& Expanding the
By Stuart W.
From Reconstruction through the mid 20th
century, a "village" did a lot more than raise a child
when it came to building a strong community. Rural black
communities historically have relied upon the generosity and
sacrifices of their extended family and neighbors to rear their
children and meet economic needs. For example, it was not
uncommon for the court to have no record of a child adoption
since relatives or neighbors. Frequently a childless couple or
even a large household would assume parental responsibility of
orphans or abandoned children. Material and economic support
sometimes came from benevolent whites, who long had been
integral to the black world whether it was as slave owner,
closet abolitionist, or employer.
After the abolition of slavery, benevolence
and community-building emerged through the establishment of
mutual aid societies and fraternal orders in addition to the
strengthening of the black church. These organizations typically
functioned as an expanded resource to help families through hard
times and offer social and educational benefits. Many benevolent
societies established before the end of slavery also helped the
transition of blacks into their life of freedom by providing
them with financial resources..
Before the 1930s, for the most part, blacks
had to work together to ensure their academic, social, and
economic endurance. In southeastern Virginia, black fraternal
orders served their own with a vigor and commitment that deserve
more prominence in the documentation of the nationâ€™s history.
The following is a sampling of the benefit societies and lodges
in Sussex County, Virginia, with African American memberships
through the 1930s.
The National Ideal Benefit Society.
Headquartered in Richmond, Va., the Hudson Lodge was established
in Sussex Countyâ€™s Grizzard community in 1929. Eliza Wright, a
charter member, held the lead position during Hudsonâ€™s early
days. Members of this insurance and benevolence organization
were called Ideals.
The Trinity Lodge No. 3, a chapter of the
Grand Lodge of St. John Watchmen. Headquartered in Richmond,
Va., the St. John Watchmen aimed to "improve [the]
condition of its membership morally, socially, physically and
financially," according to its Constitution. Lee Taylor, a
Sussex resident, served as head of this lodge during the 1920s.
The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows.
African American men joined Odd Fellow lodges that were
chartered by The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (as opposed
to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows). The Grand United Order
of Odd Fellows was founded in 1843 with a charter from the Grand
Lodge in Manchester, England. See Charles H. Brooks, The
Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd
Fellows in America (New York: Books for Libraries Free
Press, 1971 
The Household of Ruth. This
organization was the women's auxiliary to the African American
Odd Fellows order. Household of Ruth was organized in 1857 for
the admission of the wives or women related to men in the
fraternal order of Odd Fellows.
The United Order of True Reformers. Founded
in 1881 by William Washington Browne (1849-1897), this
organization was most influential not only in the small rural
community of Sussex, but also it ascended to national
Reverend William Washington Browne was born a slave in Habersham County, Georgia.
Sold into Tennessee at age eight, Browne joined the
Union forces at age fifteen and served two years until
1866. While working as a farmhand, he gained some
education at a school in Wisconsin. In 1869 he returned
to the South and worked as a school teacher in Georgia
and Alabama and in Atlanta studied for the ministry and
became in 1876 an ordained minister in the Colored
in Alabama that Browne first organized the "fountains"
that would become the United Order of True Reformers.
The formation of "fountains" (lodges or chapters) were a
means used to pool money and buy land.
"Let us stop playing, trifling and wasting our time and
talents, and scattering our little mites to the four winds of
the earth, and let us unite ourselves in a solid band."
Browne left Alabama in 1880 and settled in Richmond, Virginia,
where he built his powerful Grand Fountain of the United Order
of True Reformers (GFUOTR) with branches in twenty states by
The national organization thus had its
headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. True Reformers offered this
reason for the "fountain" terminology:
"The names of our societies are
Fountains. A fountain is always running; it sends forth its
waters, pure and clear at all times. A fountain cleanses
itself, but a pond becomes stale and stagnant, and has to be
ditched off or it will make everyone sick who lives near or by
it." (From Twenty-five Years History of the Grand
Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers, W. P.
Burrell and D. E. Johnson Sr., 1909)
There were at least three fountains in the
vicinity of Jarratt (Sussex County, Virginia), including the
Emporia branch located in Greensville County, headed by Sussex
resident James H. Hunnicutt. The True Reformers offered far more
than the standard African American benevolence societies of that
era, which mostly were cash benefits to members for family
In 1889 the GFUOTR organized the first
chartered black bank in the United States, the Savings Bank of
the Ground Fountain of the United Order of True Reformers, with
deposits amounting by 1907 to one million dollars. The fraternal
order owned real estate, purchased a farm, a hotel, owned over a
dozen halls; they also became involved in insurance, which
provided for the support of widows and the education of orphans.
In 1885 the Order organized and put in
operation a department for children known as the Rosebud
Department. The Rosebud fountains for youth addressed "the
great need for reform among . . . children in teaching them that
there is a higher and nobler purpose for which they can use some
of their pennies besides spending them all for delicacies and
toys; teaching them to unite themselves together for the bond of
union and love, and to assist each other in sickness, sorrow and
The GFUOTR became a model for banking and
insurance enterprises throughout the South. With the death of
Browne in 1897, the bank, however, survived only another decade
and collapsed in 1910 as a result of mismanagement and
embezzlement. The True Reformers continued, nevertheless, as a
fraternal order and insurance agency until its demise during the