Education, Maternal Kin, Other Documents, Virginia

To get up a school in the county.

On 19 August 1868, Thomas Leahey, Assistant Sub Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands (better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau), took pen in hand:

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Leahey’s brief letter suggests deep familiarity with Joseph R. Holmes, my great-great-grandfather Jasper Holmes‘ brother. He is telling Holmes that he has moved his office from Farmville to Charlotte Court House and wants Holmes to notify his “people” — the community he represented — where they can find Leahey. Leahey’s invitation to meet at any time implies previous visits, though to date I’ve found no evidence of them in Freedmen’s Bureau records. Leahey’s inquires “whether there is a School for colored Children at Keysville, and if there is not what are the prospects of getting up one.”

Just three days later, in a clear hand and with fairly sound grammar speaking to years of practiced literacy — though he was only three years out of slavery — Holmes replied. He advised that a small for-pay school operated in the Keysville area and expressed pleasure at Leahey’s interest in education. He apologized for not having been to see Leahey sooner — “I have been so busey” — and mentioned that he was headed to Richmond the following day. (Who was “Lut. Grayham” A lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s First Military District?) If “life last,” he promised, he would see Leahey on the next court day.


Apparently, Holmes and Leahey did meet, then and perhaps on other occasions. The next bit of correspondence found between them is dated 24 November 1868, when Leahey sent Holmes a voucher for school rent. Whether this is the private school Holmes referred to in his August letter or a school established by the Freedmen’s Bureau is not clear. Leahey asks that “Mrs. Jenkins” sign the rent voucher as well as triplicate leases for the school. (I haven’t found copies of either to date.)

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Who was Mrs. Jenkins? Below is a short stretch of the 1870 census of Walton township, Charlotte County, Virginia. It shows part of Joseph Holmes’ former neighborhood, just west of the town of Keysville. “Former,” because Holmes had been shot dead on the steps of Charlotte Court House in May 1869, as detailed here. There are his children, Payton, Louisa and Joseph Holmes, living with the family of Wat and Nancy Carter, whom I believe to be Holmes’ mother and stepfather. Two households away is 30 year-old presumed widow Lucy Jenkins, white, “teaching school.” Jenkins, born in Virginia, was no Yankee schoolmarm; I’m searching for more about her. Her commitment to the little school at Keysville, even after Holmes’ assassination, evinces some mettle.

1880 Lucy Jenkins

Records from “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” database with images,, citing microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration.

Births Deaths Marriages, Land, Maternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia

Family cemeteries, no. 16: Holmes-Clark.

No one knows where Joseph R. Holmes is buried. It stands to reason, though, that it might be here.

I owe this entire post to the inestimable Kathy Liston, a Charlotte County archaeologist who has immersed herself in the history of the area’s African-American families. She tracked down the location of Joseph’s small acreage near Antioch Church on Old Kings Highway near Keysville, Charlotte County,Virginia. And there, at edge of a clearing, now completely overgrown, is a small cemetery. Only four stones stand, but a number of unmarked or fieldstone-marked graves are visible:

Rev. Whitfield Clarke / Born July 15, 1840 / Died Aug. 21, 1916

In Memory of Our Beloved Son / Thomas C.C. Clark/ Born Sept 2, 1882 / Died Aug 27, 1907

William Jasper Almond / Virginia / Mess Attendant / 3 Class / USNRF / A[illegible] 2, 1934

Mary J. Barrett / May 16, 1903 / May 2, 1942 / Her Memory is Blessed

These folks are not Joseph’s family, per se. They are his wife’s and are evidence of the life she built after his assassination.

Joseph Holmes married Mary Clark toward the end of the Civil War. Their four children were Payton (1865), Louisa (1866), William (1867) and Joseph (1868). Mary was the daughter of Simon and Jina Clark, and Whitfield Clark was her brother. As detailed here, Joseph R. Holmes was shot down in front of the Charlotte County Courthouse on 3 May 1869.

When the censustaker arrived the following spring, Joseph and Mary’s children were listed in the household of a couple I believe to have been Joseph’s mother and stepfather: Wat Carter, 70, wife Nancy, 70, and children Mary, 23, Liza, 17, and Wat, 16; plus Payton, 4, Louisa, 3, and Joseph Homes, 2, and Fannie Clark, 60. (That Mary is possibly Mary Clark Holmes, but may also have been Mary Carter.)

On 3 January 1872, 24 year-old widow Mary Holmes married John Almond, a 35 year-old widower. In the 1880 census of Walton, Charlotte County, carpenter John Almond’s household includes wife Mary, 31, and children Payton, 14, Wirt H., 12, Ella M., 10, and Lemon Almond, 8. Payton, it appears, was in fact Joseph’s son Payton Holmes; Wirt and Ella were John’s children by his first wife; and Lemon was John and Mary’s son together. The family remained on the land that had been Joseph Holmes’.

The oldest marked grave in the little cemetery dates to 1907. It stands to reason, though, that Mary Holmes would have had her husband buried here, where she could watch over his grave and perhaps protect it from any who sought to punish him further. Who were the four whose stones still reveal their resting places? Thomas C.C. Clark was the son of Whitfield Clark and his second wife, Amanda. He appears in the 1900 census as a student at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. I’ve written a bit about Reverend Whitfield Clark here. William Jasper Almond (known as Jasper, which is interesting because that was the name of Joseph Holmes’ brother, my great-great-grandfather), born in 1896, was the son of Lemon Almond and his first wife, Rosa W. Fowlkes.  Mary J. Almond Barrett was Jasper’s half-sister, daughter of Lemon and Mary B. Scott Almond.


Joseph R. Holmes’ land, near Keysville, Charlotte County, Virginia.




Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2012. 

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Land, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia

The life of Joseph R. Holmes, radical.

I’ve written of Joseph R. Holmesdeath. What of his life? The details are sketchy and poorly documented. Nonetheless, here is what I know.

  • Joseph R. Holmes was born circa 1838, probably in Charlotte County, Virginia. His parents are listed as Payton and Nancy Holmes on his death certificate. I don’t know what the “R” stood for.
  • According to Luther Porter Jackson, Joseph had a brother named Watt. According to my great-aunt Julia Allen Holmes, he also had a brother named Jasper Holmes, born circa 1841, who was her grandfather.
  • The “Inventory and Appraisal of the Personal Estate of Capt. John H. Marshall,” filed in Charlotte in June 1857, lists 20 “Negroes,” including Joe, $600; Peyton, $900; and Nancy, $1000. There’s no Jasper. Nor are there any children bearing the names of Nancy’s younger children, some of whom who were born before 1857. Thus, though I’m tempted, I can’t draw any conclusions about whether these enslaved people are Joseph R. Holmes and his parents.
  • Joseph probably was last owned by John H. Marshall’s son, judge Hunter Holmes Marshall, whose plantation “Roxabel” was (and still is) located about five miles west of Charlotte Court House.
  • Joseph learned to read and write most likely as a child, as he exhibited a well-formed penmanship when in his mid-20s.
  • He was trained as a shoemaker or cobbler.  In Negro Office-Holders in Virginia 1865-1895, Luther Porter Jackson
    asserted that brother Watt was also a shoemaker and that Joseph was “hired out by his master to engage in shoemaking by traveling from plantation to plantation.”
  • However, according to “Shooting in Charlotte Court House,” published in volume VIII, number 2, of The Southsider quarterly, Joseph served as a butler for Marshall, then became a cobbler and opened a shop on the Kings Highway (now U.S. Route 360) near Dupree’s old store.
  • Some time around 1865, Joseph married Mary Clark, born about 1849 to Simon and Jina Clark of Charlotte County. The couple had at least four children: Payton (1865), Louisa (1866), Joseph (1867) and William H. Holmes (August 1868).
  • Tax records filed in Charlotte Court House for 1866 list Joseph R. Holmes in District #2 (T.M. Jones, revenue commissioner), paying one black poll tax, as well as taxes on four hogs valued at $5 and $20 worth of real property. I have not found a deed for this property.
  • In 1867, Joseph R. Holmes was elected to represent Charlotte and Halifax Counties at Virginia’s Constitutional Convention. In A List of the Officers and Members of the Virginia Constitutional Convention, Holmes is
    described:  “… Jos. R. Holmes. Colored. Shoemaker. Can read and write a little. Ignorant. Bad character.” [This comes from an unfortunately unattributed photocopy of a page from a scholarly journal. I’ll hunt down the source.]
  • Charlotte County tax records for 1867 show Joseph R. Holmes living at A.J. Johnson’s in District #2, paying only a black poll tax. (This seems to indicate that he was landless and working as either a sharecropper or tenant farmer.)
  • In 1867, he registered to vote at Clements’ in Charlotte Court House. (So did Watt Carter, who may have been Joseph’s stepfather.)
  • On 2 May 1868, Joseph Holmes purchased 11 1/2 acres in Charlotte County from A.J. Johnson for $92. The metes and bounds: “beginning at a corner on John R. Baileys on the Roanoke Valley Extension Rail Road marked as the plat (A) and thence along the Road South 15 W 22 poles to a corner at B. thence off the Road a New line S 70 E 17 poles to corner chestnut oak S 25 E 46 poles to pointers on John P. Dickersons line, thence his line N 55 E 44 poles to pointers on William H. Fulkers line thence N 57 W 80 poles to the beginning.”
  • An entry for August 1868 in the Charlotte County birth register shows a son William H. born to Mary and Joe Holmes. Joe’s occupation was listed as “radicalism.”
  • A letter Joseph wrote on 22 August 1868 is preserved among Freedmen’s Bureau records. In it, he requested of Thomas Leahey, Assistant Subassistant Commissioner at the Bureau’s office in Farmville, Virginia, that a school be established in the Keysville area. The plea was effective, and there’s a 24 November letter in the records from Leahey to Holmes enclosing vouchers for rent for the school, as well as triplicate leases for “Mrs. Jenkins'” signature. “I send them in your charge (believing you call to the D.O. daily) in order there may be no delay.”
  • An anonymous article in the 23 November 1868 Richmond Whig, signed “Roanoke,” reported a visit to Charlotte County and, among comments about African-Americans and politics, stated: “They seem to be realizing the fact that politics won’t fill their empty stomachs nor clothe their naked bodies, and those who have been idle during the summer and did not make hay while the sun shone, meet with no sympathy and are left out ‘in the cold.’ I passed by the shop of our former representative, ‘Hon.’ Joseph Holmes, a few days ago; he was busily at work pegging away at a pair of boots. I told him I thought he was much better at making a boot than a constitution; and as he was anxious to make a pair for me, I believe, he agreed with me.”
  • On 3 May 1869, Joseph was shot and killed in front of Charlotte County Courthouse by a group of men that included John M. Marshall, Griffin S. Marshall, William Boyd and M.C. Morris. The Marshalls were sons of his former master.
  • In the 1870 census of Walton, Charlotte County: Wat Carter, 70, wife Nancy, 70, and children Mary, 23, Liza, 17, and Wat, 16; plus Payton, 4, Louisa, 3, and Joseph Homes, 2, and Fannie Clark, 60. I strongly suspect that Nancy Carter was Joseph Holmes’ mother and Wat, his stepfather. The young children are clearly Joseph’s. Mary may have been his half-sister, but more likely was his widow.) The younger Wat is likely the “Watt” referred to L.P. Jackson’s book.
  • Joseph Holmes, age 12, son of Joe and Mary Holmes, died 11 March 1880 in Charlotte County.
  • H.C. Williamson’s Memoirs of a Statesman: Being an Account of the Events in the Career of a Mississippi Journalist-Legislator were published by descendant Fred Thompson (actor and failed Republican presidential candidate) in 1964. In reminiscing about his youth, Williamson wrote: “Among the bolder of this presumptuous class of Negroes in my native county was one named Joe Holmes, a saddle-colored shoe cobbler, who occupied a small hut on the side of the public road a few miles from our home. Holmes aspired to the office of representative in the State Legislature and insolently asserted his equality ‘with any white man.’ Feeling that he was protected in his new-found rights by his white allies, he denounced, in public harangues throughout the county, the men who had so lately been the masters and believed themselves secure in control of that government which they had constructed and hitherto maintained. Such a condition prevailing over all the Southern States prompted the organization and active operations of that secret society of native, white southern men known as the Ku Klux Klan, which proved to be the salvation of the remnant left of southern homes and southern civilization. I remember passing Holmes’ shop one dae day and seeing nailed to the door the picture of crossbones and skull (the sign of the Ku Klux Klan, as I afterwards learned). But this did not deter him in the least. A short time thereafter, he fell in the Court House door, pierced with a leaden messenger of death from an unknown source, as he was entering to make an inflammatory speech to a horde of Negroes assembled.”

Birth, death, marriage and court records at Charlotte County Courthouse, Charlotte Court House, Virginia; other records as noted. Thanks, as always, for the incalculably valuable assistance of Kathy Liston.

Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Virginia

They fear he met with foul play.

75 years ago today, this brief article appeared on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Richmond Times Dispatch 8 22 1939

Richmond Times-Dispatch, 22 August 1939.

What the –?

My great-uncle J. Maxwell Allen survived this incident, but what in the world happened? (If anything.) I can’t find any foolw-up in newspaper archives, and no one in my family has ever mentioned the disappearance of Uncle Mac.


Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Virginia

The case for the Carters.

Were Walter “Wat” and Nancy Carter the step-father and mother of Joseph and Jasper Holmes? Here is the evidence:

  • Per my great-aunt, Julia Allen Maclin, her grandfather Jasper Holmes and Joseph R. Holmes were brothers.
  • According to historian Luther Porter Jackson, Joseph had a brother “Watt,” who was a shoemaker like Joseph.
  • Jasper Holmes and Joseph Holmes were born in Charlotte County, Virginia, circa 1838 and 1841.
  • In 1867, Watt Carter registered to vote at Clements’ in Charlotte Court House, as did Joseph Holmes.
  • About 1867, Jasper Holmes named a son Walter. (Another son, born in 1874, was named Joseph. And both Jasper and Joseph had sons named William.)
  • Joseph’s death certificate, issued in 1869 in Charlotte County, lists his parents as Payton and Nancy Holmes. Neither Payton Holmes nor Nancy Holmes have been found in the 1870 census or any other record.
  • In the 1870 census, Joseph Holmes’ children Payton, Louisa and Joseph, and possibly his widow, appear in the household of Wat and Nancy Carter in Charlotte County. Wat and Nancy have a son also named Wat.
  • In the 1870 census, Jasper Holmes and family are listed in Charles City County, some 100 miles east of Charlotte County. (Why Charles City County? What was the pull to that particular place?)
  • On 14 June 1873 in Charles City County, Lotsey Carter, age 22, born in Charlotte County to Walter Carter and a mother whose name is illegible, married Claiborne Booker, born in Chesterfield County and residing in New York.
  • On 10 January 1874, Lettie Booker opened account #6605 at the New York branch of the Freedmen’s Bank. She stated that she was 22 years old; born in Richmond, Virginia; and resided at 28 Cornelia Street. She was light brown in complexion; worked washing and ironing; and was married to Claiborne Booker. Her father was Watt Carter of Keysville [Charlotte County], Virginia; her mother was named Nancy; and her siblings were Watt, Eliza and Louisa.
  • In the 1880 census of Queens, Queens County, New York: living on premises, Claiborne Booker, 39, headwaiter in a hotel; wife Lettie, 28, laundress in hotel; and Walter Holmes, 12, “nephew.” All were born in Virginia.
  • On 23 October 1883 in Charles City County, Walter Carter, age 28, shoemaker, born in Charlotte County to Walter and Nancy Carter, married Alice Christian, 22, of Charles City County, at Shirley.
  • Watt Carter died 3 May 1885 in Charles City County at age 72. His death certificate states (probably erroneously) that he was born in Charles City County.
  • Nancy Carter, age 75, died 18 June 1884 in Charles City County. Her death certificate states that she was born in Charlotte County and was single (widowed?)
  • And possibly: “Claiborne Booker has been appointed guardian for the estate of the late Louisa McKie and in his custody her children, Wm. McKie and Clarence McKie, have been placed by the surrogate court of New York county.”  New York Age, 16 March 1905.

My conjecture: Nancy [last name unknown] married first Payton Holmes in Charlotte County and had at least two children, Joseph and Jasper. Nancy then married Walter “Wat” Carter in Charlotte County. Their children included Louisa, Lettie, Walter Jr. and Eliza. Between 1867 and 1870, perhaps in response to his brother’s murder, Jasper moved his family to Charles City County. Between 1870 and 1873, Wat and Nancy Carter and family also moved to Charles City County. Lettie Carter Booker married and settled in Queens with her husband. For some period, her nephew Walter Holmes, son of Jasper, lived with them. The fortuitous capturing of this stay in the 1880 census cements these relationships for me, as it is a direct connection between Jasper and his half-sister.

Sources: federal census records; Charlotte County VA death records; Charlotte County voter register; Charles City County VA birth, marriage and death records; Freedman’s Bank records.

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin

Jasper Holmes.

All this (much-deserved) shine on Joseph R. Holmes, but he is not my direct ancestor.  What do I know about Jasper Holmes?

  • Jasper Holmes was born about 1841 in Charlotte County, Virginia. He was probably the son of Payton and Nancy Holmes, who are listed on his brother Joseph’s death certificate. His step-father may have been Walter “Wat” Clark.
  • Circa 1862, presumably in Charlotte County, Jasper married a woman named Matilda, who is nearly a complete enigma. Though she is consistently named in census records, her children’s birth certificates call her Matilda, Mary and Ellen. I have never found her and Jasper’s marriage license, nor is her maiden name listed elsewhere. She died 26 July 1885 in Charles City County, Virginia, and her death certificate lists her place of birth of Charles City County, but this is doubtful.
  • Jasper and Matilda’s first child, Robert Holmes, was born about 1863, probably in Charlotte County.
  • Tax records filed in Charlotte Court House for 1866 list Jasper Holmes in District #2 (T.M. Jones, revenue commissioner) and paying one black poll tax.
  • Charlotte County tax records for 1867 show that Jasper had moved to District #1, Charles W. Harver, commissioner, and was living at J.A. Selden’s. He paid one black poll tax.
  • Second child Walter Holmes was born about 1867, probably in Charlotte County. He presumably was named after his step-grandfather.
  • Third child Angelina “Lina” Holmes was born about 1869, probably in Charles City County.
  • On 3 May 1869, Jasper’s brother Joseph R. Holmes was shot dead at Charlotte Court House while asserting the rights of a freedman against a former slaveowner. Around this time, whether in direct response to this terrible crime or not, Jasper and his family, as well as his mother and stepfather’s family, moved more than 100 miles east to Charles City County.
  • In the 1870 census of Harrison, Charles City County, Virginia: in Wilsons Landing post office district, Jasper Holmes, wife Matilda, and children Robert, 7, Walter, 3, and Angeline, 1, plus William Jones. (Was Jones a relative, perhaps of Matilda? Thomas and Louisa Jones and family lived next door.)
  • Fourth child William Holmes was born in 1872 in Charles City County.
  • On 4 Apr 1873, Jasper Holmes filed a deed (book 12, page 483) at Charles City County Courthouse for the purchase for $5 of 10 acres in the Mill Quarter tract from A.H. Drewry et ux.  The sale took place 18 Feb 1873.
  • Fifth child Joseph Holmes was born in 1874 in Charles City County. He was named after his uncle, Joseph R. Holmes.
  • On January 20 and 21, 1875, William and Joseph Holmes died of whooping cough.
  • Sixth child Emma V. Holmes was born about 1876 in Charles City County.
  • Seventh child Mary Agnes Holmes, my great-grandmother, was born 15 October 1877 in Charles City County. Her birth certificate notes that the family lived at R.L. Adams’ place.
  • On 20 Jan 1879, Jasper Holmes filed a deed (book 12, page 332) at Charles City County Courthouse for the purchase on 16 Oct 1878 of 9 acres from Robert L. Adams et ux.  The tract was bordered by William Rolands, Robert L. Adams, the old breastworks or fortifications, and the old ditch.
  • Eighth child Martha “Mattie” Holmes was born about 1879.
  • In the 1880 census of Harrison, Charles City County: Jasper Holmes, wife Matilda, and children Robt., 19, Walter, 13, Lena, 10, Emma, 4, Agness, 2, and Mattie Holmes, 1.
  • A ninth child, an unnamed male, was born in 1880 in Charles City County. On 18 November 1880, that child died.
  • Tenth child Julia Ellen Holmes was born on 1 July 1882 in Charlotte County. [A second birth registration lists her year of birth as 1872, but she is not listed in the 1880 census.]
  • An eleventh child, unnamed, was born 26 July 1885 and died 2 September 1885.
  • On 26 July 1885, Jasper registered a death certificate for wife Matilda Holmes, who died in childbirth.
  • On 4 June 1886 (or 1887, there are conflicting duplicate records), son Walter died of consumption.
  • On 8 November 1886 (or 1887, there are conflicting duplicate records), daughter Angelina died of consumption.
  • On 30 Dec 1890, Alonzo P. Patterson filed a deed of transfer at Charles City County Courthouse for the transfer of 10 acres from Jasper Holmes to him.
  • On 7 Aug 1897, Jasper Holmes filed a deed at Charles City County Courthouse for the purchase of two lots, one 6 acres, the other 1 3/4 acres from A.H. Drewry et ux.
  • On 30 Dec 1899, at Charles City County Courthouse, the estate of Jasper Holmes, dec’d, filed a deed of transfer for 10 acres to Mary H. Allen and John C. Allen, her husband (my great-grandparents), and Martha H. Smith and Jesse Smith, her husband, all of Newport News VA; and Julia E. Holmes, unmarried, of Charles City County VA, heirs at law of Jasper Holmes.
  • On 10 Jan 1910, at Charles City County Courthouse, Mary Allen of Newport News VA and Julia Holmes of the City of New York, children and only heirs of Jasper Holmes, dec’d, filed a deed of sale for the sale of 10-acre and 6 3/4-acre parcels to James Clark for $300.
Maternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia

Order of Moses.


Moses Hall, Charlotte Court House, Virginia.

The Grand United Order of Moses, Inc., was a small fraternal insurance society for black men and women based in rural south-central Virginia. The founder and lifelong leader of the Order of Moses was James Murray Jeffress (1873–1951), who organized the society in 1904 at his birthplace, the village of Charlotte Court House. Jeffress graduated from Hampton Institute in 1894 and Howard University divinity school in 1901. He was ordained a Baptist minister and served as principal of a public school in Charlotte County.

By 1900, white Virginians had disenfranchised blacks and had segregated schooling and public transportation. Jeffress, sometimes called “the Booker Washington of Charlotte County,” was an accommodationist who tried to make life tolerable for his fellow blacks without challenging white racists directly. Fraternal societies such as the Order of Moses offered a modicum of economic security through medical and funeral insurance. They also supplemented the churches as black organizations that whites were willing to tolerate. They were organizations in which African Americans could vote, hold office, and brighten their drab lives with the color and spectacle of regalia and ritual, impressive titles and fancy-dress parades, lodge meetings and funerals.

Even more than in other fraternal societies, a charismatic oligarch dominated the Order of Moses: Murray Jeffress. He depicted the origins of his society in quasiprophetic language. “It was in 1901 that I began having visions repeatedly. These visions consisted of a single blackboard in which was chalked the words: The Grand United Order of Moses. After the third vision, I decided that I would do something about it.” In 1904, the Order of Moses recruited 203 members, and the society received a state charter. A few years later, it acquired Moses Hall as its headquarters. Jeffress took the title “right worshipful grand leader.”

A crisis in the society occurred when a black man, presumably instigated by whites, alleged that the Order of Moses had been organized to keep African Americans from working for white people. A prominent white man squelched this rumor by offering $ 150 for evidence in its support, evidence that never materialized. For his efforts, the Order of Moses made him an honorary member.

Jeffress resented the injustice of segregation and disenfranchisement, but he considered small economic advances the only realistic goals. “Let us teach every boy and girl to build and not tear down. Teach them that being God-fearing, property-owning and debt -paying citizens is greater than being a voter or being on social equality with [a] king.” He encouraged his followers to buy farmland or learn a vocational trade.

Although Jeffress opposed urban migration, many rural black Virginians moved to northern cities. As a result, Order of Moses lodges appeared outside Virginia, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Northern lodges unsuccessfully asked for the headquarters to be moved to Philadelphia, which they regarded as more convenient than Charlotte Court House, which at the time of Jeffress’s death had only 250 residents and neither a railroad station nor a bus stop.

The strength and the weakness of the Order of Moses was its identification with Charlotte Court House and Charlotte County. The order helped establish a high school there for black youth, provided bus transportation for the students, constructed and equipped a hospital building, and provided electrical service for the village. The order owned an auditorium that could accommodate four hundred people, an office building, and apartments for black schoolteachers. The society also owned three hundred acres of farmland worked by black sharecroppers.

As leader of the Order of Moses, Murray Jeffress became a respected figure in African American life. He was elected first vice president of the Negro Organization Society and president of the Federation of Negro Fraternal Organizations. He served a number of Baptist churches as pastor.

At the time of Jeffress’s death in 1951, the Order of Moses claimed a little more than five thousand members. Apparently, his son Wilson became the society’s new leader. How long it continued to operate is unknown. In any event, the little Order of Moses had survived into the post—World War II era, an achievement that few better-known African American fraternal societies equaled.

— Adapted slightly from Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations, Nina Mjagkij, ed.


My grandfather’s older brother, Jasper Maxwell Allen (1904-1959), married J. Murray Jeffress’ daughter Lena P. Jeffress, settled in Charlotte Court House, and opened a dental office in Moses Hall.


Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2012.

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Virginia

Tragedy at Charlotte Court House.

I first heard a version of the story of Joseph Holmes’ assassination from my great-aunt, Julia Allen Maclin. Joseph Holmes was brother to her grandfather Jasper Holmes. I later found a few references to the murder in books about Virginia’s political history, but details conflicted widely. A few years ago, I found these digitized articles, which firmly established the date of the incident and seemed to offer better insight into what actually happened. Last summer I visited Charlotte County and, with the invaluable assistance of archaeologist Kathy Liston, began to explore the landscape of Joseph and Jasper’s lives and shine light on the aftermath of his assassination.

 Tragedy at Charlotte Court House – A Negro Shot by a White Man – Particulars of the Affair – Result of the Inquest – Order for the Arrest of Those Concerned.

Richmond, May 4, 1869.

A tragedy occurred at Charlotte Court House, Va., yesterday, in which Joseph Holmes, a negro member of the late Constitutional Convention, lost his life. A few weeks since John Marshall, a son of Judge Marshall, of that county, was fired at in the night while in his residence by some unknown person. Yesterday being court day, Mr. Marshall was at the village, and there recognized a negro whom he suspected of having attempted to assassinate him. Marshall charged the negro with the crime, and he at once fled into the woods and was pursued without avail. A few hours afterwards, Joseph Holmes, who was formerly body servant of Judge Marshall, encountered young Marshall and threatened to have him arrested. A fight thereupon ensued, and both parties having pistols, firing commenced – Marshall aided by his friends. Holmes was shot through the breast, and staggering to the Court House fell dead. An inquest was hold, the jury returning a verdict that the deceased came to his death from a gunshot wound at the hands of some person unknown. The affair creates the greatest excitement in the county, where Holmes was exceedingly popular among the negroes, having been elected to the convention by a 2,000 majority over a white candidate. An order has been issued for the arrest of Marshall and party, but they have not yet been apprehended. — New York Herald, Wednesday, 5 May 1869.



Soon after the shooting of Joseph Holmes by young Marshall, in Charlotte county, Virginia, a meeting of the republicans of the county was held, speeches were made by prominent members of the party, and among the speakers were John Watson, George Tucker and Ross Hamilton. These parties were arrested and committed to jail under an indictment which charges that they did, on the 20th May, “feloniously conspire one with another to incite the colored population of Charlotte to make war against the white population by acts of violence,” &c. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was on Monday presented to Judge Morton of the Circuit Court of Henrico, at Richmond, wherein it is alleged that the parties are illegally detained in the custody of the Sheriff of Charlotte county, and they are innocent of the charge brought against them. This writ was granted and made returnable on Tuesday. In accordance therewith the prisoners were brought before Judge Morton on Tuesday afternoon and after discussion of certain points of law the prisoners were hailed for their appearance before the County Court of Charlotte, Va., to answer the indictment. — New York Herald, Friday, 25 June 1869.