He Was A Hero At Havelock

I received a most incredible email yesterday! Mr. Eddie Ellis Jr., A historian of Havelock, NC in Craven County, NC shared with me incredible details about a family member of mine. That family member is Rev. Wright L. Lawhorn and he was a brother of my 2nd great-grandfather, Samuel Becton Lawhorn.

We are fortunate to have in the family still, Samuel’s Family Bible. When I first started researching my family history, I received a photocopy of the bible pages that lasted names and dates of family members. The longest entry in the bible reads: “Rev. Wright Lawhorn the son of V Lawhorn born February 4, 1877 started preaching in 1902 at Havelock Mission now pastoring at Lancaster as of September 15, 1950,”

Excerpt from Lawhorn Family Bible

Excerpt from Lawhorn Family Bible

That was my first time “meeting” Wright and over the years, I’ve continued to research him and his family. Just last year, I wrote here on my blog about Wright’s second wife, Birdell, and how she had a yearbook annual dedicated to her. Shortly after posting that, I had a conversation with a family member who told me a bit more about Wright.

Wright apparently saved a train from crashing at some point in his life and as a reward, the train company gave him a job as a porter and gave him a pass to ride the train whenever he wanted, for free. The email I received yesterday from Mr. Ellis confirmed it!  Mr. Ellis had known about the story for several years, but until a couple of days ago, had only known the name of the man who saved the train as “McLawhorn” for that was the name printed in the paper. By happenstance, Mr. Ellis saw the name “Lawhorn” in a census records, started searching for Lawhorn, and found Wright and found my aforementioned blog post. So, Ellis sent me the newspaper articles describing what happened.

In July 2016 a hurricane came through the state and caused flooding in many areas. It seems Wright and his first wife, Vera, saw a train crossing that was washed away and so decided to try and warn any oncoming trains. The first train they saw was headed to Goldsboro returning from the beach and carried about 400-500 people. The train conductor saw Lawhorn waving him down, stopped, and was able to walk to nearby town and get assistance. The papers report that had Wright not been able to warn the conductor, the “loss of life would have been appalling.” Wright was lauded as a hero for his actions. The passengers of the train collected a purse for him of $25 or $31 dollars (depending on the newspaper account) which is equivalent to about $700 today. However, a later editorial chided the passengers for putting such little value on their lives and suggested the railroad company, Norfolk Southern Railroad, needed to give Wright a big check. Mr. Ellis thinks that may have been why they ended up giving Wright the job and subsequently, the free rides for life pass – a pass he noted was usually reserved for politicians and other important people.

Kinston Free Press newspaper, July 26, 1916

Kinston Free Press newspaper, July 26, 1916


Franklin Times Newspaper, July 28, 1916

Franklin Times Newspaper, July 28, 1916


I’m amazed to have these sources now to share with the family. What a treasure to have and learn more about the selfless act that  Wright and Vera did and the impact it had for those hundreds of people on the train. A “Hero at Havelock” indeed!

Comments (2)

  1. cora scribmer

    So proud of uncle Wright. He was said to be a very caring person who reached out to our families in many ways. I remember seeing him as a child but lost contact with him. I would have loved to have known him. Thanks for your research Taneya. I’m truly grateful to you.

  2. Taneya Koonce (Post author)

    Thank you Cora for sharing. From what I have learned about him from you and Haywood, he definitely sounded like a person with a good heart. 🙂

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