Monday, February 26, 2007

Going Back to Caswell

"Remember, in Caswell County the dark comes all the way up to the windows!"
Author of the Foregoing: Anonymous


(Click on Poem for a Larger Image)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Black Slave Owners

Transcript of Program about Black Slave Owners

2004-2005 Broadcast Season
Broadcast Program Transcripts
Episode #2014
Black Slave Owners & Free Slaves
Brown: Natalie Bullock Brown, host
Schweninger: Dr. Loren Schweninger, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Speller: Dr. Ben Speller, President, Historic Hope Foundation
Wood: Peter Wood, Duke University
Marshall: Patricia Phillips Marshall, North Carolina Museum of History
Brown: During the 300 year period of slavery in America, was there such a thing as an empowered slave? We’ll talk about free blacks, artisans, and black slave owners, next on Black Issues Forum.
Voiceover: Funding for this program was made possible in part by UNC-TV members.
[THEME MUSIC]
Brown: Good evening and welcome to Black Issues Forum. I’m Natalie Bullock Brown. From time to time, within conversations about slavery in America, the issue of free blacks and those who actually owned slaves themselves comes up. And the very existence of free blacks and black slave owners calls into question the idea of empowerment, a concept that is rarely used to identify blacks who lived during the oppression of slavery. Yet there were a small handful of those who were free; those who owned slaves, and those who may have been otherwise empowered through their own enterprise and skill. Now for some in the scholarly community, to emphasize the existence of free blacks upsets efforts to expose and emphasize the true horrors and oppression of slavery. In tonight’s discussion, we’ll address that concern and examine the facts with two North Carolina scholars. But right now let’s take a look at a story about a North Carolinian who embodied all three concepts: Thomas Day was a free black during slavery, owned slaves, and demonstrated his skill as a craftsman and entrepreneur through the art of furniture making.
Wood: Thomas Day is an interesting case because he was born to free parents in southern Virginia, probably mixed race, moved to North Carolina. He’s born at exactly the same time, around the turn of the century, that Nat Turner is born, also in southern Virginia in a slave family. So they are fascinating parallel biographies, that Turner becomes the most violent of revolutionaries and resisting the system, whereas Day floats within it, is not pleased by it, I mean, is a free black in a relatively privileged status compared to those around him, but never, ever fully accommodates to the system. For someone in North Carolina who was not white and who was technically free, maintaining that freedom was a constant chore and a constant challenge, and you could be pulled back into slavery. Sometimes you had to, in the cities you actually had to carry identification papers, there were curfews, you were regulated, you were watched, and your behavior was monitored.
Voiceover: Historians believe that Thomas Day’s father, a moderately successful cabinetmaker, trained his two sons in his craft. Thomas, the younger son, established himself as an able and successful cabinetmaker in Hillsborough while his brother John set up shop in Milton, North Carolina, near Yanceyville. In the early 1820s, Thomas moved to Milton to take over the woodshop his brother would eventually leave to pursue missionary work in Africa.
Marshall: Milton was a very attractive place in the 1820s. I mean, we can go there and say it’s a maybe a one or a two stoplight town now. But Milton was situated very conveniently close to the Dan River which was the main artery of transportation along the North Carolina/Virginia border. So it was also a center of the tobacco trade. The North Carolina General Assembly had designated it a place where people could bring in their tobacco to be graded and traded and it attracted tobacco farmers, it attracted other types of plantation owners. It attracted other tradesmen and craftsmen, as well. So the town was a magnet for maybe a six county area including the counties that were on the other side of the border in Virginia.
Voiceover: As North Carolina began to undergo a great deal of expansion in the first half of the 19the century, and plantation owners began to earn money off of the slavery system, people desired better furniture in their homes. Thomas Day was not only ready and willing to supply custom furniture to the wealthy but he was able to use the advances made possible by the Industrial Revolution.
Wood: He’s getting hold of better tools and he’s able to even follow certain blueprints, if you will, you know, it’s the beginning of, he’s part of the beginning of the North Carolina furniture industry, you know, of really of making things to please a great many people. So some of it was, I don’t want to say mass produced, but he had a group of people, enslaved workers, working with him, whether you can really call him a slave owner or whether he’ simply protecting black workers and operating within the system, anyway he has quite a little operation going in Milton.
Voiceover: Though Thomas day is widely known as a slave holder, debate still exists over his motivation for owning them.
Marshall: Thomas Day’s slave holdings is, I think, one of the hardest things for us today to understand is how someone of the same race can hold someone of their own race in bondage.
Wood: There’s no question that he was a slave owner in some technical sense of the term but that is to say there were blacks who worked for him and were listed as slaves. But that’s a very knotty problem as to what was really going on there. He would have been in trouble probably if he’d been employing a free work force. So it may well be that he’s covering for these people, if you wan to use that phrase, you know, that they’re working for him. They’re getting fed. They are part of this operation. But he certainly wouldn’t have been punishing them and exploiting them in the same ways that a white master would have been.
Brown: We’re talking about empowered slaves on Black Issues Forum tonight and right now I’d like to introduce our guests. Dr. Loren Schweninger is the Elizabeth Rosenthal Excellence Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is the director of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project. He has co-authored a book with John Hope Franklin due out in the summer of 2005 entitled In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South.
We also have Dr. Ben Speller, a historic preservationist specializing in the interpretation of the African American experience in plantation life and President of the Historic Hope Foundation in Windsor, North Carolina. Welcome to both of you.
Let’s start off by trying to understand what this whole issue of free blacks is about. How did most free blacks in North Carolina attain their status and I’ll start with you Dr. Schweninger.
Schweninger: There were a variety of means by will and deed and legislative act from the North Carolina General Assembly. You could be freed by your owner. If you were a free person of color and had been freed, if you were a mother of a child, that child would automatically be free because the status of the child took the status of the mother. A slave mother would have a slave child. There were, in North Carolina, Quakers, who freed slaves fairly regularly at least until the 1820s and 1830s. You could gain your freedom by being purchased out of slavery by relatives. A relative could buy you and take you into the family. A mother, a daughter, who was free could buy a mother or a daughter or son.
Brown: How often did that happen?
Schweninger: In North Carolina that was not common but in other states it was more common. Nonetheless, a number of free people of color purchased a loved one, purchased children. Amelia Green in Craven County, for example, was a slave herself who gained her freedom and then was able to purchase two of her daughters out of slavery, Princess and Nancy Green were both purchased by their mother in the 1790s. There was also the ability of some slaves to hire their own time if they were specially skilled and had special talents. And they could save some of their earnings. Their owners permitted them to do this and they could buy themselves out of slavery. This, too, was not common but it did happen. And then lastly, if you ran away, you just left the plantation, and in North Carolina it was very difficult for runaways to mix in a town or a city or to try to blend in because it was such a rural state and so many of the free blacks were in rural areas and everybody knew everybody so it was very difficult, but some runaway slaves made it to Wilmington or made it to Raleigh or made it to even Edenton, though most people in those towns would know who you were and so it was very difficult. But in various ways free black slaves gained their freedom.
Brown: Great. Dr. Speller, let me get you in this conversation and ask you: what did it mean to be a free black? I mean, once you were free, how was your life affected socially, economically, and otherwise?
Speller: That would depend on how you got into North Carolina, the status you had in the community, the skills and so forth that you brought. And like most situations, it was the value that the general public, be it black or white, would have for you there. I’m from eastern North Carolina and most of the slaves that came in free, slaves free and black, that came into the area, came from Virginia. And as was just mentioned, many of them were given their freedom. A large group that came into Warren County, were there because there was a controversy in Virginia because by that time, by the 1790s, in those areas there was concern about race and so forth and the fact that the number of free blacks were increasing because they were being left plantations and so forth in Virginia. There were several families where there were no legal heirs, that is, they had no issue. They would leave the plantation and their properties to the slaves that had been with them for quite a while. Usually in those cases it would be no more than three or four or five well trusted slaves that had been with them 20 or 30 years. So they were welcome into Chowan County into what is now Chowan County, Bertie County, Halifax, Northampton, and so forth and those are the areas where you found a large number of free blacks.
Brown: So if you had, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but if you had a particular skill that was of value to the community that you found yourself in as a free black, then you might have a better life, let’s say, than someone who didn’t necessarily have a skill but yet was free. Is that true?
Speller: Yes, if you were a carpenter, a blacksmith, and also met some of the other skills and so forth that were needed, a lot of what we would call now exceptions were made for you regardless of whether you were free or a black African American.
Brown: Dr. Schweninger, you mentioned that some free blacks were able to buy their relatives out of slavery which brings to my mind the question of black slave owners and how did that even come about? I mean, how was someone like Thomas Day or any other black slave owner able to own slaves?
Schweninger: First, there were no laws in North Carolina history that prohibited free blacks from owning slaves, nor were there any statutes that prohibited free people of color from owning real estate. So if you were skilled, as Dr. Speller had suggested, or if you had been given certain monetary, made certain monetary arrangements with your former owner who had freed you and given you some property or some money, you could keep that as a free person of color. And some of those who became landowners and some of those who became property owners looked to slaves to work for them just as whites looked to slaves to work for them. In North Carolina the number of free blacks who owned slaves was very, very small. And we have fairly good statistics from 1830 that suggest about 191 free black slaveholders owned about 650 slaves in North Carolina. Now that was when you consider in 1830 there were 20,000 free blacks and 250,000 slaves in North Carolina, the number who owned, free black slave owners was tiny. In other parts of the South, that was not the case. In Louisiana and in South Carolina there were contingents of free people of color, mostly people with mixed racial origin, who had been helped by their white fathers, who were given slaves at a young age and owned large numbers of slaves. I should add here, though, that though the number of free black slave owners in North Carolina was very small, North Carolina had the free black who owned more slaves than any other free black in the South. John Carruthers Stanley, who was from New Bern, Craven County, who was the son of an African Ebo woman and a white merchant shipper, John Wright Stanley, and was born on the eve of the American Revolution, and was freed by a friend of his father, and Carruthers was their name and he took the middle name, Caruthers, purchased, he was a barber. He as given some property to begin with and then he began purchasing slaves. And in the teens and twenties, he acquired 163 slaves. He was born a slave, a free black, and he was one of the largest slaveholders in North Carolina—white or black—in the entire state. So there were free black slaveholders. He was highly unusual, and compared with other states in the South, even there, even in Louisiana and South Carolina, there were no slaveholders that owned that many slaves.
Brown: Well, Dr, Speller, even those this particular slave owner in North Carolina who was black, who owned more slaves than anywhere else in the South, even though he had this sort of status, what did it really mean for a black slave owner to own slaves? How was his life changed? Was it equal to that of a white slave owner or was a black slave owner or even a free black for that matter, still on a level that was substandard to that of a white slave owner?
Speller: That would depend on the geographical location and attitudes of the communities where they were. For an example, you can take Thomas Day, the person just mentioned, and in some of the eastern counties they would assign pews in the churches. They would be part of the backing establishment and other things like that. And it would really depend on, as I said before, what they had had, the ability to do to add value in the eyes of the whites to the community. In the county that I grew up in, one free black there actually had the largest number of mortgages on both planters and otherwise, homes and so forth. So he and his children and so forth were treated as if they were white although it was obvious that they were black by their skin color.
Brown: They were treated as if they were white by white and black alike?
Speller: Yes.
Brown: Interesting.
Speller: And they were such that their skin colors would make you know that they were black.
Brown: Well, I’m fascinated to think about this particular time in history when slavery is still in existence and we know of the tensions, to say the least, that existed between whites and blacks whether they were free blacks or slaves. And I’m wondering just how accepting the white community, I mean, how accepting could they really be? Because basically it seems to me that a free black or a black slave owner was kind of infringing on their lifestyle.
Schweninger: That’s a very good question. The free blacks were proscribed and their activities were circumscribed by laws and regulations and strictures and local attitudes and values. But as Dr. Speller suggests, the truth of the matter is that a person like Thomas Day, who had such a talent for making beautiful furniture, was able to move around those harsh strictures and was able to maneuver around them. The same with John Sampson in Wilmington, New Hanover County, who was a merchant and a carpenter. When you acquired enough wealth and became, most were slaveholders too, you could petition the county court. You could petition the legislature. You could do a lot of things. And until 1835 in North Carolina, free blacks could vote. And it was one of the only two states in the South where that was the case. And in the Constitutional Conventions of 1835 when the debate came up of whether or not the vote should be taken from blacks and color should be made a qualification and only whites could vote, there was a big debate and the final vote was 61 to 66 in favor of disenfranchising free blacks. And in Craven County free blacks voted for the Federalist Party in the 1820s on a pretty regular basis and one or the arguments was that they hold the balance of power in certain counties and this county was the case. And so how they were treated by whites, John Carruthers Stanley, who was dark skinned, and who observers and later people who heard about his life, noted that he would walk down the street with leading whites in the community, that he was described as gentlemanly, he owned a house in New Bern and three plantations outside and in Craven County, turpentine plantations, and he had 18 slaves in his household in New Bern. His house still stands there, incidentally, as does Amelia Green. Her house that she purchased, acquired in New Bern, still stands and Amelia Green became John Carruthers Stanley’s mother-in-law. Her daughter married Stanley and her daughter was a slave. He freed her and he freed his children since when his children were born in the early 19 th century, they were born into slavery because their mother was a slave and he freed here and freed the children as he went along.
Brown: Well, Dr. Speller, I’m going to probably give you the last word, but Dr. Schweninger brings up an interesting idea that I think we continue to deal with which is this whole idea of skin color in the black community. And he mentioned that the slave that owned the most number of slaves—what was his name again?
Schweninger: John Carruthers Stanley.
Brown: John Carruthers Stanley. He was a dark skinned black. Just how much of a role in whether or not you were a freed black or whether or not you were actually granted freedom or whether or not you were a slave owner, a black slave owner, had to do with the color of your skin. Just how light or dark you were.
Speller: Well, actually the lighter you were, the more freedom you probably had because it was harder to tell and there was less questioning. And we were just discussing some things before we came in here. I’m from an area where if you take all of the surnames of free blacks that are there, they more or less disappeared because by 1860 or 1870, they had found it more to their benefit to blend in with the whites. So in truth many of the free blacks that we could talk about and identify by surname and families, are now considered, their progenitors are now considered white. So your skin color did have a lot to do with that. Also that was what built what African Americans and most people don’t want to talk about, a caste system, really, that still exists in some communities, where there is just a little tension between the fair skinned blacks and their relatives who may have dark skin and so forth. And that’s a reality that you have to deal with.
Brown: Right. So Stanley, the black slave owner, even though he was dark skinned, he was able to enjoy all the privileges of a white person because of the wealth that he had amassed, basically.
Schweninger: That’s right. And in following up with Dr. Speller, the percent of free people of color who were people of mixed racial ancestry in North Carolina was 72%. So as he suggests, the overwhelming number were mixed blood.
Brown: Well, thank you very much to both of you. I’d like to thank Dr. Loren Schweninger and Dr. Ben Speller for coming out tonight. If you’d like a transcript of tonight’s program, information on our guests, or would like to send us a comment, visit us online at unctv.org/bif. You can also reach us by phone at 919-549-7167. Thank you for joining us tonight and every Friday night at 9:30 pm for Black Issues Forum. I’m Natalie Bullock Brown reminding you to be encouraged no matter what. Good night.
[END OF RECORDING]

Source:

Obituary of Curtis "Wayne" Pickeral (1941-2007)

Obituary of Curtis "Wayne" Pickeral (1941-2007)
Feb 21, 2007 - 08:53:22 am CST

McLeansville, N.C. - Mr. Curtis "Wayne" Pickeral, age 65, of Hines Chapel Road, passed away Friday Evening February 16th, at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital. Funeral Services will be held at 3:30 PM Monday February 19, 2007 at Forbis & Dick North Elm Street Funeral Chapel. Entombment will follow at Lakeview Memorial Park Mausoleum. Wayne was born August 7, 1941 in Danville, VA. He was the son of George Curtis & Bealah Mae Pickeral. He had lived in the Providence Community of Caswell County, NC prior to moving to Greensboro in 1959.Wayne was a self employed professional photographer for 48 years. He was a member of the Wildwood Hunting Club and was also an avid fisherman, & golfer. He enjoyed family poker night, family get-togethers, taking his family to the beach, and spending time with his grandchildren. Wayne was also a member of Monticello United Church of Christ.

Wayne is survived by his loving wife of 44 years, Peggy Greeson Pickeral of the home,
His mother, Bealah Mae Elliott Pickeral of Greensboro. Daughters and sons-in-law, Rhonda P. & Rick Joyce and Kim P. & Jeff Berg, all of Stoney Creek. Sisters and brothers-in-law, Brenda & Terry Burnette of Greensboro and Nancy & Bob Lewis of McLeansville. His beloved grandchildren Tiffany Deabenderfer , Zac Garrison, Seth Garrison and Bethann Berg & J.P. Berg who all knew him as Papa.

The family received friends Sunday Evening February 18th at Forbis & Dick North Elm Chapel. The family would like to send out a heart felt thanks to all the Doctors at Carolina Kidney Associates, Dr. Phillip Nahse of Greensboro Cardiology, Carla Porter & Ashley Young , and the nurses in the 2100 ICU. On line condolences may be sent to: www. forbisanddick.com

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 21 February 2007.

Obituary of Lincoln Dare Loftis (c.1932-2007)

Lincoln Dare Loftis
Feb 21, 2007 - 08:53:22 am CST

Reidsville, N.C. - Lincoln Dare Loftis, 75, formerly of 1206 Loftis Road, died Friday, February 6, 2007 at Alamance Health Care Center. Graveside services will be held at 2:00PM, Sunday, February 18, 2007 at Pleasant Grove Primitive Baptist Church. Mr. Loftis was born in Caswell County to the late Andrew Carlyle Loftis, Sr. and Myrtle Garrison Loftis. He was of the Baptist Faith. In addition to his parents, her was preceded in death by brothers, Bradford Loftis, A.C. Loftis, Jr., George Loftis and Carlyle Loftis; sisters, Adele Loftis Marlowe, Lois Loftis Gooch and Louise Loftis Walker. He is survived by his brother, Wayland Loftis and wife, Doris of Burlington; sisters, Carol Loftis Wetzler of Richmond, Margorie Loftis Dix and husband, Floyd of Burlington and Wynell Loftis Gooch of Thomasville. The family will receive friends at Wilkerson Funeral Home on Saturday, February 18, 2007, from 6-8 PM. Condolences may be sent to www.wilkersonfuneral.com.

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 21 February 2007.

Obituary of Margaret Lee Blalock King (1920-2007)

Margaret Lee Blalock King (1920-2007)
Feb 21, 2007 - 08:53:21 am CST

Burlington, NC - Mrs. Margaret Blalock King, 86, of 100 Wade Coble Drive, Burlington, NC, died Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 5:15 am at The Twin Lakes Center. A native of Caswell County, she was retired from Koury Hosiery, Inc. and a member of the Bush Arbor Primitive Baptist Church. She was preceded in death by her husband, Alvis Franklin King, Sr; parents J. Weldon Blalock and Mary Oakley Blalock; sisters, Lizzie Pritchette, Sally Aldridge and Frances King; and brother, W. H. Blalock.

She is survived by daughters, Patricia Wilkins and husband Owen, of Burlington, Mary Butler and husband Melvin of Reidsville, and Barbara Gregory of Burlington; son, Alvis F. King, Jr. and wife JoAnn of Burlington; sisters, Allie Clayton and Lou Blackard, of Burlington; brothers, Joseph Blalock of Burlington and G.F. Blalock of Prospect Hill, seven grandchildren and seventeen great grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 2:00 pm, Friday, February 16, 2007 at Bush Arbor Primitive Baptist Church with Elder Ray King and Pastor Chuck Perkins officiating. The family will receive friends at the McClure Funeral Home in Graham, Thursday evening from 6:00 until 8:00 pm, and at other times at the home of her son at 10620 Highway 62 South, Burlington, NC. The body will be taken to the church to lie in state 30 minutes prior to the service. Memorials may be made to the Bush Arbor Primitive Baptist Church Memorial Fund, 900 Oakview Loop Road, Yanceyville, NC 27379. Condolences may be made to www.mcclurefuneralservice.com.

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 21 February 2007.

Obituary of Ann Daniel Jones (c.1925-2007)

Ann Daniel Jones (c.1925-2007)
Feb 21, 2007 - 08:53:21 am CST

Yanceyville, N.C. - Ann Daniel Jones, 82, of 7307 US Hwy 158 West Yanceyville, NC died Sunday February 18, 2007 at Brian Nursing Center Yanceyville, NC. Graveside services will be conducted 11:00 A.M. Tuesday Feb. 20, 2007 at Locust Hill United Methodist Church Cemetery. A native of Caswell Co. she was a daughter of the late Martin and Loucile Daniel and had lived in Caswell County her entire life. A member of Locust Hill United Methodist Church, she was a member of the Methodist Women at the church and was also a member of the Locust Hill Home Demonstration Club. She was preceded in death by her husband: Billy W. Jones.Surviving: two daughters: Mary Jo Jones Henderson and husband Roger, Yanceyville, NC, Billie Jean Jones Hodges and husband Alton Ruffin, N.C., two brothers: Lacy Daniel - - - Pelham, N.C., Nelson Daniel - - - Ringgold, Va., one sister: Laura D. Bailey - - - Danville, Va., three grandchildren: Van Alton Hodges, Billy Thomas Henderson, and Susan Henderson EastmanThe family will see friends at the home of her daughter May Jo Henderson 7307 US Hwy 158 West Yanceyville, N.C. Memorials may be made to: Locust Hill United Methodist Church C/O Ralph Dail, 8488 NC Hwy 150 Reidsville, N.C. 27320. Citty Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Condolences may be sent to: cittyfuneralhome@bellsouth.net.

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 21 February 2007.

Obituary of James Henry "Jimmy" Graves (1919-2007)

James Henry (Jimmy) Graves
Feb 21, 2007 - 08:53:21 am CST

Yanceyville, NC- James Henry "Jimmy" Graves. It is with profound sorrow we announce the death of Mr. James Henry "Jimmy" Graves of 239 North Ave., who died Sunday, February 18, 2007 in the Brian Center Nursing Home in Yanceyville, NC.

He was a native of Caswell County, the son of the late Peter Graves and Harriet Watkins Graves, born July 16, 1919. He was a member of Pearson Chapel A.M.E. Church, where he served on the Steward Board, Trustee Board, and Grave Yard Committee and former treasure of the church. He also was a member of the Allen's Chapel Masonic Lodge #676 and was Past Master of the Lodge.

He was a graduate of Caswell County Training School. He was an employee of Carolina Steel in Greensboro, NC, Hooper General Store, Red & White General Store and a staff member at Fulton Funeral Home before retirement.

He was a veteran of the United States Army, having served in World War II and received an honorable discharge. He also received several decorations and citations such as: Asiatic Pacific Service Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star, Philippine Liberation Service Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star, Good Conduct Medal and a World War 11 Victory Medal.

He was preceded in death by six brothers, George, Jerry Lenzy, Peter Steven, Ruffus, William Douglas, and Richard; four sisters, Mattie Williamson, Julia Graves, Mamie Price, and Louise Gales.

His survivors are wife, Mrs. Willie Mae Totten Graves of the home; 1 daughter, Mrs. Barbara Ann Graves Garner of Yanceyville, NC; 1 son, Jimmy Lea Graves of Blanch, NC; 4 grandchildren; 3 great grandchildren; a host of nieces, nephews, and other relatives.

Funeral services for Mr. James Henry "Jimmy" Graves will be Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 2:00 pm at Pearson Chapel A.M.E. Church with Reverend Herbert S. Williams delivering the eulogy. Interment will follow in the church cemetery with Military Rites performed by American Legion Post 29 Honor Guard.

The family visitation will be Wednesday evening from 7 to 8 pm at Fulton Funeral Home Chapel. The family may be contacted at his residence, 239 North Avenue, Yanceyville, NC. All arrangements for Mr. James Henry Graves are entrusted to Fulton Funeral Home 219 Dillard School Dr. Yanceyville, NC.

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 21 February 2007.

Obituary of Anna Watlington Odell (1923-2007)

Obituary of Anna Watlington Odell (1923-2007)
Feb 14, 2007 - 09:32:13 am CST

Yanceyville, NC - Anna Watlington Odell 84 of 2671 U.S. Highway 158 West died Thursday, February 8, 2007 at Duke Hospital following several years of declining health. She was born January 16, 1923 to the late Oscar Bryan (O.B.) Watlington, Sr. and Fannie Roberts Watlington. She was educated in Caswell county Schools, a member of Prospect United Methodist Church and a homemaker.

She is survived by a daughter Dianne O. Murphy and husband Frank of Prospect Hill, NC, sisters Doris W. Allen and Wilma White of Yanceyville, brother Earl Watlington, Sr. of Yanceyville, Son-in-Law Jim Shirkey, Granddaughter Janet M. Owen, Grandson Patrick Shirkey and great granddaughter Murphy LeAnne Owen and great grandson Bennet Field Owen.

She was predeceased by her husband Thomas F. Odell, parents, one daughter Sandra Shirkey, one granddaughter Robin E. Shirkey, three brothers O.B. Jr., William Penn and G. Irvin Watlington.

Funeral services will be Saturday 2:30 p.m. at Prospect United Methodist Church, conducted by Rev. David Grissom, pastor. Interment will be in the church cemetery. The family will receive friends Saturday 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. at the church and at other times will be at the home of Dianne and Frank Murphy 1795 Corbett Ridge Road, Prospect Hill, NC. Harrelson Funeral Service is serving the Odell Family.

Source: Obituary of Anna E. Watlington Odell (1923-2007) (The Caswell Messenger, 14 February 2007)

Obituary of Lorenzo "Bud" Stokes (1930-2007)

Lorenzo "Bud" Stokes
Feb 14, 2007 - 09:32:13 am CST

Ruffin, NC - It is with profound sorrow we announce the death of Mr. Lorenzo "Bud" Stokes of 3834 Quick Rd., Ruffin, NC, who died Tuesday, February 6, 2007 in the Avante Nursing Facility, Reidsville, NC.

He was a native of Caswell County, NC the son of the late Flossie Holloway Stokes and Franck Stokes, born November 14, 1930. He was a member of Spirit Filled Holiness Church in Danville, VA, and was an employee of IM Plastics before retirement.

His survivors are beloved sister, Mrs. Lossie Pearl Stokes Lea and nephew William "Tim" Lea of the residence; wife, Mrs. Cleo Watlington Stokes; 4 daughters, Mrs. Eva Mae Coleman (Reginald), Mrs. Loretta Hodnett (Michael), Ms. Patricia Stokes all of Yanceyville, NC and Mrs. Martha Miles of Burlington, NC, 2 sons, Kendall Stokes and Rodney Stokes both of Yanceyville, NC; sisters, Mrs. Deola Stokes Chandler of Greensboro, NC, Mrs. Mattie Stokes Farrish and Mrs. Mary "Eva" Stokes Graves both of Yanceyville, NC; 2 brothers, Gilbert Stokes (Elizabeth) of Reidsville, NC, and Yancey Stokes of Fayetteville, NC; aunt, Mrs. Lucy "Sis" Stokes Wimple of Yanceyville, NC; 7 grandchildren, Tiemba Slade, Michael Hodnett, Melissa, Jessica, Catina, Preston, and Jamie Stokes; 1 great-grandchild, Zelotis Stokes; a host of nieces; nephews; cousins, other relatives and friends.

Funeral services for Mr. Lorenzo Stokes will be Saturday, February 10, 2007, 2:00 p.m. at Spirit Filled Holiness Church, 1372 Goodyear Boulevard, Danville, VA with interment in the church cemetery; Minister Reginald Coleman will deliver the eulogy. The family visitation will be Friday evening from 7 to 8 p.m. at Fulton Funeral Home Chapel. The family at other times may be contacted at his residence 3834 Quick Rd., Ruffin, NC. All arrangements for Mr. Lorenzo Stokes are entrusted to Fulton Funeral Home, 219 Dillard School Dr., Yanceyville, NC.

Source: Obituary of Lorenzo (Bud) Stokes (1930-2007) (The Caswell Messenger, 14 February 2007)

Obituary of William G. Stephens (c.1930-2007)

William G. Stephens (c.1930-2007)
Feb 14, 2007 - 09:32:12 am CST

Bel Air - William "Bill" G. Stephens of Bel Air died Jan. 23 at Bel Air Health and Rehabilitation Center. He was 77. Born in Caswell County, NC, he was the son of the late John A. and Lura Senate Stephens. He was a salesman of beauty shop supplies. He also worked at the Super 8 Motel, formerly the Lakeside Motel, in Joppa. He enjoyed wildlife, politics and following the Ravens.

Mr. Stephens is survived by his wife, Emma Lou Burleson-Stephens of Bel Air; one son, Mark Stephens of Atlanta, GA; one daughter, Marilyn Stephens of Stanton, VA; two stepsons, Jerry B. Williams and his wife, Donna of Bel Air and Roscoe E. Williams III and his wife, Patricia, of Sparta, NC; one sister, Lucille Durham and her husband, Bernard, of Yanceyville, NC; and one granddaughter, Crystal R. Williams of Bel Air.

In addition to his parents, Mr. Stephens was predeceased by a daughter, Carolyn Stephens, and four brothers. Service was held Jan. 26 with Rev. Kenneth E. Tipton officiating. Interment was at Highview Memorial Gardens in Fallston. Memory tributes may be sent to the family at www.mccomasfuneralhome.com.

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 14 February 2007.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Alex's Cafe

Yanceyville Cafe

Located on the Square in Yanceyville beside the Bank of Yanceyville was a cafe. It was a small building, longer than it was wide. In the front was a typical cafe arrangement -- a counter with stools on one side, boothes on the other. Half way back was the kitchen with a window that opened to the counter area. It was cozy, smelled good, and was somewhat of a social center.


In the back was a pool room -- three old tables, an oil heater, and a mens' room. The benches were just split logs with bark still on the bottom.



Owners/operators of the café included Jacob Carlyle (Alex) Alexander (1904-1963), Joe Powell, a Mr. Crumpton, and Jack Arnold. There may have been other owners, the determination of which is one reason for this article (also the order of ownership).


Photograph Identification Project Entry #10

(Click the Photograph for a Larger Image)

Here is the tenth entry in the Caswell County Historical Association's Photograph Identification Project.

These are students at Cobb Memorial School (Caswell County, North Carolina), probably of a class born around 1924. Going up the right side of the picture to the 5th girl up, move one in to the left and there is my Charlie/Charles Douglas Smith. It appears he would be 5th in from the left of the picture on the 5th row. On the first row, first on the left is Bill Huskey. Buck Page is directly behind Bill. The picture has a tear, so there may be someone missing.

Can you identify more of these delightful young people? If so, please share by leaving a comment here or sending your information to the CCHA.

Don't forget the other photographs in this series:

1. Kids on a Rock

2. Old Tractors

3. Lady and Barefoot Boy

4. Little Rascals of Cobb School

5. Girl Scouts on Square in Yanceyville

6. Girl Scouts at Bartlett Yancey Elementary School

7. Three Girls at Esso Pump

8. Cobb Elementary School Marching Band

9. Carolyn Daniel's Cobb Memorial Elementary School Class
_______________

As with respect to all the images that have been posted as part of the CCHA Photograph Identification Project, the owner of the photograph, through the Caswell County Historical Association, retains all rights. Accordingly, copying, posting, publishing, and any other manner of distribution or use is prohibited without first obtaining the express written authorization of the copyright holder. Contact the CCHA if you have questions.

Photograph Identification Project Entry #9

(Click Photograph for Larger Image)

Above is the ninth entry in the Caswell County Historical Association's popular Photograph Identification Project. These are students at Cobb Memorial School (Caswell County, North Carolina). The adult in the middle of the second row is teacher Carolyn Daniel. Is this an eighth grade class? The girl standing to the far right with the striped blouse is Carrie Lee Walker.

Can you identify more of these delightful young people? If so, please share by leaving a comment here or sending your information to the CCHA.

Don't forget the other photographs in this series:

1. Kids on a Rock

2. Old Tractors

3. Lady and Barefoot Boy

4. Little Rascals of Cobb School

5. Girl Scouts on Square in Yanceyville

6. Girl Scouts at Bartlett Yancey Elementary School

7. Three Girls at Esso Pump

8. Cobb Elementary School Marching Band

_______________

As with respect to all the images that have been posted as part of the CCHA Photograph Identification Project, the owner of the photograph, through the Caswell County Historical Association, retains all rights. Accordingly, copying, posting, publishing, and any other manner of distribution or use is prohibited without first obtaining the express written authorization of the copyright holder. Contact the CCHA if you have questions.

Photograph Identification Project Entry #8



Above is a photograph of Cobb Memorial Elementary School students, most of whom were born around 1934. This would date the photograph in the early 1940's. The first drummer from the left on the front row is Ashley Walker. The last girl on the front row may be Barbara Ann Millner.

Can you identify more of these children? If so, please share here or with the CCHA.

Don't forget the other photographs in this series:

1. Kids on a Rock

2. Old Tractors

3. Lady and Barefoot Boy

4. Little Rascals of Cobb School

5. Girl Scouts on Square in Yanceyville

6. Girl Scouts at Bartlett Yancey Elementary School

7. Three Girls at Esso Pump

_______________

As with respect to all the images that have been posted as part of the CCHA Photograph Identification Project, the owner of the photograph, through the Caswell County Historical Association, retains all rights. Accordingly, copying, posting, publishing, and any other manner of distribution or use is prohibited without first obtaining the express written authorization of the copyright holder. Contact the CCHA if you have questions.

Cobb Baseball Team

Below are three photographs of the Cobb Memorial High School (Caswell County, North Carolina) baseball team. As most of these players are believed born in the early-to-mid-1920's, the date of the photographs probably is 1935-1940.

(Click on Photograph for Larger Image)
Left to Right:

1st Row: Miller Walker, Oren Walker, Billy Cobb, Melvin McKinney, Stedman McKinney
2nd Row: Daniel Jeffress, R. L. Apple, Charlie Smith, George D. Caraway
3rd Row: Frank Saunders, Alonzo Walker, Unidentified, Perry Walker


(Click on Photograph for Larger Image)
Left to Right:

1st Row: R. L. Apple, Daniel Jeffress
2nd Row: Edward Neighbors, Stedman McKinney, Kodell Loftis, Perry Walker, Elree Loftis
3rd Row: J.P. Wilkins, Alonzo Walker, James Strader, Charlie Smith
Mr. Horton, Coach


(Click on Photograph for Larger Image)

Left to Right:

1st Row: Irvin Jeffries, Billy Dove, Lawrence Dowdy, Swanson Carroll, Robert Scott, Stamey Gunn
3rd Row: Second player in on the right side with cap on is James Isaac "Ike" Smith; one in from left is Herbert McDowell
Top Row: On the far right is Elvin Carter

Believed to be in this photograph are Thomas Gentry and Miller Wrenn.

Thanks to Allison Doyle and Ramona Smith Supensky for sharing these images and identifying many of the baseball players.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bank of Yanceyville Notes

(Click on Photograph for Larger Image)

This Bank of Yanceyville demand note (now called a check) contains the image of Bartlett Yancey, Jr. (1785-1828), and the signatures of teller Joseph J. Lawson and president Samuel Hill. The date of the note is not clear, but may be 1853. The following is from When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977) at 345 (paragraph breaks added):
Thomas D. Johnston in 1844 drew up an affidavit saying that he had been a merchant in Yanceyville for sixteen years. In 1852 he was one of the superintendents accepting subscriptions for stock in the new Bank of Yanceyville, of which he soon became president. In 1860 Johnston owned property valued at $161,000 and was the wealthiest man in town; as a matter of fact, only one planter in the county was richer.

The Bank of Yanceyville was chartered by the General Assembly in December, 1852, under the guidance of N. M. Roan, Allen Gunn, Thomas A. [sic] Johnston, S. P. Hill, George Williamson, and Wm. Long, of Yanceyville; Samuel Watkins, M. McGehee, Nicholas M. Lewis, and N. J. Palmer, of Milton; Solomon Lea, Nicholas Thompson, and James S. Thompson, of Leasburg; and R. [sic] J. Lawson, Q. P. Watt, William D. Bethell, and Joseph D. Neal, of Lawson's Store.

Among other things which the bank might do, it was authorized to issue bank notes. During the Civil War the Bank of Yanceyville made a series of "temporary loans" to the State of North Carolina "to meet liabilities of the State." A portion of the total was repaid, but it is not known whether the full debt was ever cleared. In 1871 a new bank was chartered, the Bank of Caswell, under the direction of commissioners John B. Blackwell, George Williamson, James Poteat, Thomas D. Johnston, and Thomas Bigelow.
At some point either a new bank was chartered as the Bank of Yanceyville or the Bank of Caswell changed its name to Bank of Yanceyville.

Based upon the 1906 date seen in the above photograph of the Bank of Yanceyville building in the 1960's, it is possible that what became the modern Bank of Yanceyville was chartered in 1906. Does the 1922 date represent the year in which the building was constructed?

By 1870 Joseph J. Lawson, his wife Abigail, and daughter Elizabeth J. (Bettie) had moved to Danville, Pittsylvania County, Virginia, where Joseph was occupied as a tobacco trader. He apparently had survived the Civil War fairly well as he showed in the 1870 US Census real property valued at $9,000 and personal property valued at $2,000. The Lawsons apparently had a large house or operated a small hotel because the 1870 census shows a number of boarders. Of interest is twenty-year-old Thomas D. Johnston, occupation clerk, and born in North Carolina. This is believed to be the son of Thomas Donoho Johnston, Sr., one of the founders of the Bank of Yanceyville mentioned above.

Thomas Donoho Johnston is well-known in Yanceyville today as the builder of Clarendon Hall:

The Samuel Hill who signed the above Bank of Yanceyville note most likely is Samuel P. Hill, a Yanceyville lawyer.

Here is another Bank of Yanceyville note:
Permalink

Monday, February 12, 2007

Grassroots Garveyism

Here is a message from Amazon about a book that might be of interest:

We've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in Their Highest Potential: An African American School Community in the Segregated South by Vanessa Siddle Walker have also ordered Grassroots Garveyism: The Universal Negro Improvement Association in the Rural South, 1920-1927 (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture) by Mary G. Rolinson. For this reason, you might like to know that Mary G. Rolinson's Grassroots Garveyism: The Universal Negro Improvement Association in the Rural South, 1920-1927 (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture) will be released on February 26, 2007. You can pre-order your copy by following the link below.

Grassroots Garveyism: The Universal Negro Improvement Association in the Rural South, 1920-1927 (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture) Grassroots Garveyism: The Universal Negro Improvement Association in the Rural South, 1920-1927 (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture)
Mary G. Rolinson
Price: $22.50

Release Date: February 26, 2007



The Vanessa Siddle Walker book, Their Highest Potential, is the story of the struggles of black families and students to achieve educational parity in Caswell County, North Carolina. It is available from the Caswell County Historical Association online at CCHA Publications.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Obituary of Gene Aubram Smith

Gene Aubran Smith
Feb 06, 2007 - 10:25:14 pm CST

Reidsville, NC - Gene Aubran Smith, 69, of 1308 Hwy 150 West, died Saturday, February 3, 2007 at his home.

Funeral services will be held at 2:00 pm on Tuesday, February 6, 2007, at Lawsonville Road Baptist Church and the burial will follow in the church cemetery.

Mr. Smith was born in Caswell County to the late Elbert Aubram and Mamie Stanley Smith. He was a self employed carpenter and a longtime member of Lawsonville Road Baptist Church. He loved hunting, antiquing and meeting friends for coffee every morning. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jo Ann Stewart Smith.

Survivors include his daughter, Beth Hutchens of Reidsville; grandchildren, Jonathan, Michael and Dustin Hutchens; great grandson, Caleb Hutchens; brother, Jimmy Smith of Reidsville; sisters, Kathy Stewart of Reidsville, Nancy Smith of Cary, NC and Julia Pigeon of Oklahoma.

The family will receive friends at Lawsonville Road Baptist Church on Monday, February 5, 2007 from 6:00 until 8:00 pm and other times at the home. Memorial contributions may be made to the Lawsonville Road Baptist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 1584, Reidsville, NC 27323. Condolences may be sent to the family at www.wilkersonfuneral.com.

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 6 February 2007.

Obituary of Hallie Oliver Byrd (1918-2007)

Hallie Oliver Byrd
Feb 06, 2007 - 10:25:14 pm CST

Burlington, NC - Hallie Oliver Byrd, 88, formerly of NC 62 South, Yanceyville, passed away on February 5, 2007 at the Hospice Home in Burlington after several years of declining health and three weeks of critical illness.

A lifetime resident of Caswell County, she was the wife of the late Johnnie Preston Byrd and the daughter of the late William Albert Oliver and Cordelia Everette Oliver. She was a homemaker laboring with love along side her husband on the farm until his passing in October 1963. After his death she became employed at the Baptist Home in Yanceyville where she worked for several years before retiring. She was a member of Bush Arbor Primitive Baptist Church and attended church faithfully until her health declined.

She leaves behind precious memories to her three sons and daughters-in-law; Wilson and Shelby Byrd of Burlington, Irvin and Ilene Byrd of Mebane, and Elmer and Joan Byrd of Elon; grandchildren, Ronnie Byrd, Blair Byrd, Lynette B. Hawley, Denean B. Brooks, Jason Byrd, Preston Byrd, and Derrick Byrd; eight great grandchildren; one step great grandchild; a brother, Edgar Oliver of Burlington and several nieces and nephews.

In addition to her husband and parents, she was preceded in death by a brother, N. L. "Mike" Oliver and sisters, Annie O. King, Edna Oliver, Josie Oliver and Etta Oliver.

Services will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 7, 2007 at Bush Arbor Primitive Baptist Church with Elder Ray King and D. O. Chandler, Jr. officiating. Burial will follow in the church cemetery.

The family will receive friends at Lowe Funeral Home and Crematory in Burlington from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and at other times at the home of Elmer and Joan Byrd, 5398 Kerr Chapel Road, Elon.

Memorials may be made to the Bush Arbor Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery Fund, c/o D. O. Chandler, Jr., 900 Oakview Loop Road, Yanceyville, NC 27379 or to the Oakview Presbyterian Church Cemetery Fund, c/o Teresa Dabbs, P O Box 74, Yanceyville, NC 27379 or to Hospice and Palliative Care of Alamance-Caswell, 914 Chapel Hill Road, Burlington, NC 27215.

The family would like to express their gratitude to the staffs of Blakey Hall, Liberty Commons, ARMC and the Hospice Home in Burlington for the special care they showed our loved one. Condolences may be sent to the family at info@lowefuneralhome.com

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 6 February 2007

Obituary of Elise Ledbetter Coleman

Elsie Ledbetter Coleman
Feb 06, 2007 - 10:25:13 pm CST

Roxboro, NC - Elsie Ledbetter Coleman age 89 former of Leasburg died Saturday morning February 3, 2007 at the Person Memorial Hospital. She was born in Rockingham County to the late Luther and Dora Collins Ledbetter. She was the wife of the late Robert L. Coleman. Mrs. Coleman was a former resident of the Cambridge Hill and later moved to the Roxboro Nursing Center.

Survivors include her eight children, Charlie W. Coleman, Robert Coleman, Raymond Coleman, James Darrell Coleman, Phillip Coleman and Kenneth Coleman all of Leasburg, Jeanette C. Keith of Willow Springs and Jane Bradsher of Roxboro; 16 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren; and one brother, William Ledbetter of Madison.

The funeral service will be 11 AM Monday, February 5, 2007 at the Leasburg United Methodist Church with the Rev. Laura Stern officiating. Burial will be the Leasburg Community Cemetery.

Pallbearers will be Grandsons, Steve Coleman, Jay Coleman, Lee Coleman, Travis Coleman, Blake Coleman, Jamie Coleman, Wade Oakes, and Troy Crowder. Honorary Pallbearers will be Randy Coleman, Mike Coleman, Wayne Coleman, Aubrey Oakes, and Allen Coleman.

The family will receive friends 6PM to 7:30 PM Sunday, February 4, 2007 at Brooks & White Funeral Home and other times at the home of her son, Charlie, 6511 Highway 158E, Leasburg. In lieu of flowers, memorials contributions may be made to the Leasburg United Methodist Church Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 98, Leasburg, NC 27291.

Source: The Caswell Messenger, 6 February 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007

Semora School (Caswell County, North Carolina)

(For Larger Image Click Photograph)

1st Row: Allen ( Alan) Wagstaff, C. J. Owen ( Wayne Owen's Dad), John M. Allen, and Luther Gutherie

2nd Row: John Mansfield, Foster ( Cotton ) Pointer, Jack Pointer Sr., Audrey Barker, Cecil Pointer, and Billie Chandler ( Mike Chandler's Dad)

Probably 6th and 7th grades.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Caswell County Hookworm Campaign

(Image courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

Caswell County Hookworm Campaign

During the 1909-1914 period, The Rockefeller Sanitary Commission conducted in several southern states, including North Carolina, campaigns against the hookworm parasite. For an interesting description of the 1913 campaign in Caswell County go to Caswell County Hookworm Campaign. This is not a medical treatise, but a fascinating 1913 description of Milton and Yanceyville, with observations about Dr. Stephen Malloy and journalist Tom Henderson. Dr. Warren of Prospect Hill also is mentioned.

The following description of the Rockefeller Hookworm Campaign is from the Rockefeller Archive Center:
The Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease was organized on October 26, 1909, as a result of a gift of $1,000,000.00 from John D. Rockefeller, Sr. who hoped that a five-year campaign against the disease would lead to the "adoption of well-considered plans for a cooperative movement of the Medical Profession, Public Health Officials, Board of Trade, Churches, Schools, the Press, and other agencies." The gift was accepted on October 26, 1909, by William Welch, Simon Flexner, Charles W. Stiles, Edwin Alderman, David Houston, P. P. Claxton, J. Y. Joyner, Walter H. Page, H. B. Frissell, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Frederick T. Gates, and Starr Murphy.

The bylaws use the wording of Rockefeller's letter of gift in their objectives towards the cure and prevention of hookworm disease. The eradication effort was to be a joint project between the states and the Sanitary Commission. The Commission was to furnish the initial impetus and to serve as an information agency for the states. It also paid the salaries of the field personnel. Offices were opened in Washington in January, 1910, and the business of organization began. The state was the basic unit of work and the state public health system was the main contact, though medical associations, public school systems, and the press were enlisted. Each state created a Director of Sanitation who was appointed jointly by the Sanitary Commission and the state public health authorities. The Director of Sanitation was a state official, responsible for directing and organizing the campaign in that state. Sanitary inspectors were under the province of the State Director of Sanitation. These, together with the microscopists, were the field staff. They surveyed the state to determine areas and degrees of infection, enlisted the aid of local community members in securing appropriations to add to those of the Sanitary Commission, worked with local physicians, gave treatment to the infected, inspected schools, and gave lectures and demonstrations to instruct people how to prevent reinfection and avoid soil pollution. This last effort of lectures and demonstrations included the press and the local educational systems, as well as all the community groups that could be interested in the project. Particular attention was paid to the instruction of school children. Education was considered as large a part of the campaign as was treatment. In 1910, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana all began hookworm campaigns. By 1914, Kentucky and Texas had established their programs, and preliminary surveys had been taken in several other states. Dispensary work, instruction in medical and public schools, and intensive community work all increased public awareness of hookworm as a disease, and the possibility of its cure and prevention. The campaign ended formally in 1914, though some of the programs carried over until June, 1915.
Links and References

Curing and Preventing Disease and Promoting Public Health

The Hookworm Campaign in North Carolina, J. D. Wody (North Carolina Medical Journal, Volume 4, Number 2, 1992).

Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South

The North Carolina Campaign Against Hookworm Disease

The Germ of Laziness

Saturday, February 03, 2007

John Baptist Smith (1843-1923)

John Baptist Smith (1843-1923)

(50th Wedding Anniversary of John Baptist Smith and Sabra Annie Long)

Guide to 50th Wedding Anniversary Photograph

Field Glasses Used by John Baptist Smith Aboard the Advance

Clicking on some of the above photographs will produce a larger image.
_______________

It may well be that the most lasting contribution made by any soldier on either side during the Civil War came from John Baptist Smith born at Hycotee, Caswell County, September 19, 1843. He enlisted as a private with the Milton Blues on April 15, 1861, when he was just 17. By mid-July he was a corporal and on the first of December he was promoted to sergeant. On April 1, 1862, he was transferred to the Signal Corps where he had been serving on detached duty since February. He became a first sergeant and was in charge of a signal station on the south side of the James River opposite Newport News. Here he was witness to the encounter between the Confederate ironclad Virginia or Merrimac when it destroyed the Federal frigates Cumberland and Congress in the James River. When Norfolk was evacuated, Sergeant Smith and his signal corps were ordered to Petersburg and given charge of the signal station on the Appomattox to observe the movement of the enemy fleet and forces. Although occupying an exposed position that was often under siege, he and his men held fast. Smith and his men also rendered valuable service during the seven day's fight around Richmond and the retreat of McLelland's army.

In July of 1862 Smith, by order of the Confederate Secretary of War, was sent to the Cape Fear to assist in organizing the signal service there, and he was placed in charge of the important station at Fort Fisher under Colonel William Lamb. He was concerned with establishing signal communication between forts at the mouth of the river, but he also became concerned about another problem. "I soon observed the great difficulty a vessel encountered in her effort to enter our port, " he later recalled, "and at once began to study how this obstacle might be overcome." The Cape Fear River was used by blockade-running vessels bringing essential supplies to the Confederacy and anything that could be done to speed their entry and ensure their safe arrival would be welcomed.

"One day while in the ordnance department of the Fort, I chanced to spy a pair of ship starboard and port lanterns, and this thought flashed into my mind, 'Why not by the arrangement of a sliding door to each of these lanterns, one being a white, the other a red light, substitute flashes of red and white lights for the wave of torches to the right and left, to form a signal alphabet and thus use the lanterns at sea as well as upon land.' I at once communicated my plans to Col. Wm. Lamb, commandant of the fort. They met his approbation and I was instructed to submit them to Gen. Whiting commanding the department, who most readily gave me an order to the master of the machine shop at Wilmington, to render me aid in fitting up my lanterns. These, under my personal directions, were speedily fixed to my entire satisfaction. The General then referred me to Commodore Lynch, who ordered a commission of Naval Officers to investigate my mode of signaling by flash lights. This commission, after careful investigation, were so highly impressed with the system that upon their recommendation it was adopted and ordered to be operated on all the Confederate Blockade Runners. To this end, a pair of my lanterns and a Signal Officer were placed on each one of them. Signal stations were also established along the coast, so that an incoming vessel, when she made our coast, would run along as close ashore as possible and her Signal Officer, by flashing his light from the shore-side of the ship, could escape observation by the Blockaders, get the attention of the shore stations, and thus ascertain the position of his ship and send a message to the commandant of the fort to set range lights, by which the pilot could steer his vessel across the bar and have the guns of the fort manual to protect the vessel if necessary."

This successful method of signalling at night was most effective and the advantages of it over the old torches was immediately recognized. Smith reported that a British ship captain whom he met shortly afterwards "urged me to go to England with him and take out letters patent from the British and other European Governments; he agreed to bear all expenses in consideration of an interest in the patent. I declined his most liberal offer because it would to my mind, look like deserting my country in her hour of need, although I was certain I might have obtained permission from the Confederate Secretary of Navy to carry out this proposition, which most certainly would have been a source of great profit pecuniarily, as it has formed the basis of the present system now used in the Naval service generally."

In recognition of the valuable contribution that Sergeant Smith had made, the Secretary of War assigned him for special duty with General Whiting at Wilmington. The general gave Smith his choice of vessels upon which to serve as signal officer, and he chose the Advance, a state-owned blockade runner recently purchased at Liverpool and perhaps the fastest ship afloat. Smith served well in this capacity until February, 1864, when he was commissioned lieutenant in the Signal Corps and ordered to report for duty at Petersburg. He was given command of the signal station on the Lower James River with headquarters at Hardy's Bluff, the lowest outpost of the Confederate army. From this vantage point he relayed detailed reports of the number and movement of the enemy gunboats and transports until the line of communication was broken and he was forced to fall back to Petersburg. In that beleaguered city he and his men fought in the trenches as infantry for 48 hours without relief of any kind. Because of his recognized ability and bravery, Lieutenant Smith was given command of the signal lines from General Beauregard's headquarters. A few day later he was ordered to report in person to General Lee who placed him in command of the signal lines running from his own headquarters to the different points around Petersburg. This has been called "perhaps the highest compliment bestowed in the Confederate States Army upon so youthful an officer."

In 1865 Lieutenant Smith's men were the last to leave Petersburg, crossing the last bridge as it burned. They served as a rear guard for General Lee's army, and were present at Appomattox Court House where Smith released some Federal prisoners who had been taken along from Petersburg. Smith secured paroles for his men and returned home to Caswell County, arriving on April 15, 1865, four years to the day after his enlistment.

Source: When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977) at 210-214.


John Baptist Smith in Confederate Uniform


Sabra Annie Long Smith (1844-1932)

Sabra Annie Long and John Baptist Smith were married 23 April 1872.