1880s

McGowan punished — “a move in the right direction.”

Wilson Advance, 26 August 1881.

It’s not clear what crime Nathan McGowan committed by “hurting a white boy,” but he was both fined and “severely flogged” for it.

McGowan, son of Tilghman and Charity McGowan, migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana, in the 1890s.

Closing exercises of the Colored Graded School.

Wilson Mirror, 9 May 1888.

Twenty-five year-old Samuel H. Vick had been teacher and principal at the Colored Graded School since shortly after his graduation from Lincoln University. A year after this graduation, he was appointed by President William H. Harrison to his first stint as Wilson postmaster, a highly sought-after political patronage position. Vick hired his old friend Braswell R. Winstead, with whom he had attended high school and college and taught at the Graded School, as assistant postmaster. Teacher A. Wilson Jones was married to Vick’s sister Nettie Vick Jones — and murdered her in 1897. Annie Washington was about 18 years old when this article was published. She and Samuel Vick married almost exactly four years later.

They will tell the true story when they get home.

Northern Neck (Va.) News, 20 February 1880.

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.

Poll holders, 1882.

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 speaks of Miss Williamson.

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.

Williamson, born in 1864, was the daughter of Patrick and Spicey Williamson. See here a letter Williamson wrote about her work at Tuskegee.

Excerpt from Harlan, Louis R., Booker T. Washington Papers, Volume 2: 1860-89 (1972).

It affords me great pleasure in penning you these lines.

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.

Newark, N.J., Woodland Cemetery Records, 1895-1980, online database, http://www.familysearch.org.

Marriage licenses.

Wilson Advance, 20 June 1889.

Notice the superfluous racist commentary typical in Josephus DanielsAdvance: “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.

  • Ed. Blackwell and Cherry Farmer

Ed. Blackwell, 27, of Wilson township, son of Axum Blackwell and Delpha Locus, married Cherry Farmer, 24, of Gardners township, daughter of Rhoda Bynum, on 12 May 1889 in Gardners township. Auntney [Anthony] Vick applied for the license.

  • Isaih Dew and Deurinda Warmack

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.