Barbers ranked high among black Wilson’s most prominent residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lemon Taborn, who was later joined by his wife Edmonia and daughter Carrie, was the earliest of the well-known Wilson barbers, whose clientele was exclusively white. Others in the late 1800s included Alfred Robinson, J.F. White, Ed Mitchell, Tobias Farmer, and John A. Gaston.
In the 1870 census of Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina: brickmason George Gaston, 53, wife Matilda, 30, and 13 year-old sons George and John, both farm laborers.
In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason George Gaston, 60, wife Matilda, 44, and son John, 23, a farm laborer. John’s twin George Gaston, 23, barber, is listed by himself in the 1880 census of Town of Toisnot, Wilson County. George established perhaps the leading barber shop in Elm City, seven miles north of Wilson.
When Alfred Robinson left Wilson in 1889 for his patronage postal route job, J.F. White took over his business. White did not stay long though, and by the end of the year, John Gaston and Hugh T. Ransom were advertising their partnership at the location. (City directories show that Ransom was a barber in Raleigh in 1887. He married Maggie Joyner in Wilson on Christmas Day 1889, and their marriage license notes that his parents lived in Wake County. Ransom was alive as late as 1897, when his son Hugh T. Ransom Jr. was born, but died before 1900.)
Wilson Advance, 2 January 1890.
Wilson Advance, 10 July 1890.
Wilson Advance, 4 June 1891.
Gaston and Ransom seem to have parted ways shortly, and in August 1891 a local newspaper noted the addition of Ed Mitchell to the shop.
Wilson Advance, 27 August 1891.
Wilson Advance, 14 January 1892.
Gaston continued to expand his business.
Wilson Advance, 17 November 1892.
Wilson Advance, 26 January 1893.
Wilson Advance, 22 February 1894.
Though he received a fair amount of free publicity via news briefs such as those above, Gaston was a big believer in advertising, and placed hundreds of ads in the Wilson Advance. Here, he touted two additional barbers, including one that he trained. (I have not found any other reference to Lyde (Clyde?) Richardson. Noah J. Tate, curiously, is referred to as “Pate” in this and another newspaper reference, but Tate in all others. The son of Hardy and Mary Jane Tate, he and Walter Hines entered a partnership circa 1910.
Wilson Mirror, 31 October 1894.
Wilson Advance, 2 May 1895.
Wilson Advance, 2 April 1896.
Wilson Advance, 8 April 1897.
Wilson Advance, 24 March 1898.
John A. Gaston, 44, son of George Gaston, and Sattena Barnes, 22, daughter of Doublin and Eliza Barnes, were married 9 November 1899 at the bride’s residence in Wilson. Braswell R. Winstead obtained the license; Rev. S.B. Hunter performed the ceremony at the A.M.E. Zion church; and Grant T. Foster (husband of Hugh T. Ransom’s widow Maggie), B.R. Winstead, and Samuel H. Vick were witnesses.
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber John Gaston, 44, wife Satina, 30, and children Theodore, 13, Cicero, 10, George, 8, and Caroline, 2 months.
In the 1910 census of Warsaw, Duplin County: widower John Gaston, 53, barber, and son Ciseroe, 24, pressing club operator.
In 1911, a bit of unfinished business — likely related to his deceased wife’s estate — brought Gaston back to Wilson County:
Wilson Daily Times, 10 January 1911.
In the 1920 census of Warsaw, Duplin County: on Bell Street, widower John Gaston, 63, barber, and son Theodore, 33, also a barber.
On 4 November 1930, John A. Gaston died in Warsaw, Duplin County. Per his death certificate, he was born about 1858 in Duplin County to George Gaston and an unnamed mother and was the widower of Satina Barnes Gaston. Cause of death: “Don’t know. Sudden death while about his work as barber. No doctor had examined him.” Theo. Gaston of Warsaw was informant.