The first in an occasional 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.)
The Plaintiff introduces W.S. [William S.] Hagans, who being duly sworn testifies as follows:
I sold this land, the 30 acre, 24 acre, and the 9 1/3 acre pieces to Mr. [J. Frank] Coley. Mr. [J. Wright] Cook had been negotiating with me for the purchase of the 30 acre tract and the 24 acre tract. He did not want the 9 1/3 acre tract. I met Mr. Cook on several different occasions, until finally we met at Eureka one afternoon, he was considering it, and we finally decided on the deal. Mr. Cook was to give me $40.00 per acre for the the 30 acre tract, and the 24 acre tract. Before Mr. Cook did this however, he informed me that there was a missing link in the title, that he had found after investigating it. I told him that that was perfectly alright, as there had never been any question about it.
After our conference at Eureka, the day was set for me to meet him in Goldsboro, where he was to pay me the consideration, the price of the land, and I in turn to give him a deed for the land. He did not come on that day, but ‘phoned me at Fremont that he did not succeed in raising the money, but to please hold it open until tomorrow.
Early tomorrow morning, before sunrise, a bitter cold morning, the Defendant [Tom Artis] came to my house in Goldsboro. I asked him what brought him to town on such a cold morning, he said he came to bring a message from Mr. J.F. Coley, that Mr. Coley said that he wanted to buy that land, and would take all three of the tracts instead of two, said the Defendant to me, “that will be to your advantage.” The Defendant stated to me that Mr. Cook’s time was out yesterday. I expressed surprise that the Defendant should be familiar with those circumstances. Afterwards I said to the Defendant, that while Mr. Cook’s time was out yesterday, that Mr. Cook had phoned me yesterday & said he had a great effort to reach me, and finally did so asking me to hold the matter open until tomorrow. I told him that I would feel honor bound if Mr. Cook should come to me with the purchase price for the two tracts of land, to let him have it, although I would prefer selling the three tracts together. The Defendant said to me that if Mr. Cook got possession of this place that he the Defendant would not be able to stay there as Mr. Cook was a very disagreeable man to get along with. I told the Defendant that I would not deed this property to Mr. Cook, or to any one else until they made the same promise to me in reference to the Defendant’s staying where he was, that I made to my father in the presence of the Defendant.
The Defendant remained in shooting distance of me all of the day, waiting for me to see Mr. Cook that he might get from me a final message to take back to Mr. Coley. I saw Mr. Cook, and he informed me that the reason he couldn’t take it was that he had experienced great difficulty in raising that money. That money was hard. I was really glad of this, and so informed the Defendant, for I wanted to sell the three tracts if possible, together. Then I asked the Defendant to say to Mr. Coley on his return home, that I would meet him at the Defendant’s house on Friday, I think it was, but having business out there, I drove past, and got the Defendant and took him out to the Plaintiff’s place of business that was on Thursday, I went the day before the time set, and stated to the Defendant the object of my going down there, and asked him to go with me.
We went down there and Mr. Coley and I had a talk aside from the Defendant, and finally wound up in the Defendant’s presence. The conversation we had in the presence of Tom was Mr. Coley might have the three pieces of land, in consideration of $3250, and I take his paper. This was said in the Defendant’s immediate presence, he sitting on the buggy beside me. We left, the Defendant expressing himself as highly pleased that Mr. Coley had bought the three pieces of land, said he thought I had made a fine trade. He made no objection at any time to the sale of the land. He encouraged it all the while. He never intimated to me that he had any claims on this land of any kind. None whatever.
I got the land about 1899, deed of partition between my brother [Henry E. Hagans] and myself. After I got the land I rented that to the Defendant. The first year I think, I charged him 850 lb. of lint cotton, thinking all the while that my brother having acted for us both got 850 lb. for the two places, the 30 and the 24 acre lot.The Defendant informed me that my brother had been charging only 800 lb., and I agreed to the 800 lb. He did not at any time when delivering this cotton say that he was paying it as interest and taxes. (Defendant objects.) He has never said anything about paying it as any way than rent. He has never mentioned taxes to me on that property. I listed that land and paid the taxes.
I had some work done on that house since I came in possession. The Defendant patched the roof and also built a porch. I do not wish to state that I had it built. I paid for the lumber. The Defendant did the work himself.
The Defendant came to my place in front of the gin house last fall, and said to me that he had understood that I was going to sell those three pieces of land down there, we called it the Tom Pig place, the Calv Pig place and the Adam [Artis] place. He said he wanted to buy the Tom Pig place or the 30 acre. He asked me if I would prefer selling it all together. I asked him what he would want to give me for the 30 acre tract piece, and he said he would give me $800.00 for it. I told him I couldn’t take that, as I had already been offered $40.00 an acre, or $2160 for the two places. He asked me to give him time that he might hear from his boys in Norfolk, that he was confident that he could raise the purchase price for the 30 acre tract, if not for it all. The Defendant and Durden Fort were present at the time. Durden Fort has since died. In payment of this land, Mr. Coley’s notes were security fort this property. Mr. Coley’s home place I think. 60 some odd acres in addition to what I sold was given as security. One note is due in January.
Tom said to me, “I think you sold those three pieces of land well.” He said that on the buggy. Mr. Coley and I behind the barn talked about this land. He wanted to get the land for $3000. I had an idea that Mr. Coley was a pretty good trader, and wanted to get it as cheap as possible, and I told him behind the barn what three pieces I wanted to sell him them for. I didn’t have to go through any particular form, we didn’t close the thing out, we continued the conversation until we separated. The pieces of land were all understood. He said in the presence of Tom, “For the three pieces of land I will give you $3250.00.” I thought it was necessary to innumerate the three pieces so he would see what he was getting.
Tom has lived on that place ever since I had it. I don’t know to my personal knowledge if he lived off of it. I was in school at the time, or at any rate away from home. Durden Fort was present at the conversation we had. He died in the summer. I had him as a witness. I did not rent my land at the same price every year to every body, not necessarily, to some I did, some I didn’t. The reason I charged him 800 lb. was because my brother rented it to him for 800, and I thought it was all he was able to pay, and there were other considerations. There were other considerations that induced me to charge only 800 lb. of lint cotton for the land. (Plaintiff objects.) It arose out of a conversation I had with my father [Napoleon Hagans] and Tom. My father was in feeble health in 1896. He called my brother and myself under the cart shelter at the home place and said to us that he was not going to live long, and he did not know to which one of us, that is his two sons, would fall heir to that property. Tom was present. That was the land in controversy. (Plaintiff objects), but as long as the Defendant, whom he called “Pig” paid his rent, let him remain. We promised. He did not say how much rent. I did not know as far as I remember that Tom paid to my father 800 lb. of lint cotton. I don’t know. I would rather believe he did. (Plaintiff objects.)
The cart shelter under which the Haganses met with Thomas Artis to discuss the land he farmed may have looked something like this structure, photographed recently in Mississippi.