[This blog post was written by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist, Special Collections Section, State Archives of North Carolina.]
An essential goal of Private Collections is to add to its holdings the papers of minorities and under-represented groups. It is a pleasure to recognize a set of such papers available for research in the Search Room: the private papers of Samuel Patrick and Ella [née Buffaloe] McGuire (PC.2061). Additionally, this collection serves various valuable purposes, including providing a unique educational resource for students, researchers, and the wider community.
Patrick and Eleanor (Ella) Buffaloe McGuire, both born into slavery, were married around 1881. Although not the first settlers after the Civil War in the Oberlin Village settlement outside Raleigh, the McGuires were surely part of the growth of this successful community. Increasingly, the area is recognized for its founding by former slaves who came to own their own homes and achieve middle class status. Patrick (1853–1906), born probably in Chapel Hill, Orange County, could read and write. This was true also of Ella (1861–1946), born to James and Martha Miller Buffaloe, natives of Wake County. Sometime during the Reconstruction Era, Patrick moved to Wake County and worked first as a laborer, then for the Gaston & Raleigh Railroad, and eventually as a depot freight driver for the Seaboard Airline Railroad.
During March of 2014, I began doing background research on the family prior to processing these papers. This important collection was donated during that time by Stephen Massengill, former audiovisual materials archivist, who bought the papers at a yard sale in the Oberlin Village community. As I began working on the papers, there arose many unanswered questions as I sought to understand and more fully appreciate the various stories and facets of the Patrick and Ella McGuire family.
Many of my questions concerned the family, how they lived, who were their close neighbors and extended family, and what became of their children? Because of the importance of the Oberlin Village and the cemetery in its midst, I wondered also exactly where the McGuires were buried. Research revealed that Patrick died in 1906, surely a loss on many levels to this family still with minor children at home. Among the many receipts and statements in the collection I was gratified to find invoices and financial records maintained by Ella, who never remarried, but managed to pay bills and taxes by washing clothes. She even made home improvements and had plumbing installed in the home that she owned on 2214 Joint Street. Among these papers, I was excited to find that almost 30 years after Patrick’s death, in August of 1934, Ella commissioned a memorial gravestone to be placed in Oberlin Cemetery by Campbell Brothers of Hillsboro Street. The cost of this marble monument, measuring around two feet in height, was $74.00, and she paid off the balance before Christmas of that same year, during the middle of the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, Patrick’s memorial specifications sheet did not list the usual lot number, section, and range, for these apparently had not been laid out this unique family cemetery—only a note to “see Ella McGuire for location.” Ella was laid to rest twelve years later, thus my curiosity was not to be easily satisfied. On one of March’s coldest days, 2014, I trekked carefully through the lovely, but heavily overgrown Oberlin Cemetery. My instincts misled me, and I started on the wrong side of the cemetery’s almost three acres. I persevered, however, and found Patrick’s marker. My return visit to the cemetery was recently, this past November 24, accompanied by my daughter Katherine, who is an Archives volunteer. I was rewarded by seeing remarkable progress in the clearing of underbrush and fallen trees and limbs. Katherine was quicker than I and found not only Patrick’s memorial, but also Ella’s much smaller headstone, which I could not see before in all the undergrowth and leaves. We looked for other McGuire gravestones but did not succeed at that time. At least one member of the immediate family is buried elsewhere. The North Carolina Death Certificates for son John Patrick (d. 1953) and his wife indicate that they were both buried at Oberlin Cemetery, but the discovery of the location must be put on hold. Fortunately, the Raleigh Oberlin Cemetery Landmark application has an appendix with a listing (No. 122, Pine View Annex) for the McGuire’s daughter, Gertrude B. Haywood (1889–1981). [From application’s Appendix 3: Oberlin Cemetery Monument Inventory, collected by Karen and Geron Ryden and Ruth Little, and edited by staff, Raleigh Department of City Planning.]
I have learned since 2014 that several developments have made possible the outstanding progress in clearing and preserving the cemetery. Among these, the Friends of Oberlin was formed in March 2011 as a grassroots committee organized by descendants of Oberlin Village founders and residents of the Oberlin community. Also, the Friends of Oberlin Cemetery has been established to preserve the legacy and grounds of the Oberlin Cemetery, and to create a definitive registry of persons laid to rest.
Belatedly, yet significantly, various other volunteers, community groups, and donors have joined the Oberlin effort during the last few years. One recent example has been financial support and a commission from the family of a former mayor of Raleigh, Smedes York. The York family has commissioned Thomas Sayre of Raleigh, an internationally known artist, for a project that he has named “Oberlin Rising.” In a November 25, 2017 editorial in the News and Observer, Sayre writes that a focus of the project is “to mark those [graves] that have been undermarked, to mark those who were never marked.” He writes that this undertaking is a memorial “to remember those of a vibrant community who were never acknowledged, who were run over by the building of Wade Avenue, who are now being further diminished by rampant development.” It is indeed essential to continue to discover and to acknowledge the deep layers of meaning in the Oberlin Village story. While much has been lost that should have been preserved, there are surely positive and creative ways to continue to shed light on the remarkable history of Oberlin Village and its people. Thankfully, the Patrick and Ella McGuire Papers contribute to that greater effort.
Summary of the Collection
These are the papers of Samuel Patrick and Ella McGuire, an African-American family of Raleigh, Wake County, with family in other locales, ca. 1872-1940. Includes personal and business letters; business receipts and Raleigh schools and city tax receipts; promissory notes; bills and statements of dues; summons for Raleigh public road work; wedding invitations; certificate of church membership; insurance policies; World War I naval commendation for son, Wilbert Henrick McGuire, for role in saving the ship, U.S.S. Mount Vernon, following its torpedoing by the enemy in September 1918; a small quantity of photographs; and miscellaneous materials. Quantity: one third cubic foot.