2016-02-10 / Features

The Obie Family History


John T. Obie John T. Obie Written by Saundra Obie Clemmons with input from Dr. Rachel Obie Winstead, C. Bernard Obie and Lt. Col (Retired) Barry L. Obie

A s with many African American families, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to trace families back past Emancipation.

In our case, we know our great-grandmother was Lucy Obie. Her mother, our great-great -grandmother was Caroline Overby (Obie, Obey).

Caroline was born in 1845 in Virginia. Her daughter, Lucy was born May 1870, also in Virginia. By 1880 Caroline was living in Person County, North Carolina, Bethel Hill Community, and Woodsdale Township with her cousin Millie Woody.

Millie and Caroline lived next door to James D. Woody and his family, where 10-year-old Lucy Obie lived and worked as a servant.

Although Lucy could not read or write and was a dark complexion black woman, and even with these strikes against her, she persevered and became a landowner.


Lucy Obie Lucy Obie Lucy was very industrious.

She was able to purchase a small amount of acreage for her and her family to live on and farm. The Register of Deeds, Person County, book 12, page 297 shows that Lucy Overby bought five and one-quarter acres of land from JW and AV Montague on June 20, 1906. Even though Lucy could not read or write, education was important to her. Her children all went to school and her daughter, Beulah, went on to become a teacher.

Lucy was the mother of three sons and one daughter, fathered by John Thomas Wiley (a white man).

He was born Feb. 13, 1852 and died Dec. 27, 1904. He was the oldest son of John C. Wiley, born 1820 and Jane G. Wiley born in 1830. They lived in Person County, Holloway Township where they raised seven children, according to the 1870 census. John Thomas Wiley would have been 18 years old when Lucy was born. If ages were calculated correctly, he would have been only seven years younger than Lucy’s mother, Caroline.


Bernard and Chestina Obie Bernard and Chestina Obie John Thomas Wiley is buried in a cemetery located on John Obie Road, Roxboro.

Lucy and John’s sons were John Thomas Overby, Talmadge Overby and Burnus (Bernard) Overby, who was killed while hunting as a preteen at the age of 12. Their daughter was Beulah Overby.

Lucy’s youngest son, Sylvester Overby was born in 1904.

According to the 1900 Census, Lucy Overby was 25 years old, John Thomas was 14, Burnus (Bernard) 12, Beulah 8, and Talmadge was 4. If Lucy were born in 1870, she would have been 30 years old in 1900.

As can be seen from the various Census dates and listed ages of Lucy Overby, there are many inconsistencies. For instance, the 1880 Census lists Lucy as 10 years old and the 1900 census lists her as 25 years old. It lists her oldest child as being born in 1886, making Lucy 16 when he was born; however in 1900 it lists Lucy as 25 and John as 14, making her 11 when he, the eldest, was born.

According to the 1920 census, Lucy Oberby (Overby, Obie) was 50 years old and Sylvester Oberby (Overby, Obie) was 16 years old.

In contrast, in records from Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church, the family name was officially recorded as Obie in 1913.

Lucy Overby (Obie) died on Feb. 12, 1930 at age 59 and is buried at Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Roxboro.

• John Thomas Obie was born Dec. 31, 1886, in Person County. He was educated in Person County Schools and professed faith in God at an early age and joined the Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church and served as the church clerk for a period of time.

John Obie married Odeliah Ray in 1911. They became the parents of two children, Juanita, born Dec. 14, 1913 and Melvin, born in 1914.

John was living in Big Four, West Virginia and working in the coalmines for 25 cents per day. He was industrious and diligent and was able to return home and purchase additional land to enlarge the family farm.

• Talmadge Obie was born on Feb. 27, 1896 in Person County. He was educated in Person County Schools and at an early age professed faith in God and joined the Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church. In 1914, Talmadge married Evie Jones, and they became the parents of three children, Christine,

Raymond Chester and Clara. Talmadge eventually moved to Denora, Pennsylvania and worked in the steel mills.

Talmadge later married Corrine B. from Pennsylvania. No children were born to this union, but they fostered a daughter named Katherine (Kitty). In 1942 Talmadge registered for the draft at age 46, in Denora, Pennsylvania. Talmadge died on Dec. 29, 1975 and is buried in Princedale, Pennsylvania.

• Beulah was born on Dec. 11, 1891, in the Bethel Hill Community. She was educated in the Person County School System. At an early age she joined the Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church. As an adult she was an active member of the Missionary Society. Beulah completed the seventh-grade and she taught school for a number of years.

On Nov. 3, 1917, Beulah secretly married Robert Arthur Baird/ Beard in Durham. They had eight children — John Robert, John Willis, Bernice Lee, Aldean, Frankie, Calvin, Alonzo and Cecil.

They owned, lived and worked on a large farm in the Woodsdale area of Person County off of Haywood Bailey Road until 1952, when they moved to Greensboro and opened a general store. Several of their children followed in their mother’s footsteps, becoming teachers. Others became health care workers and served in the military.

Aldean married David Petty. They owned and operated Petty Funeral Home in South Boston, Virginia. Beulah was active in New Hope Baptist Church Greensboro, where she joined the Missionary Society. She passed away on Dec. 7, 1981 and is buried at Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

• Sylvester Obie was born on Sept. 13, 1904 in Person County. At an early age he professed faith in God and joined the Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church. He was educated in Person County Schools. In 1925 he moved to Braddock, Pennsylvania. A few years later Sylvester married Lottie Sue Mason. They became the parents of two children, Blonnie Bell and a baby boy who died at birth. They also purchased a sizable amount of land, which he later sold to his nephew, Bernard C. Obie.

After Lottie passed away, Sylvester married Willa Mae Breckenridge and had another daughter, Shirley Ann. Sylvester and Willa Mae had two adopted children, Jeanette Obie and Robert Obie. Sylvester died on Aug. 21, 1981 and is buried at Mon Valley Memorial Park, Carroll Township, Pennsylvania.

John’s wife, Odeliah passed away on April 25, 1919.

In 1921, John married Nannie Bell Paylor Tuck. Together they continued to add to the family farm and had two sons, Bernard Chester and Bedna Lee, a daughter, Lucy Mae and a foster son, Fredrick (Bill) Clayton. For a while they fostered several nieces, Odella Paylor and Mae Ruth, Maxine and Rosetta Linzey.

John and family farmed tobacco, corn, wheat, oats, sorghum cane, soybeans, apples, pears, black cherries, damson and red plums, peaches, melons, pecans, figs, black walnuts, clover and other grasses. They raised cows, hogs, chickens, ducks, honeybees, and guinea fowl. Additionally, all kinds of spring, summer and fall vegetables and herbs were planted. All of these items were for sale, family consumption and for sharing with neighbors. Garden produce and fruits were preserved for winter use by canning or drying. Meats were preserved by curing and canning. In addition our ancestors made their own clothes, soap and bedding, including quilts.

Very little was bought from the store, except salt, sugar, black pepper, and lye. The family, although poor by today’s standards, wanted for nothing and did not know they were poor.

In addition to participating in church activities, John and his family helped with barn raisings, building other buildings and homes for family, friends and neighbors.

When others became ill or unable to harvest their crops, John and his family would step in and help harvest the crops.

Over the years, the original homestead of five and one-quarter acres served as residence for various extended family members and friends, after the passing of Great Grandma Lucy in 1930.

Some of those included John and Nannie P. Obie, after they were married, until their home was constructed. It is located about a quarter mile from the original home site, in a quiet grassy area, shaded with black walnut and other trees.

This house stands today and is owned by grandson, C. Bernard Obie.

Some of the other family members who resided in the original home included Broadie and Helen Mason Paylor, Roy and Virginia (Jean) Street Paylor and Miss Jane Woody.

Eventually, John and family acquired about 150 acres of land and built four additional homes on the property, along with two smoke houses.

There were five tobacco barns, a large pack house and an “ordering” house for tobacco, and two stables for mules, horses, cattle and hay.

John believed in hard work. He had a strong work ethic and a strong faith in God. His family was very important to him. He was active in church, serving as clerk. He attended regularly until an incident during a surgical procedure damaged his ability to control his urinary system.

He and Nannie studied their Bibles daily. He believed in keeping his word. He often stated, “My word is my bond.”

Although John only completed third-grade, education was very important to him. He encouraged his children to complete high school and some to attend college. They elected to only go to high school. Most eventually moved north to work in factories or for the government. Several stayed home to help with the farm.

All his grandchildren affectionately knew John as “Papa John.” Papa John would load the grandchildren in the back of his truck and go visiting family, Peter Wiley, Charlie Buck’s store on Highway 501 or Victor Yarborough’s store on Highway 49. He would also take them to Sunday school or they would walk the two miles with Grandma Nannie or Mom Chestina.

John died on Aug. 13, 1967 and is buried at Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Roxboro.

John’s daughter Juanita was born in Big Four, West Virginia, on Dec. 14, 1912. She moved to Person County with her parents where she lived until marrying Sam Webb. No children were born to this union.

She later moved to Baltimore, Maryland, seeking better employment. Later she moved to Suffolk, Virginia and married Andrew Boone. They lived at 203 North Capital Street.

They had no children, however they fostered a nephew, James Henry Bailey, assisted with providing for other nieces and nephews and fostered a son, Carl Johnson.

Andrew died in 1977. Juanita died on April 11, 1985.

Both are buried in Suffolk, Virginia.

John’s son Melvin Thomas Obie was born in Person County in 1914.

Melvin married Gladys Hill on Jan. 31, 1931, in Halifax, Virginia. They had three daughters (Corrine, Gladys Estelle, and Bessie) and one son (John Robert).

Melvin married Virginia and had one daughter (Frances). He later married Nordeen Vason and had two daughters (Deana and Natalie). Melvin died in 1987 and is buried in Duquesne, Pennsylvania.

In 1940 at age 19, Bernard, John’s son registered with the Selective Service for the military.

John’s son Bernard married Chestina Tuck on May 17, 1943. Together they had eight children — Dora Mae, Saundra Paulette, Rachel Arlene, Coy Bernard, Barry Louis, Hope Adrienne, Ronald Todd and Christopher Roscoe.

Bernard and Chestina assisted in running the farm and eventually took over operation completely. In addition to farming, both Bernard and Chestina worked in various local industries, including Hyco Power Plant, and Stienthal Parachute plant. They also worked at the local hospital and several local schools, including Longhurst and Bethel Hill Elementary.

Chestina eventually obtained her GED and an associate degree in criminal justice from Piedmont Community College. Both Bernard and Chestina were members of Prospect Hill Missionary Baptist Church and were active in the body of the church.

Over the years, there were several instances in which Bernard and his family stepped in and saved neighbors’ crops, because of illness. Those neighbors were Mr. Bryce Brown, Mr. Darryl Turley and Mr. John Martin.

We often saw Daddy (Bernard) cutting wood for family and neighbors as well as scraping snowy roads so people could get out if desired.

Although Bernard worked at many jobs, his love and passion was farming the land and he was good at it. There was no place he’d rather be than in the field. You would often hear him whistling a tune as he worked.

In fact, once, around 1950, he and Chestina move to Suffolk, Virginia to work in a factory. They soon returned to the farm and were content. Bernard’s passion for the land and farming continues to this day through one son who tends the family farm full time, and one son who helps part time. The other siblings support the farming operations.

Education and faith in God was very important to both Bernard and Chestina. However, Chestina was the greatest proponent of education and insisted on the children going to college. She came from a family of educators, including her mother, Mary Sue Yancey Tuck.

Through faith and hard work, they were able to send all seven of their children (Dora Mae died at three months) to college. They all graduated with bachelor’s degrees. Some have obtained master’s and doctorate degrees. Their children are educators, nurses, scientists, military and commercial pilots, organic farmers, ministers, authors, and computer engineers.

Bernard and Chestina’s passion for education and faith has continued to their children, grand and great-grandchildren. Several of them are Army and Air Force veterans and active duty military; two are medical doctors, several are educators, including PhDs, nurses and nurse practitioners, attorneys, authors, engineers, home land security and other government workers.

John’s daughter Lucy Mae was born on Dec. 30, 1923 in Person County. She was educated in Person County Schools and joined Prospect Hill Baptist Church at an early age.

Lucy Mae married William Armistead Bailey on Feb. 1, 1943 and together they had nine children — John Armistead “Nick,” Delores Doretha, James Henry, William Thomas, Herbert Chester, Joseph Lee, Shirley Mae, Brenda Buena, and Anthony Brown Bailey. Several of her children are military veterans, nurses and barbers. Some of her grand children are in the communication field.

Lucy Mae died in February 1982, after a lengthy illness. She is buried at Prospect Hill Baptist Church.

John’s son Bedna (Bedney) was born in December 1927 in Person County. He was educated in Person County Schools. After high school, he moved to Washington, D.C. to work in government. On July 15, 1950, he married Annie Frances Murphy of South Boston, Virginia. To this union four children — Carolyn, Arlene, Loretta and Brenda — were born. His children and grandchildren have all gone on to pursue additional education and lead productive lives, thus keeping the work ethic of their great-grandmother, Lucy and grandfather John alive.

Bedna later married Sandra L. of South Carolina, on Oct. 7, 1978. No children were born to this union, however he adopted Sandra’s son.

Bedna worked for the Bureau of Engraving for many years. He passed away in November 2007 and is buried in Washington, D.C.

John’s foster son, Fredrick (Bill) Clayton, came to live with the family in 1939 and lived with the family until completing high school in 1952. After high school, he moved to Newark, New Jersey for employment opportunities. Opportunities were limited to non-existent in Person County at this time. He later married Joyce and had one son, who preceded him in death. Bill passed away and is buried in New Jersey.

In order to trace the Obie Family ancestry and history, several of John Thomas Obie’s family members — one grandson, one granddaughter and one great-granddaughter — have taken DNA tests. We’ve also engaged the help of a genealogy service.

The Obie Family has been in Person County, specifically the Woodsdale and Bethel Hill communities for over a century and a half.

This is as far back as we can trace information at this time.

The family demonstrated strong Christian and family values, an incredible work ethic, and community and civic involvement. This legacy continues today along with the family farm, including the original homestead.

Now the farm produces organic vegetables, fruits, nuts and herbs and is managed by Lucy Obie’s greatgrandson, C. Bernard Obie and his fiancé, with assistance from his other siblings.

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