Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Wake Wednesday - Shiloh Community: A Freedmen's village since 1830

 **Be sure to see the latest update at the end of post.

Reprint from the Winter 2024 Wake Genealogy Watch Newsletter - ContributingSaundra Cropps         

Shiloh Community in Cedar Forks township started in 1830 as a rural community of free people of color.  This community is home to over 57 farmers on property extending from the Durham County line to south of McCrimmon Parkway.  It was annexed into the town of Morrisville, NC in 1987 (although it predates Morrisville by almost 200 years). It is important to note that the remaining farmers in Shiloh community today are the living descendants of those original freemen who settled this part of Wake county from the 1830 and on through the years after Emancipation.

WCGS member and Diversity officer Saundra Cropps has deep roots in the Shiloh Community as you will come to read. The community and many of its members, including Saundra's great grandfather, Jesse Harris and other ancestors, are commemorated on various historical markers within its bounds.

The marker for the Shiloh Community states that it was a "rural community of free African Americans and slaves, developed in the Cedar Fork Township in the late 1820's. By 1870, Shiloh was a self-sufficient community with a public school, co-op store, midwives, recreation center and church. ... This thriving community, home to over 57 farmers on property extending from the Durham County line to south of McCrimmon Parkway, was annexed into the town of Morrisville, NC in 1987."

The Shiloh Leaders historic marker describes Saundra's great grandfather Jesse Harris as being known as the “Father of Scientific Farming”. 

“Jesse Harris was a staunch activist for improving agriculture in Shiloh. He also played an important role in convincing people to purchase farmland in and around the Shiloh Community. Harris's skills in teaching farming techniques positioned Shiloh as a strong contender in the regional agriculture industry in the early 1900s.”

To understand the challenges faced by black farmers in the post-Reconstruction era, it is helpful to consult  the  WAKE COUNTY HISTORIC FARM CONTEXT (1918-1968) AND SURVEY UPDATE. The section on Black Farmers (p59 - 62) describes their efforts to succeed despite exclusion from county farm extension programs. They are described as taking the initiative to organize their own  resources, founding the Negro Farmers County Council in 1945 to address farm improvement practices. With help from the NFCC and their Negro Farm Agent, progress was made, and many home demonstrations within the Shiloh community are featured in the report.

While the community of free blacks predated the Civil War by many years, it grew in the aftermath of the war. During that growth, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church became the spiritual hub of the community in 1867. Prior to that some of the free folk of color worshiped alongside their white neighbors at the nearby Cedar Forks Baptist church. After the war, as the number of  freedmen in the Shiloh community swelled, they  withdrew from Cedar Forks wishing to "practice independent action in religious matters." Shiloh Church was organized and early meetings were "held under a brush arbor on the property of Major Weaver, with approximately fifty members under the leadership of Rev. Ed Cole, the church became the institution of religious and social cohesion for the community." More of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church history can be read here.

That brush arbor of those early services became the location of the first church. It was built very close to where I-540 is now. The Wake Cemetery Survey entry for the "old" Shiloh Church  lists it as being near the intersection of Church Street and Weaver Forest Way. This would have been the property of Major Weaver. The land surrounding the original church was developed in the building of  I-540 and the Providence Place Subdivision. There was also a cemetery there which served as the resting place for the earliest Shiloh residents.

Another notable person referenced on the Shiloh Community historical marker with Jesse Harris was Reverend James Dunston (1854-1924), third pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church from 1882 to 1885. The contributions of Rev. James Dunston  had a profound effect on Shiloh's history and endurance as a community. He was instrumental in securing land ownership, education, and economic development for the residents of Shiloh.

About 1966 the Church was moved further south down Church Street to the current building and location at 922 Church Street.  This is across from the location of the new Shiloh Grove Subdivision, land that was formerly the Barbee farm. If you visit the area, you will see development encroaching on all sides. Driving out of the parking lot, you used to be able to drive Barbee Road through to NC 54. It is now a dead end due to a railroad track upgrade in the last 10 years. Much of the surrounding land has been developed into a community park.


A new cemetery sits on the Church property as well. The remains of 53 resting souls of the original cemetery were relocated here. The known names are memorialized on the marker shown here.

Second in the second column of this marker you will find mention of "Jessie” [sic] Harris and Roxanna Mills Harris. These are Saundra's great grandparents. They are the parents of her paternal grandmother, Mary Harris Russ, who is listed last on the third column. Many of the sons and daughters of Jesse and Roxanna Harris are also included on this stone - these would be Saundra's great aunts and uncles. In addition to Harris and Mills surnames, the Jesse Harris family tree includes Barbee and Mayo. This makes Saundra's relationship confirmed to all but three on this stone. I wonder if we could connect the others with a little more research time? Congratulations to Saundra. This is a heritage to take pride in and honor.

In addition to the people listed here, there are about 200 others buried in this cemetery. Information on the markers can be found on Find a Grave and . There are many descendants of the founding freedmen resting here to be found on these two lists. 

A history of Shiloh Community and its church, Shilodean Memorabilia, was written in 1982 by Esther Dunnegan and Delores Scott. The book includes a collection of recipes, old sayings and expressions, birth records, games children used to play, and herbal cures and remedies,  and the history of the community, citizens, and church. The few remaining copies of this book are housed at the church and at N.C. Central Library in its rare book section should you like to read further.

Shilodean Memorabilia
, Jesse Harris is characterized as more than simply a farmer. The ever enterprising Harris served his community as a blacksmith, a miller, and also operated a syrup cookery.  He demonstrated and shared all these skills with his community for the betterment of all. 


No doubt, the efforts of many residents, including Reverend Dunston and Jesse Harris, have kept  Shiloh Community and Church alive this long when many other Wake County rural freedmen's communities have been lost to time and development. Saundra is very lucky to have such deep ancestral ties to this special community.

Many thanks to Saundra for sharing her family roots with us. I have really enjoyed learning more about the Shiloh Community and Church. My interest was sparked when I was struggling to distinguish between the old and new locations in the Wake Cemetery Project. In researching, I learned just enough about the community to be really excited at the chance to collaborate with Saundra on this article.  This information will be added to the Wake Cemetery project entries for both Old and New Shiloh Churches as they only had location information from back in the day. I feel so much better now the we can share a fuller story with future researchers. - CD


Late breaking update - As of Feb. 1,2024,  the book referenced in this article, Shilodean Memorabilia : In Celebration of our 115th Anniversary and Homecoming by Delores Mills Scott and Esther Mayo Dunnegan is available online thanks to digitization by Digital NC. Do seek it out to appreciate all the history held within! 

Surname List from the book - Barbee, Burroughs, Cole, Dunston, Green, Hackney, Harris, Mayo, Mills, Oatney, Ross, Weaver

Locations - Shiloh Community, NC; Morrisville, NC; Nelson, NC; Cedar Forks Township, Wake County NC

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