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African Americans in Saline County

(Off of MO/Saline County "UU" 8 mi. SE of Marshall )
The History of Pennytown is available only through the efforts of one lady, Josephine Jackson Lawrence
, (1929-1992) who was born and raised at Pennytown. She collected, gathered, garnered, and saved every bit of information possible. her collection is now at Western Manuscripts Dept. in Columbia.
" 3. "Griot's" (gree-oh) in early Africa, were tribal members whose role in the tribe was to act as historian and to pass on their tribal history from one generation to the next.  These triabal members were the storytellers of that time and their given role in that society was to preserve the genealogies and traditions of the tribe.   This term is still true today in America, we have those that we could call griot's also.  They are the family members who hunger for knowledge of their ancestry, who search and preserve their ancestry, who bring life to their ancestors by their endless and sometimes fruitless researching for knowledge and pass it on so their descendants and future generations will know their heritage.
Mrs. Lawrence was truly a "griot" in her efforts to preserve the history of this community

Marshall Democrat-News
Thursday, June 05, 2003
Pennytown gathering Sunday

The Friends of Pennytown Historic Site will host a gathering from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, June 7, at the Pennytown Freewill Baptist Church south of Marshall. The day will feature Moses Berry speaking about his family history and showing artifacts. Entertainment will be provided by Nostalgia. (off site link) Pennytown is located eight miles southeast of Marshall, with the route off U.S. Highway 65 marked by signs.

Marshall Democrat-News
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Pennytown homecoming part of weekend

Located about eight miles southeast of Marshall stands Pennytown Freewill Baptist Church, which will be the site of much reminiscing, worship and fellowship this weekend during Santa Fe Trail Days.

The Pennytown Committee, made of descendants and supporters of preserving Pennytown's history, has scheduled a fund-raiser Sunday afternoon to bring together descendants and friends of the historic African-American community.

From 1:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., fellowship will center around a carry-in basket dinner. Freewill donations will be accepted and will go toward the maintenance of the church and the continuation of efforts to restore the area.

"It's a time to bring a lunch and have a good old-fashioned time praising the Lord," said committee member Virginia Huston, a descendent of Pennytown.

The local praise band "Go Forth" will provide music for entertainment and worship and several descendants of Pennytown will also be singing and sharing their talents.

With the purpose of bringing people together and educating the public about the historic site, everyone is invited to join in on the meal and celebration time.

Lola Williams, who is also a descendent of Pennytown, said this weekend's celebration will be a special time to talk with others and remember the history of Pennytown and the lives of those who lived there during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"It's a time to bring together the family and love and spiritual background," she said.

Her grandfather, Richard Lewis, and great-grandmother, Penelope "Penny" Lewis, lived in Pennytown and her brother, Charles R. Williams, will be giving a presentation about Pennytown at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. He will be speaking about the history of Pennytown in comparison with the history of Southern black people.

"There's a definite difference between those of us who were raised in that area and those who were raised in the south," he said. "We were kind of isolated and not exposed to the Southern black culture."

Monday, August 05, 2002
Pennytown homecoming brings together family, friends

It is tradition for Pennytown descendants to gather at Pennytown Freewill Baptist Church each year to remember those who have passed on and continue spreading seeds of the gospel.........As part of Santa Fe Trail Days, the Pennytown homecoming brought together families and friends through the enjoyment of food, fellowship and worship. ...............Speaking of how elated she was to be able to carry on the tradition of the Pennytown homecoming, Virginia Huston thanked the members of "Go Forth" (band) for helping restore the church and coming to the historic place each year to worship with her and many of her family members...........Charles Williams, whose great-grandmother Penelope "Penny" Lewis, lived in Pennytown, reflected upon some things he has recently been studying. Trying to figure out why African-Americans do things the way they do, Williams came up with a solution......... We just found out for sure and we're getting more information about it," he said. "Why do we, descendants of Pennytown, and we as a people, do things the way we do? Because as slaves we have been programmed for over 300 years to act that way." ...........Williams briefly told about how his great-grandmother Penny was freed from slavery as a 5-month-old child. A woman who married into the family, Flora Lewis, was also an amazing woman, Williams said. In fact, he showed the congregation a page in the Kansas City Star's Sunday, Aug. 4, edition bearing a picture of the painting Flora Lewis had created in 1939. The fact that she was an African-American, and a woman, made her work even more important to Williams.............Thursday, June 06, 2002
History of Pennytown recalled in presentation

Two descendants of Pennytown passed on traditions, stories and memories of the black settlement Wednesday night in the meeting room of the Marshall Public Library. Pennytown, which was inhabited during the late 1800s and early 1900s, was the birthplace of Virginia Huston of Marshall, who shared the presentation along with her brother, C. L. "Book"Lawrence. Located about eight miles southeast of Marshall, east of U.S. Highway 65, Pennytown has been largely uninhabited since the late 1970s. However, people will be visiting Pennytown this Saturday, June 8, for a celebration fund-raiser.

Beginning at 12:30 p.m., Ella B. Wright, the oldest living descendent of Pennytown, will share memories and help others remember the tales they have been told about the town. Huston, the last person born in Pennytown, will also share memories and information about her family members who lived there.

The events of the day will center around the Pennytown Freewill Baptist Church, which is all that remains of the town besides remnants, memories and broken-down buildings.

Huston, who is a member of the Pennytown Committee, wanted to share the presentation at the library before Saturday, to educate patrons about the historic site and invite them to join in on the celebrations. Her purpose was to share the history and memories of Pennytown with others, with hopes of continuing to restore the area.

Lawrence and his wife Tracy have also been strong supporters of Pennytown. Lawrence still remembers going to Pennytown to visit his Uncle Francis and Aunt Willa.

Huston and Lawrence said the only way they know everything they do about Pennytown is because of their mother, Josephine.

"Our family there goes back several generations," Lawrence said. "Some of the real history about Pennytown is due west of it, in Finnis Creek Cemetery. Residents of the town are buried there and descendants of Pennytown can be buried there for free still today


From: Preservation Issues (Vol. 4, No. I,) and From Preservation Issues, Volume 7, Number 1:

The First Free Will Baptist Church of Pennytown -- Born Again
articles by Karen Grace
Excerpts from the above articles which are off site

Photo by Lynn Morrow

(Vol. 4, No. I,)

For nearly 50 years, homecoming has been held at the last building still owned by Pennytowners - the First Freewill Baptist Church. ......The church was a small, badly deteriorated structure constructed of hollow terra cotta block.

Pennytown's founder was Joe Penny, an ex-slave from Kentucky who arrived in Saline County in the late 1860s. Penny purchased eight acres of land south of Marshall. He paid white owner John Haggin the sum of $160 for his land and the deed was duly recorded. It was a rare business transaction - possibly the only instance at this early period of legal transfer of land to a freedman.

1870 Federal Census- Blackwater Township, page 104 PO Bownsville
102-105 stop-household
Penny, Joseph (B) age 60 property value $250 b. Ky
Penny, Harriet (B) age 54 b. TN
Gatron, Peter (B) age 19 b. MO.
Williams, William (B) age 10 b. MO.
Same census shows a white family- Marshall Townhip, p.189 Arrowrock PO, same ages exactly
William Penny age 60 b. NC
Ann Penny age 54 b. GA
1880 Federal Census Saline County Salt Fork Township-P. 552D- from FamilySearch
 Joe PENNY   Self   M   Male   B   68   KY   Farmer   VA   VA 
 Harroh PENNY   Wife   M   Female   B   65   TN   Keeping House   GA   VA 
 Nora BUTLER   SDau   W   Female   B   28   MO   At Home   GA   TN 
 Eveline BUTLER   SDau   W   Female   B   35   MO   At Home   GA   TN 
 William WILLIAMS   GSon   S   Male   MU   19   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Sallie A. BUTLER   GDau   S   Female   B   10   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Minnie BUTLER   GDau   S   Female   B   4   MO   At Home   KY   MO 

This indicates that Joe did not have any children-with this wife-at least that survived- he would have been about 53 years old at the end of the Civil War.

Penny then divided his land into small lots and sold them to other black settlers. More land was acquired over the years and similarly divided and sold.

Neighbors in 1880 - one side was a white family and then the following black families were likely residents of Pennytown
Israel SMITH   Self   M   Male   B   27   VA   Farmer   VA   VA 
 Mildred SMITH   Wife   M   Female   B   21   MO   Keeping House   KY   KY 
 Mary STUART   SDau   S   Female   B   10   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Benton STUART   SSon   S   Male   B   6   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Willie STUART   SSon   S   Male   B   5   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Johnie SMITH   Son   S   Male   B   1   MO   At Home   VA   MO
 Samuel CROWBARGER   Self   M   Male   MU   27   VA   Farmer   VA   VA 
 Anna CROWBARGER   Wife   M   Female   B   23   MO   Keeping House   ---   --- 
 Henry CROWBARGER   SSon   S   Male   B   10   MO   At Home   ...   MO 
 Amanda MILLER   MotherL   W   Female   MU   60   KY   At Home   KY   KY
John ALEXANDER   Self   M   Male   B   38   KY   Farmer   VA   VA 
 Ellen ALEXANDER   Wife   M   Female   B   33   MO   Keeping House   VA   MO 
 Elisabeth ALEXANDER   Dau   S   Female   B   15   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Lula ALEXANDER   Dau   S   Female   B   12   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Mary ALEXANDER   Dau   S   Female   B   9   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Ellen ALEXANDER   Dau   S   Female   B   6   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Callie ALEXANDER   Dau   S   Female   B   5   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Walter ALEXANDER   Son   S   Male   B   4   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Munroe ALEXANDER   Son   S   Male   B   2   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
Mack JACKSON    Self   M   Male   B   35   MO   Huckster   MO   MO 
 Christian JACKSON   Wife   M   Female   B   33   MO   Keeping House   MO   MO 
 Margret JACKSON   Dau   S   Female   B   10   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Clifton JACKSON   Son   S   Male   B   7   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Tom JACKSON   Son   S   Male   B   5   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Edmond JACKSON   Son   S   Male   B   3   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Mack JACKSON   Son   S   Male   B   1   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 James JACKSON   Self   M   Male   B   37   MO   Farmer   MO   MO 
 Jane JACKSON   Wife   M   Female   B   28   MO   Keeping House   MO   MO 
 Robert JACKSON   Son   S   Male   B   12   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Lucy JACKSON   Dau   S   Female   B   5   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Henry JACKSON   Son   S   Male   B   3   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Washington BROWN   Self   M   Male   B   56   KY   Farmer   VA   VA 
 Patsy BROWN   Wife   M   Female   B   54   MO   Keeping House   GA   VA 
 Luesa JACKSON   SDau   W   Female   B   32   MO   At Home   TN   MO 
 Willie JACKSON   GSon   S   Male   B   8   MO   At Home   ---   MO 
 Jimie JACKSON   GSon   S   Male   B   6   MO   At Home   ---   MO 
 Bettie JACKSON   GDau   S   Female   B   4   MO   At Home   ---   MO 
 Lettie BROWN   Mother   W   Female   B   72   VA   At Home   VA   VA 
Stephen WASHINGTON   Self   M   Male   B   60   KY   Farmer   VA   KY 
 Mathilda WASHINGTON   Wife   M   Female   B   40   MO   Keeping House   VA   VA 
 Anderson WASHINGTON   Son   S   Male   B   19   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Lucy WASHINGTON   Dau   S   Female   B   12   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
 Matilda WASHINGTON   Dau   S   Female   B   10   MO   At Home   KY   MO 
William BUCKNER   Self   M   Male   B   50   MO   Farmer   ---   --- 
 Lucinda BUCKNER   Wife   M   Female   B   43   KY   Keeping House   KY   KY 
 Laura L. BUCKNER   Dau   S   Female   B   17   MO   At Home   MO   KY 
 Mary V. BUCKNER   Dau   S   Female   B   13   MO   At Home   MO   KY 
 Reoby J. BUCKNER   Dau   S   Female   B   8   MO   At Home   MO   KY 
 Ida B. BUCKNER   Dau   S   Female   B   2   MO   At Home   MO   KY 
 M. MONTGUMERY   Self   W   Female   B   48   MO   At Home   KY   KY 
 Mack CHANNEL   Son   S   Male   B   16   MO   At Home   MO   MO 
 Samuel LARANCE   Self   M   Male   B   46   VA   Tanner   VA   VA 
 Harrett LARANCE   Wife   M   Female   B   38   VA   Keeping House   VA   VA 
 Jenny LARANCE   Dau   S   Female   B   21   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
 Samuel LARANCE   Son   S   Male   B   15   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
 Antony LARANCE   Son   S   Male   B   14   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
 Mary E. LARANCE   Dau   S   Female   B   10   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
 Johnie LARANCE   Son   S   Male   B   9   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
 Richard LARANCE   Son   S   Male   B   6   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
 Charley LARANCE   Son   S   Male   B   5   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
 Bettie LARANCE   Dau   S   Female   B   2   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
 Lester LARANCE   Son   S   Male   B   1   MO   At Home   VA   VA 
next is a white family-

By 1900, the town consumed approximately 64 acres and had 40 families living in a dense collection of small frame houses. Pennytown also eventually contained two churches, a school, a store, and two communal lodges.

The first church building to be built on the same site began immediately following the fire. (?) Pennytowners purchased hollow tile blocks a few at a time until they had accumulated enough to build the church. The construction was accomplished by church members, and the cornerstone was laid in 1926

The last families left Pennytown in 1943, leaving only the elderly who died there.

As Pennytowners took up residence elsewhere in order to have better jobs and better education for their children, they also sought to establish a connection with the past. At the end of World War II, former Pennytowners organized an annual homecoming to be held on the first Sunday in August.

For nearly 50 years, homecoming has been held at the last building still owned by Pennytowners - the First Freewill Baptist Church. And each year, Pennytowners and their descendants gather there to sing long-remembered spirituals and illuminate the past for younger generations. The little church grew frail over the years; it lost its windows to vandals, its roof to the elements, the mortar holding it together crumbled, and it began to collapse. But still the Pennytowners assembled there annually to stand on the front lawn and stare up at the church in awe. It was, they believed, the very embodiment of their history. ..........

As we concluded our visit on that hot day in August, Josephine told me she was going to begin in earnest a fundraising campaign to restore the church. "How will you raise such a large amount of money?" I asked. "With the Lord's help," she replied, "with the Lord's help, I know we can do it."

Josephine began her fundraising for the church, "the Pennytown way." Quilts were hand stitched and raffled, dinners held, pastries baked and sold, and a Pennytown cookbook produced. At every street festival, county fair, or church supper in Saline County, Pennytowners were there, raising money to save their church. By the time of Josephine's death in 1992, the group had raised nearly half of the estimated $35,000 necessary for the church building's restoration.

Josephine's daughter Virginia Houston took charge of the fundraising effort following her mother's death. She said the group now has more than $18,000 in its Marshall bank account; she too has faith that their fundraising goal will be reached and the church restored.

Volume 7, Number 1:

Exactly three years ago, Preservation Issues (Vol. 4, No. I,) published the story of the Pennytown "project": the efforts of the descendants of the town's early residents to raise the capital to restore the Pennytown church. That inspiring storyhas come to a happy conclusion as reported below

The First Free Will Baptist Church is the last remaining building still owned by Pennytowners in a once thriving freedmen's hamlet near Marshall, Saline County. The town itself, founded and nurtured by ex-slave Joe Penny in the late 19th century, no longer exists. The homes, schools and businesses of 40 families that once surrounded the church are gone, replaced by an MFA test farm.

But Pennytown still lives. It lives in the memories of Pennytowners, and its story is passed down to younger generations and honorary Pennytowners of all ages, races and creeds. The small church, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is the visible memory of the history of the town and the triumph of its people over adversity and injustice in post-Civil War Missouri. It also serves as an important reminder of a part of Missouri's and America's history that should not be forgotten. It was for these reasons that Pennytowners, under the leadership of the late Josephine Lawrence, began their lengthy effort to gain national recognition for the Pennytown church and raise enough money for the restoration project. Through bake sales, dinners, raffles, the sale of a Pennytown cookbook and "passing the hat," the group had raised $18,000 by 1994. It was not enough for the restoration project, but it was enough to help match a Historic Preservation Fund grant, awarded in early 1995 by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Historic Preservation Program.

The project consisted of the construction of a new foundation, the reconstruction of the exterior walls using the building's original hollow masonry blocks, construction of a new roof and the installation of new windows and doors. Minimal interior work included drywall and a wood plank floor. Volunteers accomplished the interior and exterior painting.

In 1996, on the first Sunday in August, as they had been doing for 50 years, Pennytowners from throughout the United States came back to the church for the Pennytown homecoming. More than 200 people gathered on the lawn surrounding the building to greet old friends, make new ones, eat dinner and enjoy an inspirational program. But most of all, they were there to celebrate the restoration of the Pennytown church; their "project" had come to a successful conclusion, and a new life was just beginning for the church building.

The restored church will play an important role in Saline County's heritage tourism initiative, hosting busloads of visitors who want to learn about Pennytown's history. It will also be the location of an educational field study program for the county's school children, especially those who are studying Missouri history.

Pennytowners, now under the leadership of Lawrence's daughter Virginia Houston, have many plans for the future. Fundraising will continue for maintenance of the church building and for the restoration of the historic privy (also listed in the National Register). A fence, a sign and a brochure for visitors are also planned.

DNR photo by Karen Grace
Lawrence's daughter Virginia Houston stands in front of the recently completed church.

Editor's Note from Preservation Issues: To my knowledge, the articles and photographs are not copyrighted.

Pennytown 1. was a community of black farmers and laborers near Marshall, Missouri. Land purchased in 1871 by Joseph Penny became the nucleus of Pennytown, which grew to become the largest black community in Saline County. Residents of Pennytown performed agricultural, domestic, and other kinds of labor for the region. The residents formed a strong community based on mutual cooperation.

Pennytown began to lose population in the 1920s as residents moved to other towns in Saline and Pettis Counties which were closer to their jobs. By the 1970s the only building still standing in Pennytown was the Free Will Baptist Church, which had always been one of the most important community institutions. Annual reunions are held in August so that former residents can retain their ties with Pennytown and preserve the history of their community. (2. The Freewill Baptist Church was added to the national Historical Register as Free Will Baptist Church of Pennytown (added 1988 - Building - #88000388) Off MO UU 8 mi. SE of Marshall, Marshall )

Josephine R. Lawrence, who was born in 1929 in Pennytown is a local historian with a keen interest in preserving and recording the history of Pennytown. Josephine R. Lawrence's mother was Nellie Jackson and her father was Fred Robinson. Her grandmother was Beulah Jackson. Aaron Jackson was her mother's first husband; Aron Jackson was her cousin. She had two brothers, Aaron and James Jackson, and a sister, Lorene Jackson Crobarker. Josephine's former husband was Clarence L. Lawrence.

The First Freewill Baptist Church of Pennytown is a registered not-for-profit organization with the state of Missouri. Donations may be tax-deductible. For more information about the "Pennytown Project," write or call Dr. Daniel Fahnestock, 269 S. Jefferson, Marshall, MO 65340, (816) 886-6903 or Virginia Houston, 770 W. Clara, Apt. 1, Marshall, MO 65340, (816)886-8418

1. Information derived from and used here for educational purposes
2. information from MO/Saline/state.html
3. Kentucky African American Griots.Telling our story through history and genealogical data