Chesterfield County, South Carolina: Prof. Moses Arthur Butt, Cheraw

Moses Arthur Butt - Foundry Hill Cemetery Cheraw SC - Copy
Prof. Moses Arthur Butt (1859-1928)

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Prof. M. Arthur Butt, of Cheraw, is a capable educator with a record of good work as a teacher in three States – Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He is a native Virginian, having been born at Norfolk on February 8, 1859.

His father was Reuben Butt. His mother, before her marriage, was Ellene Jefferson. Her story is a most pathetic one. She was free born in Montreal, Can., and lived with her father who was a caterer. Her mother had died in infancy. The father was induced on board a vessel by a sea captain to prepare a meal and carried his little daughter with him. While thus engaged, the vessel sailed. Later the father sickened and died in the Gulf of Mexico and the little girl instead of being returned to her home, was illegally and inhumanely sold into slavery. Years later the property left in Montreal was recovered.

Young Butt went to school at Deep Creek as a boy and later entered Hampton. The thoroughness of the work required at this institution accounts for his later success as a teacher.

He began teaching in Norfolk County and was Principal of the South Street Graded School, Portsmouth, six years and in the Norfolk county schools seven years. He taught in Norfolk Carolina several years. In 1908 he established a Graded and Industrial school at Bayboro, N. C. After a struggle of two years, building up that school, was employed as principal of the Graded School at Vineland for three years. From there he and his wife were given the largest Graded School in Pasquotank county, near Elizabeth City. The term being too short, he came to South Carolina and has for four years been at the head of the school at Cheraw. The school covers seven grades and has the regular nine month’s course. There is a faculty of five teachers and an enrollment of more than three hundred. Mrs. Butt has charge of the Domestic Science Department. She is a native of North Carolina and was, before her marriage to Prof. Butt on June 22, 1911, Miss Mary E. Phelps. She was educated at the N. C. State Normal and at the Roanoke Collegiate Institute.

As he looks back over his early days, Prof. Butt realizes that the encouragement of his father, who was most ambitious for his son, and the example of his teacher, were great resources of inspiration.

He has traveled extensively and is well informed. His favorite reading is history and his favorite branch in school, mathematics.

He has not been active in politics, but is a Mason and a member of the A. M. E. Church.

He believes that the permanent progress of the race must rest on education and so devotes himself to this, the largest task of the race.”1


Professor Moses Arthur Butt was born and raised in the Deep Creek District of Norfolk County (now the City of Chesapeake), Virginia. In the 1870 Census, he was documented in a household with his father Reuben Butt (49), a laborer, mother Ellen(e)(39), brothers Reuben Jr. (15), Isaiah (9), and William H. (3), and his little sister Josephine (8 mos.).2 In the 1880 Census, Moses, aged twenty-one, was documented as a school teacher. He lived in Deep Creek with his father Reuben (55), mother Ellen(e)(45), brothers Randolph (22), a lighterman, William H. (14), and sisters Josephine (11), Matilda (8), and Amy (5).3 Mose’s father, Reuben Butt, briefly served as a Justice of the Peace in Deep Creek District of Norfolk County between 1872 and 1874. He passed away in 1891, Deep Creek, Norfolk County, Virginia.4

In the 1900 Census, Moses, aged forty-one, lived with his sister, Josephine, twenty-eight, in Deep Creek. Josephine was the wife of Daniel Ralph, a farmer.5

Interestingly, the census record notes that Moses had been married for seventeen years as of 1900. Although his biography made no mention of it, I located a marriage record for Moses to Miss Hannah Williams, daughter of Abraham and Mariah Williams, on April 9, 1883, Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina.6 Moses was also documented in the 1900 Census of Washington, Beaufort County, as a school teacher, and lived with Hannah in a home on Respess Street.7

Between 1903 and 1908, Portsmouth City directories indicate that Moses lived near the historic district of Lincolnsville, and was the Principal of the South Street School for the education of Portsmouth’s African American children.

Prof. Moses Arthur Butt, Principal of Portsmouth, Virginia’s South Street School for African American children, 1908 Portsmouth City Directory. Ancestry.com
The location of the South Street School, Portsmouth, Virginia. 1920 Sanborn Map, Library of Virginia

In the 1910 Census, Moses was documented as a married, fifty-year-old industrial school teacher. The record indicates that Moses’ mother, Ellen(e), was born free in Canada, while his father Reuben was born in Virginia. In 1911, Moses married Creswell, North Carolina native Miss Mary E. Phelps, daughter of Lawrence and Jane Phelps, in Richmond, Virginia.8

In 1916, Moses A. Butt became the principal of the “colored” graded school in Cheraw, Chesterfield county, South Carolina, and began to distinguish himself as a progressive director of the institution. His work, and improvements to the school’s curriculum, were recorded by the Cheraw Chronicle.

Cheraw Colored
The Cheraw Colored Graded School. Date unknown. South Carolina Department of Archives and History

At the invitation of Prof. A. M. Butt, principal of the Cheraw graded school for colored children, we paid that school a visit last Friday afternoon. We were amazed at what we found in this school and it is impossible for us to adequately describe things as we found them.

This school, with an enrollment of probably sixty to seventy scholars, is presided over by Prof. A. M. Butt and his wife. They not only are teaching the children reading, writing, arithmetic, etc., but – and this was the surprise we met with—they are teaching them how to work.

The first thing we saw was the cooking department. This department is just an ordinary cook room, nothing in it but just such articles as are to be found in probably 75 per cent of cook rooms. Here the girls are taught to cook – not theoretically, but to prepare the articles and cook them.

Next, we were shown all manner of article and other small garments — ….very plain, made by the smaller girls, and some more elaborately finished, some edged with crochet, tatting, hair pin trimming, and there was a splendid showing of center pieces for tables, and bureau scarfs made in all manner of styles and out of all kinds of threads and cloths.

Next, we were shown all kinds of baskets, and other articles too numerous to mention, made out of raffia. You will just have to see these articles to appreciate them. All of this work is practically under the direction of Prof. Butts’ wife. In another department was a splendid showing of door mats made by the boys under the direction of Prof. Butt himself. These mats took memory back to our young days – they were all made from shucks. There was the plain old fashioned shuck mat and then the new style tuffed mat made of the same material. Twine strings are used as a binder in these mats while in the olden times the binder was a strip of string taken from a hickory block. Prof. Butt says the twine binder is much superior to the old style binder.

As before said, we were surprised at what we found going on in this school and we wish every person in Cheraw could visit the school and see for themselves what the boys and girls are being taught.

Prof. Butt and his wife are certainly doing good work. More room is needed and more equipment, but we are satisfied no trouble along this line will be experienced once people learn just what is being done.

We expect to have more to say about the work of this school, but before closing this article, there is one thing more we wish to say, and that is, in all our experience we have never seen better behavior among a crowd of boys and girls than we saw during our visit at this school.”9

Cheraw Graded School Auditorium. South Carolina Department of Archives and History
Cheraw School Principal’s residence. South Carolina Department of Archives and History
The Cheraw Chronicle, October 5, 191610

Under the direction of Prof. Moses A. Butt, 1916 was the most successful year in the Cheraw Colored Graded School’s history. Upon the commencement ceremony, held at Pee Dee Union Baptist Church, Cheraw, the Cheraw Chronicle reported:


Our commencement exercise began Tuesday evening May 30, at the Pee Dee Baptist church at which time a very unique program was executed by the first, second and third grades, which reflected credit to the trainers and pupils. On Wednesday evening at 8 o’clock sharp the final closing exercises began, the program was from the beginning to end enthusiastically carried out without blunder, to the delight of the immense audience. For the first in the history of the colored graded school four were presented certificates for having completed the course of study. Viz: Nettie Pegues, Rachel E. Adams, Sophronia Wilson and Alice V. Streator. The certificates were presented in well choses remarks by Rev. T. S. Strong. In language appropriate for the occasion, the prizes were presented by Revs. H. Bingham and G. W. Long. We are reliably informed that the exercises far excelled any previous program rendered. Each night the edifice was crowded, yet close attention was given and good order prevailed. Thus ended the most successful term of the colored graded school under the principalship of M. A. Butt.”11

Pee Dee Union Baptist Church, Cheraw, Chesterfield County, South Carolina. Library of Congress

In the 1920 Census of Cheraw, Prof. Moses A. Butt, aged forty-eight, and his wife, Mary, aged thirty-eight, were documented in their residence on Huger Street. Prof. Butt was documented as a high school professor, while Mary was noted as an industrial school teacher.12

Professor Moses Arthur Butt continued teaching Cheraw’s African American children until his death from heart complications on February 15, 1928. He was interred in Foundry Hill, a five-acre historic African American cemetery, on February 18, 1928.13 His wife, Mary E. J. Phelps Butt, also continued her commitment to teaching until her death on February 3, 1938, and rests in Foundry Hill Cemetery with her husband.14


  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, https://archive.org/ : 2008.
  2. Ancestry, “1870 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ :accessed 4 February 2020.),. Norfolk, Virginia, dist. Deep Creek, p. 12; citing, “ Year: 1870; Census Place: Deep Creek, Norfolk, Virginia; Roll: M593_1666; Page: 33B; Family History Library Film: 553165.”
  3. Ancestry, “1880 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ :accessed 12 February 2017), Deep Creek, Norfolk, Virginia dist. 060, p. 36; citing, “Year: 1880; Census Place: Deep Creek, Norfolk, Virginia; Roll: 1380; Page: 47A; Enumeration District: 060.”
  4. The Norfolk Virginian (Norfolk, Virginia), 29 May 1872, p. 1, c. 5; image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com: accessed 11 February 2020).
  5. Ancestry, “1900 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ :accessed 12 February 2020.), Deep Creek, Norfolk, Virginia, dist. 0035, p. 14; citing, “Year: 1900; Census Place: Deep Creek, Norfolk, Virginia; Page: 7; Enumeration District: 0035; FHL microfilm: 1241719.”
  6. The couple may have divorced, as Hannah was later noted in the 1910 U. S. Census of Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina as a widow. She passed away in 1917, and was buried in Washington’s Cedar Hill Cemetery. “North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011.” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ :accessed 14 February 2020), Moses A. Butt and Hannah Williams, 9 April 1883; citing ” Series: Marriage Register (1851 – 1982),” North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC..”
  7. Ancestry, “1900 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ :accessed 12 February 2020.), Washington, Beaufort, North Carolina dist. 0012, p. 34; citing, “Year: 1900; Census Place: Washington, Beaufort, North Carolina; Page: 12; Enumeration District: 0012; FHL microfilm: 1241182.”
  8. “Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940.” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ :accessed 14 February 2020), Moses A. Butt and Mary E. Phelps, 23 June 1911; citing “Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.”
  9. “A Visit to the Cheraw Colored Graded School,” The Cheraw Chronicle (Cheraw, South Carolina), 11 May 1916, p. 3, c. 2; image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com: accessed 12 February 2020).
  10. The Cheraw Chronicle (Cheraw, South Carolina), 5 October 1916, p. 3, c. 3; image copy, Newspapers (https://newspapers.com : accessed 11 February 2020).
  11. The Cheraw Chronicle (Cheraw, South Carolina), 15 June 1916, p. 3, c. 2; image copy, Newspapers (https://newspapers.com : accessed 13 February 2020.)
  12. Ancestry, “1920 U. S. Census,” database online, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 12 February 2020); Cheraw, Chesterfield County, South Carolina, Dist. 0036, p. 37, citing “Year: 1920; Census Place: Cheraw, Chesterfield, South Carolina; Roll: T625_1690; Page: 19A; Enumeration District: 36.”
  13. “South Carolina, Death Certificates, 1821-1965” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 February 2020), certificate image, Prof. M. A. Butt, 15 February 1915, no. 2238, citing, “South Carolina Department of Archives and History; Columbia, South Carolina; Year Range: 1925-1949; Death County or Certificate Range: Chesterfield.”
  14. “South Carolina, Death Certificates, 1821-1965,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 12 February 2020), certificate image, Mamie E. Butt, 3 February 1928, no. 1816, citing “South Carolina Department of Archives and History; Columbia, South Carolina; Year Range: 1925-1949; Death County or Certificate Range: Chesterfield.”

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