Month: November 2015

303 Elba Street.

The first in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located at Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

In the Nomination Form for the district, 303 Elba Street (erroneously labeled #305) is described very simply: “L-plan cottage with turned porch posts,” built circa 1908.

The neighborhood was off the grid of the 1908 Sanborn maps of Wilson, but, in the September 1913, there it is:

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This is the deed for Jesse Jacobs‘ purchase of 303 Elba Street.


He bought the house (in which he was already living) and its lot for $725 from E.L. and Ietta R.M. Reid on 4 May 1908. (Veterinarian Elijah Reid was born into a free family of color from the opposite end of Wayne County than Jesse and and his wife, Sarah Henderson Jacobs.) The same day, Jacobs gave George W. Connor, Trustee, a mortgage on the property, perhaps to secure the $400 loan he used to buy it.  Jacobs was to repay Connor at the rate of $2.50 per week.

On 10 April 1917, the Jacobses arranged another mortgage on their Elba Street home, this time promising to repay W.A. Finch, Trustee, $395 at 6% interest. Circumstances intervened. By about 1922 or ’23, Jesse Jacobs was too ill to work. He sold the house to his children, subject apparently to the lien, and died in 1926. When Sarah Jacobs died in early 1938, the house remained encumbered. Finch’s loan was not repaid until September of that year, most likely from the sale of the property.

For a personal account of the early years of this house, and its sad present, see here.

303 Elba

303 Elba Street, summer 2013. Since this photo was taken, it has continued to deteriorate under the pressures of squatters, petty criminals, weather and time. 

Nos. 1394 and 2319.

From the records of the Freedmen’s Bank, New Bern branch:

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When Jeremiah Barden opened his first account, he reported that he was living up the Trent River in Jones County, working on Colonel Whitford’s land for himself (i.e. as a tenant farmer.) Barden is frustratingly elusive in census records. His birth family, however, remained back in Wilson County and appear in the 1870 census of Black Creek township: farm laborer Washington Simms, 57, and wife Exy, 47, plus Henry, 32, Gatsey, 27, Nathan, 10, Grant, 4, and Harrit Simms, 5; Waity Nelson, 18; Joseph, 14, Samuel, 12, Mary, 10, and Della Simms, 8; Ellen Barden, 1; and William Nelson, 26. They are listed in close proximity to white farmers Arthur Barden, 54, and Benjamin Barden, 42. It is a reasonable conjecture that Exy Simms and her children (but not her husband Washington) belonged to one of these Bardens prior to Emancipation, and Jeremiah adopted “Barden” as a surname as a result.

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Jere opened a second account after moving to Dawson’s Creek in Craven County in 1871. (Curiously, he marked his signature with an X this time, though he wrote his name in 1869.) Notice the detailed listing of his siblings, especially sisters. Gatsey, Mary and Della Simms and Waity and William Nelson were listed in the Simms household in 1870. Moses, 29, and Mariah Coley, 26, were in the household next door. Nearby, in Holden township, Wayne County: Jackson Barnes, 27, wife Farby, 27, and sons Benjamin, 10, Henry, 8, Frank, 7 and Joshua, 1.

I have not located Jere in any census. However, he and wife Mary were designated as living on marriage licenses of several children, including daughter Sarah Barden, who married Marshal Faison in Pamlico County in 1895; George Barden, who married Annie Allen in Pamlico County in 1907; and John Barden in Wayne County in 1925. In the first two, Jere and Mary were described as living in Pamlico. In the last, they were described as living in Craven County.


It is likely that Jeremiah Barden ran away from Wilson County while still enslaved. On 25 April 1864 in New Bern, he enlisted in the 14th Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery.

Freedman’s Bank Records, 1865-1871 [database on-line],; U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 [database on-line],

The Center.




The Board of Directors was comprised of hospital administrator William Hines, dentist G.K. Butterfield Sr., physicians Joseph F. Cowan and Boisey O. Barnes, barber Separise P. Artis, painter James Whitfield, high school principal Edward M. Barnes, county extension agent Carter Foster, photographer James Baker and dentist William H. Phillips.



Reid Street Community Center, November 2015.

Where did they go?: Tennessee death certificates.

Death certificates for residents of Tennessee born in Wilson, North Carolina:

  • Mamie Lee King, Chattanooga

33113_257902-00213In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm worker Samuel Gay, 29; wife Allice, 25; and children Blanch, 9, Louizah, 7, Edgar, 4, Charlie, 2, and Mamie, 1 month.

  • Minnie Carey, Knoxville


  • Maluel Coleman, Collinsville, Shelby County


  • James Watson, Davidson County


  • Charlie James Barnes, Memphis


Tennessee Death Records, 1908-1958 [database on-line],

Joseph J. Pender plantation.

Joseph John Pender House is a historic plantation home located near Wilson, Wilson County. The house consists of an original, two-story, three-bay, Federal frame section, built about 1840, and a one-story frame kitchen/dining room ell. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Though the Nomination Form describes Pender as a “large landowner and successful planter,” it makes no mention of his status as a slaveowner. Census records, however, tell the story. The 1850 slave schedule of Edgecombe County lists J.J. Pender with 15 slaves (12 male and 3 female), ranging in age from one month to 60 years. By time the Wilson County enumerator arrived in 1860, he had increased his holdings by two-thirds to 25 — 15 men and ten women ranging in age from six months to 75 years and sheltered in four cabins.

Slave schedules do not list the names of enslaved people, but one of the 25 may have been Carolina Pender, born circa 1853. She appears as a widow in the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County, with several children, including Thad (1884) and Cadmus Pender (1885). These children were apparently named for Thaddeus W. Pender (1838-1892) and Cadmus C. Pender (1841-1862), Joseph J. Pender’s oldest children.

JJP house

Joseph J. Pender house, circa 1986. Image from National Register of Historic Places — Nomination Form, above.

The Battles of Walnut Hill.

Joel Craig and Sharlene Baker’s As You May Never See Us Again: The Civil War Letters of George and Walter Battle, 4th North Carolina Infantry (2004) features the annotated missives of two sons of Amos Johnston Battle, a prominent (and peripatetic) Baptist minister who spent his last years, including the war era, in Wilson County.  The letters contain only one presumed mention of the family’s slaves — a single reference to a Church, who was charged with delivering certain items to the letter’s writer. A footnote appended to the passage states: “The boy ‘Church’ has been referred to by some as one of the Battle’s [sic] slaves. Whether this is referring to the Raleigh [North Carolina] Battle’s or the Wilson Battle’s is unclear. However, if the Rev. Battle did own slaves in the midst of the war it might mean that he was not the abolitionist as previously thought.”

… Who thought Amos J. Battle was an abolitionist?

In 1850, he and his family lived in Chowan County, North Carolina, and he is listed in neither the 1850 federal slave schedule as the owner of nine enslaved people — women aged 29, 25, 18; girls aged 13 and 2; and boys aged 14, 5, 2, and 1. Moreover, his wife Margaret H. Battle is listed with 32 slaves in 1860. (Hugh Johnston noted that Amos Battle’s “wife owned a small farm north of Wilson not far from the Barnes plantation.”) She is not listed in the 1850 slave schedule, and the sudden acquisition of that many slaves in her own name suggests inheritance.

Margaret Hearne Parker Battle’s father Weeks Parker died in January 1844 in Edgecombe County, leaving a widow and three children. (One predeceased him.) The 88 pages of his estate file span more than a decade, and Emancipation eventually intervened to prevent a final distribution. Included, however, is a listing of those slaves apportioned to daughter Margaret H. Battle and her children, apparently dating from the late 1850s: Old Ben, Old Seny, Big Hardy, Lucinda, Stephen, Turner, Hilliard, Mary, Adeline, William, Lena, Alice, William “usually called Reuben,” Little Ben, Harriet, Marina, Sally, Smith, Maria, Little Hardy, Betty, Jim, Moses, Syphax, Toney, Louis, Allen, George, Matilda, Lizzie.

Weeks Parker had executed his will on 31 July 1843. The document mentions his wife Sabra [Irwin Hearn]; son Simmons B. Parker; deceased son Dr. John H. Parker, who had migrated to Florida; and daughters Henrietta, wife of Benjamin Battle, and Margaret, wife of Amos J. Battle. [Benjamin Dossey Battle was Amos’ brother.]

Weeks designated son Simmons as his executor and trustee. He bequeathed certain slaves — Polly, Godwin, Old Ned, Winny, Hardy, Charlotte and her child Cintha, and Nelly —  to pass to Simmons after wife Sabra’s death, and mentioned that he had already given Simmons 14 slaves in a deed of gift. He also directed Simmons to sell the land and slaves in Florida inherited from son John’s estate. (And tweaked this last provision in a codicil.)

Weeks’ bequests to his daughters are curious though.  After Sabra’s death, Simmons was to hold in trust slaves Lucindy, Stephen, Turner, Lewis, George, Marina, Tony, Matilda, Caroline, William, Holly, Big Hardy, Ben, Cena, Moses, Syphax, Little Hardy, Jim, Lucy and Little Jim “for the sole and separate use and benefit of daughter Margaret H. Battle wife of Amos J. Battle during her natural life free from the management and control of her present or any future husband.”  Similarly, he directed that Simmons hold in trust after Sabra’s death slaves Barbara, Sarah, Luke, Ned, Sophia, Elick, Harrison, Milly, Jeffrey, Dorcas, Silas, Bill, Lou, Julia, Randal, Will and Abner for the benefit of daughter Henrietta Battle. Why the specific attempt to keep Amos Battle’s hands off his wife’s property? Was he in fact an abolitionist likely to try to free them? Or were Weeks’ concerns more prosaic?

Simmons and his mother went into court to have Weeks’ will admitted to probate, and the skirmishes began. The two sets of Battles teamed up to claim that they had not been notified prior to probate and that the will’s codicil had been made under undue influence. Simmons and the other trustees admitted that Battles may not have been given formal notice, but claimed that they knew anyway. They also charged Amos Battle with having taken a slave named Jim to Wilmington.  The Battles fired a second volley with a claim that Simmons was in “extreme bad health” and “great physical inability” and “utterly incapable of carrying out his duties” as a trustee. Simmons responded meekly, acknowledging that he had been shot in the chest many years before and had never recovered, a circumstance that sometimes completely debilitated him. He agreed to surrender his trusteeship. Replacement trustee Nathan Matthewson, too, stepped down, and was replaced by Benjamin Oliver of Duplin County. In one of Oliver’s reports, he advised the court that he had sold for $600 a slave named Jim “in consequence of grossly bad behavior and general bad deportment.” The buyer was Wyatt Moye. [In 1848, Moye, as Senator from Edgecombe County, introduced a bill in the Senate to “incorporate Toisnot Depot and Hickory Grove in the County of Edgecombe into a town by the name of Wilson.” The bill passed its third reading and was ratified on January 29, 1849.] With the funds received, Oliver then spent $500 to purchase Lilah from a Dr. Arrington. (She later gave birth to a son Charles.) In 1849, Oliver moved to Bladen County and resigned his trusteeship; Uriah Vaughan of Hertford County — where Margaret then lived — was appointed in his stead.

In the mid-1850s, Margaret, Amos and their children moved to the town of Wilson, where Sabra Parker bought them a house and lot. In another plaintive petition for yet another trustee, submitted in September 1856, Margaret complained that she had no other property and that the family was “dependent on their own exertions for a support” as their trust fund was inadequate. The younger children were chiefly supported by Margaret’s “exertions” [she was an innkeeper], while the creditors of her husband Amos, “who is greatly embarrassed,” tried to take her earnings at every opportunity.

Another source shines light on the Battle family’s financial situation. In 1911, Amos and Margaret’s youngest son, Jesse Mercer Battle, published memoirs titled Tributes to my Father and Mother and Some Stories of My Life. In the chapter on his mother, he recalled that his “mother’s family lived in Wilson, N.C. We lived in a large house, and it was called ‘The Battle House.’” There, to her humiliation, his mother took in boarders and other passers-through to earn money for the family’s keep. His father, though “rich in lands and negroes,” gave away his wealth to the point that his younger sons’ educations were neglected. The chapter on Amos J. Battle goes further. Amid fifty hagiographic pages limning his father’s Christlike-ness, Jesse reveals that “his money, his lands, his negroes, his stocks, his bonds, his personal property of every description went as his free will offering to the Church as a whole, and to anyone of its members individually, or to those who were not members.” (This was not offered ironically, and there is no attempt to square Battle’s slaveholding with his Christian values.)

Ah. So. And therein lies the motive for Weeks Parker’s determined attempt to keep his wealth out of pious Amos Battle’s hands.

Jesse Battle’s memoir also provides a peek at the family’s slaves and demonstrates that the thirty or so inherited from Weeks did not define the extent of Margaret’s holdings. “Negroes were my companions,” he wrote. “I played with them, and spent my time with them all day, till I was about seven years old, when I was started to school. I knew my alphabet and how to read a little. This start on my way to an education was given to me by a good old colored woman I called Mammy. (Her name was Dinah.) … This good woman remained with our family till 1865, when the Civil War ended, when she left us and moved down to Greenville, N.C., where her husband, whose name was ‘Shade,’ lived. After the emancipation of the slaves she said that she could never enjoy her ‘freedom’ as long as she lived with her master and mistress.”  Jesse elsewhere mentioned that Dinah had lived with the family at a farm called Walnut Hill, “about three miles from Wilson N.C., on the railroad toward Rocky Mount.”

Will Book F, Edgecombe County, North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970,; Estate of Weeks Parker (1844), Edgecombe County, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979,; other sources as named.

The last will and testament of William Batts.

In the name of God amen

I William Batts sen’r of the County of Edgecombe and State of North Carolina being of sound and perfect mind and memory, blessed be God, do this twenty-seventh day of June in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and forty nine make and publish my last Will and Testament revoking all others that I may have made heretofore in manner and form as follows Viz —

Item 1st. I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Patsey Batts two feather beds and furniture, and two bedsteads, fifty dollars in money and one years support of corn pork &c for herself and family and three cows & calves to her and her heirs forever.

Item 2nd. I lend unto my wife Patsey Batts during her widowhood the following property to wit the tract of land and its appurtenances whereon I now live lying on the North side of the Big swamp containing about four hundred and seventy five acres more or less. Also the following negroes Isaac, Eley and her youngest child Thomas, boy Amos also boy Meedy until my grandson William Henry Edwards arrived to the age of twenty one years, then I give and bequeath the said boy Meedy to him the said William H. Edwards to him and his heirs forever. Also I lend to my wife two head of horses, three sows & pigs and twenty shoats her choice.

Item the 3rd I give and bequeath unto my son John Batts one negroe man named Ben also seven hundred dollars in money to him and his heirs forever.

Item 4th. I give unto my son Guilbert Batts one feather bed, bedstead and furniture, one negro boy by the name of young Isaac, also that part of the tract of land that I purchased of David Bunn lying on the North side of Maple creek — Four hundred dollars in money and one brandy still (the one that is at Wright W. Joyner) to him and his heirs forever.

Item 5th. I give unto my son John Batts in trust for the benefit of my daughter Sally Flowers and her children which she now has or may hereinafter have the following property to wit: One tract of land whereon Gray Flowers now lives lying on the north side of Whites swamp, adjoining the lands of John Farmer, and others containing two hundred and fifty acres more or less. Three feather beds and furniture which said  Gray Flowers & Sally has in their possession at this time also the household and kitchen furniture and all the stock of hogs & cattle which the said Gray & Sally Flowers has in possession also one negroe boy named Orren and five hundred dollars in money. Now my will and desire is that after my death should my son John Batts think it advisable to hire out said negro Orren he is to do or manage in any way that he may think his labour will be most advantage to Sally & her children. It is my desire that Sally and her children shall remain on lands so long as she may wish to do so. The money and the labour of the negroe and the other property reserved at all times to be applied to the support and comfort of Sally and her children in the way that my son John shall think best. After the death of my daughter Sally it is my will and desire that all the property that is then remaining which is given to my son John Batts, for the benefit of Sally and her children shall then be equally divided between her living children. My desire is that should my son John Batts die before my daughter Sally or refuse to act that theCounty Court of Edgecombe shall appoint some discreet and suitable person to take the property and manager it in the way that will be best for the support of Sally and her children.

Item 6th. I give unto my friend Redding S. Petway in trust for the benefit of my daughter Emily Joyner and her children which she now has or may hereafter have the following property to wit all that part of the tract of land that I purchased of David Bunn lying on the south side of the Maple Creek whereon Wright W. Joyner now lives, negroe woman Venice and her five youngest children and all her increase hereafter. The house hold and kitchen furniture and all the stock of every kind that belongs to me that is now in the possession of Wright W. Joyner & Emily his wife and two hundred dollars in money. It is my desire that Emily and her children shall remain on lands so long as Emily shall desire, And that the said Redding S. Petway shall so manage the negroes and other property in that way that will be most advantageous to the support of Emily & her children. After the death of Emily it is my will and desire that the property that is then remaining shall be equally divided between her living children. It is my further desire that if the said Redding shall die or become incapable of managing of affairs or refuse to act before the death of Emily that the County Court of Edgecombe shall appoint some discreet person to take said property and manage it in the best way for the support of Emily and her Children.

Item 7. I give and bequeath unto my daughter Elizabeth Farmer one negroe girl named Harriet and her increase hereafter and one negroe boy by the name of Peter to her and her heirs forever.

Item the 8th. I give and bequeath unto my friend David Williams in trust for the benefit of Elizabeth Farmer and her children one thousand dollars in money the said David is to keep the money out at interest and from time to time as necessity may require to apply the interest to the support and comfort of Elizabeth and her children which she now has or may hereafter have, never to apply any of the principal as long as can lie down without, and what is remaining of the thousand dollars at the death of Elizabeth to be equally divided among her living children. If the said David shall die before Elizabeth or refuse to act it is my will and desire that the County court will appoint some discreet person to take the money and act as directed.

Item 9th. I give and bequeath unto my daughter Patsey Thorn one negro boy named Charles and one negroe girl named Nelly and after the death of her mother I then give her the two negroes lent her mother viz Elsey and her child Thomas and One thousand dollars in money to her and her heirs forever.

Item 10th. I give and bequeath unto my friend David Williams in trust for the benefit of Polly Farmer and her children the following property to wit negroes Dinah and her three children Jerry, Hilliard and Sinday and all the increase of Dinah hereafter One bed and furniture two cows and one calf seventy five acres of land where William Pittman lives adjoining the lands of John G. Williams & others (for Polly a home) and eight hundred dollars in money. The said Davis to manager the said property in the best way for the support and maintenance of Polly and her children which she now has or may hereafter have. And after the death of Polly, what is then remaining is to be divided between her then living children. It is my will and desire that if the said David shall die before my daughter Polly or refuse to act that the County Court of Edgecombe will appoint some descent person to act &.

Item 11th. I give and bequeath unto my son William W. Batts after the widowhood of his mother the tract of land whereon I now live lying on the north side of the Big Swamp containing five hundred acres more or less (being the whole tract except seventy five acres given Polly) negroes Isaac & Haywood, one bed bed stead and furniture two cows and calves and One thousand dollars in money to him and his heirs forever.

Item 12th. I give and bequeath unto my grandson William Henry Edwards the tract of lands which was sold as Henry Edwards’ dcd[?] which I bought adjoining the lands of Charles Land and others, containing one hundred and forty acres more or less, and after the widowhood of my wife Patsy, negroe boy Meedy and four hundred dollars in money to him and his heirs forever.

Item 13th. I give and bequeath unto mu granddaughter Martha Ann Edwards two small negroes by the names of Hagar and Meedy and a note against Egbert A. Taylor for fifty dollars to her and her heirs forever.

Item 14th, I give and bequeath unto my grandson William Batts son of John Batts after the widowhood of my wife Patsey negroe boy Amos, which I lent to my wife to him and his heirs forever.

Item 15th. All the balance of my property of every kind that I have not lent or given away be sold on a credit of six months and all the money and notes that are left after paying my just debts and the legatees that I have given off in money together with the account of sales be equally divided among all my heirs — signed sealed and published by the said William Batts as his last Will and testament the day and date first Written.   William (X) Batts {seal}

Witness — Willie G. Taylor, Wm. D. Petway, James Wiggins


William Batts Sr.’s will entered probate in Wilson County in 1856.

North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

Revs. Arthur H. and Bryant George.

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Yenser, Thomas, ed., Who’s Who in Colored America, 6th ed. (1942).

The 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County, lists at 1012 Atlantic Street carpenter/bricklayer Arthur J. George, wife Minnie, sons Arthur, Henry H., and Bryant George, lodger Rebacer Ramsy, and niece Willie L. George. [Is the occupation designation an error (like Rev. George’s middle initial), or did he also ply a trade?] By about 1940, Rev. George had joined the faculty of the Theological Seminary at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was eventually appointed dean. He died 22 August 1974.


Pittsburgh Courier, 31 December 1960.