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More tales of North Carolina's 19th-century African American legislators
Part 1: Members of the General Assembly of 1885
Earlier this year, I began introducing readers to a handful of African American legislators elected to the North Carolina General Assembly during the nineteenth century, among more than 125 black state legislators, all Republicans, who held office between 1868 and 1900.
This week, I continue my occasional series on North Carolina’s black public servants during the period, many of whom I have written about in previous articles for the North Carolina Historical Review and in other publications. Today’s post explores the lives of legislators who served in the session of the General Assembly held in 1885:
Luke Grady (1854-1933), of Wilmington /Rock Hill, served one term in the N.C. House of Representatives from New Hanover County as a Republican, elected in 1884. Grady was born on April 22, 1854, on a plantation near Burgaw, in what later became Pender County. His parents were Joseph Grady and an enslaved mother, Temperance, owned by George Houston. Having learned to read before five years of age, he was educated in common schools after the Civil War. He became a farmer, and later, a minister.
By the early 1880s, Grady had moved into Wilmington and become active in the New Hanover County Republican Party. In the 1880 census for New Hanover County, he and his family were recorded as living in Cape Fear Township, where he farmed.
In 1884, New Hanover Republicans selected him as a county nominee for its seats in the N.C. House of Representatives. After being elected by a majority of 2,885 votes, he served in the 1885 session of the General Assembly, appointed to the House Committees on Propositions and Grievances and Public Buildings and Grounds. He did not seek reelection in 1886.
Grady was appointed as a magistrate for Cape Fear Township in 1896. By 1900, Grady was also reported as an established minister in the A.M.E. Church, along with two sons and one grandson.
He was married twice: first in November 1877 to Lucy Ann Nixon, by whom he had four sons, Daniel, Samuel, Luke, and Willie. After her death, he married Rebecca Aycock about 1892, by whom he had five daughters and three more sons. Among those newer children listed in the 1900 census were James McC., Henry, Margaret, and Caroline Grady.
Grady died in Cape Fear Township in January 1932. His place of interment is not known.
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John E. Hussey (1849?-1922) of New Bern. served three terms in the N.C. House of Representatives from Craven County as a Republican, elected in 1884, 1886, and 1888. Hussey's birth date is listed as December 18, 1849, in his biographical sketch, and as 1852 on his grave marker; he was born in Duplin County to enslaved parents, whose names were recorded as Bryant Hussey and Ina Hussey. Little else is known of his early life, but after moving to Craven County, Hussey was educated in the county’s common schools.
In the 1870 U.S. census, he listed his occupation as bakery worker. He soon became a successful grocer and boarding-house-keeper, and he ran a credit-rated general store in New Bern that was still open in 1915. By 1895, he had also become a deacon in the A.M.E. Zion denomination, and listed his occupation in the 1900 census as “preacher.”
He also became active in the Craven County Republican Party, which selected him in 1884 as a nominee for one of the county's seats in the N.C. House of Representatives. He was elected later that year, after defeating Democrat R. A. Russell by a majority of 800 votes, to serve in the 1885 session of the General Assembly, where he served on the House Committees on Insurance and Military Affairs.
Hussey was reelected in 1886, eventually defeating Democrat W. B. Lane by a smaller margin of 281 votes, but seated only after his challenge successfully unseated Lane—to whom the seat had initially been awarded—on January 26, 1887, weeks into the 1887 session. In 1888, he was reelected to a third term, and served in the 1889 session of the General Assembly, after which he retired.
He was described in the 1887 General Assembly Sketchbook as follows: "While he is a quiet and modest Representative, he is still a useful member, and looks with much interest upon every measure coming before the Legislature affecting the welfare of his people. His constituents will not be disappointed in him, but may congratulate themselves that in him they have a faithful, discreet and judicious public servant."
His first wife, Henrietta Wise, was listed in the censuses of 1870, 1880, and 1900; no children are listed. In November 1905, he was married to Jessie Thelma Moore-Hussey (Cooper) of Wilmington. At the time of his second marriage, he was listed in a local newspaper report as one of the pastors of New Bern’s St. Peter’s A.M.E. Zion church, among the oldest black churches in the South.
Rev. Hussey died on November 22, 1922, in New Bern, and was buried in that city’s Greenwood Cemetery, after a funeral at St. Peter’s Church. Sadly, the church he had served was destroyed by fire less than two weeks after his death, and replaced by a newer building begun in 1923 and completed two decades later.
St. Peter’s A.M.E. Zion Church , ca.1942, on Queen Street in New Bern today. Photo courtesy Tradewinds
His brief obituary on the front page of the New Bern Sun-Journal described him as a “well-known colored man” and former member of the legislature. His widow remarried in 1925, and is buried in Wilmington’s Pine Forest Cemetery.
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Lewis Roulhac (1851-1909), of Windsor, served one term in the N.C. House of Representatives from Bertie County as a Republican, elected in 1884. He was born on December 24, 1851, in Bertie County, near Windsor, to Solomon Nicholls and Daphne Roulhac, possibly enslaved. Little is known of his early life, although he appears to have been privately educated at home.
During the Civil War, perhaps by falsifying his age, he enlisted as a soldier in the Union Army—which occupied much of northeastern North Carolina after 1862—as a soldier in Company B, 37 th U.S. Colored Troops, and served from 1864 to 1867.
After his discharge from the Union Army, he attended Shaw University briefly, then attended Hampton Institute beginning in 1876, but apparently did not graduate. He became a schoolteacher and taught in school districts around Windsor.
He became active in the Bertie County Republican Party in the late 1870s. In 1884, Bertie Republicans selected him as their nominee for the county's seat in the N.C. House of Representatives. After his election later that year, he served on the House Committees on Education and Deaf and Dumb and Blind Asylum on the 1885 session of the General Assembly. He did not seek reelection in 1886.
In 1881, he was married to Lizzie L. Watson; they appear to have had at least two children: daughter Fannie, born in 1894, and a son named Walter. Roulhac began drawing an invalid pension from the U.S. Army in 1894.
He died in Bertie County in October 1909, according to Army pension records, followed by his widow in June 1932. Their place of interment is not listed, but is presumably in or around Windsor in Bertie County.
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Robert S. Taylor (1849-1899?), of Tarboro, served two terms in the N.C. Senate as a Republican from the Fifth District (Edgecombe County), elected in 1884 and 1886. Taylor was born on October 10, 1849, in Jamaica, West Indies, where he reported he “received a liberal education,” and immigrated to North Carolina in 1866, after the Civil War ended.
Taylor first taught school for two years in Washington, Beaufort County, N.C., where he was listed in the U.S. census for 1870, before coming to Tarboro, where he taught school for three years, reportedly in the school at Freedom Hill (Liberty Hill, later Princeville). In the 1880 census, he was recorded as living alone in Freedom Hill.
Town seal of Princeville, N.C., where Robert Taylor taught at the original Freedom Hill School. Public domain photo
Taylor was also reportedly a skilled carpenter, and reportedly edited a community publication known as the Edgecombe Watchman. He soon became active in the Edgecombe County Republican Party. After competing unsuccessfully for a legislative seat in 1882, he was nominated by Republicans for the Fifth District (Edgecombe County) seat in the N.C. Senate, and was elected over two opponents by 975 votes. In the 1885 session of the General Assembly, he served on the Senate Committees on Privileges & Elections, Claims.
In 1886, Taylor sought reelection to the Senate, now facing three opponents: Democrat Dr. R. H. Speight and two former Republican senators: William P. Mabson (1876-1877) and Franklin D. Dancy (1879-1880). He won the 1886 election by 1,785 votes, and served in the 1887 session of the General Assembly.
He held various local offices, reportedly serving as a Tarboro town councilman, in either 1887 or 1890. While serving as an Edgecombe County magistrate, Taylor resigned his post and pleaded guilty to a charge of assault in the mid-1870s. He reported being threatened with lynching in 1887, after spearheading an effort to find the men who had earlier lynched a black youth named Ben Hart, allegedly for attempted rape.
His wife, Laura Simonson Taylor, of Edgecombe County, died in May 1881, according to his biographical sketch in the 1887 General Assembly Sketchbook. The names of their children, if any, are not recorded.
After leaving Edgecombe County around 1890, he was believed to have moved away from North Carolina, possibly to Texas.
Taylor’s death date and place of interment are unknown.
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Bryant W. [William] Thorpe (1855-1940), of Tarboro, served one term in the N.C. House of Representatives from Edgecombe County as a Republican, elected in 1884. Thorpe [sometimes spelled “Tharp”] was born on December 26, 1855, in Edgecombe County, to Frank Thorpe and Mary Thorpe. He was educated in the county’s common schools. Little else is known of his early life, except that his family included eight siblings, and lived in Battleboro, Swift Creek Township, according to the 1870 U.S. census.
In the next U.S. census in 1880, Bryant was listed as being “at school,” while boarding with the family of shoemaker George Lancaster in the Tarboro-area village of Liberty Hill (or Freedom Hill, later incorporated as Princeville). He became active in the Edgecombe County Republican Party by the early 1880s.
State Highway Historical Marker for Freedom Hill, now known as Princeville. Public domain photo
In 1884, Thorpe was nominated by Edgecombe Republicans for a county seat in the N.C. House of Representatives, and elected later that year, by a narrow majority of 209 votes. In the 1885 session of the General Assembly, he was appointed to the House Committees on Railroads, Post Roads, and Dead, Dumb & Blind Institution. He did not seek reelection in 1886, but apparently began working soon afterward in Washington, D.C.
He was married in January 1883 to Elizabeth Bulluck, who died before 1910. They are believed to have had at least six children: daughter Mary Elizabeth and sons Frank L., Charles Manley, David Bryant, George Washington, and Moses Henry Thorpe.
In 1900, Thorpe was listed in that year’s U.S. census as boarding with the family of fellow North Carolina native Maurice N. Corbett in Washington, D.C., where Bryant now worked as a government laborer. Census records for 1910 indicate he was now a widower, and had moved back to North Carolina by that year, living in Edgecombe County’s Old Sparta Township.
In the censuses of 1920 and 1930, he was listed as a farmer, living with his son George and his family in Edgecombe Township No. 8.
State records indicate Thorpe died in Edgecombe County on February 25, 1940. His place of interment is not known, but is believed to be in Edgecombe County.
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Richard Charles Ward (1859–1925), of Warrenton, served three consecutive terms in the N.C. House of Representatives from Warren County as a Republican, elected in 1884, 1886, and 1888. Ward was born in Warren County on August 8, 1859, presumably to enslaved parents. Little is known of his early life, except that he was educated in the common schools of Warren County.
He attended Shaw University in Raleigh beginning in 1877, enrolling first in the normal (teacher training) division, then in 1879 in the school’s classical department. He later briefly studied law at Howard University in Washington, D.C., although he neither graduated nor practiced law.
In the 1880 census, he was listed as a single schoolteacher in Granville County’s Sassafras Town, where he became active in the Republican Party. First nominated for the legislature by Granville Republicans in 1882, he withdrew as a candidate from the election during that year’s campaign.
After moving back to Warren County, he was chosen in 1884 by county Republicans as their nominee for the county’s seat in the N.C. House of Representatives. He was elected later that year, and served in the 1885 session of the General Assembly, appointed to the House Committees on Education and Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Asylum. After being reelected in 1886 and 1888, he served in the 1887 and 1889 sessions of the General Assembly, then retired after the 1889 session.
After leaving public life in 1889, he moved first to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, then back to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a laborer in the U.S. Post Office Department. By 1910, he had moved on to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became an elevator operator in a local factory.
He was married in 1887 to his wife, Bettina E. Hepburn of Warren County, a native of Virginia. They had four children: three sons: Flavius, born in Pennsylvania about 1892; Richard H., born in Pennsylvania about 1897, who was an orchestra musician in 1920; and Ralph W., born in New Jersey about 1905; and one daughter, Gladys, born in New Jersey about 1902.
According to local records, Ward died in Cambridge on July 21, 1925; Bettina Ward was listed as a widow in the 1927 Cambridge city directory. His place of interment is not known, but is presumably in the Cambridge area.
Next time: Members of the 1887 session of the General Assembly