My paternal grandmother’s family arrived in Wilson circa 1905 from southern Wayne County, North Carolina. Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs came first, and Sarah’s teenaged nephew Jesse “Jack” Henderson arrived a few years later. My grandmother Hattie Mae Henderson was born in Dudley in June 1910. In six months or so, her 19 year-old mother Bessie Henderson was dead.
Said my grandmother:
“I thought of many times I wondered what my mama looked like. Bessie. And how old was she, or whatever. Looked at Jack, and I said, they say he was 17 years old when he come to Wilson. From down there in Dudley, down there in Wayne County.
“My mama was helping Grandpa, Grandpa Lewis [Henderson.] The pig got out of the pasture and, instead of going all the way down to where the gate opened, she run him back in there, to try to coax him in there. They picked him up. They picked him up and put him over the fence. And when they picked him up, and put him over the fence, she had the heavy part, I reckon, or something, and she felt a pain, a sharp pain, and so then she started spitting blood. Down in the country, they ain’t had no doctor or nothing, they just thought she was gon be all right. And I don’t think they even took her to the doctor. Well, she would have had to go to Goldsboro or Mount Olive, one, and doctors was scarce at that time, too, even if it was where you had to go a long ways to get them. Or go to a hospital and stay. And so she died. She didn’t never get over it. You never know what you’ll come to.
“But I don’t remember ever staying down there. ‘Cause they brought me up to Wilson to live with Mama and Papa [Sarah and Jesse Jacobs]. I stayed with them after Bessie died. I don’t remember Bessie. But my sister Mamie says she remembers her.”
At left, the only known photograph of Bessie Henderson (1891-1911). At right, a colorized version, which highlights surprising details of the backdrop. Does anyone recognize these trees and white ducks from an early twentieth-century Goldsboro or Mount Olive photography studio?
Adapted from interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1996 and 1998, all rights reserved; photo in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.