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More tales of North Carolina's 19th-century African American legislators
Part 2: Members of General Assembly session in 1881
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 looks at the lives of legislators who served in the 1881 session of the General Assembly:
Albert Bigelow (1847-1922), of Yanceyville. served one term in the N.C. House of Representatives from Caswell County as a Republican, elected in 1880. He was born in 1847 in Caswell County, a son of an enslaved mother, Betsy Bigelow (purportedly part Cherokee/Saponi Indian) owned by Thomas Patillo Bigelow, who was his father.
A schoolteacher and farmer, he attended Shaw University, at least for the 1876-1877 term. He became active in the Caswell County Republican Party in the early 1870s, and was appointed as U.S. postmaster of Yanceyville on October 22, 1873, during the second term of President Ulysses S. Grant, a post he held until June 1875.
In 1880, Caswell Republicans selected Bigelow as their nominee for the county's seat in the N.C. House of Representatives. Elected later that year, he served in the 1881 session of the General Assembly. He did not seek reelection in 1882,
After leaving the legislature, Bigelow was a cofounder of the Yanceyville Colored Graded School (Caswell County Training School), which was chartered by the 1897 General Assembly.
He was married in 1876 to Henrietta Delia Leath, born August 1, 1852, in Yanceyville, Caswell County. Their children were Addie Maud, Ressie M., Orvid Hughes, and Hubert Epps Bigelow, all born in Caswell County; and Herman Lee Bigelow, born in Guilford County, after the family moved to Brown’s Summit around 1895.
Bigelow died on June 18, 1922, in Guilford County. His widow died in November 1941, aged 85. Their places of interment are presumably in Guilford County.
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Paul Fletcher Hayley (1851-1948), of Jackson, served one term in the N.C. House of Representatives from Northampton County as a Republican, elected in 1880. Born on Hebruary 14, 1851, in Northampton County, Hayley was a son of Holiday Hayley and Sallie Hayley. Educated in the county's common schools after the Civil War, he went on to attend Shaw University between 1878 and 1880.
While working as a schoolteacher in Northampton County in the 1870s, Hayley became active in the Northampton County Republican Party. In 1878, Northampton Republicans selected him as their nominee for the county's seat in the N. C. House of Representatives, but he was defeated by Democrat James W. Grant in that year's election.
By 1880, he had moved at least temporarily to Warren County, where he served as a schoolteacher. He returned to Northampton County after being offered a second nomination for the House in 1880, and won his second election that year. He served in the 1881 session of the General Assembly, appointed to the House Committees on Banks and Currency and Propositions and Grievances. He did not seek reelection in 1882.
After leaving the legislature, Hayley was married in 1882 to Nancy (Nannie) Christmas of Warrenton; they had three sons, Walter, Paul Jr., and Mark, and at least three daughters, Louise, Nannie, and Laurene. At some point before 1900, the family moved permanently to Warrenton.
In 1884, Hayley accepted a position as a route agent in the Railway Mail Service, where he was still working as a postal clerk in 1910, according to that year's census.
Hayley died in Warren County on March 9, 1948, aged 97. He is buried in the Old Warrenton Cemetery, Warrenton, next to his wife (1859-1940) and their son Walter.
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Alexander B. Hicks Jr. (1855?-1883), of Plymouth, served one term in the N.C. House of Representatives from Washington County as a Republican, elected in 1880. Hicks was born in 1855 or 1856, likely to Alexander and Frances Hicks, free residents of Washington County. Little else is known of his early life or education.
After the Civil War ended, he became active in the Washington County Republican Party, probably while attending Shaw University, from which he graduated in 1882. He established what was later described as a secondary school for African American students in Plymouth, and served as its primary teacher. In 1880, despite his youth, Washington County Republicans selected him as their nominee for the county's seat in the N.C. House of Representatives.
Elected later that year, he served in the 1881 session of the General Assembly, where he was appointed to the House Committees on Salaries and Fees and Penal Institutions. He was an active presence in the House, speaking on several important issues, including the failed attempt to convict fellow Republican legislator William W. Watson on charges of forgery and expel him from the General Assembly. He also supported the successful bill that created four new normal training schools for African American schoolteachers.
Both Hicks and his colleague, George Henry White of Craven County, were selected afterward as principals of two of those new schools—at Plymouth and New Bern, respectively. Hicks thus became the first principal of the State Colored Normal School at Plymouth, and served until his sudden death in January 1883.
He did not seek reelection to the General Assembly in 1882, but remained active in politics. After leaving the legislature in 1881, he was chosen as temporary chairman of the state’s first convention of black political leaders. According to one report, he was elected to the Washington County Commission months before his death.
He was married in 1877 to Laura O. Guyther of Plymouth; they had two sons, Napoleon B. and Lucius Sumner Hicks. Mrs. Hicks and her sons later moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where they were were recorded as living in the U.S. census of 1900, and where she died in 1905. Lucius Hicks reportedly attended the Boston Latin School, graduated from Harvard University, and became a successful lawyer in Boston.
Hicks's place of interment is not known, but is presumably in Washington County.
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Samuel Greene Newsome (1848-1921), of Margarettsville, served one term in the N.C. Senate as a Republican from the Third District (Northampton–Bertie counties), elected in 1880. Newsome was born in 1848 in Northampton County, a son of Felsun Newsome and Fannie Newsome. Little is known about his early life, but he was probably first educated in the county’s common schools after the Civil War.
Newsome worked as an educator and was apparently also a minister, believed to be of the Baptist denomination. He attended Shaw University in Raleigh, first as a preparatory student in 1874-1875, apparently later as a normal (teacher training) student.
In the 1870s, he became active in the Northampton County Republican Party. In the 1880 census, Sam Newsome was listed as a widowed preacher, living in household of Patsy Suiter of Wiccanee, Northampton County. That same year, he was selected as the party's nominee for the N. C. Senate from the Third District. After his election, he served in the 1881 session of the General Assembly, but did not seek reelection in 1882.
After leaving the legislature, he continued to pursue educational work and his ministry. At the time of the 1910 census, he was listed as being on the staff of Oxford (N.C.) Orphanage, working for former U.S. congressman Henry Cheatham, now superintendent; at that time, he was listed as the school’s music manager, and a widower.
He appears to have been married and widowed three times: first to Margaret Hitchcock in April 1870, then to Amanda Jernigan, April 1877, and last to Sylvia A. Hughes in 1904. He had at least three children: daughter Cornelia (Britt) and sons Arthur and Samuel Newsome.
Newsome died on September 15, 1921, in Northampton County, where he is presumably buried.
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William W. Watson (1861-1915), of Tarboro, served one term in the N.C. House of Representatives from Edgecombe County as a Republican, elected in 1880. He was born in 1861 in Durham County, the son of W. W. Watson and Myra Watson. First educated in the common schools of Durham County, and between 1877 and 1879, he attended Shaw University, where he appears to have been trained as a schoolteacher.
By 1880, he had moved to Edgecombe County. where he became active in the Republican Party. In 1880, the county's Republicans selected him as a nominee for the county's seats in the N.C. House of Representatives. Elected later that year, he served in the 1881 session of the General Assembly, where he was appointed to House Committees on Railroads, Post Roads and Turnpikes, and Private Bills.
Implicated in an alleged forgery scandal, Watson was tried during a special session of the General Assembly in March 1881. He was charged with forging the signature of a fellow legislator, John Newell, on a per diem payment. A formal vote to convict him and expel him from the 1881 General Assembly, on charges of theft and forgery, failed by a vote of 25 to 44, with all Republicans (including at least 10 black legislators) and half of the Democrats present voting to acquit him.
Watson remained active in party politics, and later served as chairman of the Edgecombe County G.O.P. executive committee (1886). In 1897 and 1898, he served as assistant postmaster in Rocky Mount, during the postmastership of Israel D. Hargett, who was removed from office in 1898 and later imprisoned on charges of financial mismanagement.
He was married to Rena Watson, and they had at least three children: Julius, Charles, and William W. Watson Jr. (1881-1936).
Watson died on April 24, 1915, in Whitakers, and is buried in the Watson family cemetery there.
Next time: Part 3: Members of the General Assembly in 1883