Monthly Archives: February 2016

Do the contents of a man’s billfold define him? Benjamin Walker Wyche

Benjamin Walker Wyche (Aug. 29, 1914 - Feb. 21, 1977)

Benjamin Walker Wyche (Aug. 29, 1914 – Feb. 21, 1977)

Do the contents of a man’s billfold define him? Perhaps. In the case of my great uncle, Benjamin Walker Wyche (born August 29, 1914, and who passed away suddenly on February 21, 1977), the contents of his billfold seem to tell us a great deal about the man.

My Uncle Ben never married. Thanks to his exceptional good looks, his congenial personality, and his success in business and community work, he never had any shortage of admirers. His friends, brothers, and sisters all joked that he was still – even in his sixties – the most eligible bachelor in our hometown. Ben never lacked a date for any social function, and he was a great dancer; everyone said so. In addition to these charms, Ben had a clarion tenor singing voice which he used to great benefit in the church choir throughout his life. As a young man, I have been told, he sang barbershop quartet at Davidson College where he was a student and a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

Ben was a lifelong member of the Weldon United Methodist Church. He ran a successful wholesale grocery supply business, served on the board of the Weldon Savings & Loan, and was a member of the Rotary Club and the Lion’s Club. Throughout his life he remained in the home he was raised in from boyhood, sharing it with his unmarried sister, Elizabeth, who kept house for them both. Ben traveled a good deal when he was given the opportunity. He made his way to Brazil, The Greek Islands and Italy, as well as England, Ireland, and France.

I never heard my uncle Ben say a disparaging word about anyone at all. He was a kind man, a gentle spirit, and those who knew him respected and admired him without needing to know more about him than just these surface facts.

My uncle Ben died suddenly of a massive coronary in 1977. As it turned out, twenty-five years after he passed, when his sister’s estate was being liquidated, I was given the opportunity to claim Ben’s personal effects. He never had children and no one else in the family ever expressed much interest in this bachelor uncles’ old records, photographs, or books. I cared. Ben was my favorite uncle.

Among his effects was his billfold, which when I came into possession of it, appeared exactly as it had the day Benjamin Wyche died in 1977. The object itself was unremarkable, much like the man who owned it. Just a worn, Amity brand leather billfold, containing all the most important and necessary items to a man’s daily living.

Here’s an inventory of the contents of Benjamin Walker Wyche’s billfold:

— Six dollars in cash.

— A handwritten note, containing a Nationwide Life Insurance Policy Number, and a telephone claim number.

— A handwritten note with a list of people’s names, mailing addresses, and telephone numbers. Interestingly, all the names are those of widowed elderly women in town, or unmarried middle-aged women.

— An appointment slip for a Doctor’s appointment, scheduled for two months after Ben died. (See below.)

Apt Slip







— An extremely well-worn tithe record for the Weldon Methodist Church in the amount of five cents, dated May 25th, 1925. Ben was ten years old when he recorded this gift. It appears that Ben had been carrying around this sentimental little receipt for more than fifty years. (See below.)

Tithe Note








— A handwritten slip listing his parents, all his siblings, and their spouse’s birthdays. (See below.)












— His social security card. (See below.)

SS Card







— His driver’s license. (See below.)

Drivers Lic








— A flu vaccine record dated November 2, 1976.

— His draft card, originally issued in 1936. At the time of his death, Ben had carried this frayed fragment of a draft registration card more than forty years. (See below.)

Draft Card









— A Red Cross certificate of appreciation, indicating that Ben was a member of the “Gallon Club”. The certificate was issued on May 20, 1960. (See below.)

Red Cross








— A polio Vaccine record, dated 1964.

— Several insurance cards, for auto, health, life, etc.

— An identification card issued by the Halifax County Civil Defense Agency, listing Ben as “Chief Supply Service Member of Advisory Council”. It’s dated March 28, 1962.

— A tattered personal check paid to the order of Ben Wyche, in the amount of fifteen dollars. The check was drawn on the account of Mary E. Jones and endorsed by her, dated July 11, 1970. It was never cashed. (See below.)

Mary Jones - Check






Mary E. Jones was an African-American woman who was born in Greensville County, Virginia in 1893, but who lived most of her life in Weldon North Carolina, relocating to Weldon before 1910. She was a cook by profession, and poor.

Interestingly Ben Wyche’s parents also arrived in Weldon in the years before 1900, and also from Greensville County, Virginia. What was the relationship? It’s impossible to know for certain, but my suspicion is that Mary E. Jones’s people and Benjamin Walker Wyche’s people had long been connected. I believe that Ben *loaned* Mary money, never expecting or wanting repayment.

When this check was written by Mary to Ben, she was 77 years old. Ben passed away in 1977, after having carried this check in his wallet for seven years.

— Another tattered, very pocket worn check; this one a counter check, paid to the order of Ben Wyche in the amount of $25.00, and endorsed by Robert L. Pay on April 27, 1972. It was never cashed. (See below.)

Robert Pay - Check






Robert L. Pay arrived in Weldon, North Carolina sometime after World War II. Robert Pay worked for a time for my grandfather, John Ira Wyche (Ben’s brother). My mother recalled that he had a large family with many children, and that he might have worked for the railroad later in his life. I’ve been unable to find any certain information on where Robert L. Pay came from, or what became of him. When Ben passed away in 1977, he’d carried this uncashed check in his wallet for five years.

— The last uncashed check in Ben’s wallet is just as interesting and is even older than the previous two. The check was written on January 20, 1964, in the amount of $100.00. It was written to Merchants Distributing Company, Ben Wyche’s wholesale grocery supply business, so it can be assumed that the check was written for goods – food – rather than cash. The account holder and signature is Raymond Baty. (See below.)

Raymond Baty - Check






I have been unable to confirm any certain information on this individual. The only thing I know is that in 1964, Raymond Baty wrote a check for $100 to my uncle Ben; a check that Ben chose not to cash and carried around in his wallet for thirteen years.

There was one more item in my uncle’s wallet, but we’ll reveal that item at the conclusion of this article. First I’d like to propose that a great deal can be gleaned from the contents of Ben Wyche’s wallet. We know he was loyal and generous. The checks he carried around with him all those years, checks he chose not to cash, paint a picture of a man who had empathy for those less fortunate than himself. He had a sense of his obligation to his fellow man.

He also seems to have a deep commitment to his community as a whole. His church was obviously very important to him. He was sentimental, saving little pieces of paper like the tithe record of a little boy’s contribution to the plate. You don’t hang on to shreds like this if they mean nothing to you. Similarly, you don’t donate gallons of blood to the Red Cross if you are only concerned with you own comfort and well-being.

He cared about his family and friends, making sure that he never overlooked a birthdate.

He cared something about the widows and spinsters in his town; women who, in that era, would have been seen as vulnerable and in need of some kind of masculine protection.

Reading his obituary, we learn that Benjamin Walker Wyche was a pillar of his community. He was trusted and well-respected by those that knew him only a little, and he was adored by those who knew him well. His brother, my grandfather, called Ben his “best friend” and I know that Ben was my grandfather’s rock during difficult periods. Papa was crushed when Ben died, and he never quite recovered from the loss of this dearest of brothers. The light went out just a little. And I know that more than just my grandfather felt this. Many others did too; among them most of Ben’s employee’s at Merchants Distributing Company, which was closed and liquidated following Ben’s death.

What can we say about a man from the contents of his wallet? A great deal I think.

The last item found in his wallet was found accidentally. It was never meant to be seen by anyone other than Ben himself. In the almost forty years since Ben’s death, the dry leather wallet began to disintegrate, as will happen. I feared for the documents inside, and so I removed them for safe keeping. The seams of the billfold had long since frayed and broken, and as I handled the thing, the bottom seam opened, revealing a hidden, secret compartment I had not previously noticed. Inside, two crumbling flaps of leather concealed a tiny photograph.

I present the photograph for your consideration.

Ben Wyche and Friend

This photo was taken in the late 1920’s, when Benjamin Walker Wyche was a student at Davidson College. I have no idea who the young man in Ben’s arms is. Perhaps someone can help me identify him. I do know that Ben must have cared a great deal about this image, as he carried it with him, secreted away from prying eyes, for more than fifty years. His most prized, most private, most sentimental possession.

What secrets do we carry around with us?

Old debts. Old promises. Obligations made and forgiven? And then this.

Benjamin Walker Wyche; pillar of the community, dedicated Methodist, loving brother, son, neighbor. A generous and decent man, respected by his employees and friends.

And by the standards of his era, a mentally ill, criminal deviant, who could have been incarcerated had he been outed.

Think about the life this man must have led. Think of the cloud of fear under which he lived. The undeserved shame that threatened everything and everyone he cared for.

Instead of allowing fear to make him angry and cynical, it made him a better person, a better neighbor, a better friend, boss, son, brother. He turned fear into generosity and warmth. There’s so much we can learn from this man’s courage.

How I wish I could see him again, to tell my favorite uncle just how much more I love and admire and respect him, now that I know.

Joseph Cooke Crews Sr. — Obit

The following is a faithful transcription of a newspaper clipping noting the death of Joseph C. Crews. A handwritten source note, in the hand of Mary Hall Benn Wyche, indicates that this notice appeared in the Raleigh News and Observer, on Tuesday, April 13, 1948.


Joseph Cooke Crews and his wife, Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Currin.

Joseph Cooke Crews and his wife, Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Currin.

Joseph C. Crews

Oxford. __ Joseph Cooke Crews, 65, Standard Oil Company employee for 35 years, died in Durham hospital Sunday night. He had been a patient there for a week. The funeral will be held from Shady Grove Methodist church at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, conducted by his pastor, the Rev. J. L. Smith, assisted by the Rev. M. L. Banister of Oxford Baptist Church. Interment will be in Elmwood cemetery. Surviving are his wife, the former Mary Currin; a daughter, Jean, of the home; two sons, J. C. Jr., and Lindsey Crews of Henderson and two sisters, Mrs. J. T. Benn of Weldon and Mrs. Fannie Crews of Richmond, Va.

Joseph John Benn – Civil War Service and Notes

The Source for this information is James Thomas Benn IV, of Farmville, VA. It was completed as part of his application for membership into the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It was provided to the author on January 25, 2016, via email communication.


Joseph John Benn - (c) 1885

Joseph John Benn – (c) 1885

Joseph John Benn was born 15 April 1829 in Gaston, North Carolina.  On 11 April 1862, in Norfolk, Virginia, this North Carolina farmer mustered into the 41st Virginia Infantry, 2nd Company E from the State Militia where he collected a $50 bounty.  2nd Company E was known as Captain Lauren’s “Confederate Grays” under Mahone’s Brigade in the Longstreet Corp.  In March and April of 1862 he drilled in Norfolk.  On 10 May 1862, he and the rest of his division boarded trains for Petersburg when Norfolk was abandoned to Union Forces.

J.J. Benn, as he was known, spent most of May 1862 in the hospital at General Camp Winder in Richmond.  On 23 May 1862 he was transferred back to his regiment at Petersburg from whence he fought at Malvern Hill and Seven Pines.  He was back in the hospital from 15 September 1862 until 13 October 1862 suffering from chronic diarrhea as was the bane of many a soldier.  On 20 October 1862 he was furloughed to Gaston, North Carolina to recuperate.

He returned to duty in January of 1863 and wintered at United States Ford on the Rappahannock, 16 miles west of Fredericksburg.  At the time, the 41st Virginia Infantry listed 305 men present.  The 41st was with Army of Northern Virginia at Chancellorsville.  On 26 June 1863, his unit passed the Mason-Dixon line.  They arrived at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on 2 July 1863, at the northern end of Seminary Ridge.

J.J. Benn went on to fight in the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor.  On 22 June 1864, he was with Mahone at the Jerusalem Plank Road Battle near Petersburg. The July 30 battle of the Crater made Mahone a famous General and brought with it recognition and prestige to all the regiments involved including the 41st Virginia.

J.J. Benn was taken prisoner 27 Oct 1864 at Boydton Plank Road Battle for control of the Weldon Railroad.  He was transferred from City Point in Hopewell to Point Lookout Maryland and exchanged 17 January 1965 at Boulware’s Warf on the James River.  On 6 February 1865 he was at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run.  During the battle of Sayler’s Creek, Mohone’s division escaped capture and moved to the north side of the Appomattox River acting as rear guard.  On 7 April 1865 the 41st fired the last shots of the war at Cumberland Church.

On 9 April 1865, Joseph John Benn was paroled at Appomattox with one package of clothing and a blanket.  Of the 305 men present in 1863, only 10 officers and 98 other men remained of the 41st Virginia Infantry.

After the war he made his home near what is now Vultare, North Carolina where he was an agent for the Raleigh Gaston Railroad.  His first child, a daughter was born nine months after he returned from the war on 20 January 1866.  Joseph John Benn died 18 May 1912.



Joseph John Benn

Born April 15, 1829; died May 18, 1912 at 83 years of age

Enlisted 11 Apr 62 from the state militia in Norfolk VA at 33 years old. $50 bounty due

Listed as a farmer from Gaston, NC.

After the war was an agent for the Raleigh Gaston Railroad

He and his wife had their home near what is now Vultare, NC

Captain Lauren’s “Confederate Grays” under Mahone’s Brigade under Longstreet’s Corps

March and April 1862 drilled in Norfolk

May 10th – 41st boarded trains for Petersburg when Norfolk was abandoned

10 May 62 General Hospital camp Winder Richmond VA

23 May 62 – transferred to Petersburg

Malvern Hill and Seven Pines

Gen Hospital Richmond VA 15 Sep 62 – 13 Oct 62

20 Oct 62 furloughed to Gaston NC for Chronic diarrhea

Jan 63 – Oct 64 listed as present

Wintered at United States Ford on the Rappahannock 16 miles west of Fredericksburg

41st had 305 men present

3 miles from Chancellorsville – fought there

May 7th camped near Fredericksbirg

June 22 in Charles Town (now WV)

June 26th past the Mason-Dixon Line

July 1st, left camp at Fayetteville PA to Gettysburg

Arrived July 2nd at the northern end of Seminary Ridge

Mahone’s Brigade scarcely used July 2nd and 3rd

Fought in the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns

May 4th left winter camp at Madison Run Station

May 6th battle of the Wilderness

May9th arrived at Spotsylvania

June 3rd at Cold Harbor

June 22nd Jerusalem Plank Road

July 30th battle of the Crater “made Mahone a famous general and brought with it recognition and prestige to all the regiments involved.

Taken prisoner 27 Oct 64 Weldon RR – Boydton Plank Road at Hatcher’s Run

31 Oct 64 transferred from City Point to Pt. Lookout MD

17 Jan 65 exchanged at Boulware’s Warf James River, VA

26 Jan 65 at Camp Lee Richmond VA

February 6th, second battle of Hatcher’s run

Mahone commanded an elite division of which the 41st was part.

April 6th – During the battle of Sayler’s creek, Mahone’s division escaped capture and moved to the north side of the Appomattox river acting as rear guard.

April 7th – fired last shots at Cumberland Church

9 Apr 65 Paroled at Appomattox w/ 1 package of clothing and a blanket along with 10 officers and 98 other men

First child, a daughter Mariah Ann Benn, born nine months later on Jan. 20, 1866

Fannie Evelyn Johnston — Obit



LeRoy Lafayette Crews and Fannie Evelyn Johnston Crews. Fannie died at 31 years old.

LeRoy Lafayette Crews and Fannie Evelyn Johnston Crews. Fannie died at 31 years old.

CREWS. __ Mrs. Fannie E. Crews (nee) Johnston, was born November the 12th 1857. She was married to L. L. Crews December the 19th 1877. She died July 1st 1886, leaving a husband and four children to mourn their loss. She was converted and joined the Methodist Church while young and lived in the enjoyment of religion to the end of life. Her health had not been good for five years, and frequently she was brought almost to death’s door, then she would improve. While to her friends she seemed to enjoy health at times, she realized that she could not long remain in this world. When last taken, the physicians did not think her seriously ill, but after all that skill and kindness could do she grew worse and in a few days passed away. Her sufferings were intense and she was conscious that the time of her departure was at hand. Previous to her last illness, she said, “I know in whom I have trusted.” Leaning upon Jesus she passed through “the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil”. Her funeral was preached at her home by the writer from Matt 25-21, and a long procession followed her remains to the family burying ground.

It was painful to sister Crews to leave her husband and little children, but she was submissive to the divine will, she was not conscious in the last hours, but we need no testimony in the dying hour to tell us where the Christian goes.

To her family and friends she is not lost, but gone before. May they have grace to follow on to the city of God

— E. Coltrane.



[Handwritten below the typed note, in the hand of Mary Hall Benn Wyche, is the following citation information.]

This is a copy of newspaper notice of death and funeral of Mrs. Fannie E. Crews. Presume this was (Oxford Public Ledger, Oxford N.C.)

Caroline Frances Crews Smith – Obits and Recollections



[Caroline Crews Smith was the daughter of James A. Crews and Martha Hunt, sister of Leroy Lafayette Crews. She married John Smith. She was born August 10, 1848 in Granville County, NC, and passed away February 9, 1931 in the same place.]



Mrs. Caroline Smith

“So live that when thy summons comes
To join the innumerable caravan
Which moves to that mysterious realm
Where each shall take his chamber
In the silent halls of death;
Thou go not, like the quarry slave, at night
Scourged to his dungeon;
But, sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust,
Approach thy grave, like one who wraps the drapery
Of his couch about him
And lies down to pleasant dreams.”

Thus did Mrs. Caroline Smith live and thus did she slip away from us to be forever with her God whom she loved and served for eighty-two years.

Truly, as her pastor said, a giant oak in God’s earthly forest has fallen – But it was so deeply rooted in love, its leaves lent shade to so many weary souls and that tree shed such fragrance to the discouraged and broken-hearted that the memory of it will linger with us long and that to bless. Discouragement and impossibility were two words that Grand Ma Smith scratched from her vocabulary – Her very expression was a smile and a challenge to be “Up and doing, with a heart for any fall.

“Still achieving, still pursuing. Learn to labor and to wait.” We shall remember her, not so much for her many words, as for the numberless little deeds of kindness that her life was literally crowded with. She seemed to realize that her time was drawing short, for each day before she took her bed, was crowded more and more with loving kindnesses and tender ministrations.

Rich and poor, high and low, white and black visited her during her last illness; looked fondly upon her sweet face, breathed a prayer for her recovery and begged that they might so something for her. It was merely reflexaction, for had she not been the busiest soul in Oxford looking after the welfare of her friends and acquaintances.

She was almost a life long member of the Methodist Church and she supported her church too; and stood back of her minister in every good work. She leaves to mourn her loss one daughter, Mrs. J.E. Jackson of Sanford, Fla.; and two sons, E.L. and L.F. Smith of Oxford; several grand children and two great grand children.

The smile on Grand Ma’s face, cold in death, seemed to portray –

“Sunset and evening star and one clear call for me.
And may there be no mourning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound or foam.
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bells and after that the dark,
And may there be no sadness of farewells
When I embark.
For though from out our bourne of time and place.
The flood may bear me far.
I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crossed the bar.”




In Memoriam

It is with deep sorry that the Granville Grays Chapter of the daughters of the Confederacy, records the death of Mrs. Caroline Crews Smith, an honorary member, who passed into Paradise on February ninth at the home of her son, E. L. Smith. She had been a member of the Chapter for years and loved “the Cause” for which it stood.

Her warm-hearted character and sweet modesty showed itself in her loyalty in every work undertaken by the Chapter. She knew the horrors of war and the greater hardships of reconstruction. Her patriotism never failed in war or peace and she ever kept sacred the memory of the dead, extending sympathy and help to the living.

Born of an old and prominent family, reared amid surroundings of affluence and ease, her girlhood environment suggested the setting which we associate with the antebellum life of the Old South. She lived to be eighty-two but old age never came neigh her, to the day of her last illness she was alive to her finger tips and crowned with many flowers, she passed into the beyond to hear her Master’s welcome plaudit, “Well Done.”

Piety and consecration to her church and her Master, best illustrated in human kindness and charity to her loved ones and neighbors, were her chief characteristics and her cheerful, unselfish, happy personality radiated sunshine, warming her many friends who loved her dearly.

And now that our Heavenly Father in His infinite wisdom and love has called to Himself in glory our beloved member, be it resolved:

First. That we as members of the Granville Grays Chapter, Daughters of the Confederacy, express our sorrow in the loss of so sweet and and gentle a member and will ever cherish with grateful remembrance her unselfish inspiration and help.

Second. That the loving sympathy of the Chapter be extended to her bereaved family.

Third. That a copy of these Resolutions be sent her family, the Public Ledger and a copy be spread upon the records of the Chapter.

Respectfully submitted,

Jeannette E. Biggs,

Elizabeth Floyd,

Mrs. E. G. Moss





Death Lays Claim To Mrs. Caroline Smith

Deceased Was 82 Years Old and Was Taken Sick With Pneumonia Several Days Ago

Death claimed the life of Mrs Caroline Smith yesterday afternoon shortly before 5:00 o’clock at the home of her son, E. L. Smith, on Gilliam street. She was in the 82nd year of her life.

Mrs. Smith was the oldest living member of the Oxford Methodist church. She was a devout Christian and she was known in the community for the many kind deeds of her life. Her real love and work in the Kingdom was the Missionary Society of which she was always active.

Funeral services will be conducted this afternoon at 3:00 o’clock from the Oxford Methodist church with services conducted by her pastor, Rev. E. J. Rees, assisted by Rev. Reuben Meredith of St. Stephens Episcopal church; Rev. B. W. Lacy, of the Oxford Presbyterian church; Rev. B. D. Critcher, of the Oxford Methodist Circuit and Rev. W. D. Poe, of Hester and Enon churches. Interment will be in Elmwood cemetery.

The deceased is survived by the following brothers: A. A. Crews of Oxford and L. L. Crews of Selma [“Selma” is a typo. It should read “Thelma”] and three children: E. L. Smith and L. F. Smith, of Oxford and Mrs. J. E. Jackson, of Sanford, Fla.

Following are the active pallbearers: F. F. Lyon, Sam Averette, O. B. Breedlove, S. R. Abernathy, C. W. Bryan, J. M. Baird, J. H. L. Myers and Will Landis.

Honorary pallbearers: Dick Crews, I. H. Davis, F. B. Blalock, C. B. Keller, Dr. S. J. Finch, C. G. Powell, J. S. Bradsher, Sr., John Floyd Ernest Jones, Gibbons Renn, G. W. Regan, William Medford, W. T. Yancy, J. E. Davis, W. P. Stradley, Earnest Dean, D. K. Taylor, Pete Bullock, C. G. Credle, W. B. Crews, Jim Dean, J. M. Blalock, A. W. Graham, W. H. Jeffries…

[The remainder of the article is missing.]



A Tribute To A Good And Useful Life

(Composed and read by Mrs. J. Y. Crews at Shady Grove Church on Mars. Caroline Smith’s eighty-first birthday.)

It is indeed delightful to have with us on these sacred grounds today, one of the most consecrated, most beloved members of Shady Grove Church: none other than Grand Ma Smith!

She is so active, so interested in life, we find it hard to realize that tomorrow, the 10th of August, 1929, will mark her eighty-first birthday: she has been a member of this Church for the past 66 years: and such an enviable record her life has been, for she has fully measured up to the standard of the good woman referred to in the….

(The remainder of the article is missing.)

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