Stith’s hostlers.

Wilson Ledger, 28 April 1858.

In the spring of 1858, Buckner D. Stith placed an ad in a Wilson newspaper to tout his spacious new livery stable — fifty horses at a time! Stith offered horses for hire — Davy Crocket, Bullock, Fox, Bill, Spitfire and General Walker — as well as hostlers on duty. Tom, Butler, and John, surely enslaved, fed, curried, and otherwise cared for horses left at Stith’s stable.

Isaac W. Lee’s reach.

County lines did not define the communities to which people belonged. Residents of Wilson County’s Stantonsburg, Black Creek, and Cross Roads townships often had close family, social, and business ties across the line in Wayne County, and the town of Wilson was a common destination for many living in northern Wayne.

Isaac W. Lee spent his entire life in and around the town of Fremont in north-central Wayne County. A man with multiple talents and an expansive business sense, Lee simultaneously worked as a tailor and a grocer before starting an undertaking business.

Lee was born about 1888 in northern Wayne County. In the 1900 census of Fremont, Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer Isa J. Lee, 41, and children Hend, 18, Adie, 17, Pearly, 16, and Isac W., 13.

In the 1910 census of Fremont, Nahunta township, Wayne County: Isaac Lee, 23, and Amos Daniel, 20, partners in a pressing club and tailoring business.

On 2 April 1913, Isaac W. Lee, 25, married Eva Aldridge, 20, daughter of George and Dora Aldridge, in Fremont, Wayne County. [Eva’s brother Prince A. Aldridge lived in Wilson from the 1920s until his death in 1953.]

In 1917, Isaac William Lee registered for the World War I draft in Wayne County. Per his registration card, he was born 14 April 1887 in Fremont; lived in Fremont; worked as a “merchants tailor” for Best and Cobb in Fremont; was married; and had a physical disability.

In the 1910s, Lee kept accounts on sheets of letterhead that touted both his businesses.

Lee’s business card. J.L Taylor & Co. was a large custom clothier. 

In the 1920 census of Fremont, Nahunta township, Wayne County: presser Isaac Lee, 33, and wife Eva, 29.

By the 1920s, Lee’s letterhead had dropped reference to his grocery store.

In the 1930 census of Fremont, Nahunta township, Wayne County: on Goldsboro Street, in a house owned and valued at $1500, grocery store day laborer Isaac W. Lee, 42, widower.

This undated letterhead features a photograph of the building housing his businesses. A quick Google Maps search shows the building still stands at 110 South Goldsboro Street, Fremont. 

Lee appears to have begun offering funeral services in the 1930s. He posted the notice below, for a burial in Fremont’s all-Black cemetery, in the Wilson Daily Times.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 April 1939.

In the 1940 census of Fremont, Nahunta township, Wayne County: funeral director Isaac W. Lee, 49, and nephew John T. Jones, 23, presser in dry cleaning business.

I.W. Lee was not one of the principal funeral homes serving Wilson County families, but many opted for his care, including:

Detail of death certificate of Charlie Edwards, died 20 January 1940, Wilson, buried in Rountree [probably Vick] Cemetery.

Detail of death certificate of John Davis, died 28 April 1942, Wilson, buried in Rountree [probably Vick] Cemetery.

Detail of death certificate of Warren Rountree, died 24 February 1943, Wilson, buried in Rountree [probably Vick] Cemetery.

Detail of death certificate of Cornelius Dew, died 30 July 1944, Cross Roads township, Wilson County, buried in a rural cemetery.

In the 1950 census of Fremont, Nahunta township, Wayne County: Isaac W. Lee, 63, manager of retail store-funeral home, and son Jesse T., 14, sales clerk at retail store. They lived on “Goldsboro St. 1st Blk S of Main” in “apt over I.W. Lee store.”

I.W. Lee’s building today, Google Street View.

Isaac William Lee died 10 October 1970 at his home in Fremont, Wayne County. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 April 1889 to Isaac Lee and Katie Randolph; was a widower; worked as a “funeral director and merchant (general store)”; and was buried in Fremont Cemetery by Darden Memorial Funeral Home of Wilson. Jesse Thomas Lee, 608 North Reid Street, Wilson, was informant.

Though Lee’s funeral service was held at Fremont First Baptist, ministers from Wilson’s Calvary Presbyterian Church officiated.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 October 1970.

I.W. Lee Account Book and related documents courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

At White Oak Primitive Baptist Church.

Like other white Primitive Baptist congregations, Saratoga’s White Oak Primitive Baptist admitted African-Americans to segregated membership — probably from the time it was founded in 1830. However, when they were able to form their own congregations after Emancipation, most Black Primitive Baptists left white churches to worship in less discordant settings, and White Oak’s members joined African-American churches in southeast Wilson County, including Bartee and Cornerline.

White Oak P.B. is no longer active. A small cemetery lies adjacent to the church, but its graves are relatively recent. (The oldest marked grave dates to 1927.) It seems likely that prior to that time, church members were buried in family cemeteries in the neighboring community.

White Oak Primitive Baptist Church, Saratoga, Wilson County.

On a recent visit to White Oak, I was surprised to recognize a feature in the graveyard. Up to then, of hundreds I’ve found, I had never seen a Clarence Best-carved marker on a white person’s grave. Here, though, was a little cluster, a single family whose small marble headstones I immediately recognized as Best’s work. They tell a terrible tale of loss, four babies who died before they reached the age of two.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2023.

Closed for the Fourth.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 July 1935.

The barbershops listed were those serving white clientele, including African-American-owned William Hines, Service (owned by Clifton L. Hardy), and Walter Hines Barber Shops. These shops formed an employer association of sorts that set mutual prices and terms for days and hours of operation. (Which today would be unlawful.)

Darden Funeral Home’s new building.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1949.

The grand opening of the Tudor-style Darden Funeral Home building many remember near the intersection of Nash and Pender Streets.

  • “the wife of C.L. Darden” — Norma Duncan Darden. I had not seen Norma Darden before credited as a designer of this building with architect C.C. Benton.
  • C.H. Darden — Charles H. Darden.
  • C.L. Darden — Camillus L. Darden.
  • Charles Arthur Darden — son of Arthur N. Darden. Born and raised in New York City, Charles A. Darden apparently worked briefly for family business, perhaps stepping in after his father’s death in 1948.
  • Charles James — son of Elizabeth Darden James.
  • Rosalyn Whitehead
  • Dora Dickerson
  • Frank Davis — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Frank Davis, 42, assistant manager of funeral home; wife Beulah, 46; and son Frank Jr., 10.
  • Burnice Renfrow — in the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Johnie Renfrow, 50; wife Mary Ellen, 49; and children Burniss, 21, David, 18, Minnie, 16, and Ree, 13. The same year, Burnice Elwood Renfrow registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 3 March 1918 in Wilson County; lived at R.F.D. #3, Kenly, Wilson County; his contact was his mother Mary Ellen Renfrow; and he worked for Johnnie Renfrow. 
  • Joe N. Williams
  • Louis Hines
  • Velma Carroll — in the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 907 Washington, Walter Carroll, 44, machinist helper at local oil plant, and wife Velma, 36, practical nurse at local funeral home.
  • Elizabeth Morgan — Elizabeth Darden James Morgan.
  • David Hines
  • E.D. Fisher — Edwin D. Fisher.
  • Henry Speight
  • Oscar Ellis

The new Darden Memorial Funeral Home, circa 1950.

Photo provided by Lu-Ann Monson, original in Wilson City Archives.

Where we worked: Wilson Furniture Company.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1941.

Wilson Furniture Company’s large newspaper ad included its deliveryman, James “Gates” Johnson. The business was located at 125-127 South Goldsboro Street.


In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, farmer James Johnson, 50; wife Carrie, 38; and children Mamie, 17, Roxanna, 12, Victoria, 9, James, 7, Lendsy, 5, Katie B., 3, and Clyde, 1.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 503 Viola, house carpenter James H. Johnson, 50; wife Carrie, 45; children Mamie, 25, Roxanna, 22, Victoria, 18, all domestic servants, James, 16, retail feed store delivery boy, Lancey, 13, Katie, 12, Clyde, 9, Herman, 7, and Stella M., 5; and foster son Thurman Land, 14.

In 1942, James Arthur Johnson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 27 November 1923 in Wilson; lived at 503 Viola Street, Wilson; his contact was William Henry Johnson, 611 Warren Street, Wilson; and he worked for E.H. Barnes of Wilson Furniture Company. He was described as 6 feet 10 inches tall and 165 pounds. 

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 907 Stantonsburg, Henry Johnson, 60; wife Carrie, 55; and children Roxanne, 31, James, 28, Lansey, 24, Katie B., 21, Herman, 16, Helen, 10, and Jo Ann, 8.


The 1940’s prescription transfer case, created by an unidentified Wilson pharmacist, holds hundreds of prescription slips from doctors across town, including Boisey O. Barnes and Joseph F. Cowan. African-American patients also saw white specialists, such as eye, ear, nose and throat doctor T.M. Blackshear. Note that Shade‘s Pharmacy provided Drs. Barnes and Cowan with complementary prescription forms, but patients, of course, were under no obligatory to patronize Shade’s.

Hat tip to J. Robert Boykin III.