Story by Mary Beth Phillips, photo by Hal Goodtree
Morrisville, NC – Finding a Cary-area native is getting harder and harder these days, but if you travel down the road from Cary just a piece, you can find a community made up of folks that have been born and bred in these parts since their families settled here in the mid-1800s.
Free People of Color
The unique community of Mayos, Barbees, Greens, Burroughs’, Weavers, Mills’ and others have had farms in their families as early as 1830 – during a time when most other African-Americans here were slaves. This unusual pocket of free “people of color” joined together in 1867 to form the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, just north of Morrisville, and their descendants still worship there today.
The Origins of Shiloh Church
In 1867, a committee was appointed at Cedar Fork Baptist to consider a report upon a separation of the white and “Colored” members of the church. The Committee on Separation retired for a short time. Upon returning, they submitted the following report:
Your committee to whom was referred the consideration of the white and Colored membership of this church begs leave to submit the following report. The subject is one of grave importance and one that has for the last few years puzzled churches, associations, and conventions to know what course to pursue, but it seems now that the mystery heretofore connected with the matter is at least to some extend removed. This will appear by consulting their (the Colored members’) inclination, as manifested in the course they are pursuing.
We see they are inclined, very much inclined, to independent action in religious matters as well as everything else, and seem to have no heart to worship God (even at churches where their memberships are) with the white race. This of itself, to our minds, very clearly indicates the course to be pursued, and that is a dissolution of our relationship as church members.
We would, therefore, recommend that the Colored members of this church be requested to withdraw from the church, and organize churches of their own race and color, where they can worship God without restraint and embarrassment.
A Changing World
I attended services there this week. The sanctuary was full and the music was lively this Sunday as the families gathered to pray and have communion. But these families who grew up together as proud “Shilodeans” are living in a different world today than even a few years ago.
Most have sold their large tracts of land. The Dunnegan/Green property has become Sam’s Club and Wal Mart. The Mills’ land across NC 54 from the church is now an apartment complex and hotel. The Burroughs’ property across 54 has been slated to become a Wake County Community College site. The Weaver’s property on Church Street has become Providence Place subdivision. Shiloh Grove subdivision was once Barbee property.
Those who have hung on to pieces of their land have seen their property taxes rise. Louis Barbee, now-retired grandson of Eula and Levy Barbee, told us that he is paying more than $3,000 in taxes on the acre and a half he is still living on. In his early years, he did light farming, but has been on disability since 1980. “It’s not easy to have to come up with that kind of money on a disability pay check,” he said.
Esther Dunnegan and Delores Scott wrote a history of the community in 1982, in honor of the 115th anniversary of the church. Besides a history of the church, it contains a collection of recipes, old sayings and expressions, birth records, games children used to play and herbal cures and remedies. Today copies are hard to come by. You can find one in the rare book section of the library at N.C. Central University. There is also a copy at Shiloh Baptist Church.
Dunnegan has been church historian for years. She found U.S. Census records from the 1800s listing familiar families’ addresses in the Shiloh community, long before the town of Morrisville was even chartered. But she said the big growth in land ownership by the people of color was due to the efforts of James H. Dunston, pastor of Shiloh Church beginning in 1882. Dunston implored his congregation to save their money to buy land. He would loan money to people and co-signed many deeds so they could buy farms.
“At least 9 or 10 farms were bought with his help in those days,” Dunnegan said. “You see his name over and over again on the transfer of deeds.”
Esther Dunnegan’s own ancestors, Zettie and Luther Mayo, spent every penny during the first years of their marriage buying land. She still lives in a home on part of that land off Kit Creek Road, which today is surrounded by Kitts Creek Development and the new toll road that is currently under construction. Dunston also helped start a farmers’ cooperative and a grist mill for use by the Shiloh community. He served on the “colored school board” and was instrumental in getting a school into the community. He died at age 73 and was buried on the church grounds.
Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church not only serves the needs of the community, it is the “mother” church of Northeast Baptist Church and Mt. Zion Baptist Church, both in Durham, N.C. Also springing from Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church is Morning Star Missionary Baptist, Durham, NC. Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church presently holds membership in the New Hope Missionary Baptist Association, the New Hope Convention Choir, and the Durham Ushers Union.
For more detail on the History of Shiloh, visit the Shiloh Missionary Church’s website.
At Shiloh, “Everybody Is Somebody.” From the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church Web Site