary Faircloth. Her father being unknown to the writer. Mary E. Brewington is the daughter of Lucy Goodman, her father being an Indian. Mary E. Brewington married James Brewington, a son of Raford Brewington. They also have several sons and daughters.

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

The Howe family.

The Howe Family of Wilmington, North Carolina, encompassed at least four generations of men of color active in the city’s building trades. As traced in William Reaves’ Strength Through Struggle: The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina 1865-1950, they included Anthony Howe (d. 1837) and his sons Anthony (ca. 1807-after 1870), Pompey (d. by 1869), and Alfred Augustus (1817-1892); Anthony’s sons Anthony Jr. (dates unknown), Washington (b. ca. 1827-after 1870), John Harriss (ca. 1841-1902), and Valentine Howe (ca. 1842-1904); and at least four of John H. Howe’s sons who followed their father and uncles into the building business. Although these men erected many buildings, thus far relatively few have been identified as their work.

According to family tradition, Anthony Walker Howe was born in Africa, sold into slavery and transported to the Lower Cape Fear area in the 18th century, where he was bought by a man named Walker and then sold by Walker’s widow to Col. Robert Howe. On Howe’s plantation, Anthony employed building skills learned in his native land and was soon involved in plantation construction projects. Family tradition also relates that local Native Americans had left a baby girl known as Tenah at the Howe plantation, and in time she wed Anthony Walker. They and their children took the name Howe. (It is said that Col. Howe freed Anthony, Tenah, and their children, but the first members of the family to appear in census lists of free people of color are sons Anthony and Alfred in 1860.) Anthony Walker Howe died in 1837 and Tenah survived him until 1852.  they were buried in a family cemetery, and their remains were moved subsequently to Pine Forest Cemetery, where many of their family members would be buried as well.

In the 1860 census of Wilmington, free black carpenters Anthony and Alfred Howe were listed as next-door neighbors. Anthony Howe, aged 53, was married to a woman named Betsy and had two small children at home. Alfred Howe, aged 46, was married to a woman named Mary, and their children included Mary, Isabella, Alfred, and John. Anthony and Alfred each owned personal property valued at $300. Only a few doors away lived carpenter Israel Howe, aged 60, probably a kinsman. John D. Bellamy, Jr., who was a boy during construction of his family’s Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, recalled that “the Howes” were involved in its construction. Other antebellum Howe projects have yet to be identified, though it is likely that they worked with leading architect-builder James F. Post projects other than Bellamy Mansion.

More is known of the Howes’ postwar activities, for they thrived as leading citizens and builders in an era of strong black community and economic life in Wilmington. Having been free artisans before the war, and having established relationships with men such as James F. Post, they were well situated to practice their trades after the war.

Adapted from North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary,  http://ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu  (All rights retained.) This web site is a growing reference work that contains brief biographical accounts, building lists, and bibliographical information about architects, builders, and other artisans who planned and built North Carolina’s architecture. 

John P. Green.

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Hon. John P. Green was born in 1845 at New Berne, N.C., of free parents. As a boy of twelve years of age, he went with his widowed mother to Cleveland, Ohio. He was educated in the Cleveland public schools, graduating from the Central High School in 1869.

He was admitted to the bar of South Carolina in 1870. Returning to Cleveland, he for nine years served as justice of the peace. In 1881 he was elected member of the Ohio Legislature, serving three terms.

In 1897 he was appointed to a position in the postoffice department by President McKinley.He was also delegate to the National Republican Convention in 1872, in 1884 and 1896.

From D.W. Culp, ed., Twentieth century Negro literature, or, A cyclopedia of thought on the vital topics relating to the American Negro.

Courtesy of New Bern-Craven County Public Library. 

Master craftsman.

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1. Thomas Day’s cutouts and molding liven up a front porch. 1860, Garland-Buford House, North Carolina. Photo by Tim Buchman, 2013.

2. Day did architectural work inside clients’ home, adding his flourish to facades, staircases and archways. Newel, 1855, Glass-Dameron House, North Carolina. Photo by Tim Buchman, 2013.

3. Day’s uniquely “Exuberant Style” in full bloom. Whatnot, 1853-1860. Collection of Margaret Walker Brunson Hill, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

From http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2013/04/the-incredible-true-story-of-north-carolinas-most-prominent-antebellum-master-craftsman-freeman-thomas-day/#ixzz2QajpZC9G 

William R. Pettiford.

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Rev. William Reuben Pettiford, D.D.

This popular and influential pastor well deserves mention for hard, persevering, laborious, and faithful work for God and his fellow man.

Rev. W.R. Pettiford was born in Granville County, North Carolina, January 20, 1847.His parents, William and Matilda Pettiford, were free, and, according to the law of the land, their son was free. … His parents sold their little farm and moved to Person County, where he had the advantage of private instruction, and obtained a very fair knowledge of the English branches. Being the oldest child, he had to bear a part of the burden of the family; the hard, toilsome work he was compelled to do was a school of preparation for his life work.

Being converted in 1868, and baptized at Salisbury, N.C., by Rev. Ezekiel Horton, was the beginning of the life which has made him an earnest disciple and minister of Christ. … In 1869 he married Miss Mary J. Farley. Business becoming dull he moved to Selma, Alabama, and worked there both as a laborer and teacher. In March, 1870, after being married eight months, his wife died. Deciding to pursue a further course of training he entered the state normal school at Marion, Alabama. He remained there seven years, paying his expenses by teaching during vacations. … He was connected with the church at Marion, where he made a favorable impression upon the brethren by attending and conducting prayer-meetings and revivals. The church licensed him to preach in March, 1879. Mr. Pettiford had in the mean time, 1873, married a Mrs. Jennie Powell, of Marion, who died September, 1874, leaving him for the second time a widower. As principal of the school at Uniontown he was assisted by Mrs. Florence Billingslea and Rev. John Dozier. Mr. Pettiford met with much success. Wishing to take a more extended course of study, he resigned his position as principal, 1877, and entered Selma University. The following year the trustees appointed him a teacher at a salary of twenty dollars per month and permission to pursue the theological studies …. [He married Della Boyd on November 23, 1880; was ordained at St. Philip Baptist Church in Selma; moved to Union Springs; then, in 1883, accepted a call at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.]

At this time the church had a membership of one hundred and fifty, were worshiping in a store in the low part of town, and five hundred dollars in debt. [A year later, the debt was retired and a new edifice costing more than $7000 built.]

He is president of the ministerial union of Birmingham, a trustee of Selma University, president of the Baptist State Convention, and president of Alabama Penny Savings Bank. Besides owning a valuable home in the city, he is interested in other property. …

The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon Rev. Pettiford by Selma University.

Adapted from A.W. Pegues, Our Baptist Ministers and Schools (1892).

Thomas Day.

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Thomas Day, a cabinetmaker by trade, is the most celebrated of North Carolina’s antebellum craftsmen. He was born 1801 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, to a family of free, landowning African-Americans. His father, John Day, was a skilled cabinetmaker who plied other trades as well, but always relied on woodworking to bring in money. Thomas and his brother John Day were well-educated. John’s education, during which he boarded with prominent whites and attending schools with them, is documented in his later correspondence, and it is assumed that Thomas did the same. Both of the Day sons initially followed in their father’s footsteps, learning the skills of a cabinetmaker. John eventually left the trade to study theology and later moved to Liberia, becoming one of its founders by signing its Declaration of Independence.

John Day moved to Warren County by 1820 and it is believed that Thomas was with him. The Days had established themselves in the furniture business in Milton by 1823. Thomas Day became a prominent and well-respected citizen of the community. In response to an act that prohibited free blacks from immigrating into the state, Milton’s white leaders petitioned the General Assembly in 1830 to allow Day’s bride, Aquilla Wilson, a free black from Virginia, to join him. They reared two sons and a daughter. In his almost forty years in Milton, Thomas Day built an extraordinary business, employing freedmen and slaves alike to craft stock lines of furniture and to fill custom orders for furniture and interior woodworking. By 1850, Day had the largest cabinetry shop in North Carolina. He is believed to have died in about 1861, after having suffered financial losses due to the national panic of 1857.

Adapted from ncmarkers.com.

In the 1850 census of Milton, Caswell County: Thomas Day, 49, cabinetmaker, born Virginia, property valued at $8000; wife Aquila, 44; son Devereux J., 17, cabinetmaker, born Milton; Mourning S. Day, 84, born VA; and Joshua Wood, 32, cabinetnaker; all mulatto except the last, who was white.

John Chavis.

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This marker, originally approved and erected in 1938, was the first one in the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program dedicated to African American history. The original sign (depicted in the photograph) was replaced in 2009 by one with a revised inscription.

John Chavis, born around 1763 in Virginia, was a prominent free black preacher and educator in and around Raleigh area from 1810 on. Chavis had an extensive education for the time, likely the best education of any African American of his day. He is best known for his classical teaching in Raleigh, educating children of all races. In 1832 free blacks lost many of their rights in North Carolina, and Chavis lost his freedom to preach and teach. He died in 1838, having lived and worked as a respected member of society.

Little is known about John Chavis’s early life, but it is thought, based on estate records from 1773, that he may have been an indentured servant for Halifax, Virginia, attorney James Milner. It is also speculated that Chavis received early education from Milner’s classical library under the tutelage of Reverend William Willie. In 1778, Chavis enlisted in the 5th Regiment of Virginia, serving for three years for the Patriots. Honorably discharged, Chavis studied at Washington Academy, present-day Washington & Lee University, and possibly studied privately at Princeton with Dr. John Witherspoon, the president of what was then College of New Jersey. In 1800 he returned to Virginia and was licensed as a Presbyterian minister.

Between 1801 and 1807, John Chavis did mission work among slaves for the Presbyterian Church throughout the southeastern United States. In 1809 he moved to Raleigh, where he began preaching as a part of the Orange County Presbytery. It was around this time that Chavis began his school.

Chavis’ school accepted both black and white students, widely expanding the options available for the education of free blacks in Raleigh at the time. Chavis taught white students during the day and black students during the evening. Many were from notable families in North Carolina, including future Governor Charles Manly and the sons of Chief Justice Leonard Henderson. Chavis may also have  instructed future United States Senator Willie P. Mangum.

Following Nat Turner’s Rebellion, free blacks across the south lost their standing as citizens. Chavis could no longer legally preach or educate, and was forced to close his school and retire. In 1833 he published his only written work, a sermon entitled An Essay on Atonement. The work was successful and widely read, and helped to supplement his income during the final years of his life. Chavis died on June 15, 1838. His burial location is unknown, although there is speculation that the grave is on Willie P. Mangum’s former plantation in present-day Durham County.

Adapted from ncmarkers.com.