On September 7, 1859 John H. Merrick was born a slave in Clinton and raised by a single mother. He received no formal schooling, but learned to read and write in a Reconstruction school. By hard work and simple faith, Merrick rose in the world to organize the largest insurance company owned an operated entirely by African-Americans. Perhaps his personality, which was his greatest asset, accounted for the success he attained in life. He seemed to possess a charm that easily won people over.
When Merrick was twelve, he and his family relocated to Chapel Hill where he got a job in a brickyard providing support for his family. At the age of eighteen, Merrick moved to Raleigh where he became a brick mason and worked on the construction of Shaw University.