The second 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.)
Plaintiff introduces H.S. REID who being duly sworn testifies as follows:
I know the Defendant Tom Artis. I had a conversation with him in reference to payment of cotton to [William S.] Hagans. This last fall I was on the road with Hagans and met Tom Artis carrying a bale of cotton. Heard conversation between Artis and Hagans. When we met in the road Tom said, “You are leaving home, and I have started to your house with a bale of lint cotton.” Hagans told Tom to carry it on as quick as he could, for he needed it about as bad as he ever saw anyone. He said that in a joking way. Hagans started off, and he said, “Hold on, Captain!” He told him that he understood that he was going to sell the land down there. Hagans said yes, that it was for sale. Tom said, “I would be glad if you would wait a few days, Captain, I think I can raise the money for that place,” didn’t say what place just then. Hagans said he had rather sell it altogether. Tom said if he would give him a few days until he could see his boys, he thought he could raise the money for it all. Hagans said alright, it was all for sale. That was about the end of the conversation and we parted. Later then that one day, at Eureka, Artis asked me if I knew when Hagans would be out at his place. I told him about the day Hagans told me he would be out there. Artis said I wish I would deliver a message to Hagans for him, “ask him not to sell that place to Mr. Wright Cook.” Said if he did, he would be out of house and home. He said he would rather Hagans sell it to Coley, for he thought he could get along better with Mr. Coley. I delivered the message to Hagans when he came out home. I think this is about the substance. That last conversation was a short while before the sale I think. Am not real sure when it was.
I told this conversation about Tom wanting Hagans to wait before he sold the land. I told several people, I don’t remember all. I am not able to tell. I think Hagans and I talked about Tom wanting to buy the land. I am not positive. I heard Hagans say that the old man wanted to buy the land from him, as I remember. I think I told the lawyer about the first conversation.
HENRY S. REID recalled by Defendant.
I don’t know that on the occasion I met Tom Artis, that he forbid Hagans selling his land. It wasn’t mentioned that day. I have never admitted to Tom that he forbid Hagans selling that land.
- Henry Sampson Reid was a brother of veterinarian Elijah Reid and principal J.D. Reid. Both his wives were from Wilson County, and he eventually settled in Springhill township.
- Note Reid’s naming practices. Wright Cook and J.F. Coley were granted the honorific “Mister.” William Hagans, a Black man whom Reid regarded as having similar or greater status than he, was called by his surname only. Thomas Artis, of lower social status, mostly merited only “Tom.”
- William S. Hagans’ primary residence was on Oak Street in Goldsboro. Thus, Artis asked Reid when Hagans would be “out at his place,” he meant Hagans’ farm between Eureka and Fremont.
William S. Hagans at his Goldsboro home, circa 1900.
Photo courtesy of the late William E. Hagans; digital copy in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.