1900s

Good Samaritans and Daughters of Samaria.

The first quarter of the twentieth century may have been the hey-day of fraternal and benevolent societies in Wilson’s African-American community. The 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory listed the Grand United Order of Good Samaritans and Daughters of Samaria, which rented meeting space at Mount Hebron Masonic Lodge every Tuesday evening.

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  • L.A. Moore — Lee A. Moore.
  • Ella Overstreet — in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on “N.&S.” [Norfolk & Southern Railroad], gardner Amos Whitley, 57, widower, and daughter Ester, 16, servant; daughter Blanch Hagins, 20, tobacco factory laborer, and her children Nettie B., 2, Pearl, 1, and Gladis, 0. Also [apparently in the other half of a duplex], Thomas Overstreet, 43, railroad laborer, and wife Ella, 29, laundress.
  • Samuel Gay
  • William Washington — in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Washington Wm (c) lab h 307 Moore

Schoolhouse “I do.”

Well into the twentieth century, African-American couples married overwhelmingly at an office of a justice of the peace or the home of a relative. However, on 21 March 1906, as carefully noted a Wilson County marriage register, William Sutton and Laura Williams tied the knot at Wilson’s Colored Graded School. Free Will Baptist minister John Steward performed the ceremony, and Charles Best, Charley Dawson, Minnie Sutton, and Henry Garnett.

The Spell family portrait.

Photographs of formerly enslaved people are relatively rare, and I am grateful to Roy S. Spell Jr. for sharing one that his family has cherished for well over a century. His grandfather Johnnie Spell, born about 1903, is at bottom left, leaning against his grandmother Chaney Spell, who was born into slavery about 1845. Other Spell family members surround them.

We met Chaney Spell here in the interview she gave a Works Project Administration worker in the late 1930s. (Annie Finch Artis can be heard giving voice to Chaney Spell’s words in an exhibit first staged at Wilson’s Imagination Station and now permanently housed at Freeman Round House Museum.) 

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In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widowed farmer Chaney Spells, 55, sons James S., 19, Gray, 17, Walter, 16, and Charley, 13, grandchildren Unity, 14, Fannie, 10, Irvin, 7, and Chaney Farmer, 2, and boarder Harriet Killibrew, 45.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widow Chanie Spell, 65, farmer; son Walter, 21; and grandchildren Yearnie, 20, Chanie, 13, Thomas, 5, and Louise, 3.

Ordinance IX. Cemeteries.

On 28 June 1901, Wilson’s Board of Commissioners enacted town ordinances, including IX, which governed cemeteries. Twelve years later, the city abandoned African-American Oakdale Cemetery in favor of Vick Cemetery, which in turn it proceeded to neglect.

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Section 1 — That any person making an interment in the Town other than in Maplewood or Oakdale Cemeteries should be subject to a fine of Ten Dollars.

Section 2 — That any one injuring or defacing the inclosures around Maplewood or Oakdale Cemeteries, or tombstones, or plucking the flowers shrubbery therein or in any Church yard, should be subject to a fine of Five Dollars.

Section 3 — That any person riding or driving a horse or vehicle within the Cemeteries faster than a walk should be subject to a fine of Five Dollars.

Section 4 — That the use of the avenues in the Cemeteries as public thoroughfares is hereby prohibited, under a penalty of Two Dollars for each offense.

Section 5 — That no dead body should be exhumed in the Cemeteries except by permission of the Mayor, under a penalty of Ten Dollars.

Section 6 — That it should be the duty of the Keeper of Cemeteries to keep all lots clean, keep all graves filled when caved and in good condition.

Section 7 — That the Keeper of Maplewood Cemetery should be and is hereby invested with full Police power and is denominated Cemetery Policeman.

Section 8 — That no Cemetery lots should be sold except for cash.

Knights of Gideon meet every Thursday night.

Knights of Gideon Mutual Society were just one of many fraternal organizations and benevolent societies operating in East Wilson in the early twentieth century. Information about K. of G. is scarce, but Mount Maria [Moriah?] Lodge No. 7 was included in the 1908 edition of the Wilson city directory.

Hill’s Wilson, N.C, city directory (1908).

Lodge No. 7 met at the Mount Hebron Masonic hall at the corner of Pender and Smith Streets.

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William Simpson’s home ransacked.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 July 1905.

This report of a burglary at the home of William Simpson and his unnamed wife on Pine Street near the Hackney Wagon factory reveals interesting details of the material possessions of a working class family in turn-of-the-20th century Wilson. Apparently, Simpson’s most expensive possession was a second-hand pocket watch, which, judging by its valuation was likely gold-filled and quite fancy. (An ordinary new pocket watch could be purchased in 1905 for less than two dollars.)

Detail of ad for The New England Watch Company, 1905.

[N.B. I do not know what “donning his best clothes and going with the boys to the encampment” means.]

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Hargrave’s Drug Store?

Wilson Times, 1 November 1901.

Though physician Frank S. Hargrave opened a pharmacy in Wilson shortly after his arrival, this advertisement does not tout his business:

  • Dr. Hargrave graduated from medical school in 1901, but practiced in Winston-Salem, N.C., for two years before arriving in Wilson in 1903.
  • The wording of this ad suggests a pharmacy that had been in operation for some time and employed more than one druggist. 
  • Per the Wilson, North Carolina, Industrial & Commercial Directory, published in 1912, Dr. Hargrave’s pharmacy (which he sold to D’Arcy C. Yancey before 1910) was established about 1905. It was called Ideal Pharmacy.
  • Ideal Pharmacy was located at 109 South Goldsboro Street. It was not “next door to Post Office,” which at that time was at 117 North Tarboro Street. 
  • And the clincher — the 1900 census of Wilson lists Benjamin Hargrave, 39, white, druggist. B.W. Hargrave died in 1907 and is buried in Maplewood Cemetery, Wilson.

Hagans reports on the Republican delegation.

Farmer & Mechanic (Raleigh, N.C.), 2 September 1902. 

It’s not entirely clear, but this report seems to claim that Jack Sharp, a former Wilson County resident, boarded a train to unseat the county’s representatives on their way to the state Republican convention and to appoint a new set. William S. Hagans, the Wayne County native who provided the report, was African-American, and my guess is that the original delegates contained Black members.