Clory, Nellie Gray Patron Sargent
Nellie Gray Patron Sargent befriended Latter-day Saint missionaries in rural Caroline County, Virginia, for at least a decade before she eventually embraced their message and led her entire family (except her husband John) into the faith. Her decision ultimately prompted at least three generations of Sargents to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She thus presided over a family of Black Latter-day Saint pioneers who joined the LDS Church at the height of racial segregation in the United States as well as racial discrimination in her newfound faith.
Nellie Gray Patron was born in Richmond, Virginia, in May 1857. It is possible that she was the daughter of John and Mary McKay Patron, the names she listed as her parents when she was baptized even though when she married she recorded that her parents were "unknown." No evidence survives to indicate what her youth may have been like or even how she eventually met her husband John Sargent. The couple exchanged vows on 22 June 1887 in Caroline County, Virginia. John was 22 at the time and Nellie claimed to be 28, even though she may have just turned 30.
The Sergeants first appear in the United States census in 1900, when the census taker noted that both John and Nellie were literate, that John worked at a telegraph company, and that the couple were parents to seven children, one boy and six girls. While Nellie did not list a job on the census, she clearly worked at home, caring for her large family. By 1910 John no longer lived with the family and Nellie had taken over ownship of the family farm. The 1920 census indicated that she was now “Farm Manager” and noted that she lived with two daughters, a son-in-law, and six grandchildren.
In 1921, Nellie successfully filed for divorce from John Sargent on grounds of desertion. Almost two years later she married a 40 year old widower named Elija Clory, who lived in Washington, D.C. at the time. The couple resided on Nellie’s Golansville farm for the next two decades, living off of what they could raise on their land. By 1940 Elija also worked as a “road contractor.”
Even though Nellie’s granddaughter belatedly identified her grandmother as white, all surviving public documents describe Nellie as “black,” “colored,” “negro,” or “mulatto.” An 1860 census record for a John and Mary Patron from Richmond, Virginia, describe that particular family as white. However, the youngest daughter in that family was a 2 year old girl named Rosa, not Nellie. Frustratingly, that Patron family is not tracable in the 1870 or 1880 censuses and neither is Nellie. Without additional evidence it is not possible to make a definitive connection between the 1860 Patron family and Nellie.
It is possible that Nellie identified as Black in order to get around laws aimed at preventing Black/white marriages in Virginia. More likely, Nellie was of mixed racial ancestry and light enough to pass as white. Because Black people faced racism and discrimination, there were likely extenuating circumstances, especially legal ones, for not identifying as white when she married John Sargent and Elija Clory, both Black men.
Nellie met Latter-day Saint missionaries in 1895, as they went door-to-door looking for potential converts. As her daughter Novella Gibson explained to a student journalist in 1976, the family developed a long term connection with the missionaries as a result of Nellie’s kindnesses to the elders. Nellie fed them, washed their clothing, and mended their shoes. After a decade of such interactions, she and her seven children decided to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “She knew for a surety that the gospel was true,” Novella recalled decades later. John Clement Farr from Ogden, Utah, and his companion Thomas Edwin Ricks III, from Rexburg, Idaho, took turns baptizing and confirming Nellie and her seven children members of the Church. It must have been quite a scene—two white missionaries from a predominatly white church baptizing a Black family of eight in a creek in rural Virginia. “We were the only black family to join the church” at that time and place Novella recalled, an indication of her mother’s courage to stand alone.
Novella remembered that the missionaries’ ability to heal was central to the family’s conversion. “We never knew when the elders would be coming to visit, but they would come, especially when we needed them most . . . when someone in our family became very ill and the doctors could do nothing, the elders would show up in time to heal them.”
According to a Church census conducted in 1930, Nellie still identified as a Latter-day Saint. Her granddaughter suggested that Latter-day Saint services were too far away from Golansville to attend church regularly but Nellie’s daughter Novella frequently sent church materials for her mother and sister to study. Nellie thus maintained a connection to Latter-day Saint teachings and continued to nourish her faith.
Nellie died on 9 August 1947 in Golansville after a fall that addled her personality and mental state. She was burried in the family cemetery at Ruther Glen. Although she did not live long enough to participate in Latter-day Saint temple rituals, they were performed vicariously in her behalf in the Salt Lake temple in 1952. Later that year she was also sealed to her parents by proxy in the Logan, Utah, temple. Such vicarious temple work demonstrates the slippery nature of racial identification in the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries and the impossibility of policing racial boundaries.
By Joseph Stuart
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Record of Members Collection. Southern States Mission. Virginia District. Microfilm 1995. Family History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Clory.” Richmond Times Dispatch. (Richmond, Virginia). 10 August 1947, 32.
District of Columbia Marriages, 1811-1950. Elija Clory and Nellie Patron, 16 January 1923.
Richards, Debra E. “Open the Gates of the Temple.” The Daily Universe (Provo, Utah). 12 April 1976, 3-4, 9.
“Sargent.” Presiding Bishopric, Stake and Mission Census, 1914-1935. Cr 4 311. Church History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.
United States. 1860 Census. Virginia, Henrico County, Richmond.
United States. 1900 Census. Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
United States. 1910 Census. Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
United States. 1920 Census. Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
United States. 1930 Census. Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
United States. 1940 Census. Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
Virginia. Caroline County. Department of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificates of Death. File 18026. Registered No. 11. Nellie Gray Clory. Virginia State Archives. Richmond, Virginia.
Virginia. Caroline County. Bureau of Vital Statistics. State Board of Health. Record of Divorce Granted. Nellie Gray Sergeant and John Seargant. 14 February 1921.
Virginia, Caroline County. Register of Marriages. John Sargent and Nellie G. Patron, 1887. Virginia State Archives. Richmond, Virginia.
Wright, Virginia K. Oral interview by Alan Cherry, 14 October 1986. Transcript. Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Oral History Project. L. Tom Perry Special Collections. Harold B. Lee Library. Brigham Young University. Provo, Utah.
Hodes, Martha Elizabeth. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.
Patron, Rosa Pauline (Nellie Gray). (K4VS-JY6). Ordinance records at FamilySearch.org, accessed 19 March 2021.
 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Southern States Mission, Virginia District, Microfilm 1995, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. Nellie did not know the date of her birth. Her baptismal record only listed May 1857 as her birth month and year while her death certificate left her birth information blank. When she married John Sargent in 1887 she suggested she was born in 1859 and when she married Elijah Clory in 1923 she suggested she was born in 1878. Her baptismal record listed John and Mary McKay Patron as the names of her partents, but her marriage record in 1887 indicated that she did not know who her parents were.
 Virginia, Caroline County, Bureau of Vital Statistics, State Board of Health, Record of Divorce Granted, Nellie Gray Sergeant and John Seargant, 14 February 1921; Virginia, Caroline County, Register of Marriages, John Sargent and Nellie G. Patron, 1887, Virginia State Archives, Richmond, Virginia.
 United States, 1900 Census, Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
 United States, 1910 Census, Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
 United States, 1920 Census, Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
 Virginia, Caroline County, Bureau of Vital Statistics, State Board of Health, Record of Divorce Granted, Nellie Gray Sergeant and John Seargant, 14 February 1921.
 Washington, District of Columbia, Marriages, 1811-1950, Elija Clory and Nellie Patron, 16 January 1923.
 United States, 1930 and 1940 censuses, Virginia, Caroline County, Madison District.
 Virginia K. Wright, oral interview by Alan Cherry, 14 October 1986, transcript, 6, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Oral History Project, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Nellie’s marriage record to John Sargent in 1887 described her as colored; the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as black; the 1910 and 1920 censuses called her mulatto; her divorce from John Sargent in 1921 and her marriage certificate to Elijah Clory in 1923 both said she was colored; the 1930 and 1940 censuses listed her as negro; and her 1947 death certificate said she was colored.
 United States, 1860 Census, Virginia, Henrico County, Richmond City.
 See Martha Elizabeth Hodes, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).
 Wright, Oral Interview, 6.
 Debra E. Richards, “Open the Gates of the Temple,” The Daily Universe (Provo, Utah), 12 April 1976, 4.
 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Southern States Mission, Virginia District, Microfilm 1995, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. “John Clement Farr,” Missionary Database; “Thomas Edwin Ricks III., Missionary Database.
 Richards, “Open the Gates of the Temple,” 4.
 Richards, “Open the Gates of the Temple,” 4.
 "Sargeant," Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1914-1935, CR 4 311, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Wright, Oral Interview, 1-2.
 Virginia, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificates of Death, File 18026, registered No. 11, Nellie Gray Clory, Virginia State Archives, Richmond, Virginia; “Clory,” Richmond Times Dispatch, 10 August 1947, 32.
 Rosa Pauline (Nellie Gray) Patron (K4VS-JY6), ordinance records at FamilySearch.org, accessed 19 March 2021. The FamilySearch record assumes that Nellie was the girl Rosa in the 1860 Richmond census and that Nellie Gray was her nickname but offers no sources to substantiate this connection. Nellie was not sealed to her husband, Elija Clory in 1952, who had not died and was not a member of the LDS Church.
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