Graves Chapel Missionary Baptist Church is one of the oldest African-American churches in Caswell County, North Carolina. The first church building was a log structure erected after the Civil War, probably between 1865 and 1868. Built by former slaves (including Monjett Graves and Morris Graves), the old church building was situated on a small parcel of land donated by four former slave owners: Henry Graves; Lee Graves; Dock Graves; and Bill Graves. The church was named Graves Chapel in honor of these land donors.
The Graves family from whom the land donors descended is one of the oldest families in the United States, dating back to Captain Thomas Graves who was born around 1584 in England. Captain Thomas Graves came from England on the ship Mary and Margaret with the Second Supply voyage in 1608 and settled at Jamestown. he was one of the charter members and stockholders of the Virginia Company of London, which had been formed to establish the first permanent English settlement in North America. He was a member of the House of Burgess in 1619, the first legislative assembly in what was to become the United States. John Graves, a descendant of Captain Thomas Graves, was the first of the Graves family of Virginia to move to Caswell County, North Carolina, where he settled on Country Line Creek in the 1750's.
Little written information is available concerning the early Graves Chapel log building. However, oral histories collected from older church and community members indicate that Reverend Sandy Wade was the first pastor, with the following people among the earliest church members: Susan Desnoose Graves; Margaret Graves; Lewis H. Graves; Manjett Graves; Lue Ellen Graves Dismuck; Maggie Graves Koger; Mary Graves Mayes; Lillie Bell Graves; Melviney Graves; Madison Graves; Ann Graves; Morris Graves; Bethia Phillips; Mollie Smith Shaw; Reuben Smith; James T. Moore; Willis Carey; Calvin (Red) Graves; Alfred G. Graves; Sandy Wade; Monroe Wade; Kaline Watkins; and Hattie Bigelow.
According to a statistical report included in the minutes of the eighth annual Session of the Cedar Grove Baptist Association, held August 12-14, 1875 (Mount Zion, Person County), Graves Chapel Missionary Baptist Church was an organized church with sixty members under the pastorate of Reverend Alfred G. Graves. The minutes further show that the church sent two delegates to the 1875 Association, M. Wade and M. Graves, who paid a $3.10 "representative fee."
In 1893, to prepare for the church's further growth and development, J. L. and Fannie L. Graves deeded a parcel of land (Caswell County Deed Book XX/307) to Graves Chapel Church in consideration of ten dollars as long as the land was used for church purposes and no other. Additionally, in 1896 the church purchased approximately one acre from Barzillai Shuford and Mallie Graves (Caswell County Deed Book ZZ/540) for the sum of one dollar. The conveyance stipulated that the property be used only for church purposes and upon that purpose not being realized the property would revert to Barzillai Shuford Graves and his heirs. Barzillai Shuford Graves descends from Captain Thomas Graves, thereby continuing the Graves family tradition of providing land for church.
In 1897 a new white wood-frame church building was erected on the land acquired from Barzillai Shuford Graves. The new building was across the road from the old log structure. Dave Poole and Marshall Graves provided the first lumber needed for construction. They cut the lumber and hauled it to the site on a wagon.
In 1914 Fannie Lea organized the Graves Chapel Missionary Baptist Church missionary circle. The first president was Mrs. Lillie Bell Graves, followed by Mrs. Sallie Phillips Bigelow, Mrs. Purlie Phillips Graves King, Mrs. Mallie Graves Graves Allen, Mrs. Arvis Hinton Brown, iMrs. Sade Graves Sellars Rogers, Mrs. Cleonia Badgett Graves, Mrs. Winfred Graves Henry, Mrs. Doris Graves Liggins, Mrs. Helen Graves Wiggins, Mrs. Henel Wimple Graves, Mrs. Odell Watlington Mims, Mrs Natlie (Kenneth) Walker,and Mrs. Helen Graves Wiggins.
In 1922 more land was acquired for the church from Annabelle, Ida, Lillie, and Jim Neal Thompson (Caswell County Deed Book 74/384, with twenty dollars being paid). During that same year, William Henry Graves and Albert Henry (Allie) Graves donated to the church approximately one acre of land to be used as a cemetery (Caswell County Deed Book 74/544).
Over the next several decades, under the leadership of Reverends R. S. Clark, K. L. Dixon, C. W. Crutchfield, Tom Harris, and C. W. McBroom, Graves Chapel experienced considerable growth, with the church membership steadily increasing. Homecoming, the fourth Sunday in June, drew record crowds.
Possessing an even greater vision for growth, William Graves and his wife Wilma Watlington Graves (and others) began a church building fund campaign in 1948. These efforts and the leadership of Reverend E. H. Stewart resulted in a June 1956 groundbreaking service for a new church building, which would be the third structure to house the Graves Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Deacon Cofton Phillips led a group responsible for the design of the new brick and concrete block building.
Graves Chapel Missionary Baptist Church evolved into a spiritual, political, and civic presence in Caswell County and in the Cedar Grove Baptist Association. The latter phase of this evolution was guided by the progressive management of Reverends K. E. Lilly, Floyd Corbett, Robert Pugh, and Kenneth Walker (who was the minister when this history was prepared in 2003).
Over the years the following have been church Deacons: Manjett Graves; Morris Graves; James Graves; Calvin Graves; Madison Graves; Lewis H. Graves; James (Jim) Phillips; William Marshall Graves; Eddie Graves; Henry (Babe) Phillips; G. P. Graves; Chalmers King; Alex Vaughn; Tom Bigelow; Burlie O. Graves; Granderson Watkins (chairman); Cofton Phillips (vice chairman); Wyatt Gentry, Sr.; Jasper Brown; Clifton Brown; Rufus Graves; Melvis Brown; Preston Graves; Lewis Watkins; William G. Graves; Van Graves; Calvin Hightower; Phillip Lipscomb; Curtis Sellars; Alphonso Gentry; George Watlington; and Alexander Graves (chairman).
Following is a list of Trustees: 1896: Morris Graves; James T. Moore, Reuben Smith; Dave Poole (acting trustee); 1922: William Henry Graves (chairman); Major Phillips; Jessie Patillo; Tom Patillo; Jim Bigelow; William Marshall Graves; Albert Graves. Service later were: Lewis W. Graves; Houston Graves; Anderson Phillips; Burlie O. Graves; Clifton Brown; Cofton Phillips; John Frank Graves; William g. Graves (chairman); Houston Hinton; Porter Phillips; Azzie Watlington; Houston Brown; George L. Graves; Houston Hinton (chairman); Felix Sellars; David Sellars; Thomas M. Simpson; Dwight Graves; Meredith Latta; Mildred F. Hinton; Crystall Gwynn.
Mothers of the church were: Susan Graves; Bethia J. Phillips; Lillie Bell Graves; Fannie J. Graves; Lula Patillo; Mary Willie Graves; Mandy Willis Graves; Lizzie Phillips; Purlie Phillips Graves King; Sallie Phillips Bigelow; Pensocola Watkins; Fleta Graves Vaughn Corbett; Hattie Poole Watlington; Virginia Graves Gentry; Gladys Brown; Addie R. Graves; Maude Vaughn Phillips; Gladys W. Fields; Wilma W. Graves; Mary Poole Graves; Hattie Graves Sellars; and Fannie Graves Brown.
Those holding the office of Deaconess were: Wilma W. Graves; Virginia Graves Gentry; Gladys Brown, Juanita Graves; Shirley Gentry; Flossie Hightower; Sallie Bigelow Watlington; Jeanette Sellars; and Claretta Graves (chairperson in 2003).
The Sunday School was organized in the early 1900's with the following serving as superintendent: Albert G. Graves; Albert Henry (Allie) Graves; Reverend. G. P. Graves; Charlie Watlington; Tom Phillips; Reverent Otis Smith; Jasper Brown; Burlie O. Graves; Reverend Floyd Corbett; Lewis Watkins; and Van Graves.
The following people held the office of Church Secretary: James (Jim) Phillips; Lula Patillo; Reverend G. P. Graves; Tom Phillips; Orvis Brown; Sadie S. Rogers; Cleonia B. Graves; Lusterne Graves; Fields Rogers; Geneva Bigelow; Odessa F. Gwynn; and Glendora G. Diggs.
Over the years many people served as Ushers. The board was organized under the leadership of Reverend Tom Harris. President of the board were Tommie Graves, Lewis W. Graves, and Porter Phillips. Early Ushers were Hattie P. Watlington, Maude Vaughn Phillips, Unice Bigelow, Emma Vaughn Hinton, and Lennie B. Graves. In later years, the first Junion Ushers were Doris Graves and Odell Watlington in 1942, followed by: Ersell Graves; Martha Corbett Graves; Virginia G. Gentry; Betty Graves Bigelow; Betty Corbett Brown; Catherine V. Lea; Charles Spinks; Tuggy Bigelow; Ruth W. Brown; Kitty Gunn Blackwell; Barbara Graves Mills; Jason Richmond; vivian Phillips; Dorothy Phillips; Edna Graves Richmond; Theresa Richmond Harvey; Mavis Davidson; Addie Graves; Flossie Hightower; Gladys Watkins Fields; Tracy Totton; Ruth Totton; Myra Dean; Mildred Hinton; Sabrina Watlington; Tammy Lea; Willie Mills; Greg Mills; George Enoch; Calvin Hightower; Lucy Gunn; Shirley Gentry; Terrance Copling; Devon Lancaster; Lisa Royster; David Sellars; Felix Sellars; and others.
In 1942, Doris Graves Liggins and Odell Watlington Mims were appointed the first Junion Ushers, followed by Curtisha Sellars, Mary Walker, Ariel Cowan, J. L. Graves, Edwin Enoch, and others.
Church Financial Secretaries include: Geneva Bigelow; Odessa F. Gwynn; and Glendora Gentry Diggs.
Church Treasurers include: William Marshall Graves; B. O. Graves; and Melvis Brown.
Building Fund Treasurers include: James Anderson Phillips and Clifton Brown.
In 1945 a Senior Choir was organized under the leadership of Reverend C. W. McBroom, with Deacon Jasper Brown serving as its first president. The first choir members were: Doris Graves Liggins; Catherine Graves Brown; Catherine Vaughn Lea; Odell Watlington Mims; Mable Watlington Brown; Claudia Graves; Hazel Graves Phillips; Douglass Graves; Ladocia Bigelow Bigelow; Totsie Bigwlow Stadler; Pauline Brown Brown; Juanita Brown; and Madeline Bigelow. A Gospel Choir was organized in 1972, followe by a Young Adult Choir, Youth Choir, Male Chorus, and Mass Choir.
The following served as Sextons: Lou Ellen Dismuck; Charlie Watlington; Jimmy Lea; Lewis Vaughn (15 years); Lewis W. Graves (10-12 years); Dalton Vaughn; Anderson Phillips; George L. Graves (1953-2003).
Mrs Ellen M. Steward founded the Woman's Day Program, which was combined as Women's and Men's Day under the leadership of Reverend E. H. Steward. Mrs. Deloris Graves Fuller served as the first chairperson, and Mrs. Doris Graves Liggins served as vice chairperson.
Other auxiliary activities have included: Willing Workers; Drama Team; Calvary Climbers; Nursing Unit; Infant Seat Loaner Program; and Vacation Bible School (Flossie Hightower serving as president at one time). In 1973 Bible classes began, a system of tithing was introducted, and a church calendar adopted.
Also in 1973, under the leadership of Reverend K. E. Lilly, Doris Graves Liggins, Cofton Phillips, and Odell W. Mims organized the Pastor Aide program. The officers were Marie B. Gwynn, president; Lusterene Rogers, secretary; and Odell Mims, treasurer. Doris Graves Liggins was the Program Committee chairperson. Bylayws were implemented and the following served as officers over the years: Maxine Brown; Mildred Hinton; Lacheata Smith Hall; Lusterene Rogers; Virginia G. Gentry; Geneva Bigelow; Ethel Fuller; and Vivian Phillips.
In 1974 a storehouse ministry program was implemented for needey people, and a church bus was purchased the next year.
In 1975 boy scout and girl scout troops were organized under the auspices of the church. Helpers were Barbara Graves Mills, William G. Graves, Betty Russell, Mae Lois Bigelow, Geneva Bigelow, Ester Watlington, Pat Spinks, and George L. Graves. The Mothers' Board was organized in 1977, Bible Training followed in 1978, and the first white church member, Bonnie Graves, was baptized in 1978. That same year saw a Table and Chair Fund Drive for the fellowship hall raise $2,408. Doris Graves Liggins led the drive assisted by Odell Mims. Mrs. Betsy Farrar donated the first $50. She was the granddaughter of Barzillai Shuford Graves and Malvina F. Graves mentioned above as early donors of land to the church.
In 1979 a revised cornerstone program was completed. Participants and contributors included: Doris Graves Liggins; Doris Stadler; Wanda and Michael Liggins; Dewey Graves; W. D. Graves; Catherine G. Brown; Lula G. Graves; Phillip Graves; Chattie Graves Brown; Leonard Graves; Henry Graves; Higgins Graves; Mary G. Davis; Winfred G. Henry; Joyce G. Carter; Eddie P. Graves; Lewis Graves,Jr.; Ruby M. Motley; Veola Richmond; Mary Willie Graves; Roosevelt Graves; Inez Graves Blackwell; Catherine V. Lea; Lacheata Graves Smith Hall; Clarence Hinton; Barbara Graves Mills; Betty P. Daniels; Ernestine Phillips; Blanche M. Withers; Willie Lee Graves; Waymon Totton; Dwight Graves; Emma Vaughn Hinton; Roy Vaughn; Dalton Vaughn; and Mannie Brown Vaughn.
Senior Citizen Day was organized by Helen W. Graves in 1979.
In 1979 the Graves Chapel Daycare Center became the first certified daycare facility in Caswell County. Serving as officers were Dr. Lacheata Graves Smith Hall, Ethel Fuller, Mildred Hinton, Gladys Blackman, Rubena Fryar Russell, and two others. Daycare board members were Beatrice Lea, John F. Graves, and others. Eventually, the Graves Chapel Daycare Center merged with the Rainbow Daycare Center in Yanceyville, North Carolina.
In 1983 the church honored with plaques Mrs. Mary Willie Graves, Reverend G. P. Graves, and Reverend H. T. Graves. That same year the Outreach Program wa launched.
Other significant events include: Senior Citizen Activity Program begun 26 October 1984; Budget Committee formed 25 January 1985; Communication Committee formed 25 January 1985; Planning Board organized 25 February 1985; Scholarship Committee created in 1985; Adult Missionary Workshop approved 24 May 1985; first adult missionary workshop was held 21 September 1985; this adult missionary workshop was followed by the first young adult and youth missionary workshops held at the Graves Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.
In 1987 five of the oldest church members were honored and their portraits placed in the church building: Reverend G. P. Graves; Mary Magdalene Piles Irvin Graves (better known as Mary Willie Graves); Mrs. Mary Poole Graves; Hattie L. Sellars; and Mrs. Clayton Johnson.
On 31 April 1994 the church welcomed its second white member when Mrs. Emma Lea Chambers was baptized.
In 1996, Reverend Kenneth Walker was installed as the twelth pastor.