Who were the anonymous informants who “would rather live one year in North Carolina than to live to be as old as giants” in Indiana?
Not Joseph Ellis, whose testimony before Congress about Black migration from North Carolina to Indiana declared that he was “well pleased with [his] situation.” On the other hand, Green Ruffin, who testified on 16 February 1880, was adamant that he never going back to Indiana if he could get home. Peter Dew and Julia Daniels shared similar sentiments in letters to the editor of the Wilson Advance.
For more than 30 years after gaining the right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment, African-American men in Wilson County exercised the franchise widely, holding key positions in the local Republican Party and serving as poll holders in voting districts in nearly every township.
Wilson Advance, 6 October 1882.
Orren Best — born enslaved about 1849 in Greene County, N.C.
Noel Jones — born free about 1845 in Oldfields township, Wilson County [then Nash County.]
Hilliard Ellis — born enslaved about 1827, probably in Taylor township, Wilson County [then Nash County.]
Alfred Woodard — born enslaved about 1830.
A. Bynum — perhaps Amos Bynum, born enslaved about 1840.
Booker T. Washington mentioned Mahala J. Williamson in this letter to Warren Logan, treasurer of Tuskegee Institute. Williamson, a Hampton Institute graduate, served in several positions at Tuskegee, including head of the laundry department, principal of the night school, and librarian.
A couple of years ago, I ran across this entry in a search of the digital Collections Catalog of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture:
I recently requested the letter, and when the good folks at the Virginia Museum returned from pandemic exile, I received a copy of the two-page note. I had hoped to find that Queen Bruce had lived in Wilson County, but now conclude that she did not. Rather, her home was Halifax County, Virginia, and she had been enslaved by the family of Anne Ruffin Sims’ husband. I post the letter here, though, to clarify for other researchers.
Here’s a transcript:
Newark N.J. 5th 23rd 188[illegible] Letter from old family nurse to Mrs Sims
Mrs. A.R. Sims
Dear Miss Annie it affords me much pleasure in penning you these few lines to inform you of my health I am well hoping to find you all well I heard from you through Ellen Hicks and was glad to head that you was well and had not forgotten me for I often think of you and wish I could see you although I am surrounded by all the comforts of life but I must say I have never realize there is any place like home Miss Anna please give my love to Old master and mistress Miss Birdy and the rest Theoderick from me with his best wishes to the Colonel and master Jno. Sims Please except my best love for your self Mas William the baby kiss the baby for me my love to Master Jno. Sims tell him I expect to come home next year and I want to cook a nice dinner for him and his wife my love to miss Eliza and her family Excuse my short note and please write to me and let me hear from you soon I remain your Humble & Obedient Servant
Queen Bruce, 152 Howard St., Newark, N.J.
Wilkins says give his love to Master Willie and Master Johnny if you please
Anne Cameron Ruffin was born in 1861 to Dr. John Kirkland Ruffin and Susan Tayloe Ruffin. By 1870, her family was living in Wilson, where her father opened a medical practice. Anne Ruffin married William Bailey Sims in Wilson in 1883. Their oldest child, William Howson Sims, born 1886, may have been the baby to whom Queen Bruce sent kisses. William B. Sims’ father was also named William Howson Sims and owned a large, old plantation and called Black Walnut and more than one hundred enslaved people in rural Halifax County, Virginia. He is likely the “old master” Bruce referred to in her letter. John Sims was the brother of William B. and son of William H. Sims; Eliza Broadnax Sims Timberlake was sister and daughter.
In the 1870 census of Roanoke township, Halifax County, Virginia: Wilkins Sims, 43; wife Queen, 38; and children Jannah, 13, Odrick, 8, and Morriss, 13. During the following decade, the family changed its surname from Sims to Bruce. Joanna Bruce, 18, daughter of J.W. and Queen Bruce, died 15 June 1877 in Halifax County, Virginia. Theoderick Bruce, 22, son of Joe and Queen Bruce, married Lucinda Coleman, 19, on 29 December 1881, in Halifax County, Virginia. One year-old Theoderick Bruce died 10 July 1886 in Newark, New Jersey. Morris A. Bruce married Catherine Jackson in Newark, N.J., on 1 October 1893. In the 1895 Holbrook’s Newark, N.J., city directory: Bruce Morris Albert (c) driver, h 373 Halsey; Bruce Theo K (c) letter carrier, h 215 Court; and Bruce Wilkins (c) h 55 Broome. In the 1903 Holbrook’s Newark, N.J., city directory: Bruce Queen, wid Joseph, h 131 Broome. Records for Newark’s Woodland Cemetery show the burial of Queen Bruce, colored, age 72, who died on 9 February 1908.
Notice the superfluous racist commentary typical in Josephus Daniels‘ Advance: “the darkies took the lead.”
Joseph Baines and Mary Eliza Taylor
Joseph Baines, 24, of Toisnot township, son of Tyrell and Penny Baines, married Mary Eliza Taylor, 18, of Toisnot township, daughter of Stephen and Rachel Taylor, on 2 May 1889. A.M.E. Zion minister James M. Copeland performed the ceremony in the presence of J.C. Ellis, Doublin Barnes and Oscar Banes.
Alsey Locus and Laura Adams
Alsey Locus, 21, of Wilson, married Laura Adams, 22, of Nash County, on 12 May 1889 in Taylors township. David Locus, Jesse Barnes and George Barnes witnessed.
Isaiah Dew, 30, of Cross Roads township, son of Simon and Tilitha Dew, married Durinda Wammock, 25, of Cross Roads township, daughter of Washington and Julia Fields, on 23 May 1889, in Cross Roads township. “J.T. Aycock, a Catholick” performed the ceremony.
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 the decedent’s family number in the population schedule, name, age, sex, color, marital status, place of birth, month of death, occupation, and cause of death.
Here are abstracts from the 1880 mortality schedule for Wilson township, Wilson County:
1 Barnes, Walter. 9 months old, died in August, cause illegible, no attending physician. “Walter Barnes was taken with vomiting in the morning & died in the evening about 3 oclock. Father & Mother know not what caused death had not Phisician with him”
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer George Barnes, 41; wife Anna, 34; and children Hardy, 19, Rena, 17, Jessee, 12, Edmonia, 11, George, 9, Minnie Adeline, 6, Joshua and General, 3, and William, 1. The census taker noted that Rena had a toothache.
32 Unnamed infant. 1 day old, died in May, cause illegible, no attending physician.
32 Unnamed infant. 1 day old, died in [illegible], cause illegible, no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Turner Eatmond, 30; wife Cherry, 23; and brother David, 15.
74 Unnamed infant. 1 day old, died in June, cause illegible, no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer George Barnes, 48; wife Nicy, 45; and children Robert, 15, Roscoe, 8, Martha, 7, Edwin, 5, and Earnest, 3.
129 Sutton, Roxana. 1 year old, died in May of remittent fever.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County:
148 Smith, Redmond. 13 years old, died in October, “burned to death,” no attending physician. “Carosine can exploded.”
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmworker Abraham Smith, 34; wife Louzetta, 34; and children Louis, 13, Penelope, 8, Susan, 6, Mariah, 5, Caroline, 3, and Clarcey, 1.
153 Moore, Isiah. 27 days days, died in June, smothered to death, no attending physician. “Mother overlaid child in Bed while she was asleep _ Child 2 years old _ Mother says was all its life unhealthy”
153 Moore, Nathan. 2 years old, died in March of fever, no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmworker Rhoda Moore, 30, and children Lazarus, 10, Peter, 8, and Nelly, 4.
162 Harriss, Lucy. 7 years old, died in August of fever, attending physician Joseph Bynum.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: Sam Norvall, 25; wife Gracy, 23; and children Lizzie, 3, and Charlie, 11 months; and daughter Cathren Dupree, 6.
160 Vines, Vina. 8 years old, died in June of bilious fever, attending physician Joseph Bynum.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmworker Sampson Vines, 27; wife Emily, 20; and child Mary, 1.
164 Cobb, Celia. 13 days old, died in September of fits, no attending physician. “Child was [illegible.]”
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmworker Benjamin Cobb, 54; wife Elizabeth, 42; children Mary, 18, Elizabeth, 16, Moris, 12, Benjamin, 10, and Elizabeth, 6; plus boarder James Sullivan, 35, farmworker.
181 Wooten, William. 5 months, died in September of teething, attending physician J.K. Ruffin.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: Benjamin Wooten, 27; wife Clary, 24; and daughter Mollie, 5.
183 Barnes, James. 1 year old, died in February of fever, no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmworker George Barnes, 35; wife Jane, 24; and children Alice, 5, Esther, 4, and Mama, 5 months.
194 Barnes, Willie Mack. 3 years old, died in June of “congestion chill,” attending physician R.G. Barham.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County:farmer Lemon Barnes, 32; wife Nancy, 26; and children Morrison, 8, Jessee R., 7, Ida, 6, Eddie, 3, Lemon Jr., 2, and General, 2 months.
203 Barefoot, Rose. 90 years old, widowed, died in October of old age, no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Jacob Short, 55, and wife Milly, 46.
208 Farmer, Jonah. 1 year old, died in May of measles, attending physician C.C. Peacock.
208 Farmer, Infant. Stillborn in October, no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer George Farmer, 28; wife Ann, 34; and children Sarah, 14, William, 12, Mourning, 8, James, 6, and David, 5.
241 Unnamed infant. 1 day old, died in January of “bleeding at navel,” no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmworker Brister Huffman, 26; wife Emma, 21; children Charles, 3, and Annie, 1; and mother-in-law Julia Harriss, 60.
242 Young, Pattie. 6 years old, died in April of dropsy, attending physician C.C. Peacock.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farmworker Henry Young, 45; wife Zilpha Ann, 21; and children Joseph, 15, Nettie, 13, and George, 10.
256 Gay, Spencer. 30 years old, married, worked at brickyard, died in February of consumption, attending physician C.C. Peacock.
256 Barnes, Roscoe. 1 year old, died in October of “congestion chill,” attending physician C.C. Peacock.
256 Barnes, Infant. Stillborn in September, no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: widow Adeline Gay, 26, works in a nursery; sister Harriet Barnes, 24, washes and irons; nieces Lilly, 4, and Mary Barnes, 2; and mother Jennie Oneal, 50.
266 Unnamed infant. 1 day old, died in February of inanition, no attending physician.
266 Unnamed infant. Stillborn in October, no attending physician.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Gilbert Stallings, 28; wife Georgeanna, 23; and daughters Clooa, 6, and Mary, 2.
295 Ricks, Axa. 54 years old, married, kept house, died in November of disease of womb, attending physician C.C. Peacock.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer William Ricks, 55.
323 Artice, George. 5 years old, died in April, poisoned, attending physician C.C. Peacock.
In the 1880 census of South Wilson township, Wilson County: washwoman Mittie Moore, 25; daughter Etta, 7; and [daughter?] Francis, 18, cook.
127 Brooks, Tony. 85 years old, died in December of paralysis, attending physician J.K. Ruffin.
In the 1880 census of North Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Merriman Woodard, 52; wife Jane, 35; children Marietta, 15, Edmond, 13, Zany, 12, Cornelia, 8, Flora, 4, and Merriman, 2; and niece Dora Batts, 13.
137 Blount, William. No age listed, died in May of “consumpsion”; attending physician C.C. Peacock.
In the 1880 census of North Wilson township, Wilson County: the household of white farmer Asa Hill, all hireling Frank Edwards, 20.
The seventh in a series of posts highlighting the schools that educated African-American children outside the town of Wilson in the first half of the twentieth century. The posts will be updated; additional information, including photographs, is welcome.
Brooks School dates prior to 1881, making it the earliest documented rural African-American school in Wilson County. Brooks was not a Rosenwald school. It was consolidated with other small schools in 1951, and its students then attended Speight High School.
Wilson Advance, 11 February 1881.
Dr. Alexander G. Brooks had been a wealthy slaveowner and may have donated the land upon which the school was built.
Location: Per a 1936 state road map of Wilson County, the approximate location was just east of Black Creek on present-day Woodbridge Road, in the vicinity of Bunches Church.
In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farm laborer George Thompson, 57; wife Rilda, 43; son Rufus, 8; with Cherry Bailey, 42, and Bitha, 25, and Mittie Bailey, 16.
In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer George Thompson, 62; wife Marilda, 52; son Rufus, 20; and granddaughter Hattie Thompson, 6.
Apparently on his deathbed, George W. Thompson made out his will 16 December 1885.
He left all his property to his wife Rilda during her lifetime, then his land to son Rufus, and, if Rufus had no heirs, to granddaughter Cora Thompson. After Rilda’s death, his personal property was to be sold and the money equally divided between son Rufus Thompson, Courtney Peacock, and Cora Thompson. Solomon Lamm was appointed executor.
George Thompson died within days. His executor filed to open his estate and prepared this inventory of his property. Though relatively meager, the list represents a laudable achievement for a man who had spent the bulk of his life enslaved.
Unfortunately, George Thompson’s debts outweighed the value of his estate, forcing the sale advertised in the notice above of a ten-acre parcel adjoining the property of M.V. Peele, Isaac Rich, and Henry Peacock. Marilda and Rufus Thompson had left the area, however, and could not be found in the county for service.
George Thompson Will, George Thompson Estate Records, North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.