Behind the scenes of the Alexandria Gazette Packet’s article, “If These Walls Could Talk – Roberts Chapel Methodist Church”.
It is remarkable to research an African American Church’s history that goes back beyond the Civil War. This old Alexandria’s Church has records in old ledge books. One can feel the texture of the old books and see the markings of the old ink quill pen that recorded members’ activities in Church. The near perfect penmanship that once was considered the penmanship of literary individuals is displayed throughout the Church’s ledge books.
In Alexandria, you will find one of the oldest African American’s Methodist Church that has been around since 1832. You will find this Church on Washington Street where the view of Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church (UMC) seems to be tucked behind shady trees that could slightly block your view at 606 South Washington Street. This Church congregation started at Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia prior to the 1830.
The free and enslaved African Americans left Trinity and started their own Church. The Church records of Roberts Memorial UMC speaks of the who’s who among African Americans in early days of Alexandria when the Church was known as Roberts Chapel. The Church has gone through several name changes from Davis Chapel to Roberts Chapel Methodist Church to its present name.
Mr. James Thomas Ford was a hardworking man. He was determined to make a better life for himself. At the age of 17, he knew the value of supporting a family. He along with his other siblings help earn money to support their mother and his younger siblings.
James was the second child of eleven siblings. His parents were Thomas Osborne Ford and Rosa Ellis. Thomas, his siblings and parents, Osborne and Elizabeth migrated from Fairfield, South Carolina to Richmond, Virginia.
Prior to 1930, Rosa and her children returned to her birthplace, Victoria, Lunenburg, Virginia. James spent a short time in his mother’s birthplace. Eager to have a better life, James Thomas Ford migrated at the age of 17 to Alexandria, Virginia.
James will make Alexandria his home and become a federal employee, cab driver and after retiring from the federal government, he became an entrepreneur. You can read more about Mr. Ford in the Alexandria Gazette Newspaper, “The Cigar Man Made a Better Life – James Thomas Ford,” on page 5, dated October 28, 2020 at http://connectionarchives.com/PDF/2020/102820/Alexandria.pdf.
We all have gold mines in our family and; family history is one of our overlooked gold mines.
The Baltimore, Carter and Spriggs’ families in Alexandria, Virginia were old family surnames that have been in Alexandria prior and after the Civil War. The Spriggs’ family was in Alexandria prior to the war, the Baltimore family came during the war and the Carter family came after the war. What these families have in common is that they were part of the growing black mid-class. They were the lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers and property owners. These families married into each other’s families and they were members of Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church (Roberts Chapel).
However, their affluence did not prevent them from the flu pandemic. This pandemic impacted rich, mid-class, poor, elderly, adults, children, black, white and everyone else who made up the world population.
Bessie Evans Baltimore Carter was born in Alexandria, Virginia on March 19, 1891. She married Irving (Irvin) Chesterfield Carter. She had two daughters Verma and Lucy. Bessie died during the Influenza Pandemic on December 26, 1918.
Unknown to Bessie’s daughter Lucy that her mother died during the Influenza Pandemic. Lucy was two-years old and her sister Verma was three-years old when their mother died. However, Lucy was unaware about the rich family history that her family had. She and her sister had many historical gold mines in their family. These historical gold mines died with the death of their parents who did not have the time to share their family history with their children.
Behind the scenes of the Alexandria Gazette Packet’s article on, “Coming Home to Old Alexandria”– dated July 25 – 31, 2019.
Many African Americans migrated from Alexandria, Virginia for different reasons. The Franklin family migrated early in the 19th century to New York and the District of Columbia; later they migrated to New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota and Philadelphia.
Sherrin Hamilton Bell, the 2nd great-granddaughter of Harry G. Franklin, who was born in Philadelphia was on a quest to find out about her 2nd great-grandfather. Harry left Alexandria over 100-years ago when he was buried at the Methodist Cemetery in 1901. Sherrin makes her visit to Alexandria after 118-years from the death of her 2nd great-grandfather.
When she came back home to Alexandria, she found that her family had a rich history that they left behind in Virginia. She was able to walk through the Cemetery where Harry G. Franklin and his grandparents were buried. She attended Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church where her ancestors attended in the 1800s. It was like she was walking back in time when she visited the Freedmen’s Cemetery that Harry’s great grandfather buried two of his family members in the 1860s. The Cemetery is located on Washington Street walking distant from the Church her family attended.
Coming home to Alexandria brought Sherrin a place of origin. A place that her family had talked about. A place that her family had been freed people of color as far back as the 1700s.