Shaw v. Telegraph Co., 151 N.C. 638 (1910).

The suit by Gus Shaw against Western Union Telegraph Company reached the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1910. Shaw had charged the company with negligence by failing to deliver a telegram. As detailed on page 2 of the decision, a black woman in Wilson played a small role in the drama.

In a nutshell, on 29 June 1908, Gus Shaw of Durham sent a telegram to his sister, Mrs. Riney Rogers, No. 419 South Street, Wilson, North Carolina, pleading: “Come at once. Ida and I are sick with malarial fever.” Apparently, there were two houses numbered 419 on South Street. One was at the corner of South and Lodge, and the other was “lower down South Street.” The Western Union messenger attempted delivery at the corner house, but “found that it was occupied by a colored woman” Annie Moring. The Rogerses, in fact, had been living at the other house for two years. The messenger sent a service wire back to Durham asking for an address clarification. Shaw confirmed the address as 419, but his response was not conveyed to the Western Union manager in Wilson. The messenger inquired at the post office, which also confirmed Rogers’ address as 419 South. He mailed a postal card to Rogers at that address, but it was delivered to Moring. Nonplussed, Western Union never delivered the telegram to Rogers, and Shaw testified at trial that this “just like to killed me. I didn’t know what was the matter. …” Western Union appealed the lower court’s ruling that it had acted negligently and owed Shaw damages for mental anguish. The Supreme Court denied its appeal, however, and confirmed the judge’s rulings for Shaw.

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The 1908 Sanborn insurance map does not comport with the scenario here. South Street is a short street, running parallel to Nash Street for three and a half blocks from Goldsboro Street across Spring (now Douglas), Lodge and Factory (now Layton) Streets to the railroad. Here is most of the bottom stretch:

south street

No. 419, a large, one-story dwelling, is at the corner of South and Factory, not South and Lodge. On the odd-numbered side of the street, the corner of South and Lodge is occupied by the black Episcopal Church and R.P. Watson & Company tobacco factory. “Lower down” on South, presumably headed southeast, South Street runs alongside Wilson Cotton Mill and ends abruptly at the railroad. (In the other direction, street numbers descend through the 300s to 211 at South and Goldsboro.)

Neither Annie Moring nor Riney Rogers are found in the 1910 census of Wilson. However, the 1908 edition of Hill’s Wilson city directory provides some information, but perhaps makes the story more murky. Benj. L. Rogers, foreman of Wilson Cotton Mills, is listed at 419 South Street. So, however, are three African-American workmen, Andy Money, Ed Money and Lucian Norfleet. (There is no Moring listed.) The Sanborn map shows four tiny double-shotgun houses, lettered A through H, behind 419 South. It’s possible that the Moneys, Norfleet and Moring lived in these dwellings, but that scenario would not explain the mix-up or meet the layout described in Shaw v. Western Union.

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