Piney Woods Free Union

Piney Woods Free Union is an agrarian community located just outside of Jamesville, North Carolina. Representing 300+ years of sustained Black land ownership, the community was settled by never-enslaved Black folk, Tuscarora and Croatan Indigenous peoples, and White people – a melange community that has remained self-sufficient through land stewardship and isolation from the historical economic forces that displaced similar communities across the region.

The historic Piney Woods Free Union community has a deep history of involvement in progressive social movements both locally and statewide. In the early 20th century, the community birthed some of the premier African-American religious institutions and leaders within the Disciples of Christ Assemblies, including Elder Wm. Preston Powell and the Free Union (Uniontown) Church of Christ. Well known Civil Rights and Environmental Justice advocates such as Bishop William J. Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign trace their ancestry to the founders of Piney Woods. 

The following is a collection of stories and resources documenting the Piney Woods Free Union community as a rare and beautiful example of Black land retention in the U.S. South. The media produced in collaboration with this aging community will be archived alongside the project oral history collection and physically housed by the Rural Beacon Initiative as a part of their flagship project and sustainability hub – The Free Union Farms Hub. 

Our Community Collaborators

Janelle James

Charles Shepherd

Shelton Staten

William Barber III

Benjamin Barber


We would like to extend deep gratitude to those Piney Woods residents and descendants who shared their time, expertise, and credibility in helping us connect with community members and elders. This work and the resources featured on this page would not be here without their help. 


Play Video

Mini Documentary – Coming Soon

On November 5, 2022 and June 24, 2023, the Rural Beacon Initiative the Free Union Harvest Festival, a twice annual celebration of land, community, and crops. As a part of a larger documentation of Piney Woods Free Union and RBI’s Free Union Farms sustainability hub, this mini-documentary attempts to highlight the significance of the Harvest Festival – a revival and starting point for economic prosperity and cultural preservation in the community

Associated Coverage

Rebuilding The Homestead: How Black Landowners in the South Are Recovering Lost Generational Wealth
Produced for The Margin & The Nation

[Coming Soon] Building a reparative model for Black agrarian community in the U.S. South

Supported by Grist and the Center for Rural Strategies

“The community dates at least back to the late 1700s or early 1800s. Its original population was an admixture of Indian and Free Negro. The Indian heritage is Croatan and possibly Tuscarora, with the latter probably dominating. One of its early founders was David Boston, probably Tuscarora descent. This has been handed down by traditional account to his descendants. Added to this is the fact that the name of David Boston does not show up on the census records until 1860 and then in the column designated mulatto or other…” and that prior to this time, the censis records specifically mention two categories for non-whites. The first of these is “Free Negro” and the second is “Mulatto or other, excepting non-tax paying Indians.” David Boston resided in Martin County and owned property during this period for county records sho that on December 12, 1816, in the County of Martin, there was a certain parcel of land bough from one Francis Ward for “one hundred dollars paid to me in hand by David Boston….” Between 1816 and 1843, David Boston made about 10 other such transactions. Yet his name does not appear on the census records. this leaves one to assume that tradition is correct in classifying him and his mother as Indian. It must be stated, however, that the name Boston shows up in 1830 census records both in Bertie and Washington County records — though not the name David Boston (nor that of his brother of which indications are his name was Robert Boston.) (Land transactions were also made during this period by one Robert Boston.)

– In his Disciples Assemblies of Eastern North Carolina (1966), William J. Barber
Sr. speaks to the historic nature of the community

Pine Needles

The following is a pdf copy of Pine Needles Reborn 2023 – an updated collection of Free Union narratives assembled by oral historian, documentarian, and Piney Woods descendant Ruby Lee Thigpen-Whitehurst. This book consists of Piney Woods Free Union stories and histories told by community elders and other relatives born from the early 1900s to the late 1990s.

We would like to extend deep gratitude to Ms. Ruby Thigpen-Whitehurst for entrusting us with this collection.

If you have Piney Woods roots, you are related to everyone else with Piney Woods roots. We are all cousins.

Ruby Lee Thigpen-Whitehurst