Month: February 2017

North Carolina Mutual.

This photograph was found at 208 North Pender Street shortly before the house was demolished. The house had been owned by the Clinton and Minnie Lockhart Bess family since the 1920s and was last occupied by their children Ruth Gladys Bess (1912-2003) and Rev. James Clinton Bess (1915-2002).

The photograph, which probably dates from shortly after the turn of the century, depicts four African-American men in suits and six women dressed in nurses’ caps and pinafores. The men at right are John Merrick (1859-1919) and Dr. Aaron M. Moore (1863-1923), who founded North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association (now North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company) in Durham in 1898.


In John Merrick: A Biographical Sketch, published in 1920, R. McCants Andrews quoted a long-time North Carolina Mutual employee: “The second oldest agent in the service of the company is Mr. L.A. Moore, of Wilson, North Carolina, who is still in the employ of the company.”

Lee A. Moore lived on Pender Street, but not at 208, and it is not clear whether anyone in the Bess family worked for N.C. Mutual. Though the insurance company employed nurses, such as Henrietta R. Colvert, that provided home healthcare, none of the women above has been identified as someone with a direct connection to Wilson. Nor have the men at top left.


Hill’s Wilson, N.C., Directory (1908-1908).

If you have information about this photograph, please leave a comment.

Many thanks to Edith Jones Garnett for sharing this image.

Exhume and exalt.

“People ask me all the time:’What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost. I became an artist — and thank God I did — because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

So here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people. …”

I am neither an actor nor a playwright, but Black Wide-Awake exists to exhume and exalt the ordinary people of my corner of the world. Many thanks to Viola Davis, whose acceptance speech at last night’s Academy Awards helped articulate my purpose.

503 East Green Street.

The tenth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.


As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District: “ca. 1893; 1 story; two-room house with flush eaves and chimney in east gable end; among oldest in district.”

Information about this tiny house is hard to come by. In 1925, however, it was occupied by a cook named Narcissus Boylan.


Hill’s Directory of Wilson, N.C., 1925. 

Unlike many of the grander homes on East Green Street, 503 has withstood time and decline and remains inhabited today.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2017.

George R. Murrain’s journey.

On 30 July 1928, Presbyterian minister A.H. George conducted the marriage ceremony of George R. Murrain, 25, of New York, son of George R. and Elizabeth Murrain, and Della Mae Whitehead, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Henry and Victoria Whitehead, in Wilson. Witnesses were Elizabeth Brodie, H.M. Fitts, and Pennie A. Bynum. The license notes that Murrain’s father was dead, but his mother resided in Africa.


Immigration documents reveal that George Richard Murrain was the son of George Richard Murrain and Elizabeth Burnette Murrain, missionaries who traveled the world on behalf of the Church of the Brethren, one of the three historic peace churches. The elder Murrains moved for decades between South America, Africa, Europe and North America, a peripatetic international existence that George and Della Murrain also briefly carried out.

Digitized immigration records show some of the Murrain family’s travels.

“List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival” details passengers sailing from Liverpool, England, 31 July 1913, on the S.S. Adriatic, arriving at the Port of New York on 8 August 1913. The manifest included George Richard Murrain (the elder), 45, wife Elizabeth, 43, and their children Frederick, 15, Stanley, 13, Jeanie, 12, George, 10, Joseph, 8, Mona, 6, and Elliott, 5. The family’s last permanent residence was Hualondo, Africa, and their contact was Missionaries of Christian Brethren, Bile, West Central Africa.


This “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival” shows passengers sailing from Southampton, England, 10 January 1922, on the S.S. Olympic. The manifest lists missionary Mary Augusta Murrain, 29, and students George Richard, 20, and Mona Elizabeth Murrain, 18. All were citizens of Great Britain whose last residence was Hualondo, Africa. Their father was G.R. Murrain, Missan Ingleza Bie Angola, and their final destination was Enfield, North Carolina.


Mary, George and Mona Murrain apparently were detained upon arrival in the United States and appear on a “Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry.” The codes do not readily reveal the reason for their detention or how long they were held.


On 27 July 1924, the Murrains arrived at the Port of Southampton, England, on the Zeelandia. The ship sailed originally from Buenos Aires, and the family boarded in Lisbon. Below is a portion of the “Names and Descriptions of British Passengers” showing George R. Murrain, 55, wife Elizabeth Augusta, 53, and sons Joseph Nathaniel, 20, and Elliot Sydney, 16. Angola was listed as their country of last permanent residence.


On 29 August 1924, George R. Murrain the elder set sail to Canada on the S.S. Montclare. His “Declaration of Passenger to Canada” shows that he was married to Elizabeth Agusta; that he was a missionary; that he was born in the West Indies; was colored; was British; his religion was Brethren; was going to Canada for vacation; that he had visited the country before; that he first arrived in Canada via New York in 1914; and that his destination was Toronto.


The trip ended in tragedy.


There was no “British Guinea”; Murrain was likely from British Guiana, now Guyana, on the northeast Atlantic coast on South America. From “The Believers’ Magazine: For the Ministry of the Word and Tidings of the Work of the Lord,” John Ritchie, editor, volume 25, page 26 (February 1925).

Twenty years after George Murrain Jr. and Della Whitehead married, part of the family appeared on the “Manifest of In-Bound Passengers (Aliens)” arriving tourist class at the Port of New York, from Southampton, England, on the Queen Mary on 13 September 1948. The manifest shows Della Murrain, age 41, and her three children George, 11, Fitzgerald, 9, and Kenneth, 16. Della, George and Fitzgerald were United States citizens; Kenneth was British. The younger boys were born in West Africa.


Another manifest dated 18 months later shows British citizen George Richard Murrain, age 47, of Route 4, Box 35, Wilson, North Carolina, arriving first class at the Port of New York on the Washington on 24 January 1950. The ship had left Southampton, England, a week earlier.


George Richard Murrain died 31 August 1982 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 June 1902 in Silva Porto [now Kuito], Angola, West Africa, to George Richard Murrain and Elizabeth Burnette Murrain; was married; was a retired carpenter; and resided at 105 Tacoma Street. Della Whitehead Murrain was informant.

New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957; U.K. Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960; U.K. Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [databases on-line],

Snaps, no. 9: Mr. DeShon’s driver.

This photograph depicts James P. “Jake” DeShon and his driver, whose name is unknown, at a construction site believed to be in Wilson County.  The automobile’s license tag reads: “Wilson N.C. 2315.” DeShon lived in Raleigh, and it is likely that the driver was provided for his convenience during his business visit. The car appears to a Model A Ford from the late 1920s or early 1930s. DeShon died in 1933. Does anyone recognize the driver?


Photograph courtesy of Cathy Torbert Dent.

The last will and testament of Ned Kent.


In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Ned Kent, 25, wife Liddy, 24, and children Isaac, 4, Cassanda, 3, and Jane, 2.

On 17 December 1897, Mary Jane Kent, 18, daughter of Ned and Liddie Kent, married James Boykin, 21, son of Henry and Silvy Boykin, in Wilson County.

On 23 November 1899, Arcellous Kent, 23, son of Ned and Liddy Kent, married Jane Aycock, 19, daughter of Alf and Charity Aycock, in Springhill township, Wilson County. Witnesses were Joel O’Neil of Springhill and Walter Sadler and James R. Darden of Wilson.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Ned Kent, 46, wife Lydia, 43, and children Cassanda, 22, Gennie, 18, George, 17, Roscoe, 15, Frederick, 13, Charley, 11, Clara A., 10, Bud, 8, Louisa, 6, Narcissa, 4, Percy, 2, and Franklin, 1.

On 29 January 1908, Fred Kent, 21, son of Ned and Liddie Kent, married Arcissa Atkinson, 19, daughter of Arch and Martha Atkinson, at Arch Atkinson’s house. W.H. Dugger, Christian Church minister, performed the ceremony in the presence of J.D. Baily, G.A. Shaw, and J.H. Barnes, all of Springhill.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on the path leading to Raleigh Road, farmer Ned Kent, 56, wife Liddie, 51, and children Casandy, 32, Charley, 21, Clara, 20, James W., 18, Louisa, 16, Narcissus, 14, Percy, 12, Franklin, 10, and Ada, 7.

On 21 December 1911, Clara Kent, 20, daughter of Ned and Liddie Kent, married O.W. Hamilton, son of H.K. and Nora Hamilton, in Johnston County.

On 23 March 1913, Louisa Kent, 19, daughter of Ned and Lydia Kent, married William Barnes, 19, son of Joe and Mary Barnes, in Wilson County.

On 7 December 1917, James Kent, 24, son of Ned and Lydia Kent, married Lula Creech, 19, daughter of Haywood Hinnant and Flora Creech, all of Springhill township. Josiah Hinnant applied for the license, and Free Will Baptist minister A. Brown performed the ceremony in the presence of Hardy Hinnant, Battle Barham and Persey Kent.

On 15 June 1919, Percy Kent, 21, son of Ned and Lydia Kent, married Mallie Lucas, daughter of Jim and Missour

In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Ned Kent, 59, wife Liddie, 58, children Frank, 20, and Ada, 18, and grandson Willie, 1.

Arcellus Kent died 5 March 1920 in Beulah township, Johnston County. Per his death certificate, he was 44 years old; married; born in Wilson County to Ned Kent and Lydia Barnes; a farmer; and was buried in the family cemetery in Wilson County. Informant was Julia Kent.

On 6 May 1925, Ada Kent, 23, daughter of Ned and Liddie Kent, married Abston Williams, 22, son of Edmund and Cassandy Williams in Johnston County.

On 16 May 1929, Fred Kent, 26, son of Ned Kent and Lydia Kent, married Lou Bettie Ellis, 23, daughter of John Daniel Ellis and Mary Ellis, in Wilson. James T. Barnes, Devonie Powell and Lawrence Powell witnessed the ceremony.

In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Ned Kent, 71; wife Liddie C., 69; son Percy, 32; and grandchildren Percy C., 9, Leda F., 8; David N., 5, and Willie, 12. Ned’s farm was valued at $4500.

In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Ned Kent, 74, wife Liddie, 83, and grandsons Willie, 21, Carnell, 19, and Daniel, 16.

Franklin Kent died 3 March 1938 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Per his death certificate, he was born in May 1900 in Wilson County to Ned Kent and Liddy Barnes; was divorced from Lugenia Richardson; resided at 538 Dexter Street, Rocky Mount; and worked as a mechanic. Informant was Ned Kent, Elm City.

Ned Kent died 22 July 1940 in Springhill township. Per his death certificate , he was 85 years; was married to Lydia Kent, 84; was a farmers; and was born in Johnston County to Elbert and Abbie Sanders of Johnston County. He was buried at the home place; Earnest Hinnant was informant. [Note that a family story published at names Lightfoot Sanders and Angeline Kent as Ned Kent’s parents.]

Lydia Kent died 5 November 1949 in Springhill township. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 May 1875 in Wilson County to Isaac and Abbie Barnes and was a widow. She was buried in the Kent family cemetery, and Gennie Lucas was informant.

Percy Kent died 5 June 1973 in Smithfield, Johnston County. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 March 1903 to Ned Kent and Lydie Barnes; was a widower; resided in Smithfield; and worked as a laborer. David Kent was informant.

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

Too low and too near the streets.

In June 1889, Rev. J.H. Mattocks, hat in hand, submitted a letter for publication in one of Wilson’s newspapers. The Colored Methodist Church, i.e. Saint John A.M.E. Zion, was about to pitch into the street, and could the white citizens help? Remittances could be made to Charles Darden, Gray Farmer or Samuel Vick, all up-and-coming black businessmen who enjoyed the trust of folks across the tracks.


Wilson Mirror, 19 June 1889.

Charles Darden remained a lifelong member of Saint John, but, authorization to solicit subscriptions notwithstanding, Gray Farmer and Samuel Vick were on their way out. Just two months after this appeal appeared, the Mirror announced that both  were charter members of a colored Presbyterian church.


Wilson Mirror, 21 August 1889.

Per a publication issued for the Cape Fear Presbytery Centennial, 1886-1986, Calvary Presbyterian was organized 4 August 1889. The full list of organizers comprised Mahalie Artis, Hattie Barnes, F.O. Blount, William B. Conner, A.D. Dawson, Lucy Dawson, G.A. Farmer, John Gaston, Susie Harris, Abbie Holloway, Patrick Leach, A.J.C. Moore, L.H. Peacock, Edmund Poole, Mary Stephens, Hardy Tate, Daniel Vick, S.H. Vick, J.J. White [Wilson?] and B.R. Winstead.

  • William B. Conner — perhaps, in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: house carpenter WIlliam A. Connor, 50, wife Ada, 27, and children William, 5, and Rosetta, 1. [If so, he was a Greene County native and a veteran of the United States Colored Troops. More later.]
  • Lucy Dawson — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: dealer in fish Edd [Alexander D.] Dawson, 40; wife Lucy, 40, dressmaking; and children Mattie, 14, Virginia, 9, Lucy, 8, Edd, 5, Clarence, 3, and Augusta, 1. Lucy Annie Dawson died 20 May 1917 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 October 1860 to Joseph Hill of Virginia and Sally Slaughter of Virginia, was married and was engaged in dressmaking. Sophia Dawson was informant.
  • Abbie Holloway — on 10 February 1892, John A. McLeod, 24, of Boston, married Abbie G. Holloway, 24, of New York City, in Boston, Massachusetts. John, a waiter, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to John and Ruth McLeod. Abbie, a domestic, was born in Wilson to James and Amanda Holloway. United Methodist minister John Hughes performed the ceremony.
  • Patrick Leach — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: shoemaker Patrick Henry Leach, 61, and wife Lavinea, 56. Leach reported that he was born in Mississippi to North Carolina-born parents. [Had he returned to his parents’ home after Emancipation?]
  • Mary Stephens — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason Lorenzo Stephens, 27, and wife Mary, 24.


Daniel Best awaits the resurrection morn.


Wilson Advance, 25 July 1889.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Daniel Best, 62; wife Jane, 50; and children Laura, 19, Nicy, 17, Noah, 16, Orange, 21, and Hancy, 21.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: hireling Daniel Best, 72, and wife Jane, 55, living amid a cluster of household that included farmer Orren Best, 31, wife Hancy, 31, and children James, 9, Oscar, 6, George, 4, Frances, 2, and Hattie, 3 months; hireling Lewis Best, 53, wife Harriette, 50, and children Daniel, 23, Sarah, 12, John, 8, and Willie, 10; and brickmason Noah Best, 27, wife Sarah, 25, and sons William, 2, and Thomas, 4 months.