Nearly 80% black, and representing the 40% of North Carolina’s population that was African-American, the Union League was critical to the success of the Republican Party post-Civil War. Governor William W. Holden, committed to black political and social equality, pulled the Union League under the party’s umbrella with white Unionists. The newly formed Ku Klux Klan rose up in opposition, unleashing a scourge of retribution and intimidation across the state and driving Holden from office. Under this pressure, the League effectively collapsed by 1871.
In 1912, the Sewanee Review published J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton’s “The Union League in North Carolina,” a disapproving assessment of the League’s activities across the state. In the article, Hamilton, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and founder of that institution’s esteemed Southern Historical Collection, briefly touched upon Wilson County’s organization:
“In December, 1869, at Wilson Court, in the case of two members of the League who were indicted for whipping a negro for voting the Conservative ticket, Judge Thomas refused to admit any evidence to show that the League had ordered the whipping, and sentenced them when convicted to thirty and sixty days’ imprisonment respectively. They were immediately pardoned by the governor.”