In August 1866, Willis Barnes and Cherry Battle registered their six-year marriage with a Wilson County justice of the peace. Willis likely had been enslaved by Joshua Barnes of Wilson County. Cherry had been enslaved by Alexander Eatmon of Nash County, then sold in 1860 to Margaret H. Battle of Wilson County.
The couple had at least nine children, most of whom lived to adulthood. An examination of the children’s marriage license applications and birth certificates reveals the varied and sometimes conflicting ways personal information, especially names, were recorded in official records.
- Rachel Barnes Taylor
On 21 Sep 1882, H.G. Whitehead applied for a marriage license for Mike Taylor of Wilson, aged 20, colored, son of John Taylor and unknown mother, both living, and Rachel Barnes of Wilson, age 19, colored, parents unknown, father dead, mother’s status not given. Whitehead was a wealthy white farmer for whom Taylor likely worked, and his utter lack of familiarity with the couple’s families (and disinterest in correcting the lack) is reflected in the bad information he provided. Mike Taylor’s father’s name was Green Taylor, not John, and his mother was Phereby Taylor. (It makes no sense Mike’s mother was described as living, but unknown.) Whitehead knew nothing at all about Rachel’s parents and described her “unknown” father as dead (Willis Barnes lived until 1914), and her mother as a complete cipher, though Cherry Barnes was alive into the 1890s.
On the same day, Louis Croom, Baptist minister, married Taylor and Barnes in Wilson in the presence of W.T. Battle and Edman Pool. [Was W.T. Battle related to Rachel? Was he the W. Turner Battle who married Louvina Knight in Wilson on 24 May 1875? A man named Turner was among the enslaved people Margaret H. Battle received from her father Weeks Parker’s estate. Edmund Pool, of course, was the legendary founder of the Red Hot Hose & Reel Company.]
Rachel Barnes Taylor died 2 October 1925 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, her parents were Willis Barnes and Cherry Barnes.
- Wesley Barnes
Wesley Barnes, called “Sylvester” Barnes on his marriage application, married Ella Mercer on 4 June 1885 in Wilson County. His parents’ names are not listed.
Wesley Barnes died 20 January 1919 in Wilson township. His death certificate lists his parents as Willis Barnes and Cherry Eatmon.
- Jesse Barnes
Jesse Barnes, 21, son of Willis Barnes and Cherry Barnes, married Mary Mag Mercer on 3 April 1889 in Wilson. Mercer was the sister of Jesse’s brother Wesley’s wife Ella Mercer Barnes. The official witnesses to the marriage were Jesse’s brothers Wesley and Ned Barnes.
Jesse Barnes died 25 January 1916 in Wilson. His death certificate lists his parents as Willis Barnes and Cherry Barnes.
- Ned Barnes
Ned Barnes appeared in the 1880 census and on his marriage license as “Edward,” but by 1900 he is invariably referred to as “Ned,” the name he passed on to his son. On 29 October 1891, he and Louisa Gay were married in Wilson. Their marriage record does not list their parents’ names.
Ned Barnes died 1 December 1912 in Raleigh, Wake County, N.C. His death certificate lists his father as Willis Barnes and his mother as unknown. His wife Louisa surely knew her mother-in-law’s name, but their daughter Mattie Barnes was informant, and she apparently did not.
- Mary Barnes Barnes Jones
Mary Barnes, 18, daughter of Willis Barnes and Cherry Barnes, married Pearce Barnes, 26, son of Robert and Hannah Barnes, on 14 September 1893 at “Gen. [Joshua] Barnes Plantation” in Wilson County.
Mary Barnes and Henry Jones, both 41, were married in Wilson on 24 December 1917. Almost exactly two years later, Mary Jones was dead. Her death certificate lists her parents as Willis Barnes and Cherry Battle. Her sister Rachel Taylor was informant.
- William “Willie” Barnes
Willie Barnes married Hattie Best on 31 December 1902 at Hattie’s father Orren Best’s house in Grabneck, Wilson. Per their marriage license, Willie Barnes was the son of Willis Barnes and Cherry Barnes; his brother Jesse Barnes applied for the license.
Witness Charles B. Gay was the brother-in-law of Willie’s brother Ned Barnes.
- Lucinda “Cintha” Barnes Perry
Sentha Barnes married Henry S. Perry on 14 September 1899 in Wilson. Their marriage license lists her father, Willis Barnes, but applicant F.A. Fenderson described her mother as unknown. This marriage was reported in the Wilson Daily Times.
Cintha Perry died about 1909.
- Edgar Barnes
Edgar Barnes, 21, of Wilson, son of Willis Barnes and Cherry Barnes, married Mary Hill, 19, daughter of Joe Hill and Anna Hill, at Saint John A.M.E. Zion in Wilson on 4 October 1909.
On 24 September 1921, Edgar Barnes, 27, of Greenville, son of Willis Barnes and Cherry Barnes, married Delia Hawkins, 22, daughter of Will Hawkins and Ella Hawkins, in Greenville, Pitt County.
Edgar Barnes died 6 April 1940 at the Veterans Hospital in Kecoughtan, Elizabeth City County, Virginia. His death certificate lists his parents as Willis Barnes and Cherry Eatman, both of Wilson County.