Month: May 2019

Cemeteries, no. 24: the Mercer cemetery.

Armed with a 1937 Leica IIIa 35mm camera, Brian Grawburg has begun a project to document “lost” Wilson County graveyards. Using early 20th topographical maps, WPA cemetery surveys, Google Maps, and tips from the public, Grawburg has battled heat, humidity and nearly impenetrable thickets to create and preserve a record of these forgotten spaces.

This is the first in a series of posts exploring African-American cemeteries that Grawburg has rediscovered.

This cemetery, off Carter Road in Gardners township in eastern Wilson County, contains six marked graves:

  • Willie Reid, 23 September 1920-23 September 1920
  • Sula Reid, 23 September 1920-23 September 1920
  • Jack L. Barnes, 1921-1946
  • Robert Mercer, 1908-1930
  • Charlie Mercer, 1902-1936
  • Gilmore McKoy, 29 August 1873-18 October 1939

Robert and Charlie Mercer were sons of Dempsey and Mattie Knight Mercer. Gilmore McKoy was Mattie Knight Mercer’s second husband. I have not been able to identify the Reids or Jack Barnes.

In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Dempsy Mercer, 27; wife Mattie, 20; children Charles, 7, William, 6, Robert, 3, and Walter, 2 months; nieces Lula, 2, and Gertrude Hines, 1 month; and sister Margarett Hines, 19.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Dempsy Mercer, 40, widower; children Charley, 17, William, 15, Robert, 10, Walter, 9, and Maggie, 8; sister-in-law Maggie Hines, 24, and her children Lula, 8, Silvey, 7, and James, 4. [Dempsey Mercer was separated/divorced rather than widowed.]

On 15 August 1929 in Wilson, Robert Mercer, 22, of Gardners, son of Dempsey Mercer and Fannie [last name no given], married Retha Barnes, 14, of Gardners, daughter of Blannie and Dora Barnes.

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Dempsey Mercer, 50; [second] wife Fannie, 40; children Charlie, 27, Lee, 19, Jonah, 16, Jamar, 13, and C[illegible], 10; and lodger Rachel Melton, 30.

Robert Mercer died 9 December 1930 in Gardners township. Per his death certificate, he was 23; single; was a farmer; was born in Wilson County to Dempsey Mercer and Mattie Knight; and was buried in Wilson County. Informant was Dempsey Mercer.

Charlie Mercer died 9 December 1936 in Gardners township. Per his death certificate, he was born in January 1902 in Edgecombe County to Dempsey Mercer and Mattie Knight; was single; worked as a farmer. Mattie McCoy was informant.

Gilbert McKoy died 18 October 1939 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 29 August 1883 in Whiteville, N.C., to Waddie McKoy and Annie Richardson; worked in a China American tobacco factory; was married to Mattie McCoy; and was buried in Wilson County.

For more information about this cemetery, please contact Brian Grawburg at archive@myglnc.com.

Studio shots, no. 111: Fred D. Hines.

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Fred D. Hines (1928-1995), right, with unknown woman, probably 1940s.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: on Wilson Road, farmer Turner Hines, 43; wife Penny, 33; and children E. Mary, 21, Allen, 17, Hester, 18, West, 16, W. Jim, 7, Beatrice, 6, Tommie, 4, Rosa, 3, Francie, 2, and T. Lou, 4 months.

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Turner Hines, 51; wife Eliza, 50; and children Beatrice, 17, Tommie, 15, Rosa, 13, Frances, 12, Creasy, 11, Turner Jr., 8, Daisy L., 6, Willie B., 4, and Fred D., 3.

On 24 November 1937, in Wilson, George Powell, 24, of Gardners, son of George Powell and Mary Jones, married Beatrice Hines, 23, of Gardners, daughter of Turner Hines and Rosa Hines.

In the 1940 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Turner Hines, 62, and children Rosetta, 23, Francis, 22, Lucretia, 21, Turner J., 18, Daisey, 17, Willie B., 13, Fred, 11, Freeman, 8, Ederene, 6, and Thelma D., 4.

George Henry Powell died 22 May 1992 in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 February 1910 in Edgecombe County to George Powell and Mary Cotton; resided at 1505 Queen Street Extension, Wilson; was married to Beatrice Hines Powell; and had worked as a carpenter.

In 1946, Fred Davis Hines registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 30 September 1928 in Wilson County; lived on Route 4, Wilson; and his contact was brother-in-law George Henry Powell. [It appears Hines was named for popular local Baptist minister Fred M. Davis.]

Fred Hines died 22 September 1995 in Jamaica, Queens, New York.

Photograph courtesy of Ancestry.com user rogerbarron52.

If she cooked, he would kill her.

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Twin City Daily Sentinel (Winston-Salem, N.C.), 2 May 1921.

Nolia Reid died 1 May 1921 of “homicide–stab wounds.” Per her death certificate, she was 19 years old and worked as a laundress. Her parents, George Best and Louisa Farmer, were members of the extended family of Bests who settled the Grabneck community on west Nash Street. Her uncle Thomas Farmer was informant.

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Ben Reid apparently did not succumb to his terrible self-inflicted wounds.

The estate of William J. Armstrong.

William J. Armstrong died in Wilson County in September 1856. Several months later, his heirs, as tenants in common, petitioned for the division of his enslaved property, identified as Quinny, Abram, Jim, Birden and his wife and child, Ned, Tony, Harry, Julann and her two children, Lizett, Nance and her child, Ciller and her two children, Jane, Lucinda and two children, Berry, and Mahala.

At January term 1858 of the Wilson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a team of commissioners reported their division, randomly allotted, thus:

  • Lot 1 to Catherine Armstrong, consisting of Abram, Avy, Nelson and Allis, valued at $2275.
  • Lot 2 to Caroline Armstrong, consisting of Julan, Mahala and Nancy, valued at $2175.
  • Lot 3 to Willie G. Barnes and wife, consisting of Quinny, Harry, Scilla and her child, valued at $3050.
  • Lot 4 to George W. Armstrong, consisting of Ned, Clary, Sarah and Barry, valued at $3100.
  • Lot 5 to James G. Armstrong, consisting of James, Burton, Rufus and Lucinda and her child, valued at $3325.
  • Lot 6 to John H. Winstead and wife, consisting of Tony, Lizette, Lucinda, Jane and her child, valued at $3320.

Some notes:

  • The petitioners clearly underestimated the number of enslaved people William Armstrong had owned at his death.
  • Scilla and one of the Lucindas were each separated from one of their (youngest) children. (Children over about age eight would have been listed individually.) Julann and Nancy were completely divided from their children.
  • Burton, who seems to have been the only man with a wife living on the Armstrong plantation, was separated from his wife Clary and child.

Only a few of the men, women and children formerly enslaved by William J. Armstrong are readily identifiable in post-Emancipation records:

  • A Wilson County justice of the peace registered Abram Armstrong and Cherry Proctor’s 16-year cohabitation in 1866. In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Abraham Armstrong, 52, wife Cherry, 32, and children Nancy, 16, Haywood, 14, Nelson, 12, Joshua, 11, and Burlee, 7. As Cherry Armstrong and children were owned by a different enslaver, this Abraham’s son Nelson is a different person than the Nelson listed above. So is Nancy.
  • A Wilson County justice of the peace registered Burton Armstrong and Clary Armstrong’s 18-year cohabitation in 1866. In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Burden Armstrong, 45, farm laborer, who owned $400 personal and $300 real property, and wife Clara, 38. Burton and Clara Armstrong became Exodusters and are found in the 1900 census of Portland township, Ashley County, Arkansas, with granddaughter Laura Binam, 6.
  • A Wilson County justice of the peace registered James Armstrong and Pricilla Braswell‘s two-year cohabitation in 1866.
  • In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Lucinda Armstrong, 41; her children Charley L., 16, Gray Anna, 13, and Shadrick, 10; her sister Lizette Armstrong, 51; and Mourning Pitt, 80. Charley Armstrong may have been the child allotted with Lucinda to James G. Armstrong. Though they presumably spent the last decade of slavery owned by Barneses, Lucinda and Lizette retained Armstrong as their surname.
  • A Wilson County justice of the peace registered Ned Armstrong and Eliza Whitehead‘s cohabitation in 1866.

Images of estate documents available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Left for Wilson.

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New York Age, 31 May 1919.

The 1919 city directory of Niagara Falls, New York, lists only one Whitehead — the mayor — but the 1918 edition shows Jesse Whitehead, laborer, living at 26 Cherry Street:

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Jesse Whitehead registered for the World War I draft in September 1918 in Niagara Falls. Per his registration card, he was born 7 September 1878, worked as a packer for an electrolytic company on Old Main, Niagara Falls, and was married to Rose Whitehead. He was literate.

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Jesse Whitehead’s visit down South had no return. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 4 October 1919 in Wilson. Per his death certificate he was 40 years old; worked as a cooper; was married to Rosa Whitehead; lived at 639 East Green Street; was born in Wilson County to Spencer Whitehead; and had contracted his fatal illness in “Niagra Falls.”

In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Spencer Whitehead, 38; wife Rhoda, 40; and sons W.D., 13, and Jesse, 1.

On 23 December 1908, Jesse Whitehead, 28, of Wilson, son of Spencer Whitehead, married Rhoda Pender, 27, of Wilson, daughter of Amos Pender, in Wilson. Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at Amos Pender’s in the presence of D.S. Lassiter, Elton Thomas and Hardy Mercer.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Jessie Whitehead, 35; wife Rhoda, 24; and boarder Ada Jaspin, 25.

Rosa Whitehead remained in Wilson at least briefly after her husband’s death. In the 1920 census, she is listed at 801 Kenan Street as a servant of farm supply retail merchant Lewis Tomlinson. Whitehead was 39 years old and described as a widow. However, in the 1920 Wilson city directory, her address is listed as 639 East Green.

Rosa/Rhoda Whitehead grew up in Toisnot township, north of Wilson. In the 1900 census of Toisnot township: farmer Amos Pender, 57, widower, and daughters Vanedous, 22, and Rhoday, 19, plus adopted daughter Prussie Armstrong, 18.

Amos Pender died 26 January 1922 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 March 1844 in Wilson County to Abraham Farmer and Amy Bullock; was married to Pennie Pender; and was a farmer. Rhoda Whitehead was informant.

I have not been able to identify Rosa Whitehead’s sister, Miss E. Pittman.

Dr. Price speaks upon the rebuilding of the race.

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Greensboro North State, 27 May 1886.

One hundred thirty-three years ago, a Greensboro newspaper ran an article from the Wilson Mirror covering the visit to Wilson of “justly celebrated negro orator” Joseph C. Price. Price, a founder and first president of Livingstone College (in 1886 still known as Zion Wesley Institute), had taught in Wilson for four years at the start of his career. Regarded as one of great orators of his day — grudging recognition in this article notwithstanding — Price’s early death cut short a trajectory that might have vied with Booker T. Washington’s to lead African-Americans.

Samuel H. Vick read an essay to open the program. The writer of the article noted that his speech as “well-written” and “couched in good English,” as well it should have been given that the 23 year-old had a degree from Lincoln University and was principal of the colored graded school.

Daniel C. Suggs, like Vick a former pupil of Price, then gave a tribute recognized by an educated white listener as “most excellent.” Suggs, too, had a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln and was a year away from receiving a master’s.

A.A.H.C.’s new director.

North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources issued this press release on 21 May 2019. Congratulations to Angela Thorpe, who hails from Pinetops, just east of the Wilson-Edgecombe County line! Her interests and experience speak directly to so much of what Black Wide-Awake is about, and I wish her every success as director of the African American Heritage Commission:

“N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susi H. Hamilton announces the appointment of Angela Thorpe as the director of the N.C. African American Heritage Commission (AAHC). Thorpe has served as acting director since September 2018.

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“Prior to become acting director, Thorpe served as associate director of the AAHC since 2017. In that role she led the development of a five-year organizational strategic plan, managed organizational partnerships and grants, led collaborative programming efforts with groups and institutions across North Carolina, and oversaw organizational messaging and digital communications strategy.

“She was the first African American historic interpreter at the James K. Polk State Historic Site in Pineville, N.C. and worked to attract diverse audiences through inclusive programming and leading community engagement initiatives.

“Thorpe’s family home is the small community of Pinetops, N.C., but she calls herself an Air Force brat and has lived in the U.S. and abroad. She returned to her roots after receiving a B.A. in history with a minor in African American Studies from the University of Florida and was awarded the M.A. in history from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. As a graduate student she worked to connect marginalized communities with museums and was involved with the award-winning exhibit, “Warnersville: Our Home; Our Neighborhood, Our Stories,” at the Greensboro Historical Museum.

“Thorpe has written on museum professionals, public history and race for the National Council of Public History. She has also spoken on diversity and inclusion in museums and cultural institutions; community engagement; and African American heritage at conferences and symposia. She was awarded a Diversity & Inclusion Fellowship by the American Alliance of Museums in 2016.

“For additional information call (919) 814-6655. The N.C. African American Heritage Commission is a division of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.”

Bad debts.

Among the men whose debts to deceased Theophilus Grice were listed in an inventory of his assets were these free men of color — Lewis Artis, Thomas Ayers, Richard Artis and Jacob Artis. (Actually, Thomas Ayers’ ethnicity is ambiguous. He may have been white, but appears to have been closely related to free colored Ayerses in the county.) All likely were close neighbors of Grice in the area around Bloomery Swamp in western Wilson (then Nash) County.

Lewis Artis owed for two loans — $17.00 incurred in 1806, and $13.05 incurred in 1808. Thomas Ayers had owed $29.79 since 1818. Richard Artis owed $15.84 since 1819. Jacob Artis had owed $14.56 since 1810. All the debts were described as “desperate” and were unlikely to be recovered.

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Images of estate documents available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.