Wayne County native Caswell C. Henderson (1865-1927) migrated to New York City in the 1890s, but returned South to Wilson to visit his sister Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver. Their great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled the elaborate steps he took to carry out his daily ritual. First, Henderson would leave their house on Elba Street and walk west on Green Street. He crossed the railroad tracks and walked a few more blocks before turning left on a cross street, then left to walk east on Nash Street to the Hotel Cherry. He entered the hotel through its front doors — as any white guest would — bought a newspaper, shot the breeze for a while with other white guests and staff, then exited right to walk back up Nash Street. After a few blocks, he turned right, then right again on Green and crossed the tracks back into the African-American world.
“Uncle Caswell had been home, he’d been to Wilson. He come down there visiting Mama …. He passed for white. He would go and get a paper every morning down there to Cherry Hotel. Walk down there for the exercise and get that paper. And they all thought he was white. He’d go in the hotel there and ask for a paper and come in there and talk to the people. And he’d leave the hotel and walk the other direction, then walk back down Green Street and come on home.”
Cherry Hotel in an undated postcard issued by the Asheville Post Card Company.
Interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.
Though hundreds of African-American Wilsonians were drafted into service during World War I, they were excluded from this public invitation to form a veterans’ group. Apparently, only deeds of valor perpetuated by white soldiers and sailors were to be kept alive.
Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. worked as a janitor at Five Points (later Winstead) School and did gardening odd jobs at the home of school superintendent Charles L. Coon. His great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks, whom he adopted, told this story:
“Papa was up there cutting grass. ‘Go in the house, and ask ‘em for some water, a pitcher.’ Talking ‘bout my daddy wanted some water. And the first time I ever seen a grapefruit was there. I said I’d never forget that. ‘Cause I went in that house and asked for some water, and I said ‘Daddy said’ – I called him Papa. Anyway, ‘he wanted to know if he could have some water.’ And the lady said, ‘Yeah,’ and she got a pitcher and a glass. And I took it on out there, and then I just sit on the steps. So Papa stopped and drinked him some water. But I was just standing there while they was fixing the water, and I looked on that table, and all ‘round the table there by the plate they had a salt cellar and half a grapefruit and a cherry sitting in the middle. And that thing just looked so pretty, looked so good. And I said, ‘Unh, that’s a big orange!’ I said, ‘Well, next time I go to the store I’m gon get me one, too.’ And sho’ nuff, I asked Papa, when we left – I don’t remember whether it was, it wont that particular time, but we come out and were on our way to Edmundson’s store in Five Points, and he wanted me to go in and get a plug of tobacco. Part of a plug. And tell Old Man Edmundson to put it on the bill. So he waited, he was out there on a wagon, he had a little horse, and I went in and told Mr. Edmundson Papa wanted a, whatever amount it was, he didn’t get a whole plug, ‘cause I think it was three or four sections to a plug of tobacco, and for him to put it on the bill, and I said, ‘He said I could have a orange. And put that on the bill.’ And it was boxes sitting up – I’ll never forget it – the boxes sitting up with all the oranges sitting up in there. And I got the biggest one out of the group. The one that wasn’t even orange. I made sure I was gon get me a big orange! I got that and come on back out there and got on the wagon and coming from Five Points to almost home, I was peeling that thing and peeling it ‘til I got it off, and it was sour, ‘Ugh, that’s a sour orange!’ I never seen a orange that sour. And I said, ‘Now, that didn’t look like, that’s a light-complected … yellow.’ But it was still like a orange, and it was so big.
“From then on I didn’t want no big orange. Now I always get little oranges. Today I don’t buy no big orange. ‘Cause the little ones is sweeter than the big ones. But, honey, that was a grapefruit, and that was the first I’d ever known it was a grapefruit. We ain’t never had no grapefruit. And so, I told Mama that was a, ugh, sour orange. And I told her ‘bout what the Coons had on their table when I went up there. And she said, ‘Well, that was a grapefruit.’ ‘A grapefruit?,’ I said, ‘well, what’s a grapefruit?’ And she said, ‘It’s like a big orange. But you have to put sugar on it most time. It’s a little sour. It’s got a little twang to it.’ She said, ‘But your daddy didn’t never like none, so I don’t care that much about it.’ And I said, ‘A grapefruit? I got myself a grapefruit.’ I said, ‘The cherries, where they get the cherries?,’ I said. ‘That little red thing where was on there.’ She said, ‘Well, you buy ‘em in bottles from the store.’ But, anyway, it was sour, but I learned the taste, you put a little sugar on it, makes a little bit sweeter. I swear, Lord, I think about those things that I did when I was little.”
The house with the grapefruit was at 109 North Rountree Street in Wilson’s College Park neighborhood. Charles L. Coon’s house has been demolished, but was catalogued in Bainbridge and Ohno’s Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey (1980):
“This house was built c.1915 for Wilson’s foremost educator, Charles L. Coon. He served as superintendent of the Wilson Graded School from 1907 until his death in 1927 and was County School superintendent for the last fifteen years of this period. Coon, credited with the creation of a model school system in Wilson, also served on the North Carolina Child Labor Committee, the State Teachers Assembly, the editorial board of the North Carolina Historical Review and was the author of North Carolina Schools and Academies 1790-1840 and Public Schools of Wilson County. His house is sturdy and simple. The tile roof is unusual in a house of this vintage, and it enriches the texture of the facade. The front porch was constructed in typical Bungalow style, with square flared columns supporting the overhanging hipped roof.”
Hattie H. Ricks, circa 1920, probably a few years after she first tasted grapefruit.
Plug tobacco is made by pressing cured tobacco in a sweet (often molasses-based) syrup. The resulting sheet of pressed tobacco was cut into “plugs.” Edmundson likely carried locally manufactured product.
Adapted from interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.
Baptisms of African-American members of Toisnot Primitive Baptist Church, continued from here. The names in parentheses indicate a slaveowner.
Abraham Farmer (John Farmer’s) was baptized on 28 August 1842.
Abraham Farmer was a member about 1870.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Abraham Farmer, 57, farm laborer; wife Cherry, 54; Caroline Armstrong, 30, Jane Farmer, 16; Gray Armstrong, 6; Thadeus Armstrong, 4; John Armstrong, 2 months; York Gill, 35.
Anecay Farmer was baptized in 1861.
Chaney Farmer was baptized 24 July 1853, dismissed 22 February 1856, and restored to fellowship on 24 June 1871.
Hannah Horn (Jeremiah Horn’s) was dismissed by letter 22 June 1822.
Jeffery Horn (Henry Horn’s) was baptized 24 June 1821.
Nancy Horn (Henry Horn’s) was dismissed by letter after 1820.
Nancy Horn was baptized 25 December 1853.
Sarah Horn (John Horn’s) was baptized 24 September 1826.
Hulda was baptized 25 February 1856.
Jeffry was dismissed by letter 26 September 1863.
Jeptha was baptized 25 June 1854.
Charlotte Jordan was baptized 26 August 1855.
In the 1870 census of WIlson, Wilson County: farm laborer Thomas Harrell, 47; wife Mary, 34; Mary Jordan, 17; Charlotte Jordan, 51; and Celia Barnes, 110.
Fran Jordan (Cornelius Jordan’s) was excommunicated after 1820.
Rily Jordan was a member about 1870.
Violet Jordan (Henry Jordan’s) was excluded from membership on 24 March 1821 for having “two husbands.”
Hardy Lassiter, a free black, was a member prior to 1820.
Orpha Lassiter was baptized 22 December 1872.
In the 1860 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Silas Lassiter, 38; wife Orpie, 34; children Sallie, 12, Mary, 11, James, 9, John, 7, Elizabeth, 5, Penina, 4, Hardy, 3, Silas, 1, and George, 2 months; and Delpha Simpson, 14.
Martha Mayo was received 23 July 1870.
Milbery was baptized 22 July 1855.
Milley was baptized 23 September 1855.
Caesar Pittman was a member about 1870.
Hester Pittman (Jesse Pittman’s) was baptized 24 February 1854.
In Gardners township: Cesar Pittman, 75, and wife Hester, 60.
Rachel was excluded from membership 23 June 1821 for “Stealing and Lying.”
To address the acute labor shortage created by World War II, the Wilson Colored Ministerial Association came to the aid of tobacco factories and volunteered to recruit workers. “Three meetings of the colored ministers have already been held at the Darden funeral home, and colored church workers are making a house to house canvass for workers as a result of this meeting.”
Frank Barnes applied for a Seaman’s Protection Certificate in August 1917. American seamen carried the document as proof of citizenship in foreign ports. Per his application, Barnes was born 22 January 1895 in Wilson, North Carolina; was not literate; and had been employed since 1915 as a fireman on the S.S. Mauretania en route from New York to France.
Per his description, Barnes was 5’3″, 125 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair and a scar over his right temple. He resided at 1 Doyers Street, New York. [Doyers is a tiny elbow of a lane off The Bowery in Chinatown, and #1 is now home to Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles Inc.]
Howard Adams, above, and William Smith and Fredrick Woods, below, gave affidavits to establish Barnes’ identification.
The customs collector testified to Barnes’ citizenship.
In December 1917, Frank Barnes himself attested that he was born in Wilson in 1894 and that his father Frank Barnes “(probably)” or “believes he was born in” the United States. Barnes had lived in Wilson until 1915 when he began to work in shipping. He had recently worked on three ships: the S.S. Orduna from 1 July to 19 July 1917; the S.S. Carmenia from 26 August to 11 September 1917; and the S.S. Anglo Saxon, 14 November to 14 December 1917.
Barnes received his identification in December 1917 in Bordeaux, France.
Detail of the certificate:
Close-ups of Frank Barnes’ photographs:
Another photo from Barnes’ 1918 application for a protection certificate:
U.S. Applications for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com; original document at Application for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940, Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, 1774-1982, Record Group 41, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
On 31 October 1861 (the same day as his brother David Dew), Larry Dew of Wilson County penned a will whose provisions disposed of these 46 enslaved men, women and children:
to son John Dew as trustee for daughter Harriet Barbee, wife of Joseph Barbee (and to her outright after Joseph’s death), Milly, Sam and Cherry
to son John Dew, Laney and her children Juan, Minerva and Della, valued at $700
to son Arthur B. Dew, “boy Raiford,” valued at $600
to daughter Pennina Dew, wife of William Hooks, Milbry, Louisa, Jacob, and Venus and her children Letha, Jack and Amos
to son Jonathan T. Dew, Caroline, valued at $750
to son David Dew, Everitt, valued at $600; a cow and calf; a sow and pigs; a feather bed and furniture
to granddaughter Sally Harriet Hocutt, Henry, now with Daniel Hocutt in South Carolina
to daughter Mary Ann Peel, wife of Stephen J. Peel, Charlotte, Newry and Reuben
to son William L. Dew, “boy Woodard,” valued at $600; one gray horse Charley; a cow and calf; a sow and pigs; a feather bed and furniture
to son Moses Dew, Arch, valued at $1000; a sorrel horse Selim; a cow and calf; a sow and pigs; a feather bed and furniture
to son Willie Dew, Silvira, valued at $900; one mule Jack; a cow and calf; a sow and pigs; a feather bed and furniture
to son George W. Dew, Julia, valued at $900; a mule Gin; a cow and calf; a sow and pigs; a feather bed and furniture
to daughter Nancy Dew, Eveline, valued at $900; a feather bed and furniture; and $100
“the remainder of my negroes, to wit: Litha, Phereby, Amos, Stephen, Toby, Mourning, Isaac, Sylvester, Lucy, Gilbert, Aaron, Linnet, Gray, little Raiford, Winney, Pearcy, Van Buren, little Everitt, Virgil, and Eliza” to be divided equally among his sons and his daughter Nancy
Dew’s estate entered probate in Wilson County in April 1862. These documents from his estate file, submitted to the court in November 1862, chronicle the calculations behind distribution of his human property. Two and a half years later, the work of Dew’s executor was undone by freedom.
Estate of Larry Dew (1862), Wilson County, North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998[database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
Wrote Bainbridge and Ohno in Wilson, North Carolina: Historic Buildings Survey (1980):
“Finch’s Mill Road was developed in the 1920’s on the former site of a shantytown.”
The “shantytown,” of course, was an African-American community. Until the 1920s, Finch’s Mill, like nearby Grabneck, was a black westside neighborhood.
“A natural extension of Residence Park, lying between that neighborhood and the main road to Raleigh (Rt. 264), Finch’s Mill Road, as it name suggests, once led to Finch’s Mill, outside of Wilson. A major change in the roadway in the 1920’s and then again in the 1970’s has changed this neighborhood. In the 1920’s Finch’s Mill Road became a less traveled way and it linked the older residential neighborhoods to the fashionable neighborhood which was to grow in the 1930;s along the Raleigh Road axis beyond Recreation Park. Finch’s Mill Road sill branches this gap between the old and the new neighborhoods. The character of the neighborhood is mainly residential, although the Recreation Park creates a large public open space. A few houses were built here in the 1920’s, but the bulk of the growth of the neighborhood took place after 1930, although few houses are being constructed in the 1970’s.”
Here is Finch’s Mill Road as depicted in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, branching west off the northern end of Kenan Street and heading out toward Nash County. It is lined with tiny duplexes, likely no more than one or two rooms per side. (Finch’s Mill Road is now Sunset Road. South Bynum roughly follows the course of today’s Raleigh Road; the little spur is Cozart Road; and Sunset Drive is now Sunset Crescent.)
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, 29 households appear on Finch Mill Road, every single one of them African-American.
Excerpt from 1910 census of E.D. 114, Wilson township, Wilson County.
Wilson Daily Times, 22 October 1918.
In 1920, the census taker recorded 23 households on Finch’s Mill, mostly African-American, but with a sizable white minority. All were farmers, and none of the black heads of household owned their land. Soon, however, there would be no farmers of any kind at the end of the road nearest town.
In the mid 1920s, a large swath of the neighborhood, now known as Westover, was subdivided into “high-class residential” lots on Kenan and Bynum Streets, Sunset Road and Sunset Crescent, and offered for sale at auction:
Wilson Mirror, 16 December 1924.
Wilson Mirror, 17 December 1924.
By 1930, the old neighborhood was gone. Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory for that year lists only four occupied households on “Finch’s Road” and only one by an African-American family, the Reeds at #630. It’s not entirely clear what thoroughfare was considered Finch’s at that point, as the section of Finch’s Mill off Kenan Street had been rechristened Sunset Road and was home to Wilson’s white elite. The 1930 census lists cotton merchant Willie T. Lamm in a $25,000 house on “Westover.” Next door, in what may have been the last of the little duplexes shown on the 1922 Sanborn map, this household: Louisiana-born farmer Zion Read, 56, his North Carolina-born wife Lara, 25, and children Zoreana, 8, Hesicae, 12, William, 4, and Walter E., 0, in one half, and farm helper Jack Dixon, 25, wife Hattie, 24, their children John H., 3, and Susie M., 0, and a roomer Fes Scarboro, 45, in the other. Each family paid $6/month rent. Nearby, wholesale distributor John J. Lane was listed in a $15,000 house at 1015 Sunset Drive.
This Google Maps image shows today’s short stretch of Sunset Road, formerly Finch’s Mill Road, between Kenan Street and its dead-end at Recreation Park Community Center. The old road would have skirted the swimming pool and continued west across Hominy Swamp toward Finch’s Mill, five miles away near what is now the intersection of Raleigh Road/U.S. 264 and Interstate 95.
Windsor Darden — in the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Winsor Dardin, 45; wife Mattie, 35; and children George, 22, Jesse, 16, Willie, 14, Winsor, 12, Charlie, 10, Olivia, 7, Annie M., Leroy, 3, and Mattie, 9 months.