Monday, January 18, 2021

Crossing Paths


It is sometimes difficult to determine just how two people met. Take, for instance, King Stockton, current subject of our search, and the man—successful Florida businessman A. L. Lewis—who took up the project to record details of this former enslaved person's life. An entire generation—thirty six years—separated them. King Stockton was likely born in Georgia in 1830, while A. L. Lewis began life in Madison County, Florida, in 1865.

Their life's path also separated them. King Stockton was born in humble circumstances, the son of two enslaved people, one of whom we know very little about. While A. L. Lewis was also born to enslaved parents, the start of his life coincided with emancipation and eventually opened up for him opportunities, combined with his natural talents, that the previous generation certainly couldn't enjoy.

As much as I've searched for the answer on just how their paths crossed, this wealthy businessman and this humble farmer, perhaps the clearest explanation comes from the very booklet which A. L. Lewis prepared on the life of King Stockton. In his preface, Lewis explained how many "men and women have lived and died without very much thought being given to what an inspiration their life might be to future generations."

Thus, A. L. Lewis' goal "to have the beautiful characters of the men and women of their race held up before them as examples worthy of emulation" was achieved through publication of a booklet like the one focused on the story of King Stockton.

That, of course, makes me wonder whether Dr. Lewis had written any other such biographies, perhaps in a series dedicated to the same purpose. In that case, it would have made more sense that King Stockton's was just one more name among several suggested to the author. As of yet, though, I have not found any such indication.

That original booklet, as well, embeds some history in the Stockton story, making me wonder whether the nexus between the two men was not by business connections, not even by family relationships, but because of the denomination to which they both belonged: the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. After all, for sixty years, A. L. Lewis had served as Sunday School Superintendent of the Mount Olive AME Church in Jacksonville, Florida. While King Stockton spent the last of his years in the small agricultural community of Hastings in Saint Johns County, now about an hour's drive south of Jacksonville, it is possible that their earlier paths might have crossed in church affairs.

Noted in the small booklet of King Stockton's life was the detail that he grew up attending church services at the plantation where he lived, memorizing many of the scriptures that he heard repeatedly. He received an "exhorter's license" in 1853, and the narrative of the booklet explains that when "Bishop Wayman came to Florida in 1867" to organize the AME Church in Tallahassee, King Stockton was one of the members at that first conference.

That detail prompted me to see who Bishop Wayman might have been. Seeking details on the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, I discovered its roots long pre-dated the Civil War. The church grew out of another organization, the Free African Society, established in Philadelphia in 1787. Bishop Alexander Walker Wayman, born a free man in 1821 on his family's farm in Maryland, became the seventh bishop of the AME Church.

In his own writings, Bishop Wayman mentioned traveling to Florida in 1867 for the formation of the Florida church, including description of the uncomfortable "car" he rode in from Georgia to the station at Live Oak, Florida—not far from where King Stockton lived at the time in Suwannee County. Though the Wayman travel account mentions the key people he met when he arrived for the conference at Tallahassee, nowhere in the book was there any mention of King Stockton nor, at that early date, any of the Lewis family.

Yet, A. L. Lewis indicated that his subject, eventually coming to be called "Father Stockton," was a preacher at the elder man's local church, well into the latter part of his life. Though re-reading the booklet did help bring some details into focus, it still doesn't enlighten me as to the connection between writer and subject of the story. While my gut take on it is that the connection is more likely to have been one of family, the more logical explanation is probably through church association. Still, no solid details to confirm which would be the answer.

Still, having reviewed the bigger picture of the history behind some of the key names mentioned, it serves to provide an understanding of the time and situation in which the no-longer enslaved found themselves during King Stockton's lifetime. For more detail on that aspect, we'll turn next to the life story of another associate of King Stockton, a man in Florida politics who started life as the kid down the street from King Stockton's home in Wellborn. Perhaps, in once again reviewing that man's history, next time we can find much more than merely a footnote.     



  1. How Lewis and Stockton met might have been through mutual friends. Perhaps a church member said, “Hey, I know someone you could write about.”

  2. Perhaps in the future you may conclude that Lewis and Stockton were connected in both ways: kinship and love of the church. I find that very believable! These are strong clues: 1) what you have shown in this post about Stockton's prominence in the church; and 2) the mention in the booklet about Stockton's life-long love of "little Louvenia Ann Lewis."


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