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Historical Accounts of African American Families

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Lillian Taylor Lyons grew up in Oxford, Granville County, the daughter of former slaves; her father was born in 1850 Soudan, Mecklenburg Co.,Virginia, and her mother was born in 1860 in Granville County. She tells of her life in Oxford where her father was a carpenter who worked in Granville and the surrounding counties, including in the Oxford Orphanage. Lillian's father had been a slave of John Lyle Taylor, whom he accompanied during the Civil War and was at Appomattox when Robert E. Lee surrendered. Her mother was said to be the daughter of Charles Lewis and Lucinda Gregory, whose marriage was recorded in the Granville County Freedmen's marriages as being married about 1854. However, she later relates that her mother was actually the daughter of the slaveowner, Charles Gregory, and tells of her family's life in Oxford, growing up in the community where everyone knew about the relationship.  There are accounts of other families in Granville with whom she was familiar, both free and slave, and Lillian's stories of their history provides a wonderful insight into life in Granville County in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

Annie Bell Williams Cheatham was born 1911 in Oxford, Granville County, the daughter of a sharecropper originally on the land of William Crews.  Annie tells of her life of living in what she called the "flatwoods", an area that was deep in the woods away from any neighbors or any of the main roads that led to town.  Her mother's tales of life during slavery times is recalled as incidents involving lynching, about their master splitting up some of the families and the selling off of slave children who never got to see their parents again, stories that told of the treatment of blacks both before and after the end of slavery.

 Floyd Alston, Jr. and Ethel Thorpe Alston, a son and his mother born in 1916, tells of the life in and around Granville County.  Ethel's parents were Ather and Pearl Thorpe, sharecroppers and and the descendants of former slaves near Oxford, and she relates some of the stories she heard from her parents.  Floyd Sr., who was from Brooklyn, New York, moved to Granville County and became a sharecropper on the Balou Plantation, and the narrative tells about the various relationships with the family and the neighbors. 

Louise Pointer Morton, born in 1910 in Granville County tells the story of her grandmother, Margaret Yancey Downey, who had been a slave of the Pittard family. Margaret's role in the founding of Jonathan Creek Baptist Church on land that she had received from the Pittards is told in depth, as well as the fact that years later, they built a school on that same land. She was a widow who raised her 9 children on the 5 acres of land received from her former slaveowners, and there are many stories recalled with fondness about the community gatherings for both social and church events.  The stories give insight into the remarkable strength and community values that the emancipated slaves drew from their church and the family relationships that were formed from their hardships.

Reverend London R. Ferebee was born a slave in 1849 in Currituck County, North Carolina.  Some of his earliest memories were of his mother having an altercation with their slavemaster and his wife, and as a result he and his mother, along with some of his siblings were sold to a speculator and eventually ended up working on a ship from an early age, including learning to sail the vessel on his own. He tells of the hardships he suffered at the hands of the mistress, who did not like him, although his master and their children seemed to have had a fondness for him and treated him kindly. His life started to take a different course when the Civil War broke out and he ran away to Shiloh, North Carolina; he later reunited with his father and moved to Newbern then to Roanoke Island where London's father established a school. London entered school at the Christian Church and spent the War years attending different schools and afterwards continued on with his education including the study of law.  With the help of a District Court judge whom he studied under, London got employment as a teacher by 1869, and went on to become a politician and a minister of the A. M. E. Zion Church; in 1880, Granville County was his first service on the Oxford Circuit where he became well-known enough to be elected a delegate for the Republican Party the following year. This story follows one man's journey from slavery to his triumph in the Church as a minister and gives us a glimpse into his own assessment of himself.

Martha Cooley, born in 1910, lived in Granville County where at an early age, she had to take charge of running her family's household, including preparing and cooking meals as well as working in the tobacco fields to help her father in his farming venture. Martha's story tells of life in the rural South before the advent of the civil rights movement, the intrusion of roads and highways, or interference from industrial growth or urban sprawl. She remembers her history and that of her family, recalling her education in a one room schoolhouse, Sunday afternoons, quiltings and corn shuckings. Martha creates an image of an inward looking, supportive community.

 


2010  Deloris Williams for the NCGenWeb Project.  No portion of  any document appearing on this site is to be used for other than personal research.  Any republication or reposting is expressly forbidden without the written consent of the owner. Last updated 11/29/2011