Portsmouth, Virginia: Sad endings, and new beginnings

A few weeks ago, I came across a sad story about the death of Harrison Worrell, an elder resident of Portsmouth, Virginia.

Walked Overboard and Drowned – Saturday night an old colored man named Harrison Worrell, aged 84 years, who live at 1326 Columbia street extended, started to visit his son, on Western Branch. When he reached the bridge, instead of going on it, he walked overboard and was drowned. The old man’s mind had been badly affected for some time and he was never allowed to go out alone. On this occasion he stole off. The body was recovered during the day. Justice Rutter was notified and went out there, but after hearing all the testimony he decided that an inquest was unnecessary. The remains were brought to his home

The Norfolk-Virginian, July 20, 1897

The Richmond Planet, also carried the story.

Mr. Harrison Worrell, the father of Mr. George Worrell was found dead on last Monday at Western Branch, Norfolk County, Va., by some unknown men. The news came to Mr. Worrell through Mr. Bedgood. His funeral was preached at his son’s residence at two o’clock by Rev. A. L. Gaines; afterwards he was quickly carried to Mount Olive Cemetery by our noted undertaker, Mr. Samuel Fisher.

The Richmond Planet, July 31, 1897

From the description, Harrison Worrell may have had Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most common forms of dementia. I suppose the death notices resonated with me because my paternal grandmother, Lillian Vann Young Orton Cook, a Portsmouth, Virginia native, was diagnosed with the disease not long before she passed on in 2008. But I’d also seen the Worrell name before, while researching a branch of my paternal ancestry in Hertford County, North Carolina.

Twelve years ago, a paternal cousin and family griot, Belvidere Sanita Duke Andrews, told me about Como, a small town in northern Hertford County. On a typically hot and humid summer day, we’d gathered in the living room of her home, located in Portsmouth, Virginia’s historic Truxtun District. Cousin Belvie described Como as the seat of our maternal ancestry, tracing back to ancestors John and Fannie Cooper Vann of Maneys Neck, Hertford County, my great-great-great-grandparents.

Como was originally known as Buckhorn Church, and is located in Maneys Neck Township in northern Hertford County near the Virginia state line. Maneys Neck was named after James Maney, a prominent colonial-era settler to the region, and descendant of French Huguenots who’d originally immigrated to New York in the 1600s.1

I remember locating Como on an early map of Hertford County from 1863. Many of the surnames in our family tree, including Picot, Cooper, Riddick, Vann, Myrick, and Britt, were documented, associated with plantations in the region.

Map of Hertford County, North Carolina. Library of Congress

Using Cousin Belvie’s priceless oral history as a foundation and guide, I was able to trace the Vann Family one generation beyond John and Fannie Vann, to Abram (b. ca. 1817-1889) and Edney Vann (born ca. 1822), John’s parents, and my great-great-great-great-grandparents. Abram Vann was one of the original trustees of Mill Neck Missionary Baptist Church, established in 1866.2While enslaved by the Vann Family, he attended Buckhorn Church as one of the congregation’s “colored” members, documented in official church records as “Abram of Vann.” I have not found any record of Harrison Worrell in Buckhorn Baptist Church’s records, but a “Moore of Worrell” and “Patty of Worrell” were also members of the church, and baptized on the same day as Abram.

In Conference August 14th 1842 – Elder E. Howell Supt.

After prayer the door was opened for the admission of members…also coloured Brethren Moore of WorrellTom of MyrickRiddick of Britt – and Abram of Vann, also sisters Patty of WorrellRindyEmmy – and July all of E. Brett – was unanimously received and baptized Lords day.

Records of Buckhorn Baptist Church, North Carolina State Archives
Death notice of Abram Vann, The Murfreesboro Index, April 19, 1889. Newspapers.com.
Mill Neck Missionary Baptist Church (est. 1866), Como, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, June 10, 2012. All rights reserved.
Buckhorn Baptist Church (est. 1835), Como, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, June 12, 2012. All rights reserved.

Considering Harrison’s ancestral history and its proximity to my own ancestry, I reviewed the map again after reading Harrison’s death notices. The estates of James Worrell and Dr. Worrell, were documented on the map, west of Como near the Meherrin River.

The Worrell Estate is featured in the upper left corner. Hertford County, North Carolina Map, source: Library of Congress.

Records concerning the Worrell Family of Hertford County’s northern district revealed a James Worrell who died in 1846, the father of six children, four sons, and two daughters who died in infancy. In James Worrell’s will, probated in 1846, his son Dr. Cyrus E. Worrell, received a tract “lying on the Northside of the road leading to Boon’s Bridge, containing by recent survey ninety eight & half acres.”3

Son James A. Worrell received an estate in excess of 250 acres, “the old plantation called the Worrell tract lying near Meherrin river containing by last survey two hundred & seventy five & half acres,” and “the following servants named as follows, Peter, Harrison, Luke & Annis & her children.4

In the 1870 Federal Census, I located a Harrison Worrell and family living in Maneys Neck. The household included Harrison, a farmer (51), wife Barbara (nee Britt, 33), daughters Marie (21), Bettie (16), Dinah (15), Susannah (2), and sons Junius (18), Govan (12), George (11), Robert (9), and William (10 mos). Harrison’s family lived next door to a Peter Worrell, who was born about 1805. Peter’s household included his wife, Marinda, age fifty, Frederick Worrell, age twelve, and Marie, age ten, possibly grandchildren. Both the Harrison Worrell and Peter Worrell families were living next to the family of James A. Worrell, who inherited ownership of Harrison and Peter Worrell per his father’s will in 1846. My ancestors, Abram and Edney (Edna) Vann, lived nearby.5

The Harrison and Peter Worrell Families, Maneys Neck Township, Hertford County, North Carolina. 1870 U. S. Census, Ancestry.com
Abram and Edney Vann, Maneys Neck Township, Hertford County, North Carolina. 1870 U. S. Census, Ancestry.com. My great-great-great-grandparents, John and Fannie Cooper Vann, are also documented, as the “John and Mannie Britt” Family. They were later identified as John and Fannie Vann in the 1880 U. S. Census. Ancestry.com

By 1880, Harrison Worrell and family had relocated to New York City, New York. They were documented in the home of their daughter, Elizabeth, on W. 30th Street. Elizabeth, or “Bettie,” was the wife of Joseph Reed, who was from the Blackwater District of Princess Anne County, Virginia, now the independent City of Virginia Beach, Virginia. The couple married on July 20, 1875, in Manhattan.6In the 1880 Census, both Harrison and son-in-law Joseph Reed were employees of a local hotel, Harrison as a waiter, and Joseph Reed as a porter.7

Harrison Worrell and family, New York City, 1880 Census. Ancestry.com

By 1885, Harrison and Barbara had moved again, this time down south to Portsmouth, Virginia. They settled in a home on Godwin Street. Harrison is documented in Portsmouth City directories working as a general laborer during this period.8

In ensuing years, I lost track of daughters Susannah, Elizabeth, and her husband Joseph Reed, as well as sons Junius, and William. Harrison and Barbara’s son Govan eventually became a longshoreman, and passed away in 1929, Manhattan, New York.9

Some of Harrison and Barbara’s children also moved to the Tidewater area. Daughter Dinah (ca. 1857-1920) married Cornelius Kindred, of North Carolina, about 1874. They had four children, Junius, Thomas Harrison, Delia, and Edward Harrison. The family lived briefly in Hampton and Portsmouth, Virginia, while Cornelius worked as a railroad helper. Dinah passed away in 1920, and is buried in Mt. Olive Cemetery, part of the Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex (est 1879). After her death, Cornelius moved to New York, where he passed away a short time later in 1921.10

Harrison and Barbara’s son Robert Lee Worrell, Sr., married Carrie Daniel Jones, of Jackson, Northampton County, North Carolina, daughter of Robert Jones and Caroline Holloman. The couple had three children: Carolyn Catherine Worrell Jackson (1905-1992), Lillian Ann Worrell Davis (1890-1958), and Robert Lee, Jr. (b. 1892).

Robert Lee Worrell, Sr., died in 1918, and was buried in Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), with his sister Dinah, and father Harrison. His wife, Carrie Daniel Jones Worrell, passed away in 1928, and was also interred in Mt. Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex). To date, the gravestones of Harrison, his wife Barbara, their daughter, Dinah Worrell Kindred, and son Robert Lee Worrell, Sr., have not been located within the cemetery complex.11

Mount Olive Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Cemetery Complex), August 3, 2013. Harrison Worrell, his daughter Dinah Worrell Kindred, and his son Robert Lee Worrell, Sr., are all buried somewhere in the cemetery. Harrison’s wife, Barbara, may have passed away in Como, Hertford County, North Carolina. None of their gravestones have been located. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
The gravestone of Carrie Daniel Jones Worrell, wife of Robert Lee Worrell, Sr., and daughter-in-law of Harrison Worrell. Mt. Olive Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 10, 2010. All rights reserved.

It was to son George Washington Worrell’s home that Harrison was brought after his untimely death in 1897. Over the years, George had become a successful grocer. He married Sarah Frances Overton prior to their move to Portsmouth. George and Sarah had four children: sons George Ralph, Horace, and Julius, and daughter, Sarah Virginia. George’s wife, Sarah, died in 1902, and rests in Mt. Calvary Cemetery. After her death, George moved to New York, near his brother, Govan and sister, Elizabeth Worrell Reed.

George Washington Worrell, Sr. died in 1948, New York. His obituary, carried in the New Journal and Guide, read:

Former Portsmouth Business Man Dies in New York City – PORTSMOUTH – Funeral services for George Worrell, prominent Portsmouth business man of many years ago, who died Monday at his home, 45 West 138th street, New York city, were held Thursday afternoon, at 4 o’clock, at Corprew Funeral Home. Interment took place in Mt. Calvary cemetery.

The rites were conducted by the Rev. H. B. Barkley, pastor of Emanuel AME Church, where the deceased was an outstanding member and church officer before leaving Portsmouth in 1909.

Funeral services were also held in Mother Zion AME Church, New York, where Mr. Worrell was an active member before his health became impaired.

SURVIVORS

He is survived by a daughter, Miss Sarah V. Worrell, who made her home with her father in New York; three sons, Ralph W. Worrell, Dr. Horace Worrell, and Julius Worrell, and five grandchildren.

His closest survivors residing in Portsmouth are two nieces, Mrs. Lillie A. Davis and Mrs. Carolyn W. Jackson, both of Truxton. Mrs. Beulah Lee, another niece, resides in Baltimore.

The New Journal and Guide, July 3, 1948
Gravestone of George Washington Worrell, Mt. Calvary Cemetery. Photo: November 15, 2010. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, all rights reserved.
Gravestone of Sarah Frances Overton Worrell, Mt. Calvary Cemetery, November 15, 2010. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, all rights reserved.

Research into my own family history helped me with Harrison Worrell’s story, and I again marveled at how the connections between family and ancestral communities often thread together like the thousands of waterways that define Tidewater, Virginia. In this story, Harrison Worrell’s family history intertwines with a branch of my paternal ancestry, on a trail that leads to Hertford County, to Como and Maneys Neck, North Carolina. They were once names that sounded so strange to me, first spoken aloud years ago, by our family griot. Now these locations, and their history, hold new meaning for me.

I thought about Harrison’s descendants, and wonder if I’ll ever be able to meet them. What may I be able to learn from them? Which stories may they share? Family history research understandably leads to endless questions and frustrations, yet endless possibilities remain. Each precious answer brings important understandings, forever emphasizing the subsequent need to preserve long suppressed stories, for my family, and for so many others.

My journey into family history and cemetery preservation began twelve years ago, and I reflect back on these years fully, with all the disappointments, but in true appreciation of all that has been accomplished. In some ways, I don’t believe I’m entirely there, hoping to make a difference. Sometimes I just don’t see it; some developments are simply maddening, and the process seems too slow. Life is nothing if not a constant learning process. Thankfully, there’s an increasing amount of clarity as the years pass. If any Harrison Worrell descendants, or anyone who thinks they may be a Harrison Worrell descendant, happen to read this blog, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to hear from you! We have a lot to talk about.

  1. Buckhorn Church was renamed “Como” in 1883, after Lake Como, now a resort in the Lombardy Region of Italy. The resort has been included on film in recent years, as the backdrop for the wedding scene between Anakin Skywalker and Padme in “Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones.” See: “36 Hours: Lake Como, Italy,” New York Times, August 10, 2014.
  2. From the original deed of purchase: “This Indenture made this 24th of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-six, between Julian Picot of the County of Hertford and State of North Carolina of the first part and Abraham Vann, Robert Harts, and James Darden (freedmen) all of said County and State of the second part. Witnesseth that the said Julian Picot..for an in consideration of the sum of twenty dollars to him in hand paid and by these presents, bargained and sold and delivered unto the said Abraham Vann, Robert Hart and James Darden of the County and State aforesaid a certain piece of land lying and being in said County of Hertford and State aforesaid, bounded as follows to wit: Beginning at a sweet gum (marked) on the Maneys Ferry road, thence down the road towards the fork seventy one yards to a white oak post, thence seventy one yards in a westerly course to a white oak post, thence seventy one yards in a northerly course to a white oak post thence seventy one yards to the first station containing once acre of ground no more or less. This indenture furthermore Witnesseth that the said Freedmen Abraham Vann, Robert Hart and James Darden have purchased said parcel of land not for their own private benefit or…but to erect thereon a Missionary Baptist Church and School House and that the said Freedmen Abraham Vann, Robert Hart and James Darden are only a committee to purchase said land for the above specified purpose and to act as such in corporate capacity until displaced. Witnesseth furthermore that said piece of land is not and shall not be used for any private purpose whatever and that no other buildings are to be erected thereon such only as are above mentioned.” Hertford County Deed Book A, p. 324. North Carolina State Archives.
  3. Hertford County, North Carolina, Wills, 1830-1856, Vol. A, Will of James Worrell, imaged in “North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: accessed 30 September 2019).
  4. Hertford County, NC, North Carolina Wills, 1830-1856, Vol. A, Will of James Worrell (1846).
  5. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1870,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 2 January, 2019), entry for Harrison Worrell (b. ca. 1819), Hertford County, North Carolina, dist. Maneys Neck, p. 12, citing “Year: 1870; Census Place: Maneys Neck, Hertford, North Carolina; Page: 354B; Family History Library Film: 552642.”
  6. New York City, New York, “New York, New York, Extracted Marriage Index,” Elizabeth Worrell-Joseph Reed, 20 July 1875; Ancestry (https://ancestry.com: accessed October 1, 2019).
  7. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1880,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 2 January 2019), entry for Harrison Worrell (b. ca. 1819), New York City, New York, dist. 287, p. 44, citing “Year: 1880; Census Place: New York City, New York, New York; Roll: 880; Page: 249D; Enumeration District: 287.”
  8. Ancestry, “US City Directories, 1822-1995,,” Portsmouth City, Virginia, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed October 1, 2019).
  9. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1920,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 2 October, 2019), entry for Govan Worrell (b. ca. 1865), New York City, New York, dist. , p. 11, citing ” Year: 1920; Census Place: Manhattan Assembly District 19, New York, New York; Roll: T625_1221; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 1336; Ancestry, “New York, New York, Extracted Death Index, 186201948,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 October 2019, entry for Govan Worrell, citing, ” Original data: Index to New York City Deaths 1862-1948. Indices prepared by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives.”
  10. Ancestry, “U. S. Census Records,” 1910-1920, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 October 2019); Ancestry.com. “Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014” database ( https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 October, 2019), entry for Dinah Kindred, citing death certificates no. 322; Ancestry, “New York, New York, Extracted Death Index, 186201948,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 October 2019, entry for Cornelius Kindred, citing, ” Original data: Index to New York City Deaths 1862-1948. Indices prepared by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives.”
  11. Ancestry.com. “Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014” database ( https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 2 October, 2019), entries for Robert Lee Worrell, Sr., and Carrie Daniel Jones Worrell citing death certificates nos. 4542 and 25938, Portsmouth, Virginia.

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