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    The Jubilee Singers. (1875). Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.
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It has been awhile since I posted to this blog, but I just had to share this story.  This morning as I was perusing my Google Reader items, I came across a blog post from the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections blog.  The blog post discusses a hymal of gospel songs originally published by Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, that was republished in the book Gospel Pearls by the National Baptist Convention Sunday School Publishing Board.

Given my experience with the African-American history of Nashville, I immediately recognized the name of the company as it was founded here in Nashville and I’ve read many a newspaper article about them and their employees; I’ve even visited the grave site of the company’s founder, Rev. Richard Henry Boyd.

As I kept reading the blog post, Nashville is never mentioned, but then I read the name of the woman who compiled Gospel Pearls — her name was Willa Townsend, and she even included one of her own hymnals in the publication.  I recognized her name immediately too as I’d done some work on Willa’s family tree as I’d been contacted a couple of years ago by descendants of hers who found me via this blog.  Willa Hadley was married to Dr. Arthur Townsend, a graduate of Meharry Medical College.   A notice of their marriage appears in the 1902 issue of the alumni newsletter of Meharry, available on their website.

I cannot wait to share this new information with her descendants!



Spruce Street Church Revival

Nashville Globe – 1 Mar 1907

Spruce Street Church Revival — A revival meeting is now progressing at the old Mother Church on Spruce street.  One particular character about this revival is that it was begun on Washington’s birthday which keeps up the wish of the late Father Merry; it was always his custom to begin his revivals on the 22d of February, and thus celebrate the anniversary of the “Father of the Country” and at the same time begin an active work for saving of souls.  

This year, Rev. T.J. Townsend of Brownsville, Tennessee, which was recently called to the pastorate of Spruce Street Church, is conducting the revival.  Already tremendous success has been met with.  Up to Wednesday, 30 confessions had been reported with many more seeking for the faith.  Rev. Townsend proposes to make this the most vigorous religious campaign ever held, in Nashville.   Members and friends of the church, irrespective of the denomination, are showing their interest and sympathy in the movement by contributing their presence.  An appreciative audience has been noticed during the first few souls, are added to the church and many more converted.  A new and effective way of advertising this meeting has been inaugurated, that is badges are being pinced on all who will wear them, showing that the revival is in progress and that they are in sympathetic cooperation.

Trip to Greenwood Cemetery

This past weekend I took a trip to Greenwood Cemetery – a black cemetery here in town. I went looking for the grave sites of the Napier family whom I’ve been researching. I knew there to be at least 12 members of the family there so I wanted to go take pictures of their graves as only three of them were previously on FindAGrave. In tow with me were both Kalonji & Kaleya. Kaleya pretty much has no choice 🙂 but I’m pleasantly surprised whenever Kalonji says he wants to go – i mean really, how many people really like to go hang out in cemeteries!

It was quite an experience. By walking around looking for the Napiers, it was like a who’s who in black Nashville history. The first noticeable grave when you drive into the cemetery is that of Rev. Preston Taylor, the founder of the cemetery who had a big funeral business and was accomplished in many other things as well. I saw the headstone of others I’ve come across in my study of Nashville as well – Bishop Evans Tyree and his wife, Dr. Charles Spurgeon, Dr. Arthur Townsend, Arna Bontemps, both of the Boyds and their families. I also found others that I’ve not yet gotten very familiar with, but make good candidates for the future.

I did not take a lot of pictures, but most of the ones I did take I have added to Find A Grave – here is a link to the listing there. Adding to FindAGrave is wonderful way to contribute to the genealogy online community. I highly encourage others to do it. I am planning to go back out there in a few more weeks to take more pictures.

But, back to the reason I went there – the Napiers. I found everyone I was expecting to find. James Carroll Napier (who I call JC), his wife, Nettie and their adoptive daughter/biological niece Carye were there and already in FindAGrave. This week, I’ve added the most of the rest of their family buried in the family plot-I am realizing now I missed at least one person. The links will take to each person’s FindAGrave page.

City B.Y.P.U. Organized

Nashville Globe
22 Feb 1907

One of the largest missionary meetings ever held in Nashville for young people was held in the Sunday school rooms of Mt. Olive Baptist Church Sunday afternoon, February 17. The meeting was called to order at 2:30pm by Rev. W.L. Craft, who is the field secretary of the B.Y.P.U. Board. At this meeting a long step in the right direction was made which resulted in the organization in Nashville of what will be known as “The City B.Y.P.U.” Every Baptist church in the cit has been invited to join, and, in fact, all save one or two were represented either in person or by proxy at the meeting Sunday. Rev. C.H. Clark, the pastor, towering as he does above all others, encouraged the movement in the most hearty way possible. An excellent program was rendered. An opening chorus was sung by the Mt. Olive choir. Scripture was read by Rev. C.K. Wilson. Then came prayer. A song by the choir, then came the discussion, which was “The Union a Factor in the Missionary Development of our Denomination.” This discussion was led by Revs. Clark, Slaughter, Harding, Parr, Page and Matthews, and Rev. Draine and others were invited to make speeches on the subject. Miss Maud Roberts, of Walden University, was present and sang “Teach Me Thy Way” sweeter than it has ever been heard in Nashville.

“Our Needs” was discussed by the Dr. E.W.D. Isaac, the Corresponding Secretary of the B.Y.P.U. Board. Mrs. L.A. Davis played an instrumental solo. Possibly the most interesting and entertaining piece on the program was the trio by Miss Reed, Mrs. Henderson, and Dr. A.M. Townsend. Their voices charmed the audience. Every one strained their ears to catch every note of the sweet music made by them.

A committee on Organization was nominated and while they were out, Miss M.M. Kimball, of Louisville, who represents the Woman’s Auxillary Convention, addressed the audience. The committee reported the following officers as the first for the ensuing year: J. Blaine Boyd, Miss Mattie Matthews, Tabernacle Church, First Vice President; Mr. Jesse Voorhees, Kayne Avenue Church, Second Vice President; Mr. Wm. Cantrell, St. John Baptist Church, Third Vice President; Miss Maggie Stubbs, First Baptist Church, Recording Secretary; E. W. D. Isaac, Jr.; Spruce Street Baptist Church; Miss Matilda Williams, First Baptist Church, East Nashville, Treasurer; Mr. Wm. Sheffield, New Hope Church, Chorister; Dr. A.M. Townsend, Spruce Street Baptist Church, Organist.

It was agreed that the Union would meet once per month and that one month’s notice would be given for all churches to prepare special subjects and present their claims for those on program. The first monthly meeting will be held March 17, which is the third Sunday in March, at the Pleasant Green Baptist Church. The meeting will be called together promptly at 8 o’clock. Indications are that a large number of young people will be brought into this working organization.

Dr. Arthur M. Townsend

Just a few days ago, I blogged about finding the marriage notice for Dr. A.M. Townsend, a graduate of Meharry Medical College. The other day, while browsing the NYPL Digital Images collection, I happened upon a picture of him. You can click here for further details, but this image appears in the book “The Negro in Medicine” published in 1912 by John Kenney.


I decided to take a look for Mr. & Mrs. Townsend in the census and locate them as follows:

1910 – Found them living in Nashville, though I can’t make out the street name. Interestingly enough, Arthur’s name is enumerated as “James M.” – he is 35 years old. Willa is listed as being 31 years old. They indicate they have been married 8 years, which matches the information from Meharry News. His occupation is listed as a doctor of medicine. Willa has one child and that one child is living – he is Arthur M. Jr. and is six years old. They also have staying with them a female cousin, Flora Darrell who is 20 years old. [Link to full image if you have an Ancestry.com membership] [1]

1920 – He and wife Willa are living in Memphis, Shelby County, TN. He is 44, she is 39 and they have Arthur M. Townsend Jr. who is 16 years old. His job is listed as Minister of a church, and she as a private school teacher. They reside at 1044 Mississippi Avenue. Also in the residence with them are cousins Floy J. Johnson (35 year old male), Lee A. Johnson (35 year old male), and Sallie Darrell (24 year old female). Accompanying the family is a 14 year old female boarder named Bessie Terrell. Floy is a teacher, Lee is a physician who was born in Mississippi, and Sallie is a teacher as well. [Link to full image if you have an Ancestry.com membership] [2]

1930 – He and wife Willa are living at 738 Cedar Street in Nashville. He is 54 years old, she is 49. They indicate they have been married 27 years, which matches the date that the Meharry News reported for them in 1902. His occupation is listed as Medical Physician. [Link to full image if you have an Ancestry subscription] [3]

Some additional web searching reveals additional information about the family. Arthur’s middle name was Melvin [4]. In 1910, he was president of the Rock City Academy of Medicine here in Nashville and the organization held annual summer clinics to provide free medical care for blacks to circumvent blacks going to white medical facilities where they believed blacks were subject to experimental treatments [5].

The online version of Profiles of African-Americans in Tennessee has a great biography of Dr. Townsend and details his accomplishments, including that he was President of Roger Williams University from 1913 to 1918 [6].

He died April 20, 1959 and I learned from an obituary I located in the Chicago Defender that the cause was a heart attack [7]. I also learned from the obit that the reason he went to Memphis was to pastor at the Metropolitan Baptist Church. He moved to Memphis in 1918, and returned to Nashville in 1920. Over 1,000 people attended his funeral and he is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. I’ve searched FindAGrave and do not find him listed, so I’m off to add him.

[1] 1910; Census Place: Nashville Ward 19, Davidson, Tennessee; Roll: T624_1496; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 68; Image: 380.
[2] 1920;Census Place: Memphis Ward 14, Shelby, Tennessee; Roll: T625_1764; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 150; Image: 236.
[3] 1930; Census Place: Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee; Roll: 2239; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 17; Image: 907.0
[4] Who’s Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of Negro Descent in America. New York, N.Y.: Who’s Who in Colored America Corp, 1927. [Link to Google Books snippet]
[5] Ward, Thomas J. Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2003. [Link to Google Books preview]
[6] Lovett, Bobby L., and Linda T. Wynn. Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee. Nashville, Tenn: Annual Local Conference on Afro-American Culture and History, 1996. [Available online]
[7] 1.000 at Townsend, Sr. Funeral. Chicago Defender. 28 Apr 1959.

Marriages from the Meharry News – 1902

Marriages as announced in the 1902 Meharry News. See the Mehary Library Archives page for more information.

  • Dr. Cato H. Wilson & Mattie E. Warren married in Americus, Georgia
  • Minnie Lee Gibson to Dr. J. Lucian Carwins
  • Violet Black & Dr. E.W.D. Alexander married in Austin, Texas
  • Indianna Cobb and Mr. J.M. Robinson
  • Dr. A.M. Townsend & Willie Hadley
  • Dr. A.J. Davis & Nannie Pegram
  • Dr. A.J. Jordan & Ida Pegram
  • Dr. Charles R. Cooper & Eunice Lois Chesterfield
  • Dr. E.G. Overby & Docia Claggett
  • Wm. Sevier & Annie Spikes
  • Dr. J. Ballard Hughes & J. Olivia Ratcliff – Bowling Green, Kentucky
  • Gabriella E. Mays & S. Means Plair – Jacksonville, Florida
  • Dr. Jesse B. Covington & Jennie B. Murphy

One name in this list that I recognized was that of Dr. A.M. Townsend. His name has appeared in several articles I’ve transcribed from the Nashville Globe and shared on this blog. I also have one article up so far that mentions his wife, though her name was printed as Willa instead of Willie.

The Nashville Public Library has an index of marriages in Nashville between 1864-1905 and Townsend & Hadley do not appear there, despite the fact that got married here in Nashville at the Spruce Street Church. It goes to show you have to rely on multiple sources!

Mrs. Wilson Entertains

Nashville Globe – 22 Feb 1907

Mrs. Katie Wilson entertained Sunday evening at a six o’clock ten in honor of the Endowment Bureau that convened in Nashville Saturday, February 16, 1907.  Those present were Mr. and Mrs. White, Mrs. M.A. Turner, of Pulaski; Dr. R.F. Boyd, Mrs. Sallie Ferguson, Mrs. Ellen Franklin, Mrs. Willa Townsend, Mrs. Eliza Irvin, Mrs. Hattie Irvin, Mrs. Nettie Puckett, Mrs. Ida Abston,  Mrs. Easter Robertson, Sir Knight Reynolds,  Mrs. Sarah Harding, Mrs. Mattie Bowling, Mrs. Lena Anderson.

The menu consisted of roast turkey, scalloped oysters, corn, green peas, celery, tomatoes, stuffed eggs, pickles, croquette on parsley, fruit salad served with whipped cream, cheese sandwiches, brick cream and cake.