Month: January 2020

Wilson County’s free families of color.

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I’m honored that Wilson County Public Library has invited me to speak again during Black History Month.

I’ll be talking about Wilson County’s free families of color.  Are you an Artis, a Hagans, a Jones, a Lassiter, a Locus or Lucas, a Reid?  The history of these and other free families is little known, though their many descendants can still be found across the county.

My talk is scheduled for Saturday afternoon this year, so I hope you’ll be able to make it.

Wilson County Public Library — Main Branch, 249 Nash Street W., Wilson, N.C.


The last will and testament of Moses Farmer Sr.

Moses Farmer Sr. of Edgecombe County [near Toisnot Swamp, later Wilson County] made out his will in 1844. Among its very specific provisions were these:

  • Other then a few items mentioned, all his perishable estate was to be sold “except my negroes,” and the tract of land on which his brother Samuel Farmer lived was to be sold privately if it would bring $250. Otherwise it was to be sold at auction.

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  • If the sale of the perishables and the Samuel Farmer tract did not raise enough cash to settle Moses Farmer’s debts, Farmer directed his executor to sell “enough of my negroes either at public or private sale to the best advantage such as he thinks most suitable”

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  • Farmer’s wife or eldest son Larry D. Farmer were to hire”Negro woman called big Chainny” from the estate “as long as she is hired out at a reasonable price for each year.”

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  • As Samuel Farmer was “verry much indebted” to Moses Farmer, and possibly unable to pay his debts, Moses let his executor decide whether to sell Samuel’s “negroes at private sale if they can agree on the price if not to have them sold at public sale.” Either way, the executor was to buy Samuel’s “negro woman Mariny” for Moses’ estate and hire her out to Samuel for $10 per year as long as he remained in-state. At Samuel’s death, Mariny was “to be disposed of as” Moses’ property. If Samuel tried to move Mariny out of state, however, she was to be sold. [Who was Mariny to Samuel? Why did not Moses take some measures to keep her with Samuel even as he gave permission for the people enslaved with her to be sold off?]

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Moses Farmer Sr. died in 1848. His estate file does not appear to contain an inventory of his enslaved people. However, it does contain the petition filed by Farmer’s heirs at the November 1848 session of court seeking to sell “a certain slave named Rina or Marina” in order to divide her value among them. The petition was granted. On 1 January 1949, Joshua Barnes purchased Marina for $325.

Will of Moses Farmer (1844), North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line],; Moses Farmer (1844), Edgecombe County, North Carolina Estate Files 1663-1979,


A list of known burials in the Masonic cemetery.

Around the same time the Odd Fellows were establishing a cemetery at the far end of Lane Street, the Mount Hebron Lodge #42, Prince Hall Masons, set out their own on a lot purchased from Cain and Margaret Artis in 1900. It is no longer an active cemetery, but is regularly, if brutally maintained. Clumps of weedy shrubbery have trapped some of the oldest gravestones, and others have been victimized by overzealous mowing. The cemetery remains active, however, with burials as recently as December 2019.

  • Aiken, John H. — Born 1872, died 1914. Death certificate: buried in Wilson by C.H. Darden & Sons (CHD).
  • Barnes, Armena — Died 1907.
  • Barnes, Cora — Born 1875, died 1917. Death certificate: buried in Wilson Co., N.C., CHD.
  • Barnes, Ida Hinton — Born 1875, died 1953. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Darden Memorial Funeral Home.
  • Barnes, Samuel — Born 1868, died 1933. Death certificate: Wilson, CHD.
  • Barnes, Short W. — Died 1943. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, CHD.
  • Battle, Charles — Born 1842, died 1910.
  • Battle, Edith — Born 1818, died 1899.
  • Battle, Leah — Born 1851, died 1898.
  • Battle, P.P. — Parker P. Battle.
  • Brown, Ruth Jones — Born 1904, died 1970. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Edwards F.H.
  • Bryant, Harry H. — Headstone not located. Per obituary and death certificate, born 1873, died 1946, buried in Masonic cemetery.
  • Bryant, Julia Suggs — Headstone not located. Wife of Harry Bryant and likely buried in Masonic cemetery. Death certificate: Wilson, CHD.
  • Bullock, Louise J. — Born 1909, died 1968. Death certificate: Masonic, Edwards F.H.
  • Bullock, Ruel — Born 1908, died 1969. Death certificate: Masonic, Edwards F.H.
  • Bullock, Ruel, Jr. — Headstone not located. Infant son of Ruel and Louise Bullock. Born 1931, died 1932. Death certificate: Wilson, CHD.
  • Burton, William — Headstone not found. Died 1927, aged about 51. Death certificate: Mason cemetery.
  • Clark, Ida Ross — Born 1873, died 1942. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, CHD.
  • Clark, John H. — Born 1863, died 1949. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Darden Memorial F.H.
  • Coward, B.P., Rev. — Bryant P. Coward. Born 1864, died 1940. Death certificate: Masonic, Hamilton F.H.
  • Coward, Sarah A. — Born 1867, died 1946. Death certificate: family cemetery, Wilson, N.C., CHD.
  • Dawson, Fester — Born 1922, died 1982.
  • Dawson, Harriet — Born 1892, died 1967. Death certificate: Masonic, Edwards F.H.
  • Dawson, Vanderbilt — Born 1887, died 1969. Death certificate: Masonic, Edwards F.H.
  • Edwards, Calvin S. — Born 1887, died 1947. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery.
  • Foster, Rachel — Born 1900, died 1902.
  • Hardy, Clifton — Born 1893, died 1968.
  • Hicks, Maria — Born 1821, died 1902.
  • Hill, Henry L. — Headstone not found. Husband of Malissia Hill. Died 1957. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, CHD.
  • Hill, Malissia — Born 1887, died 1929. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, CHD.
  • Hines, Nathan — Died 1925 in Wilson. Death certificate: “Mason cemetery,” Wilson.
  • Hockaday, Eva Mae (wife of J.D. Hockaday) — Born 1892, died 1953. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Hamilton F.H.
  • Jones, Butler — Died 1961. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Darden Memorial F.H.
  • Jones, Charles T., Rev. — Born 1878, died 1963. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Edwards F.H.
  • Jones, M. Gertrude — Born 1881, died 1968.
  • Jones, Myrtie — Born 1884, died 1951.
  • Kittrell, Mary F. — Born 1882, died 1947. Death certificate: Mason’s cemetery, C.E. Artis F.H.
  • Kittrell, William — Born 1869, died 1952. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, C.E. Artis F.H.
  • Levy, Betty J. (daughter of Emanuel Hill)– Born 1942, died 1975.
  • Lucas, Henry — Born 1872, died 1942. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, CHD.
  • Lucas, Mamie Battle — Born 1881, died 1942. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, CHD.
  • Mitchell, Elizabeth — Died 1917. Death certificate: died in 1916, buried Wilson, CHD.
  • Moore, Lee A. — Died 1948. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, CHD.
  • Moore, Sarah A.J. — Born 1841, died [illegible].
  • Moore, William J. — Born 1837, died 1914. Death certificate: Wilson, CHD.
  • Pierce, Ada Davis Winstead — Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, C.E. Artis F.H.
  • Pitt, Billie J. — Born 1910, died 1967. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Darden F.H.
  • Pitt, Roscoe — Born 1895, died 1935.
  • Rogers, John W. — Headstone not found. Died 1951. Death certificate, buried in Mason cemetery, C.E. Artis.
  • Smith, Carrie Emma — Born 1899, died 1917.
  • Smith, Flossie — Headstone not found. Daughter of O.L.W. and Adora Smith, almost certainly buried in Masonic.
  • Smith, Owen L.W., Rev. — Died 1926. Headstone not found. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, CHD.
  • Spell, John S. — Born 1865, died 1946. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, C.E. Artis F.H.
  • Spell, Martha Gordon — Born 1874, died 1966. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Edwards F.H.
  • Suggs, G.W. — George Washington Suggs. Born 1836, died 1914. Death certificate: Wilson, CHD.
  • Suggs, Esther — Born 1839, died 1902.
  • Tabron, Myrtie Ruth — Born 1918, died 2011.
  • Tabron, William — Born 1914, died 1966.
  • Taylor, Addie Washington — Born 1897, died 1963. Death certificate: Rest Haven, Darden Memorial F.H.
  • Taylor, Russell Buxton, Rev. — Born 1881, died 1954. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Darden Memorial F.H.
  • Vinson, Walter — Born 1899, died 1979.
  • Wilkins, Mary Boddie — Born 1874, died 1956.
  • Winstead, Braswell R. — Born died 1934. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Artis & Freeman undertakers.
  • Young, R.J., Rev. — Richard J. Young. Born 1872, died 1933. Death certificate: Wilson, N.C., CHD.
  • Zachary, Lurean Barnes — Born 1900, died 1963. Death certificate: Masonic cemetery, Darden Memorial F.H.

The death certificate of Henry Moses.

Henry Moses had two death certificates, each of which offers unique information.

The basics: Henry Moses died 15 December 1913 of a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

  • Certificate #1. This document is most complete. Moses lived on Youngs [Alley or Avenue]; was born 27 May 1878 in Franklin County, North Carolina; was married; could read and write; and operated both a restaurant and a pressing club. Undertaker A.D. McGowan buried him in Wilson.


  • Certificate #2 is a copy of the first, but on a slightly different form. The person who filled it out misread the signature of the registrar, L.A. Hinnant, and wrote it “Hinerant.” He or she (most likely he) also misread the first name of the informant, who was Henry Moses’ father Caesar Moses. This document dispensed with Moses’ occupation, but added two detailsto his cause of death: (1) it was a homicide and (2) “gambling” was the contributory cause.



On 22 November 1905, Henry Moses, 27, of Wilson, son of Caesar Moses, married Sandora Dancey, 25. Rev. P.H. Howell, a Christ Disciple minister, performed the ceremony at Henry Moses’ home in the presence of W.M. Mayo, L. Studeway and Frank Sims.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: tobacco factory laborer Henry Moses, 31; wife Dora, 31; and daughter Luevenia Dancy, 16, servant.

Also in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on TIllmans Road, house carpenter Caesar S. Moses, 56; wife Alice, 53; and children Oliver, 22, and Walter, 13.

Caesar Moses died 19 January 1917 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was a widower; was 63 years old; worked as a carpenter; and his father was named Crofford Stone. Oliva Moses was informant.

[Note: the 1900 census of Jeffreys township, Florence County, South Carolina, lists a Henry Moses in the household of his father Caesar Moses. As uncommon as the names are, this is a coincidence. This Henry Moses died of typhoid fever in 1917 in Florence County.]

Nancy Staton weds Rev. James Boykin.

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Wilson Daily Times, 16 January 1928.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Vick Street, house carpenter James Boykin, 49; tobacco factory worker Eliza, 47; and children Albert, 15, and Ruth, 9; Arthur Chester, 28, transfer car driver; wife Fannie, 28; and children Arthur Jr., 7, Joseph, 5, Irvin, 3, and Charlie, 1.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 713 Viola Street, midwife Nancy Staten, 52, widow; house carpenter James Jenkins, 24, and wife Annie, 19.

On 22 December 1927, James Boykin, 50, married Nancy A. Staton, 55, in Wilson. Rev. B.J. Gregory of Christian Church Colored performed the ceremony at the bride’s home in the presence Glenn S. McBrayer, Lillian McBrayer and Bettie Whitley. [Note the article got the bride’s name wrong.]

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 900 Viola Street, owned and valued at $4000, private practical nurse Nancy S. Boykin, 59; husband Christian Church clergyman James, 44; daughter Lila R., 19; and roomers Ines Williams, 23, and Minnie Nelson, 20, both servants.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 812 Viola, owned and valued at $1500, James Boykin, 60, and wife Nancy, 79; and, renting at $12/month, Lucias Smith, 28, skilled sewer contractor laborer, wife Jacqueline, 18, daughter Louise, 2, and Sidney Ramsouear, 89; and, renting at $4/month, Ray Brockman, 33, skilled sewer contractor laborer, and wife Hattie, 22. The Smiths and Brockmans were from South Carolina.

The death certificate of the infant son of Geo. Ferguson.

North Carolina did not mandate death certificates statewide until 1914, but some towns and cities implemented the requirement earlier.

Wilson’s first death certificates date from late 1909. As the record below shows, in the early days there was sometimes confusion about who was to fill in what blanks. It appears here that the family took a shot at writing in personal information about the decedent, a duty that should have fallen to the undertaker. The result, however, is a fascinating collection of details that would otherwise have gone unrecorded.

The basic facts: George and Bettie Ferguson‘s infant son was still born (or died the day after he was born). The family lived at 505 Spring Street, Wilson.

The facts as entered:

  • The baby’s name — was it Stephen?
  • His sex? “Nov. 24” — apparently his birthdate, though this date should match his death date, which was recorded by Dr. W.A. Mitchner.
  • His color? “Color.”
  • His age? “No” years, which was true, as the boy was stillborn.
  • Father’s birthplace? “22 bone 1887 Nov 7.” This was George Ferguson’s age and birthdate.
  • Mother’s birthplace? “Mother bone 1888 August 10.”
  • Occupation? “Stem tobacco.” This, of course, was the occupation of one or both of the baby’s parents.
  • Informant? Charles Darden, though Darden did not serve as undertaker. Quinn-McGowan Firniture Company did.


George Ferguson, 20, son of Sam and Mary Ferguson, married Bettie Barnes, 18, daughter of Aaron and Margaret Barnes, in Wilson on 12 July 1909. W.H. Neal of Saint James Holy Church performed the ceremony in the presence of J.A. McKnight, Annie Pitt and Edmonia Perrington.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: George Ferguson, 21, factory worker, and wife Bettie, 18.

Bettie Ferguson died 24 July 1918 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 August 1890 in Wilson to Aaron Barnes and Margarett Blount; was married to George Ferguson; lived at 117 Wiggins; and worked as a stemmer at “Emperial Tobacco Co.” She was buried in Wilson by C.H. Darden & Sons.

George Barnes Ferguson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 8 October 1914 in Wilson County; lived at 1120 East Nash Street, Wilson; his contact was wife Wilhelmina Ferguson; and he worked for R.B. Carroll Grocery.

Georgia L. Barnes died 3 June 1945 in Goldsboro, Wayne County. Per her death certificate, she was born about 1913 in Wilson to George Furgerson of Edgecombe County and Betty Barnes of Wilson County and was married.

Martin Luther King Jr. thought everyone should be equal.

From Drew C. Wilson’s article, “Students learn legacy of civil rights,” in the 19 January 2020 online edition of the Wilson Times:

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“Martin Luther King thought everyone should be equal,” wrote Lavender Miller, a student in Helen Williams’ first grade class.

On Friday, Lavender and other first graders were polishing second drafts of papers they wrote about King’s life.

“Martin Luther King Jr. was born on Jan. 15, 1929. He had a brother and a sister,” wrote first grader Mateo Bacas. “Martin Luther King Jr. cannot go to the movie because it said white only.”

In Mateo’s first iteration, King stood in front of a lectern with a microphone delivering his speech. In the second, more colorful version, Mateo drew King larger and with a crown on his head.

“Martin Luther King grew up to be a minister,” wrote first grader Zymir McArthur. “Some people didn’t like him. He fought against racism. He gave a speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ in D.C. He wanted his children to be able to hold hands with white children.”

Some thoughts:

1) Mateo’s drawing #2?  I’d blow it up and hang it behind my desk.

(2) Second drafts of papers — in first grade? That’s the kind of early literacy I love.

(3) These babies attend Samuel H. Vick Elementary, which has been around in one form or another long enough for my 85 year-old father to have attended. (Here’s another first grade class at Vick.) There were no white children there with which to hold hands in his day. And I’d bet there are next to none now.

(4) There are, however, many Latino children at Vick, mostly Mexican-American, and these black and brown children hold East Wilson’s future in their little hands.

(5) Martin Luther King Jr. Day post-dates my elementary and secondary education. I don’t recall him being much remarked upon in any classroom I sat in, but that was okay — I got my Black History at home.

(6) I live in Atlanta, Dr. King’s hometown. I am watching the annual commemoration of his life and legacy, broadcast live from Ebenezer Baptist Church. Today, we are often reminded, is a day on, not a day off. My service is Black Wide Awake. And I’m on.

A marriage in 1848.

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Ed. Powell and Thomas Mercer gave bond for a marriage license for Ed. Powell and Mary Jones on 14 August 1848 in Nash County. The couple likely lived in a section of Nash that would be incorporated into Wilson County in 1855.

Nineteen years later, on 10 October 1867, John Allen Jones, son of Edwin Powell and Mary Jones, married Susan Simpson, daughter of Sallie Simpson, at Margarett Simpson‘s house in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farm laborer Jno. A. Jones, 22; wife Susan, 19;  children Thomas, 2, and Jesse B., 7 months; and Rosett Boykin, 10.

In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Dempsy Powell, 52, farmer; wife Sallie, 46; daughter Susan A. Jones, 27, and her husband John A. Jones, 34; their children Thomas A., 13, Jessee B., 11, James A., 7, Celia C., 5, Sallie C., 4, and John A., 1; and W.D. Lucus, 21, laborer. [Sallie Simpson married Dempsey Powell in Wilson County in 1855. The family appears in the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: turpentine worker Dempsey Powell, 30; wife Sallie, 28; and Susan Simpson, 9.]

Many thanks to Edith Garnett Jones for this copy of the Powell-Jones marriage license.

Which colored cemetery?

Green Mercer died 17 January 1910 at the Wilson County Home, which housed indigent people. Mercer, who was married and whose regular address was on Church Street, had been in “general bad health” for several months. Though just 69, he was described as a “very old negro” for whom no family information was available. Undertaker John W. Quinn buried Mercer in the “Wilson N.C. Colored Cemetery.”

But which colored cemetery?

By 1910, there were four in Wilson — Odd Fellows, Rountree, Masonic and the “old” cemetery, sometimes called Oaklawn or Oakdale, which was established after Emancipation near Cemetery Street south of downtown. The Odd Fellows and Masonic cemeteries seem to have been restricted to burials of lodge members and their families, and Rountree was probably intended originally for Rountree Missionary Baptist church members. (The land now known as Vick cemetery was still an undeveloped tract owned by Samuel H. Vick in 1910.)

It’s likely that Green Mercer, and other African-Americans with no ties to a masonic order or Rountree who died in Wilson up to the early 1920s, were buried in the “old” cemetery. In 1940, the city moved — or said it moved — graves from this cemetery to the newly opened Rest Haven cemetery.



On 24 August 1866, Green Mercer obtained a license to marry Margarett Wilkins in Edgecombe County.

In the 1870 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Green Mercer, 27; wife Margaret, 27; children Fanny, 3, Major Totten, 1, and Frederick Cotton, 54, Randal Parker, and Louisa Ruffin, 21.

In the 1880 census of Cocoa township, Edgecombe County: farmer Green Mercer, 42; wife Margarett, 37; and children Reden, 15, Fannie, 14, Tatin, 11, William, 8, and Joseph, 3.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County, Green Mercer, 50, widower, is listed as a servant in the household of Arthur Farmer, 73.

Studio shots, nos. 134 and 135: Lonnie Bagley and Leona Jones.

  • Lonnie Bagley

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Lonnie Bagley sitting in Picture-Taking Barnes‘ wicker chair.

In the 1900 census of Old Fields, Wilson County: farmer Henderson Bagley, 70, wife Lenora, 48, daughter Etta, 18, and grandchildren Lonna [Lonnie] Locus, 8, Earnest Locus, 6, and Percy Locus, 2. Next door: Ruffin Bagley, 32, wife Luesah, 25, and son Arthar, 6.

Lonnie Bagley, 20, of Old Fields, son of Frank Locus and Ida Jones [Mary Ida Bagley Jones], married Mary Jane Morgan, 21, of Nash County, daughter of Parker and Mary Morgan, on 16 January 1908 in Old Fields township, Wilson County.

Lonnie Bagley registered for the World War I draft in Nash County. Per his draft registration, he was born 3 July 1891 in Wilson; resided in Bailey; worked as a farmer for Mary J. Glover near Bailey; and had a wife and children.

In the 1920 census of Jackson township, Nash County: on Bailey and Spring Hope Road, Lonnie Bagley, 28; wife Mary J., 30; and children Odel, 10, Weldon, 9, Gladys, 7, Lessie, 6, Ollie M., 4, and Lonnie Jr., 1 month.

Lonnie Bagley registered for the World War II draft in Washington, D.C. Per his registration card, he was born 3 July 1891 in Wilson, N.C.; lived at 2007 O Street, N.W., Washington; and worked for Morrison Brothers, Bethesda, Maryland.

Lonnie Bagley, 51, married Hattie M. Robinson on 12 June 1943 in Washington, D.C.

  • Leona Jones

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Leona Jones.

In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: on Sims Road, farmer Thomas A. Jones, 51; wife Mary I., 45; children Milbry T., 23, Andrew, 19, Leona, 17, James H., 14, Ollie, 9, Ida May, 7, Paul H., 5, and Jim Lawrence, 3; and granddaughter Bettie Lee, 4.

In the 1930 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Jones, 61; wife Ida, 54; and children Leona, 27, Ollie, 19, Ida M., 17, Paul, 15, James, 13, and Willie, 8.

Many thanks to Edith Jones Garnett for the use of these images.