Much of what we have learned about our great forbearers of the Thompson-Ashley families has been transferred orally from one generation to the next, accumulating richness and sometimes losing key elements as the history passed to each succeeding generation. Though many of the stories are packaged in anecdotal form, they offer great insight about the beliefs, values, objectives, and difficulties experienced by our great ancestors.
However, unlike most African-American families, we have been blessed to have records and stories containing a great deal of factual information about the Thompson’s and Ashley’s. Let’s take a reminiscing look at some of our ancestors of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations.
THE THOMPSON SIDE OF THE FAMILY
Jim Thompson (born 1827) and Mariah McNeil (born 1830) were our first generation ancestors in America (Not pictured). Most of the oral and written records indicate Mariah and Jim being born in Africa. Many of the records and interviews have led the family genealogists to believe that white slave owners were among the sons of a prominent Lumberton family, the Sandy Thompson family. Either Sandy, Jr., Will, or Neal Thompson was the white owner of Jim, our ancestor. It was quite a common practice for slaves to take the first and/or last names of the masters and their families. This practice is evidenced in the same names of many of our ancestors .
To the union of Jim and Mariah (1st generation) were born seven children. The children were Elias, Wesley, Avery, Allen Gordon, Lisa, Dora, Ellen.
• First was Rev. Elias Moore Thompson (2nd generation) the oldest (1849-1929). Cousin Nettie Green (3rd generation) remembered her grandpa as a loving but stern disciplinarian who believed that children should learn early in life to behave properly. She further recounted Grandma Mariah as a quiet and compassionate woman. All in upholding the 2004 reunion theme of this years reunion of “The Generation Of The Upright Shall be Blessed”
• ROXY ANNA ASHLEY, wife of Rev Elias Moore Thompson. To this union were Neal Orange, John Archy, Charles, Mariah, Lennie, Hattie, James, Maggie, Elias, Allen.
• MAGGIE LEE VIOLA THOMPSON GERALD(3rd.Gen) lived from 1889-1985,the fourth daughter and eight child of Rev. Elias M. and Roxy A. Thompson. She was affectionately called Aunt Maggie or Miss Maggie. She was educated at Barnes Elementary School , Thompson Institute (a private school) , A&M College (known today as NC A&T State University and the Fayetteville Normal School for teacher training. She taught many of the citizens of the Hilly Branch Community. In 1917, she married Carson McNeil Gerald and had the first wedding at Hilly Branch Baptist Church, an event attended by many of the citizens of Hilly Branch both white and black—a rare occurrence at that time. She always encouraged and praised children for demonstrating their talents and was always reminding the young and the old to “trust in the Lord child ,trust in the Lord, He will see you through”
• CARSON MCNEIL GERALD— – – – HUSBAND OF MAGGIE LEE VIOLA THOMPSON GERALD
• DR. ELIAS BENJAMIN THOMPSON,(3rd Gen) 1892-1970.The fifth son and ninth child of Elias M Thompson and Roxy A. Thompson. After attending the public schools of Roberson County and Thompson Institute, Elias pursued higher education at Shaw University and medical education at both Howard University and Meharry Medical College. He lived and practiced medicine in Williamson, West Virginia. He would always give children $1.00 when he visited. Dr Thompson was instrumental in inspiring students in Willianson and the surrounding communities to get an education beyond high school. In his community, He was looked upon as a faithful husband, an exceptional doctor and a true Christian.
• ETHEL HUTCHINSON THOMPSON, WIFE OF Dr. Elias Benjamin Thompson
• REV. NEAL ORANGE THOMPSON, (3rd Gen)1874-1956, The first and oldest child of Elias Moore Thompson and Roxy Ashley Thompson. N.O. as he was called from time to time was a devoted preacher and farmer. He believed in the power of God’s word and preached with a fiery sense of commitment and honor to God. He was an excellent family provider and community leader and believed in the motto “God Will Make A Way.” He will always be remembered for his beautiful smile and his loving persona.
• MARTHA JANE MITCHELL,Wife of NEAL ORANGE THOMPSON
• MARIAH SARAH EMELINE THOMPSON INMAN (1880-1942),The first daughter of Rev. Elias M. Thompson and Roxy Anne Ashley Thompson, attended public school in Robeson County. A very intellegient young woman,her education was limited because as one of the oldest children she was needed at home to assist her parents with the household and farm chores. She enjoyed taking care of her sisters and brothers, nieces, nephews and was known in the community as a good homemaker. She married Alford Inman and as a wedding gift Alford’s father Jack Alford gave the couple 50 acres of land. Emeline established the name of “grand-ma” always giving treats and goodies. She was always grounded in Christian stability,intellectual leadership and high moral values.
• ALFORD INMAN, HUSBAND OF Mariah Sarah Emeline Thompson Inman
• LENNIE ROXY THOMPSON MCNEIL THOMPSON, 1882-1972, (THIRD GEN), A DEVOTED MOTHER WHO MADE HER FAMILY’S WELL BEING HER PRIORITY. She was optimistic no matter what the circumstances-“things will get better” she would say. Always having a pleasing disposition even during difficult times. She is remembered for her very frank assessment of any situation and her direct expression of what she had to say, for example Cousin Raphael remembers his Aunt Lennie asking for a glass of water and he said wouldn’t you like a glass of lemonade and his Aunt Lennie replied, Just give me what I asked for.”
• HECTOR MCNEIL,HUSBAND OF LENNIE ROXY THOMPSON MCNEIL THOMPSON
• HATTIE THOMPSON WILLIAMS,1884-1961,(3RD GEN), A renown educator(teacher) who earned her BA from Shaw University,very astute at finding a person’s skills and bring those skills to light. She was very warm and concerned for all people,especially children. Her legacy to youth was to try and go to college, be fully developed intellectually, whereas material thing can be lost. Remember to keep “God foremost in your life” was an excellent speaker and was often called on by groups to speak.
• REV. EDGAR WILLIAMS-husband of Hattie Thompson Williams
• Allen GORDON THOMPSON,1894-1988,(3RD GEN), He was the tenth and youngest of Elias and Roxy Thompson. A graduate of Thompson Institute and Fayetteville State Norman, AG (as he was called) was successful in many endeavors. He was an active minister for more than fifty years. He taught school for a number of years and instrumental in the establishment of Hilly Branch School of which he served as the first principal. This is a very interesting find that he developed for his farming innovation. A technique to increase the yield of corn per acre by planting the seeds closer together and increasing the amount of fertilizer. From this innovation,he was able to produce more than 100 bushels of corn per acre,the highest yield on an acre of land in NC as of 1936. For this achievement he received an expense paid trip to an agricultural conference at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Remembered as a proud African American gentleman.
• ODESSA HUMPHERY, WIFE OF ALLEN GORDAN THOMPSON, from 1922 AND DECEASED IN 1929.
• LAURA THOMPSON, WIFE OF ALLEN GORDAN THOMPSON for over 50 years.
THE ASHLEY SIDE OF THE FAMILY
Now Robert Ashley (born 1827) and Sarah Thompson Ashley (born 1830) (1st generation) lived during the same time as that of Jim and Mariah Thompson. Records and interviews indicate that Robert Ashley was African-born. His granddaughter, Maggie Thompson Gerald (3rd generation), often shared her memories of her Grandpa Robert’s account of how he was lured from Africa, enslaved and brought to America. He was only a ten- or twelve-year old boy playing with a group of friends in the motherland when several white men approached them with beautiful handkerchiefs. The boys were told that there was more cloth in a different location if they would follow the men. Like innocent children, they followed; they were chained on the huge slave ship and never saw their families and native land again.
Grandpa Robert told Maggie that he was auctioned and sold in the Fayetteville, NC Slave Market. Based on a great deal of research and several interviews with a key member of the white Ashley family in Fairmont, NC, family genealogists discovered that Robert was acquired around 1837 – 1839 by either of the two very wealthy land owners, Andrew J. Ashley or John Jack Powell (married an Ashley daughter). Robert Ashley’s wife, Sarah Thompson, was the eldest of a family of 26 – 27 children, who included Lancey, Sandy, Harriet, Amelia, Alice, Dirah, Robert Jr., Harrison, and Clarke.. Again, our ancestors carried some of the same names as their white masters.
Members of Sarah’s family were in the forefront of several major institutions established in the community. The Thompson Institute and the Hilly Branch Baptist Church are among those institutions.
The immediate 2nd generation offsprings of Robert and Sarah certainly demonstrated to us the principles and objectives held high by their parents. We see examples of determination and models of high attainment. A friend of the family shared that young men who wanted to woo the Ashley girls were advised, “In order for a young man to ask for the hand of one of those Ashley girls, he needed more than love. He needed something like a few acres of land or at least enough for a garden.” All humor aside, the family did stress working together in the expectation to accumulate some resources for the improvement of conditions for their children and the community.
• Robert Ashley, Jr., 1857-1941, (2RD GEN), Robert was the son of Robert Ashley and Sarah Thompson Ashley. Robert Ashley Jr. was married to Mary Humphery Ashley,and to this union seven children were born. Robert was a devoted husband,father, and successful farmer during his lifetime in Roberson County.
• BERTHA POWELL THOMPSON,1895-1976,(3RD GEN). She is the daughter of Harriett Ashley Powell and Pierce Powell. She received her teacher’s certificate from Thompson Institute and upgraded her certificate to a Bachlor’s degree at Fayetteville State Norman. She taught school from 1925-1963. She was privileded to teach all five of her children. She was a very devoted Christian wife, mother and community leader. As the saying would go now a little known history fact is that she (my grandmother) taught when most of her career no hot lunch was provided. She grew weary of this and subsequently initiated her own hot lunch program. It consisted of her homemade vegetable soup and saltines. First she started out fixing the soup for herself,the request for soup by teachers and students became so numerous she had no choice but to try to comply and she did! She sold it for 5 cents a cup. She made every effort to charge no more than the cost of preparing the soup and the purchasing of the crackers.
• VASTER JAMES THOMPSON(VJ),husband of Bertha Powell Thompson(and my Grandfather)
And from both of these very strong, influential families, we feel the THE UPRIGHT SHALL BE BLESSED. While our ancestors focused on preaching, teaching, and farming, the skills associated with these occupations have provided each of us with the impetus to explore many other avenues and career choices. Our ancestors passed on to each of us the actualization that like them, we have all that it takes to maintain perseverance, to model great leadership, to chart new educational paths, to face risks, and to find the Solid Rock on which to build our spirituality.
Descendants of the Thompson-Ashley families have a rich heritage based on steadfast devotion to Christ, determination, hard work, high expectations, disciplined offsprings, and education.