‘Winton Triangle’ story tells 400-year history

Published 11:54 am Tuesday, February 10, 2009

AHOSKIE – There are famous triangles known throughout the world.

The one that bears the name Bermuda first comes to mind. Then there’s the area near Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill known best for its research.

This past weekend inside Ahoskie’s Gallery Theater, roughly 600 individuals learned of another famous three corners, this one known as the Winton Triangle.

Marvin T. Jones and his Chowan Discovery Group (CDG) took center stage at the historic theater to share a side of Hertford County history that many knew about, but had never seen come to life in one setting.

Jones, a Cofield native now living in Washington, DC, shared the story of the 400-plus-year history of people of color in the Winton-Cofield-Ahoskie/Union area. His audience, estimated at 300 each night inside the 400-seat theater, was a mixture of history buffs as blacks, whites and Native Americans seemed to enjoy a 90-minute journey that explored the Winton Triangle.

“From those I spoke with following the performances, it seems we made a connection with our audience and they came away both entertained and informed,” Jones said. “This was also a way for many of the audience members to see what the Gallery Theater can offer. Many told me they have not been to the Gallery since it was the old Richard Theater.”

Those audience members listened as Jones delivered a 54-page narrative, one accompanied by historic photos and documents (shown on a large screen) as well as performances by local actors, church choirs and Meherrin Indian tribe members.

From the roots of the region – the town of Chowanoke, discovered in 1584 by English explorers roaming near present-day Harrellsville – to the modern era, the efforts of Jones and the CDG afforded many in the audience to trace their ancestry.

“The Winton Triangle has a tri-racial identity – white, black and Native American – that’s why I prefer to recognize them as people of color,” Jones noted. “We (CDG) have spent years in tracing this history. We sat down and talked with people right in their homes. Those people possessed a wealth of information, and old photos and documents. Everyone had a story to tell.”

Included among those stories was one of Thomas Archer who was Hertford County’s first landowner of color in the 1740’s. He purchased land along the Chinquipin Creek in the present-day Archertown community.

Archer was followed by the likes of landowners William Weaver, Joseph Hall, James Nickens and Gabriel Manley. Their land spread from the Potecasi Creek towards Winton and Union. Jones described these founding fathers as multi-skilled. They also built strong ties with the powerful white landowners of that era, setting the table for what was to follow over 250 years later.

“There was an interdependence that existed between the races,” Jones remarked. “None of us would have gotten as far as we have in life without the benevolence of the white leaders of that era. There was a more progressive attitude here than in the rest of the South. The cooperation between the races has always been here and has been and remains a positive one.”

Jones’ history lesson also touched on the evolvement of religion and education for people of color.

Founded in 1851, Pleasant Plains Baptist Church became the first institution of color in the local area. Church members went forward and founded educational venues for their children – Union School, Cotton School, Walden School, Phillipi School and Calvin Scott Brown School. Those students went on to prosper at new avenues of advanced education such as Shaw University and Hampton University.

Later, Chowan Academy became the first stand-alone high school for people of color in North Carolina. It was renamed Waters Training Academy and once enrolled hundreds of students, leading to the growth of Winton.

He also provided history on the military roles people of color within the Winton Triangle played in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War as well as the world wars that followed in the 20th century.

Politically, Jones said William D. Newsome, the first teacher at Pleasant Plains School, represented Hertford County in the North Carolina Legislature.

The history lesson also touched upon such entities as the Atlantic District Fair, Chowan Beach and the once-famous Casa Miyama Club. It followed the life of Dr. Joseph D. Weaver and his contributions to the betterment of health for people of color.

One of the stars of the performance was 11-year-old Sandi Gadsden-Goolsby who played the role of her great-great grandmother, Annie Walden Jones, whose diaries were an important part of Jones’ findings.

From a business standpoint, there was the story of Saluda Hall, the daughter of William D. Newsome, who owned multiple properties, including one valuable piece of commercial land on Ahoskie’s Main Street.

“When White’s Department Store chain wanted to buy the property, the answer from Georgia Weaver (Hall’s daughter) was, ‘we’ll build your store and rent it to you’,” Jones said. “White’s leased that property for 30 years. Not a typical southern story, is it? The building today still bears Saluda Hall’s name.”

For Jones and the CDG, this past weekend’s performances were hopefully just the tip of the iceberg.

“There are other avenues we need to explore in documenting our past, not just in Hertford County, but over in Bertie, Gates, Chowan and Northampton as well,” he said. “I’d love to see a documentary film emerge from this.”

Jones also credited the work of others that assisted his efforts in piecing together 400 years of history.

“I want to credit Murfreesboro historian Alice Eley Jones for her influence, help and encouragement,” Jones concluded. “The works of F. Roy Johnson, Thomas Parramore and E. Frank Stephenson have also been extremely helpful to our work.”