Excerpt from the “Lincoln Graduates in the South” (referring to “the Afro-American, of Charlotte, N.C., which is the leading Presbyterian weekly of the colored people of the South”) in Lincoln University Herald, October 1910, volume XIV, number 7.
Cecil Lloyd Spellman was a professor of rural education at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. In 1947, he published “Elm City, A Negro Community in Action,” a monograph intended to employ sociology to “interpret the Negro in his actual day to day activities and interrelationships with members of his own and other races.” This is an excerpt. [Part one here; part two here]:
There is a large number of outstanding Negro families in the community that carry considerable prestige. One who makes a study here will of necessity come into contact with the families of Edward Johnson and Sam Thomas, southeast of Elm City, the late J.H. Davis, near Town Creek, John Green and Frank Colson, near Pridgin’s Corner, Walter Storage of Elm City, and probably a few others.The personalities and activities of these families are everywhere evident in the life of the community.
Edward Johnson, who heads the Johnson family, was for a long time prominent in the affairs of the community. At one time he was a stockholder in the now defunct Negro bank of Wilson, in which he represented his section of the county. When the bank was declared insolvent, he was said to have lost heavily in it. At any rate, whether this is true or not, when his home was damaged severely by fire some years later, he was so hard pressed for money that he was unable to repair it, and was forced to spend many of his later years living in a remodeled tobacco pack house on his farm. In time he finally abandoned this and ceased living in the section altogether.
His two sons have been a real credit to the family. Both have acquired property, have become prominent in church, civic and school affairs, have reared fine families, and have sent sons and daughters to college. They are members of the Wilson chapter of the American Legion, and are regular cooperators in demonstrations sponsored by the State Extension Service. One of these sons married the neighborhood school teacher, who subsequently retired to their farm, on which they have one of the better homes of the community. From these facts, this particular Johnson boy takes on an added degree of prestige.
Now this former school-teacher-wife takes a very active part in her neighborhood Home Demonstration Club, where her education easily makes her the outstanding woman. She has been secretary and president of the club, local representative to the State Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs, and has held a number of other important offices. Her position in the Home Demonstration set-up of the county is frequently the cause of jealousies in different groups.
On the other side of this neighborhood, about four or five miles from the Johnsons, lives the family of John Green. John is content to let his ambitious wife Betty represent the family; and this she does adequately. No one ever hears anything about him; but she is active in everything. She is an excellent worker, but she talks too much. Her ambition for a high place in the Home Demonstration Club organization often brings her into sharp competition with Mrs. Johnson. Although she is unable to overcome the education and other influence of Mrs.Johnson, the constant state of rivalry between them at times can be seen to be detrimental to some of the work of the organization. Each woman tries to have the meetings of the club held on “her side” of the neighborhood, and at “her time” or to have women from her side of the neighborhood placed on committees, or in other prominent places int he program of the organization.
Elen Storage, wife of Walter Storage, also completely overshadows her husband. Her activities are centered chiefly in the church, the Parent Teacher Association, the Sunday School and Missionary Circle. She can be definitely depended upon to visit the sick, and minister to their needs. For many years she was president of the local Parent Teacher Association, and as a leader, she hardly has a peer in the community.
The family of the late J.H. Davis, an older settler, is no longer of much influence in the community. This is a case where the total value of the family was inherent in the person of its head. He died about seven years ago, and by this time, practically all the property which he had accumulated has slipped away from the heirs; so tyhere is little left except the family name, and tyhe memory of what “old J.H.” himself used to do. When one passes through the community, the natives will point out the house and tell the story of “old J.H.” farmer, landowner, bank stickholder, fraternal man, Christian, gentleman!
Frank Colson, a preacher, who lives in the community, is also a landholder of considerable scope, because of being a preacher. While he does not have a church at which he ministers, he takes considerable prestige because of the prefession which he represents. His activities include participation in the program of the State Extension Service, civic and school work, and politics on a small scale.
These families, and probably a few others which have not been given consideration here, constitute some of the main ones of this community. Regardless of how they may appear from this brief account, they are the ones that have to be taken into account when there is something to be done in the community. Their personal skirmishes do not prevent them from being important in executing many worthwhile projects of lasting benefit in this community.
[It appears that the names Spellman used in this account were aliases.]
Here are the occupations carried out by African-Americans enumerated in the 1880 census of the town of Wilson, and the number of people working these jobs. The youngest person listed with a job was a 12 year-old nurse, who most likely cared for small children. In the ten years between 1870 and 1880, employment opportunities for African-Americans continued to diversify. Though most continued to work low-wage, low-skilled farm laborer and domestic services jobs, there is evidence of a tiny educated class emerging, as well as folk engaged in commerce.
In the 1870 census of Wilmington, New Hanover County: brickmason Benjamin Moore, 36; wife Isabella, 42; laundress Polly Swann, 21; Henrietta, 15, Satyra, 5, Benjamin, 2, and Philip, 2 months; Harriet Quince, 23; and Alice Watson, 19.
In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: South Carolina-born farm worker Joseph Palmer, 20, wife Ella, 21, children Pearl, 9, and Mattie, 6, and mother Mariah Moore, 45.
On 2 December 1895, Benjamin Moore, 26, of Wilmington, son of Benjamin Moore of Wilmington, and Mattie Elizabeth Palmer, 22, of Wilmington, daughter of Joseph and Ella Palmer of Wilmington obtained a license to marry in New Hanover County.
The retirement experiment in shopkeeping. Before 1900, Benjamin and Mattie returned to Wilmington, and Benjamin rejoined the ranks of Pullman porters.
In the 1900 census of Wilmington, New Hanover: Bengamin J.W. Moore, 30, “R.R. porter,” and wife Mattie, 26. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: South Carolina-born carpenter Joseph C. Palmer, 42, wife Estel, 41, a confectioner, and grandson Joseph C. Palmer Jr., 9.
Wilmington Messenger, 5 April 1902.
In the 1910 census of Wilmington, New Hanover County: at 1113 Market Street, railroad cook Benjamin J.W. Moore, 39, and wife Mattie, 35. (B.J.W. reported to the census taker having been married twice. The 19 April 1894 issue of the Wilmington Messenger recorded his grant of divorce from Laura Moore.) In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lodge Street, house carpenter Joe Palmer, 50, and wife Ella, 49.
In the 1920 census of Wilmington, New Hanover County: Ben Moore, 49, private car porter A.C.L. [Atlantic Coast Line], and wife Mattie, 40. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 710 Lodge Street, grocery store salesman Joe Palmer, 60, and wife Ella, 61, a general merchant.
Her mother Ella Palmer died 21 September 1921 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 59 years old and born in Hyde County, North Carolina, to Mariah Moore. Within 15 months, Mattie Palmer Moore lost her closest remaining relatives.
Her husband Benjamin J.W. Moore died 28 March 1922 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 November 1870 in Wilmington to Benjamin Moore and an unknown mother, worked as a cook for A.C.L., and lived at 1113 Market Street. He was buried at Pine Forest cemetery. M.E. Moore was informant.
Wilmington Messenger, 14 April 1922.
Her father Joseph C. Palmer died 12 December 1923 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was a native of Columbia, South Carolina, a widower, and a store proprietor. Mrs. Mattie E. Moore was informant.
On 14 January 1924, Camillus L. Darden (with his father Charles H. Darden as surety) applied for and received at Wilson County Superior Court letters of administration to handle J.C. Palmer’s estate, which he valued at $8000. Curiously, he asserted that Palmer had no heirs.
In fact, both Mattie Palmer Moore and her son Joseph Clifton Palmer were alive. Joseph died 21 May 1928 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 36 years old, married to Viola Palmer, lived at 614 East Green, and was the son of James Artis and Mattie Palmer. His mother Mattie Moore was informant.
Mattie Palmer Moore, it appears, died 20 May 1952 in Wilson.
North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com
On 31 July 1918, the Wilson County Draft Board inducted these 17 African-American men into military service and sent them to Camp Greene, outside Charlotte, North Carolina, for basic training.
John Henry Hunt registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born January 1891 in Spring Hope, North Carolina; lived at 613 Goldsboro Street, Wilson; was married; and was a laborer for contract and engineering company R.G. Lassiter & Co., Wilson. He was of medium height and build, with brown eyes and black hair. He signed his name “John Henry Hunt.”
Lovett B. Harris
Mark Guy Smith registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born March 1896 in Wilson; lived on RFD#2, Wilson; was single; and was a laborer for his father. He was medium height, slender, with brown eyes and black hair. He signed his name with an X.
Louis Lampley registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 29 April 1896 in Red Springs, North Carolina; lived at Black Creek; was single; and was a self-employed farmer in Black Creek township. He was tall and slender, with black eyes and hair. He signed his name “Louie Lampley.”
Frank G. Newsom registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 15 February 1889 in Lucama; lived in Lucama; had a wife and child; and was a self-employed farmer in Black Creek township. He was of medium height and build, with black eyes and hair. He signed his name “Frank G. Newsome.”
Henry Bullock registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 1 June 1896 in Wilson; lived at RFD#1, Wilson; was single; and was a quarry hand for The [illegible] Granite Quarries Company, Neverson, North Carolina. He was of medium height and build, with brown eyes and black hair. He signed his name with an X.
Joseph Palmer registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 15 August 1893 in Wilmington, North Carolina; lived in Wilson; was married with dependents; and was a prisoner in Wilson County. He was of medium height and build, with dark eyes and hair. He signed his name “Joe Palmer.”
Jonah Artis registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 7 August 1895 in Wayne County, North Carolina; lived in Stantonsburg; was single; and worked as a laborer and farmer. He was of medium height and build, with black eyes and black hair. He signed his name with an X.
Columbus King registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 13 July 1890 in Wilson County; lived Stantonsburg; was single; and was a farm laborer for W.T. Harrison. He was short and stout, with brown eyes and black hair. He signed his name with an X.
Johnie Farmer registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 4 February 1895 in Wilson; lived on Finch Mill Road, Wilson; was single; and was a butler for Mrs. F.S. Davis. He was tall and stout, with black eyes and black hair. He signed his name “Johnie Farmer.”
Arthur Vance Williams registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 25 February 1896 in Wilson County; lived on R.F.D. route, Elm City; was single; and farmed for W.M. Whitehead near Elm City. He was of medium height and build, with brown eyes and black hair. He signed his name “Arthur Williams.”
Howard Barnes registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born May 1889 in Wilson township; lived on Green Street, Wilson; was single; and was a servant for W.S. Harriss. He was tall and stout. He signed his name with an X.
Abner Gorham registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 19 November 1893 in Washington, North Carolina; lived at East Goldsboro Street, Wilson; was married; and was a drayman for Wells Grocery Company. He was tall, of medium build, with brown eyes and black hair. He signed his name with an X.
Liston Hales registered for the draft on 5 June 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 3 June 1896 in Lake View, South Carolina; lived at 605 Green Street, Wilson; was single; and was a laborer for W.W. Simms Company. He was of medium height, stout with brown eyes and black hair, and his “arm [had] been broken.” He signed his name with an X.
I’d been a member of Wilson County Genealogical Society perhaps six months. The group’s Colonial Roads tour seemed like something I just couldn’t miss, so I made a special trip home to board a bus that would introduce me to Wilson County’s past. The late, great Henry Powell narrated, identifying and illuminating one obscure landmark after another as the county’s back roads unspooled beneath the bus’ wheels. For the first time, I began to understand Wilson as a palimpsest created not just by time, but by race and class. There were whole layers of memory and history and culture accessible only to those who had inherited the right keys. The keys I had unlocked none of these, but they did grant access to the Society.
From the beginning, I was welcomed into the group — encouraged, consulted, listened to, heard. WCGS’ efforts to be inclusive have been organic and sincere, and I have appreciated the opportunity to be a resource.
Two years ago today, I went home again for a WCGS event. That time, at the Society’s invitation, I used my keys to open a door to Wilson County to which few society members have access. My presentation touched on enslaved people and free people of color and Jim Crow as I focused on the life and awesome accomplishments of my cousin Dr. Joseph H. Ward, one of Wilson’s “lost” sons. After I set my nerves aside, my talk went well and elicited thoughtful questions and positive comments at its conclusion.
I thank Wilson County Genealogical Society for the opportunity to give back to a community that encouraged and supported my research for nearly 20 years. I urge everyone who shares my passion for history, for the stories of our African-American past, to join WCGS and support its activities. The mission of the Society — to chronicle the heritage of Wilson County families — embraces us all.