Births Deaths Marriages

Darden v. Robert G. Lassiter & Co., 198 N.C. 427, 152 S.E. 32 (1930).

Wilson Daily Times, 31 October 1929.

Darden v. Robert G. Lassiter & Company reached the North Carolina Supreme Court on appeal from Wilson County Superior Court. Camillus L. Darden, administrator of the estate of Evan Powell, filed the action against Robert G. Lassiter & Company to recover damages for Powell’s death of plaintiff’s death, which was alleged to have been caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of the defendant. The county court entered a judgment for plaintiff, and Lassiter & Company appealed.

The evidence showed that on December 29, 1927, Powell was working for Lassiter in a trench or ditch cut along Mercer Street in the town of Wilson in preparation for laying sewer or water mains. The trench was cut by a ditching machine to approximately the required depth, and Powell was engaged in smoothing out the bottom of the trench to a uniform grade, called “fine grading,” when the trench caved in and injured him, along with two other workmen. Powell died the following day.

Powell, “a colored man about 29 years of age,” had been employer by Lassiter as a day laborer for about five months and working with this particular crew for about two months prior to his injury. The trench was approximately 7 feet deep and about 21 inches wide. The ground was saturated with water from heavy rainfall.  Water seeped in from the walls on both sides of the trench, and there had been a couple of cave-ins prior to this one. About fifteen yards from the most recent cave-in, workers encountered quicksand about 6 feet below the surface of the ground. Lassiter installed a pump to keep the water out of the trench.

Lassiter’s foreman, O.L. Pickering, directed that certain bracing be used to keep the walls of the trench from falling in — two upright pieces of timber, placed from 8 to 16 feet apart along the sides of the ditch, with two horizontal braces placed between them, one at the top and the other at the bottom. However, contrary to custom, Pickering provided no longitudinal stringers to keep the banks of the ditch from falling or caving in.

On the day of the incident, Pickering went to lunch about 12:30 and left the others working in the ditch. There were no braces for a space of 18 or 20 feet (one witness said from 35 to 40 feet) immediately behind the ditching machine where Powell was working. Shortly after the foreman left, the bank of the ditch suddenly caved in just beyond the last brace and temporarily buried three of the workmen.

Foreman Pickering testified, in part: “It was my duty to see that these braces were put in. I instructed them to put the braces in at intervals of 8 feet. There was a space behind the machine of about 12 or 15 feet in which there were no braces. They had put in all the braces I had instructed them to put in except the last one. They did not have it in when I left. I left them to put that in — the one right behind the machine — and to lay the pipe. Evan Powell was in the ditch at the time I left. He was leveling the bottom or doing fine grading.”

Lassiter offered evidence that Powell had a duty to help put in braces and assumed the risk of his injury. However, this was countered by evidence showing that Powell had no such responsibility. Other employees were instructed to place the braces in the ditch under the immediate supervision of the foreman, who, in turn, was under the supervision of an engineer employed by Lassiter.

The usual issues of negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, and damages were submitted to the jury, resulting in a verdict for the plaintiff. The defendant appealed.

Chief Justice Stacy wrote the opinion. “The case, with evidence sufficient to carry it to the jury, was tried upon the theory that in law the defendant was in duty bound, in the exercise of ordinary care, to provide a reasonably safe place for [Powell] to work, and to furnish him reasonably safe means and suitable appliances with which to execute the work assigned, subject to the limitation that the deceased took upon himself, as an employee or servant of the defendant, the ordinary risks of danger incident to the employment, which were obvious or could have been perceived by him in the exercise of his senses and by the use of ordinary care and circumspection. In this, there was no error. …

“Whether ‘fine grading’ in the bottom of a trench, such as [Powell] was doing in the instant case, is dangerous, or otherwise, would seem to depend upon a variety of circumstances. In some cases, it might be entirely safe; in others, not. The size and dimensions of the trench might affect it. The character of the soil would certainly have some influence. The presence of lime, stone, or quicksand, or of earth newly filled in, the moisture in the ground, and numerous other conditions might render such work more or less safe, or more or less hazardous. The state of the weather or the season of the year might have something to do with it. But all of these are matters of fact, about which there may be conflicting evidence, as in the instant case, calling for determination by a jury.

“Indeed, in the instant case, the fact that [Powell]’s work was done under the immediate supervision and direction of the defendant’s foreman would seem to be equivalent to an assurance that he might safely proceed with it. … When the foreman went to get his lunch, he left [Powell] at work in the trench, leveling the bottom or doing fine grading. He was therefore, at the time of leaving, in a better position than [Powell] to observe and appreciate the danger.

“The case was properly submitted to the jury.

“No error.”

Evan Powell’s death certificate. Cause: “Paralysis. Crushed by falling dirt while digging a ditch in town of Wilson; fractured vertebrae.” Powell was a native of Whiteville, Columbus County, in southeast North Carolina.

In memory of Benjamin Ellis.

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Wilson Daily Times, 7 June 1995.

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In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Joana Ellis, 27; wife Ciller, 23; and children Mattie, 2, and Benjamin, 1.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, Jonah Ellis, 42; wife Precilla, 38; and children Mattie, 11, Benjamin, 9, Dora, 8, Jonah, 6, James, 5, and Caroline, 3.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg & Wilson Road, farmer Jonnie Ellis, 56; wife Prisilla, 46; and children Mattie, 21, Benjamin, 20, Jonnie Jr., 17, Dora, 18, James, 14, Carolin, 13, and Mary, 5.

On 6 January 1923, Benjamin Ellis, 22, of Stantonsburg, son of John and Priscilla Ellis, married Lizzie Simms, 20, of Black Creek, daughter of Reddick and Bettie Simms. Free Will Baptist minister B.F. Lofton performed the ceremony at Red Simms’ house in the presence of Ruffin Roe of Black Creek and Lonzie Bynum and George Woodard of Lucama.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Benjamin Ellis, 29; wife Lizzie, 26; and children Pauline, 6, Benjamin F., 4, Sylvester, 2, and Ruth, 10 months.

In the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamon Ellis, 42; wife Lizzie S., 37; and children Pauline, 16, Benjamon F., 14, Sylvester, 12, Ruth, 10, Moses, 8, Jessie Lee, 6, Jonah, 4, and Lizzie, 1.

In 1942, Benjamin Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 31 July 1899 in Wilson County; lived in Black Creek township on the M.L. Smith farm; and worked for M.L. Smith.

Benjamin Ellis died 7 June 1976 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 November 1899 to Jonah Ellis and Priscilla Woodard; was a farmer; and was married to Lizzie Simms Ellis.

The passing of Old Joe.

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The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 16 March 1920.

It’s hard to know what to say about this racist tribute other than “wow, Charlie Chaplin came to Wilson?”

Joe Mercer was also known as Joseph Battle. In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Battle, 40; wife Rose, 35; and children Joe, 15, Frank, 13, John H., 10, Amie, 8, Mattie, 6, and Lou T., 8 months. Thomas and Rose reported having been married 5 years, and Rose as the mother of one child (presumably, the baby Lou.) [Marriage records show that Tom Battle married Rose Mercer on 23 May 1896 in Wilson County.]

Joe Mercer, 24, married Ida Colley, 22, on 7 December 1908 in Wilson County.

Joe Mercer registered for the World War I draft in Wilson in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born April 1881; lived at 136 Roberson; worked as a janitor. His nearest relative was Rose Battle, and he was described as “rheumatic & apparently paralytic.”

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 613 Robinson Street, bank janitor Joe Mercer, 39, and wife Ida, 40.

Joe Mercer died 11 March 1920 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 37 years old; was married; lived on Roberson Street; was engaged in butler service; and was born in Black Creek to Thomas Battle and Rosa Battle. F.F. Battle was informant.

Nestus Freeman … of Ohio?

Eighty years ago today, a newspaper in a small central-Ohio town published a tribute to one of its citizens on the occasion of his 100th birthday. “Nestus Freeman, colored citizen of this city — ” Nestus Freeman? “Mr. Freeman was born in Wilson, North Carolina, on March 16, 1839.” Born in Wilson? Who was this Nestus Freeman?

The article mentions that Freeman ran away from slavery as a child (or, had never been a slave); began barbering at age 7; fought for the Union under an assumed name during the Civil War; worked on a riverboat between Pittsburgh and New Orleans; lived in Urbana and Richwood, Ohio, before settling in Marysville in 1880; had lost his wife in 1909 due to a house fire; and had at least two children, son Shirley Freeman of Marysville and daughter Gertrude Putnam of Cleveland.

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Marysville Journal-Tribune, 17 March 1939.

What information can be gleaned from readily available records?

On 13 March 1873 Nestus L. Freemond married Amanda E. Diltz in Champaign County, Ohio. A tiny notation in the corner of their license identifies them as members of Champaign’s tiny African-American community.

The young family relocated to a larger town in an adjoining county. In the 1880 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: barber Enfield Freeman, 30; wife Amanda, 26; and daughter Lydia, 5. [Later documents show Nestus’ middle initial as E. Was this for “Enfield”?]

In the 1900 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: Nathan [sic] Freemond, 51, barber, born Pennsylvania; wife Amanda A., 45, hairdresser; and children Lydia, 22, hairdresser, Shirley, 19, barber, Elsia, 16, and  Gertrude, 10.

Amanda Diltz Freeman died 1909 as a result of burns suffered in a catastrophic house fire. A local newspaper printed a sympathetic account of her last days:

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 20 May 1909.

In the 1910 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: at 301 North Maple, N. Freeman, 70, barber, born in Ohio, and children Lydia, 32, Shirley, 29, barber, and Elsa, 25, barber.

In the 1930 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: at 307 North Maple, owned and valued at $3000, widowed barber Nestus Freeman, 86, born in Pennsylvania; daughter Lydia M., 54; and son Shirley, 49, barber.

As Nestus Freeman entered his upper 90s, newspapers delighted in reporting on his picturesque life.

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 14 July 1937.

Saint Cloud (Saint Cloud, Minn.), 

A photograph!

Marysville Tribune, 31 March 1938.

Pittsburgh Courier, 25 March 1939.

In the 1940 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: at 10103 Yale Avenue, John Putnam, 63, shade cutter at department store; wife Gertrude F., 42; father James A. Putnam, 84; and father-in-law Nestus Freeman, 96, born in North Carolina.

At last, days before his 102nd birthday, Nestus Freeman passed away at his daughter’s home in Cleveland.

Union County Journal (Marysville, Oh.), 3 March 1941.

Here’s another death notice:

Marion (Oh.) Star, 5 March 1941.

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Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Marysville, Ohio, circa 1900. Nestus and Amanda Freeman’s funerals were held here, and they may well be pictured. Photo courtesy of Allen Chapel’s Facebook page.

Charles [Shirley] Freeman died 7 October 1948 in Orwell, Ashtabula County, Ohio. Per his death certificate, he was born 13 June 1886 in Marysville, Ohio, to Nestus Freeman of Wilson, N.C., and Amanda Diltz; was married; and had worked as a barber.

Gertrude Putnam died 5 February 1953 at Perry township, Stark County, Ohio. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 March 1885 in Marysville to Nestus Freeman and Amanda Diltz; resided in Orwell, Ashtabula County; and was married. She was buried in Oaklawn cemetery, Marysville.

So, was there a connection between Nestus Freeman of Ohio and Oliver Nestus Freeman of Wilson?

  • There is the obvious hint in their names. Was O.N. named after an uncle who left North Carolina long before he was born?
  • Though Nestus reported his birthplace as Pennsylvania to Union County census takers, it was recorded as North Carolina by a Cuyahoga County enumerator; as Wilson and Wilton, North Carolina, by two reporters; and as Wilson on a son’s death certificate.
  • Another hint lies in children’s names.

The graves of the Freeman family are marked by a single large red granite headstone in Marysville’s Oaklawn cemetery. Nestus and Amanda’s dates should read 1839-1941 and 1854-1909.

The back of the stone lists the Freeman children (except Gertrude in Cleveland.) Notably, two of Nestus’ children, Lydia and Daniel, shared names with two of O.N. Freeman’s siblings, Lydia Ann Freeman Norwood Ricks and Daniel Edward Freeman. And — surprise! — there’s a brother of Nestus, also named Daniel. Photos courtesy of Findagrave.com.

The dates given for Daniel Freeman’s lifespan seem unlikely. A 1792 birth year would have made him almost 50 years older than his brother Nestus. I did some searching for Daniel and — voilà!

Marysville Journal-Tribune, 15 October 1926.

Daniel Freeman, too, had held the title of Marysville’s oldest citizen! Daniel, age 102, died at the home of his brother “Nathaniel Freeman, the colored barber” in 1926. Daniel had only recently come to Marysville after working as a blacksmith in Cleveland for forty years. Per the article, Daniel was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in October 1924 to Mr. and Mrs. Lovett Freeman. In this telling, it was Lovett (not Nestus) who worked for years on a steamboat running from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. (Again, the names — O.N. Freeman had a brother Lovett Freeman, the oldest of Julius and Eliza Daniel Freeman‘s children.) And then the clincher — “He is survived by two brothers, Julius, a carpenter of Wilson, North Carolina, and Nathaniel [sic] of this city …”

Death certificate of Daniel Freeman, which lists his parents as Lovette Freeman and Lottie, maiden name was unknown.

Julius Franklin Freeman was born about 1844 in Johnston County, North Carolina. He appears in the 1870 census of Wilson as an adult, already working as a carpenter. Neither his marriage licenses nor his death certificate list his parents. Based on the above, however, it seems clear that Julius’ father was named Lovett Freeman and that he had at least two brothers, Daniel and Nestus.

The 1840 census of Johnston County lists a Lovet Freeman. The census taker apparently forgot to mark the columns beside his name to designate the age and color of members of Lovet’s household, but he was most likely a free person of color.  If this were Daniel and Nestus and Julius’ father, when did he and his family leave North Carolina? Did they first migrate to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania? Did Julius remain behind, or did he return, perhaps after the Civil War? Were there other children? The 1860 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, shows North Carolina-born blacksmith Mathew Freeman, 45; wife Fairly, 30; and children Daniel, 14, Henry B., 10, Lovet B., 9, Liza A., 7, Joseph G., 3, Hanna B., 3, and Bob, 5 months. Again, the names Daniel and Lovett. In addition, Julius had sons Henry and Joseph as well. Was Mathew Freeman perhaps a brother of Lovett Freeman?

The obituary of Mariah Lipscomb.

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 December 1924.

In the 1870 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: carpenter Stephen Lipscomb, 49; wife Mariah, 29; and children Anna, 13, Tilitha, 12, Betha, 12, Frank, 10, Archibald, 8, Penny, 6, and Daniel, 1 month.

In the 1880 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Stephen Lipscum, 52; wife Mariah, 42; children Penny, 13, Daniel and Louvenia, 9, Mary, 5, Rosa, 4, and George, 3 months; and grandchildren Isabella, 7, James, 5, and Henryetta, 2.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer George Hines, 53; wife Lew, 48; children Howard, 19, Hubbard, 17, May Lillie, 12, Joseph, 10, Nora, 8, Robert, 5, William, 4, and Charlie, 2; and widowed mother-in-law Mariah Lipscombe, 72.

Lou Lipscombe Hines applied for a Social Security number or claim in May 1937. Per her application, she was born 6 May 1868 in Wilson, North Carolina, to Stephen Lipscombe and Maria Barnes.

Frank Lipscomb died 5 October 1941 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 80 years old; resided at Wilson County Home; was a widower; was a farmer; and was born in Wilson County to Stephen and Mariah Lipscomb. Johnnie Coley was informant.

 

She passed away at a ripe old age.

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Wilson Mirror, 3 February 1892.

The 1880 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County, shows Amanda Kenedy, 65, listed as a servant in the household of trader B.H. Tyson. The grouping of names suggests that she was employed by S.D. [Sidney Delzell Crawford] Kennedy, Benjamin Tyson’s mother-in-law. Esther Crawford, 23, who had a one-month old son, Alexander, also lived in the household as a servant. (Note: if Kennedy were 65 in 1880, she was much younger than 100 in 1892.)

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Sidney Crawford Kennedy was a native of Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina. She was born about 1811 to Charles D. and Sidney Bryan Crawford and married William Lee Kennedy circa 1830. Their daughter Virginia Kennedy married Benjamin Hawkins Tyson, a Pitt County native, in 1873. A brief search suggests that the Tysons, and presumably Amanda Kennedy with them, did not move to Wilson County until the 1870s.

The “noble-hearted” Mrs. Tyson’s mother, Sidney Crawford Kennedy, likely Amanda Kennedy’s last owner.

Photo of Kennedy courtesy of Ancestry.com user cpcarter2.

The obituary of Hercules Hill Hinnant.

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 June 1934.

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In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: garden laborer Joe Hill, 71, and wife Annie, 68, housemaid; daughter Elizabeth Hinnant, 23, laundress; son-in-law Frank, 37, store drayman; grandson Hercules, 1 month; daughter Estell Hill, 20, cook; son-in-law(?) Lela Hill, 16, laundress; son-in-law Edgar Barnes, 20, odd jobs laborer, and daughter Mary, 19, laundress.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Mercer Street, widow Louise Hinyard, 58; son Frank, 34, hardware store truck driver; daughter-in-law Elizabeth, 31, tobacco factory worker; and grandson Hercules, 10.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 306 Pender Street, rented for $20/month, widow Anna Hill, 75, private maid; grandson Herkie Lee Hill, 19, drugstore deliveryman; lodgers Willie Bryant, 18, bicycle shop laborer, and Elixandora Sharp, 21, barbershop bootblack; roomer John Sharp, 13; and granddaughter Rosa Simmons, 17, laundress.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hinnant Hercules (c; porter) 306 N Pender

Per his death certificate, Hercules Hinnant died 17 June 1934 in Wilson. He was born 21 August 1910 to Frank Hinnant and Elizabeth Hill; resided at 306 Pender; was single; and worked as a laborer.

  • Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church
  • Rev. I. Albert Moore
  • Rev. B.F. Jordan — Benjamin F. Jordan.
  • Rev. Eddie Cox
  • Rountree cemetery
  • Wilson Drug Company — per the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Wilson Drug Company was at 114 South Tarboro Street.
  • Miller Drug Company — the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, Miller’s Drug Store was at 200 East Nash.
  • Samuel Robinson
  • Willie Bryant — see above.
  • Mack Sharpe — probably, in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Katie Sharpe, 37; and children Harvey, 21, Willard, 19, Ernest, 17, Samson and Gladys T., 15, Nellie, 13, Alexander, 11, Kathryn, 9, Mack, 6, and John, 4.
  • Freeman Ennis — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 904 Viola, rented for $15/month, Maggie Ennis, 45, sons Freeman, 22, barbershop bootblack, and Ennis, 12, daughter Hennie, 10; and roomer Julus Barnes, 27, Hackney body plant laborer.
  • Samuel Farmer
  • Willie Neale — probably, in the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, Jaushue Neal, 45; wife Pearcy, 39; and children Willie, 18, Louise, 16, Mattie, 13, Essie M., 12, and Charlie, 11.

 

Suffer the little children: death by fire.

Well into the twentieth century, children faced harrowing odds at reaching adulthood. Disease, accidents, violence bore them away in sorrowful numbers. In the 1910s, 17% of American children died before age 5, a figure that was higher for Southern and African-American children. Few children in Wilson County were buried in marked graves. In town, original burials were in Oaklawn or the Masonic cemetery. The Oaklawn graves were exhumed and moved to Rest Haven in the 1940s, and headstones, if they ever existed, have been lost over time.

By allowing us to call their names again, this series of posts memorializes the lives of children who died during the first twenty years in which Wilson County maintained death records. May they rest in peace.

  • On 11 February 1915, Mary Mercer, 2, in Wilson, daughter of Dempsey Mercer and Maggie Hines, was burned to death.
  • On 17 February 1915, Wilbert Hall, 3, in Stantonsburg, son of James and Henrietta Hall, died after his “clothes caught fire and [he] was burned so badly he died within a few hours.”
  • On 11 December 1915, Willie Gray Harrison, 4, in Taylors township, son of Ed Wiggins and Bessie Harrison, died of accidental burns.
  • On 6 June 1916, Lizzie Green, 14, in Oldfields township, daughter of George Parker, married, was accidentally “burned to death — her dress caught fire while cooking in lumber camp, from cracks in stove.”
  • On 18 October 1916, Lucrecia Pace, 4, in Oldfields township, daughter of Dewitt Pace and Fannie Renfrow, died after “burned in clothing caught while playing in fire with no one in house but smaller baby.”
  • On 28 March 1917, Robert Rich, 18 months, in Gardners township, son of Edd Rich and Martha Dickens, died after “burned to death in burning home.”
  • On 10 May 1918, Milton Haskins, 3, in Wilson township, son of John Haskins and Eliza Joyner, died after “burned while in home asleep.”
  • On 26 September 1918, Hattie Bynum, 6, in Saratoga township, daughter of Lynn and Lena Bynum, died after being “burned by fire — clothes caught fire around wash pot.” She was buried at the “Whitehead place.”
  • On 4 March 1920, May Lillie Battle, 7, in Gardners township, daughter of Simon Battle and Mary Hines, died after being burned.
  • On 27 November 1920, Namie Pearl Clark, 5, in Saratoga township, daughter of William Clark and Ella Graves, “died in about 3 hours of burn covering entire body.” She was buried in “Vines cemetery.”
  • On 25 April 1922, Manallis Hooks, 3, in Wilson, son of Barnard Hooks and Sittie Dawson, “burned to death, caught from open fireplace during absence of parents.”
  • On 8 March 1923, Leroy Wanamaker, 6 months, in Saratoga, son of James Wanamaker and Augusta Walker, “burned to death.” He was buried “near Saratoga.”
  • On 12 November 1923, Linda Inman, 4, in Toisnot township, daughter of Lim Inman and Edna McNeal, “burned to death, dress caught from grate.”

Cemeteries, no. 24: the Barnes family.

We pulled over on the side of the highway here, got out and started trudging along the treeline. The ground was saturated from heavy winter rains, and I had not worn the right shoes. Nonetheless, we traipsed back and forth, looking for the Simon and Penninah Woodard Barnes cemetery.

Barnes/Woodard/Lassiter descendant Bernard Patterson had graciously offered to help me find it. However, the land is no longer family-owned, and he had not been there in many years. We did our best, but a thick growth of broomsedge, prickly smilax vines, and young trees prevented us from locating it.

Penninah was the daughter of London and Penelope Lassiter Woodard. She married Simon Barnes on 1 January 1877 in Wilson County, and they and several generations of their descendants are buried in a family graveyard located off what is now N.C. Highway 42. The photo of Pennie Barnes’ grave, below, was taken during a period in which the plot was cleared. Eastern North Carolina’s climate makes rural cemetery maintenance a serious challenge, especially when graves are located on private property far from paved roads and the cemetery is not in active use for burials.

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Thanks again to Bernard Patterson. Top photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2019; bottom photo courtesy of Roger Barron.