The Wilkins Connection Family Reunion has been a consistent event beginning in 1975 and since 2005 the family reunion has be held biennially on the third weekend of July. The Wilkins Connection has convened in various locations on the eastern seaboard including Tarboro, Rocky Mount, Sandy Point, Richmond, Baltimore, Largo and Oxon Hill, Md.; New Haven, Conn.; The Wilkins family comes together to celebrate and honor the legacy of Ephram Wilkins, the family’s most respected patriarch.
Ephram and his mother, an Indian woman, came to Tarboro with Dr. Newsom Jones Pittman in approximately 1853 and, soon after their arrival, his mother escaped, never to be seen or heard from again. Pittman (9 Aug. 1818-14 May 1893), physician, surgeon and gynecologist, was born in Halifax County, the son of John and Catherine Jones Pittman.
He was graduated in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1839 and in 1849-52 studied in medical clinics in Europe, primarily in London, Berlin and Paris.
Ephram’s mother had been a wedding gift to Catherine Jones from her mother, Martha Wilkes (hence, the selection of the Wilkins surname that Ephram chose at Emanicipation when African Americans began to use surnames) and was required to come with Pittman to help and aid him in setting up housekeeping in Tarborough.
Pittman’s first wife, whom he married in 1858, was Mary Ann Streeter. They were the parents of two daughters, Kate (1859-73) and Minerva (1860-1940). Mrs. Pittman died in 1861, and in 1867 he married Mrs. Mary Eliza Battle Dancy. Ephram was fair skinned with black straight hair and prominent European features. The family lived in the 600 block of Main Street on the west side (across from First Baptist Church) in Tarboro.
According to the Census of 1870, Ephram (25, male, listed as white) was living on the Henry Battle Farm in the Coakley area and working as a farm laborer with his first wife, Ann Mercer (23, female, also listed as white). The couple had two sons, Samuel and Redmond. In the 1877, Ephram (now listed as colored, 30 years old) married Lucy Cotton (18 years old, also listed as colored) on Nov. 21 in Township No.13 with Justice of the Peace W. E. Braddleyofficiating. Official witnesses to the ceremony included W. W. Proctor, Mosie Hines and Dopey Murphy.
The Census for Edgecombe County in 1880 shows that Ephram Wilkins, widowed and now listed as Mulatto, was 36 years old, and it showed the birthplace of his father and mother as North Carolina.
Living with him were his niece, Mary, female, Black and 14 years old; Sam Wilkins, son, male, mulatto, 9 years old; and his daughter, Hattie Wilkins, female, black and one year old. On March 15, 1882, Ephram Wilkins (colored, 35 years of age) married Della Killebrew (Colored and 30 years of age) before S. T. Cherry, Justice of the Peace. Della was listed as the daughter of Morris and Carolina Barnes of Lower Conetoe Township.
In 1900, the family was listed in the Census with Ephram (born in March and 55 years of age), head of household, in Township No. 2 in their own house valued at $250. is wife, Della (born May 1862 was 38 years old); Horace, son, December 1882 (17); Lorenzo, Son, March, 1886 (14); Celia, daughter, April, 1887 (13); Rebecca, daughter, June, 1893 (6); Leah, daughter, April, 1889 (11); Elijah, son, January 1892 (8); Henry, son, February 1897 (3); and Ruey, son, May 1899 (1).
The 1910 Census indicated that Ephram Wilkins was 60 years, married three times and had been married 29 years, fathering 17 children and 12 currently living and Della, who was 51 years old, married twice and had been married to Ephram for 29 years and had given birth to 12 children and currently 10 children were living. Living in the household were Becky (Rebecca), 14; Selah (Celia), 21; Henry, 13; Ruey, 9; Willie (Willard), 7; Betsey (Bessie), 6; and Turner, 3.
The older children had set up their own households. Samuel Wilkins in 1910 was head of household at 38 years of age and was a farm laborer, married to Charlotte Knight, 38 years of age, and their children were: Arthur, Son, 14; Annie, Daughter, 13. Horace Wilkins in 1910 was head of household at 26 years of age and a farm laborer, married to Lizzie, 25 years old with two children, Penny, Daughter, 5 years old and Horace, Jr., son, 3 years old.
Lorenzo Wilkins was head of his household and was 25 years old and married to Henrietta (24 years of age) and they had at the time, two daughters, Mamie and Minnie, twins and both were 0/12, that is, less than a year old.
Ephram died in the early morning on Aug. 7, 1918 and was buried on the J. H. Howard Farm near Conetoe, and the undertaker in charge was Fields Funeral Home. Horace Wilkins was the informant for the certificate of death, and it indicated that Ephram was a male, Negro, married, about 70 years old, and his occupation was laborer. His parents names were unknown, and the certificate was signed by Dr. Julian Baker, Tarboro. Della Killebrew Wilkins survived until March 26, 1934, and was buried in the Howard Cemetery beside her husband. The Community Burial League of Conetoe handled the remains, and her mother was listed on the death certificate as Caroline Barnes and her father was listed as Tom Killebrew.
Ephram persevered and was steadfast in his faith in God during a very turbulent time in this country’s history. His trials and tribulations included surviving slavery without parents, adjusting to the early deaths of two wives, providing for a large family on menial wages derived from farm labor, and a personal aspiration of a better future for his family without a formal education.
This brief history is written to aid in preserving the Wilkins family history for future generations. It is my hope that a family member will expand the family story through more extensive research and investigation.