Month: February 2022

The sales of George, Harry, Anica, Frances, Lorenzo, Easter, Edith, and Albert.

I have undertaken a page-by-page examination of Wilson County’s earliest deed books to look for evidence of the mortgage, sale, trade, or transfer of enslaved people. I found plenty.

  • On 3 February 1859, for $925, J.T. Rountree, acting on behalf of J.T. Bynum of Wilson County, sold Eli Robbins of Wilson County “one negro a boy by the name of George about twelve years & ten months old.” Deed Book 1, page 408, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.
  • Also on 3 February 1859, for $1040, David Webb of Wilson County sold Eli Robbins of Wilson County a man named Harry, aged about 28 years. Deed Book 1, page 409, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

Eli Robbins died in 1864. On 23 October of that year, an inventory of his estate recorded “five negroes Keziah, Amos, Harry, George, Jinny.”

  • On 1 April 1859, Sarah A.E. Stephens of Wilson County pledged to James J. Taylor as security for several notes totaling about $1700 a parcel of land on Barnes Street and Anica, Frances, and Lorenzo. Deed Book 1, page 422, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.
  • On 26 June 1857, for $600, J. William Barnes sold Jesse Haynes a 9 year-old girl named Easter. The sale was not recorded until 26 April 1859. Deed Book 1, page 457, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. [In the 1860 slave schedule of Oldfields township, Wilson County, Jesse Haynes reported owning two enslaved people — a 36 year-old woman and an 11 year-old girl, who was almost surely Easter.]
  • Also on 26 June 1857, for $600, J. William Barnes sold Jonas Lamb a girl named Edith, aged about 11. Deed Book 1, page 510, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. [Whether or not they were sisters, Easter and Edith had lived in the same small community, and the pain of their separation from their families and each other is unfathomable.]
  • On 1 January 1859, for $575, Bennett Barnes sold Benjamin Parker an 8 year-old boy named Albert. Deed Book 1, page 518, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. [In the 1860 slave schedule of Oldfields township, Wilson County, Benjamin Parker reported owning three enslaved people — a 25 year-old woman and two boys, aged 10 (almost surely Albert) and 1.]

Eli Robbins Estate Records, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records 1665-1998,

The Orange Hotel.

The famous (and infamous) Orange Hotel was on the market again recently — for something north of $50K. The listing seems to be have withdrawn, though I don’t think the building sold. 

While in Wilson, I took an opportunity to take a closer look.

Per the 1984 Nomination Form for recognition as a National Historic District for “Wilson Central Business District – Tobacco Warehouse Historic District,” “the two-story, weather-boarded frame building is three-bays wide and four-bays deep and is sheltered beneath a low, hipped roof of standing seam metal; interior brick chimneys with corbeled caps pierce the roof. The house’s only ornamentation is supplied by a five-bay, two-tier porch that is carried across the north faced by turned posts with small curved brackets.”

The Orange Hotel has been hard-used for most of its 116-year existence and has stood empty for the last five or so. It’s not falling down, but it’s in pretty bad shape. One of the corbel-capped chimneys collapsed and was replaced by a squat brick structure. The turned porch posts with their curved brackets are largely intact, however.

“A balustrade of slender turned balusters connects the posts on the second story; a replacement railing of ‘x’ shaped two-by-fours is on the first story. The first story entrance has a double door with a two-pane transom; a single door is on the second floor.”

The turned balusters on the second floor are also mostly in place, but the front double-door is now a plain single door.  

“The narrow windows contain two-over-two in plain surrounds.” These windows must be seven-feet tall.

“The rear elevation is occupied by a one-story ell.” I assume that that rickety staircase at right was added after 1984, and perhaps the shed-roofed enclosures at center as well.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2022.

Lane Street Project: Season 2, number 2.

The original bulbs of these daffodils were planted in Odd Fellows Cemetery 70-125 years ago.

My visits to Wilson have not generally aligned well with LSP clean-ups, but this one did, and I was elated to join the last Black History Month effort at Odd Fellows. I am grateful to everyone who came out, including the cadre of Wilson Police Department officers that showed up early and stayed late to fell dead pines in the woods and clear winter’s dead weeds from the front; the pastors and members of Saint Timothy’s and Saint Mark’s Episcopal Churches; Our Wilson Mentoring; the Wilson Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (as always!); Wilson Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; Total Impact Church (who brought barbecue lunches!); WhirliDogs; Seeds of Hope; and — surprise! — a group of students from East Carolina University’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, who came to Wilson to work at Seeds of Hope’s community garden and were steered over to Odd Fellows to learn a little Wilson history and help us out! 

A cautionary word, though. Safety first. Please, PLEASE don’t lean on monuments. After 100+ years, many are unstable. Henry Tart‘s obelisk, the largest in Odd Fellows, was accidentally toppled Saturday. Fortunately, no one was standing behind it when it fell, as they would have been seriously injured. The obelisk was not damaged, but will have to remain where it is until we can secure professional help to stabilize the base and reset the shaft and pyramidion.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2022.

Lipscomb’s property at East Street.

Plat Book 3, page 67, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

Another section of Sallie B. Lipscomb’s property was surveyed, subdivided, and platted in December 1934. Though the name Lipscombe Alley was abandoned in favor of Narrow Way (and later Narroway Street), the layout is readily recognizable today.

Aerial image courtesy of Google Maps.

Coley v. Artis, pt. 6: He was rejoicing at the opportunity.

The sixth in a series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. The dispute centered on 30 acres of land. Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from William J. Exum, a wealthy white farmer. In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold the land to Napoleon Hagans. Hagans died in 1896, and the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans. In 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother William, who sold the 30 acres in 1908 to J. Frank Coley, a young white farmer. Tom Artis laid claim to the property, arguing that Napoleon Hagans had sold it to him. Coley filed suit and, after hearing the testimony of more than a dozen witnesses, the court decided in his favor. (Paragraph breaks and some punctuation have been inserted for better readability.)

Defendant introduces JONAH WILLIAMS:

I have had a conversation about this land. All I know is what Hagans and Tom told me. The first talk was with Napoleon Hagans. (Defendant objects.) Best I remember I went to him to borrow some money to open my brick yard in the Spring. He referred to this deal and some other deal. Tom wanted to take up some papers, and had done so, and I remarked to Hagans how much better off than he was before. He said he was rejoicing at the opportunity. He promised to give 800 lb. of cotton until he could work a advance to him. He said if Tom did that he would never disturb him his life time. I asked Hagans to have it in a written contract, that his heirs might dissent from it. He replied that 800 lb. was a good interest on his money, and his heirs would probably be satisfied. I had a conversation with Tom. I saw him two or three weeks after that. (Plaintiff objects.) I spoke to him about Hagans taking up the Exum paper. He told me Hagans had ***** to take that up. Hagans had given him a chance to pay the debt off. Whenever he paid anything on the principal, he would not have to pay the 800 lb., but simply a lawful interest on the money. I advised Tom to do his best and pay some in on his principal.


He said that he had taken up the mortgage; had it transferred. He said “claim,” I might have said “mortgage.” I don’t say ‘Pole Hagans told me all his business, but I knew about as much as anybody. Said he was going to let him (Tom) pay 800 lb. of cotton until he could pay the principal. Mortgage given in 1881 to Mrs. Exum. This conversation about 12 or maybe 14 years ago. Don’t know whether it was as late as 1890. Began brick business in 1893. I can’t tell whether it was in 1880 or ’90. ‘Pole Hagans died about two or three years before this took place. Tom married my sister. He is not a member of my church. I turned him out. He is a Primitive Baptist. I preached Napoleon Hagans’ funeral.


Jonah Williams’ church was Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist, just north of Eureka in Wayne County, but he helped establish a string of Primitive Baptist congregations in Wilson and Edgecombe Counties. His daughter Clarissa Williams served as principal of Wilson’s Colored Graded School after the boycott, and several of his brother Adam T. Artis’ children settled in Wilson County.

Tributes to Dr. L.V. Grady.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 February 1936.

After faltering in the 1920s, Wilson’s Black hospital reorganized and reopened as non-profit Mercy Hospital in 1930. Carolina General Hospital’s Dr. Leland V. Grady was instrumental in guiding Mercy’s administrators through the hospital’s earliest years, and William Hines and Camillus L. Darden penned tributes to him at his death.

Sallie B. Howard School centers local history.

I stopped by Sallie B. Howard School of Arts & Science to check out its recently installed Black Wilson Hall of Fame. The series pulls from Black Wide-Awake to introduce important historic local heroes to a new generation of black and brown children. But the Howard School went further, introducing the material to its young scholars in daily announcements and developing lesson plans for its teachers to use to in-depth discussions of the material. I’d hoped when I started BWA to provide a well from which my community could draw a better understanding of itself, and I’m honored to collaborate with SBHS this Black History Month!

Want to know more about Sallie B. Howard School? Its website describes its history and purpose:

Established in 1989, YEP (Youth Enrichment Program) of Wilson, Inc. is a non-profit, tax-exempt, educational and cultural organization inspired by the legendary educator and playwright Mrs. Sallie Baldwin Howard and founded by Dr. JoAnne Woodard, a licensed psychologist and Wilson native.

From the very beginning, this work was a labor of love. YEP began as a volunteer grassroots initiative devoted to breaking the cycle of drugs, crime, truancy and teenage pregnancy in low-income communities. The organization developed educational programs — summer camps, community choirs, workshops for boys, rites of passage training, parent education seminars and more –- to build self-confidence and raise the achievements and aspirations of local youth.

For 8 consecutive summers, YEP served over 400 children each year thanks to the support of area churches, elected officials and community leaders. The program’s impact was immediate: Wilson saw a decline in juvenile crime during the summers and demand for enrollment created long waiting lists.

After just a few years, it became clear that YEP needed a more permanent year-round presence in the community. The organization went on to apply for and win one of North Carolina’s first contracts to operate a public charter school. Thus, in 1997, the Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts & Education (SBHS) was born.

Two decades later, SBHS serves over 1,000 students in grades K-8 and features a performing arts-based curriculum, a travel abroad program, and a culturally diverse faculty. In 2020, the school will expand to include the SBH High School of Biotechnology and the Fine Arts.

Thank you, Dr. JoAnne Woodard and Saptosa Foster!

Honored. Humbled.

I received the Wilson Human Relations Commission’s Social Justice Award Thursday, and Lane Street Project was a runner-up for the Community Initiative Award. Both projects are fueled by my love for the community that made me, and I take these honors as signs that Black Wide-Awake and Lane Street Project are sparking overdue conversations and effectuating positive change. Thank you!

Lane Street Project: an unknown burial.

Volunteers uncovered this concrete headstone and vault cover in Odd Fellows Cemetery during the season’s first clean-up. They lie about ten feet from Lula Dew Wootens grave. The vault cover is unmarked, but the marker bears a very faint inscription that I set forth below as best I can decipher it. The use of a vault cover dates the burial very late in Odd Fellows’ period of activity, i.e. the 1950s or very early 1960’s, which the inscription seems to bear out. 


JULY 16 18 

2 1960

Photo re Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2022.