Family ties, no. 4: I pray for the whole family.

Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the fourth in a series of excerpts from interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)


A few months after my grandmother passed away in January 2001, my father, mother, sister, and I converged on her little rowhouse at 5549 Wyalusing Avenue, Philadelphia, to clean it out. In a drawer of a large steel desk in the basement, I found a packet of papers. In them, a letter I’d never known existed, from my great-great-grandmother Loudie Henderson‘s brother Caswell C. Henderson to their sister, Sarah H. Jacobs, who reared my grandmother. It is dated 16 August 1926 and was mailed to Sarah in Greensboro, N.C., where she was visiting their niece, Mamie Henderson Holt.

Though he does not say so directly, Caswell Henderson seems to have been responding to the news of the death of Sarah’s husband Jesse A. Jacobs about five weeks earlier. Sarah has asked him to come to North Carolina, for a visit or perhaps permanently, but he cannot, pleading health and finances. (Caswell worked as a messenger for the United States Custom House in lower Manhattan.) He is hopeful, though, that soon they will be together to “help one another.” He expresses the importance of his family by sending greetings to his great-nieces (my grandmother Hattie and her sister Mamie) and inquiring after niece Minnie Simmons Budd, who had migrated to Philadelphia from Mount Olive, North Carolina. Of course, while “prayers are wonderful when said in all sincerity from the heart,” the prayers of his friends could not keep Caswell C. Henderson forever, and he died 16 January 1927.

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