Rowena Milner Stephenson was the firstborn child of Richard Thaddeus Stephenson (June 29, 1842 – June 6, 1923) and Caroline William Crocker (March 19, 1845 – October 9, 1900). By the time of her birth on November 18, 1866, the Stephenson family was well-established in Northampton County, North Carolina – having already been there for three or four generations.
Richard Thaddeus Stephenson, the son of John W. Stephenson and Martha Ann Kee, was a farmer and a merchant who ran a store across from Pleasant Grove Methodist Church at the corner of Route 1311 and Route 1314 between Jackson and Seaboard (then called Concord). Like Joseph Thomas Maddrey, Thaddeus served in the Confederate Army – as a Captain in the 54th Regiment, Company D. He was with General Robert E. Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox County Courthouse. Thaddeus also served as a Justice of the Peace and a Northampton County Commissioner (1882 – 1885), and he was an active Mason.
The Thaddeus Stephenson home still stands across the street from Pleasant Grove, though it has been abandoned for many years. A cemetery listing on the U.S. GenWeb Archives for Northampton County helped me to find gravestones for Thaddeus, his wife Caroline, and niece Ruth Coker, in front of the old house.
Rowena, who came to be known around town as “Mittie” or “Miss Mitt,” was barely eighteen years old when she married 42-year-old Joseph Thomas Maddrey on December 11, 1884. She proved to be every bit as industrious as he was. A graduate of Chowan College in Murfreesboro, she was a founding member of the Seaboard Baptist Church (“I cannot rear my children in this town without a Baptist Church,” she said) and wrote a series of articles for early county newspapers under the name “Old Zick.” She also bore Joseph thirteen children: Harry Lamont (April 25, 1886 – August 2, 1929), Howard Carlton (October 12, 1890 – December 30, 1966), Oliver Wendell (October 6, 1892 – February 20, 1932), Emerson Bailey (July 31, 1894 – October 14, 1955), Marguerite William (June 11, 1896 – February 19, 1969), John Mitchell (March 4, 1898 - March 4, 1964), Joseph Thomas Jr. (March 5, 1900 – April 3, 1979), Wayland Barnett (April 9, 1902 - September 7, 1907), Charles Gordon (November 9, 1904 – December 30, 1981), Milner Crocker (May 8, 1907 – February 19, 1980), and three children who died in infancy. “Carl” helped to raise his younger brothers and sisters after his father died of rheumatism on October 30, 1912.
Eleven years later, on June 6, 1923, Captain Richard Thaddeus Stephenson died at his oldest daughter’s home. He was eighty years old. According to his obituary, “He had been in declining health for some time. During the months of January and February this year his recovery was despaired of but he rallied late in March and surprised his physicians and friends by strengthening sufficiently to attend Sunday School, preaching services, take auto rides and spend much time in H.C. Maddrey and Co’s store. Here he cheerfully greeted friends and told them how he overcame the great enemy ‘death’ and hoped to round out his predicted century mark. His last illness while not sudden, lasted only three days. He never regained consciousness, from the beginning spoke audibly only once and that was to say, “bless the Lord, O my soul.’”
In the April 22, 1950, edition of The State, Miss Mitt was interviewed about her hometown. She said: “We have the grandest little town in all of North Carolina. You won’t find any better people anywhere. They’re so friendly and neighborly that it’s a joy to be among them….When I first came to Seaboard to live there were only three stores here – wooden buildings. We don’t have any industry to amount to anything because Northampton County is strictly an agricultural county, and with the exception of saw mills and a few cotton gins, there are practically no industrial enterprises. The big landowners in this section never have been very much in favor of mills and factories. The same thing was true many years ago of Weldon. The people there were opposed to new enterprises because it would bring a lot of strange folks there. The mills went to Roanoke Rapids, and in a few years I believe Roanoke Rapids is going to be the biggest and most prosperous town in eastern North Carolina. It’s a wonderful town and is growing faster than any other place in this section of the state.”
On September 23, 1951, at age 85, Miss Mitt was the guest of honor at the opening service of the new Seaboard Methodist Church building. At that time, six of her sons and one daughter were living (though one of them, Carl, had defected to the Methodist Church). Rowena Milner Stephenson Maddrey died on November 6, 1951. All of her children, with the exceptions of the three youngest (Joseph Thomas Jr., Charles Gordon and Milner Crocker) are buried alongside her in the family plot at Seaboard town cemetery.