Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Category: Religion

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.

Can the preacher preach?

Friday, 30th.

Mr. Morris presented the petition of sundry citizens of Anson, praying the passage of an act to permit Ralph Freeman, a free man of color, to exercise the functions of a Preacher. Referred.

North-Carolina Free Press (Halifax), 11 December 1832.

Tokens of God’s anger.


Goldsboro Messenger, 3 April 1884.

Jesse A. Jacobs was born about 1817 in Sampson County and died in Wayne County in 1902.

Services at Andrew Chapel.



Andrew Chapel, (colored.) –Services at 10 A.M. and 8 P.M., by the pastor, Rev. W.M. Walsh.

Newbern Daily Progress, 25 June 1859.

Concerning the distressing inconvenience of the emancipation of slaves by Quakers.

Edenton District, October Term 1793   )

The Grand Jurors for the aforesaid District present as a Grievance, the Distressing Inconveniences, the good people of the district lay under from the Inefficiency of the Laws intended to restrict the Emancipation of Slaves. That the people called Quakers in other respect good Citizens, have by their Conduct, made that Species of property not only of small Value, but have Rendered it dangerous to the personal Safety of the proprietores of Negroes, and those who live in the Vicinity of them, by infranchising their own Slaves and Sowing discontent and disobedience in the minds of their Neighbours Slaves. That it is now become Necessary for the preservation of good Order and the Security of the Citizens of this district that Measures should be Taken to put a stop to this Evil.

It is not for the Grand Jury to point out remedial Laws, but to declare a necessity for them; They therefore require their representatives in the next General Assembly; to lay this their presentment before the Legislature — in whose Wisdom they Confide — and whose protection as Citizens they demand trsuting that Measures will be taken so to modify the religious Enthusiasm which pervades their Quaker Neighbours: that the Citizens of this District may Enjoy a full participation of a Constitution which they have assisted to raise. Viz a protection of their Personal Liberties and properties.

1. Woolsey Hathaway Foreman 2. William Saterfield 3. Thomas E. Hare 4. J.H. Ward 5. Thomas Simons 6. Enoch Dauge 7. Thomas Davis 8. John Bevin 9. Saml. W. Johnston 10. Enoch Dailey 11. Jos. Banks 12. Willis Roberts 13. Joseph Tarkington 14. Spencer Thach 15. James Temple 16. John Campbell 17. John Jones

Records of Slaves and Free People of Color, Chowan County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Jonah Williams.


Jonah Williams, son of free woman of color Vicey Artis and her enslaved husband Solomon Williams, is buried in a now-overgrown cemetery near Eureka, Wayne County.

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).

London Woodard & Penny Lassiter.


“Uncle London” Woodard (1792-November 15, 1870) was one of the most respectable black men of his area and time. Having been married about 1817 to James Bullock Woodard’s Venus, he was purchased by this planter on May 24, 1828, and became his overseer and distiller. London was baptized into the fellowship of the Tosneot Primitive Baptist Church on August 24, 1828, and Venus on August 4, 1838. This good woman died about the end of 1845, leaving several children to mourn her loss.

In 1846, he married Penelope Lassiter, daughter of Hardy Lassiter. She had become an indispensable part of the James B. Woodard household after the death of his first wife in 1837. “Aunt Pennie,” a free woman of light color, who worked hard, saved her money, and bought land. On September 18, 1854, she also bought “Uncle London” and made him a free man. He was “liberated to preach” on April 21, 1866, and in the following December Mrs. Elizabeth Farmer gave him one acres upon which he soon erected “London’s Primitive Baptist Church” which is still in existence.

From the introduction to Hugh Buckner Johnston, The Woodard Confederate Letters of Wilson County (1977). 

Photo of London Church taken by  Lisa Y. Henderson, May 2013.

[Sidenote: Actually, while London Woodard may have lived essentially as a free man after Penny Lassiter’s purchase, there is no evidence that he was in fact emancipated prior to the end of the Civil War.  No record of such has been found and, while Penny and their children appear as Lassiters in the 1860 census, he does not.

The London Church congregation built a new edifice on the church’s original site on Herring Avenue in Wilson. The building above was saved and moved around the corner to a site on London Church Road, where it sits neglected. — LYH]

Circuit preacher.

Church Directory “Fremont Items” —

Rev. Jonah Williams of Wilson filled his regular appointment at Turners Swamp last Sunday.

The Blade, Wilson, 20 Nov 1897.

[Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Church still meets in a small church north of Eureka, Wayne County. Descendants of several of Jonah Williams’ siblings are buried there. — LYH]

A preacher of the gospel dies.


In Fayetteville on the night of the 17th inst. in the 50th year of his age, Henry Evans, a free man of colour, a preacher of the gospel, for more than 20 years.

Raleigh Minerva, 27 September 1810.