Intrigued by last week’s story on a Bible owned by former slave Caroline Smith that was recently found in Danbury, Stokes News reader John Barnes spent hours researching old newspapers and census data to reveal the life of a well-loved but forgotten Danbury resident.
Barnes, a retired mathematics professor and South Stokes High School graduate, who says he enjoys doing research and trying to solve family mysteries, recently moved to the Brown Mountain area of Stokes County from Richmond, Va., to retire with his wife.
“I found intriguing your story of the tattered bible hidden away in that cabin dedicated to this person’s freedom from slavery,” said Barnes. “It turns out to be a story of an amazing woman whose long life was split evenly between two worlds, one of slavery and one of freedom. I am glad that this little book was rescued from the insects and from the demolition and that it gives our county a chance to know about one of its forgotten citizens from the past who apparently lived a remarkable life.”
Barnes said the bulk of the information on the Bible’s owner, Caroline Smith, came from a Nov. 13, 1912 article in the Danbury Reporter (please see fact box for the complete text.)
The article mentions Smith’s history as a slave until she was freed in 1866, the copyright date on the Bible local historian Steve Shelton found in Danbury, which has an inscription saying it was given to Smith on the occasion of her being freed. According to the article, Smith was owned by a Wash Smith of Surry County and after being granted her freedom she moved to Danbury where she became an active member in the church and a beloved citizen of the town.
Barnes said an August 1912 obituary for Smith in the Danbury Reporter mentioned that she had lived with her son-in-law, Charles Moody, who was a well respected blacksmith in the area. Researching census records, Barnes discovered that Caroline’s daughter’s and Charles Moody’s wife was named Amanda and that Caroline had a total of four children but all had died by 1900. He said she had one granddaughter, Sara E.
Shelton had said he believed Smith was in some way related, possibly as a former slave or servant, to Lafayette Smith who had owned the building the Bible was found in.
“From estate records accessed at familysearch.org I have concluded that George Washington Smith and Lafayette F. Smith are brothers, and sons of one Drury Smith,” said Barnes.”I am maybe 95 percent sure. One has to be careful with a common name like Smith. A George W. Smith married a Mary in Rockingham Co. in 1838.In 1850 that family is in Henry Co. VA and then in Surry in 1860. In the 1860 slave schedules can be found G. W. Smith of Surry County with three slave houses and a large group of slaves. His second oldest slave is a 37 year old female, which is quite possibly Caroline. Sadly, slaves were not assigned names in these slave schedules.”
Shelton said Lafayette Smith was well known in Danbury, running a store across from Moody’s Tavern.
“Lafayette was an important businessman in town and did a lot of dealing and trading with the miller, Aaron Wagner who lived next door,” said Shelton. “He, his wife Martha, and one child are buried on the hill behind the cabin where the bible was discovered.”
The historians believe Charles Moody may have originally been a slave of Nathaniel Moody who built the Moratock Iron Works in 1843. Shelton added, “On Charles Moody’s death certificate, both of his parents are listed as being born in Germanton. Nathaniel Moody lived in Germanton before coming to Danbury to build the iron furnace.”
“The local oral tradition is that slaves built and helped operate the furnace,” said Shelton.
“It makes sense that a slave who worked at the iron works would learn the blacksmith trade,” added Barnes.
He said the 1870 census shows Lafayette Smith and his wife Martha had several black and mixed race servants living on their property including Charles Moody and Jerry Smith, who Barnes believes may be the grandfather of two students mentioned in a note that was also found in the Bible.
The 1870 census has Caroline Smith, age 50, living in the household of A.H. Joyce, and attorney, as a domestic servant.
The letter, addressed to Nettie Smith, is a 1920 correspondence from a former teacher, signed only as M.A.D., which also mentions a Catherine Smith and a Fannie Hawkins.
Barnes said he found a Catherine, age 11, and Nettie, age 9, as daughters of George Smith in the 1920 census.
“They are still at home in the 1930 census,” said Barnes. “I found a marriage of Nettie Lucille Smith to Wesley Edward Payne in Henry County Virginia 28 July 1930. On the marriage record Nettie is said to be born in 1909 in Stokes County to George Smith and Belle Martin.The George Smith referenced above is three years old in the 1880 census and is the son of Jerry Smith,17, and Callie Smith,19”.
He added the he believed Fannie May Hawkins was the daughter of William and Lizzie Hawkins.
He said he believes, based on 1900 census data, the teacher who wrote the letter may have been a Mary A. Donel, or Donald, who lived with Nettie Smith’s grandparents.
“I searched the 1920 Stokes County census with the keyword ‘teacher,’” he explained. “The only lead was a black Public School teacher named Mary Donald aged 50 who was a boarder in the Danbury home of a black couple Bonner and Sallie Joyce. This is a prime suspect. Whoever she is, she must have moved away and corresponded with her former pupil by letter.”
Shelton said he had been contacted by a descendent of Nettie Smith on Tuesday who was seeking more history on her family.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.