Benjamin Barnes was born about 1819, probably in southern Edgecombe County or northern Wayne County, areas that later became Wilson County. Circumstantial evidence, largely in the form of naming patterns and proximity, suggests that Benjamin had at least two brothers, Andrew Barnes, born perhaps 1815, and Redmond Barnes, born about 1823. On 21 April 1866, Benjamin Barnes and Violet Barnes, born about 1817, registered their cohabitation at the Wilson County Courthouse. Their registration did not list the length of their marriage during slavery. Ben and Violet’s only certain child was Calvin Barnes, born about 1836, though they probably had several more.
In the 1870 census of Saratoga, Wilson County, Violet is described as a midwife, and three young girls, Elvy (1859), Ailcy (1862) and Spicy (1863), live with her and Benjamin. Given Violet’s age, it seems likely that these are granddaughters. Violet Barnes died sometime before 13 November 1879, when Benjamin married Mary Bynum in Wilson County. [N.B.: The Benjamin Barnes, son of Isaac and Judia Bynum, who married Lucy Barnes in 1872 in Wilson County is a different man.] Benjamin and Mary’s appearance in the 1880 census of Saratoga is their first and last. Benjamin listed his father’s birthplace as Virginia, but provided no additional information. He died before 1900.
Benjamin and Violet’s son Calvin Barnes and Sealie [Celia] Barnes registered their five-year cohabitation in Wilson County on 17 July 1866. Celia’s parents are unknown. In the 1870 census of Saratoga, Wilson County, Calvin and family were living next door to his parents Benjamin and Violet. Calvin and Celia’s children were Benjamin (1864), Spicy (1865), Jesse (1866), and Peter (1869). Also in the household were 20 year-old Dora Ebon (Calvin or Celia’s sister?) and her likely children Louisa (1866) and Mary E. (1869).
In 1880, in Saratoga, Wilson County: Calvin headed a household that included wife Celie and children Peter, Drue, Redman, Lizzie B., and William. In 1900, the family was listed in Stantonsburg township. Calvin was farming, and Celie reported 10 of 13 children living. Only four — William, Mary S., Laura and Celie Barnes, plus Mary’s daughter Dora Barnes — were at home. Son Peter was nearby with his wife Jane and children John R., General, Annie and Sallie, as was son Redmond with wife Genett [Jennette] and their first child Dora. Celia died prior to 1909, when Calvin married Cherry Brown Tart. The marriage was her third, and the 1910 census found them living in the town of Wilson on Stantonsburg Street. Ten years later, they are living at 610 Stantonsburg Street and both employed were in a private home. Calvin Barnes died 21 February 1923 in Wilson.
Calvin and Celia’s son Redmond Barnes was born 3 May 1873 near Saratoga or Stantonsburg. In 1898, Redmond married Jennette Best on W.H. Applewhite’s farm, where the Barneses were either sharecroppers or tenant farmers. (Applewhite’s grandson, James, is a celebrated poet whose writing often draws on the world of his childhood in Wilson County.) Their children included Dora Barnes Weaver Ward (1899-1994), Fred Barnes (1901-1968), Mary Estelle Barnes (1903-1989), Minnie B. Barnes Barnes (1905-1985), Edith Bell Barnes Ellis (1907-1984), Betty Lee Barnes Bullock (1909-1992), Nora Lee Barnes (1911-2001), Alice Jennette Barnes Smith (1914-2011), Lula Mae Barnes Speight (1916-1996), Redmond Barnes Jr. (1918-1989), John Harvey Barnes (1920-1994), and Jennette Barnes, who died in infancy.
Rest Haven cemetery, 2014.
Jennette Best was born about 1880 near Stantonsburg. Her marriage licenses lists her parents as Sam Best and Edy Strickland. However, in the 1870 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County, “Edy Strickland” appears as Edith Winstead, age 10, in the household of Isaac Winstead, 52, and wife Jane, 35, whose other children were Robert, 7, Amanda, 3, and Aneliza, 1. The 1880 census of Stantonsburg, shows “Ada Best” in a household with her stepfather Isaac Winstead, mother Jane, half-siblings Manda, Ann, Charlie, Major, Lucy and Levi, brother Rob Farmer, and likely children Sam, 3, and Mary Best, 1. Sam Best is not listed in the county and may have died or have deserted his family just before Jenette was born. I have not found him in any census or vital record. Nor have I found any other mention of Edith Best or Strickland.
Redmond Barnes’ brother Peter Barnes (1869-?) married Jane Ruffin in 1891 in Wilson County. Their children included John Redmond (1892-1970), General (1895), Annie (1897), Sallie (1899), and Albert (1900-1924).
Redmond’s brother Andrew “Drew” Barnes (1871-1945) married Estella “Stella” Williams in 1892 in Wilson County. [Not to be confused with Andrew Barnes, son of Andrew and Amy Williford Barnes — possibly Calvin Barnes’ first cousin — who married Stella Battle in 1870.] Their children included John (1890), Wade (1894), Frank (1895), James (1897), Lula (1898), and Andrew Jr. (1900).
Redmond’s sister Elizabeth “Lizzie” or “Betty” Barnes (1873-?) married W.T. Sherrod Ellis, son of Reuben and Clarky Ellis. Their children: Willie (1892), Robert (1895), Mary E. (1896), Maggie D. (1899), Sallie (1900), Joseph (1904) and Mamie Ellis (1906).
Redmond’s sister Mollie Barnes married Floyd Ellis. Their children included Floyd Theodore (1907-1981), Columbus (1909), John Adam (1916-1965), Mary Rebeckah (1919) and Leathie Charlotte (1922).
Isom (or Isham) Ellis was born about 1807 in southern Edgecombe County. The will of William Ellis Sr., proved in Edgecombe in 1813, declared in part, “I leave unto my said wife Unity Ellis, the following negroes, To wit, Arthur, Jonas, Isom, Belford, Lisle, Pat, Mimah, Treasy & Hester.” It seems probable that this listing is a reference to Isom Ellis.
Unity Ellis died in 1817, before her husband’s estate settled. “Pursuant to the annexed order to us directed we the commis’rs met on the 19th March at the late dwelling house of William Ellis, dec’d, and thought proper to divide the negroes between the heirs instead of selling them, after [illegible]ing the negroes belonging to the Estate of said dec’d [Unity Ellis] a draw was made as followeth:
Isom/Isham thus passed to Willie Ellis’ ownership in 1818, when he was about 11 years old. He appears to have remained with Willie until Emancipation.
On 24 July 1866, Isom Bynum and Patience Bynum registered their 40-year cohabitation in Wilson County. Several other men — Guilford, Robert, Jackson and Lewis — also registered as Bynums, but are listed with the surname Ellis in the 1870 census. For this and other reasons, including proximity and naming patterns, I believe these men were all sons, or close relatives, of Isom Ellis.
Lewis Ellis, born circa 1834, first married Dossie Best, by whom he had one son, John Ellis (1853). He then married Millie Thompson (1832-?), who gave birth to Daniel (1860-1938), Mary (1863), Adeline “Addie” (1865), Martha (1868), Cora (1870) and James Ellis (1874). Neither Lewis nor Millie appears in the 1900 census.
Lewis and Milly’s son Daniel Ellis first married Rosa Barnes, by whom he had a daughter, Lena (1890-1928). He then married Celia Lewis (1872-1912), daughter of Furney and Eliza Lewis on 29 August 1893 in Wilson County. Their children were William (1894), Maeliza (1897), Samson (1898-1918), Harry (1900-1988), Jackson (1901-1918), Robert (1904-1968), Louetta (1906), Orran (1910-1918) and Theodore Roosevelt Ellis (1912-1979). After Celia’s death in or just after childbirth, Daniel married Maggie Woodard in 1914. Their children were Mack (1916), John Henry (1919-1963), Mattie (1922) and Jem (1925). Daniel Ellis died 10 October 1938.
Top, Fannie Hardy Ward, Theodore R. Ellis and Edith Barnes Ellis. Bottom, Eloise Ward and T. Roosevelt Ellis Jr., probably near Stantonsburg, Wilson County, circa 1939.
Photo courtesy of Monica E. Barnes.