Historical Newspapers: T.W. Thurston and The Silk Mill

Newspapers always have seemed to have a way of expressing hyperbole and extreme characterizations of individuals that they profile. One person that clearly illustrates the sway of journalists’ and the public’s opinion is a certain Thomas Wellington Thurston, Jr.

Excerpted from Who’s Who of the Colored Race, Vol. I:

THURSTON, Thomas Wellington, Jr., silk manufacturer, clergyman; born at Moorefield, W. Va., Apr. 9, 1866; son of Thomas W. and Betty (Jones) Thurston; grad. Romney High School, W. Va.; studied theology under Rev. Dr. J. A. Gayley, of Princeton Univ., N. J.; (hon. D.D., Lotta Univ., Raleigh, N. C); married Julia Lacey, of Washington, D. C, 1890; 7 children: Virginia, Pauline, Ruth, Marie, Derrick, Douglas, Dwight. Ordained Baptist ministry, 1894; pastor St. John Temple Church, Washington, D. C; principal Barnwell Normal and Farm Life School for Colored Youth, Fort Barnwell, N. C; editorial writer for Free-will Baptist Advocate. Began as silk manufacturer, 1895; established the Five Points Silk Mills that year at Columbia, Pa.; built the Mammoth Silk Mills, Fayetteville, N. C, 1900, the Twins Silk Mills, Kinston, N. C, 1906; now manager W. H. Ashley Silk Co.; employs average of about 600 operatives; only American silk manufacturer of African descent. Republican. Mason; member Odd Fellows. Address; Kinston, N. C.

Thomas Wellington Thurston, Jr. Photo Courtesy: L.Aha

For such a man as this and for such a time, the possibilities were plentiful for headlines of the day.

Courtesy: North Carolina Digital Collections
Fayetteville Observer
Fayetteville, North Carolina
13 Aug 1900, Mon • Page 4
Fayetteville Weekly Observer
Fayetteville, North Carolina
16 Aug 1900, Thu • Page 4
The American Star
Tuscumbia, Alabama
06 Mar 1901, Wed • Page 2
The News and Observer
Raleigh, North Carolina
12 May 1901, Sun • Page 3
Fayetteville Weekly Observer
Fayetteville, North Carolina
06 Jun 1901, Thu • Page 2
The Wilmington Messenger
Wilmington, North Carolina
03 Apr 1902, Thu • Page 2
Fayetteville Weekly Observer
Fayetteville, North Carolina
10 Apr 1902, Thu • Page 4
Fayetteville Weekly Observer
Fayetteville, North Carolina
01 Nov 1906, Thu • Page 1
The Kinston Free Press
Kinston, North Carolina
14 Jun 1919, Sat • Page 4
The News and Observer
Raleigh, North Carolina
04 Nov 1956, Sun • Page 8

Thurston was survived by his wife, Ruth Mills Thurston, daughters—-Connie V. Ray, Pauline Griffin, and Marie Pittman—and sons, Douglas Thurston* and Dwight Thurston, per the above obituary. I learned about T.W. Thurston while researching my Brewington family lines. Thurston’s son, Douglas (1895-1962), married my grandfather’s first cousin, Esther King (1907-1985), in 1927. Esther was the daughter of Tilithia Brewington King Godbold Dabney.

By these historical newspaper accounts, T.W. Thurston seemingly had a full and controversial life. By taking a deep dive into collateral family lines, there’s really no telling what can be learned. Do yourself a research favor and check out a historical newspaper database or website today. You will be sure to discover something that you never would have guessed.

Here are additional links to learn more about the interesting life of T.W. Thurston:

Who’s who of the Colored Race: A General Biographical Dictionary …, Volume 1

Negro Year Book, Volume 3

World’s Fairs in a Southern Accent: Atlanta, Nashville, and Charleston, 1895 …

The Genealogy Situation Room

2 thoughts on “Historical Newspapers: T.W. Thurston and The Silk Mill

  1. Ugh to child labor and corporal punishment, but that was common back then. This was very interesting. I’m wondering why the silk mill closed as the articles seemed to indicate it was prosperous. I saw the mention of the intermittent funding from the north. I might check out the links that you have listed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agreed, it was difficult to read of those practices. Even though they were commonplace, the desperation and cruelty of the times rings through.

      Concerning why the silk mill closed, page 17 of this document:

      Click to access FayettevilleMunicipalSurvey-2001.pdf

      indicates that the Fayetteville silk mill employed only African Americans and was in an African American neighborhood. This is conjecture on my part, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the era of Jim Crow and The Great Migration sealed the fate of the mill.

      Thank you for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

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