Court Actions

Johnson sues the police chief … and wins.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 July 1914.

What an odd case.

Tom Johnson was treating his ailing horse when Chief of Police J.A. Wiggs showed up and ordered Johnson to mayor’s court. Johnson instead went to get a veterinarian — perhaps Elijah L. Reid. When Johnson returned, he encountered Humane Society president Harry Wainwright, who told him, “We have killed your horse,” apparently with Chief Wiggs’ gun. Johnson sued both.

When the case hit the docket, Wainwright quickly secured a continuance and left the courtroom. Wiggs’ counsel was present, but the chief himself did not bother to show up. After he was adjudged liable and ordered to pay Johnson $30, the chief claimed that the charges against him were brought just “to stir up trouble” and the law was being against him unfairly. This strange assertion was borne out by the prosecutor’s announcement that he was not likely to prosecute Wainwright, though he was the actual shooter. 


In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: domestic servant Thos. Johnson, 30; wife Milley, 25, domestic servant; son Charles, 1; Louisa Ruffin, 20, domestic servant; and Phillis Perry, 19, domestic servant.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lodge Street, Thomas Johnson, 31, teamster; wife Milly, 28; and children Willie, 9, Ella, 8, and Daisey, 5.

On 6 November 1884, Thomas Johnson, 34, of Wilson County, married Alice Beaman, 24, of Wilson County, at Thomas Johnson’s. Missionary Baptist minister E.H. Ward performed the ceremony in the presence of Sam Hill, Henry Linsey, and Rose Allen.

On 2 May 1895, Joe Allen, son of Matilda Allen, and Ella Johnson, daughter of Thomas and Alice Johnson, both 22 and of Wilson County, were married at “the church” by A.M.E. Zion minister L.B. Williams in the presence of S.A. Smith, S.H. Vick, and C.A. Norwood. [Thomas Johnson was a close associate of Samuel H. Vick and family.]

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Thomas Johnson, 53, mail carrier; wife Alice, 40, laundry woman; sons Keefus, 18, Thomas, 1, and Willie, 30; daughter Daisey, 22, cook; and lodger Katie Black, 19, cook.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lodge Street, Thomas Johnson, 65, odd jobs laborer; wife Allice, 50, laundress; and daughter Ella, 37, cook for private family.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 320 Lodge Street, Ella Allen, 46, laundress, and her father and mother Thomas Johnson, 76, drayman, and Alice Johnson, 68.

Thomas Davis Johnson died 23 February 1924 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 78 years old; was a widower; lived at 316 Lodge; was a self-employed drayman; was born in Halifax County, N.C., to Mack Johnson and Carolina Johnson. Informant was Ella Allen.

Ella Allen died 7 January 1948 at her home at 209 Ashe Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 63 years old; was a widow; was born in Wilson to Tom Johnson and Millie Johnson. Informant was Thomas Wil[illegible], 209 Ashe. She was buried in Rountree cemetery.

McGowan punished — “a move in the right direction.”

Wilson Advance, 26 August 1881.

It’s not clear what crime Nathan McGowan committed by “hurting a white boy,” but he was both fined and “severely flogged” for it.

McGowan, son of Tilghman and Charity McGowan, migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana, in the 1890s.

African golf.

Wilson Daily Times, 8 September 1920.

“African golf”??


  • Charlie Neal — probably, in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, cook Effie Battle, 64, widow, and grandchildren Ida Parrs, 17, tobacco factory laborer, Hattie May Marlow, 16, cook, and Charles Neal, 14, high school student.
  • Richard Wheeler — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: college cook Lula Wheeler, 49, widow, and children Richard, 12, Emma, 10, John, 8, and Sammie, 6.
  • Walter Powell — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 210 Hackney Street, Julia Powell, 50, “wash”; husband Walter, 40, farm laborer; and lodger Mary Griffin, 25, factory laborer.
  • Mary Griffin — see above.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Negroes punish white man.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 December 1920.

The Baltimore Afro-American‘s rather more detailed version of this incident is here. The “negro woman” was Melissa Wilkins. I have not been able to identify her father, who allegedly owned a blind tiger.

  • James Dickerson
  • Henry Elons
  • Bill Artis
  • Edgar Artis

His twin brother’s testimony acquitted her.

On 6 May 1910, the Times separately noted (1) the arrest of Mattie Ham on a charge of stealing meat, tobacco, and other goods from George Dew and (2) the trial of Bernice Winstead, whose identical twin brother Ernest testified for him in the trial for a similar crime, committed in December 1909 against Dew.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 May 1910.

Four days later, a follow-up piece reconciles and clarifies the stories. Mattie Hamm lived in one room of a two-room house. After taking meat and flour from Dew’s smokehouse, Bernice Winstead stashed them in Hamm’s extra room, claiming they were his. Trackers later arrived at her door step. Frightened, Hamm rushed to Wilson to tell Winstead to move his stuff, then packed up all her own belongings and vacated the house. She was arrested anyway and charged with receiving stolen goods, but released after Ernest Winstead’s testimony cleared her.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 May 1910.


  • Mattie Hamm
  • Bernice Winstead

In the 1880 census of Jackson township, Nash County: farmer Berry Winstead, 52; wife Loucinda, 48; children Sidney, 22, Riny, 18, Melviny, 16, Margaret, 14, William, 12, Charles, 9, and Ernest and Burnett, 6; grandchildren Julius, 4, and George, 2; and boarder Charlotte Winstead, 75.

[Sidenote: Bernice, pronounced BERniss, though not common, was a name most often given to boys in this area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Eventually, female BerNEESE gained popularity. As is the case with most unisex names — think Gayle, Dana, Leslie, Ashley, Courtney — Bernice for boys soon disappeared.]

  • Ernest Winstead

On 27 October 1897, Ernest Winstead, 24, of Nash County, son of Berry and Louinda Winstead, married Martha Wright, 18, of Nash County, daughter of David and Elizabeth Wright, in Rocky Mount township, Nash County.

On 13 September 1903, Ernest Winstead, 27, of Taylors township, son of Berry and Lou Winstead, married Dora Deans, 18, of Nash County, daughter of Peter and Manda Deans, in Taylors township.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Finch Mill Road, laundress Martha Griswold, 50, widow; nephews Jeffrey, 20, brick moulder in brick yard, and Walter Hill, 15, odd jobs laborer; and lodgers Willie Simms, 20, brick moulder in brick yard, and Earnest Winstead, 36, widower, farm laborer.

In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Ernest Winstead, 49; wife Louisa, 41; and children Roosevelt, 18, Essie May, 17, Mildred, 15, William, 12, Enman, 8, Leodell, 6, Dona May, 3, Sherrod, 2, and Jesse, 3 months.

Louise Winstead died 6 June 1925 in Edenton township, Chowan County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was 48 years old; was married to Ernest Winstead; was born in Wilson County to William Hyman and Lizzie Woodard; and was buried in Chowan County. Ernest Winstead, Edenton, was informant.

Ernest Winstead died 17 April 1952 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 74 years old; was born in Nash County to Berry and Lurenda Winstead; was married; worked as a carpenter and minister; and lived in Norfolk, Virginia. He was buried in Granite Point cemetery, Wilson County.

The death of John Henry Evans.

The cause of death on John Henry Evans‘ death certificate is fairly laconic: “brain injury due to auto accident.”

Newspaper accounts detail a more complicated story. About eight o’clock on the evening of April 11, Evans and J.D. O’Neal, on whose land he lived, were driving wagons to fertilizer to O’Neal’s farm near Lamm’s School [today, near the intersection of Interstate 95 and U.S. 264.] The men stopped on the shoulder of the road to talk to O’Neal’s brother. Both wagons were lit with lanterns. Erwin Stewart of Durham smashed into other wagons in a Graham truck and flipped over in a ditch. According to witnesses, Stewart’s truck had only one headlight working and had drifted partly on the shoulder of the road. The wagons were demolished, one mule was badly injured, and John Henry Evans was first thought dead. He was rushed to the “colored hospital.” As his death certificate notes, Evans lingered for five days before succumbing to injuries to his head.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 April 1929.

For all the carelessness hinted at in the initial report, a month later, Stewart was acquitted of a manslaughter charge in Evans’ death.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 May 1929.

Spo’ty Odie.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 October 1914.

Fresh off serving thirty days on a chain gang for being homeless, 16 year-old Odie Williams showed up in court on larceny charges in his dandy finest — knee pants, black silk stockings, white slippers with rubber bottoms (sneakers?) — received his one-year sentence … and escaped.

Beyond his clothes, Williams’ description is poetic — “slick and neat,” white teeth, “medium dark ginger cake complexion,” and “mouth shaped like the rim of a jug” (whatever that may be.) I don’t know if he was ever caught. I sincerely hope he wasn’t.

Her chicken came home to roost.

Culpeper (Va.) Exponent, 30 March 1922.

Lila Thompson and Annie Graham were close neighbors on Ashe Street. Within 30 months of their dispute, both were dead of tuberculosis.


  • Liler Thompson — In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Thompson Lila (c) tobwkr h 124 Ashe. Lila Thompson died 14 October 1924 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 24 years old; was born in Sampson County to Henrietta Clark; was married to Walter Thompson; lived at 1005 Washington Street; and was buried in Rountree cemetery.
  • Annie Graham — In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Burley Graham, 16; mother Annie, 30, widow; sister Margrette, 14; and cousin Walter Bryant, 19; all born in South Carolina. Annie Graham died 27 July 1924 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was about 40 years old; was born in Lake City, South Carolina, to Daniel and Martha Martin; was the widow of James Graham; lived at 130 Ash Street; and worked as a maid for the Briggs Hotel. Burley Graham was informant. (Annie Graham’s daughter, also named Annie Graham, aged three months, died five days earlier. Per her death certificate, her parents were James Hall and Annie Graham. Mary Graham was informant.)