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Nigton, Texas Historical Narrative

Susanne Waller, Trinity County Historical Commission, October, 2015

Trinity County was formed from Houston County in 1850.  Already an attractive land opportunity for agriculture and sustenance living, the Trinity County population began to grow significantly with planters and land speculators beginning to migrate from the old southern states during the 1840's and 1850's who were in search for better farm lands and economical opportunities. 

When the first settlers arrived in Trinity County the land was found to have abundant rivers, streams, rich bottom lands and a massive forest of the majestic Long Leaf Pines and rich resources of wildlife and a mild climate.  A land perfect for planters, large and small farmers from the south moved in and were eager to start new agrarian endeavors.  Families began to edge out of this wilderness a new life and establish their farms and plantations in the newly established State of Texas.  There were already hundreds of Mexican Land Grants issued in what was to become Trinity County and hundreds more took advantage of the free lands offered in Bounty and Head Right grants for participation in the fight for Texas freedom and early settlement in the beginning years of the Republic of Texas. 

The settlers brought their families, livestock, possessions and their slaves.  Though they settled on lands all over the county, many of planters, mostly from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, settled in an area by the Alabama Creek area, located in the north and east parts of the county.  It was near there that the first county seat of Sumpter was located.  Another area that attracted many of the early people was the Trinity River bottom located in the southern part of the county. 

Though forming the county in 1850, citizens living in the newly formed Trinity County were enumerated in the Houston County 1850 US Federal Census, and the 1850 Slave Schedule.  Later in 1860, the US Census and Slave Schedule were enumerated as Trinity County and it became easier to determine different districts and population density. 

The 1860 Trinity County Slave Schedule reveals there were 136 slave owners accounting for 955 slaves.  After June 19, 1865, the 1870 US Census, which was the first census to enumerate African Americans, revealed the population of African Americans then residing in Trinity County to be about 1069.  It was between June 19, 1865, date of emancipation in Texas, and 1870 when the freedom colony of Nigton was established.  Nigton is located on present day Farm to Market Roads 2501 and 2262, about 5 miles east of Apple Springs in the north east part of the county.      

The Nigton community, formed from the former slaves of the white plantation owners of the area, was located in Precinct Four, east of the town called Apple Springs in the northeast section of Trinity County.  By proximity to white land owners of the area who previously had owned slaves, it is obvious in the 1870 US Census that many of the freed slaves remained in this area close to those prominent white farmers and former slave owners working as farm laborers or engaging in share cropping.  The 1870 US Census enumerates about 100 African American people living in the general vicinity of the newly formed freedom colony that was named Nigton, just a few miles from Apple Springs. According to that same 1870 census there are three African American men and their families in this area listed as Farmers and having Real Estate Values; John Mark, with a Real Estate Value of $400.00, Sam Chapman, with a Real Estate Value of $200.00 and Monroe Mark, with a Real Estate Value of $400.00.[1]  Owning real estate was quite significant in the early years of freedom and the beginning of property ownership for many more in the future.  Soon after 1870 many of the African American citizens of Nigton area began to buy land and apply for the Preemption Land Grants offered by the state of Texas between 1866 and 1898.[2] The community began to thrive after 1880 with unity and diverse agricultural and civic affairs.   

By the 1880 US Census enumeration a number of African American's from the 1870 census still resided in the same area and established as farmers and laborers.  The 1880 US Census for Precinct 4 shows the Nigton area had population had grown to about 230 people.[3]

Also in the 1880 US Census, a man named Jefferson Calhoun Carter, is shown residing in this vicinity.  He was the first African American enumerated as Teaching School and was the first known African American teacher in the entire county at that time.  Jefferson Calhoun Carter, a former slave of Alex Jernigan, was born in Trinity County in 1855, and sometime after 1870 changed his name from Joe Jernigan to Jefferson Calhoun Carter.[4] As told by his Grandson, Jefferson Carter was one of the first graduates in the mid 1870's from Wiley College, located in Marshall, Texas.  He became a prominent land owner, progressive leader and citizen of Nigton, and taught school there for many years.  He promoted land ownership and pride in the community, forming a unity that was to last for generations and way beyond his death in 1936.  

The Nigton Post Office was established June 14, 1894, Robert H. Massie, postmaster, succeeded by Sarah A. Carter April 27, 1900, Elsie H. Johnson, July 27, 1929 and discontinued April 4, 1932 with mail going to Apple Springs.[5]

On December 21, 1888, T.K. Womack and wife, M.F. Womack, "in consideration of Five Dollars to us in hand paid by Monroe Mark have granted, bargained sold and conveyed unto the County Judge and his successors in office of Trinity County, Texas "to be used for the purpose of education for the benefit of the colored children", deeded two acres of land for the school in the southwest corner of the A.J. Womack 320 acre Survey.[6] Thomas Kendrick, (T.K.), Womack was the son of Abraham J. Womack, the original Grantee of the A.J. Womack Survey.[7] 

By 1884 the first school was named Pine Island in white District 5, school number 5, with R.D. Crow, R.L. Longino and M.D. White as trustees and J.C. Carter as teacher.[8]  It is not exactly known where students attended school during that period of time, but it was probably at someone's home or possibly the church.  As Community School 37 in 1886, it still had J.C. Carter as teacher.  In 1898, now Pine Island, District 51, J.C. Carter, J.N. Mark, and J.H. James were trustees and W.O. McLane and J.E. Langrum teachers.[9]  In 1898 Pine Island was District 51, with J.C. Carter, J.M. Mark and R.B. Massie as Trustees, and J.E. Langrum teaching.  The scholastic census for Pine Island in the period of 1898-1899 was a total of 34 students.  In the 1899 through 1900 period the students numbered 32.[10] In about 1910 the Pine Island school district was changed to District 14.  Trustees for the 1910-1911 period were J.C. Carter, A.B. Massie, J.N. Mark, and J.V. Massie with W.W. (Wayne Wright) Johnson, Sally Stewart, E.E. Maxwell, A.R. Washington, Ruby Massey, D.M. Carter and Della Lindsey as teachers.[11] On June 29, 1912, a payment was made to J. N. Mark for Rent on Church in the amount of $10.00, apparently school was being held at the church during that period.[12]

As Common District 14, some of the trustees were A.B. Massie, J.N. Mark, J.V. Massie, W.M. Stewart, J.J. Mark, H.M. Stewart, W. Deason and Freddie Daniels. Teachers included E.E. Maxwell, Della B. Lindsey, A.R. Washington, Albertine R. Carter, Carrie Mason, Franceda Lewis, W.W. (Wayne Wright) Johnson, A.E. Baker, C.J. Smith, M.M. Pearson, Clara J. Smith, Rosa C. Dixon, L.C.D. Edwards and F.A. Baker.  The Pine Island School was built in 1916 on the property donated by the Womack's in 1888, by V. White and J.B. Eastep for a cost of $919.00.[13]  It was a two-story building and the 2nd floor had a stage in the center.  The downstairs were two school rooms and two teachers.[14]  Later in 1928 a new school was built with bonding and funds donated by the Rosenwald School Building Program.  The cost of building the new school was a total of $4,768.60.  On January 20, 1928 there was a bond issue of $3800.00 and on June 30, 1928, Rosenwald contributed $1000.00.[15]   The new school was a 4-teacher, two building and 3-room shop, plan type #4 per Rosenwald specifications.[16]  Programs offered to all students elementary through high school, included mechanical arts, agriculture, homemaking, and a well balanced criteria of education.  In the early 1900's many African American families from Lufkin with the means, sent their children to the rural Nigton School to take advantage of the stimulation and quality of education offered there.[17]  Noted teacher and scholar, Professor Wayne Wright Johnson, began teaching at the school in about 1910 and stayed with the Pine Island, Nigton School program for approximately 40 years.  According to the Johnson family legend, he was a graduate of Prairie View A & M College, a student of botany, and Dr. George Washington Carver offered him a research position at Tuskegee Institute.[18]  He eventually became the principal of Nigton School and is fondly remembered by most all alumni of that time period for his achievements and concern for a quality education.  After integration in 1965, the elementary students from the Nigton School were transferred to the Apple Springs ISD, District Number 44.  High school age boys and girls were transferred to Diboll, Texas in Angelina County.

On October 10, 1899, Leon Womack, in consideration of twenty five dollars, paid by Manuel Deason, J.C. Carter, and Aaron Sweat, as trustees of Pine Grove Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America, deeded 6-8/10 acres at the southwest corner of the A.J. Womack survey.[19] Leon Womack was the grandson of the original survey Grantee, Abraham J. Womack.[20]  Further description in this deed states that they are to have described land and premises, and said premises shall be used, kept and maintained for the ministry and membership of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America, subject to the discipline usages and ministerial appointments of said church.  This chapel, though originally deeded as Pine Grove Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, has always been known as The Ligon CME Chapel.  The first pastor was Christopher Columbus Ligon, born in Louisiana in 1831 and brought to Trinity County in slavery.  At the church site is the Nigton Cemetery [Nigton Memorial Park] with burials starting in the late 1800's. A granite monument, donated by Pinola Ligon Cunningham, located by the entry to the church, states: "Ligon Chapel CME Methodist Church founded about 1870 by Rev. C.C. Ligon, Trustees: Aaron Sweat, Manuel Deason and Jeff Carter."  Since the deed was recorded many years after the church was actually built, it is presumed the Womack's had allowed a church for the community to be built on their property for the benefit of the citizens much earlier than the 1899 deed.  This chapel remains active today. 

On November 5, 1928 Pine Grove Colored Methodist Episcopal Church deeded 2 acres out of the original 6-8/10 acres to the Pine Island Common School District #14.  Trustees for the Pine Grove CME Church at that time were: J.C. Carter, John Mark, John Lacy, Frank Clark, Wilson Deason and C. Ligon.  Trustees for the Pine Island Common School District #14 were: J.V. Massie, Buster Deason, and Sallie Stewart.[21]

The Mayo Baptist Church is another church established very early within the community on land donated by John Lacy.  John Lacy was the son in law of former slave, Mariah Green, who in 1889, for a sum of 3 bales of cotton, each weighing 500 pounds, and Five Dollars, bought 132 acres in the McKinney and Williams survey.[22]  In 1900, Mariah divided the 132 acres and deeded sections of it to her two sons in law, John Lacy and Jake Daniels, and her son William Wakefield.  On February 16, 1900, Mariah deeded John Lacy 31 acres of land from the original 132 acre parcel.[23]  On March 1, 1924, John Lacy deeded one- half acre in the south east corner of John's 31 acres to Sam Griffin, Tom Deason, and Sam Deason, Deacons and Trustees for the Missionary Baptist Church of Mayo Chapel Church, for a sum of $10.00.[24]  However, Dallas Express newspaper articles written in 1922 about Nigton told of Mayo Baptist Church activities and gatherings along with the Ligon CME Chapel news so it appears that the church already existed there long before the formal deed was made in 1924, but the exact date of its origin is not known.  Many of the elders say that later in the 1930's and 1940's that the community would alternate Sunday services between the two churches and activities were often combined for members of both churches.  The Mayo Baptist Church is still active.

Nigton was noted for its well planned farms, fine cattle, hogs, poultry, produce and a high standard of living.[25]  L.F. Hampton, County Farm Agent in 1927, stated in the Trinity County News in 1927: "The most enthusiastic terracing demonstration that I have had since I have had charge of the work in the county was at Nigton.  The farms are well planned and well balanced.  Fine cattle may be seen grazing in the pastures, an abundance of poultry may be found at each farm house and abundant crops of all kinds are raised, including a good living."[26]  The community had a St. John Union, Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Colored Ancient York Masonic Lodge located in close proximity to the church and school property.[27]  The abandoned two-story  building still stands today at the intersection of FM 2501 and FM 2262.  A merchandise store and a grocery store owned by Mr. Buster Deason, and several other stores and businesses grew through the years.  In 1914, J.C. Carter and Mrs. F.E. Dixon operated sugar mills, Aaron Sweat had a general store, and George Womack and Son operated a grocery and dry goods store.[28] Another establishment that originated in Nigton was The Black Cat Bar, owned by Buster Deason and his son Fairbanks.  This small bar and cafe served up fried fish and had a jukebox where everyone came to eat and dance.  The establishment was on the "Chitlin Circuit".  Entertainers such as B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland frequently played at the Black Cat.[29]  Older resident's state there was a wagon maker, shoemaker, a saw mill and gin.

The community peaked culturally and intellectually from about 1890 through the 1930's and was the largest black community in the county.  In the years 1922 through 1924, several articles about the Nigton community were published in the "Texas Towns" section of the Dallas Express, a weekly newspaper for Negroes out of Dallas, Texas.  A local club reported from that period was the Mothers Club Society with officers: Mrs. S.A. Carter, president, Mrs. Elsie Johnson, vice-president, S.C. Stewart, secretary, Mrs. Rosanna Deason, treasurer.[30]  In the August 5, 1922 Dallas Express article there is mention of the Farmers Labor Union with officers: W.M. Stewart, president, J.C. Carter, secretary/treasurer, Lum Deason, vice-president, R. Ryons, conductor, and W.M. Dixon, Chaplin.[31]  All the articles reported in the Dallas Express about Nigton told of the church's and club's activities and the various social events around Nigton.  Social events revolved around church and school activities and celebrations.  Baseball and basketball games were very popular among the children and citizens. Both young and old participated most every Sunday afternoon in local baseball games.  In the early years boys were prohibited from playing in white games or on their fields so the black communities formed their own sport competitions.  The school had both men and women's basketball teams.[32]  June 19th was celebrated as a big community affair.  The whole community would donate food and barbecue all night for the big community dinner held each year on the nineteenth of June.[33]

In 1929, Nigton established the Negro Business League, whose slogan was "A better community for the people, by the people".  The officers were J.C. Carter, President, W.E. Davis, Vice President, W.H. Harrison, Secretary, H.W. Dixon, Assistant Secretary, J.W. Mark, Treasurer, and Nixon, Chaplain.[34]

 During the late 1800's and early 1900's the timber business dominated the employment market in Trinity County and many of the Nigton residents had to subsidize income working in the lumber business at the mills and at the timber fronts.  Working mostly as laborers, draymen, and loggers, the percentage of African American workers was very high in this dangerous and labor intensive business. Many others remained as farmers, farm laborers, or in service to the community being barbers, cooks, blacksmith's, teachers, clergy and servants.  Women and children worked rearing their families and worked as farm laborers and other occupations such as mid-wives, wash women and servants. Most families survived from sustenance farming, and supplemented food and needs from the abundance of wildlife and fishing in the nearby Neches River and its tributaries, Hackberry and Sandy Creeks.[35]  Numerous Nigton men served in the military in every war since WWI.  The Freedom Colony of Nigton thrived for many years, but businesses began to decline in the late 1930's and 1940's when it was necessary to move to better job opportunities in other areas.  However, many descendants of the original families of Nigton still maintain property and farms in the Nigton area. 

Life was relatively peaceful during the years of Nigton's active existence, with good relationships and respect from both black and white neighbors.  Most of the time the citizens of Nigton were left alone, but occasionally through the years tensions rose to white intimidation, but managed to end peacefully.[36]  In retrospect, those who were born in this area or brought in during slavery, stayed and raised future generations in this freedom colony with pride and affection for family and maintained a tight knit community.  Those honored ancestors brought forth from their meager beginnings future generations of educators, doctors, engineers, and hardworking individuals in all fields with strong values and pride and many descendants of the original citizens still reside in the area. Some of the early Nigton residents were born in Texas during the Republic of Texas years and before statehood, many were brought here in slavery in the 1850's, but their stories were never shared in modern history books, and their untold stories should be honored with great respect as it was they who labored, turned the earth, and worked the forests of Trinity County into useable, productive land for the future of all citizens of Trinity County.[37]

In Nigton the church bell was a way of communicating back in the day, and when the bell would ring, people would gather.  The churches, cemetery, and family farms are all that remains of this colony today, but Nigton residents, both former and present, gather for Homecoming each September to honor their ancestors and embrace a deep heritage that is over 150 years old.


 

[1] 1870 US Federal Census, County of Trinity, Texas, Post Office: Pennington, page 29

[2] Categories of Land Grants in Texas, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX

[3] Studies of African Americans in Trinity County, Susanne Waller, Trinity County Historical Commission, 2007 to present

[4] Interview with William Davis, Grandson of Jefferson Carter, October 2012

[5] Trinity County Beginnings, Patricia B. Hensley and Joseph W. Hensley, 1986, 140

[6] Trinity County Deed Records, Vol. J, 528-29

[7] Studies of African Americans in Trinity County, Susanne Waller, Trinity County Historical Commission, 2007 to present

[8] Trinity County Beginnings, Patricia B. Hensley and Joseph W. Hensley, 1986, 144

[9] Ibid.

[10] County Superintendents School Record for Trinity County, Pine Island #14, 1898-1900

[11] County Superintendents School Record for Trinity County, Pine Island #14, 1911-1915

[12] Ibid

[13] Letter from J.N Mark,, Wm. Stewart, J.J. Mark, District #14 Trustees, to Prof. Mills, Groveton, TX, November 2, 1916, Trinity County Historical Commission Archives, Trinity County Museum, Groveton, TX

[14] Trinity County Beginnings, Patricia B. Hensley and Joseph W. Hensley, 1986, 140

[15] County Superintendents School Record for Trinity County, Pine Island #14 Building Fund, 1928-1929

[16] NPS Form 10-900b, United States Department of Interior, Historic and Architectural Resources

[17] Interview with William Davis, Grandson of Jefferson Carter, October 2012

[18] "The Family of Wayne Wright Johnson, Sr. Of East Texas", November 26, 2001, www.genealogy.com/ftm/g/a/s/Pamiel-J-Gaskin/index.html

[19] Trinity County Deed Record, Vol T, 101-103

[20] Studies of African Americans in Trinity County, Susanne Waller, Trinity County Historical Commission, 2007 to present

[21] Trinity County Deed Record, Vol 72, 624-625

[22] Trinity County Deed Record, Vol L, 475-476

[23] Trinity County Deed Record, Vol 37, 580

[24] Trinity County Deed Record, Vol 149, 615

[25] A History of Trinity County, A Thesis, Adele Mansell, B.S., 1941,  29

[26] A History of Trinity County Texas 1827 to 1928, Flora G. Bowles, 1928

[27] Houston Post, January 2, 1914, Portal to Texas

[28] R.L. Polk & Co., Texas State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1914, Chicago, IL, R.L. Polk, 1914

[29] It's A Family Affair, Dr. Guessippina Bonner, Lufkin Daily News, Sept. 20, 2012

[30] Dallas Express, Dallas, Texas, August 19, 1922, page 5

[31] Dallas Express, Dallas, Texas, August 5, 1922, page 2

[32] Interviews: Cleveland Mark, Jim Ligon, and Lee Ligon, Descendants of original Nigton Residents, 2011-2015

[33] Interview 239a, Lottie Mark, 2002, Oral History Collection, The History Center, Diboll, Texas

[34] Trinity County Beginnings, Patricia B. Hensley and Joseph W. Hensley, 1986, 140

[35] Interviews: Cleveland Mark, Jim Ligon, and Lee Ligon, Descendants of original Nigton Residents, 2011-2015

[36] Interviews: Cleveland Mark, Jim Ligon, and Lee Ligon, Descendants of original Nigton Residents, 2011-2015

[37] Studies of African Americans in Trinity County, Susanne Waller, Trinity County Historical Commission, 2007 to present