Wilson Times, 18 September 1896.
[William W. Graves, by the way, was a wealthy young farmer whose landholdings were in the Evansdale area between Wilson and Stantonsburg.]
The fifth in a series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. The dispute centered on 30 acres of land. Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from William J. Exum, a wealthy white farmer. In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold the land to Napoleon Hagans. Hagans died in 1896, and the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans. In 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother William, who sold the 30 acres in 1908 to J. Frank Coley, a young white farmer. Tom Artis laid claim to the property, arguing that Napoleon Hagans had sold it to him. Coley filed suit and, after hearing the testimony of more than a dozen witnesses, the court decided in his favor. (Paragraph breaks and some punctuation have been inserted for better readability.)
Defendant introduces T.F. Jones, who being duly sworn, testifies:
I had a conversation with Napoleon Hagans about this land, the 30 acre piece. (Plaintiff objects to question and answer.) I got after Uncle ‘Pole to see me the land. I told him if he would give me a deed for both places, the Calv Pig, that is the 24 acre piece, and the Tom Pig place, the 30 acre piece, I would take them. He told me he would sell me the Calv Pig place, but the Tom Pig place he had promised to let Tom stay on that as long as he lived, that maybe he might redeem it. That about ended the conversation with us. I bought some timber off this land from Tom. Off of the 30 acre piece. I suppose Hagans knew about it. (Plaintiff objects.) I couldn’t say that Hagans saw me hauling the timber, I guess he saw me. (Plaintiff objects.) Hagans never made any objection. I had a conversation with Tom about this land along during that time, when Uncle ‘Pole Hagans first got rid of that Calv Pig place, about 15 years ago. I asked him if he wouldn’t sell his part, and what would he ask for it, (Plaintiff objects). He said he didn’t want to sell it, he expected to redeem it sometime. Last Fall I told him if he expected to get that mortgage he had better attend to it. He said he had boys in Norfolk, who would take it up; that he had confidence in Will Hagans. That if his boys let it slip out after he died, they could. (Plaintiff objects.)
Mr. W.J. Exum died about 1885. Tom is known as Pig. I don’t know why he was called Pig. I think they got “Pig” from “Diggs”. Some of his people ‘way back there, were named “Diggs”, and they got to calling it “Pig” for short. I remember when Napoleon Hagans died. I was down the Country. I left here in ’94, and came back in 1900. He died during that time. I got this timber 20 years ago. I was buying all I could, I don’t know how much I got. I got it by the tree. I went in 1881 and milled ’till 1890. Either ’81 or ’82. I bought the timber about that time. I didn’t know that the deed from Mrs. Exum to Hagans was executed before 1892.
Jones’ guess about the origins of Tom Artis’ nickname is unsatisfying. “Pig” from “Diggs”? In fact, Thomas and Calvin Artis took their nickname from their father, an enslaved man, who was called “Simon Pig.” Artis was the surname of their mother Celia, a free woman of color. (Tom Artis was not a Diggs, but his niece Frances Artis married Wilson (or William) Diggs in 1868 in Wayne County.) I have found no other record of manumission, but Simon Pig Artis is listed as the head of his household in the 1860 census of Davis township, Wayne County. He reported (or was attributed with) $800 of real property and $430 of personal property. The land was almost surely his wife Celia’s; she is one of the earliest free colored property owners appearing in Wayne County deed books.
1860 census, Davis district, Wayne County, North Carolina.
The fourth in a series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. The dispute centered on 30 acres of land. Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from William J. Exum, a wealthy white farmer. In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold the land to Napoleon Hagans. Hagans died in 1896, and the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans. In 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother William, who sold the 30 acres in 1908 to J. Frank Coley, a young white farmer. Tom Artis laid claim to the property, arguing that Napoleon Hagans had sold it to him. Coley filed suit and, after hearing the testimony of more than a dozen witnesses, the court decided in his favor. (Paragraph breaks and some punctuation have been inserted for better readability.)
Plaintiff introduces John Rountree who being duly sworn, testifies as follows:
I know Tom Artis. I heard him say that the cotton was for rents. I heard that for the last 14 years. I collected the rent for W.S. Hagans for several years. I heard Tom allude to it as rents. I heard last September after the land was sold, that it was interest. I never heard anything but rents to that time. I had a conversation with Tom, and carried a message to Hagans for Tom. This last Fall Tom came over to the gin house where I was ginning, and said to me that he understood that Hagans was going to sell the 30 acres piece of land, and said to me to tell Hagans if he pleased not to sell till he gave him notice, because he wanted to buy it. I delivered that message to Hagans. Hagans said alright he would sell it to him as soon as anybody, but he didn’t want to sell one piece at the time. We didn’t talk about the sale to Coley.
I have lived at W.S. Hagans’ for about 18 years. I farm at Hagans’. I rent land. I pay him 1/3. I collected Tom’s rent along in the Fall. Hagans has asked me to go to Tom and ask him to send his rents. Uncle Tom sometime would bring the rent and Hagans wasn’t there, and he would give it to me to keep for Hagans. Tom called it rent when Pole Hagans was living. (Plaintiff objects.) I wasn’t there when he sent it to W.J. Exum. While Mr. Exum was living, I didn’t see Tom taking his cotton there. I didn’t tell Hagans that I would swear the old man always called it rent. I had no right to, I didn’t tell the lawyers I would swear to that. I stated the fact that he always called it rent. I told Tom that Hagans had sent me for the rent two or three times. I knew it was rent. I told Hagans that I had his rent from Tom. I told Coley that the old man called it rent last summer. They had me subpoenad before then. I told him Tom always called it rent. I told Mr. Coley’s lawyers that last summer. I never told Hagans, he knew it.
This would have been a wearyingly familiar vista to John Rountree, Tom Artis, William Hagans, and the other farmers involved in this litigation.
John Rountree, born about 1859, was the son of Fannie Rountree and lived in Nahunta township, Wayne County, all his life. However, by 1880 his widowed sister Rhoda Daniel Harris and her sons Benjamin, Edwin [Edward], and Carroll Harris had moved ten miles or so into Wilson, where she found employment as a cook for the family of Willie [Wiley] and Eliza Rountree Daniel. Eliza Daniel was a daughter of Lewis and Elizabeth Daniel Rountree, and John Rountree and Rhoda Daniel Harris may have been linked to her family during slavery. John Rountree’s great-nephew, brickmason Benjamin A. Harris, son of Edward Harris, is featured here and here and here.
The first in an occasional series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. The dispute centered on 30 acres of land. Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from William J. Exum, a wealthy white farmer. In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold the land to Napoleon Hagans. Hagans died in 1896, and the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans. In 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother William, who sold the 30 acres in 1908 to J. Frank Coley, a young white farmer. Tom Artis laid claim to the property, arguing that Napoleon Hagans had sold it to him. Coley filed suit and, after hearing the testimony of more than a dozen witnesses, the court decided in his favor. (Paragraph breaks and some punctuation have been inserted for better readability.)
The Plaintiff introduces W.S. [William S.] Hagans, who being duly sworn testifies as follows:
I sold this land, the 30 acre, 24 acre, and the 9 1/3 acre pieces to Mr. [J. Frank] Coley. Mr. [J. Wright] Cook had been negotiating with me for the purchase of the 30 acre tract and the 24 acre tract. He did not want the 9 1/3 acre tract. I met Mr. Cook on several different occasions, until finally we met at Eureka one afternoon, he was considering it, and we finally decided on the deal. Mr. Cook was to give me $40.00 per acre for the the 30 acre tract, and the 24 acre tract. Before Mr. Cook did this however, he informed me that there was a missing link in the title, that he had found after investigating it. I told him that that was perfectly alright, as there had never been any question about it.
After our conference at Eureka, the day was set for me to meet him in Goldsboro, where he was to pay me the consideration, the price of the land, and I in turn to give him a deed for the land. He did not come on that day, but ‘phoned me at Fremont that he did not succeed in raising the money, but to please hold it open until tomorrow.
Early tomorrow morning, before sunrise, a bitter cold morning, the Defendant [Tom Artis] came to my house in Goldsboro. I asked him what brought him to town on such a cold morning, he said he came to bring a message from Mr. J.F. Coley, that Mr. Coley said that he wanted to buy that land, and would take all three of the tracts instead of two, said the Defendant to me, “that will be to your advantage.” The Defendant stated to me that Mr. Cook’s time was out yesterday. I expressed surprise that the Defendant should be familiar with those circumstances. Afterwards I said to the Defendant, that while Mr. Cook’s time was out yesterday, that Mr. Cook had phoned me yesterday & said he had a great effort to reach me, and finally did so asking me to hold the matter open until tomorrow. I told him that I would feel honor bound if Mr. Cook should come to me with the purchase price for the two tracts of land, to let him have it, although I would prefer selling the three tracts together. The Defendant said to me that if Mr. Cook got possession of this place that he the Defendant would not be able to stay there as Mr. Cook was a very disagreeable man to get along with. I told the Defendant that I would not deed this property to Mr. Cook, or to any one else until they made the same promise to me in reference to the Defendant’s staying where he was, that I made to my father in the presence of the Defendant.
The Defendant remained in shooting distance of me all of the day, waiting for me to see Mr. Cook that he might get from me a final message to take back to Mr. Coley. I saw Mr. Cook, and he informed me that the reason he couldn’t take it was that he had experienced great difficulty in raising that money. That money was hard. I was really glad of this, and so informed the Defendant, for I wanted to sell the three tracts if possible, together. Then I asked the Defendant to say to Mr. Coley on his return home, that I would meet him at the Defendant’s house on Friday, I think it was, but having business out there, I drove past, and got the Defendant and took him out to the Plaintiff’s place of business that was on Thursday, I went the day before the time set, and stated to the Defendant the object of my going down there, and asked him to go with me.
We went down there and Mr. Coley and I had a talk aside from the Defendant, and finally wound up in the Defendant’s presence. The conversation we had in the presence of Tom was Mr. Coley might have the three pieces of land, in consideration of $3250, and I take his paper. This was said in the Defendant’s immediate presence, he sitting on the buggy beside me. We left, the Defendant expressing himself as highly pleased that Mr. Coley had bought the three pieces of land, said he thought I had made a fine trade. He made no objection at any time to the sale of the land. He encouraged it all the while. He never intimated to me that he had any claims on this land of any kind. None whatever.
I got the land about 1899, deed of partition between my brother [Henry E. Hagans] and myself. After I got the land I rented that to the Defendant. The first year I think, I charged him 850 lb. of lint cotton, thinking all the while that my brother having acted for us both got 850 lb. for the two places, the 30 and the 24 acre lot.The Defendant informed me that my brother had been charging only 800 lb., and I agreed to the 800 lb. He did not at any time when delivering this cotton say that he was paying it as interest and taxes. (Defendant objects.) He has never said anything about paying it as any way than rent. He has never mentioned taxes to me on that property. I listed that land and paid the taxes.
I had some work done on that house since I came in possession. The Defendant patched the roof and also built a porch. I do not wish to state that I had it built. I paid for the lumber. The Defendant did the work himself.
The Defendant came to my place in front of the gin house last fall, and said to me that he had understood that I was going to sell those three pieces of land down there, we called it the Tom Pig place, the Calv Pig place and the Adam [Artis] place. He said he wanted to buy the Tom Pig place or the 30 acre. He asked me if I would prefer selling it all together. I asked him what he would want to give me for the 30 acre tract piece, and he said he would give me $800.00 for it. I told him I couldn’t take that, as I had already been offered $40.00 an acre, or $2160 for the two places. He asked me to give him time that he might hear from his boys in Norfolk, that he was confident that he could raise the purchase price for the 30 acre tract, if not for it all. The Defendant and Durden Fort were present at the time. Durden Fort has since died. In payment of this land, Mr. Coley’s notes were security fort this property. Mr. Coley’s home place I think. 60 some odd acres in addition to what I sold was given as security. One note is due in January.
Tom said to me, “I think you sold those three pieces of land well.” He said that on the buggy. Mr. Coley and I behind the barn talked about this land. He wanted to get the land for $3000. I had an idea that Mr. Coley was a pretty good trader, and wanted to get it as cheap as possible, and I told him behind the barn what three pieces I wanted to sell him them for. I didn’t have to go through any particular form, we didn’t close the thing out, we continued the conversation until we separated. The pieces of land were all understood. He said in the presence of Tom, “For the three pieces of land I will give you $3250.00.” I thought it was necessary to innumerate the three pieces so he would see what he was getting.
Tom has lived on that place ever since I had it. I don’t know to my personal knowledge if he lived off of it. I was in school at the time, or at any rate away from home. Durden Fort was present at the conversation we had. He died in the summer. I had him as a witness. I did not rent my land at the same price every year to every body, not necessarily, to some I did, some I didn’t. The reason I charged him 800 lb. was because my brother rented it to him for 800, and I thought it was all he was able to pay, and there were other considerations. There were other considerations that induced me to charge only 800 lb. of lint cotton for the land. (Plaintiff objects.) It arose out of a conversation I had with my father [Napoleon Hagans] and Tom. My father was in feeble health in 1896. He called my brother and myself under the cart shelter at the home place and said to us that he was not going to live long, and he did not know to which one of us, that is his two sons, would fall heir to that property. Tom was present. That was the land in controversy. (Plaintiff objects), but as long as the Defendant, whom he called “Pig” paid his rent, let him remain. We promised. He did not say how much rent. I did not know as far as I remember that Tom paid to my father 800 lb. of lint cotton. I don’t know. I would rather believe he did. (Plaintiff objects.)
The cart shelter under which the Haganses met with Thomas Artis to discuss the land he farmed may have looked something like this structure, photographed recently in Mississippi.
Farmers Cotton Oil Company had been in operation only six years when an artist sketched it for the border of T.M. Fowler’s 1908 bird’s-eye map of Wilson. At the time, the tobacco town was also one of the larger cotton markets in eastern North Carolina, and Farmers not only ginned cotton and pressed cotton seed oil, it manufactured fertilizer.
It was also a dangerous place to work. In November 1922, doctors amputated Will Scott’s left hand after it was mangled in machinery at the mill.
Wilson Daily Times, 16 November 1922.
Seven years later, Wade Vick was whirled to death after being caught in a revolving wheel at the compound.
As shown in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Farmers Cotton Oil Company filled almost the whole block bounded by East Barnes, Grace, Stemmery, and South Railroad Streets. The church at lower right was Wilson Chapel Free Will Baptist.
Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.
Wilson Daily Times, 21 June 1933.
Wilson Advance, 19 January 1888.
Wilson Daily Times, 24 December 1919.
By 1922, there was no longer any question that boll weevils could thrive in North Carolina. The rapacious insect was not eradicated in the state until 1987.
This photograph of unnamed African-American youth picking cotton in a Wilson County field illustrated an introductory essay in Hill’s Wilson City Directory 1947-48.