The Wrench-Underwood Family of Suffolk, Virginia
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The Wrench-Underwood Family of Suffolk, Virginia

The Wrench-Underwood Family of Suffolk, Virginia

Chuckatuck, Nansemond County, and lower Isle of Wight County, Virginia. Library of Congress

Mrs. Emma Wrench, the wife of Mr. Emanuel Wrench and the mother of Rev. J. B. Wrench departed this life, November 25, 1904, at her home in Chuckatuck, Va. After two years illness at the age of 56 year. Her funeral took place Nov. 28th from the Little Bethel Baptist Church of which she was a member. The sermon was preached by the pastor Rev. T. Hill of Norfolk, Va., assisted by Revs. Geo. E. Lee and J. W. Lawrence.

Sister Wrench was a member of the Daughters of Salem, No. 61, by which order she was neatly put away. She left a husband, four sons, one daughter, and a host of relatives and friends to mourn their loss.

Rev. J. B. French returned to Boydton, Va., last Thursday from where he was summoned on the account of the death of his dear mother.


Mrs. Emma Wrench was born about 1842, Isle of Wight County, Virginia, to Henry Underwood (ca. 1827-1904), and Hester Thomas Underwood (ca. 1826-1921). The youngest of four children, her siblings included her sisters, Mrs. Nannie Underwood Johnson (William), Mrs. Sallie Underwood Marshall (Napoleon), and brother, Dave Underwood. Born enslaved in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, Emma’s father Henry became the owner of a ten-acre plot of land in the 1870s, which remained in the family through the 20th century. Henry passed away in 1904, and is possibly buried in Oakland Cemetery, Chuckatuck. Emma’s mother Hester Thomas Underwood passed away in 1921, and is interred in Oakland Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

The Underwoods of Isle of Wight and Nansemond counties, Virginia

Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton

Emma married Mr. Emanuel “Mannie” Wrench, on October 21, 1867, in Isle of Wigtht County, Virginia. Emanuel was born on May 5, 1842, the son of Lucy Wrench and (possibly) Kit Cawson. Per vital records, it appears that Emanuel’s mother Lucy (identified in Emanuel’s record of marriage to Emma), was born enslaved about 1820 in Isle of Wight County. Emanuel had two brothers who were also sons of Lucy Wrench: Mr. Henry Cawson (ca. 1842-1914), Emanuel’s half-brother, and son of Kit Cawson (also born enslaved), and Mr. John R. Wrench (ca. 1842-1892), who passed away in Nansemond County, Virginia.1

Kit and Lucy Cawson documented in the estate division of John Cawson, dec. 1831. Isle of Wight County, Virginia.
Estate file of John Cawson (dec. 1831), containing Kit Cawson and Lucy Wrench. Isle of Wight County, Virginia

Kit Cawson and Lucy Wrench, the likely parents of Henry Cawson, Emanuel “Mannie” Wrench, and John R. Wrench, and their respective valuations, in the estate of John Cawson (dec. 1831), Isle of Wight County, Virginia.

Emanuel, known familiarly as “Mannie,” and Emma Wrench settled into life in Chuckatuck by 1870. Mannie, usually identified in the census as a “mulatto,” was a farmer, while Emma kept house. In 1877, Mannie purchased eleven acres of land of H. L. Tynes, Sr., just off Everets Road, Suffolk, for a sum of fifty-five dollars. Ten children were born to the couple: Rev. John B. Wrench (ca. 1869-1917), Henry J. Wrench (ca. 1872-ca. 1910), William Thomas Wrench (1873-1949), Emanuel Wrench, Jr. (ca. 1875-1929), Lulie F. Wrench (b. ca. 1876), Susie Wrench (b. ca. 1879), Richard Wrench (b. ca. 1882), Ashley Wrench (1887-1887), Charles “Charlie” Howard Wrench (b. ca. 1888), and Ruth Wrench (b. ca. 1890).

Both Emanuel and Emma were integral members of Little Bethel Baptist Church of Chuckatuck. In an impromptu meeting on March 27th, I had the opportunity to speak with a trustee of Little Bethel, Mr. Whitfield, who shared that Emanuel Wrench was one of the original Deacons of the church upon its founding in 1866. Emma, Deaconess, was also a member of United Order of Tents, Daughters of Salem, No. 61, which provided burial insurance to its members.

Little Bethel Baptist Church. Churckatuck, Suffolk, Virginia. Courtesy F. Whitfield.
Little Bethel Baptist Church, March 27, 2021. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

The Wrench-Underwood Family Tree

Chuckatuck, Suffolk, Virginia

Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton

The Wrench-Underwood Family Diaspora

Following the descendants of Mannie and Emma Underwood Wrench led me to various spots around the globe, including Lower Tidewater, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Eastern North Carolina, and Southeast Asia.

Son William Thomas Wrench (born 1873) enlisted in the U. S. Navy in 1895, and served aboard a dozen ships between 1895 and 1905. During the Spanish American War (1898) William served as a fireman aboard the USS Boston and USS Petrel, two vessels that figured prominently in the Battle of Manila Bay (1898), in the Philippines.2

William Thomas Wrench, USN, 1895-1905

USS Boston, ca. 1890s. The Age of Imperialism, University of Michigan
Cavite, Philippines, ca. 1890s. Library of Congress

After his return to Hampton Roads, William married Miss Eva Virginia Sparkman on October 16, 1901, in Suffolk, Virginia. William continued to serve on various receiving ships in the Norfolk Navy Yard until his discharge from service in 1905.

The Sparkman and Thompson Families

Eva Virginia Sparkman Wrench also had an interesting background. Although she was a native of Suffolk, Virginia, she had extensive North Carolina roots. Eva was born in 1874 to John Henry Sparkman (ca. 1847-ca. 1902) of North Carolina, and Pauline Thompson (ca. 1855-1932), of Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County, North Carolina.3

Eva’s father, John, was a popular figure in Suffolk, and often praised by the greater community for his skill in hunting wild game. A successful barber, he owned a shop at No. 7 Washington Square, Suffolk, and worked in partnership with several other pioneering African American barbers, including Mr. Robert “Bob” Lee (b. ca. 1844), of Nansemond County, and Thomas M. Davis (ca. 1861-1901), of Warren County, North Carolina. Eva’s mom Pauline was the daughter of Rev. Jordan Thompson (1826-1880), of Currituck County, North Carolina, pastor of First Baptist Church Mahan, Suffolk, and Miss Chaney Brothers (ca. 1829-1872), of Pasquotank County.

Through her mother, Pauline Thompson Sparkman, and maternal grandmother, Chaney Brothers Thompson, Eva was directly descended from free African American families in both Currituck and Pasquotank counties, North Carolina.

Copyright 2021 Nadia K. Orton

The Brothers were documented in federal census records between 1830 and 1870, as residents of the Newland Township and Hintonsville communities of Pasquotank County. Hintonsville was a key rallying point for General Edward A. Wild’s infamous nineteen-day raid into Eastern North Carolina, with the “African Brigade,” comprised of seventeen hundred United States Colored Troops. The raid, “to clear the country of slaves.” liberated about twenty-five hundred enslaved men, women, and children in the region.4 Many of the newly-freed men went on to enlist in Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, with the Union Army to fight for freedom.

Colored troops, under General Wild, liberating slaves in North Carolina.5

Brig. Gen. Wilde, commanding the colored troops in this department, has undertaken a most important expedition – His brigade left his vicinity on Saturday last, in two columns—one taking a route through Princess Anne county, viz Kempsville and Great Bridge; the other following the tow-path of the Dismal Swamp Canal, which has, for some month, been outside of our lines. The columns united at Hintonsville, N. C., whence an advance was made on Elizabeth City, which was occupied yesterday without opposition.

The rebel inhabitants were completely surprised. Elizabeth City will be made a base for important operations.

A detachment of 55 men from the 1st United States Colored Regiment has just returned, bringing in twenty wagon-loads of contrabands that had sought protection of Gen. Wilde on the road. Artillery and cavalry from Gen. Getty’s division, as well as a considerable naval force have left to co-operate with Gen. Wilde.’6

Eastern North Carolina 1862. Elizabeth City and Hintonsville districts of Pasquotank County are outlined in relation to Suffolk and Chuckatuck districts of Nansemond County, Virginia. Libtary of Congress.

William Thomas and Eva Sparkman Wrench lived in Portsmouth, Virginia, after their marriage in 1901. After his discharge, William continued work as a fireman in the Norfolk Navy Yard through 1910.7

By 1920, they’d moved back to Suffolk, where William sought work as a carpenter. William remained very active in social and civic affairs during this period, and served as trustee of the Col. Charles Young Camp No. 13 (Portsmouth), Spanish American War Veterans, and a director of the Phoenix Bank of Nansemond.

Eva Virginia Sparkman Wrench passed away in 1938, from complications of diabetes. Her funeral was held from the East End Baptist Church, Rev. C. J. Word, Pastor. She was interred in Oak Lawn Cemetery on February 4, 1938.

In loving memory of my dear wife, Mr. Eva Sparkman Wrench, who left me sad and lonely, ten years ago, February 3, 1938.

Often to your grave I wander,

Flowers place with tender care,

I can feel your spirit o’er me,

While silently I linger there.

Not a day has passed Mrs. Eva, that I have not thought of you.

In my heart your memory lingers, sweetly,

tenderly, kind and true.

Devoted Husband,

William Wrench

Suffolk, Virginia

William Thomas Wrench, Valentines Day, 1948

William Thomas Wrench married Georgia Mae Riddick Copeland, a native of Como, Hertford County, North Carolina, in March, 1948. Unfortunately, he passed away only a little over one year later, on October 11, 1949. His funeral was held from the East End Baptist Church. William was interred next to Eva on October 14, 1949, in Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk.

Grave of Eva Sparkman Wrench, as seen on January 5, 2013, Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Grave of William Thomas Wrench, as seen on January 5, 2013, Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

  1. Per vital records, Henry Cawson married Miss Lucy Baradoll, daughter of Edmond Baradoll, on September 4, 1866, in Isle of Wight County. Both Henry and his wife, Lucy, who passed away in 1925, are interred in Smithfield, Virginia. John R. Wrench married Miss Mary Louisa Newby, born about 1855 to Jack and Minerva Jordan Newby, on December 27, 1877, in Chuckatuck, (then) Nansemond County. The Newbys were free persons of color. John R. Wrench passed away in 1892, and may be interred in Oakland Cemetery, Chuckatuck.
  2. “1900 U. S. Census,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 24 March 2021); Military and Naval Forces, U.S. Naval Forces, USS Petrel, Dist. 0059, p. 2, citing, “Year: 1900; Census Place: USS Petrel, US Naval Forces, Military and Naval Forces; Page: 1; Enumeration District: 0059; FHL microfilm: 1241842.”
  3. Mr. John Henry Sparkman, and wife Pauline Thompson Sparkman, are interred in Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia.
  4. Click, Patricia C. Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony, 1862-1867. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  5. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1864 – 1864). Colored troops, under General Wild, liberating slaves in North Carolina. Retrieved from
  6. The Weekly Republican, December 17, 1863
  7. “1910 U. S. Census,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 January 2019); Virginia, Portsmouth (Independent City), Portsmouth Ward 3, Dist. 0098, p. 1 of 28, citing, “Year: 1910; Census Place: Portsmouth Ward 3, Portsmouth (Independent City), Virginia; Roll: T624_1642; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0098; FHL microfilm: 1375655.
Nadia Orton

Professional genealogist and public historian. Graduate of Duke University. President of the Sacred Grounds Project, Inc. Studying historic African American cemeteries and communities.

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