The following article was published in The Mt. Airy News on August 15, 1912, on page 2. The city journalist was obviously making fun of people who lived “out in the country.” However, as a Johnson family historian, I recognized several names in this interesting piece of Surry County, N. C., history.
“Sheriff’s Afternoon Nap Disturbed
“There is a fellow out in the country who hardly realizes what a serious offense he committed last Sunday afternoon in the quiet precincts of this thriving city. The story goes that as Sheriff Haynes was quietly dreaming of the days when he may sit in a seat in Congress or keep the books as Secretary of State for this commonwealth–while he snoozed in the cool shade of his home on the sultry afternoon a man hastily rode up and with one hand bandaged and numerous knife wounds in his Sunday coat told how he had been assaulted at the McBride school house three miles east of the city.
“He declared that while the Rev. Allen Johnson was declaring the ways of salvation on the day in question three men from the state of Virginia by name Straud Collins, Jim Collins, and Merady Pell came to the place of worship and having imbibed too freely of Virginia liquor they proceeded to disturb the preaching by talking out in meeting and using language that so disturbed the worshippers that the minister deemed it best to dismiss the congregation.
“This being done the three above named young men became even more boisterous and one used his knife on the unfortunate young man who brought the news to town. The sheriff went to the scene of the conflict and of course found the birds had flown. Warrants are out for the unfortunate men who were so unthoughtful as to go to church while drinking and violate the laws of the state thus getting themselves in splendid position to help make good roads for Rockingham [County] when Patrick [County, Va.] needs their services as farmers so badly.”
The people in this story:
Sheriff Caleb Hill Haynes did indeed have political aspirations, having run unsuccessfully for the North Carolina legislature in 1912. He was elected to the House in 1920 and served until 1933. He was married to a daughter of Chang Bunker, one of the original Siamese twins, who settled near Mt. Airy.
Rev. Allen Johnson was from the section of Surry County on the Virginia line and the border of Stokes County, within the Westfield township. The McBride family cemetery and McBride road are located on that side of Mt. Airy. Allen was a grandson of another preacher from that area, Rev. “Right” Johnson, and was a son of Henderson Johnson and Amelia Norman.
The three delinquents who disrupted the sermon have connections by marriage to the Johnson family. It is common in a small, rural community to find many people who are distant cousins across generations, as joked about in the song, “I’m My Own Grandpaw.” In this case, most of the relationships seem to have involved a woman named Lula Belle McBride, who came from a large family and had bad luck in her marriages.
Lula McBride was first married in 1929 to James Hemmings, the widower of Allen Johnson’s daughter, Mary. Then in 1933, James Hemmings died. Allen Johnson’s grand-daughter, Sarepta Johnson, had died young, back in 1915. Her husband, Austin Holt, married the second time to Jettie Collins, sister of the above-named Straud and Jim Collins. Poor Jettie died very soon after, and Austin married a third time, to Lula McBride Hemmings, in about 1936.
The three drunken Virginians were only about 18-20 years old in 1912. The Collins boys grew up and married and went to work at the granite quarry in Mt. Airy, while Meredith Pell worked on the railroad. Straud Collins and Meredith Pell both married sisters of Lula McBride.
To sum up, Rev. Johnson’s sermon was interupted by his grandson-in-law’s future brothers-in-law, and his son-in-law’s future brothers-in-law. Straud Collins was both, first through his sister and then through his wife. Lula McBride was the second wife of Allen Johnson’s widowed son-in-law, who was her first husband, and she was the third wife of his widowed grandson-in-law, who was her second husband.
You could write a song about this if you could keep it all straight.
Austin Holt died in 1958 and left Lula widowed for the second time. She married a third time, to Rufus Samuel Gunnel, and was soon widowed again. Lula McBride Gunnell passed away in 1984 and was buried in the McBride Cemetery.
The theory of six degrees of separation says that we live in a small world and that we can find a connection to any other human being on the planet by no more than six relationships. In early twentieth century Westfield, all you needed was Lula Belle McBride.
Sources consulted: Mt. Airy News, Moody’s Funeral Home Records, and U. S. Census records, death certificates, marriage records, and cemetery records for Surry and Stokes Counties, N. C. and Patrick County, Va.