Warren County, North Carolina: The Henry Williams Family Cemetery

The Henry Williams Family Cemetery from the road. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 2, 2016. All rights reserved.

The Henry Williams Family Cemetery is located in Sandy Creek Township, Warren County, North Carolina. I first noticed it a few years ago, as we traveled along the winding state routes of Warren on a routine family research trip. From the road, I’d spied the tip of what appeared to be a lone headstone amidst the felled trees, limbs, and other debris, and decided it warranted further inspection. In rural areas, it’s quite common to see small, family cemeteries along the roadside, situated in front yards, or in the middle of fields. I’d considered our extensive family roots in Warren and surrounding counties, and couldn’t help but wonder, was it a possible family member?

As I approached, I saw that there were two graves in the family cemetery. The most prominent was placed in honor of Henry Williams (1878-1945), the son of Henry and Lurena Williams.

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 2, 2016. All rights reserved.

I’ve seen gravestones that contain a physical likeness of the deceased, but Henry’s contains two photos. The first, near the top, depicts Henry with what may have been his prized horse. Considering the photo may be over seventy years old, it remains in great condition.

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 2, 2016. All rights reserved.

Below the gravestone inscription is another photo, presumably of Henry’s favorite hound.

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 2, 2016. All rights reserved.

Henry Williams’ wife, Lizzie Christmas Williams, is also buried in the cemetery. The couple married on July 7, 1897, in neighboring Vance County, North Carolina. Lizzie was the daughter of George and Dollie (Dolly) Christmas. According to her death certificate, she passed away on January 18, 1969, and was buried in the “Williams Family Cemetery” on January 22, 1969. The Shepard Funeral Home of Henderson, Vance County, North Carolina, handled the arrangements.

Modern gravestone of Lizzie Christmas Williams (1880-1969). I didn’t have my snake boots with me on this trip, so this is as close to the gravestone as I dared. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 2, 2016. All rights reserved.
The Henry Williams Family Cemetery. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 2, 2016. All rights reserved.

Before we left the area, I thought about the unique nature of Henry’s gravestone, and figured he may have had an obituary placed in the local newspaper. Although neither Henry or Lizzie are part of our current family tree (yet), the headstone photos engendered a certain curiosity. We stopped by the Warrenton Public Library (main branch), and found one, in the March 2, 1945 edition of the Warren Record.


Well Known Negro Dies on Tuesday

Henry Williams, well known negro farmer of the Afton section, died of a heart attack on Tuesday night at his home. He had gotten up after going to bed, and stating to his wife that he had forgotten to shut up a bull went down to his stables. When he failed to return to the house, his wife went down to the barn where she found the animal properly penned and her husband dead. He was about 66 years old.

Funeral services will be held at Greenwood Church on Sunday afternoon and burial will be at the home.

He is survived by his wife, Lizzie Williams; one brother, Mason Williams, and several nieces and nephews.

Williams was born in Warren County where he spent his entire life. He was considered the leading negro farmer of the county and one of the best farmers of this section, preaching and practicing the doctrine of living at home and building up the land.

He was respected by both white and colored. Yesterday one of the leading white citizens of the town, prepared the following tribute to the life of Henry Williams and asked that it be incorporated in notice of his death;

Not withstanding his color, the people of Warren County, both white and colored, learned with sorrow of the death of Henry Williams, which occurred on Tuesday night at his home near Warrenton.

While his age is not definitely known by the writer, it is believed to be about 66. He was born near Shocco Springs and spent his entire life in Warren County where he and his good wife, Lizzie, owned and operated most successfully one of the best kept farms to be found anywhere. He was a man of stirling worth and character, whose word was his bond – dependable and trustworthy at all times. He was a great lover of sports and always kept a good pack of foxhounds and a good horse to follow them with and it was his great delight to have his white friends follow him in the chase. He enjoyed the full respect of all his white friends, and that included all who knew him, and he will be greatly missed by all. It is earnestly hoped many of his race will emulate the life of this man. Would that there were more Henry Williams. The county, the state, yea, the nation would be a better and happier place in which to live.” – The Warren Record, March 2, 1945

Greenwood Baptist Church, Warrenton, NC. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 4, 2015.
Greenwood Baptist Church, where Henry Williams’ funeral was held. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, April 4, 2015.

4 thoughts on “Warren County, North Carolina: The Henry Williams Family Cemetery

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: