Hugh B. Johnston, writing as “An Old Reporter,” wrote dozens of genealogy columns for the Daily Times and Rocky Mount Telegram. His piece about Jesse Farmer relayed two anecdotes highlighting the violent treatment of enslaved people.
In the first, after naming the eight people Jesse and Mary Batts Farmer enslaved near present-day Elm City — Nellie, Clarkey, Ailsey, Dinah, Jim, Jerry, Hilliard, and Cindy — Johnston recounts Dinah’s reaction to Emancipation. “I understand that I’d been freed,” she told Jesse Farmer. “Well, I haven’t freed you yet,” he responded, and beat her.
The second incident occurred during the Civil War. A free woman of color named Clarkey had just died, and her body lay in a cabin at the edge of the yard. Jim O’Neal, overseer on a neighboring plantation, arrived with several people enslaved by Dr. George Sugg. O’Neal accused Jerry of having stolen one of his hogs with Bill, an enslaved man standing “nearly naked and bound with leather straps.” Mary Batts Farmer defended Jerry and declared he would not be beaten. When O’Neal threatened to do so anyway, Mary Farmer told Jerry to defend himself. He grabbed an ax and walked away, and despite orders, the enslaved men with O’Neal refused to follow. O’Neal then took Bill under the lean-to of Clarkey’s cabin and forced the others to beat him with switches “until he almost smoked.”
Rocky Mount Telegram, 14 March 1956.
- Jerry Farmer
In 1866, Jerry Farmer and Kate Sugs registered their two-year cohabitation with a Wilson County justice of the peace.
In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Jerry Farmer, 26, and wife Kate, 26.
In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Jerry Farmer, 37, widower.
On 10 January 1884, Jerry Farmer, 39, married Annice Pender, 23, at Abram Sharpe’s. Charles Barnes, Haywood Batts, and Haywood Pender were witnesses.
Whew. A wicked read first thing in the morning. And in light of what happened yesterday In Tennessee, it feels far too contemporaneous than from the remote past. I can hear the words as if they were being screamed across the “Well” at Representatives Jones and Pearson.
It’s brutal, isn’t it? Especially given the complete lack of self-consciousness with which the story was relayed to a 1956 audience.