After Emancipation, African Americans struggled to reunite families, set up households, start their own churches and schools, and establish their own rural communities. While newspaper editorials railed against African Americans in general—vigorously opposing their suffrage, military protection, and any other type of advancement—some Fayette County attitudes toward particular local African Americans was somewhat tempered.
The La Grange newspaper, for example, called for white residents to financially support a group of African Americans trying to start a church; it commended freedmen for coming to the aid of a white man whose barn was on fire; and it gave favorable publicity to a convention of freedmen in nearby Bastrop.
Yet, tension between blacks and whites generally remained strong. A cousin of the Faison family of La Grange, James Peden, who lived in a nearby county, reflected a disparaging attitude toward people of color in a letter written February 10, 1868: “Lynch law is carried on all over the state and the Negroes try to run rough shod over the Whites. Oh! Would to God another war would break out. I would not be in the Commissary Dept. I would make a heavy mark or die in the attempt.”
During these turbulent years, Nathaniel Faison, local entrepreneur and landowner, began to donate land to local freedmen. On March 28, 1867, he deeded two town lots to trustees of a Baptist church and a Methodist Episcopal church to provide a school and worship for black members; and on May 30, 1867, he and W.W. Ligon deeded, for the sum of thirty dollars, a town lot to trustees of the Freedman’s School Association of La Grange.
In February 1870, Faison and Ligon sold another lot for thirty dollars to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church: “Said premise shall be used, kept, maintained and disposed of as a place of divine worship and for school purposes subject to the discipline, usage and ministerial appointments of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”
Faison verbally offered to donate two acres about nine miles west of the La Grange for school purposes sometime in 1870 or earlier. Louis Luck, August Hahn, and A. Keisling formed a board of trustees to take charge of erecting a schoolhouse and employing teachers. The land was formally deeded in May 1871 after Faison’s death for the sum of one dollar.
In 1874, another tract promised by Faison was deeded by his estate to trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in rural Fayette County.
Both Nathaniel and Peter Faison, his brother, seemed to have had a complex relationship with African Americans. Their father, William Wright Faison, owned 27 slaves at the time of his death in 1859. After Emancipation, Peter assisted in making the bond for the marriage of two former slaves, Smith Woodson and Lucy Faison, on August 9, 1866.
Payton Faison, a former slave of William Wright Faison, moved to Fayette County sometime before 1873, and his descendants still reside in La Grange today. Payton Faison’s son Tom may have borrowed money from Peter Faison; notes with documentary stamps were found in the Faison House, showing that in 1899, Tom Faison owed H.C. Heilig & Company, a local bank, small amounts of money on several occasions.
Fayette County Deed Record Book T, 181, 245.
Fayette County Deed Record Book V, 722.
Fayette County Deed Record Book W, 610.
Fayette County Deed Record Book 3, 209.
Letter, James Peden to Bettie Peden, February 10, 1868.
States’ Rights Democrat, 1866.
United States Census, Fayette County, 1880; conversation with Faison family members, La Grange; papers from Faison House, Garden Club of La Grange.
Louisiana Brown (“Lou Faison”)
Will of William Wright Faison; marriage records, Hardeman County, Tennessee, 1866.