Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History

Grandma Becky.

I was stunned to learn that my grandmother had known her great-grandmother. “I didn’t know you knew her.” “Yes, indeed.”

She was a little, brown-skinned woman, had beautiful hair.  She was short.  Even shorter than I am.  Tiny.  And she used to keep us when Papa and Mama would go away, maybe for the day or overnight.  She’d always come down and keep us.  And, boy, we’d have a ball, ‘cause she’d let us do anything.  Our mother used to have a closet full of canned goods, you know.  Blackberries and dewberries and apples and all kinds of stuff.  And, honey, Grandma Becky would let us go in there and eat up a whole jar of peaches.  She just let us do anything.  We were crazy about her.

Rebecca Parks Colvert was born about 1839, probably in Iredell County NC. Her death certificate reports her parents as Jerry and Lettie Gray — probably the Jerry and Lett listed in the 1827 inventory of John A. Colvert’s estate. Becky was about 14 when she married Walker Colvert, and the couple probably lived apart until Emancipation. The 1860 slave schedule of Iredell lists ten slaves belonging to Walker’s owner W.I. Colvert, but none appear to be Becky or her children. (Was she owned by a Parks, one of John A. Colvert’s kin?) She reared Walker’s son John, and her own children Elvira and Lovina and Lewis, and then Walker’s grandson Lon. After her husband’s death in 1905, she left their farm north of town in Union Grove township and moved into Statesville.

Becky Colvert died 26 May 1915 at the Harrison Street home of her stepson John W. Colvert. She was about 76 years old.


Interview with Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Louvicey Artis Aldridge.


Vicey was little, rawboned-ed.  With a peaked nose, and she was more Indian color.  But she had that pretty hair.  I remember her when she used to come to Wilson.  She come up there visiting once in a while.  Vicey was, ahh ….  You remember Josephine Sherrod?  Well, she was lighter than her.  But she had that peaky nose and had nice hair.


This is my grandmother’s description of her paternal grandmother, Louvicey Artis Aldridge. Josephine Artis Sherrod (in the second photo) was Louvicey’s half-sister — and niece. Their father was Adam T. Artis. After the death of Vicey’s mother, Adam married Amanda Aldridge, sister of Vicey’s husband John W. Aldridge.

Photographs in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson. Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Paternal Kin, Religion, Virginia

Church home, no. 3: New Vine Baptist Church, Charles City VA

“The New Vine Baptist Church was organized in July 1870.  It all began when a few families living at Westover Plantation were holding prayer services from house to house.  Then Mr. Major Drewery,* who was the plantation owner, offered the families living there a piece of land on which to build a church. Several families, including some from Elam Baptist Church (Ruthville) and First Baptist Church (Bermuda Hundred), accepted Mr. Drewery’s offer.  They picked a spot about 600 feet from the Herring Creek, built a church and gave it the name New De Vine Baptist Church.  As the years passed, the name New De Vine was dropped and the church was given the name New Vine Baptist Church.”  — from “About Us,”


I don’t know when the Allens first began worshiping at New Vine, but they may have been among its earliest members. Graham Allen was a preacher — was this his congregation? He is buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery behind the church. John Allen Sr. married Mary Agnes Holmes at New Vine in 1900, and his brother-in-law Stephen Whirley was a deacon there for 47 years before his death in 1949.

[*Sidenote:  During the Civil War, at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff in 1862, troops under the command of Augustus Harrison “A.H.” Drewry, stationed on his land high above the James River, held off the Union warships Monitor and Galena. After the war, Drewry moved across the river to Charles City County to Westover Plantation, built in the 1750s by William Byrd III.]

Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History, Religion

Church home, no. 2: Holy Cross Mission, Statesville NC.

Me: Where did y’all go to church?

Margaret Colvert Allen: We were Episcopalians.

Me: What was — was the church in Statesville? What was it called?

MCA: Holy Cross Mission.

Me: It was a black church?

MCA: Mm-hmm.

Me: Oh, okay. And y’all participated —

MCA: Everybody but Papa.

My mother: What was Papa?

MCA: He was a late bloomer. [Laughs.] He didn’t join the church ’til he was about … oh, near 50, something like that. No, it wasn’t that late. About 40, I guess. Like all people who join church late like that, they are fanatics when they finally do, and that’s the way he was. But in the meantime, you see, we had been going with Mama to church. Went to Sunday school, we went to eleven o’clock service, then we went back again at four. And, when he joined church, he joined another church his mother belonged to. Which was an AME Zion church. And we had to go to that church, too.

Me: Plus the Episcopal church???

MCA: We had to go to his church at night. It was all right, ’cause we didn’t mind. That was an outlet.


“Trinity Episcopal Church was organized as The Chapel of the Cross in 1858. The congregation built a church on Walnut Street in 1875 to serve its 25 members and took the name Trinity Church. The Walnut Street church stands today and is the Quaker Meeting House. Holy Cross Church, Statesville’s African-American Episcopal congregation, was formed in 1887. The Holy Cross congregation held services on Washington Avenue in a building which is no longer standing. After nearly 100 years the congregations of these churches merged. Ground was broken on the plot of land on North Center Street at Henkel Road on June 18, 1967, beginning construction of the church building that is home to our parish today. The Blessing of Trinity Episcopal Church was held September 28, 1968.” — From “Parish History,”

Interview of Margaret C. Allen, 8 August 1999, Newport News VA; all rights reserved.

Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina

Uncle Julius gets bamboozled.


Mr. Editor: — One day last week a well dressed gentleman of color, wearing a flashy, gold looking watch chain, with checks on the First National Bank of New York for $2500, put in his appearance at the house of Julius McNeely, one of our most trustworthy, hard-working darkies. Jule being of a hospitable nature did what he could to make his visitor comfortable. The said gentleman of color represented himself as Mr. Ed. Brown, a relative of Margaret (Jule’s wife), having left this country twenty-three years ago, that he had been in the U.S. Army and Navy, traveled over the world, made plenty of money and was now traveling in the interest of the Western Colored Emigration Society; he gave glorious descriptions of California and offered to furnish transportation free to all who would go with him to the land of milk and honey. Jule and Margaret listened with delight to the many wonderful stories he told of the outside world, and on last Friday morning prepared his breakfast and went to the field to work, leaving him reposing in bed. When lo! Upon returning they found he had skipped, taking with him Jule’s new double-barrel breach-loading shot gun that cost $25, a gold ring belonging to the school marm, worth $10, 50 cents in wash and a pint of Jule’s medicinal whiskey. He made his way to Cleveland, bought a ticket to Statesville with the stolen half dollar and boarded the 12 o’clock train with the gun and ring. Julius is sorrowing, and offers to pay $10 or any amount above that he can raise to anybody who will “cotch dat nigger devil.”

Said negro is of small stature, copper or ginger cake colored with a broad scar on the left side of his neck, a black spot on the upper part of his nose between his eyes and a mole on one of his cheeks. He is between 38 and 40 years of age and his hair is slightly mixed with gray. He was raised at Davidson College and came in the possession of Mrs. Kate Barnes, Dr. Kerr’s niece. He ran away from Charlotte, where his mother now lives, for stealing, and had been staying about Salisbury with Wylie Dodge and Harriet Brown previous to his coming out here. He left this neighborhood in 1866, at which time he was in the employ of a writer. He stole a gold watch from Mrs. Ray and sold it to William Stockton, of Salisbury. The watch was recovered, but Ed. Was not heard of since until he turned up at Julius McNeely’s, last week. He is a professional rogue, and the local papers will please hand him around.    J.T. RAY.

The Carolina Watchman, Statesville, 11 April 1889.

Births Deaths Marriages, Oral History, Paternal Kin

When Grandma Mag died.

My grandmother was 5 years old when her great-grandmother Margaret B. Henderson died in 1915. This is what she recalled:

I remember when Grandma Mag died.  I don’t remember ‘em burying her.  But I was up to Nora’s house.  That’s how come I remember it.  Grandma Mag was living, well, she was in bed, she was sick.  I don’t remember her being up. Grandma Mag stayed down in Dudley. When she died, I was down there, and we went to Nora’s house.  And I used to ask myself, ‘Why is she in the bed all the time?’  

During Grandma Mag’s funeral, I stayed with Aunt Vicey and Nora and Beulah, the one that had the wen under her neck.  We called her A’nt Vicey, but she was my grandmama. I stayed up there with them, and I was scared to sleep in the bed by myself. So Nora told me, “Well, if you get in the back and I’ll get in the front.”  So she said, “Well, I’ll be in here right with you,” so I went on to sleep.  That’s who I slept with. 

So, I stayed up there in that house when Grandma Mag died.  I stayed up there.  And I slept in her room.  I remember that.  But I don’t remember … they didn’t let me go to the funeral, I don’t think. 

“Aunt Vicey” was Louvicey Artis Aldridge (1865-1927), her father’s mother. “Nora” and “Beulah” were Vicey’s daughters Lenora Aldridge Henderson (1902-1961) and Beulah Aldridge Carter (1893-1986).

Free People of Color, Letters, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

The case for Eliza Balkcum Aldridge.


She is obviously a very old woman, stooped and twisted, but with a full head of silvery hair pulled into a loose bun. Her daughter-in-law stands to one side, hand resting protectively on the back of her chair. The only known photographs of Mary Eliza Balkcum Aldridge, two of them, were taken the same day near the end of her long life.

The basic outline of Eliza’s life is established. According to her death certificate, she was born 29 February 1829 in Duplin County. She married Robert Aldridge around 1850, but no marriage license has been found for them. Eleven of her children lived to adulthood. She ran the domestic side of a farmer’s household and slipped out to deliver babies when called upon. She inherited 53 acres from her husband’s estate, but spent her last years in the households of her youngest sons, Robert and Joseph.

The details of her early life are less clear, but I believe she was born to an unorthodox white woman named Nancy Balkcum. Here’s the case:

  • About 30 years ago, a cousin prepared an unannotated family history (apparently based on oral tradition) that notes “Robert [Aldridge] married Eliza Bayscin in 1850.  Eliza was born in Johnson [sic] County, North Carolina in 1830.  She had two sisters, Mary and Maggie.”  Everything in this document must be taken with a grain of salt — it borders on the hagiographic and is very romantic — but the basic story seems to be rooted in fact.
  • In the 1850 census of Sampson County, a 21 year-old named Elizabeth Balkcum appears in the household of Lemuel Balkcum.  Elizabeth does not appear to be his spouse. She is listed last in the household, after minor children. As I’ll explain in another post, Lemuel Balkcum was the grandson of Hester Balkcum, and most likely the son of Nancy Balkcum. Though her name is slightly off, I believe “Elizabeth” is Eliza.
  • In 1854, Nancy Balkcum’s will was probated in Sampson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Her legatees were “daughter Margaret Balkcum,” “two daughters Eliza and Mary,” and “son Harman.” (This matches the Mary and Maggie in the family history above, and I am certain its writer never saw Nancy’s will.)
  • In the 1860 census of Newton Grove, Sampson County, Mary E. Aldridge appears with her husband Robert and children. This is the only reference to her as “Mary E.” In subsequent censuses — 1870 and 1880 in Brogden township, Wayne County; 1900 in Providence township, Wayne County; and again in 1910 and 1920 in Brogden township — she is called Eliza Aldridge.
  • Eliza’s son Matthew Aldridge died in 1920 in Goldsboro, Wayne County.  His death certificate lists his mother as “Lizzie Borkem.”
  • Eliza Aldridge died 29 January 1924 of influenza.  She was just short of 95 years old. Eliza’s son Joseph did not know Eliza’s father, but gave her mother’s name as “Nancy.”
  • Son Joseph Aldridge died in 1934 in Wayne County. His death certificate lists his mother as “Eliza Barkin” of Sampson County.
  • Son Robert Aldridge died in 1940 in Wayne County. His death certificate lists his mother as “Eliza Baucom” of Wayne County.
Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

James Henderson’s children, part 1: the Skipps.

James Henderson had two sets of children. His first set bore the surname Skipp in childhood, when they were apprentices, and these facts suggest that James and their mother were not married. Son James Henry’s death certificate gives his mother’s name as Sallie Henderson. Was she instead Sallie Skipp?  Skipp is rare name in Onslow County, but a free man of color named William Skipp headed a household in 1820. Her father, perhaps?

The children of James Henderson and “Sallie Skipp”:

Lewis Henderson married Margaret Balkcum, a free woman of color from Sampson or Duplin County.  The family settled near Dudley, in southern Wayne County, and in 1870 Lewis and Mag became founding members of the Congregational Church.  By 1880, Lewis was growing corn, wheat and cotton on about 150 acres.  He and Mag had nine children, but descendants of only two, Ann Elizabeth and Loudie, remain today. Lewis died 12 July 1912.

James Henry Henderson’s first child, Carrie Faison, was born about 1869 to Keziah Faison.  Soon after, James married Frances Sauls and settled in Wayne County as tenant farmers.  James and Frances’ children were Mary Ella Henderson (1867-??), Elizabeth Henderson (1869-??), Nancy Henderson (1873-??), Amelia Henderson Braswell (1877-1914), Elias L. Henderson (1880-1953), James Ira Henderson (1881-1946), Lewis Henderson (1885-1932), and Georgetta Henderson Elliott (1889-1972).  In 1900, James married Laura Roberts. Though James’ modern heirs descend from only a few of his children, Lewis, Georgetta “Etta,” and Elias, they comprise the largest sub-branch of the family. James died 21 June 1920 in Duplin County.

Mary E Henderson Text

Amelia Henderson 001 Text

Elias L Henderson Text

Georgetta Henderson 001 Text

Mary Henderson seems to have died in childhood.

Eliza Henderson moved to Sampson County with her rest of her family, but has not been found after the 1860 census.

Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, North Carolina

Juda’s children.

As noted earlier, Elizabeth Kilpatrick’s will seems to establish that Juda, an enslaved woman born perhaps in the 1790s, was the mother of at least two children, the Dave and Lucinda specifically referred to in Kilpatrick’s will. Under its terms, Dave’s ownership passed to son Robert Kilpatrick and Lucinda’s to daughter Mary Kilpatrick. Elizabeth’s estate file shows that her administrator sold Negroes Juda ($50.00), Matthew ($425.00) and John ($200.00) on 29 August 1829 and “Negro Kesy” for $74.75 on 30 October 1830. (Their buyers are not listed.) Assuming that Kesy, Matthew and John are the “children not disposed of” in the will, Juda was the mother of at least five children.  Only Lucinda can be further accounted for.

In 1834, Mary Kilpatrick sold Lucinda and her children Alice, 3, and John, 1, to Samuel and John W. McNeely. John disappears from the record. However, Alice, known as “Allie,” bore at least one son, Joseph Archy, and probably several other children, including Alexander, Stanhope and Mary. All – save Alice, who perhaps had died – appear in J.W. McNeely’s Confederate tax assessment in 1863.

Lucinda herself gave birth to two more sons, Julius, about 1838, and Henry W., in 1841. Julius’ father is unknown, but appears to have been a black man. Henry’s father was John Wilson McNeely himself.

Agriculture, Enslaved People, Land

Visceral touches.

Although the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, under construction in Washington, will exhibit slave quarters recovered from South Carolina, they will lack visceral touches like the Whitney Plantation’s relentless humid heat and distant trains.  — Eve M. Kahn, “A Restored Louisiana Plantation and Its Lifeblood,”  New York Times, July 26, 2013.

This is cute writing, but it is also truth. I stood shakily at the edge of a North Carolina tobacco field one July, the sun like a ball-peen hammer on the crown of my head, and wept when a horsefly ripped a divot from my forearm. It is humbling, and terrifying, to consider the everyday of the lives of my ancestors, and nothing quite drives the imagination like one’s own acute physical discomfort.