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William Marshall Graves was born March 4, 1865, in Caswell County to slaves, Bural and Henrietta Graves. Marshall along with his parents and older brother Henry, were freed by proclamation of General John M. Schofield, early in May 1865, which followed the Emancipation Proclamation 1 January 1863. Little is known about his ancestry except that his father had five brothers and three sisters, Eshman, Silence, Iverson, Joe, Sam, Mary J., Margaret and Joyce. Iverson fought in the Civil War.
Marshall grew up on the farm and along with his parents and Henry, were employed as laborers by their former slave owners, Lee and Dock Graves. He attended Martin School, later named Fitch School, located on Old 62 South of Yanceyville. His parents instilled in their sons the importance of working hard to earn a living, as well as a deep faith in God. Both parents died before Marshall reached adulthood and as family ties were strong, his Aunt Susan Graves provided a home for him. Henry also died before reaching adulthood. Marshall married Maggie Elizabeth Graves, born 1867, daughter of Gabriel and Edith Carr Graves in 1887 and they had twelve children, eight sons and four daughters: William Albert 3 December 1888, Gabriel Parker 5 September 1890, Edith Henrietta 30 June 1892, Johnnie Pleasant 1 July 1894, Henry Thomas 4 May 1896, George Abriel 29 May 1898, Burlie Owen 15 September 1900, Joseph Ezra 12 November 1902, Hattie Lou 22 January 1905, Mary Mageline 16 June 1906, Fannie Gertrude 29 November 1909, and Samuel Vinson 18 November 1911.
Marshall was a hard worker and an enterprising man. In 1907 he purchased 305 acres of land from B. S. and Mallie Graves, which had formerly been owned by Lee Graves, slave master. At that time there were two old barns on the farm. He and his sons cleared the land and cut timber to build his home in 1909. The children provided the labor also to attend many acres of tobacco, corn, wheat, other grain, to raise animals, poultry, orchards and to raise most of the food they ate. They prospered and were able in 1917 to purchase a sawmill. The business enterprise was owned jointly by Marshall and four sons Albert, Gabriel, Thomas, and George, each having a one-fifth interest, with each assigned specific responsibilities for its operation. This sawmill provided timber for the Yanceyville Bank built around 1917-1918, for the dwelling homes of Fred and Walter Harrelson in Yanceyville, the Stokes family in the Cobb Community, homes in Alamance County and four homes on his farm. The sawmill also provided the lumber for all the bridges on Highway 62 South from Yanceyville to the Alamance County line.
Misfortune struck Marshall in 1919 when his sawmill burned down about two o'clock one morning. He was able to track two sets of footprints in the lightly fallen snow, which suggested arson. The mystery was never solved but Marshall suspected foul play from an old grudge in 1909 when he had seated blacks and whites together in his dining room to eat, following a "barn raising." This violated custom. He had also won a lawsuit around 1918 against a white man in an argument about ownership of a log wagon that he had purchased during the sawmill transaction. He was considered a "smart nigger" who thought he was as good as anyone else. On the first Sunday in January 1920 he lost the house by fire his son Burlie lived in, while they were away at church. Again in 1923 a vacant house belonging to his son George, and situated on the same farm was burned completely. Marshall and sons rebuilt the sawmill but later sold it.
Albert, the oldest son was a mail carrier around 1901-1902. His route ran from Yanceyville to the Anderson area. He traveled by foot daily, with the mail bag on his shoulder. Marshall and his other sons also worked to help build the first prison camp in Yanceyville, around 1932-1933, walking about 14 miles daily round trip for $.90 per day wages; the same for labor to build the elementary school in Yanceyville. Three of his sons, Gabriel, Johnny, and Thomas served in World War I.
Church played a very important part in Marshall's life. A member of Graves Chapel Baptist Church, he helped haul the logs that built the second church, 1897. He served the church as treasurer for eight years, Sunday school treasurer, and as a deacon for thirty years, until his death in March 1941.
Like many blacks at that time Marshall was a registered Republican, but did not hesitate to vote democrat, if that candidate represented his best interests. he made sure his family voted and personally saw that they got to the polls, by taking them. he worked at the polls to help count the votes. Marshall instilled in his children the pride of ownership, the honesty of labor, the need for a closeness between man and God, and an independence of the spirit. Family prayer every morning, "Blessings" before each meal, frequent visits with relatives, strong discipline in the home, and responsibility for one's "kin," were areas he had strong convictions about. He and Maggie reared many children who were not their own.
Many of Marshall's descendants still live on the property he purchased. The highway that passes through the property was named in his honor in 1883. Secondary road number 1120 is now known as Marshall Graves Road. However, his descendants are distributed throughout North Carolina and the United States. Two of his sons, Henry and Gabriel, became ministers. Several of his grandsons are ministers, many of his descendants have become well educated by attending colleges and universities throughout the United States. They hold degrees in engineering, nursing, teaching, social work, and law. They are business person, owning and operating their own businesses, such as dry cleaners, day care centers, barber shops, and boarding homes. They are secretaries, brick masons, printers, welders, plumbers, and mechanics, and serve as managers and supervisors. Many own their homes, farms, and other property.
Source: The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 243-244 (Article #275, "William Marshall Graves" by Ethel Fuller).