Maternal Kin, Other Documents, Photographs, Virginia

Julia Holmes Jackson.

In the late 1980s, when I was in the early clutches of my genealogical addiction, I often made copies of old pictures by photographing them through a microfilter screwed onto my Canon AE1. I spent an afternoon at my great-aunt Julia Allen Maclin’s house, sifting through a box of faded sepia-toned prints and gasping with delight as she identified Holmeses and Allens. Two of the many I copied that day were small oval portraits of the same woman. In one, she faces the camera nearly head-on, her hair puffed into bouffant tied with a dark bow. In the second, she has donned a great fluffy disk of a hat and tilts her head to the right. Strong side-lighting revealed a tiny feature I recognized immediately – an epicanthic fold at the corner of her left eye. My grandfather (her nephew) had them, and my mother does, and I do, too, though mine are a mere suggestion of her prominent flaps. This was Julia Ellen Holmes, my great-grandmother’s sister and the woman for whom my great-aunt was named.



I don’t know a lot about Julia. Though just a child at the time, she is not listed in her parents’ household in the 1880 census of Charles City County, Virginia.  The first record of her that I’ve found is a deed of transfer filed 30 December 1899, at Charles City County Courthouse, from the estate of Jasper Holmes to Mary H. Allen and her husband John C. Allen and Martha H. Smith and her husband Jesse Smith, all of Newport News VA, and Julia E. Holmes, unmarried, of Charles City County, Jasper’s heirs at law.

Just months later, Julia (or a woman that appears to be her) is listed in the 1900 census of Manhattan, New York City, at 208 W. 72nd Street. There, Virginia-born Julia Holmes (born February 1880, which is not accurate if this is the right woman) lived in a boarding house that included three other servants, two waiters and a cook.  Headed by 39 year-old Mary A. Phillips, the tenants included blacks, whites, southerners, northerners, a Cuban and an Irishman.

(Or is this my Julia? In the 1900 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: Julia Holmes, 17, Virginia-born servant, in the household of ice company treasurer Josiah A. McKee at 1838 Mount Vernon Avenue.)

The Holmes sisters sold off their father’s property over the next ten years, filing deeds of sale in 1905 and 1910. In the final transaction, on 10 Jan 1910, Mary Allen of Newport News and Julia Holmes of the City of New York, children and only heirs of Jasper Holmes (Martha Holmes Smith had died) filed a deed of transfer for property sold to James Clark for $300.

In the 1910 census of Manhattan, on Washington Square (North), Virginia-born Julia Holmes is listed as a servant in the household of Philo Hager, who worked in wholesale dry goods. By 1920, she had moved across the river to East Orange, which is where my great-aunt remembered her living. The censustaker found Julia Holmes at 1 Waters Avenue, listed as a servant in the household of B.C. Fenwick.  Her birthplace is given as New Jersey; her parents’ as Virginia; her age as 29. Only the middle statistic is correct.

I have not found Julia Holmes in either the 1930 or 1940 censuses and assumed that she died sometime before World War II. Certainly, my great-aunt never spoke of her as if she had lived a long time.


When I found my great-grandmother’s obituary in a March 1961 edition of the Daily Press, there, among the survivors, was “sister, Mrs. Julia Jackson of Orange NJ.” And then, when my cousin M., daughter of my great-aunt Nita Allen Wilkerson, sent me scans of a bunch of photos she found in an album that had belonged to Julia Allen Maclin, I found this:

Julia E Holmes?

I can’t see the flaps, but I’m certain: great-GREAT-aunt Julia.

(So, when, in fact, did she die? Where was she buried? Who was Mr. Jackson? Did she have children?)

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Virginia

John C. Allen arrives.

JC Allen 1

John Christopher Allen made his way down-river to the newly established city of Newport News around 1899, a thick-set country boy with dark curly hair.  In April of that year, he had purchased ten acres in Turkey Trot from A.H. Drewry and wife, but he did not hang around to farm it. What pulled — or pushed — him out of Charles City County is not precisely clear, but he would never turn back.


Newport News was a boomtown at the turn of the 20th century. The extension of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad down the peninsula, bringing coal from West Virginia for world-wide transport, was followed shortly by the development of the shipyard for which the city is still famous.

In June of 1900, the census taker found John Allen sharing a boarding house run by Henry Burrell with several single men.  The house was in the crowded East End, near the heart of industrial Newport News.  John was working as a shipyard laborer, and he was illiterate.  That year, on the day after Christmas, the 24 year-old son of Graham and Mary Allen, married 23 year-old Mary A. Holmes, daughter of Jasper and Matilda Holmes, at New Vine Baptist Church in Charles City County. They returned to Newport News to start their 50-plus years together.

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.]

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, (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.)

Maternal Kin, Virginia

Matilda & Dorothy Whirley.

I called her cold, admittedly. Never could she have expected to pick up the phone to a call from her great-uncle’s great-granddaughter. Still, I’ve made lots of these kinds of calls in my life. Dorothy Whirley was decidedly more guarded than most and had a little edge in her voice that sounded almost irritated. She could not deny me though, for what slick stranger could pull names and dates out of Charles City County like that?

Dorothy was the daughter of Matilda Whirley and granddaughter of Emma Allen Whirley, my great-grandfather’s sister. Dorothy could not, or would not, tell me much, except to confirm that Emma, her husband and children had migrated to Baltimore, where she continued to live. Her mother, to whom she had been very close, had died not too many years before our connection, and she seemed somewhat estranged from her remaining kin. She knew of John Allen Sr., but had little more to say about him than that he held himself apart from — thought himself better than — his half-siblings because of his light skin. Our conversation foundered, and I hung up with a promise to send her a family tree. I never got around to it, and she died in 1999. I have not been able to track down any other living Whirleys, but have found small traces of Dorothy and her mother.

ImageThe Baltimore Afro-American, 26 December 1959.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Other Documents, Photographs, Virginia

Mary Brown Allen.

There’s a Mary Brown, age 20, listed in the 1870 census of Amelia County, Virginia. She worked as a laborer and shared her home with a 24 year-old man named Grief Bratcher. This is probably my great-great-grandmother.

Mary Brown Allen

Six years later, Mary Brown was in Charles City County, perhaps with a young daughter Nannie, and certainly pregnant. By a white man. A rape? A convenience? Love? We may never know. We do know, however, that just a few months into the pregnancy she married Graham Allen, a 24 year-old laborer from the other side of the James River in Prince George County. When she bore a son on Christmas, 1876, he was named John Christopher Allen. Over the next 40 years, Mary reared four children to adulthood (another four or five died), as well as some grandsons, while Graham farmed the small parcels of land he painstakingly accumulated and led a flock at New Vine Baptist Church. She never learned to read or write and left scant trace in the public record. Mary Brown Allen died April 1, 1916.

ImagePhotograph from the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

[UPDATE, 27 July 2015: As detailed here and here, DNA testing has led to the discovery of the father of Mary’s oldest son, John C. Allen, Sr. He was Edward C. Harrison of Charles City County.]

Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Virginia

Cousin John gets off lightly.

Baltimorean Attends Services for Father.

CHARLES CITY COUNTY, VA. – Memorial services for the late Stephen Whirley, who served as deacon at the New Vine Baptist Church for 47 years, prior to his death seven years ago, were held Memorial Day at the church.

Among the out-of-towners attending was a son, John Whirley, proprietor of Club Ubangi café and nightclub in Baltimore.  — Baltimore Afro-American, 4 Jun 1949.

I happened upon this snippet unexpectedly while updating some old genealogy files.  Stephen Whirley was the husband of Emma Allen Whirley, my great-grandfather John C. Allen Sr.’s sister.  John Whirley was Emma’s step-son.  John and Emma lost contact — intentionally? negligently? — when my grandfather was young, and no one in my family knows much about the Whirleys.  However, thanks to the Baltimore Afro-American, now searchable via Google, my irrepressible almost-cousin John comes to life:

AFRO Goes Out On “Check Day”

Friday, Sept. 10, was Welfare Check Day in Baltimore.

That’s “Mother’s Day” when the money flows (“one great big bash”) and crime soars (“reaches its peak”), all according to Jerry Cartledge, author of the News American’s “Welfare Wastelands” series.

So absorbed was Cartledge with his “Mother’s Day” expose that he challenged one and all:

“Stroll down Dream Street (Pennsylvania Ave.) or Gay St. next Mother’s Day – if you don’t value your life – and see for yourself.”

Seven AFRO staffers decided if American reporters can risk their lives in such places as Vietnam, they could venture out on “Mother’s Day” in Baltimore.

They found the day and night like any other Friday or Saturday and concluded that much of the Mother’s Day piece was pure fantasy which appears questionable in so far as personnel [sic] observation and interview can determine – and that those charges that can checked by police or court records definitely are false.

The busy and dangerous places cited in the article include Pennsylvania, Fulton and Fremont Aves., Gay, Orleans and Madison Sts.; the Wagon Wheel, the Ubangi Club, the Sportsmen, “Della’s” and the Charleston.

The AFRO team hit them all – and some others – and still could not find justify charges that “Mother’s Day” is the worst every month.

Owners like Jack Roosevelt of the Sportsman, Bill Kramer of the Maryland Bar, and all the owners and operators contacted, laughed at claims they put in extra stocks for “Mother’s Day.”

John Whirley of the Ubangi Club said, “I never saw or talked to Cartledge.  Nobody has been in here seeing the things in the article.  Two or so welfare people might come in here.  The receipts (on Mother’s Day) are the same as any other day without the checks.

“I know he’s lying.  I wish he’d come around.  Look around here.  These are working people.  That’s the kind of people I get, working people.”

…    — Baltimore Afro-American, 14 Sep 1965.


Numbers Personalities Pay Fines of $8,500.

BALTIMORE.  Appearing in Criminal Court this week were nearly two dozen numbers personalities who in 1968 were known to literally thousands of lottery players in all sections of the city.

In the group were nine defendants who paid a total of $8,750 in fines alone.

Two persons received jail sentences.

One defendant swallowed a numbers slip.  Another drove his car in reverse up the street to avoid police and a veteran Avenue bar owner and a longtime South Baltimore real estate dealer pleaded guilty.


Getting off lighter was another familiar Avenue figure, John Whirley, 70, owner of the 2200 block Pennsylvania Ave. Ubangi Bar.

Judge Sodaro suspended a prison sentence of three months and imposed a $250 fine and costs on the elderly man who pleaded guilty to lottery violations.

According to testimony before the court, Whirley was arrested in a Vice-Squad raid on his bar at 11:20 a.m., Nov. 25, 1968. An arresting officer said he found one slip indicating $2.50 in play wrapped in a roll of $55 cash in Whirley’s pocket. In the basement, according to testimony, there were two slips containing 15 numbers and $11.50 in play.  — Baltimore Afro-American, 2 Aug 1969.