George Wilson Story, part One
Submitted by Betty Webb
The Ironton Tribune
7 Aug. 1938
Editor’s Note: This is the first of three articles on Theodore [George] Wilson, colored, whose life became so much a part of this section of the country that it is aptly included in the History of Lawrence County which Mr. R.C. Hall has been preparing for The Tribune. The second article will appear next Sunday.
George Wilson was a native of Virginia, having been born in the year 1827. He was born in slavery and was owned for a time by a man named Bailey who lived in the eastern part of the state. But when he was about eight years of age, he was sold to Mr. Fredrick Beuhring, who lived in Cabell County in what is now West Virginia. That of course was long before the division of the “Old Dominion” and Virginia extended to the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers.
It was then quite customary, at least in certain localities, for the slaves to take the name of their master and so Mr. Wilson became commonly known as George Beuhring. He went by this name until after the Civil War or at least until he secured his freedom just previous to that war.
It appears that slavery did not press as heavily upon its subjects in Virginia as it did in the far south. Particularly was this true of western Virginia which later became West Virginia. And it appears that Mr. Wilson led as happy a life as could be expected for one not entirely a free man. But no matter how paternalistic and philanthropic servitude may be it is still servitude and few people who have ever experienced it that did not embrace the first opportunity to free themselves. So it was with Mr. Wilson. Meanwhile, however he had taken on the responsibilities of a wife and family and naturally he was as anxious – even more anxious perhaps – to provide for their future freedom and happiness than he was for his own. George Wilson married Dorcas Franklin, who had been in the western part of Virginia, i.e., what is now West Virginia, and like her husband was a slave. The following children were born to this union: Selena, Louisa, Albert, Arthur, Benjamin, Georgia, Theodore, Marcellus, Jonathan, Julias, Charlotte, and Nancy. Of these, five boys and three girls experienced slavery.
Mr. Beuhring must have been a farsighted businessman, and perhaps a more humane one too than the average slaveholder of his day. He probably realized it was better for himself and his slaves to permit them a certain amount of freedom of action. It not only contributed to their contentment but to his financial gain as well. So he permitted Mr. Wilson to have some time to work for himself and even permitted him to receive pay for his labor for others. In this way Mr. Wilson was able to lay aside a little cash for the comfort of his family and in preparation for the day of freedom which he doubtless saw ahead.
The farsightedness of Mr. Beuhring was further shown by a proposition he made to Mr. Wilson just before the outbreak of the Civil War. That was the chance he gave to the latter to secure his freedom by purchase. In other words, he offered Mr. Wilson the opportunity to ” buy himself ” as was the expression descriptive of an agreement between master and slave by which the latter was to receive his or her freedom upon the performance of a certain amount of work or the paying of a certain amount of money to be earned by working for the owner some one else. In this case, Mr. Beuhring agreed to manumit, i.e., make out papers of freedom for Mr. Wilson upon the latter’s payment of six hundred dollars. Or rather Mr. Wilson was to pay three hundred dollars in cash and the rest when and if he became financially able to do so. However, he gave his note for the deferred payment and set about to earn the money necessary to meet it. He earned a large part of the amount he paid by working on the construction of the old suspension bridge over the Guyandotte River at Guyandotte, West Virginia.
The Civil War came on, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and all the slaves were freed by these acts the constitutional amendments following in their wake. Naturally the things freed Mr. Wilson of his legal obligation to complete his payment for his freedom. But George Wilson was a man of his word. He believed that a contract was a contract and morally binding on those who made it and so he insisted on paying the rest of the amount – every cent he had agreed to pay. Such was the high standard of Christian character, morality and honesty set by George Wilson and carefully followed by his descendants.
After securing his freedom, he came to Lawrence County, Ohio, crossing the Ohio River at what is now Tenth Street, Huntington, West Virginia. and going to Fayette Township, then to Union, and finally settling near Rome in Rome Township. After coming to Rome Township Mr. Wilson rented seven acres of land from Mr. L.D. Morrison and established his house near the settlement known as Rome. He was a hard working and accommodating man and soon, found plenty of work to do. He began to garden his small tract of land and particularly raise melons, but during the winter and his spare time he added to his small income by handling coal for various persons in the community. By this time all his children had succeeded in getting out of Dixie, as the country south of the Ohio River was generally known to such folks, and their father was anxious that they gain an education. In fact he himself lamented the fact that he had had no such opportunity and determined to remedy that defect. He did learn to read and spell but writing proved to be to much for one of his years and disposition. But he wanted so much to learn to sign his name that he even began to go to school with his children. However he could stand it but a few days and relinquished the matter of education to his children.
After some time at Rome George Wilson bought the seven acres of Mr. Morrison and then added to it by purchasing two and twenty – two hundredths of an acres from what was known as the T. A. Walton tract. He also bought fourteen acres from the Kimble tract, as it was then known. This gave him a nice tract of land for the purposes of small farming and market gardening. Mr. George Wilson was not only a man of thrift and industry but religious as well, and many evidences of his fine Christian character were recognized by his white neighbors. As he was of the Methodist persuasion and had no church of his own in the neighborhood, he was taken under the watch care of the old Rome Methodist Episcopal Church of which he became a faithful attendant. We have heard older folks tell many times how he used to sit in the rear of the church and listening attentively to the services and on Communion Day, after the regular members had taken the Sacrament, the minister would extend the invitation to others and he would reverently advance to the altar for the Sacrament. After the Ebenezer church was established at Huntington, West Virginia he moved his membership there. His wife passed away in 1868, after which he married Mrs. Laura Wyatt. They had two children, Elmer and Ellsworth.