Commerce

In memoriam: Libby McDonald McPhatter, restaurateur.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 November 1997.

Near the end of the Great Depression, Libby McPhatter opened a cafe in the 500 block of East Nash Street that served barbecue dinners for three decades.

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In the 1910 census of Lumber Bridge township, Robeson County, North Carolina: farm laborer Archie G. McDonald, 28; wife Lucy J., 35; and children Suda, 14, Augusta, 8, Hetta, 6, Sandy, 5, Libby, 4, and Pibel, 1.

In the 1920 census of Lumber Bridge township, Robeson County: farmer A.G. McDonald,  42; wife Elam, 42; and children Samuel, 15, Libie, 14, Manilie, 8, William, 7, and Susie R., 3.

On 11 April 1926, Nathaniel McPhatter of Robeson County, son of Fred and Maggie McPhatter, married Libby S. McDonald, 20, of Robeson County, daughter of A.G. and Ella McDonald, in Lumber Bridge township, Robeson County.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: McPhatter Nathan (c; Libbie) truck driver h 113 Pender

James Arthur McPhatter died 23 March 1932 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 September 1931 in Wilson to Nathaniel McPhatter and Libbie McDonald, both of Robeson County, and he lived at 113 Pender Street.

In 1940, Elmond Henry McKeithan registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 5 July 1914 in Cumberland County, North Carolina; resided at 539 East Nash Street, Wilson; his contact was cousin Libby McPhatter, 539 East Nash; and he worked for Woodard-Herring Hospital, Green and Douglas Streets, Wilson.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: McPhatter Libby (c; Libby’s Cafe) h 539 E Nash. Also: McPhatter Nathaniel (c; Libby) driver h 539 E Nash.

In 1942, Nathaniel Green McPhatter registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 7 November 1902 in Robeson County, North Carolina; resided at 539 East Nash Street, Wilson; his contact was Pinkey Townsed, Red Springs, N.C.; and he was unemployed.

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 539 East Nash (“over Libby’s Cafe”), restaurant proprietor Lillie McPhatter, 44, widow; Louise C. McPhatter, 8; and roomers Doll Brown Jr., 30; Mabel Brown, 45; J.C. White, 38, tobacco factory laborer; Wilbert Signal, 35, construction company building helper; Alfonso Hodge, 40, restaurant cook; and Ozy Allen, 50, restaurant cook. [In fact, McPhatter was separated. She and Nathaniel McPhatter did not divorce until 1953.]

Wilson Daily Times, 12 May 1981.

Interracial cooperation in the bootlegging business.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 March 1944.

Briggs Hotel, like the Cherry, catered primarily to salesmen or other businessmen arriving to Wilson at the Atlantic Coast Line or Norfolk & Southern passenger rail stations. These men sometimes liked a good time, and taxi drivers and bellhops were a ready-made supply chain for after-hours liquor (and prostitutes.) Here, two white cabbies and three bellmen teamed up to resell at a sizeable mark-up liquor purchased at a local Alcoholic Beverage Commission store. (Probably the one in the 300 block of East Nash Street, recognized as North Carolina’s first ABC store.) 

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  • Theodore Burroughs
  • Prince Cunningham — Cunningham owned a sweet shop in the 500 block of East Nash in the 1930s.
  • Caesar Williams — in 1940, Caesar Julius Williams registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 12 February 1912 in Wilson; lived at 209 North Ashe Street; his nearest relative was mother Daisy Williams, same address; and he worked at Briggs Hotel, Nash Street. 

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

A mule named Rody, twelve acres of cotton, and a Hackney-made buggy: miscellaneous transactions, no. 2.

Most “deed” books stacked in the search room of the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office contain just deeds, but others, like Volume 72, contain miscellaneous records of sales agreements, leases, contracts, chattel mortgages, and other transactions. These documents offer rare glimpses of the commercial and farming lives of Black Wilsonians.

  • On 2 February 1907, John Artis and A.P. Branch agreed that Branch would advance Artis forty (up to fifty) dollars in supplies in order for Artis to make a crop on  in exchange for a lien on land in Black Creek township owned by and rented from Nathan Bass and on which Artis resided. In return, Artis agreed to cultivate and harvest twelve acres in cotton, nine in corn, and four in tobacco, and gave a lien not only on those crops, but on a seven year-old black mare mule named Rody; a buggy and harness; an iron axle cart; and all his farm implements. Deed Book 72, page 191.
  • On 25 February 1907, R.E. Hagan leased to Richard Renfrow, Charles S. Thomas, and Andrew Pierce for $8.00 per week “One Certain Outfit for Barber’s Shop,” consisting of five hydraulic barber’s chairs, twelve sitting chairs, one table, one bootblack stand, one barber’s pole, one mug case, five chairs, combination cabinet with mirrors, five towel jars, one complete wash stand, window curtains, and other furniture and furnishings in Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce’s shop on Nash Street in a building owned by Hagan. Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce further agreed to pay all taxes on the property and insure it against fire to the value of $700. After 215 weeks of payments, Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce had the option to purchase the property for $912. Deed Book 72, page 195.
  • On 24 December 1906, Neverson Green agreed to purchase a #10 Computing Scale from The J.H. Parker Co. of Richmond, Virginia, for $57.50 payable in installments. Deed Book 72, page 205.
  • On 6 December 1907, to secure a debt of $3500, James White and George W. Suggs gave Samuel H. Vick a mortgage on 13 sets of single harnesses; three sets of double harnesses; five winter buggy robes; ten summer robes; one clipping machine; one roomer top desk; one iron safe; one saddle; one roan horse; four gray horses; two black horses; one bay horse named George; three bay mares; one brown horse; one sorrel horse; two double surries; one double carriage; four steel tire buggies; five rubber tire buggies; one drummers wagon; two runabout buggies; one single wagon; and one spring wagon. The loan was satisfied and discharged on 19 February 1908. Deed Book 72, page 249.
  • On 6 November 1907, H.G. Whitehead agreed to sell to Samuel H. Vick “an outlet through the lands of Silas Lucas and the said H.G. Whitehead” near Wilson’s corporate limits on both sides of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad at the extension of Warren Street, as well as another outlet at a place to be determined. Deed Book 72, page 249.
  • On 1 December 1907, to secure a debt of $712, James Hardy gave Samuel H. Vick a mortgage on one set of wagon harnesses; one wagon; one gray horse; one horse named George; one sorrel horse; one surrey horse; one surrey; one top buggy, Hackney make; three sets of harnesses; two buggy robes; one wagon pole; one set of double harnesses; and one buggy pole. Vick had sold this property to Hardy for use in a livery stable in the Town of Wilson. Deed Book 72, page 250.

Mohair barber chairs, pool tables, and a mule named Puss: miscellaneous commercial transactions, no. 1.

Most “deed” books stacked in the search room of the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office contain just deeds, but others, like Volume 72, contain miscellaneous records of sales agreements, leases, contracts, chattel mortgages, and other transactions. These documents offer rare glimpses of the commercial and farming lives of Black Wilsonians.

  • On 7 October 1904, Richard Renfrow agreed to pay Wootten, Stevens & Company $33.75 in thirty installments for “one Barber chair & covered in Mohair plush, color Red, Oak frame, Nickel plated irons” and “one Mirror 18X40 in Gilt Frame (Bevel Mirror).” Deed Book 72, page 8.
  • On 22 March 1905, to secure a $50 debt, Arch Atkinson mortgaged to James H. Williamson “one bay mare mule named Puss, also all the crops made on my home place of every description.” Deed Book 72, page 37.
  • On 24 June 1905, to secure a $209.45 debt, J.W. Rogers mortgaged to The B.A. Stevens Company “one 4-1/2 x 9 No. 4537 Buckeye Pool Table with bed and cushion cloth; 1 set of pool balls; one cue rack; 1 ball rack; 1 dozen cues; 1 brush; 1 bridge; 1 basket; 1 shake bottle; 1 set shake balls; 1 triangle; 1 rail fork bit; one 4-1/2 x 9 No. 4539 Elmwood Pool Table with bed and cushion cloth; 1 set of pool balls; one cue rack; 1 ball rack; 1 dozen cues; 1 brush; 1 bridge; 1 basket; 1 shake bottle; 1 set shake balls; 1 triangle; 1 rail fork bit. Located in his place of business ….” Deed book 72, page 55.

Shake bottles advertised in B.A. Stevens Company’s 1894 catalog.

  • On 5 October 1905, to secure a $50 debt, C.H. Knight mortgaged to The Eugene Berninghaus Company “2 Climax Barber Chairs, oak wood now located on the premises known as C.H. Knight’s Barber Shop in Wilson.” Deed book 72, page 69. [Charles Knight’s barbershop was on East Nash Street just across the railroad tracks from the Atlantic Coast Line passenger station and likely catered  to white travelers and drummers.]

Beringhaus “Climax” chair, circa 1890. Auctioned in 2018 by Rich Penn Auctions, Waterloo, Iowa.

  • On 27 November 1905, Samuel H. Vick agreed to sell R.J. Grantham for $1725 a lot on the south side of Barnes Street known as the former home place of Wiley Corbett, it being the lot Vick bought from J.D. Lee and wife. Deed book 72, page 76. [Wiley Corbett was a grocer, hotelier, whiskey distiller, and barroom. I’m not sure exactly where his house was on Barnes Street, but it was likely one of several two-story dwellings depicted on East Barnes between Spring [Douglas] and Lodge Streets in the 1903 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson.]
  • On 24 November 1905, to secure a $99.45 debt, Richard Renfrow mortgaged to Koken Barber’s Supply Company of Saint Louis, Missouri, the following items from Koken’s 1905 catalog, which were to be placed in Renfrow’s “one story metal covered building, known as Wiggins Building on Nash Street”: “two 142 One Lever barber chairs … upholstered in maroon plush,” “four #333 mirroes 24 x 30 bevel” and four “327 mirroes bevel,” all of oak. Deed book 72, page 83.
  • On 14 September 1906, F.S. Hargrave sold to F.O. Williston “all of the Drugs, Medicines, Sundries, and fixtures of the Ideal Pharmacy,” as well as accounts payable and receivable, but not the soda fountain, tanks, and other apparatus in the shop. Deed book 72, page 171.

  • On 1 January 1907, to secure a debt of $150, Raeford Dew mortgaged to Patience Lamm, on whose land in Cross Roads township Dew was engaged in the cultivation of various crops, “one bay mare mule bought of John T. Moore, one iron axle cart, two plows, one turning plow the other cotton plow and all other farming implements,” plus all crops cultivated in 1907. Deed book 72, page 176-177. [Six months later, Dew shot and killed his wife Mittie Dew and her lover, his brother Amos Dew.]

The sales of Peggy, Henry, Mourning, Harry, Elvy, Essex, Aaron, and Julia.

I have undertaken a page-by-page examination of Wilson County’s earliest deed books to look for evidence of the mortgage, sale, trade, or transfer of enslaved people. I found plenty.

  • On 10 May 1860, for love and affection, John P. Clark sold Pomeroy P. Clark, in trust for Nancy B. Clark, a woman named Peggy, aged about 25, her children Henry, 7, and Mourning, 3, and a man named Harry, 19. Deed Book 1, page 570, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. [John P. Clark is listed in the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County as the owner of five enslaved people — a 25 year-old woman (Peggy), a 19 year-old man (Harry), a 7 year-old boy (Henry), a 5 year-old girl, and a 3 year-old girl (Mourning). For more about Peggy Flowers Farmer and Harry Clark, see here and here and here.]
  • On 29 December 1860, for $1, Jennet Holland of Wilson County transferred Needham G. Holland of Wilson County, in trust, property to sell as he thought most advantageous to the benefit of numerous creditors assorted property, including 415 acres on Great Swamp in Wayne and Wilson Counties, farm animals, and enslaved people Elvy, Essex, Aaron, and Julia. Deed Book 1, page 658, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. [Forty-six year-old Jennet Holland is a head of household in the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County.]

The sales of George, Harry, Anica, Frances, Lorenzo, Easter, Edith, and Albert.

I have undertaken a page-by-page examination of Wilson County’s earliest deed books to look for evidence of the mortgage, sale, trade, or transfer of enslaved people. I found plenty.

  • On 3 February 1859, for $925, J.T. Rountree, acting on behalf of J.T. Bynum of Wilson County, sold Eli Robbins of Wilson County “one negro a boy by the name of George about twelve years & ten months old.” Deed Book 1, page 408, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.
  • Also on 3 February 1859, for $1040, David Webb of Wilson County sold Eli Robbins of Wilson County a man named Harry, aged about 28 years. Deed Book 1, page 409, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

Eli Robbins died in 1864. On 23 October of that year, an inventory of his estate recorded “five negroes Keziah, Amos, Harry, George, Jinny.”

  • On 1 April 1859, Sarah A.E. Stephens of Wilson County pledged to James J. Taylor as security for several notes totaling about $1700 a parcel of land on Barnes Street and Anica, Frances, and Lorenzo. Deed Book 1, page 422, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.
  • On 26 June 1857, for $600, J. William Barnes sold Jesse Haynes a 9 year-old girl named Easter. The sale was not recorded until 26 April 1859. Deed Book 1, page 457, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. [In the 1860 slave schedule of Oldfields township, Wilson County, Jesse Haynes reported owning two enslaved people — a 36 year-old woman and an 11 year-old girl, who was almost surely Easter.]
  • Also on 26 June 1857, for $600, J. William Barnes sold Jonas Lamb a girl named Edith, aged about 11. Deed Book 1, page 510, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. [Whether or not they were sisters, Easter and Edith had lived in the same small community, and the pain of their separation from their families and each other is unfathomable.]
  • On 1 January 1859, for $575, Bennett Barnes sold Benjamin Parker an 8 year-old boy named Albert. Deed Book 1, page 518, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. [In the 1860 slave schedule of Oldfields township, Wilson County, Benjamin Parker reported owning three enslaved people — a 25 year-old woman and two boys, aged 10 (almost surely Albert) and 1.]

Eli Robbins Estate Records, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records 1665-1998, ancestry.com.

513 East Green Street.

The one hundred-fifty-second in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Perhaps the oldest commercial structure in the District, the facade of the grocery’s parapet is spitting bricks out onto the sidewalk.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1908; 1 story; Mercer’s Grocery; brick, parapet-front grocery; one of the major groceries in the district.”

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513 East Green Street was originally numbered 518. Like all of the large grocery stores in East Wilson, none of its owners were African-American. 

Jesse J. Amerson is the first known owner, commuting from his home on West Green  Street nine blocks to the store.

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

Four years later, the city directory showed Samuel D. Moody as the owner. Moody lived at 301 Pender, just beyond the Vance Street boundary between Black and white sections of Pender. 

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory (1912).

Moody sold wood from a lot on the Green Street side of the grocery. Detail from Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C., 1913. 

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory (1916).

Circa 1921, Larry Giles Boyette and Bernon S. Holdford took over the grocery and operated it together for most of the decade.

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory (1922).

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory (1925).

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory (1928).

The 1930 city directory shows that Boyette operated the store solo and had renamed it with his middle name, Giles. 

 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory (1930).

However, this 1932 ad reverts to Boyette & Holford. [What curious exhortations — “Stop Hoarding!” “Put Your Slacker Dollars to Work.”]

Wilson Daily Times, 21 March 1932.

In the summer of 1940, Giles advertised Onslow County pork products. (I have not been able to determine if there was something special about ham and bacon from the Jacksonville area.) As we’ll see below, this iteration of Giles likely had a different owner than the earlier. 

Wilson Daily Times, 20 August 1940.

In 1947, W.R. Lang and A.R. Lafferty filed a notice of dissolution of their partnership, which had operated Giles Grocery at 513 East Green.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 August 1947.

Per the 1950 city directory, the store continued to operate under the name Giles Grocery. In the 1957 directory, it was named Jim Mercer’s Grocery and remained known as Mercer’s for the next three decades.

In the mid-1980s, Harrell’s Grocery added 513 East Green to its small stable of corner groceries.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 January 1986.

However, the store was once again known as Mercer’s in the late 1980s and remained so until at least 2001.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2022.

The sale of Westley, who is sound and healthy.

Received of John P. Bardin & Wm. H. Bardin six hundred & twenty Dollars in full payment of a negro boy named Westley The title of said negro I will forever warrant & defend I also warrant him to be sound & healthy, January 25th 1858  Amos Barnes

The execution of the foregoing Deed is proven before me by the acknowledgement of Jas. H. Barnes. Let it be registered Jan 29th 1858  J.C. Davis Clk

Deed Book 1, Page 328, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.