Month: May 2016

Crossing the Divide: A Quick Case Study in Tracing an African-American Family

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Jonah L. Ricks, Wilson, 1953.

Jonah Lewis Ricks was born near Bailey, Nash County, in 1885. His mother, Nancy Jones Ricks, was born about 1865 in western Wilson County to Jacob and Milly Powell Jones, both born into free families of color. (Jacob was a grandson of Bethana Jones.) Jonah’s father was Joseph Ricks.

Several of Joseph Ricks’ descendants, including Jonah, migrated to Wilson and Elm City and beyond beginning in the 1930s. Joseph’s death certificate, filed in Nash County in 1949, asserts that he was born about 1876 in Nash County to Square [sic] and Nicey Ricks. However, the censuses of 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 consistently list 1860 as his birth year.

What follows is a summary of research I conducted to pierce the veil of slavery and shed light on Joseph Ricks’ family just before and after Emancipation.

Initially, I was unable to find either Joseph Ricks or his parents in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. However, I had found a Kinchen R. Ricks (1858-1915) whose Nash County death certificate listed his parents as Squire Ricks and Nicie Braswell, so I looked for him instead. In the 1880 census of Jackson township, Nash County, 22 year-old Kenchin Ricks appears as a servant in the household of Marmaduke Ricks. Next door is this household: Sqare Perry, wife Nicy, and their children, including 18 year-old Joseph. I went back ten years to 1870 to find, in Chesterfield township, Nash County: Esqire Perry, 52, wife Nicey, 47, and children Primus, 22, Willie, 18, Mary J., 16, Rebecca, 13, Kinchen, 11, Joseph, 9, Robert, 8, and Matilda, 6. Also sharing the household were Judy Finch, 19, and her 7 month-old Nancy, and Sham Freeman, 63, Silva, 58, Mary, 25, and Rosa Freeman, 18. Thus I determined that Joseph Ricks was known as Joseph Perry as a child.  His parents were known as Squire and Nicey Perry and, I later learned, all of his siblings except brother Kinchen retained the surname Perry.

Squire Perry was born circa 1815, according to census records. His wife Nicey was born circa 1824. As neither appears in censuses earlier than 1870, I assumed that both were born slaves. I consulted Timothy Rackley’s volumes on Nash County estate divisions and slave cohabitations and discovered records of the division of the estate of Clabourn Finch, which was conducted 18 December 1849.  Finch’s property, which included slaves Jacob, Benjamin, Squire, Sam, Henry, Gilbert, Adam, Primus, and Nicy and her child, was divided among his heirs.  Squire, valued at $550, went to Finch’s daughter Betsy and her husband Jacob Strickland.  Nicy and child, valued at $700, went to Finch’s daughter Nicy and her husband Marmaduke Ricks. Thus, the family was divided during the last decade and a half of slavery.


Page from the estate of Clabourn Finch, Nash County, 1849. The enslaved people distributed to his heirs at November Term of court differ slightly from those listed in this inventory.

The 1850 slave census of Nash County shows Jacob Strickland as the owner of four slaves and Marmaduke Ricks as the owner of ten. The 1860 slave census of Sullivants township, Nash County, lists him as the owner of 18 slaves.

Among post-Emancipation Nash County cohabitation records, I discovered that, on 19 August 1866, Esquire Strickland and Nicey Ricks registered their 22-year marriage with a Nash County Justice of the Peace.  At the time they reunited, each was using the surname of his or her most recent former owner. By the 1870 census, however, as noted above, Squire had settled upon Perry.

It is probably not coincidence that another of Clabourn Finch’s daughters, Ann C., was married to a Perry. Clabourn Finch’s slaves were divided among his children at his death and may have been further sold or traded within the family. At present, Squire’s reason for choosing Perry rather than Ricks or Strickland is not clear, nor is the basis for Joseph Ricks’ report on his brother Kinchen’s death certificate that their mother’s maiden was Braswell. Similarly, the reason that two of their sons, Kinchen and Joseph, reverted to Ricks is unclear.

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Original photograph and funeral program in my possession. Federal population schedules; North Carolina Certificates of Death filed in Nash and Wilson Counties; Timothy W. Rackley, Nash County North Carolina Division of Estate Slaves & Cohabitation Record 1862-1866; Rackley, Nash County North Carolina Division of Estate Slaves 1829-1861; North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

He owes my mother $700.

Joyners Depot Wilson County N.C.

April 8th 1867

Gen Daniel E. Sickles


I appeal to you for advice. Please give me the desired advice and tell me what course to pursue and ever believe me to be your obt svnt.

Last year my mother rented a farm of B.D. Rice Esqr in Nash County. He (Rice) was to find the team, and Mother the hands and board for them. All went on smoth during the year until the crop was made and housed. When that was done Esqr Rice then refused to settle with her (Mother) fairly and squarely, according to the contract.

The business has been placed in my hands to settle and I have tried all ways to settle with him honorably and I can not have it settle neither by law nor a compromise. He (Rice) is now due Mother not far from seven hundred dollars. Please advise me what course to pursue by so doing you would confer on me an everlasting favor never to be forgotten so long as any thing Earthly remains. In housing the crop he would not let her have her part.

I am Sir with great Respect, Your obt Srvt

Jerry Pridgen, Freedman

Address me [at] Joyners Depot


Joyners Depot is now known as Elm City. Neither Rice nor Pridgen appears in the 1870 federal census of Wilson or Nash County NC. However, 32 year-old Bryant D. Rice is listed in the 1860 census of Winsteads township, Nash County NC.

Freedmen Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1863-1878 [database on-line],

Cemeteries, no. 4: New Vester Baptist Church cemetery.

As discussed here, New Vester is one of the oldest extant African-American congregations in Wilson County. Its large, well-maintained cemetery holds the remains of several men and women born prior to the Civil War.

  • Richard J. and Lucy Boykin Jones



Lucy Boykin, daughter of George and Mary Boykin, married Richard Jones on 8 September 1870 at minister J.J. Wilson’s. In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Richard Jones, 35; wife Lucy, 25; and children Catharine, 8, James R., 7, Louisa, 4, Geneva, 3, and Rosa L., 10 months; plus mother-in-law Mary Boykin, 45. In the 1900 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Richard Jones, 65; wife Lucy, 52; sister Cherry, 50; granddaughter Annie, 9; brother Joseph Huston, 50, and nephew Weston Huston, 25.

  • Gray and Eliza Shaw Bailey



In the 1870 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: Thomas Shaw, 36, wife Katy, 37, and children Frances, 16, Eliza, 14, Fox, 12, David, 11, Martha, 4, and Mary, 2.

In the 1900 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Gray Bailey, 56; wife Elizer, 44; children Annie, 14, Bessie, 11, Thomas, 5, and Catharine, 10 months, plus daughter Polly Taburn, 28, and her children Miley, 5, Burnis, 2, Earnest, 2, and Lillian, 6 months. In the 1910 census of Old Fields township: Gray Bailey, 65, wife Eliza, 54, and children and grandchildren Thomas, 14, Miley, 14, Katie, 10, Annie, 26, Curtis A., 4, and Samuel, 2.



  • Gray Hinnant


Gray Hinnant, son of Martha Williamson, married Tama [Tamar] Hinnant, daughter of M. and Alley Hinnant, on 19 February 1895 at Thomas Hinnant’s. Witnesses were Rosker [Roscoe] F. Hinnant, Columbus Deans and Ransom Taylor. In the 1900 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Gray Hinnant, 48, wife Taimmer, 36, and children Emma, 17, Jarvis, 12, Lula, 8, Edwin, 16, and Arthur, 13. In the 1910 census of Old Fields: Gray Hinnant, 56, Taimer, 45, son-in-law Sefare Hinnant, and grandchildren Clinton, 6, and Kennie, 4. In the 1920 census of Old Fields: Gray Hinnant, 65, and wife Tamar, 55, on Old Wilson and Raleigh Road.


  • Daniel Taylor


In the 1850 census of Nash County: Willie Locust, 26, Eveline, 7, Arnol, 6, Rachel, 3, and Daniel Locust, 7 months.

In the 1860 census of Sullivants district, Nash County: in the household of white farmer William Rentfro, Evaline, 18, William, 16, Rachael, 14, and Daniel Locus, 10.

In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Daniel Locust, 21.

In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Daniel Locust, 32, wife Lucinda, 25, and children Mary, 8, and James R., 5.

In the 1900 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Daniel Taylor, 56, wife Lucinda, 43, and children Ardellis, 18, Willie T., 17, Joseph, 15, Martha, 12, Allis, 10, and Jesse, 6. In the 1910 census of Old Fields township: widower Daniel Taylor, 55, listed as a hired man in the household of white farmer Reuben Pittman. In the 1920 census of Old Fields: Daniel Taylor 70, with grandson Alvin Perry, 8.


Harry Dunston married Mary Stancil on 28 December 1897 on Oneal township, Johnston County. In the 1910 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Harry Dunston, 58, his wife of 6 years Livia A., 46, and children James, 10, Pearly, 7, Percy, 7, Alparada, 3, and Ollie, 1 1/2. (Close by, the family of Gray and Eliza Bailey.) His wife Livan, daughter of Best and Clara Locus Taborn, died 29 April 1947 and is buried at New Vester. Harry Dunston’s death lists his birthplace as Wake County and his parents as Ben Dunston and Harriett Hester.


  • Silvia Mariah Deans


In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Sylvia Deans, 46, with children Jane, 11, Simon, 9, and Columbus Deans, 6. [Silvia Deans apparently was not married. The marriage and death records of her sons John Simon and Columbus name their father as Jordan O’Neal, who appears in the 1870 and 1880 censuses of Wilson County in Spring Hill township.] In the 1900 census of Old Fields township: Columbus Deans, 23, wife Rosa L., 22, children Silvanes, 3, and Gray C., 1, and mother Silva Deans, 54. Next door: John Deans, 28, wife Ada P., 23, and grandmother Emily Taylor, 75. In the 1920 census of Old Fields township: Columbus B. Deans, 44; wife Rosa Lee, 41; children Savanah, 22, Gray C., 20, Allinor, 17, Walter Kelley, 16, Bennie H., 14, William T., 12, James K., 10, George L., 9, and Lucy J., 7; grandchildren Ella W., 6, and Lossie Lee, 3; and mother Sylvion Deans, 74. In the 1930 census of Old Fields: Columbus B. Deans, 54; wife Rosa L., 52; children and grandchildren James K., 21, Lucy J., 17, Ella W., 16, Lossie L., 13, Jessie, 8, Willie, 4, and Callie, 2; and mother Silvia Deans, 84.


  • Angeline Hinnant


In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Randall Hinnant, 33, Angeline, 26, and children J. Thomas, 10, James H., 8, Lilly Ann, 6, and Roscoe F. Hinnant, 4. In the 1900 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: Randall Hinnant, 55, Angeline, 48, George W., 16, Sallie A., 14, Survayal, 5, and “hired girl” Susan Hinnant, 40. In the 1910 census of Old Fields township: George Hinnant, 24, wife Elizabeth, 22, daughter Mary L., 1, mother Angeline, 58, and Percy Hinnant, 7. In the 1920 census of Old Fields: George Hinnant, 35, Elizabeth, 30, Mary L., 11, James, 9, Mary Lee, 7, Martha May, 6, and Charlie T. Hinnant, 1, and mother Angeline Hinnant, 70.

  • Alonzo Terrell


In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Alonzo Terrell, 35, wife Jane, 30, and children Mariah, 15, John, 10, Mary, 7, Ellis, 4, Andrew, 2, and an unnamed infant, 1 month.

Rev. Clarence Dillard.

Though he is best known for his religious and educational work in Wayne County — Goldsboro’s African-American high school was named in his honor — Rev. Clarence Dillard pastored black Presbyterian congregations in Elm City and Wilson in Wilson County.

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A.B. Caldwell, ed., History of the American Negro and His Institutions, North Carolina Edition (1921).

A deplorable blunder.

Sampson Democrat 5 26 1921 blunder

Sampson Democrat, 26 May 1921.

Ninety-five years ago today, the Times reported on a double-tragedy that befell a Sampson County family. First, their oldest son suffered a horrifying death in a guano factory in Wilson. Then, because damage to his corpse made identifying the body difficult, undertaker Charles H. Darden released his body to the wrong family.

In the 1920 census of Turkey township, Sampson County: Ed Sikes, 55, and his children Edward, 18, Leonard, 14, Lilla, 12, and David, 9.

According to The American Fertilizer Handbook, volume 13 (1920), Contentnea Guano Factory was located on the A.C.L. and Norfolk Southern Rail Road in Wilson. Founded in 1907, the factory had the capacity to produce 20,000 tons of acid phosphates annually and 600 tons of bagged goods a day. P.L. Woodard was president of the company, and Graham Woodard was secretary and treasurer.

Wootten & Stevens, pt. 4.

In 1977, the late Hugh B. Johnston abstracted a newly discovered volume of the records of Wootten and Stevens, the earliest undertaking firm in Wilson County. The result, Funeral Register of Wootten and Stevens, Undertakers of Wilson, North Carolina, November 18, 1896-June 27, 1899 is an unpublished manuscript held at Wilson County Public Library. This post is the fourth in a series abstracting the abstract for entries naming African-Americans.

  • Cooper, Rachel. Wilson. Colored. Died 7 August 1898, age 65 years, of old age. Length 6′. Cost $2.25. Billed to County Commissioners. Burial in Green Lassiter cemetery. (Page 297)
  • Craig, ______. Little Richmond. Colored. Died 20 December 1896. Length 5’9″. Buried at colored cemetery. Attended by Dr. Albert Anderson. Cost $20. “Was shot on Sunday night said to be by negro Albert Tucker.” (Page 11)
  • Crosland, Mabel. Wilson. Colored. Died 8 January 1897, age 4 years 10 months, of accidental burns. Attended by Dr. Albert Anderson. Length 4′. Buried colored cemetery. Cost $8. Paid by Joseph S. Jackson. (Page 18)
  • Darden, Olive Oleta. Wilson. Colored. Died 6 April 1898, age 5 months 11 days, of bronchitis. Attended by Dr. Williams. Daughter of Charlie and Diana Darden. Length 2’6″. Cost $8. Funeral and burial at Oak Dale cemetery. (Page 228)
  • Deans, Barney. Near Wilson. Colored. Died 8 February 1898, of dropsy. Certified by Bob Paschall. Length 5’9″. Cost $4.50. Billed to J.C. Hadley & Co. (Page 206)
  • Dew, Edith. Taylor’s township. Colored. Died 10 October 1897, of consumption, age 30 years. Daughter of Viah Dew. Length 5’9″. Billed to Wiley Dew. Buried in Bat Thompson cemetery. (Page 147)
  • Dew, Oscar Cornelius. Lucama. Colored. Died 18 October 1898, age 10 1/2 months. Cost $2.75. Billed to C.D. Dew. Burial in W.H. Lamm cemetery. (Page 361)
  • Ellis, _____. Near Wilson. Colored. Died 7 February 1898, aged 21 days. Great-grandchild of Hilyard Ellis. Length 2′. Cost $3. (Page 205)
  • Ellis, Warren. Nash County. Colored. Died 25 October 1898, age 25 years, of yellow chill. Son of Hilliard Ellis. Attended by Drs. Brantley and Williams. Length 5’9″. Cost $15. Funeral in Baptist Church [probably Ellis Chapel]. Burial in old homestead cemetery. (Page  363)
  • Farmer, _____. Near Wilson. Colored. Died 24 April 1897, of a cold. Age 9 months. Length 2’4″. Cost $1.25. Billed to Charles Hagan. Buried in James Woodard cemetery. (Page 63)
  • Farmer, _____. Wilson. Colored. Died 14 January 1899, of croup. Age 3 months. Length 2’6″. Cost $5. Billed to John Wash Farmer. Buried in Oakdale cemetery. (Page 406)
  • Farmer, Hattie. Wilson. Colored. Died 9 March 1899, age 22 years, of pneumonia. Attended by Dr. Albert Anderson. Length 5’9″. Cost $8. Buried at Nashville, N.C. (Page 433)
  • Flora, Mourning. Wilson. Colored. Died 6 June 1899, age 9 months. Length 3′. Cost $3. Billed to W.H. Farmer. (Page 481)
  • Forsythe, Anna. Cross Roads Township. Colored. Died 7 September 1898, age 22 years. Attended by Dr. Hoover. Length 5’9″. Cost $15. Buried in Cross Roads township. (Page 323)
  • Fort, Prony. Near Wilson. Colored. Died 13 January 1899, age 65 years. Attended by Dr. W.S. Anderson. Length 5’9″. Cost $10. Billed to Calvin Fort through Bun Barefoot. Buried in Wayne County. (Page 405)
  • Freeman, James. Wilson. Colored. Died 21 May 1899, age 29 years 2 months 10 days, of consumption. Length 6′. Cost $10. Billed to Annie Tisdale. Buried in colored cemetery. (Page 469)
  • Gaffney, Andrew. Wilson. Colored. Died 6 January 1898. Length 6′. Cost $10. Billed to brother William Gotny [Gaffney]. Buried in colored cemetery.
  • Gay, Adaline. Near Wilson. Colored. Died 20 July 1897, of whooping cough and fever. Length 4′. Cost $3.25. Billed to Stephen Morriss. Funeral at Ellis Chapel. Burial in F.W. Barnes (Moore) cemetery. (Page 105)
  • Green, Della. Wilson Jail. Colored. Died 28 March 1899, age 33 years. “Died in Jail charged with infanticide.” Length 5’9″. Cost $2.25. Billed to County Commissioners. Burial in Poor House cemetery.

Dr. James A. Battle.

For a town whose population did not hit 10,000 until 1920 (and of which only half  were black), Wilson produced an astounding number of African-American physicians in the first few decades of the twentieth century. To the ranks of Drs. Joseph H. WardCharles H. Bynum, William H. BryantJohn W. Darden, James T. Suggs and Walter T. Darden, add James Alexander Battle.

Born in 1885 to Parker and Ella Daniel Battle, Battle graduated Leonard Medical School at Shaw University in Raleigh and soon established a practice in Greenville, North Carolina. In 1914, he married Della Mae Plummer of Warren County. They had one child, daughter Ella Elizabeth. Dr. Battle is credited as the first African-American physician to gain practicing privileges at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.

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Greenville News, 23 February 1918.


Death certificate of Ella Lea Battle, Dr. Battle’s mother. Dr. Battle served as informant for the document, and Dr. Michael E. DuBissette, of Afro-Caribbean descent, certified it. 

PC 6 27 1953

Pittsburgh Courier, 27 June 1953.

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Journal of the Old North State Medical Society, volume 3, number 1 (October 1953).


Dr. J.A. Battle’s home at 1208 West 4th Street, Greenville. Photo courtesy of B. Forbes and published here.


Marriage to maids is like war to men.

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Wilson Blade, 20 November 1897.


  • Alice Darden — Alice Darden, born 1879, was the daughter of George and Ava Darden. In the 1880 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County: laborer George Darden, 22, wife Ava, 18, daughter Alice, 1, and niece Rose, 10. The couple had married 14 February 1878 in Greene County, and their marriage license lists George’s mother as  Mariah Darden and Avey Thompson’s father as Bryant Thompson.
  • Allen Morgan
  • L.A. Moore — Lee A. Moore.
  • Rev. N.D. King — Nicholas D. King, born about 1873, was a native of Princess Ann County, Maryland. He was apparently newly arrived in Wilson, as an 11 December 1897 report in the Raleigh Gazette named him as head of a Lumberton, North Carolina, church. The following spring, he married Mamie Gay. In keeping with the dictates of Methodist itineracy, the family moved often, and census records and city directories over the next  few years place them in Edenton, North Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Rev. King died in 1943 in Buffalo, New York.

ND King

Buffalo Courier-Express, 1 October 1943.

  • S.A. Smith — Simeon A. Smith.
  • Mamie L. Gay — Mamie Lee Gay, born 1880, was the daughter of Samuel and Alice Bryant Gay, and appears with her family in the 1880 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County. On 16 March 1898, she married Rev. N.D. King at Saint John A.M.E. Zion. Rev. O.L.W. Smith performed the ceremony, and S.A. Smith, H.H. Bryant and W.J. Moore were official witnesses. Mamie King died 28 July 1927 in Chattanooga and was buried in Wilson.
  • Annie L. Darden — Annie Lee Darden, born 1878, was the daughter of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden. She married John M. Barnes, son of Charles and Rebecca Barnes, on 22 December 1903. [Was Annie the bride’s cousin? Because the identity of Charles Darden’s parents is now unknown, their relationship remains speculative.]

Cemeteries, no. 3: Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church cemetery.

Like many small rural churches, the early members of Stantonsburg’s Bethel A.M.E. Zion were drawn largely from a group of related families. At their core was the large extended family of William Henry Hall, whose family plot in the church cemetery was profiled here.

The cemetery, about a mile from the present location of the church, is set along a slight rise above the cut of Peacock Bridge Road, just south of the Norfolk & Southern railroad. It is lovingly tended despite its isolation, with most of the graves lying in sandy bays extending back from the unpaved road. Foxgrape vines and sassafras saplings edge the clearings, and rose bushes have naturalized among the trees.

Besides William Hall, among the earliest marked burials are:


Dick Barnes married Quilla Joyner on 10 February 1870 in Wayne County, North Carolina. (The county line is just a few miles west of Stantonsburg.) In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Richard Barnes, 38, wife Aqulla, 33, and children Edward C., 9, William H.M., 8, Lewis H., 6, Maryland, 5, and Corneleous, 4. In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Richard Barnes, (second) wife Gracey, 23, and children Peter, 23, Cornelius, 21, Mary S., 18,  Geneva, 16, John H., 14, and Barnie, 7, and boarder Addison Fort, 17.


and William M. Hardy, who lived a few miles away over the Greene County line.