Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Category: Religion

Colored Baptist Church.

Samuel Sampson and his wife, Maria sold a plot of land on Warsaw Road (now College Street) for a sum of $60.00 paid by members of the Colored Baptist Church conveyed unto Balam Best, Warren Holmes, and Boyt (Boyette) Robinson chosen as trustees and their successors by the Colored Church, deeded February 23, 1870 and registered by Probate Judge J. H. Morrisey on April 26, 1879; Deed Book 37 Pages 493-494.

Hardy Bunting, Cato Brunson, Balam Best, Warren Holmes, Daniel Moore, Agrippa Bizzell, Ronnie Bennett, and Unus Hubbard became the first deacons of the church and their wives, Sarah Bunting, Jane Brunson, Elizabeth Holmes, Eliza Moore, Edith Bizzell, Rosa Bennett, and Alice Hubbard were the first Mothers of the church.

Excerpt from history of First Baptist Church of Clinton,

In the 1850 census of Northern District, Sampson County: Polly Bizzell, 37, and children Griffith, 8, Ann, 6, Penelope, 4, and Claudius, 3. In the 1860 census of Clinton, Sampson County: Holland, 21, Agrippa, 18, Ann, 16, Penelope, 14, and Claudius B. Bizzell, 12, in the household of William E. Draughorn, farmer.

From drudgery to prominence.



        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.

An unfavorable report.

Mr. Montgomery, of Hertford, from the same committee [on propositions and grievances], to home was referred the petition of sundry citizens of Anson county, praying the passage of an act, to permit Ralph Freeman, a freeman of color of said county, to exercise the privileges and functions of a preacher of the Gospel, made an unfavorable report thereon, and asking to be discharged from the further consideration of the subject, in which report the Senate concurred, and the committee was discharged accordingly.

Journals of the Senate and House of Commons of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at the Session of 1832-33 (Raleigh, 1833).

Ralph Freeman.


Elder Ralph was a colored man, and at first a slave belonging to a man in Anson county, N. C. Soon after making a profession of religion and being baptized, it was discovered that he had impressions to preach; he was licensed by the church of which he was a member. His owner proposed to sell him, and the brethren bought and gave to him his freedom. Soon after this, he was ordained to the work of the ministry. He travelled and preached a great deal in the counties of Anson, Montgomery, Moore, Randolph, and Davidson. He became a good reader, and was well read in the Scriptures. He was considered an able preacher, was frequently called upon to preach on funeral occasions, was appointed to preach on Sabbath at the association, and frequently administered the ordinance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He was of common size, was perfectly black, with smiling countenance, especially in the pulpit while speaking. He was very humble in his appearance at all times, and especially when conducting religious services. Great personal respect was always shown him by the brethren whom he visited in his preaching excursions. Elder Joseph Magee, a Baptist minister, became his warm friend, and travelled and preached with him. Such was their attachment for each other, that they agreed that the surviving one should preach the funeral of the one that died first. Elder Magee moved to the West, and died first. Upon his deathbed, he bequeathed to Ralph his riding horse, overcoat, Bible, and fifty dollars in cash, and requested his family to send for Ralph to come and preach at his funeral. In company with a white brother, Ralph went to the West and preached the funeral sermon from a text the deceased had selected. The brother that went with Ralph stated to Elder N. Richardson that he never before saw so large a congregation. At the conclusion of the sermon, Elder Magee’s brother stated to the congregation what provision his deceased brother had made for Ralph, and added, if any of you would like to give him any amount, it would be thankfully received; the congregation soon made up fifty dollars, which was given to him. While this contribution was being made, a Methodist came up and handed to Ralph one dollar. A Presbyterian, who observed it, said to him, He was singled out by a legislative act that forbade him from preaching to Black congregations. You ought not to give Ralph anything. “Why not?” said the Methodist. “Because,” said the Presbyterian, “he has torn your system all to pieces.” The Methodist replied, “I believe he has preached the truth, and I will give him the dollar.”

Ralph was able in illustrating and unfolding the doctrines of grace. Elder N. Richardson (to whom we are indebted for this biographical sketch), has baptized a number of persons who dated their convictions to the preaching of Ralph.

When the anti-mission party was formed, we have been told that Ralph became an anti-missionary.

When the legislature passed the law prohibiting colored men from preaching, Ralph was greatly mortified and had the sympathy of many brethren. Ralph was, no doubt, a truly pious and humble Christian, he had the confidence and esteem of thousands, and died in the full assurance of a blessed immortality.

From Elder George W. Purefoy, The History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association (1859).

Ralph Freeman‘s headstone: RALPH. Died about 1838/ He was a Primitive Baptist/ Preacher of much force and /usefulness./ His freedom was/ purchased by the/ Bear Creek Association/ Erected 1907.

Photo courtesy of

A free colored Lutheran.

The following colored persons were baptized and confirmed: … 5. Andrew Jackson Reid, a free boy …

From page 161, Record Book of Saint John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church 1858-1902, as transcribed in Kathryn L. Bridgers, “Black Members of St. Johns Evangelical Lutheran Church, Cabarrus County, North Carolina, 1858-1859,” North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, vol. XVI, no. 3 (1990).

In the 1860 census of Western Section, Cabarrus County: Joe House, 47, carpenter, and Andrew Reed, 19. Farm hand, in the household of John Faggart, farmer.

Free colored Baptists.

“The early rolls of the white First Baptist Church [founded in 1843] carried its Negro membership. … Of this group of 34 members, twenty-four were members of the white church, and ten came in as original members of the new [African-American] church.”

George Hooks, Angelina Capps, Chloe Morrisey, Chloe Baker, Esther Carroll, Mary Hines, Ammon Webb, Dolly Burnett, Mary Burnett, Anise Exum, William Wade, Sarah Washington, Martha Suggs, Harriett Wilcox, Simon Morrisey, Penney Fields, Serena Dewey, Peggy Privett, George Washington, Abram Baker, Moses Carroll, Rachell Hassell, Patience Essler, Keziah Burnett, Winney Green, Milley Cogdell, Charles Wait Thompson, Lizzy Thompson, Amy Ford, John C. Privott, Burley Burrell, Betsy Baker, Amy Lynch, Sarah Jernigan.

From First African Baptist Church 1864-1978: Dedicatorial Year, published by First African Baptist Church, Goldsboro.

In the 1860 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County: Susan Bordan, 70, baker; Angia Capps, 60, sewer; and Catharine Carrol, 7. Also, Dolly Burnett, 20, “serving,” Polly Burnett, 18, Betsy Burnett, 5, and William An Burnett, 3.

In the 1850 census of the North Side of Neuse, Wayne County: Cuzzy Green40, and William Burnett, 35, barber, who claimed $300 property. 

William R. Pettiford.


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).

John Chavis.


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

Church roots.

St. Matthews Church History (1890-1992)

St. Matthews Presbyterian Church was organized October 5, 1890 under the auspices of The Reverend Clarence Dillard. Reverend Dillard was then moderator of Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina and saw the need for and future success of a Presbyterian Church in Dudley.

Reverend Dillard worked diligently to get the Church organized and was its first Moderator, serving the Church from 1890 until 1913. There were nine known original members, most of whom have descendants who are members today. The original members were Mr. Washington Simmons, a teacher in Dudley; Mrs. Amanda Hagans, Mr. Wesley Budd and wife Julia, Mr. William Newkirk and wife Hattie Ann, Mr. Isaac Griswold and wife Cherry, and Mrs. Tempsy Boseman.


Colored communicants.

Communicants reported 27 May 1857 – …  27. Polly Bethel. 28. Jerry Bethel (colored) 29. Margaret Strange (colored)

Communicants added since Convention 27 May 1857 — … 31. Annabella Wilson (colored) … 39. William Foster (colored)

22 May 1857 “Day after Ascension Day. The ordinance of confirmation was administered to the following persons by the Rt. Rev. Thomas Atkinson, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese” … Annabella Wilson (colored)

1. Nancy Williams 2. Hannah Pinckney 3. William D. Pinckney 4. Thomas B. Taylor 5. Harriet Taylor 6. Mary Jane Brown 7. William Foster 8. Mary Bethel 9. Eliza T. Bryant (the above being colored communicants) “The above confirmed by Bp. Atkinson at his visitation of the parish October 10, 1858. T.S.W. Mott, pastor.”

From W.H. Biggers, Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, Extracts from the First Parish Register (1975). 

In the 1860 census of Western Division, Mecklenburg County: Jerry Bethel, 45, barber, “manumitted,” wife Mary Bethel, 40, and Robison Reid, 8. 

In the 1860 census of Western Division, Mecklenburg County: W.F. Strange, 54, clerk-U.S. Mint, born Scotland; Edy, 75; Caroline, 43; James, 22, coach painter[?]; Margaret, 20, “hs keeper;” Robert, 14; Anna, 12; Edward, 9; and Mary Strange, 5; plus Elizabeth Jack, 12; all except W.F. were mulatto.

In the 1860 census of Western Division, Mecklenburg County: Mary Foster, 29, laborer; William, 24, wheelwright; Annabella, 20, laborer; Mary, 2; Austin, 5 months; and Jane Clark, 7.