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Suffolk, Virginia: An international wedding (1896)

At the residence of bride’s brother, Mr. Leonard Anderson, in Suffolk, Va., on the 28th of December, 1896, Rev. Mr. Gaines, pastor of the First Baptist Church officiating, Rev. D. T. Straughn, of Georgetown, British Guinea, and Miss Ellen Anderson, of Suffolk, Va.


Suffolk/Nansemond County, Virginia, Florida, Barbados, and Georgetown, Demerara-Mahaica, Guyana

David Thomas Straghn was born about 1855 in Georgetown, Guyana. He was descended from enslaved Africans that had been brought to South America by Colonial trade companies and settlers from the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, and Spain to work the region’s vast sugar plantations. David attended Queen’s College in Guyana, and immigrated to the United States in 1896, where he continued his studies at Shaw University’s Leonard Medical School, in Raleigh, North Carolina. David graduated in 1898, with a degree in medicine.

Queens College, ca. 1882, possibly around the time of David’s attendance. Queen’s College of Guyana
Leonard Medical School, Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, 2014. All rights reserved

It is unclear just how David crossed paths with Ellen, but the two may have met during one of David’s trips to Hampton Roads, Virginia, to visit his friend and former classmate, Dr. James Edward Ashburn (class of 1895) of Bowers Hill. James E. Ashburn (1865-1918), was the son of Penelope Copeland (ca. 1843-1930) and Jacob Ashburn (ca. 1832-1914) of Suffolk (former Nansemond County) Virginia. Born enslaved, Jacob Ashburn escaped from the plantation of Elisha Ashburn in 1863, and served with the 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry. Both Jacob and son Dr. James Edward Ashburn are interred in Portsmouth’s Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

Grave of Dr. James E. Ashburn (1865-1918), Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 18, 2011. All rights reserved.
Grave of Dr. James E. Ashburn, Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 10, 2014. All rights reserved.

The Andersons of Hertford County, North Carolina

Maneys Neck, Hertford County, North Carolina, and Suffolk/Nansemond County, Virginia

Prior to her marriage to David, Ellen was Ellen Anderson, born about 1868 to Bill and Martha Anderson from Maneys Neck, Hertford County, North Carolina. Leonard Anderson, Ellen’s older brother, was born about 1856, and worked as a general laborer in and around Como (Hertford County), until his move to Suffolk in 1882. Leonard married Hertford County native Annie Jenkins, daughter of Mrs. Viney Jenkins, in 1885, Suffolk. The nuptials were performed by Rev. William Washington Gaines, pastor of First Baptist Church Mahan, and founder of the Nansemond Collegiate Institute. Leonard and Annie Jenkins Anderson were the parents of four children by the time of Ellen’s marriage to David in 1896. Leonard named their first child, Ellen (Elena), after his little sister, and their youngest son, David Thomas Anderson, after his brother-in-law, David Thomas Straghn, M. D.

Leonard and Annie made Suffolk their permanent home. By 1900, the family were documented residents of Suffolk’s Cypress District. Leonard passed away sometime after 1904, and I lost track of Annie Jenkins Anderson after 1910. Both are believed to be interred in historic Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk. The couple were the proud parents of six children: Ellen (Elena) Anderson Briggs (1887-1969), Eunice Anderson Howell (1890-1978), Carlton (b. ca. 1893), Geneva Anderson (ca. 1895-1915), Turner Anderson (ca. 1901-1970), and David Thomas Anderson (1909-1998).


Copyright Nadia K. Orton, 2021.

The Straghns in Florida

Soon after their marriage, David and Ellen moved to the Florida panhandle, where they initially settled in Pensacola, Escambia County. David may have wanted to move closer to Guyana, the residence of Rebecca Pauline and Laura Olivia Straghn, his two daughters from a previous marriage. Pensacola also had a thriving African American business community. David soon set up his practice, and by June, 1899, ran a few ads in the local paper for a pharmacist.


The Pensacola News, 1899

The couple had suffered some emotional loss, though, as Ellen had the misfortune of three miscarriages during this period. Per the census, David and Ellen lived in a residence on North Tarragona St., Pensacola. One of their neighbors was Mr. June Jenkins, a carpenter from Virginia, who I initially took to be a relative. Further research dispelled the notion, as June was born about 1840 in Richmond, Virginia.1

Pensacola didn’t seem to work out for the Straghns. While perusing Pensacola’s segregated city directories (white people listed in front, black folks listed at the end), I didn’t see any listings for David, either as a resident, nor as a physician. The white backlash to African American progress in Pensacola may have played a significant role. Five months after David’s ad, West Lawrence, an African American man accused of an assault upon a white woman, was found lynched, his body riddled with bullets.

The trail went cold until 1909, when David and Ellen were documented residents of Daytona Beach, about five hundred miles southeast of Pensacola.

“Daytona…the gem of the coast...2

Young African American girl standing on a Daytona street, ca. 1908. Florida Memory3
School for African Americans, Daytona Beach, ca. 1908. Florida Memory4

Per the 1910 Census, David and Ellen were documented residents of Midway, one of three African American enclaves in Daytona Beach. As he’d done in Pensacola, David quickly established his practice, and by 1909, had erected a two-story building, containing living quarters, an office, and pharmacy. In December of that year, there was a fire in Midway, which burned David and Ellen’s property, Mount Bethel Baptist Church (est. 1885), and several other buildings, a cumulative loss of over twenty-thousand dollars. The official cause of the fire was not determined, but the Straghn’s property was covered by a generous insurance policy. By April of the following year, David and Ellen had rebuilt their business on the ashes of the old.


Negroes lived in three population pockets. One was called Midway, the section in which Mary McLeod Bethune’s school was founded and established. Midway was more progressive and more secular than either of the other communities. There were two pool halls there, as well as the single movie house open to us…When I went from my neighborhood to Midway, I felt like a country boy going to the city. Next to Midway was Newtown, where the one public school for black children was located. The main street connecting Midway and Newtown continued into Waycross, the community where I lived…the three neighborhoods formed a closely knit community of black people, surrounded by a white world.

The white community itself was ‘downtown,’ no place for loitering. Our freedom of movement was carefully circumscribed, a fact so accepted that it was taken for granted. But in Waycross, Midway, and Newtown we were secure and at home, free to move and go about our business as we please.

Thus, white and black worlds were separated by a wall of quiet hostility and overt suspicion.

REV. HOWARD THURMAN5

David and Ellen appeared to prosper in Midway. In a few short years, David purchased multiple lots of real estate in Midway, Newtown, and Ormond, just north of Daytona. He also bought a car, a Maxwell Runabout, which may have helped him make house calls. As Rev. Howard Thurman, Civil Rights activist and Waycross native would later note, “the sick were cared for at home, for no hospitals were open to us other than the ‘pesthouse’ on the outskirts of town, where smallpox victims were isolated.”6


Daytona Beach and New Smyrna, ca. 1888, Volusia County, Florida. Library of Congress

One of David’s daughters, Rebecca Pauline, moved from Guyana to Daytona Beach after 1900. She married Mr. Hubert Stanley Heath, a native of Barbados, in 1906, and had three children, Pauline (b. 1908), David (born 1909), and Annie Elizabeth (b. 1919). Pauline and Hubert settled in New Smyrna, about fifteen miles south of Daytona Beach.



During a trip to Philadelphia, David Straghn fell ill, and succumbed to the effects of diabetes, a recent diagnosis, on September 17, 1914. His body was removed to Daytona, where he was interred in Mt. Ararat Cemetery. His estate, which included several shares in Mt. Ararat Cemetery, was divided between his wife, his daughters, and Mary Frances Hicks, a long-time assistant, with bequests of real estate to New Mt. Zion Church in Midway, and Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Waycross. Ellen took over management of the business, known as the People’s Pharmacy of Daytona, until her death in 1924. She too, is buried in Mt. Ararat Cemetery.


Early interments of Mt. Ararat Cemetery, Daytona Beach, Florida

NameAgeNativityDate of DeathCommunity
Louisa Werry Anderson49Jacksonville, Florida5 April 1915Midway
George BailyFlorida20 December 1909Midway
B. W. BerryFlorida23 January 1915Waycross
S. H. Broome8 May 1915Midway
Henry Davis30South Carolina14 February 1910Midway
Josephine Denmark44Florida17 April 1915Midway
Charles Gadlin60Thomasville Georgia26 January 1909Waycross
Benjamin Hall64Florida16 February 1915Midway
Lee Thomas Hill40Florida27 April 1915Midway
David Hooper32Florida26 January 1913Midway
Thomas Johnson45South Carolina11 October 1905Silver Hill
Mary Jane Kelly75Gainesville, Florida30 December 1915Newtown
Joseph Keys52South Carolina17 February 1911Waycross
James Lofton24Florida1 February 1915Midway
Ada B. Dozier O’Neil31Florida14 December 1914Waycross
Albert Smith60Madison County, Florida27 November 1915Midway
Ellen Anderson Straghn57Winton, Hertford County, North Carolina27 March 1924Midway
Dr. David Thomas Straghn59Georgetown, Demerara-Mahaica, Guyana17 September 1914Midway
Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton

There was one more interesting tidbit, and rather surprising family connection, uncovered during my research on the Straghn-Anderson Family. Annie Jenkins Anderson (wife of Leonard Anderson, Ellen Straghn’s brother), was the daughter of Viney Jenkins, born about 1842 near Murfreesboro, Hertford County, North Carolina. Although a glimpse into the life of the Straghn Family was fascinating, I kept thinking about Viney Jenkins. Now where had I seen her name?

Fueled by a third cup of coffee, I cycled back to Viney and made the connection: Viney married Pvt. Redmond Parker of Hertford County in 1875. Redmond, of whom I’ve recently written, served with the 1st U. S. Colored Cavalry during the Civil War, and currently rests in Oak Lawn Cemetery, along with Viney, and most of their children.


Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton

  1. June Jenkins died in 1938, and was interred in Magnolia Cemetery, Pensacola. As June did not have a memorial on Findagrave, I added one for him and his wife Rachel Higgins Jenkins. The memorials may be found here.
  2. Hawks, John Milton. The East Coast of Florida, 1887.
  3. Young girl standing in street – Daytona Beach. 1908. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/140709&gt;, accessed 11 September 2021.
  4. School for African Americans – Daytona Beach, Florida. 1908. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/796&gt;, accessed 11 September 2021.
  5. Thurman, Howard. With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1981.
  6. Thurman, With Head and Heart, 11.

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