Mary Presson's historic journey to a new beginning
Updated: Apr 23
NOTE: In celebration of the ministry’s 135th Anniversary, My Thoughts, on occasion, will be first person accounts by historic individuals who have helped make BCH what it is today. This month’s column is by the first child admitted into care in 1885 –– Mary Presson (aka Dr. Jesse Croom).
After dinner in late October of 1885, Mama told me she needed to talk with me about something very important.
“Since your Papa died, it has been difficult for me to earn enough to buy food and clothes for the two of us,” she said. She went on to explain that since things were hard for everyone in the area; and, that she could find only occasional work to support them.
As her eyes filled with tears, Mama said, “Mary, we’re going to have to move out of this tenant house since I can’t tend the land. You know we don’t have any family nearby to help us.”
Mama told me she had talked with Dr. John Mitchell, pastor of Ahoskie Baptist Church, and that he would help get me into the new Baptist orphanage in Thomasville.
“Mama, can you go with me?” I asked.“No, an orphanage is for children,” she replied. “When things get better, I promise that we’ll be together again.”
I couldn’t say anything –– so I clung to her and tried not to cry.
Several weeks later, Dr. Mitchell visited and told us that everything had been worked out for me to go to the orphanage on Wednesday, November 11. He said since Mama was not allowed to go with me, he would accompany me on the train.
Early on Wednesday morning, Mama fixed my favorite breakfast – biscuits and gravy. Then we went to the railroad station. Dr. Mitchell took the box of my belongings and told me that it was time to tell Mama “good-bye.”
As we entered the car, I sat next to the window and I gazed at my dear Mama. As the train began moving, we waved until we could no longer see one another.
As the train slowly moved out of town, I kept looking out the window as all I had ever known slipped away. Finally, Dr. Mitchell asked, “Mary, what are you thinking?”
With a quivering voice, I told him how much I was already missing Mama. I also told him about my teacher and friends in the fourth grade. He assured me that my Mama loved me and wanted the best for me.
I sat silently, but when I could no longer hold it in, I blurted out, “I’m scared to go to the orphanage!”
Dr. Mitchell took my hand and looked gently into my eyes. “Mary,” he said, “you don’t have to be afraid. John Haymes Mills, the general manager of the orphanage, is a dear friend who cares deeply for children. I trust him so much that I contributed the funds to build the first cottage at the orphanage.”
When we got off the train, Dr. Mitchell arranged transportation to the orphanage.
Finally, we stopped in front of a new, brick building with a huge porch –– Mitchell Cottage.
As we got out of the buggy, the tallest man I had ever seen came out the door. He leaned down, extending his huge hand to me, and said, “Welcome, Mary Presson!”
I couldn’t believe it –– Mr. Mills already knew my name and spoke to me before greeting his long-time friend. He made me feel that I was important.
The preacher was right. Mr. Mills did take care of me. He also helped my Mama keep her promise of our being together again. He hired her to be a “Mama” in the cottage –– the orphanage’s first matron.
What was the worst of times, became for me and mama, the best of times! It was a new beginning.
–– Mary Presson
Mary Presson’s first person account was written by The Reverend Doctor Jesse Croom of Edenton, a former BCH trustee and former pastor of First Baptist Church, Ahoskie. Mary grew up and became Mary Presson Yarborough. She is buried along side her mother in God’s Acre at Mills Home in Thomasville.
My Thoughts by Michael C. Blackwell, BCH President/CEO with guest columnist Jesse Croom