“Aaron Seaberry family” “Luther McNeely Spanish American War” “Minnie Hargrove Columbus Ohio” “Adam Artis” “Dove Lenoir County” — all search terms used to find posts on scuffalong.com in the last 30 days. I hope the searchers discovered something of interest or usefulness in this blog, and I invite them to make contact next time they visit. I’ve made several amazing connections via comments, and I would love to “meet” all of you. We’re family!
Mountain Scout (Taylorsville), 23 August 1916.
This ad appears several times in Taylorsville’s Mountain Scout in the latter half of 1916. Did Lon Colvert open a branch of his Statesville operation a few miles away in Alexander County? Like barber shops, clothes cleaning and pressing businesses were frequently operated by African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th-century South.
The myth goes something like this: John Frank Baker was the first black man elected to Congress from Wayne County. He never made it to Washington, assassinated as he attempted to board a train north for his swearing-in.
Something about this didn’t sit right with me.
Wayne County was part of the so-called Black Second, the Congressional district that encompassed most of northeast North Carolina’s majority-black counties during Reconstruction and into the early 20th century. The history of African-American political activity in the district is extensive and well-documented, and I couldn’t recall having read of Baker. A Google search quickly refreshed my recollection. North Carolina voters sent four black Congressmen to Washington in the nineteenth century: John Adams Hyman of Warren County (1875-1877), James Edward O’Hara of Enfield (1883-1887), Henry Plummer Cheatham of Littleton (1889-1893), and George Henry White of Tarboro (1897-1901). No Baker.
As his headstone reveals, J. Frank Baker died 20 March 1897, the same month that George H. White was sworn into the 55th Congress, having defeated white Democratic incumbent Frederick A. Woodard of Wilson. [Sidenote: My junior high school was named for Woodard.] Clearly, Frank Baker was never elected to Congress. Why, then, was he killed?
To call newspapers of the era racist is to say “the sky is blue.” Articles about African-Americans were condescending and mocking at best, derogatory and vicious most times. Objectivity was not a hallmark of journalism in the late 19th century in general, but if their names appeared in the local paper, African-Americans could generally expect the worst. Notwithstanding this general bleak picture, when consumed with a grain of salt, early newspapers can be an invaluable source of otherwise unrecorded information about black Americans.
Frank Baker’s murder was covered in detail in the Goldsboro Headlight and the Weekly Argus, the rival newspapers operating in Wayne County at the time. Even before his death, however, his fiery advocacy seized the attention of the white community. This story was picked up by papers across the country:
Goldsboro Headlight, 5 November 1896.
I don’t know what Baker was speaking about or why his words touched off such a response — if, in fact, “150 negroes” actually took the streets like this. It is clear, though, that he was a powerful and polarizing figure in Wayne County. And four months later he was dead. A Raleigh newspaper broke the story:
Raleigh Daily Tribune, 24 March 1897.
The tone set, the Goldsboro papers picked up the report:
Assuming that the basic description of the murder is correct, we learn that Baker was not boarding a train when he was killed. Rather, he was minding customers at his grocery store, located near the railroad warehouse in Dudley. (The Headlight reported that the store belonged to Ira W. Hatch.) He was shot at fairly close range, but a room full of people saw nothing. Nonetheless, a wholly unbelievable statement attributed to his brother, W.B. Baker, placed the responsibility for Frank’s death on his own head. The reporter then emphasizes the “deadly hatred” that Baker engendered among his neighbors by insisting on legislation incorporating the town of Dudley. [Sidenote: don’t you have to love Bishop Henry McNeal Turner?]
Goldsboro Weekly Argus, 29 April 1897.
A month later, the wheels of justice were spinning uselessly, as newspapers indignantly proclaimed the innocence of two white men implicated — but not actually charged — in the crime. A week after W.B. Bowden’s good name was cleared, J. Will Grady was released when the “facts of his innocence were established.” On 27 May 1897, the Headlight tersely noted that the governor of North Carolina had offered a reward for the capture of Frank Baker’s killers. That’s the last I’ve found on the subject.
John Frank Baker was born about 1845. I don’t know much about his early life, but in 1879 he married Mary Ann Aldridge, daughter of J. Matthew and Catherine Boseman Aldridge, and likely first cousin to my great-great-grandfather John W. Aldridge. Frank Baker was not a Congressman. Nonetheless, he made his mark in Wayne County as an African-American politician capable of stirring the masses and willing to take on unpopular causes in an era in which even voicing opinions was a daring undertaking. He is not forgotten.
Photo from Baker article posted at http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/116365/.
Robert Henry McNeely‘s bad luck on the job continued:
Statesville Record & Landmark, 7 June 1937.
Cousin C.D. Sauls‘ primary business:
The Great Sunny South (Snow Hill NC), 11 February 1898.
I seldom check FTDNA, but last night I moseyed on to study the new My Origins feature. A glance in the corner of the screen showed a new high match, an estimated 2nd to 4th cousin whom I’ll call L.A. I emailed him, and he quickly responded. We immediately identified Sampson County, North Carolina, as a potential point of commonality, and I asked his grandparents’ names. I looked them up and found that one was the offspring of John Wesley Faircloth and Laura Wynn (or Simmons). A little further research — and consultation with Stephen Maynor, my point man for all things Sampson County — revealed that Wesley Faircloth, born about 1856, was the son of Nancy Armwood. Again with these Armwoods!
Nancy was the daughter of John and Susan Armwood, and her sister Louisa (or Eliza) was my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Henderson‘s second wife. Am I an Armwood though?
While refreshing my recollection about this family — which has always frustrated my efforts to track them properly — I discovered a previously unnoticed tangle of intermarriages between and among the Armwoods, Wynns, Simmonses and a few Hendersons in northern Sampson and Duplin Counties and southern Wayne County.
The base couples:
- Major Armwood (~1798-??) and wife Eliza [last name unknown] Armwood (~1806-??).
- Richard Armwood (1832-??) and wife Mary Faircloth Armwood.
- John Armwood (~1800-??) and wife Susan [maiden name unknown] Armwood (~1820-??).
- James Simmons (1798-1860) and wife Winnie Medlin Simmons (??-1902).
- Gray Winn (~1815-1850) and wife Sarah Greenfield Winn (1816-1909).
And the marriages and other relationships that flowed therefrom:
- Penny Armwood (??-1925), daughter of Richard and Mary, married Henry Armwood (1834-??), son of John and Susan.
- William Armwood (1829-1926), son of Major and Eliza, married Martha “Mattie” Simmons (1839-1927), daughter of James and Winnie.
- William Simmons, son of James and Winnie, married Penny Winn, daughter of Gray and Sarah.
- James Henderson (1815-~1890) married Louisa/Eliza Armwood, daughter of John and Susan.
- Edward James Winn (1838-1922), son of Gray and Sarah, married Susan Henderson (1854-1907), daughter of James and Louisa.
- Washington F. “Frank” Winn (~1845-??), son of Gray and Sarah, married Hepsie Henderson (1856-~1894), daughter of James and Louisa.
- Montreville Simmons (1841-1912)son of Calvin Simmons and Hepsey Whitley, married Anna J. Henderson (1852-1906), daughter of James and Louisa. (Calvin was a brother or cousin of James Simmons.)
- Sarah Simmons (1868-1930), daughter of Bryant Simmons (son of James and Winnie) and Elizabeth Winn (daughter of Gray and Sarah), married John H. Henderson (1860-1926), son of James and Louisa.
- Polly Ann Armwood (1856-1940), daughter of William Armwood (son of Major and Eliza) and Mattie Simmons (daughter of James and Winnie), married Cicero W. Simmons (1846-1920), son of Green and Elizabeth Thornton Simmons. (Green was the son of James and Winnie.)
- John Wesley Faircloth (1856-??), son of Nancy Armwood Faircloth, married Laura Wynn, daughter of Penny Winn, daughter of Gray and Sarah, and stepdaughter of William Simmons, son of James and Winnie.
- Lizzie Faircloth, son of Nancy Armwood Faircloth, married Edward Simmons, son of Bryant and Elizabeth.
- Sarah Wynn (1864-??), daughter of Penny Winn, daughter of Gray and Sarah, and stepdaughter of William Simmons, son of James and Winnie, married William F. “Frank” Simmons (1857-1940), son of Bryant and Elizabeth.
- Ann Elizabeth Henderson (1862-1900), daughter of Lewis Henderson (1836-1912), son of James (and his first wife), and Margaret Balkcum, married Hillary B. Simmons (1853-1941), son of Bryant and Elizabeth.
And this is just a generation or two of intermarriage. I’ve asked A.G., my other Armwood match, to test with 23andme so I can compare our matches and see if she matches my known Hendersons. Stay tuned….