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From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie

From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie "Back Country" of Randolph County, North Carolina


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When former slave, Islay Walden returned to Southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina in 1879, after graduating from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, as an ordained minister and missionary of the American Missionary Association, he moved in with his sister and her family in a secluded area in the Uwharrie Mountains, not far from the Lassiter Mill community along the Uwharrie River. Walden was sent to start a church and school for the African American community. When the church and school were begun this was, not surprisingly, a largely illiterate community of primarily Hill family members. The Hill family in this mountain community was so large, it was known as "Hill Town." The nearby Lassiter Mill community was larger and more diverse, but only marginally more literate. Walden and his wife accomplished much before his untimely death in 1884, including acquiring a US Postal Office for the community and a new name - Strieby. Despite Walden's death, the church and school continued into the 20th century when it was finally absorbed by the public school system, but not before impacting strongly the literacy and educational achievements of this remote community.

From Hill Town to Strieby is Williams' second book and picks up where her first book about her ancestor Miles Lassiter, an early African American Quaker [Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) an Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home], left off. In From Hill Town to Strieby, she provides extensive research documentation on the Reconstruction-era community of Hill Town, that would become known as Strieby, and the American Missionary Association affiliated church and school that would serve both Hill Town and Lassiter Mill. She analyzes both communities' educational improvements by comparing census records, World War I Draft record signatures and reports of grade levels completed in the 1940 census. She provides well-documented four generation genealogical reports of the two principal founding families, the Hills and Lassiters, which include both the families they married into and the families that moved away to other communities around the country. She provides information on the family relationships of those buried in the cemetery and adds an important research contribution by listing the names gleaned from death certificates of those buried in the cemetery, but who have no cemetery markers. She concludes with information about the designation of the Strieby Church, School, and Cemetery property as a Randolph County Cultural Heritage Site. 364 pp. 44 illustrations.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780939479092
Publisher: Backintyme Publishing
Publication date: 07/06/2016
Pages: 454
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.92(d)

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The Hills and Hill Town

The central family, around whom the community of Hill Town grew, in what became Union Township, was that of Edward "Ned" Hill and his wife, Priscilla Mahockly, affectionately known as "Uncle Ned" and "Granny Prissy." Ned was reportedly a free man of color; however, he does not show up as a head of household prior to 1850. Priscilla on the other hand reportedly had a slave background, but may have been freed around 1830, when she and Ned began having children. Some descendants have said she was from Maryland, but from 1850 to 1910, in every census, she says she was born in North Carolina.

It is thought by descendants that Ned had a relationship with a white "Hill" family. The only Hill family in both 1830 and 1840 that had free people of color in the household (though not named of course) was the Samuel Hill family. Samuel Hill was a prominent, local, Quaker lawyer and abolitionist. He and his family were members of the Uwharrie Friends Meeting, a preparative meeting for Back Creek Monthly Meeting. Uwharrie Meeting was located in the Southwestern section of the county in what would become New Hope Township, next to what would become Union Township where Hill Town was located. By comparing ages of members of Ned's household in 1850 and that of the 1830 household of Samuel Hill, it would appear that the people of color in Samuel's household could very likely be Ned, Priscilla, and children, Nathan and Charity Hill. However, the 1840 census seems to indicate there might be 2 families of color living in the house, Ned's and one other. Thus, it would appear that sometime before 1830, Edward "Ned" Hill became a free man of color, possibly even born free, living in the Southern District of Randolph County, most likely in the Uwharrie Mountain neighborhood he lived most of the rest of his life. It was during this time, 1842, that he entered a deed of trust. One of the trustees on this deed was Healy Phillips Lassiter, wife of Miles Lassiter, an African American Quaker who was also a member of Uwharrie Meeting (1842 Deed of trust). Healy and Miles lived in the Lassiter Mill area of what would become New Hope Township about 2-3 miles from what would become "Hill Town."

Ned and Priscilla had several children listed in the 1850 census: Charity, Calvin, Thany, Emsley, Mary and Sally. They lived next to Zeno Mose and his family, as well as Moses Winslow. Ned is listed as a laborer. According to the census, neither Ned or Priscilla, nor eldest daughter, Charity could read or write.

There were other free people of color in the immediate area. It is difficult, however, to determine the boundaries of the various communities, because the census in 1850 only divides the county into North and South. On, the other hand, the 1860 census divides the county into East and West. Nevertheless, it is possible to begin to identify the discrete communities. Among the families of color living within a few pages (5) of Ned in 1850 were the families of: Henley, Toney, Winslow, Mose, Phillips, Lassiter, Smith, Wallace, Baswell, and Williams. In fact within what appears to be only a few miles there were 92 free people of color counted. Some of them were living in the homes of known Quakers. Others, like Miles Lassiter and Ned Hill, were living independently with their own families [See 1850 Census, Free Families of Color].

By 1860, the community of free people of color seems to have dwindled. The community only had 9 intact families and 4 individuals living in white homes, for a total of 54 members. Ned and Priscilla's family had grown however. Calvin was now married with a child. Ned and Calvin were listed as Farm Laborers. Again living nearby were: the Anthony Henley family, the Colier Lassiter family, the Calvin Dunson family, Macam Polk (sometimes spelled Pope), Jack Lassiter and wife Charity, Thomas Conrad [sp] family, Nathan Hill (presumed oldest son of Ned and Priscilla) family, Micajah Cotton family, and Jack Henley with 2 apparent siblings living in the home of William Burney [See 1860 Census, Free Families of Color].

Birth of Hill Town

With the end of the Civil War, there were more families of color with the ability to choose where they wished to live. While, on the one hand, the Uwharrie River and its streams which included the Lassiter's Mill area of New Hope Township seemed to be a magnet for many of these families, on the other hand, the adjacent Uwharrie mountain area of Union Township, that would become known first as Hill Town, and then Strieby, seemed to attract very few. According to the census, by 1870, in all of New Hope Township there were a total of 201 people of color. By contrast, in Union Township, there were 4 families and 5 individuals living and working in white homes, for a total of 26 people of color [See Figure: 1870 Census]. Economically, despite the fact that in the Uwharrie there was an active gold mine, as well as a federal distillery and sawmills for the dense pine forests, most families in either area seemed to be either farmers, or farm laborers.

By 1880, however, the Uwharrie community in Union township had grown significantly to 10 families, for a total of 60 people. By this time, several of Ned and Priscilla's children had married and their families settled in the community. Because of the large number of Hill family members now living in the community, it began to be known as "Hill Town." The community also included a young minister and teacher, the Rev. Islay Walden, who had been educated at Howard University and the New Brunswick Theological Seminary (New Jersey). He was a former Randolph County slave who had returned to bring both the gospel and education to the community. Walden would also serve those living in the nearby Lassiter Mill area in New Hope Township. That community included another 9 families and one individual in a white home for an additional 60 people. Thus, altogether, the community that would be served by this minister and teacher comprised about 120 people [See: Figure: 1880 Census below].

The Lassiter Mill Community

The second community to be served by Strieby Church and school founded by the Rev. Islay Walden was the Lassiter Mill community. The original Lassiter's Mill stood on the west side of the Uwharrie River and was apparently built before 1779, when the county was founded, since it reportedly appeared on a map at that time. Additionally, while the book, Farmer, said that the Lassiters didn't purchase their land on the Uwharrie until 1782, the "widow" Sarah Lassiter was already listed on the 1779 tax list for Randolph County.

Lassiter's Mill was a water-powered grist mill, where Randolph County residents brought their corn and wheat to be ground for making bread. Many older living descendants can remember their families taking the grain to the mill for grinding. Around the time of the Civil War the Mill was run by brothers, S.T. and Clark Loflin. At some time prior to 1925 it was sold to a Frank Woolery, who then sold it to S.T. Loflin's son, Colonel Loflin. Colonel Loflin moved and rebuilt the mill on the east side of the Uwharrie River. During that time, the Mill was called "Loflin's Mill." In 1964, the Mill, now being called "River Side Mill," was owned by Jake Thornburg, who operated the mill three days a week.13 However, all living community descendants with whom this writer has spoken call it "Lassiter's Mill" or "Lassiter Mill." The Mill stood on the east side of the river until it was irreparably damaged by storms in the summer of 2011. A decision was made not to reconstruct the mill, but rather to gather together the remaining timbers, place them in a pit, burn them as a funeral pyre, and bury the ashes next to the Uwharrie River on which it stood for over 200 hundred years.

Miles Lassiter

Several of the families of color in the Lassiter Mill community of New Hope Township that were early members of Walden's church in Hill Town, were descendants of Miles Lassiter, born a slave circa 1777, and his wife Healy Phillips Lassiter, a free woman of color. Miles had been the property of Ezekiel (called "Josiah," in most published references) and Sarah Lassiter who lived in the Lassiter Mill area of New Hope Township, south of Asheboro, in Randolph County. Ezekiel Lassiter died about 1779 leaving Miles under the control of the widow, Sarah, for her lifetime, but the legal restrictions of his servitude were not strictly enforced, what some would call a "nominal slave."

The earliest record for Miles identified him in the 1807 court minutes being named to a road maintenance crew. However, it did not indicate that he was a person of color. By 1815 Miles had bought 100 acres of land, again with no reference to his color. In 1826, however, with Sarah Lassiter as co-signer, he sold the land to a local Quaker (Society of Friends) farmer, Henry Newby. Again, there was no reference to his color. In 1832, Newby apparently returned the land to Miles (though no deed of transfer has been located to date), before he and his family migrated to Indiana, accompanied by Miles' oldest son, Emsley.

In 1830, Miles is identified as a free head-of-household in the US census. During these years, according to his obituary in Friends' Review, he was Sarah Lassiter's business manager, a man with strong business acumen and someone who had helped her to expand her property and other financial holdings, indicating he was at least semi-literate. In fact, the 1850 census confirmed that he could read and write. This was not necessarily unusual since Miles lived a "quasi" free life and local Quakers (Friends) were known to teach Free People of Color to read and write in their schools.

It was only in 1840 that he was identified in court records as a slave when, on Sarah's death, he was sold as part of a delayed probate of Ezekiel's estate. This was because Miles was technically part of Ezekiel's estate, not Sarah's. Miles was much older by this time and partially disabled from a fall from a horse, thus no one at the sale wished to purchase him. This was fortuitous, however, because it provided an opportunity for his wife, Healy Phillips, a free woman of color described as "industrious," to purchase him for a nominal fee.

Miles was found for the last time in the US census in 1850, as a free head-of-household, with family members, including a brother, Samuel, and several of his seven children. He was recorded as having property worth $500.20 However, his household did not include Healy who had died about 1845.

In March 1845, Miles took the extraordinary step of requesting membership in the Back Creek Friends Meeting. Even more extraordinary, he was accepted and became a member three months later in June 1845, with no evidence of discord over his application and acceptance. This was remarkable. Henry Cadbury in his 1936 three part article on "Negro" Friends, in the Journal of Negro History, noted that although African Americans in North Carolina attended Friends' meetings, there had only been one other person of color accepted as a full member and that had been over 45 years earlier. Thus, Miles was the only African American member of a Friends Meeting in North Carolina at that time. Indeed, there would not be another until after the Civil War, despite the strong involvement of the Society of Friends in abolition efforts, including the Underground Railroad. Cadbury, in his section on Miles, quoted the editor of Friends Review who was reflecting on this paradox at the time of Miles' death: "Is the religious of Friends unsuited to the coloured race? Or are they kept at a distance by our neglect or repulsive conduct?" It is noteworthy, however, that Back Creek Meeting Minutes indicate that Miles was a well-respected member of the local preparative meeting to which he belonged, (Uwharrie Meeting), since he was appointed to one of its committees to oversee and address issues of behavior and character.

On 22 June 1850, Miles died after suffering for several days following an apparent heart attack, according to the obituary which appeared in Friends Review. At the time of his death he owned 400 acres of land in the Lassiter Mill community (New Hope Township) of Randolph County, between Black Mountain Road and High Pine Church Road. Much of the land is still in the possession of descendants. Miles was buried in the Uwharrie Friends Cemetery, on Lassiter Mill Road, south of present-day Science Hill Friends Meeting.

Colier Lassiter

After the death of Miles in 1850, his son Colier/Calier seemed to become the head of the extended family, taking responsibility for the homestead (later known as the "Colier Lassiter Tract"). Colier was the second oldest son. The oldest son, Emsley, had moved west to Indiana with the Quaker migration in 1832, as mentioned above.

Colier's name first appeared in county records in 1840, when he bought the freedom of his uncle, Jack Lassiter from the estate of Ezekiel Lassiter, husband of the "Widow" Sarah Lassiter. In 1850, his name, along with those of his sisters (Abigail, Nancy, and Jane) appeared in the census listed in the household of Miles Lassiter. Nearby was another brother, Wiley Lassiter and his family. In the 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses, respectively, Colier's name appeared as the head of his own household. In 1848, an unrecorded deed, in the possession of the late Harold Lassiter, indicated that he bought land adjacent to his mother from William Lassiter, one of Sarah Lassiter's descendants. The land was described as

being ... on the Est side of the Uharie River beginning at a rock in the middle of the River then East with Thornburgs line to Healy Phillips corner then South with said Phillipses line to a gum then west to a rock in the middle of the River then up the middle of the River to the beginning, half a acre more or less ...

The first recorded deed on the inherited land (recorded in 1855) was the 1851 deed wherein Nancy, Susannah, Emsley, and Wiley sold him all rights to 400 acres. In 1855 he took his first deed of trust on 300 acres, subsequent to the filing of his mother's probate, with whom the land apparently originated. In 1874, he and his wife, Katherine (Polk), called "Granny Kate," sold one acre to the Board of Education. It is not clear what school would have been built on it, although a reference in 1879, by Dr. Roy from the American Missionary Association (AMA) while on a field trip to the area, seems to indicate there was a public school operating in the area. His final transaction took place in 1887 when he took a mortgage with a Jenny Lassiter. By 1893, the land was involved in a dispute between his nieces, Adelaide Dunson Kearns and Ellen Dunson Smitherman, and their husbands. Colier, himself, was dead by this time. His heirs were allotted 150 acres in the final decree.

Additional land records which have been preserved by Colier's descendants include: an 1808 deed from Elijah Bingham to William Arnold for one hundred acres; a land grant (#2406) to Christopher Bundy in 1801,with another copy of the same grant dated 1818 also for one hundred acres "on the waters of the Uharie;" and finally there is a plat and description for eighteen acres of land, location not mentioned, but identified as "Calier Lassiter's Clearing," containing an upper piece of 9 acres and 4 rods, and a lower piece of 9 acres and 59 rods.

Colier's name also appeared in a number of other records. In the spring of 1857, he was charged in Superior Court with unlawfully carrying firearms. In 1867 his name (recorded as "Calvin") appeared in the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands ("Freedmen's Bureau") as a delegate to the Constitutional Congress for North Carolina. Colier died sometime between 1887 and 1893. He was reportedly buried at Uwharrie Friends Cemetery, Asheboro, but looking at the information on that cemetery presented here (See "Part I: Uwharrie Cemetery"), it is perhaps more likely that he was buried at Strieby. Since there is no marker in either cemetery which was common at the time in this heavily Quaker community, there is nothing to corroborate this information either way. His wife, Katherine (Polk) Lassiter ("Granny Kate") died 19 December 1906 and was buried in Strieby Cemetery. Granny Kate was a founding member of Strieby Church.

Uwharrie Friends and Rocky Branch

The Rev. Islay Walden's church and school were not the first to serve the people of Hill Town and Lassiter Mill. Uwharrie Friends Meeting was established in 1793. Uwharrie Friends were apparently strongly antislavery. On at least one occasion the Meeting, on behalf of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting, was deeded a family of slaves, from Abraham Simmons (Symmons), which was a first step in helping them achieve freedom. That family eventually found freedom when they went to Carthage, Indiana around 1830, as part of the Quaker migration to the Midwest. There they were known as Lassiters and the community believed them to be cousins of Emsley Lassiter, Miles' oldest son, who had also migrated to the Carthage area along with Uwharrie Meeting member, Henry Newby and his family.


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Excerpted by permission of Backintyme Publishing.
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents, i,
Table of Illustrations, v,
Foreword, xiii,
Introduction, xxiii,
Prayer for the School, xxix,
The Hills and Hill Town, 3,
Birth of Hill Town, 10,
The Lassiter Mill Community, 15,
Miles Lassiter, 17,
Colier Lassiter, 27,
Uwharrie Friends and Rocky Branch, 33,
Uwharrie Cemetery, 35,
Rocky Branch Church and School, 37,
From Rocky Branch to Hill Town, 38,
The American Missionary Association, 44,
AMA Common Schools, 46,
A Thirst for Education, 52,
The Rev (Alfred) Islay Walden, 53,
Gone North, 55,
Walden's Poetry, 58,
Seminary Years, 65,
Ordination, 72,
Returning South, 77,
Return to Hill Town, 82,
A Widow Carries On, 94,
The Common School Era Ends, 100,
Public Education in North Carolina, 106,
Buildings, Teachers, and Other Resources, 108,
School Attendance, 110,
One, Two, and Three Teacher Schools, 111,
Accreditation, 113,
Education at Strieby, 116,
A Student Reminisced: Aveus Lassiter Edmondson, 122,
Impact of Strieby Church and School, 128,
A Civil Rights Story: Vella Lassiter, 155,
The Hill and Lassiter Families, 163,
Descendants of EDWARD and PRISCILLA HILL, 164,
Descendants of MILES and HEALY LASSITER, 273,
Strieby Church Cemetery, 362,
Unmarked Graves in Strieby Church Cemetery, 368,
Change Comes to Strieby, 375,
A New Day Dawns, 383,
A Cultural Heritage Site, 387,
Past Ministers at Strieby, 390,
A Final Tribute, 391,
Sources, 393,
Census Records, 407,
Index, 409,

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