Montgomery, Mary Green Cox

Biography

Mary Green Cox Montgomery

Mary Green represents the first generation of African Americans born after slavery ended. She was born to formerly enslaved parents who became sharecroppers in the same county where they were previously enslaved. Mary grew up working on her parents’ farm and died at age 65 working on the farm she had established with her husband. It was no doubt a difficult life. Perhaps there was something in the Latter-day Saint message that brought Mary hope although it is impossible to know her reasons for joining the predominantly white faith with hardening racial policies of its own. She converted in her mid-twenties on the same day as her younger sister Harriett. They both lived their entire lives in Horry County, South Carolina.

Mary was the second of fourteen children born to Joseph Green and Harriet Bellamy Green. When Mary was born, her family was known by the surname Vaught; however, sometime between 1870 and 1880, the family changed their surname to Green.[1] This simple act of renaming held significant meaning to the Greens. Both of Mary’s parents were born enslaved. Her father was identified by name for the first time in the 1870 census as Joseph Vaught, an indication that he likely worked on the Vaught Plantation in Horry County. His death certificate reveals that his biological father was a white man named Bill Bessent.[2] Mary’s mother was born Harriet Bellamy who probably worked on the Cherry Grove Plantation, also located in Horry County. John Bellamy owned Cherry Grove when Harriet was born which likely accounts for her last name.[3] Harriet and Joseph married in 1865, the first year that formerly enslaved people were legally allowed to marry in South Carolina. Joseph and Harriet thus rejected their former enslavers and the paternalism that slavery espoused in order to form their own family. When Joseph chose Green as a last name, he also rejected his white father’s surname and the surname of his former enslaver. In doing so he emphasized his family’s freedom and passed a powerful legacy onto his children, all of whom were born free.

Mary’s birth year varies slightly from census to census; however, she was likely born between 1868 and 1870; she listed her birthdate on her LDS baptismal record as August 17, 1868.[4] Mary was born and spent her entire life in Little River Township, Horry County, South Carolina. Horry County is situated along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and shares a border with North Carolina. The county forms part of a region identified as the Low Country which is known for its rich and distinctive Gullah Geechee cultural heritage. The Gullah people are the descendants of enslaved Africans. They worked in relative isolation away from white overseers and slave owners and were able to retain African influences in their language, religious practices, crafts, and food.[5] We do not know if Mary and her family were Gullah; however, her day-to-day life was likely steeped in Gullah culture.

After emancipation, Mary’s family worked as sharecroppers. The 1880 agricultural census reveals that the Green family rented seven acres of land, raised fifteen swine, five chickens, grew 200 pounds of rice, and 100 bushels of corn. By 1900, Joseph and Harriet Green owned their farm outright and continued to work as farmers for the rest of their lives.[6]

Mary and her younger sister Harriet together converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 27 March 1894. According to the birth year on Mary’s baptismal record, she would have been 25 at the time and Harriet was 15 or 16. There were only three other Black members of the LDS Church in South Carolina by then, making Mary and Harriet racial pioneers. Don Carlo Loveland from Albion, Idaho, baptized Mary and William Done from Smithfield, Utah, confirmed her the same day.[7] There is no indication of what attracted the sisters to the faith, or if they remained members throughout their lives. Mary and Harriet are the only known members of their families to join the LDS Church.

No official record of Mary’s first marriage has been located to date. However, Mary’s baptismal record confirms that she was married to a man with the surname Cox. She had two children from this marriage, a daughter named Harriet and a son named Sidney.[8] That marriage ended by 1898, and Mary then married Richard Montgomery, making a second marriage for him as well. The new couple had three children together, Luther H., Mariah M., and Tommie. Richard died between 1912 and 1920, and Mary did not remarry.

Mary worked on a farm her entire life. She began her working life as a sharecropper on her parent’s farm, but by 1900 she and her husband owned their farm outright. Much like she did as a child with her parents, her own children worked alongside Mary on the farm. Mary was 65 years old when she died on May 10, 1933 of a stomach tumor.[9]

By Julia Huddleston

Primary Sources

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection. Southern States Mission. CR 375 8, box 6516, folder 1, image 111. Church History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.

South Carolina. State Board of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificates of Death. Joseph Green. File No. 12018, Registered No. 28, Jas. A. Sloan. Office of Vital Records, Columbia, South Carolina.

South Carolina. State Board of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificates of Death. Mary Montgomery. File No. 6963, Registered No. 12. Office of Vital Records, Columbia, South Carolina.

United States. 1870 Census. South Carolina, Horry County.

United States. 1880 Census. South Carolina, Horry County.

United States. 1900 Census. South Carolina, Horry County.

United States. 1910 Census. South Carolina, Horry County.

United States. 1920 Census. South Carolina, Horry County.

United States. 1930 Census. South Carolina, Horry County.

Secondary Sources

Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.

Horry County, SC Plantations. South-Carolina-plantations.com.


[1] United States, 1870 Census, South Carolina, Horry County; United States, 1880 Census, South Carolina, Horry County.

[2] South Carolina, State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificates of Death, File No. 12018, Registered No. 28, Jas. A. Sloan. Office of Vital Records, Columbia, South Carolina.

[3] United States, 1870 Census, South Carolina, Horry County; United States, 1880 Census, South Carolina, Horry County; United States, 1900 Census, South Carolina, Horry County; “Horry County, SC Plantations,” South-Carolina-plantations.com.

[4] United States, 1870 Census, South Carolina, Horry County.

[5] For more information on the Gullah Geechee culture, see the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission’s website here.

[6] United States, 1880 Census, South Carolina, Horry County; United States, 1900 Census, South Carolina, Horry County.

[7] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Southern States Mission, CR 375 8, box 6516, folder 1, image 111, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah;

[8] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Southern States Mission, CR 375 8, box 6516, folder 1, image 111, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States; 1900 Census, South Carolina, Horry County.

[9] United States, 1900 Census, South Carolina, Horry County; South Carolina, State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificates of Death, File No. 6963, Registered No. 12, Office of Vital Records, Columbia, South Carolina.

Documents

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