Letters, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

I pray for the whole family.

A few months after my grandmother passed away in January 2001, my father, mother, sister and I converged on her little rowhouse at 5549 Wyalusing Avenue, Philadelphia, to clean it out. In a drawer of a large steel desk in the basement, I found a packet of papers. In them, a letter I’d never known existed, from my great-great-grandmother Loudie‘s brother Caswell C. Henderson to their sister, Sarah H. Jacobs Silver, who reared my grandmother. ImageImageImage

Though he does not say so directly, Caswell seems to have been responding to the news of the death of Sarah’s husband in early July. She has asked him to come home, for a visit or perhaps permanently, but he cannot, pleading health and finances. He is hopeful, though, that soon they will be together to “help one another.” He expresses the importance of his family (if not his wife, who garners no mention) by sending greetings to his great-nieces and inquiring after Minnie Simmons Budd, daughter of his and Sarah’s deceased sister Ann Elizabeth Henderson Simmons. Of course, while “prayers are wonderful when said in all sincerity from the heart,” the prayers of his friends could not keep Caswell forever, and he died 16 January 1927.

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.
Education, Letters, Maternal Kin, Other Documents, Photographs, Virginia

The Keysville school.

Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Chap. 91.  An Act to Incorporate the Keysville Bluestone mission industrial school.  Approved January 17, 1900.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia, that Reverend Nelson Jordan, R.C. Yancey, George D. Wharton, P.E. Anderson, F.L. Hall, Jesse H. Wilson, Jordan Moseley, Whitfield Clark, L.N. Wilson, A.J. Goode, S.L. Johnson, N.C. Ragby and Miss Mary E. Wilson [are appointed] board of trustees [of an institution] by the name and style of the Keysville Bluestone mission industrial school for the purpose of keeping and conducting at Keysville, Charlotte County, Virginia, a boarding and day school of the above name, and of giving instruction to such colored persons, male and female, as may be committed to their care as pupils of said school. …



Rev. Whitfield Clark’s sister Mary married my great-great-great-great-uncle Joseph R. Holmes, who was murdered on the steps of Charlotte County courthouse in 1869. As shown below, Joseph Holmes had been instrumental in securing support for the precursor to this school:


Joseph homes letter

Photograph of Keysville Industrial School, Keysville, Virginia, by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2012. Images of letters from Virginia Freedmen’s Bureau Letters of Correspondence 1865, 1872, www.familysearch.org (originals in Records of the Field Offices for the State of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands 1865-1872, National Archives and Records Administration.)

Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, Letters, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin

Comments, upon the death of Rev. Silver.


Reverend Joseph Silver, Sr., well known and highly respected Negro minister, died Tuesday at his home in the Delmar community, on Enfield Route 3.  He celebrated his 100th birthday anniversary last July 22 at a large gathering of friends and relatives. Rev. Silver had been in poor health about four years and had been confined to his bed for the past four months.

Funeral services will be held from the Plumbline Holiness Church, Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. The body will lay in state at the church an hour before the funeral.  The Rev. L.G. Young, of Henderson, will preach the funeral and burial will be in the family plot.  Among those expected at the final rites are Bishop M.C. Clemmen of Richmond, Va., and Bishop H.B. Jackson of Ayden.

Rev. Silver began preaching in 1893 when he he organized and built Plumbline Church.  Among other churches built by his ministry are ones at Ayden and Summitt, near Littleton. He was an organizer of the United Holiness Church of America and served on the board of Elders until his death.

Rev. Silver was married three times; first to Felicia Hawkins, who died in 1931, then to Sarah Jacobs of Wilson, who died in 1938; and last to Martha Aldridge of Goldsboro, who survives.  In addition to his wife, Rev. Silver is survived by five sons N.D. and Samuel Silver, of Washington, DC; Gideon, of Pittsburg, Pa.; Joseph, Jr., of Halifax and A.M. Silver of Route 3, Enfield; three daughters, Epsi Copeland and Roberta Hewling, of Enfield, Route 3, and Emma Goines, of Pittsburg, Pa. Eighty grandchildren, 109 great-grandchildren, and 17 great great grandchildren also survive.

— Unnamed newspaper clipping, 10 January 1958.


P.O. Box 193 Nashville

N.C.   c/o Brake

Feb. 2, 1958

Dear Hattie –

You heard of Rev. Silver’s death Jan. 7th although I didn’t notify you as I was sick and still is sick but not confine to bed.  Sarah had some things in the home.  A bed which I am sure you wouldn’t care for and a folding single bed which I am going to get but my main reason for writing you she has an oak dresser and washstand that Rev. Silver told me you wanted and said he told you you could get it if you would send for it so it is still there and it is good material if you want it.  Amos has already seen a second hand furniture man about buying it.  The Silver’s will “skin a flea for his hide and tallow.”  The Aldridges holds a very warm place in my heart and always will.  If you wish to do so you may write to Rev. Amos Silver Route 3 Box 82 Enfield and ask him if your mother Sarah’s furniture is still there.  There is also a carpet on the floor in the living room you need not mention my name.  I am very fond of Johnnie Aldridge of Dudly.  Come to see me whenever you can I think you might get with Reka at Fremont some times, she and Luke come to Enfield to see me occasionally  I am going to write Reka next week.  I married your great uncle Rev Joseph Aldridge write me

Your friend and great aunt by marriage.

M.C. (Aldridge) Silver


And then this was what my grandmother had to say:

Mr. Silver, he had a bunch, he had 11 children, and his son had a whole bunch of ‘em.  Joseph Silver.  And I went up there one time and one of the brothers was crazy.  And they had one of them there things built up where you could put a person in it, and you can just slide their food right in it.  And it was a seat in there, least it was built in the thing where you could sit on.  When the person would act up, and you can’t do nothing with him, you’d lock him up in that thing, and he had one of them things in the backyard.  Big old thing.  It was just like one of them tanks where oil come in.  And I went in there, peeked through the thing, and I was scared, and I’m drawed all up and looked, but I couldn’t see in there.  But they told me how it was.  …  When Mama got married there on Elba Street, there at the house.  Yeah.  He come up there …  He was a little short brown-skinned man, and he was a elder and the head of the church where was down there in Halifax County.  And all the children ….  Epsie?  Epseline?  What was his first wife’s name?  But him and Mama fell out ‘bout the cooking stove.  She took and got the wood and got the little stove – was four caps on it.  I’ll never forget it.  And it was red-hot in the middle.  And he said, “Don’t put too much wood in that stove!  Get Epsie’s stove that hot!  I know she’ll turn over in her grave!”  And she told him, said, “What?  Epsie ain’t here!”  Said, “I’ll tear the whole stove down!” or something, and she hit the stove!  He didn’t want her to –  They had chinches all over the house.  It was a sealed plank house, and the chinches was all in the, where the cot was up against the wall?  And Mama said she went there and, I told her, I said, when she was telling me ‘bout she was scalding water, had the stove hot and had buckets of water up there on the stove so it would be hot enough to kill the eggs and everything.  And he didn’t want her to pour no water on it, talking ‘bout she got the stove red-hot and Epsie’ll turn over in her grave.   She had that stove that hot.  “Epsie didn’t never used to have it that hot.”  She said, “Well, Epsie ain’t here now, and I’ll burn it up!  House and all!”  She said, “To get rid of these here chinches.”  Chinches all over everywhere!

“Epsie,” of course, was Rev. Silver’s daughter, not his wife. This letter addressed to “Miss Hattie Jacobs  Sanatorium Wilson N.C.,” postmarked Feb 2 1958, Nashville N.C. is in my possession.  Martha Silver’s previous husband had been Joseph Aldridge, younger brother of my grandmother’s grandfather John W. Aldridge.  The Johnnie Aldridge referred to was my grandmother’s uncle.  Reka Aldridge Morrisey Ashford was the daughter of George W. Aldridge, John W. Aldridge’s older brother.  I interviewed my grandmother in her home in Philadelphia in 1994.