Richardson Family of Rockingham Co., NC
Contributed by Dick and Carol Bentley whose email address is

The following was provided by Edward M. Richardson of Baltimore, when we volunteered to try to help locate some information about his grandfather in North Carolina. Dick and Carol Bentley, March 1998.


Robert Richardson was the seventh child and the fifth boy of a family of fourteen. Robert was born June seventh 1865 in Reedsville, North Carolina. He attended a primary school of the reconstruction era where he learned to read and write. This was a time when the Abolitionists from the north descended in mass to the south to educate the recently freed Blacks. After primary school Robert attended trade school where he was taught steam engineering both stationary and railroad. This training was to be his vocation throughout his life. The trade school that he attended is still an institution of Higher Learning; it is now known as North Carolina Agricultural and Technical Institute. After completion of trade school Robert was hired as Hostler, a person who acted as an engineer on the road but when the train was at the station or the station rail yard he became a coal passer assisting the fireman. The Southern Railroad Company had promised that any Black able to pass the hands on requirements of the job and recommended by supervising engineer would be upgraded to engineer as soon as feasible and possible. After about seven years Bob confronted his immediate supervisor and in the exchange of words Bob was told that The Southern Railroad had no plans or intention of upgrading him or any other man to the position of operating engineer. Disillusioned and disgusted Bob left North Carolina and traveled by "shanks mare" to the north.

In Baltimore he stopped to rest his weary feet. He had been moving steadily for four months, stopping to do odd jobs here and there for food, shelter and clothing. While resting here in Baltimore he learned of Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point and that it was looking for workers. Bob went to the plant, filled out an application, was interviewed and was hired as a hoist operator. Bob worked at the Point for six years.

It was in Baltimore that Bob met Agilena Turner, a graduate of Barber Scotia College in North Carolina. Agilena was a teacher in Carolina; here in Baltimore on summer vacation, she was working as a domestic with her sister Nancy Turner. Bob pressed Agilena so much that summer that Lena, as she became known, decided not to return to teaching. They were married the following spring. From this union five children were born, Wardelle, Robert, Ella, Jessie and finally Edward.

In the sixth year of working at the Point, Bob was encouraged by his supervisor to apply for a job with an architect who was planning to construct the first multistory steel frame building in the country. Sparrows Point was to supply the framing steel. The building was recently refurbished. It is known as the Flat Iron Building. Bob worked on this job until the structure was completed and turned over to the new owners.

Returning to Baltimore and his family Bob was hired by the Horn and Horn Creamery and Ice Cream Company. Sometime during his employment at Horn and Horn Bob was asked to consider taking a position as the chief engineer at a small Black College operated by the African Methodist Church, in compliance with city and state law that the plant be operated by a licensed engineer and Bob being one of the few black licensed in the state. He was persuaded to accept the position as Chief of the new plant that was being constructed at the new site of Morgan College at the corner of Arlington Avenue and Hillen Road. In May the College moved from Edmondson Avenue and Fulton Street. In accepting the job at Morgan, Bob understood that during the non heating seasons he was to help with general campus maintenance and beautification.

Further, as most black colleges did, Morgan planted a truck farm that would help reduce the cost of operating the institution and consequently the out of pocket cash that students and the parents supply. This farm provided fruits, vegetables meat, hogs, chickens and eggs. Morgan at one time had a poultry yard of close to two thousand leghorn chickens. During the summer months, when school was not in session, the farm produce was sold in east Baltimore to house wives and many neighborhood grocery stores. On Friday afternoons, Mr. Bob would gather all ripe produce, and load it on the wagon so that on Saturday morning at five thirty we, my father and I, would hitch one of the mules to the wagon and begin our journey to town. This trip to town and back would usually take about twelve hours. One of the highlights was to stop in the middle of the day for lunch, which consisted of sharp cheese, saltine crackers, lemonade or Nehi Soda and a large can of Del Monte peaches.

This activity provided some funds to maintain the campus during the summer months and to provide canned food for winter meals. The wisdom of this endeavor became evident during the depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929. Morgan at this time was in such dire straits that the administration asked the faculty and staff to forgo being paid until such time as the cash flow improved. It was at this time that my father took one of two hogs he had killed and butchered for family use to Chef Briscoe in Young Hall, the Dining Hall, to keep the students in food for about eight to ten days.

Poppa worked at this alone for fifteen years and many times worked as many as ninety hours a week to keep the heat up so that the pipes would not freeze and the students would be warm. When Morgan was taken over by the State, Poppa was considered too old to be blanketed in and was dismissed with no benefits.

(The following is from the Morgan State College Bulletin of May 1943.)


By James H. Carter, 16

On March 31, we buried "Poppa" Richardson. For nearly twenty years he served faithfully and efficiently as Engineer on the Morgan campus. Robert B. Richardson by name, he was known to generations of students and teachers as "Poppa," just as his own children called him.

Mr. Richardson was born on June 7, 1865 at Reidsville, North Carolina, and received some formal education in the school which is now known as the Agricultural and Technical College, at Greensboro, North Carolina. There followed a period as an apprentice carpenter, and then he went railroading. Here his genius with machinery was able to flower and he reached the grade of hostler, which meant that he was fireman when the train was near the depot, and engineer out on the longer runs.

Coming to Baltimore in the year 1900, he secured work with the Bethlehem Steel Company at Sparrows Point, and rose to the rank of crane operator.

In 1921 he was appointed engineer at Morgan immediately after the central heating plant of the campus was completed, and served until June of 1940, when he retired because of age.

Many pages might be written concerning the service which he rendered during the period when the college was struggling with meager funds to establish itself on the new Hillen Road site. He was at one and the same time chief engineer and relief man, day and night operator and special Sunday worker. To my certain knowledge, Mr. Richardson often spent as high as ninety hours weekly in the boiler room.

And yet withal, he was courteous, soft voiced and kindly. His task was important and he so regarded it. In his work he graced the campus life as truly as did any other teacher or worker. We remember his deeds, and honor his memory.


The above was posted by Cindy Casey on the USGenWeb site for Rockingham Co, NC in May of 1998. As a result we received valuable help from Spencer E. McCall, Faye Moran and Elvin Perkins. Using their help and a family group sheet completed by Ed Richardson, we continued our research into the Census Records at the National Archives and were able to put together the following information for Ed. He was pleased and carried it with him when he attended a Richardson family reunion in the fall of 1998.

Robert Richardson (1865-1943)

1865 - 7 June 1865, birth of Robert Richardson in Reidsville, (Rockingham County), NC.

He was the 7th child and 5th boy in a family of 14 children.

Attended a trade school that later became NC Agricultural and Technical Institute,

Greensboro, NC. Occupation: Steam engineering. Worked as a hostler for the

Southern Railroad.

1870 - The US Census for Rockingham County, Simpsonville Township, Wentworth Post Office, on page 364, dwelling 290 - family 288, lists the family of Jack Richardson, age 45 and his wife Nicy, age 40. Their children were listed as Gilburt - 16, Annie - 14, Fannie - 8, Robert -6, Peter - 4, and Phoeby - 1. Everyone was born in NC. There appears to be an error in the listing of information in the occupation column; all entries seem to be one line lower than they should be and the occupation of Blacksmith is listed for the mother instead of the father. This is also true for everyone in all entries below this family on this page. The entries above this family are all white families and this and the ones below it are black. (The white family immediately above this one is that of R P Richardson, age 51, a farmer. Tracing him back to 1860 and forward to 1880 shows that he was also a merchant and involved in the tobacco industry. In 1860 he had real estate valued at $14,000 and personal property worth $72,000.)

1880 - In the 1880 Census for Rockingham County, Simpsonville Township, Election District 232, on page 18, line 39, what appears to be the same family is listed as Jno Richardson, age 51 and Nicy, age 46 with children: Peter - 13, Pheba - 11, Anna - 7, Rosa - 6, and Jno - 2. John works on a farm and was born in VA; everyone else was born in NC.

1900 - Robert Richardson walked from NC to Baltimore where he found employment with Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point. He married Agilena Turner a graduate of Barber Scotia College in North Carolina. They were the parents of 5 children: Wardelle (1909-1979), Robert (1911- 1963), Ella (1912-1987), Jessie (1915-1989) and Edward (born April 8, 1921).

After working 6 years at Sparrows Point for Bethlehem Steel, Robert worked on the construction of the Flat Iron Building (New York City), the first multistory steel structure in the country.

1910 - According to the 1910 US Census for Maryland, Robert Richardson lived at 600 Windermere St. in

Baltimore, with his wife Lena and son Wardell who was 1 month old. He was age 42, born in NC and Lena was 27, also born in NC. They had been married 2 years and he was working as a fireman at the fertilizer works. Both were able to read and write and owned their home but there was a mortgage.

1920 - The US Census for Maryland, shows Robert Richardson, age 46, married, born in NC, occupation

fireman, working in an office building; his wife Lena, age 32, born in NC; and 4 children, Wardel, 10, Robert, 8, Ella 7 and Jessie, 4, all born in Maryland. Also living with the family were: Nancee Turner 29, sister in law, working as a government clerk, and Lola Turner, 17, sister in law, a student, and Clyde McNight, age 25, step brother, working as a laborer in the steel mill. They were living at 600 Crawford St., between 33rd and 34th streets.

1921 - Appointed engineer at Morgan College ( Now Morgan State College) when the central heating plant of the school was completed at the new campus.

1940 - Morgan College became a state college and "Poppa" Richardson was retired because of his age. 1943 - 31 March 1943, Robert "Poppa" Richardson was buried.

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