Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Photographs, Religion

Roadtrip chronicles, no. 6: Western Rowan County churches.

In Church Home, no. 9, I wrote about Back Creek Presbyterian, the church that my great-great-great-great-grandfather Samuel McNeely helped found and lead. I wanted to see this lovely edifice, erected in 1857, for myself:


And I wanted to walk its cemetery. I didn’t expect to see the graves of any of its many enslaved church members there, but thought I might find Samuel McNeely or his son John W. Dozens of McNeelys lie here, many John’s close kin and contemporaries, but I did not find markers for him or his father. (I later checked a Back Creek cemetery census at the Iredell County library. They are not listed.)


Within a few miles of Back Creek stands its mother church, Thyatira Presbyterian. This lovely building was built 1858-1860, but the church dates to as early as 1747. There are McNeelys in Thyatira’s cemetery, too, and this is the church Samuel originally attended.


Just up White Road from Thyatira is Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. I visited its cemetery in December 2013 and took photos of the the graves of descendants of Joseph Archy McNeely (my great-great-grandfather Henry McNeely‘s nephew), Mary Caroline McConnaughey Miller and John B. McConnaughey (siblings of Henry’s wife, my great-great-grandmother Martha Miller McNeely.) Green Miller and Ransom Miller’s lands were in the vicinity of this church.


Photos taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2015.

Maternal Kin, Paternal Kin, Religion, Vocation

Where we worked: men and women of the cloth.

Joseph Silver, near Enfield NC – husband of Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver; founder of Plumbline Holiness Church, 1893; organizer of the United Holiness Church of America (see Estrelda Alexander, Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentacostalism); 1890s-1958.  [Said my grandmother: Mama got married there on Elba Street, there at the house.  Yeah.  Reverend Silver 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.]

Graham Allen, Charles City County VA – Baptist minister, circa 1880?-1928.

Jonah Williams, near Eureka NC – Baptist minister; pastor of Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Church and other small churches between Wilson and Goldsboro NC; circa 1890?-1915.

William H. Henderson, Goldsboro NC – minister, ??-1950s.

Larry R. Artis, Washington DC – minister, Sharon Baptist Church, 9th Street between U and Barrett Place NW, circa 1917.

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, Wilson NC – Holiness evangelist, 1920s-1938.

Ruffin C. Carroll, Goldsboro NC — preacher, 1920s.

Kinchen C. Holt, Greensboro NC – husband of Vera Baker Holt; African Methodist Episcopal minister; Presiding Elder, Greensboro District, 1924; circa 1900?-1940.

Joseph Aldridge, Goldsboro NC — minister, ??-1930s.

Joseph L. Aldridge, Dayton OH — United Methodist minister.

Elias Lewis “E.L.” Henderson, Eureka NC — founder of Saint Mark Church of Christ, Saulston NC.


The ninth in an occasional series exploring the ways in which my kinfolk made their livings in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Photographs, Religion

Church home, no. 7: Center Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Statesville NC.

My grandmother:  She was a great Methodist. And she would come down occasionally to go to church, you know.  Have on all them taffeta skirts, and they were shirtwaisted skirts, you know.  And she was pretty, honey.  Have you ever seen any of her pictures?

And another time:

Where did they have that funeral?  They must have brought her down and had her in, at the Methodist Church in Statesville.  She belonged there.  She would come Saturday, get up Sunday morning, honey, and put on those taffeta skirts with those pretty blouses and lace all down the front and ‘round there. 


I had not planned to go to Sunday School. I was on my way home for Christmas and stopped in Statesville just to look for Harriet Nicholson Hart‘s church. I suspected that Center Street AME Zion Church was the same as Mount Pleasant AMEZ, which still meets, but my internet search was inconclusive.

The morning was dreary and chilly when I pulled into a space across from the church. I had snapped a couple of shots with my phone when I saw a woman step from an SUV in the parking lot. “Excuse me,” I called. “I’m looking for Center Street AMEZ.” She tilted her head toward the church behind me. “This is it,” she said. “It’s called Mount Pleasant now.” I explained that my family had been members of the church a hundred years before and my great-great-grandmother had been funeralized there in 1924. We chatted for a couple of minutes, and after asking if I might peek inside, I followed her through a side door — straight into Sunday School.

A junior pastor was addressing a small gathering of adults, and I — acutely conscious of my jeans and hoodie — took a seat just inside the door. As he spoke on the necessity to reach out to youth, I discreetly glanced around. In the nave, dully gleaming brass organ pipes stretched nearly wall-to-wall. At the back of the sanctuary, a large arched tripartite stained glass window brightened the pews. At an opportune time, I introduced myself and expressed my joy at joining in a service at a church that had been so important to my family at one time. “What were their names?” “Nicholson and Colvert and Hart,” I said, “and other family lived in the neighborhood. My great-aunt was Louise Colvert Renwick.” There were nods of familiarity and expressions of welcome.

I slipped out before too long and paused again as I reached my car to gaze back at the building. A woman hurried around the side of the church, calling out for me to wait. She was the pastor’s wife and she had a small gift — a card and a CD of hymns. “Thank you for visiting,” she said. “We’re so glad you found us.”


IMG_4579Mount Pleasant AMEZ Church today, corner of South Center and Garfield Streets.


Center Street AMEZ Church, Sanborn map of Statesville, 1918.


Interviews of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Photographs

Family cemeteries, no. 3: Boyden Quarters.

I doubled back through Iredell County on I-77 and exited on US-70. I crossed into Rowan County on backroads, cresting rolling hills on my search for the lands on which my McNeelys and Millers lived and worked. I came out just east of Mount Ulla, the hamlet that gave its name to the entire district. Finding nothing much to see, I headed toward Bear Poplar and Salisbury on NC-801, also known as Sherrills Ford Road. From the corner of my eye, I spied a cluster of church signs pointing up a side road. “Thyatira Presbyterian” I recognized from histories of early Scots-Irish in Rowan County. And “Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Boyden Quarters” — Boyden Quarters!!! That’s the area that many of my Miller-McConnaughey kin lived in in the early 20th century.  I’d thought they were AME Zions, but decided to have a look anyway. And there they were:


Mary Emma McNeely Leazer, daughter of Joseph Archy McNeely and Ella Alexander McNeely. This stone faces into, and has been overgrown by, a cedar.


Right next to it is a double stone for Mary McNeely Leazer and her husband George H. Leazer.


Addie Brown Sifford was the daughter of William C. and Mary Caroline Miller Brown. Her grandmother was Grace Adeline Miller Miller.


Sarah Ellis Sifford was the daughter of Callie McNeely Ellis and granddaughter of Joseph Archy McNeely.


James W. McConnaughey was the son of James R. McConnaughey and Mary Leazer McConnaughey (sister of George H. Leazer, above) and grandson of John B. McConnaughey.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Religion

Church home, no. 5: A.R. Presbyterian, Statesville NC.

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian church is a blending of two groups that began in Scotland in the early 1700s. The Associate Presbyterians and the Reformed Presbyterians migrated to America as a result of religious and political upheaval in Britain. The two churches merged in 1782 to form what is now known as the ARP church.

After the Civil war, Associate Reformed Presbyterians from Amity (now New Amity), New Perth and New Sterling Churches moved to Statesville. On August 7, 1869, a meeting was held in Stockton hall to organize the First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Statesville. About 15 people were present at this first meeting, and Reverend W. B. Pressly was chosen as pastor as well as Elders R.R. White, A.M. Walker, George White and John Patterson.

After meeting in the Iredell County Courthouse for a short period, the early church shared the Presbyterian sanctuary for about six years. In 1875, Colonel S.A. Sharpe and other interested friends donated labor and materials to build the first church.

Reverend W. B. Pressly served as pastor until his death November 25, 1883. After several ministers had supplied the pulpit for brief periods, Reverend D. G. Caldwell served as pastor from 1885 to 1891. In 1892, Reverend J. H. Pressly, then a student at Erskine Seminary, accepted the call to this pastorate and served this church for 54 years.

During the pastorate of Dr. Pressly, First ARP Church made several significant steps. The church built a manse in 1897. In 1900, a new sanctuary was built, replacing the first structure and in 1902 the session approved the establishment of a second church in south Statesville. Out of this decision came the organization and building of Pressly Memorial Church in 1907. — Excerpt from http://firstarpchurch.us/about-us/


Lon W. Colvert and Carrie McNeely were married in 1906 at A.R. Presbyterian Church. Rev. J.H. Pressly officiated, and he and his wife signed the marriage license as witnesses. My grandmother said that Carrie’s father Henry McNeely was a “big” Presbyterian — it was the denomination of his Scotch-Irish forebears — though Carrie joined the Episcopal church. I’ve contacted First ARP for information about their early membership rolls and will post the results.

Education, Maternal Kin, Religion, Virginia

Church home, no. 4: Zion Baptist, Newport News VA.

“The Zion Baptist Church was organized in the year 1896 under a cherry tree at its present location by a group of 13 baptized Christians who had migrated to Newport News from other areas of Virginia and the Carolinas and who had not affiliated with any local congregation.

In 1896, when the City of Newport News was in its infancy, a section of town now known as the East End was better known as “Blood Field” for its street violence. There were houses of prostitution, bars, dance halls, a saloon on every corner and gambling was a way of life.

It was after several meetings from house-to-house that the thirteen Christians concluded that there was a need for some type of religious worship in the immediate area and so 107 years later, Zion Baptist Church in the East End was set.

The first pastor called to lead the group was Rev. Moses Tynes and in 1897, the first tiny structure was built under his leadership. Most of the materials were donated by whites in the community and the labor was donated by men in the community.

In 1899, under the leadership of Rev. C. J. Crudup, the sanctuary was destroyed by fire. But despite this setback along with other difficulties, the congregation continued to grow. Rev. C. E. Jones was called to assume the responsibility of leadership in 1901 and for eleven years, Zion experienced tremendous growth, encouraging men and women to turn to Christ. Both Rev. and Mrs. Jones were actively involved in the work of the National Baptist Convention and the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention. In 1941, Rev. Jones’ pastorate ended as a result of a car accident after 39 years of leadership to the congregation. Rev. Joseph B. Reid became his successor and he served the church for fourteen years.”  Excerpt from “About Us,” http://www.zionbaptistonline.org/about.html


John C. Allen Sr. was illiterate when he arrived in Newport News about 1899.  Before long, he made his way to Zion Baptist where, under the tutelage of Rev. Charles E. Jones, he learned to read. John reared his children in the church, and his funeral service was held there in the first days of 1954.

He was a smart man, but he was not an educated man.  If he had had an education to go along with his wit, he would have been a bad boy.  I’m telling you, ‘cause he was just as smart as he could be. 


Interview of Margaret Colvert Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson, 8 August 1998; all rights reserved.

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,” http://www.trinityepiscopalstatesville.org/church.html#history

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

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

Church home, no. 1: First Congregational, Dudley NC.

“History of the First Congregational Church of Dudley, North Carolina, Given by Mr. General Washington Simmons, born December 22, 1856.”

In 1867, after Emancipation, came the first school for Dudley, taught four months by a white confederate soldier, John P. Casey, who was paid by the community families. The only textbook was the “blue-back speller.”

George Washington Simmons, father of General W. Simmons, corresponded with Mr. James O’Hara in Wilmington, Delaware, though whom the services of another white friend, Miss Jane Allen of Delaware, were secured for another two months’ session. She, too was paid by families.

From Oberlin College in 1868, came D.C. Granison, 23 or 24 years of age, the first Negro teacher, who remained for two years, residing in the home of George Washington Simmons. … His correspondence with the A.M.A. brought visitors in 1870, among whom were many to be remembered, especially Rev. D.D. Dodge, at that time pastor of the First Congregational Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. With his guidance our first Sunday School was organized. After several visits, he sent Rev. John Scott of Naugatuck, Connecticut, who began work in 1870. …

Just after Rev. Scott’s ordination, the First Congregational Church of Dudley was organized in what is known as the old “mission home.” … Charter members of the church were George Washington Simmons, James KingLevi Winn Sr., Levi Winn Jr., Henry Winn, George Winn, and members of their families. The first converts were Charity Faison and Sylvania Simmons. They were baptized in the “Yellow Marsh Pond” just north of the cemetery. …

Volume II [of the church records] summarizes the history from March 9, 1870. … The list of members, dating from 1870, is divided by male and female. It includes the names of Frank Cobb, William AldridgeBryant Simmons (Sr. and Jr.), John AldridgeLewis Henderson, Levi Wynn, Richard Brunt, Amos Bowden, Charles Boseman, M.A. Manuel, Solomon Jacobs, George Washington Simmons, …

From the souvenir bulletin of the 100th Anniversary, First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, 1870-1880.  Copy of bulletin in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, North Carolina, Oral History, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

The death of Lewis Henderson.

lhenders-20110225152701My grandmother, who was born in 1910, said her great-grandfather Lewis Henderson died when she was very small. She did not remember him, though her sister Mamie had reason to. He threw a brush at her — it hit her in the head —  because she was making too much noise. She could not have been older than four.

North Carolina did not keep death certificates until 1914, and Lewis’ grave is unmarked. How do we know exactly when he died? This is a page from one of the few volumes of early church records that survive for the Congregational Church of Dudley. Lewis had helped found the church in 1870, and this list shows tithes paid by male congregants. The sixth name: Henderson, Lewis. And this notation: “Died July 5 — 1912.” He would have been about 76.