Pattie Buford’s Missionary Work, an EWHP Timelines Profile

Each month, EWHP’s Timelines will feature short profiles of women in the Episcopal Church whose stories – while important, interesting and inspiring – have been lost, forgotten, minimized or never told at all.

Meet Martha “Pattie” Hicks Buford, a churchwoman in southern Virginia, in the September Timelines.  For the EWHP Archives Worth E. Norman, Jr. sends along his five-part article, “Pattie Buford’s Missionary Work,” published earlier this year in the Brunswick [County, Virginia] Times-Gazette. Part V is reprinted here with the publisher’s permission.

PATTIE BUFORD’S MISSIONARY WORK – Part Five

by Worth E. Norman, Jr.

From the Historical Marker Database,  www.hmdb.org

Martha “Pattie” Hicks Buford was an organizer, recruiter, educator, fund raiser, entrepreneur, and a Christian evangelist. In the latter case she brought together two church organizations that almost merged. Her dedication was not only to groups of people but to individual persons as well. Her valiant efforts at helping the poor, the sick, and the displaced, became legendary not only in Southside, Virginia but in many parts of the United States as well. Her efforts were not looked upon so favorably by some folks, however.

According to Brunswick County historiographer Janet Gay Neale, Pattie Hicks Buford “distressed many of her friends and alienated many of the white people of Lawrenceville by her concern for unfortunate black people.” What began as a ministry of supplying food and clothing grew into caring for the sick. Not only did she ask for donations for her ministries she utilized her own personal funds.

When her donors asked her to give them an account of her schools and work she wrote in 1877: “We live in the southern part of Virginia, and the negro [sic] population is largely in excess of the whites, and controls the county elections of course. For a long while very bitter feelings toward their former masters were engendered by the teachings of unprincipled adventurers among them.  The free schools are entirely inadequate. They are open only months in the year, and, owing to the depressed condition of our State finances, are now indefinitely closed. But as far as the Negro is concerned it is a matter of very little consequence whether they are open or closed …”

Regardless of the financial condition of the State or county, and in spite of the racial tensions evident at the end of the Reconstruction era, Pattie Buford forged ahead with her mission work. Nothing would stop her, not even her poor health. According to Buford Family biographer Fern K. Buford Walker, Miss Pattie suffered from an illness since childhood, probably rheumatoid arthritis.

According to a publication in 1940 by the State of Virginia, Buford in 1875 used a building on the family plantation as a refuge for homeless and bewildered Negroes. After she used all of her personal funds, the Episcopal Church Institute for Negroes financed the home until the last inmate died in 1912. In 1881 she made appeals for funds from her Northern supporters. A year later the “hospital” was incorporated as the Church Home for Infirm and Disabled Colored People. The hospital actually opened in 1883. In 1891 the hospital burned to the ground.

And at age forty-eight Pattie gave birth to her daughter. On January 17, 1901 Pattie Buford died less than one year after the death of her youngest son on May 14, 1900. Throughout all of her work Miss Pattie never neglected her family. Her two sons and husband were faithful supporters of her work.

One can only ask what would Brunswick County have been without the life and work of Martha “Pattie” Hicks Buford? She is remembered today as a perfect example of one person making a positive and hopeful difference in lives of others.

–If you have questions or information to share please contact the author at woody.norman@gmail.com. An expanded version of this article was published earlier in 2012 in the Brunswick Times Gazette of South Hill, Virginia.

1 Comment

  • I really admire the passion and dedication to work of all missionaries. I know its not an easy Job.
    SO I salute ya all.

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