Court Actions

“He tink he’s sum punkins.”

Josephus Daniels’ News & Observer loved a good laugh at the expense of Black folk, even the ones back home in Wilson. Here, a “special” report of the antics of Wesley Rogers at the Mason Hotel one Saturday night. Rogers, a swell and a dandy, had taken offense at remarks made by another patron and had thrown the man out the door. Rogers’ alleged performance in Mayor’s court was deemed worthy of several column inches of print.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 11 November 1908.

  • Wesley Rogers — I had assumed this to be John Wesley Rogers, but the facts do not fit. Rogers owned several businesses over the course of his life, but not a clothes cleaning establishment, and he was in 1908 a married man with children who was not likely to have been lodging at a hotel.
  • “the Mason Hotel, a joint on the east side of the railroad where the negroes do congregate” — I do not know of a Mason Hotel on Nash Street. The description sounds rather like the Orange Hotel (whose owner, Samuel H. Vick, was a well-known Mason), a boarding house that was cited often for gambling and prostitution.

The apprenticeship of the Artis boys.

On 4 February 1871, a Wilson County probate judge indentured William “Bill” Artis, age 5 years, six months, and his brother Joshua Artis, age 4 years, one month, to Jacob H. Barnes. The boys were to serve Barnes until age 21 and learn farming skills.

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In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: George Barnes, 22, farm laborer; Temperance Barnes, 19; Joseph Barnes, 12, laborer’s apprentice; Nancy Artis, 36, farm laborer; William, 7, and Joshua Artis, 3; George Barnes, 20, works on railroad; Robert Barnes, 18, farm laborer; and Isaac Taylor, 19, works on farm.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County, the Artises were still in Barnes’ household, described as “apprentices to farmer.”

United States Indenture and Manumission Records, 1780-1939, database at https://familysearch.org.

The apprenticeship of Cindary Taylor.

On 25 October 1895, a Wilson County Superior Court clerk issued an indenture binding Cindary Taylor, age 10 years and 8 days, described as an orphan, to serve Jackson Hayes until she was 21 years of age.

A year later, however, the same clerk rescinded the indenture after Jackson Hayes came into court asking to be released. His wife had died, leaving him with “seven children of his own” that were apparently all he could handle.

United States Indenture and Manumission Records, 1780-1939, database at https://familysearch.org.

Negroes to receive lifetime pension for amputated feet.

When I stumbled upon this article, I was not sure if the terrible incident it described involved African-Americans from Wilson County. (It turns out they were not.) I did know, however, that state legislator Troy T. Barnes of Wilson co-sponsored a bill to award the victims pensions, and I knew I wanted to know more.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 March 1935.

A review of the widespread state news coverage reveals:

  • In December 1934, Woodrow Wilson Shropshire, 19, was sentenced to 120 days on a chain gang for drunkenness and drunk driving. In January 1935, Robert Barnes, also 19, was sentenced to a year “on the road” for possession of a stolen camera. Both were sent to a Mecklenburg County labor camp.
  • In January 1935, Shropshire and Barnes were placed in solitary confinement for alleged insubordination and cursing at a guard. The men were chained in a standing position against a wall for eight hours a day for four days. During the cold nights, they slept in an unheated room with little covering. The camp doctor failed to check on them as required by law. Both suffered severe damage to their feet that led to gangrene.
  • In early March, Wilson and Barnes were taken to Central State Prison in Raleigh where their feet were amputated. The following week, the state legislature opened an investigation into the matter. 
  • Per testimony, the men originally been held at Mecklenburg County camp #411. When they attempted to warm themselves at a fire without permission during frigid January temperatures, a guard warned them away and Shropshire cursed him. Because camp #411 had no solitary confinement, they were moved to camp #413. Barnes, Shropshire, and a former prisoner named John Reid testified that a prison guard beat Barnes unconscious for spitting on the floor. The men were fed half a biscuit twice a day and a small amount of water. Prison officials claimed the men’s feet had been damaged by erysipelas, a strep bacterial infection. And/or their gangrene had been caused by the men stuffing rags too tightly between their skin and shackles. (“It is astonishing,” [testified prison physician] Coleman, “how some prisoners will mutilate themselves to escape work.”]
  • The investigation turned up an additional atrocity — the secret burials of Black convicts in a Watauga County cornfield during construction of the Boone Trail state highway in 1930. (The men had been reported as escapees.) Legislators had questions about the laws concerning prisoners in state camp, the limits (or lack thereof) on the kind of punishment guards could mete out, and the practice of transferring prisoners to camps with “little dark houses” used for solitary confinement. Three state representatives, including Barnes of Wilson, sponsored a bill providing a lifetime pension for Shropshire and Barnes.
  • In early April, the camp superintendent, camp physician, and three guards were arrested and charged with crimes including neglect, torture, maiming, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Shropshire was taken by ambulance from Raleigh to testify before a Mecklenburg County grand jury; Barnes was still too weak from his injuries.
  • The committee’s recommendation, issued in late April, was conservative. North Carolina penal camps could continue using whips and “dark cells” to punish prisoners. On the bright side, Shropshire and Barnes were to receive prosthetic feet and jobs in the highway or prison departments. 
  • By mid-May, the State had spent $500 for four sets of artificial limbs for the two men, but neither was strong enough to use them.
  • The trial got underway in mid-July. Surprise — all defendants were acquitted!
  • Shropshire made good progress adjusting to his prosthetics. He declined a job in Raleigh, preferring to return to Mecklenburg to be near family, and the State promised to find him a job there. Barnes continued to struggle. In 1940, when he registered for the World War II draft, he was described as unemployed. His card noted “both feet amputated below knees.” 

The apprenticeship of the Hagans siblings.

On 4 December 1869, a Wilson County Probate Court judge ordered 15 year-old Joseph Hagans, described as an orphan, to serve James S. Barnes until he was 21 years of age. Joseph’s siblings Penny, 13, Edwin, 11, George, and Sarah Hagans, 6, were placed under Barnes’ control the same day.

The Haganses were the children of Robert and Sarah Hagans. In the 1860 census of Fields district, Greene County: day laborer Robert Hagans, 31; wife Sarah, 30; and children Mary, 12, Joseph, 8, Penelope, 5, and Edwin, 1. Robert and Sarah Hagans apparently died between 1864 and 1869.

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: siblings Joseph, 15, Penelope, 12, Edwin, 11, Sarah, 8, and George Hagans, 6, all described as “farmer’s apprentices.” Their household is listed next to James R. Barnes, a wealthy farmer who reported owning $18,000 in real property. (This is a different James Barnes from the one who apprenticed the Hagans children. James S. Barnes died in 1871. With the exception of Penny — see link above — I have not found the Hagans siblings after 1870.)

United States, Indenture and Manumission Records, 1780-1939, database at https://familysearch.org.

An affray.


Wilson News, 5 October 1899.

A restatement:

Bud King protested when ordered to leave Watson’s Warehouse. K.P. Watson hit him with a barrel stave. King snatched up a brick, but fled when J.S. Farmer intervened. Watson and Farmer shot at King while chasing him, but missed. King went to the police, who charged all three with affray (basically, fighting in public.) A judge split court costs among the three defendants and fined Watson and Farmer five cents. King drew a three-dollar fine, which he could not pay. He went to jail.

Notice of Taylor land sale near Stantonsburg Street.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1935.

Trustee John F. Bruton posted a notice of the sale of a lot across from the Colored Graded School on which Eliza and Jordan Taylor had defaulted payment.

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On 7 August 1897, Jordan Taylor Jr., 21, and Eliza Taylor, 21, were married in Wilson by Baptist minister W.H.W. Woodard. Prince Smith, Annie Barnes, and Michiel Taylor were witnesses.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Jordan Taylor, 24, wife Eliza, 25, and son Greemond, 2, shared a household with Sallie Taylor 27, and her son Rufus Taylor, 13, and boarder Mary Jones, 17.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer Jordan Taylor Jr., 31, wife Eliza, 30, laundress, and son Greeman, 12, with Mary Parker, 69, widow, whose relationship to Jordan was described as “proctor.”

Jordan Taylor registered for the World War I draft on 12 September 1917. He reported his address as RFD#6, Wilson, and his birthday as 15 December 1875. He worked as a ditcher for Sid Clark, his nearest relative was Eliza Taylor, and he signed his card with an X.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 304 Stantonsburg Street, Jordan Taylor, 48, wife Eliza, 37, son Greeman, 22, and son Dave, 13. [Where did Dave come from?] Jordan worked as a warehouse tobacco worker, Eliza as a tobacco factory worker, and Greeman as a street boot black.

On 24 March 1922, Greeman Taylor of Stantonsburg Street, Wilson, died of consumption. He was born 2 June 1898 in Wilson to Jordan and Eliza Taylor. He was single.

I have not found the family in the 1930 census.

Eliza Taylor died 25 May 1934 in Rose Hill township, Duplin County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was 47 years old [actually, more than ten years older]; was born in Wilson County to Green Taylor and Kenzie Taylor; and was married to Jordan Taylor.

Jordan Taylor, widower, died 29 April 1957 near Dunn, Johnston County, N.C. His informant Ethel Sanders reported his birthday as 15 March 1874, and his parents as Jordan Taylor and Frances Smith. He was buried in Wilson.

Application for parole.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 September 1942.

A.M.E. Zion minister Russell Buxton Taylor filed this notice of application for parole of his son William G. Taylor, who had pled guilty four months before on a prostitution charge.

A prostitution charge? Was he charged with being a prostitute or a john?

As it turns out — neither.

William Taylor had originally been charged with raping an unnamed African-American girl. A judge agreed to accept his guilty plea on a prostitution charge, however, and sentenced him to 12 months in jail, to be served performing road work.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 May 1942.