(Editor’s note: Reprinted with permission from The State magazine, February, 1975)
Our good friend, Aunt Bessie Brewington, probably the last person alive to have been born into slavery in North Carolina, quietly passed away at the Sampson Memorial Hospital on May 6, 1974, at the advanced age of 109. Her last words were “I see the promised land from a distance.” I felt sad at her passing since I had known her for well over 70 years, and too, she and her mother, had belonged to my stepfather’s parents, Colonel and Mrs. Franklin J. Faison. She was born on the Faison plantation in 1964 and was the daughter of Ireland and Polly Brewington. Ireland was a free Negro, and during the War Between the States he cooked for the Confederate Army, and when the war was over, he walked home from Petersburg, VA, since the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad had been badly damaged by the Yankee army. Aunt Betsy always took pride in saying that he cooked for our side.
Aunt Betsy’s family moved after the war to “Summer Hill” (near Turkey), the plantation of the Thomas I. Faison family. When Miss Susan Virginia Faison married Dr. William W. Faison, the Superintendent of the State Hospital at Goldsboro, and had three sons, William, Ralph, and Preston, she went to live with them and nurse the boys. She always spoke of the Faison family with affection, pride, and esteem. Later in life, Aunt Betsy and her mother moved the Mount Pleasant plantation at Elliott, and were household servants of the Col. Edward L. Faison family. Aunt Betsy later nursed the children of Senator and Mrs. Marion Butler. Mrs. Butler was the daughter of Col. And Mrs. E. L. Faison. Aunt Betsy well remembered seeing Colonel William Lamb of Norfolk, VA, the Commander of Fort Fisher during the war, on his visits with the Faisons at Elliott.
While living at Elliott, Aunt Betsy’s house was located near the family graveyard, and she has told me many hair-raising stories of apparitions which she had seen and noise which she had heard. On one occasion at night, she saw a young man sitting on a vault in the graveyard playing a flute. She told Colonel Faison of her experience and he replied that it could well have been his relative, Thomas Faison, who was a flute player and was buried there in 1860.
Aunt Betsy often spoke of the earthquake of 1886, which she called “the great shake” and she believed it was a warning from the Lord for people to repent and get fully baptized. She spoke of the television as the “sin box”, and once she said that she had the fear of the Lord coming and finding her looking at half-naked people on the devil’s contraption.
Aunt Betsy had been a member of Six Runs Baptist Church for upwards towards 90 years, and was one of the first ushers of the church. She often spoke of her early pastor, the Rev. Tom Parker, called “Brer Parker” by many, who was one of the pioneer Negro ministers in Sampson and Duplin after the war. She was a member of the Daughters of Zion and the Mother’s and Daughter’s Lodge. She had a son, Willie, who died last year, and two daughters, India and Eliza.
Aunt Betsy’s funeral was held at Six Runs Baptist Church on May 12, 1974. The eulogy was given by her minister, The Reverend J. M. Grimes. A solo was sung by sister Macy Stevens, and other touching hymns were rendered by the choir. Tributes were made by Deacon Elmer Wilson and by Mr. Claude H. Moore. Interment was at the old Negro graveyard at Elliott. I attended the funeral and I well realized that we were witnessing the close of another chapter of the history of the Old South.