History springs to life

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

AHOSKIE – It’s a story that Marvin T. Jones is eager to share and what better time to do so than to help kick-off Hertford County’s 250th birthday.

Jones, a Cofield native now living in Washington, DC, and his Chowan Discovery Group (CDG) will stage “The Winton Triangle” during a pair of 7 p.m. performances on Feb. 6-7 at Ahoskie’s Gallery Theater.

Under the direction of the Gallery’s Ralph Hewitt, scenes from Jones’ lecture about “The Winton Triangle will spring to life on stage. There, actors, local church choirs, Meherrin Indian dancers and drummers will help tell the story of the 400-plus-year history of people of color in the Winton-Cofield-Ahoskie/Union area.

Included among the choirs are those from Pleasant Plains Baptist Church, under the direction of Dr. Harold Mitchell, as well as the New Bethany Baptist Church Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Ola Gathers and John Eley.

Pleasant Plains Baptist Church, founded in 1851, is the oldest institution of color in the Roanoke-Chowan area and was a founding institution of Waters Training School (now C.S. Brown School).

Additionally, Sandi Gadsden-Goolsby, 11, of Winton will play the role of her great-great grandmother, Annie Walden Jones. Seven generations of women in Sandi’s family are represented in The Winton Triangle.

A reception will be held after each night’s production. The sponsors of the receptions are the Town of Ahoskie and the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce.

Tickets for “The Winton Triangle” are available now at the Gallery Theatre (332-2976). For more information, call the Gallery Theatre or the Chowan Discovery Group (202-726-4066).

According to Jones, much of stage production’s story is based on information gathered by the CDG researchers during their numerous trips to the local area.

“Much credit goes to them and the families who shared their stories and materials, and the Gallery Theater,” Jones said.

The effort to formally record history of “The Winton Triangle” began in earnest in 2007. It was then that Duke University Visiting Professor of History, David Cecelski, on the recommendation of historian Alice Eley Jones, spent the day with Marvin T. Jones and toured the Winton Triangle. Cecelski wrote an article, “Marvin Tupper Jones: Pleasant Plains” about the community for the Raleigh News & Observer on July 8, 2007. This article was cited in a book published in 2008, “Pell Mellers – Race and Memory in a Carolina Pocosin” by K. Paul Johnson.

In February of 2008, the Greensboro Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc. hosted CDG researcher Warren Milteer Jr.’s lecture, “Free People of Color in North Carolina”. Milteer presented photographs, census images and court records. The main points Milteer touched on included the diverse origins of free people of color and tracing free people of color in the censuses.

Using material gathered by the researchers of the CDG, Marvin Jones lectured on the Winton Triangle at the Gates County Historical Society and at Pleasant Plains Baptist Church in February and March of last year. This lecture was previously presented to history professionals at the Smithsonian Institution, Howard University, the Museum of the Albemarle, the North Carolina Museum of History, the North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Central University and East Carolina University.

In March of 2008, Dr. Rhonda Jones, Professor of Public History at North Carolina Central University, brought eight of her graduate students to Hertford County for a tour of the Winton Triangle. After breakfast in Murfreesboro, Dr. Jones and the students walked along Winton’s Main Street to the Calvin Scott Brown School campus. John Pierce, of the Newport News Shipbuilding Commuters Club which now owns the school’s North Building, gave them a tour of the building and explained the Club’s plans. The NCCU group visited the graves of Dr. and Mrs. Calvin Scott Brown. On Bluefoot Road, the group stopped at the cemeteries of the William and Julia Jones Family and the family of Reverend Lemuel Boone, a 19th century educational, religious and political leader.

Mayor Hermea Pugh greeted the group in Cofield and showed a model of Cofield in its early years.

In Ahoskie, the tour group visited the Atlantic District Fair grounds and then visited with Alice Jones Nickens, a 104-year-old retired teacher from C.S. Brown School. Pleasant Plains Baptist Church was the final stop for the tour.

Then, in September of last year, North Carolina Museum of History curator Earl Ijames visited the Winton Triangle. Ijames and Marvin T. Jones visited the grave and home of post-Civil War leader, W. D. Newsome. At the Atlantic District Fair grounds, Ijames met Fair president Dupont Davis and legendary harness driver Charles Williams.

Marvin Jones said the CDG’s continued focus was to undertake projects designed to foster increased understanding within and among cultural groups through photo and video documentation, written publications and the preservation of cultural history and traditions. The CDG often works in collaboration with individuals and organizations with related missions, and also facilitates communication and increased collaborative activities among them.

More specifically, the Chowan Discovery Group is searching through books, family reunion booklets, newspaper and magazine articles, public records and censuses; documenting cemeteries; scanning photographs and documents; interviewing people; and photographing artifacts and buildings.

“These activities afford us a broad view of the vibrant landowning community of the Winton Triangle located in the heart of Hertford County,” Jones noted.

In addition, CDG studies also include the neighboring North Carolina counties of Gates, Bertie and Northampton as well southeastern Virginia.