This week's Fact Friday comes to you from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
As one of the original majority-black ring villages surrounding Charlotte following the emancipation of slaves in the 1860s, Biddleville is an important part of history of African-Americans in the city and Mecklenburg County. Founded in 1873, Biddleville Cemetery is one of the oldest non-slave African-American cemeteries in Mecklenburg County not connected with a church. Many influential residents of Biddleville are buried within its grounds. By examining the history of the cemetery, further insight into the people who lived in Biddleville, their everyday lives, and the conditions of the community is uncovered.
Biddle Memorial Institute and Stephen Mattoon
Following the Civil War and Emancipation, freed African-American slaves sought to establish their own communities and associated institutions free of majority white control. Churches typically served as the focal point of these communities. In Charlotte, both black and white missionaries began organizing churches. The first, Clinton Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on Rozelles Ferry Road, was founded in 1865. Presbyterian missionaries, including Rev. Samuel Carothers Alexander from Pittsburgh, aided local free African-Americans in founding Seventh Street Presbyterian Church in 1866.
Presbyterian missionary work expanded beyond churches. On May 1, 1867, the first session of a theology school founded by the Committee on Freedman of the Presbyterian Church, USA began at a church on the corner of Fourth and Davidson streets in Charlotte. Headed by Rev. Alexander and his fellow northerner Rev. Willis L. Miller, the school served to train freed slaves to be ministers and teachers for Southern schools. Donations for the school were solicited through the church newspaper; and Mary D. Biddle, the widow of a Union officer who lived in Philadelphia, offered $1,900 with the stipulation that the school be named after her late husband Henry Johnston Biddle. Former Confederate Colonel William R. Meyers offered eight acres of property northwest of the city for the school. In 1869 the Henry J. Biddle Memorial Institute opened on its new campus.
Rev. Stephen Mattoon, a Presbyterian minister in New York who had served as a missionary in Siam (Thailand), was elected the first president of Biddle Institute in 1870. Rev. Mattoon was born near Champion, New York in 1816. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY in 1842, then Princeton Theological Seminary in May 1846. While at Princeton, Rev. Mattoon served as a substitute preacher to local Presbyterian churches. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Mary Lourie, and they married on May 3, 1846. Two months later, the Mattoon left to serve as missionaries in Bangkok, where they would live until December 1865. Rev. Mattoon was an interpreter for the King of Siam and founded the first Presbyterian Church of Siam. He and his wife also adopted two Siamese children in addition to having two children of their own. Upon return tot he United States, Rev. Mattoon served as pastor to a church in Ballston Spa, NY before being called to Charlotte.
Initially, the only residents near the school were the professors. On October 1, 1871, Rev. Mattoon and his wife Mary purchased 55 acres of farmland along Beatties Ford Road from W. F. Davidson for $1,000. Beginning in the 1870s, the Mattoon sold small lots to AfricanAmericans who wanted to live near the college. This area came to be called Biddletown, later Biddlevillle.
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The Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, "Biddleville Cemetery: Located in Five Points Park, French Street," November 2016
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“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin