During the Reconstruction era, two orphanages were built in Granville County within a few miles of each other. In 1873, the “Oxford Orphans Asylum”, today known as the “Masonic Home for Children”, was established in the town of Oxford, to house and educate orphaned and less fortunate children. The orphanage however was only for white children. Children of color were not admitted into the school which left them without proper care. In 1883, concerned citizens of color in the Granville County area helped to establish the “Grant Colored Asylum” with the help of Congressional funding. Just outside of the town limits of Oxford next to Fishing Creek township, is where the orphanage was built. It went through numerous name changes over the years and today is known as the “Central Children’s Home of North Carolina”. In this blog post, I will discuss the close relationship between families of the Native American community in Granville and the Colored Orphanage, including a set of Cherokee twin boys who were sent to the orphanage and then adopted into the community.
Orphaned Children Before Orphanages
Before the establishment of the two local orphanages, most orphaned and less fortunate children were typically “apprenticed out” (also called “bound out”) by the county court. This process involved sending a child to live in the home of a family where that child would be housed, fed and taught to read and write. In exchange, that child was taught a trade and used those services to work for the family until a specified age (typically 21 years of age). Boys were often taught the trade of being a planter, blacksmith, or carpenter and girls were often taught the trade of being a domestic. Free children of color were commonly apprenticed out and throughout the blog posts on this site, I have used apprenticeship records as primary source records to establish genealogical connections. And it was not only just orphaned children who were apprenticed out. Free children of color born out of wedlock (in those days they commonly used the phrase “base born child”) were typically apprenticed out if the mother could not properly provide for the child.
The apprenticeship system was quite common starting in the colonial era and officially came to an end in North Carolina in 1913. But I have noticed that for Granville County, the Reconstruction Era saw a rapid decline in the apprenticeship system and this created a need to house orphaned and less fortunate children. We also have to remember too that before the Civil War, enslaved children were the property of their slave owners, so it was not the county’s responsibility to house enslaved children. But after emancipation, there was a sudden jump in the orphaned population due to the high number of orphaned children who were emancipated. This growing and urgent need to address this crisis is what lead to the establishment of the first iteration of the Colored Orphanage called the “Grant Colored Asylum”.
Establishment of the Colored Orphanage
Reverend Dr. Augustus Shepard (1846-1911), a concerned local African-American resident of Raleigh, presented the idea of establishing an orphanage as a way to allieviate the growing orphan crisis. With the assistance of Henry Plummer Cheatham (1857-1935) who was a local African American politician from the town of Henderson, they secured Congressional funding to establish the Grant Colored Asylum. For $1,565, 23 acres of farm land just south of Oxford was purchased to house the new orphanage.
Historian Dr. Bernetta McGhee White has written about the history of the orphanage and you can read some of her research here. Dr. White cites an unknown author who wrote the following about the founding of the orphanage which helps us identify additional key players:
The colored orphanage association was formed in August, 1882, in Henderson, North Carolina, by members of the Shiloh and Wake Associations [of the Baptist denomination]. The idea was presented by Dr. Augustus SHEPARD who noticed in his travels throughout the state that there was a large number of homeless and neglected children.
In October, 1883, a farm of twenty-three acres, located one and one-half miles from Oxford, on the Raleigh Road, was obtained… The orphanage was named the ‘Grant Colored Asylum.’
The ‘Grant Colored Asylum’ ceased to exist in 1887 when the ‘Colored Orphan Asylum of North Carolina’ was incorporated. The members of the board were Rev. Augustus SHEPARD, Rev. Joshua PERRY, Rev. M. A. PATILLO, Rev. Isaac ALSTON, Rev. J. W. LEVY, Mr. M. T. THORNTON, Mr. H. E. LONG, Mr. Henry LESTER, and the Honorable H. P. CHEATHAM.
The orphanage was incorporated as a non-denominational institution to receive children deprived of their parents and means of support, and to train them along religious, moral and industrial lines in order to fit them for useful, law-abiding citizen[ship].
The first superintendent of the ‘Grant Orphanage’ was Rev. Joshua PERRY. Rev. W. A. PATILLO was named General Agent. The Rev. PERRY served for one year and was succeeded by Miss Bessie HOCKIN, a Canadian woman who not only served without pay, but also donated her furniture to the orphanage… During this time Mr. Henry HESTER, of Oxford, volunteered to pay all bills contracted in providing food for the orphans. Mr. HESTER acted as treasurer of the orphanage until his death in 1901.
Rev. W. A. PATILLO served as Superintendent for the year 1886-87. It was during his administration that Mrs. Adline COGWELL became connected with the institution as matron. Mrs. COGWELL not only received no pay, but worked to help support the children of the institution.
In 1887, the board of directors elected Rev. Robert SHEPARD superintendent without promise of remuneration. Rev. M. C. RANSOM gave board to the new superintendent until a three room house could be enlarged. The enlarged building served as the superintendent’s home, boys dormitory, dining room and kitchen. A few years later a girls dormitory was built, and near it a laundry building was built.
As you can read from the above text, among the founding board members was Reverend James W Levy (1852-1936) of the Native American community. I previously blogged about the Levy family here and did mention Rev. Levy’s connection to the orphanage. Levy served on the board of the orphanage for most of his life.
Miss Bessie Hockin of Nova Scotia, Canada
I would like to take a moment to discuss a woman who played a very important role in the foundation of the orphanage. Bessie Hockin (1850-1925) was not a local woman, but was rather a white woman from Nova Scotia, Canada who came to Granville County to assist in the Reconstruction efforts. She actually served as Superintendent of the orphanage in its very early years. Because she was a missionary, she refused to be paid for her services and instead donated her time and possessions to the orphanage.
Bessie Hockin continued to live right in community in Fishing Creek township and must have been a beloved neighbor. When my great-great grandfather James E Howell (1840-1912) remarried in 1887, Bessie Hockin was a witness to the wedding as documented on the marriage certificate:
Bessie Hockin continued to live in and work for the community until her death in 1925. Her estate specified that her personal property was to be turned over to the Colored Orphanage.
The Colored Orphanage and the Native American Community in Fishing Creek
It is important to remember that the orphanage was built a very short distance from the tight cluster of Native American families that had been living in Fishing Creek township since the days of William Chavis (1709-1777). (See this blog post about historian Oscar W. Blacknall who wrote about the Native American community in Fishing Creek). Because of this close proximity, these families were able to assist the orphanage by donating services and goods.
The annual Board of Directors reports for the Colored Orphanage are digitized on UNC’s “Documenting the American South” website found here. The board reports have also been transcribed so that you can search by keyword for text in the document. The reports offer an interesting insight into the daily operations of the orphanage. What is especially interesting to see is which individuals and organizations donated to the orphanage.
For the 1909/1910 report, we learn a group of individuals helped to transport building materials to the orphanage:
One of the strong tokens and indications that we are to have continued success in our effort to build up and maintain the home is the kindly sympathy and approval of our neighbors both in the country and in the city of Oxford on the part of both races. There is not a business man or firm in the city of Oxford who has ever denied us a favor when it was in his power to grant it. One of the most pleasing and encouraging things I have ever seen here was to behold during the month of last August the big Christian-hearted friends of this community, Messrs. Robert Glover, Sam Morton, Sidney Taylor, John A. Kittrell, Jas. E. Howell, Andrew Howell, Davie McGhee, Jas. A. Howell, J. Thomas Tyler, H. Howard and others in line with their one and two-horse wagons hauling brick from our brick-yard to the new building without any charge whatever, and without their most timely and valuable help just at that time we could not have so successfully managed our farm, as this, was in the heart of the busy farming season of the year.
I underlined the names of four individuals listed above who were part of the Native American community. James E Howell (1840-1913) I already mentioned was my great-great grandfather. His first cousin was James A Howell (1846-1934). The middle initials are important to distinguish between the two men since they were first cousins, close in age, and lived on adjoining properties. Andrew Howell (1876-1951) was James A Howell’s son. And J(ohn) Thomas Tyler (1862-1943) was a cousin to the Howells. Tyler’s son George Huley Tyler was married to Bessie Levy, daughter of Reverend James W Levy who was on the board of the directors of the orphanage. All four men were farmers who owned extremely large plots of land and thus had large equipment at their disposal to help the orphanage.
Orphaned Children in the Community
Finally I would like to discuss something else that many Native American families in Fishing Creek did to assist with the orphanage and that is actually bringing home orphaned children to raise them. In the census records, you will occasionally see children who are non-family members listed in the household as a “lodger”. Sometimes these children are actually listed as “adopted child” though they usually were not legally adopted. How and why some children were selected to go live with families in the community is not clear to me. The 1890 census is destroyed, so the 1900 census is the first census after the establishment of the orphanage.
In the 1910 census I found my great-great grandfather James E Howell enumerated with his second wife Mary E (McGlemdon) Howell and with an “adopted son” named Arthur Bryant, age 13. As far as I know, Arthur was not from our family so he most likely came from the Colored Orphanage.
Another interesting example comes from my great-great grandfather’s first cousin James A Howell. James adopted twin brothers Samuel Donald (1885-1960) and David Donald (1885-1951) who were Cherokee Indians from the far Western part of the state in Asheville. In the 1900 census they are shown living in his household:
Samuel Donald’s great-grandson Christopher Williams located the twins’ orphanage records which clarify how they became orphaned and when they were sent to the orphanage. Unfortunately their parents’ names are not listed and that is something we are still researching:
Record of Children Received into the Colored Orphan Asylum
Name: David Donald from the town of Asheville, County of Buncombe
Admitted: November 1892; Born [blank]; Age when admitted: 6 years 6 months
Father’s name: [blank], member of [blank] Church
Mother’s name: [blank], member of [blank] Church
If one or both parents are dead, so state: Father died 1885, Mother died 1886
State cause of death, if possible: [blank]
Application made by: Eliza Donald (sister); Approved by: C.G. Aston
Recommended by: [blank]
Description: Light in color, Slight in form
Character: Good character generally, though mischievous
History: These two boys twin brothers were adopted in 18[blank] by James Howell, Fishing Creek, Granville Co. where they remained until of age giving great satisfaction. They both went to Salisbury, but the health of Samuel failing. He returned to Jas. Howell and at this date in 1907 is still with him. David is foreman for some white man in Salisbury and giving satisfaction. Samuel now married.
So from the above records we learn the twin boys were orphaned when they were infants and were admitted to the Colored Orphanage in November 1892. Sometime in the 1890s, James Howell adopted the boys where they were raised in his home. David Donald moved away to Salisbury, NC where he married and had children. He remained in Salisbury until his death in 1951.
Samuel Donald remained in Fishing Creek and married the great niece of his “adopted” father named Mamie Anderson (1891-1965) who was the daughter of Herbert Junius Anderson and Nancy Howell.