Franklin County, North Carolina: Professor Ephraim N. Dent (1851-1927), Louisburg

Ephraim Nitre Dent (1851-1927). Date unknown.

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The profession of teaching is one of the noblest and most self-sacrificing of all the callings to which men devote themselves. It is also a calling which, if meagre in its financial returns, is yet rich in rewards of another and higher kind. The teacher in teaching others teaches himself. In imparting to his pupils the knowledge of books he refreshes his own recollection and strengthens his hold on his own intellectual treasures. He also in coming in contact with the understandings of the young receives a stimulus for his own intellectual nature, and freshens his enthusiasms and his interest in life at the fountain of youthful vigor and hopefulness. And he has with all of this the added satisfaction of knowing that he is adding to the number of men and women of culture and training who will come forward and take up the tasks of a new generation.

These reflections bear with marked appropriateness on the career of Ephraim Nitre Dent, the subject of this sketch. He has given his life to the work of teaching, and that in the spirit of one who loves the work and loves those whom he teaches. He was born in Warren Co., N. C., May 12, 1851. His mother’s name was Diana Williams. By reference to the dates it will be seen that Mr. Dent was ten years of age at the beginning of the war and a youth of fifteen before emancipation came. Up to this time, he had, of course, had no schooling. His early education was obtained in the Presbyterian school at Louisburg, N. C. Later he attended St. Augustine College at Raleigh, N. C., and Biddle University at Charlotte. He was poor and was forced to rely on his own unaided exertions in getting an education and meeting his expenses during the time of his school experiences. It was for this reason that he did not carry his educational plans through to the full extent prompted by his ambition and aspiration. He left school in 1875, without having attained all that his heart was set on, but with rich heritage none the less, in the fruitage of his years of study and of sturdy effort against adverse conditions.

He began his teaching work in Warren Co., N. C., the county of his birth. He loves children and is keenly interested in the work of teaching. He has high ideals for the work, and keeps ever before his mind the picture of the true teacher and the great work, he is capable of accomplishing in the world when wholly dedicated to this work. He has succeeded in his life calling and is at present principal of the graded school in Louisburg, with which he has been identified for sixteen years.

Mr. Dent was married on Oct. 25, 1877, to Miss Lucy Long Shaw, daughter of Mr. Matthew Shaw and Mrs. Mary Shaw. They have twelve children. Those living are: Giotto N., Mary O., Vedeer L., Diana S., Willie C., Bayette R., Ferdinand W., and Wyonette Elizabeth Dent.

He is an elder in the Presbyterian church. His chief and favorite reaching is the Bible, through with that he joins the study of the best literature of our own day and country. He desires greatly a better understanding between races and labors unceasingly to that end. He urges upon his people that they seek by hard work and economy, not only to become education, but to become property owners and thus to have a stake of their own in the soil of the country in which they live.”1

Ephraim N. Dent listed in the Biddle Memorial Institute catalog, 1873, Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The institution was later renamed Biddle University in 1876, and Johnson C. Smith University in 1922.

I located Ephraim’s mother, Diana Williams, in the 1870 U. S. Census, Louisburg, Franklin County, North Carolina. Diana, aged thirty, was documented in the segregated section of Louisburg with her husband, Seneca Dent, also aged thirty, a farmer. Their household included their children: Becky, aged fifteen, Agnes, aged thirteen, Hattie, aged nine, and Pattie, aged seven. Seneca Dent was noted in possession of a personal estate worth one hundred and fifty dollars. It was noted that he was unable to read or write. 2 In the 1880 Census of Louisburg, Diana, aged forty-nine, is documented in a home with her husband, Seneca, a farmer, aged thirty-six, and children Marina, aged sixteen, John, aged thirteen, James, aged ten, Lousanna (or Louisianna), aged eight, and Mary M. and Lou Ella, both aged seven. 3

Ephraim appears in the 1880 Census documented as a teacher in Louisburg, aged twenty-nine. His household included his wife, Lucy Long Dent, aged twenty-six, and children Giotto Nitre Dent, age one, and Oglethorpe C. Dent, aged one month. Ephraim and Lucy lived one home over from Lucy’s parents, Matthew and Mary Shaw, Ephraim’s in-laws. Their household included Matthew, aged sixty, a farmer, wife Mary, aged fifty-four, daughters Julia, aged twenty, and Mary, aged thirteen (noted as teachers), and sons William, aged nineteen, and George, aged sixteen, both farm laborers. Matthew Shaw (1816-1896) was a deacon in Saint Paul Presbyterian Church, Louisburg. 4

The Franklin Times, November 30, 1894 5

Between 1880 and 1910, Prof. Ephraim N. Dent became an active leader in the social and civic affairs of Louisburg’s African American community. He served as the principal of Louisburg’s “colored ” graded school, a member of Saint Paul Presbyterian Church, and traveled extensively as a representative of the Presbyterian Church (Catawba District.) He also began investing in real estate on the south side of the Tar River along Main Street.

The Franklin Times, August 21, 1891 6
Gray’s Map of the City of Louisburg, Franklin County, North Carolina, ca.1882. Ephraim N. Dent’s real estate interests are outlined in red, adjacent to St. Paul Presbyterian Church, and the residence of John H. Williamson. UNC Libraries

I had a tough time identifying Ephraim in the 1900 Census, until a page-by-page search revealed him under the name “Ethan N. Gent,” a transcription error. Listed as a farmer, Ephraim’s (50) household included his wife, Lucy (46), daughters Vedeer (15), Dina (Diana, 12), Bayetta (5), and Wyonella (3 mos.), and sons Willie (7), and Ferdinand Wellington (4). Ephraim’s mother, Diana Williams Dent, sixty-eight years old, a widow, and sister Maggie Dent, age twenty-five, single, were also recorded in the household. Ephraim and Lucy’s daughters Vedeer and Dina (Diana) attended school. 7

In 1910, Professor Dent was documented in his residence in Louisburg on River Street. identified as a “principal graded school.” He lived with his wife, Lucy (56), daughters Mary (28, teacher), Vedeer (25), Dina (Diana, 22, teacher), Bayetta (16), and Ophelia (10), and sons Willie (18), and Ferdinand Wellington (14). 8

By 1920, Ephraim and family were documented on Main Street in Louisburg. Ephraim, aged sixty-nine, was noted as a farmer. His wife, Lucy, aged sixty-five, and daughter Wyonetta, aged twenty, were listed with no occupation. while son Willie, twenty-six, was a farmer like his father. Daughters Vedeer, thirty-two, Diana, twenty-eight, and Bayaetta, sixteen, were documented as teachers. All of the children were noted as single. 9

Professor Ephraim Nitre Dent passed away on July 30, 1927. The given cause of death was arteriosclerosis. Per the death certificate, Ephraim’s mother was Diana Williams; there was no information regarding his father. His informant, son William Clanton Dent, gave his father’s occupation as “teacher.” Ephraim was buried in Louisburg City Cemetery (also known as the “Colored Cemetery,” historically, and “Cemetery on the Hill”) on August 2. 1927, by undertaker William White. 10 Ephraim rests in the family plot in Louisburg Cemetery with his wife, Lucy Long Shaw Dent, and children Diana Savage Dent, Giotto Nitre Dent, Mary Oma Dent, Oglethorpe G. Dent, Vedeer Lewis Dent, P. Dent, and Charles Sumner Dent. His son, William Clanton Dent, rests in Raleigh National Cemetery, Raleigh, North Carolina, and daughter Wyonetta Elizabent Dent Cotman (Thomas), passed away in 1989, and was buried in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia. Ephraim’s daugher, Bayetta R. Dent Blount (Percy), passed away in 1990, and is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery. Columbus, Ohio.

Grave of Ephraim N. Dent, Louisburg City Cemetery, 2016. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Grave of Lucy Long Shaw Dent, Louisburg City Cemetery, 2016. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
The Ephraim N. Dent Family plot, 2016. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Cemetery sign and main entrance. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

Reflecting on his extensive real estate holdings in Louisburg, I looked to see if Ephraim N. Dent left a will, or died intestate. I located his will on Ancestry. and include it here to provide more information on his real estate interests and family genealogy.

“I, Ephraim N. Dent, of the aforesaid County and State, being of sound mind, but considering the uncertainty of my earthly existence do make and declare this my last will and testament:

First. My executor, hereinafter named, shall give my body a decent burial, suitable to the wishes of my friends and relatives and pay all funeral expenses, together with all my just debts, out of the first moneys which may come into his hands belonging to my estate.

Second. I give and devise to my beloved wife Lucy Long Dent my dwelling house, household and kitchen furniture, the land on which it now stands and we reside, containing two and 35/100 Acres (c.35/100 A) with money, notes and interest on same and the rents from all my tenant houses for her natural life.

After which the said property name above, as it may stand, then it to go to my five (5) daughters, Mary O. Dent, Vedeer L. Dent, Diana S. Dent, Bayetta R. Dent and Wyonella E. Dent; so long as they remain single and maintain their maiden name and character (A marriage or fall from virtue, makes void the right to live in my dwelling house).

Third; I give and devise to my son Giotta C. Dent and his heirs in fee simple a lot and house No. 1, on Maple Street, lot contains 47/100 of an acre.

Four; I give and devise to my son William C. Dent and his heirs in fee simple, a house and lot No. 2, on Maple Street, lot contains 35/100 of an acre.

Five; I give and devise to my son Ferdinand W. Dent and his heirs a lot and house in fee simple a lot and hose No. 3, Maple Street, lot contains 36/100 of an acre.

Six; I give and devise to my 3 daughters Diana S. Dent, Bayetta R. Dent, and Wyonella Dent two houses each situated on an acre of land on Main Street, Louisburg, N. C. Land purchased of  Mrs. Mary Hilliard estate; I give and devise to my daughter Diana S. Dent, and her heirs in fee simple a lot and two houses on Main Street, house at the corner of Ettric Hazelwood’s lot and 2nd, the house in the same line, the said lot is to contain 1/3 acre.

Seven; I give and devise to my daughter Bayetta R. Dent, her heirs in fee simple one lot and two houses, adjacent to the Diana S. Dent’s lot; third house and fourth house on the same line, the said lot is to contain 1/3 acre of land; And I give and devise to my last daughter Wyonella E. Dent and heirs in fee simple one lot and two houses on the same acre of land, but one house is situated at the Louis Boone and John Green’s corner and the other house is the Louise Malone old homestead, built on Main Street near the Louis Boone corner.

Eight; I give and devise to my two daughters Mary O. Dent and Vedeer L. Dent one lot of land between them situated on the Seaboard Rail Road, the lot contains 1-1/2 acres more or less land purchased from Mrs. Rufus Place estate.

Ninth; My will and desire is that all the residue of my estate if any, after taken out the devises and legacies above mentioned, shall be sold and all farming implements, live stock of any kind and interest in any grove crops or produces and the debts owing to me collected and if there should be any surplus over and above the payments of debts, expenses and legacies, that such surplus shall be equally divided and paid over to my said wife and children in equal proportion, share and alike.

Tenth; And whereas, my said son Ferdinand W. Dent is a minor of the age of about 16 years and will not be of full age of twenty one until Sept 1916 and also my daughter Wyonella E. Dent is a minor about the age of 13 years and will not be of full age of twenty one until February, 1921. Now therefore, my will and desire is that my brother-in-law Ge. C. Shaw of Oxford N. C. be and he is hereby constituted and appointed guardian of the said Ferdinand W. Dent and Wyonella Dent, to have and to hold the custody of their estate until the said children shall arrive at full age of twenty-one years.

Eleventh; I hereby constitute and appoint my trusty son William Clanton Dent, my lawful executor to all intents and purposes, to execute this my last will and testament according to the true intent and meaning of the same, and every part and clause thereof.

In testimony whereof, I the said Ephraim N. Dent to hereunto set my hand and seal, this 28th day of August, 1913.”11

  1. A. B. Caldwell. The History of the American Negro and his Institutions. Atlanta, Georgia: A. B. Caldwell Publishing Company, 1921. Image copy. Internet Archive, : 2008.
  2. Ancestry, “1870 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry ( : accessed 14 November 2017), Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina, dist. Louisburg, p. 2=37, citing “Year: 1870; Census Place: Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1137; Page: 609A; Family History Library Film: 552636.”
  3. Ancestry, “1880 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry ( : accessed 14 November 2017), Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina, dist. 0095, p. 27, citing, “Year: 1880; Census Place: Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: 963; Page: 671C; Enumeration District: 096.”
  4. Ancestry, “1880 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry ( : accessed 17 November 2017; Louisburg, Franklin County, North Carolina, dist. 097; citing, “Year: 1880; Census Place: Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: 963; Page: 691A; Enumeration District: 097.”
  5. The Franklin Times (Louisburg, North Carolina), 30 November 1894, p. 3, c. 2; image copy, Newspapers ( : accessed 17 January 2020.)
  6. The Franklin Times (Louisburg, North Carolina), 21 August 1891, p. 3, c. 2; image copy, Newspapers ( : accessed 17 January 2020.)
  7. Ancestry, “1900 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry ( :accessed 17 January 2020.), Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina, dist. 0048, p. 34; citing, “Year: 1900; Census Place: Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Page: 17; Enumeration District: 0048; FHL microfilm: 1241195.”
  8. Ancestry, “1910 Census,” database online, Ancestry ( : accessed 17 January 2020), Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina, dist. 0029, p. 25; citing, “Year: 1910; Census Place: Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: T624_1111; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 0029; FHL microfilm: 1375124.”
  9. Ancestry, “1920 Census,” database online, Ancestry ( : accessed 17 January 2020), Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina, dist. 0034, p. 35, citing, “Year: 1920; Census Place: Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: T625_1299; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 34.”
  10. “North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 17 January 2020), certificate image, Ephriam N. Dent, 30 July 1927, no. 285, citing, “North Carolina State Archives; Raleigh, North Carolina; North Carolina Death Certificates.”
  11. The will of Ephraim N. Dent was probated on August 4, 1927, Franklin County, North Carolina. Source: Will and Inventory Records, and Index, Devisor and Devisee, 1785-1964; Author: North Carolina. Superior Court (Franklin County); Probate Place: Franklin, North Carolina.

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