Miles Lassiter

Miles Lassiter

by Margo Lee Williams


Publisher Backintyme

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, History/Americas, Biographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction, History

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Book Description

Margo Williams had only a handful of stories and a few names her mother remembered from her childhood about her family's home n Asheboro, NC. Her research would soon help her to make contact with long lost relatives and a pilgrimage "home" with her mother in 1982. This story follows her research journey through records and Carolina countryside as she uncovers her roots, including her African American Quaker ancestor, Miles Lassiter. Winner of the 2012 Family History Award from the North Carolina Genealogical Society.

Sample Chapter

Grandma Ellen


My research on my family actually began with a search for information on the ancestry of my great-great grandmother, Ellen Mayo. Ellen Mayo was my mother’s great grandmother. My mother told me about her many memories of her Grandma Ellen, and the visits she made

to her house and large farm “up the old Plank Road,” which was then outside the town of Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina. It was a large, one-story house. According to my mother, there was a “big” living room, “big” dining room, “big” kitchen, and a “big” fireplace. Everything was “big.” The house had three bedrooms, and a “bathroom,” not a bathroom like ours today, but a room where one would take a bath, with a large tin tub that had to be taken out back in order to be emptied. There was a front porch, and a smaller back porch. There was a smokehouse, a large tub out back in which clothes and sheets were boiled on washday, and a “two-seater” outhouse. (There was a private company whose job it was to empty and clean out the outhouse, making sure it had clean water in it.)

My mother said that Grandma Ellen and her husband, Grandpa Charles Mayo (not my mother’s biological great grandfather), grew corn, wheat, potatoes, and peanuts (which Grandpa Charles loved). They also had pigs and many chickens. My mother remembered that when she visited Grandma Ellen, she kept a large bowl on the table filled high with eggs. People without chickens, both Whites and non-Whites, would come to buy eggs from Grandma Ellen.

My mother also remembered that Grandma Ellen had a “beautiful horse-drawn buggy with fringe”–the proverbial “surrey with the fringe on top” which I sang about in music class at school when growing up. They had a horse, which was used only for the surrey, usually on Sundays to go to Church, or visiting. My mother noted that motor vehicles were becoming popular at the time. Grandma Ellen would watch these vehicles passing by, and marvel at them. They were one of the many things heralding a new generation. However, she did not understand the pronunciation of the term being used for them –“mobiles”– so she would say, “Look at the mobees, look at all the mobees!”

In 1920, Grandma Ellen suffered a stroke. My mother told me that she, her sister, Vern, and her grandmother (Ellen’s daughter Mary Louise, called “Louise,” but whom they called “Mama”) went to Asheboro to help care for Grandma Ellen. My mother and Vern were living with their grandmother, “Mama” Louise, because Elinora, their mother and Louise’s daughter, had died on Armistice Day, 1918, in the great Swine Flu epidemic. Grandma Ellen died within two weeks of their arrival. At first Louise, my mother, and Vern stayed on with “Charlie” Mayo, but he and Louise did not get along well. “He was stingy” according to my mother, so Louise, my mother, and Vern moved to the house that Louise owned on Salisbury Street. Salisbury Street was inside the town limits of Asheboro, and was paved with gravel and cobblestone. Louise grew corn and wheat on the land behind her house. She hired the husband of her niece, Eliza Phillips Walker, to plant, care for, and harvest the corn and wheat. Louise proceeded to renovate the house (which had been rented out for a few years). About two years later, however, Louise’s children, who lived in New York and New Jersey, begged her to move back north, which she did about1923 (after marrying John Ingram, her third husband). She took my mother and Vern with her, since she was their guardian.

Starting the Research

My mother remembered all of these things about Grandma Ellen and her farm. She also recalled that Charlie Mayo was Grandma Ellen’s second husband, and that Smitherman was the surname of her first husband, but she did not know Ellen’s maiden name, nor who her parents were. Therefore, in one of my first efforts to find out more about her family, I requested a copy of Grandma Ellen’s death certificate from the state of North Carolina. It showed that her parents’ names were Calvin Dunston and Nancy Lassiter. I had never heard either name before, and then I questioned my mother, she hadn’t either. A search of census records for Randolph County, North Carolina, at the National Archives, revealed the following: in 1880, a Nancy Dunson was listed as head of household with some of her children and grandchildren, but Ellen was not among them; in 1870, Calvin and Nancy Dunson were listed with children, but no Ellen; in 1860, there was a Calvin Dunson and Nancy with children, including an Ellen; and in 1850, a Miles Lassiter was head of household, with Samuel, Parthana, Colier, Abigail, Nancy, and Jane Lassiter, and a John Phillips included therein. I learned three things from this census search: first, there were at least two spellings for the last name, Dunson and Dunston; second, it appeared that it was probably Grandma Ellen who was recorded living with her parents in 1860, and third, it was probably Grandma Ellen’s mother, Nancy, who was recorded in the 1850 census living in the household of her father with at least some of her siblings. This was the first time I had come across the name “Miles Lassiter.” Although there was another household of free Lassiter’s of color listed in the 1850 census, Miles’ household was the only one with a Nancy. (The other would turn out to be that of Miles’ son, Wiley.) This was an exciting find! Grandma Ellen’s family was a free family of color, dating back at least to the 1850s. I reported this information to my mother. She remembered that her grandmother, Louise, had told her that their family had been free, not slaves, but my mother thought she didn’t know what she was talking about. After all, everyone knew slavery didn’t end until the Civil War was over, so how could they be free? Well, she mused, her grandmother wasn’t so crazy after all.


Excerpted from "Miles Lassiter" by Margo Lee Williams. Copyright © 2011 by Margo Lee Williams. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Margo Lee Williams

Margo Lee Williams

Masters degrees in Sociology and Religious Education provide the backdrop for her interest in family history and community social histories. She has researched and written extensively on her Lassiter family, including publishing books: Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850), an Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home, and From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie "Back Country" of Randolph County, North Carolina. She is a frequent lecturer for the Family History Centers in the Washington, DC area, a former editor of the Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and has her own private research company, Personal Prologue.

View full Profile of Margo Lee Williams

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