Author: Lisa Y. Henderson

Researcher -- and descendant -- of North Carolina's free people of color. See also my genealogy blog at www.scuffalong.com and www.afamwilsonnc.com, which documents the African-American history of Wilson County NC.

Robert M. Cox house.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

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“Dr. Robert Cox was born in 1825 and he married Zillah Horne, an heir to the Horne land where this house was built. In 1844 Cox purchased his wife’s share of the Horne land, amounting to 385 acres. This house was probably built in the 1840s. After the death of Zillah, Cox married her sister, Elizabeth Horne. According to the 1860 census he was identified as a farmer with real property worth $8,000. … The Cox House consists of a two-room dwelling with an engaged porch and rear shed. The sturdy porch posts are chamfered and a shed room with access from the outside was built under one side of the porch. There are two exterior end chimneys; one centrally located on the west elevation which served the parlor and one on the east elevation on the rear shed. On the interior the house is divided into two main rooms with a shed room running the width of the house at the rear.”

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In the 1850 census of the North Side of the Neuse River, Wayne County, North Carolina [in an area which became part of Black Creek township, Wilson County, in 1855]: farmer Robert Cox, 25; wife Zillie, 23; and daughter Julia, 10 months. Per the 1850 slave schedule of the same district, Cox enslaved a 37 year-old woman, four girls ranging in age from 4 to 14, a 42 year-old man, and two boys, aged 7 and 14.

In the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Robert M. Cox, 35; wife Elizabeth, 21; Barney B. Cox, 21, clerk; John H. Minshew, 28, clerk; and J.S. Holt, 28, merchant. Cox reported $8000 in real property and $36000 in personal property. His personal property, per the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County, included five enslaved girls and women ranging from 9 to 30 years old and ten enslaved boys and men ranging from 9 months to 35 years old. Cox provided three dwellings to house them.

The 1870 census of Wilson County lists 20 African-Americans with the surname Cox living in four households in Black Creek, Stantonsburg and Cross Roads townships. Though Robert Cox was the sole Cox slaveholder listed in Wilson County in 1860, several of his Cox kin in neighboring Wayne County owned slaves.

 

Road duty.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County Justice Court

State & Isaac Williamson overseer of public Road vs. Peter Strickland (Col)      }

Warrant for failure to Work public Road Before J.E. Eatman Justice of the Peace

The State of North Carolina

To any lawful officer of said County Greetings. Whereas the said Isaac Williamson overseer of public Road known as section beginning at Horns Bridge and ending at the great swamp Bridge has complained in oath to me a Justice of the peace in and for Wilson County, that the said Peter Strickland (Col) often being lawfully ordered on the 2nd day of March 1883 to work on said secion of Public Road and the kind of tool to carry did wilfully and unlawfully fail to meet and work as ordered against the peace and dignity of the state.

These are therefore to command you forthwith to apprehend the said Peter Strickland and have him before me or some other Justice of the peace of Wilson County.

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In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Sarah Strickland, about 35; with children Peter, 21, Alice, 9, Martha, 5, and Sallie, 1 month.

On 27 December 1883, Peter Strickland, 23, married Nancy Farmer, 19, at Wash Farmer‘s.

Road Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Bird’s eye view.

“During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the cheap cost of printing lithographs coupled with the pride of small towns laid the foundation for the success of artists who specialized in hand drawn panoramic birds-eye view maps of American cities. The idea behind the panoramic birds-eye view was to draw the town at an oblique angle from an imaginary vantage point in the air, from the viewpoint a bird would have flying over the city. Although the scale of certain buildings were exaggerated to make the town more visible, the accuracy and attention to detail was otherwise so meticulous that each building was almost an exact copy of its real world counterpart down to the number of windows it possessed. There were numerous artists that gained popularity during this period. One such artist was Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler, known more by the name printed on each of the maps he completed, T.M. Fowler.” From Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler, Pennsylvania State Archives, http://www.phmc.state.pa.us

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In 1908, T.M. Fowler issued a bird’s eye map of Wilson. Drawn from the perspective of, say, a hawk floating above what is now Barton College, the map focuses on the town’s most prosperous districts. The Atlantic Coast Line Rail Road slices across the top left corner of the map, however, and beyond the track — Black Wilson.

Though none of the district’s buildings were highlighted on the margins of the map, a close examination reveals several that are immediately identifiable. At (1), looming over the 600 block of Green Street, is the turreted home of postmaster-cum-real estate developer Samuel H. Vick. At (2), at the corner of Green and Elba Streets, Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Church. At (3), Calvary Presbyterian Church. At (4), Darden and Sons funeral home. At (5), First Baptist Church. At (6), Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church.

Continuing across the top of the map — headed southeast on the ground —  at (7), down Stantonsburg Street, the Colored Graded School, and (8) the stemmeries and tobacco factories of Little Richmond.

In 1908, little of East Wilson was inside city limits, which did not extend much beyond Pender Street or the tobacco factory district. Thus, many of the houses and other buildings depicted in Fowler’s fabulous map, including the graded school and all of Vick’s neighborhood, were not surveyed in the Sanborn fire insurance map produced the same year.

Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, North Carolina (1908).

Charlie F. Knight.

Wilson Daily Times, 5 March 1963.

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On 12 February 1905, Charlie Knight, 30, son of Louis and H. Knight, married Annie Pool, 15, daughter of Dempsy and Gracie Pool. Missionary Baptist minister Jeremiah Scarboro performed the ceremony “on the Old Bass Plantation” in the presence of Mack Simms, Jonah Lipscomb, and Willie (or Millie) Ellis.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on County Line Road, farmer Charlie Knight, 31; wife Annie, 27; son William Poole, 7; and sister-in-law Mahala Poole, 15. Charlie had been married twice.

Charley Frank Knight registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 31 October 1872; resided at Route 3, Wilson; worked as a farm laborer on J.C. Eagles’ farm; and his nearest relative was wife Annie Knight. He signed his full name: Charlie Frank Knight.

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Charlie Knight, 40; wife Annie, 33; son William, 16; widowed laborers Mattie, 40, and Anna Knight, 60; and nieces and nephews Aulander, 16, Charlie, 13, Cleora, 11, Sarah, 9, Mary, 3, and Mary Knight, 3.

In the 1940 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Charlie Knight, 65; wife Annie, 50; and sons Stephen, 12, and David, 11.

Charlie Frank Knight died 3 March 1963. Per his death certificate, he was born October 1885 in Edgecombe County to Louis Knight and Mahalie [last name unknown]; was a laborer; and was buried in Rest Haven cemetery. Informant was Annie Knight.

 

Green Street, today.

As my father put it, all the “big dogs” lived on Green Street. The 600 block, which ran between Pender and Elba Streets, two blocks east of the railroad that cleaved town, was home to much of Wilson’s tiny African-American elite. There, real estate developers, clergymen, doctors, undertakers, educators, businessmen, and craftsmen built solid, two-story Queen Annes that loomed over the surrounding neighborhood.  Here were early 20th-century East Wilson’s movers and shakers; Booker T. Washington slept here.

The north side of Green Street as depicted in a 1922 Sanborn map.

By my childhood, however, a half-century into its reign, Green Street had slipped. Wilson’s small but growing black middle class was building ranch houses further west, and Green was home to, if not working class renters, then dowagers struggling to stay on top of the maintenance costs imposed by multi-gabled roofs; oversized single-paned windows; and wooden everything. Still, Green Street’s historical aura yet shimmered, and a drive down the block elicited pride and wonder.

In 1988, East Wilson, with Green Street its jewel, was nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Every house on the block depicted above was characterized as “contributing,” and the inventory list contained brief descriptions of the dwellings and their owners. Historic status, though, could not keep the wolves from the door. Even as the city’s Historic Properties Commission was wrapping up its work, East Wilson was emerging as an early victim of that defining scourge of the late 1980s — rock cocaine. As vulnerable old residents died off — or were whisked to safer quarters — crackheads and dealers sought refuge and concealment in the empty husks that remained. Squatters soiled their interiors and pried siding from the exteriors to feed their fires. One went ablaze, and then another, and repair and reclamation seemed fruitless undertakings.

This is the north side of Green Street now. Facing east toward Carroll Street, the left edge of the frame is just west of #605. There is not another house until you get to #623.  They are gone. The homes of Hardy Tate and C.E. Artis, of the Hines brothers, of Dr. Barnes, of Charlie Thomas, of Rev. Davis. Abandoned. Taken over. Burned up. Torn down. Gone.

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These four houses (##603, 605, 623 and 625) and a church at the corner of Elba are all that remain of the buildings shown in the 1922 Sanborn map above.

Photograph taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2013.

Mortality, no. 3.

Each of the United States federal censuses from 1850 to 1880 included a mortality schedule enumerating  individuals who had died in the previous year previous. Each entry noted family number in the population schedule, name, age, sex, color, marital status, place of birth, month of death, occupation, and cause of death.

Here is the 1870 mortality schedule for part of Wilson township, Wilson County (which does not include the town of Wilson and does not specify family numbers):

  • Hines, Charles. Age 1, black, died in June, cholera infant.
  • Locust, Infant. Age 1 day, black, died in February, asphyxia.
  • Mercer, Robert. Age 1 month, black, died in December. Hooping cough.
  • Thomas, Lucy. Age 25, black, domestic servant, died in April, consumption.
  • Blunt, Vilet. Age 70, mulatto; married; domestic servant; died in July; cancer.
  • Jordan, Mary. Age 26, mulatto, domestic servant; died in May; died from child birth.
  • Edwards, Marzillie. Age 3 months, black, died in December, intermittent fever.
  • Lassiter, Jesse. Age 6, mulatto, died in November, typhoid fever.

“Remarks: 366. Lassiter Jesse. Cause of death unknown; supposed to be typhoid fever from best information obtained.” Household #366: farm laborer Silas Lassiter, 47, and children Ophelia, 25, Mary, 20, Elizabeth, 16, Handy, 14, Penninah, 15, Silas W., 12, Milly, 8, and Jerusha, 4.

  • Powell, Nannie. Age 25, mulatto, farm laborer, died in September, bowel disease.
  • Edmundson, Shepard. Age 51, black, married, farm laborer, died in September, paralysis.
  • Due, Amanda. Age 4, black, died in October, “brain inflam. of.”
  • Horn, Mary. Age 30, black, married, died in April, child birth.
  • Due, Stella A. Age 6 months, black, died in July, cutting teeth.
  • Cook, Alex’dr. Age 3, black, died in August, ascites.
  • Cook, Infant. Age 1 month, black, died in April, epilepsy.
  • Cook, Infant. Age 1 month, black, died in April, epilepsy.

 

This matter of carrying fire arms is getting to be serious.

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Wilson Advance, 18 November 1897.

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Jordan Taylor, 50, day laborer sawing wood, and wife Matilda, 45, shared a house with Dennis Brooks, 35, wife Mary, 27, and daughter Aleonia, 8. Next door, [Jordan Taylor’s son] Jordan Taylor, 24, wife Eliza, 25, and son Greemon, 3, who shared a house with Sallie Taylor, 27, and her son Rufus, 14, and lodger Mary Jones, 17.

Roscoe Barnes’ injuries sound life-threatening, and he is not found in the 1900 census of Wilson.

Elisha Bass farm.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

“According to local tradition this house was built for Elisha Bass, Jr., on land deeded to Edward Bass in 1745. The Elisha Bass house is set in a grove of trees and is oriented away from the road. It now forms the rear section of a turn-of-the-century farmhouse built circa 1890 by Shelby Bass. The oldest section probably dates between 1830 and 1940. The three-bay gable-roof house has exterior end chimneys with tumbled weatherings. The kitchen, which was originally part of the early section of the house, still stands on the property.”

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In the 1850 census of the North Side of the Neuse River, Wayne County, North Carolina [in an area which became part of Black Creek township, Wilson County, in 1855]: farmer Elisha Bass, 35; wife Sarah, 30; and son Hardy, 1. Per the 1850 slave schedule of the same district, Elisha Bass enslaved a 40 and a 16 year-old man.

In the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Elisha Bass, 47; son Nathan, 9; and farm laborer Redmon Lodge, 17. Bass listed $3500 in real property and $4317 in personal property. His personal property, per the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County, included a 20 year-old woman, a three year-old girl, and four boys and men, aged three months to 30 years.

Elisha Bass was just one of several white Basses who enslaved people in Wilson County. The 1870 census of Black Creek township lists 134 African-Americans with the surname Bass living in households across eastern Wilson County in Black Creek, Stantonsburg, Gardners, Wilson, Joyners and Cross Roads townships.