A century ago, the 16 children of William and Negelina Morgan gathered on the family farm near Dunn, feasting on fried chicken and country-cured ham, enjoying an autumn glass of lemonade and watching their children cut loose.
It was 1914, and the entire Morgan clan reunited at the wooden house where they’d been raised on hard work and sweet potato pie – nine boys on one side, seven girls on the other.
In the far distant future lay the year 2014, when the family’s scattered offspring would still observe the annual meeting, traveling from as far California to a small Baptist church between Dunn and Newton Grove.
They might not recognize their progeny, who in the last 100 years have wandered the globe as far as Bangladesh, but they’d still offer a chicken leg and a cup of coffee.
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“I’ve probably been going to them since I was a baby,” said Joe Overby of New Bern, 70. “That family grew up in the Depression and held each other together.”
It’s not remarkable that a family knows its roots. What stands out for the Morgans is that they’ve met to recognize them every year without fail.
The News & Observer chronicled the 40th anniversary in 1954, noting that 150-plus relatives dined on “countless plates of potato salad, chicken salad, deviled eggs, pimento cheese salads, boiled meats, spiced meats, pickles, relishes of all sorts, hot biscuits and ‘hush puppies.’”
“The desserts pose a problem for the diet-conscious generation,” the N&O correspondent noted at the time, “and the choice is so broad that even the heavy eaters cannot sample them all. There’s angel food, devil’s food, chocolate layer, fresh cocoanut, lemon chiffon, caramel, pecan fluff layer cake, honey whip layer cake, butter scotch pie, apple pie, pecan pie, lemon meringue pie and many, many others.”
By 1954, with seven of the original 16 children still living, the reunion had shifted to Jada Morgan’s home on Blue Ridge Road, which at the time fell outside the Raleigh city limits and was nearly as sparsely populated as suburban Dunn.
Jim Barefoot, great-great grandson of the oldest of the 16, was the youngest attendee at the 40th at the age of 8 weeks. Now 60 and living in Winston-Salem, he’ll return on Sunday for the centennial after a long intermission.
“I didn’t realize it was the 100th year till I got your phone call,” he said. “It’s been 10 or 15 years. You get distracted by kids’ soccer games.”
The original Morgans were farmers, most likely corn and tobacco, Overby said. Family folklore tells that Negelina’s cooking in the kitchen attached to the rear of the house would draw the boys in from the fields. Once summoned, they would fold sweet potato pies in half and return to the fields.
The husband of one of the original 16 built Calvary Baptist Church between Dunn and Newton Grove, where they’ll gather this Sunday.
But while earlier reunions pulled largely from Harnett, Johnston and Sampson counties, the Morgans’ offshoots have rippled far from the family farm. Those ripples span from Everett Morgan, now 90, who served aboard a Navy submarine in World War II, to A.C. and Naomi Barefoot, who circled back to Raleigh after years in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and a visiting professorship at Oxford University.
A Fulbright scholar with a background in forestry, A.C. Barefoot once determined the age of King Arthur’s round table – a long way from the reunion picnic of 1954, which he attended.
“We are the nomads,” said Naomi Barefoot, 86, “and we’ve raised several nomads.”
Nomads drift home, where there’s plenty to eat and time for every story.