Crime

This matter of carrying fire arms is getting to be serious.

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Wilson Advance, 18 November 1897.

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Jordan Taylor, 50, day laborer sawing wood, and wife Matilda, 45, shared a house with Dennis Brooks, 35, wife Mary, 27, and daughter Aleonia, 8. Next door, [Jordan Taylor’s son] Jordan Taylor, 24, wife Eliza, 25, and son Greemon, 3, who shared a house with Sallie Taylor, 27, and her son Rufus, 14, and lodger Mary Jones, 17.

Roscoe Barnes’ injuries sound life-threatening, and he is not found in the 1900 census of Wilson.

They unlawfully hired their time of their master.

An enslaver could, and often did, rent the services of an enslaved person to others for specific tasks or under long-term leases. Under North Carolina law, however, enslavers were prohibited from allowing their slaves to rent their own time. That is, to come to their own terms and arrangements for working for others for wages that they either kept for themselves or split with their masters. Slaves who hired their own time created their own wealth, a dangerous circumstance. There was a wide gulf between law and reality, however.

Dennis, a man over whom white Wilson County carpenter John Farmer claimed ownership, was indicted on misdemeanor charges of hiring his time at July term, 1859, of the Wilson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions.  Five years later, at July 1864, jurors indicted Farmer himself for allowing the entrepreneurial activities of enslaved women named Mary, Lucy and Silvia.

The jurors for the State on their oath present, that Dennis, a Slave the property of John Farmer (Carpt) at and in the County of Wilson on the first day of January 1859 and on divers other days and times as well before as afterwards up to the taking of this inquisition by the permission of the said John Farmer his master, unlawfully did go at large, the said Salve having then and there unlawfully hired his own time of his said master, contrary to the form of the Stature in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the State.

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John Farmer may have been the John W. Farmer of Wilson township, Wilson County, who is listed in the 1860 slave schedule as the owner of ten enslaved men and women.

Court Cases Involving Slaves, Slave Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

The unmistakable way to conviction.

In November 1888, Charles Bynum was tried and convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of Henry Privett, his girlfriend’s brother.

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Wilson Mirror, 7 November 1888.

  • Charles Bynum, accused — possibly, the Charles Bynum, 15, listed with his parents Mack, 39, and Mary Bynum, 30, in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County.
  • Henry Privette, victim; Bettie Privette, his sister, allegedly Bynum’s lover; Alice Privette, his wife; Sallie Privette, his sister; Mahala Privette, his mother — In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farm laborer Joseph Privett, 30; wife Mahala, 27; and children Lucretia, 9, Mary, 4, Henry, 2, and Bettie J., 2 weeks; plus Penninah Locust, 2. In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Joe Privett, about 44; wife Mahalah, about 35; and children Polly Ann, 16, Henry, 14, Bettie, 11, Hattie, 7, and Sallie, 3; plus Penninah Jones, 14. Henry Privett, 18, son of Joe and Mahalia Privett, married Alice Howell, 20, daughter of Ransom and Burbary Howell, on 8 February 1887 at the courthouse in Wilson.
  • James Bynum, juror.
  • Henry Birney, juror.
  • Celia Cotton, witness.

State vs. Jim, a slave.

State of North Carolina, County of Wilson   }  Superior Court of Law, Fall Term AD 1858

The jurors for the State upon their oath present that Jim, a slave, the property of Jacob Robbins, late of the County Wilson, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, in the first day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-eight with force and arms , at and in the said County of Wilson, int and upon one Jacob D. Robbins in the peace of the State then and there being feloniously, wilfully and his malice aforethought did make an assault: and that the said Jim with a certain axe, of the value of one dollar, which he the said Jim, then and there in both his hands had and held, him the said Jacob D. Robbins in and upon the right side of the head of him the said Jack D. Robbins, then and there feloniously, wilfully and and of his malice aforethought did hit and strike; and that the said Jim did then and there give unto him the said Jacob D. Robbins by such striking and hitting of him the said Jacob D. Robbins with the axe aforesaid one mortal wound of the length of two inches, and of the breadth of one inch in and upon the said right side of the head of him the said Jacob D. Robbins, of which said mortal wound the said Jacob D. Robbins then and there instantly died; and so the jurors aforesaid upon their oath aforesaid do say that the said Jim, him the said Jacob D. Robbins, then and there, in manner and form aforesaid feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought did kill and murder against the peace and dignity of the State.

And the jurors aforesaid on their oath aforesaid do further present that the said Jim a slave the property of Jacob Robbins, late of said County of Wilson, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, afterwards to wit on the day and year aforesaid, with force and arms, at and in the County aforesaid, in and upon one Jacob D. Robbins in the peace of the State, then & there being, feloniously, willfully and of his malice aforethought did make an assault and that he the said Jim, witth a certain axe of the value of one dollar, which he the said Jim, then and there, in both his hands had and held him the said Jacob D. Robbins, in and upon the right sight of the head, and in and upon the face of him the said Jacob D. Robbins, then and there feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought divers times did beat and strike, giving to him the said Jacob D. Robbins, then & there by striking and beating him as aforesaid with the axe aforesaid several mortal wounds of the length of one inch and the depth of one inch in and upon the right side of the head and in and upon the face of him the said Jacob D. Robbins, of which said mortal wounds the said Jacob D. Robbins then and there instantly died, and so the jurors aforesaid on their oath aforesaid do say that the said Jim him the said Jacob D. Robbins then and there in manner and form aforesaid feloniously willfully and of his malice aforethought did kill and murder against the peace and dignity of the State.   /s/ Geo. A Stevenson Sol.

Court Cases Involving Slaves, Slave Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Wanton deviltry.

One hundred twenty years ago yesterday …

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Wilson Advance, 14 October 1897.

  • Lewis Pitt — On 1 August 1872, Lewis Pitt, 24, and Charity Strayhorn, 21, were married in Edgecombe County. In the 1880 census of Hillboro township, Orange County, Lewis, 25, and Charity Pitt, 23, were listed in the household of Charity’s parents, Yank and Patsy Strayhorn. In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Lewis Pitt, 55; wife Carty, 50; and grandson Daniel, 10. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 633 Green Street, farmer Lewis Pitt, 71; wife Charity, 68; daughter Gradis, 15; and roomers George Thompson, 16, and John Byrd, 20, both wagon factory laborers. Lewis Pitt died 6 April 1924 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was about 76 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to Hardy and Peggy Atkinson; and resided at 704 East Green Street. Charity Pitt was informant.
  • Nettie Jones
  • Bill Ayers
  • John Swader

Karl Fleming’s Wilson.

The Wilson Daily Times is the source of many of the newspaper articles posted at Black Wide-Awake. I am not unmindful of the racist over- and undertones of many of the clippings, especially those reporting alleged criminal activity. Nevertheless, they have value as imperfect documentation of the existence of so many African-Americans whose lives went otherwise unrecorded. Journalist Karl Fleming made his name covering the Civil Rights movement — most notably, Freedom Summer — for Newsweek magazine in the early 1960s. Fleming’s newspaper career began about 1947 at the Daily Times, which, in Son of the Rough South: An Uncivil Memoir (2005), he credits with introducing him to the brutal racist policies of his native state.

Fleming devotes several chapters to his time in Wilson. His behind-the-scenes explanation of the Times‘ race conventions is illuminating:

“The style of the Daily Times decreed that unmarried black women of whatever age be called ‘girl.’ A married ‘colored’ woman after being identified by her whole name, perhaps, perhaps Elsie Smith, in the first mention, would in succeeding graphs be called ‘the Smith woman.’ This avoided the honorifics ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ being applied to colored women. Colored men, of course, were never referred to as ‘Mr.,’ not even on the full page that ran ever Saturday headlined ‘News of the Colored Community,’ which catalogued the doings of the colored Charles L. Darden [sic] High School, church and Sunday school events, marriages, funerals, and social clubs. Darden ran the colored funeral home and a colored insurance agency and was the colored community’s most substantial citizen.”

His physical description of the town remains recognizable in many ways, even in the water fountains have been dismantled:

“Wilson and the surrounding county was half white and half colored. The town squatted in the sweltering heart of the table-flat and sandy North Carolina coastal plain, throughout which tobacco was the main cash crop. In the center of town, in front of a marble courthouse with six fluted Doric columns, two magnolia trees, and a confederate statue, were ‘White’ and ‘Colored’ water fountains.”

“The old train depot, the faded brick six-story Cherry Hotel alongside it, and the tracks of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad separated these black and white worlds.”

“What the colored people across the tracks may actually have felt about segregation in general and separate schools specifically no one in the white world knew. It was simply assumed that what they said to the white people was true — that they were content with the status quo. The pillars of the black community, the ministers and school teachers and the owners of the few colored businesses allowed to exist because whites wanted nothing to do with them — such as restaurant, beauty parlors, barber shops, funeral homes, pool halls, and juke joints patronized entirely by colored people — did not publicly protest or resist. There seemed to be among them a seeming general air of good-natured acceptance. When one of them excelled, or died, it was said that “he was a credit to his race,” suggesting that ordinary blackness was a debit somehow.”

Fleming exaggerates the uniform decrepitude of East Wilson’s building stock. As this blog has amply demonstrated, East Wilson was a lot more than shotgun rentals in need of whitewash. There were certainly a fair number of those though.

“The colored community was a close-packed warren of gray unpainted shotgun shacks rented from white landlords on dirt alleys across the railroad tracks. Its only paved roads were Nash Street, becoming Highway 41 [91] going east into the country towards the coast, and U.S. 301 going north and south, the principal highway from New York to Miami. Its inhabitants were for the most part menials of every sort, field hands on the surrounding tobacco farms, manual laborers for the city and county maintenance departments, and unskilled workers in the tobacco warehouses and wholesale packing houses.”

And then this observation, followed by a truism:

“Few white people ventured into ‘niggertown.’ … The arrival of a white man could mean nothing good. He was either ‘the law,’ a bill collector, or someone selling something — usually life of burial insurance.”

Fleming also offers a reporter’s assessment of (and white Wilson’s take on) the trial of Allen T. Reid, who was sentenced to death in 1949 for burglary.

 

Change racket.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 18 September 1937.

Ed Sheppard, 23, married Sealy Black, 25, in Greene County on 24 April 1924.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 806 Oil Mill Alley, Ed Sheppard, no age given; wife Celia, no age given, cook; sons Henry, 22, oil mill laborer, Junior, 13, Moses, 11, and Raymon, 7; and lodger Earnest Ross, 11.

Robbed the watchman.

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Wilson Daily Times, 2 September 1921.

In 1917, Jake Armstrong registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 11 May 1890 in Wilson; lived at 210 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; worked as a laborer for Farmers Cotton Oil Company; and had a dependent mother and sister.

On 8 September 1919, Jake Armstrong, 23, of Wilson, married Della Jones, 22, of Wilson. B.P. Coward performed the ceremony at the A.M.E. Zion church in the presence of Rose McCullers, Berta Faulkland and Lucy A. Richards.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Broad Street, oil mill laborer Jake Armstrong, 23; wife Della, 21; and children Kathryn, 6, and Charlie, 1.

Neighborhood legend.

The Brutal Death of a Neighborhood Legend.

by Thomas Bell, Washington Post, 26 April 1990.

Seth Wilder, 88, was one of those old men who become neighborhood legends.

People saw him every day on his afternoon strolls or under the tree in front of his house, the same tree he planted when he moved his family here from a North Carolina farm 40 years ago.

Usually a friend would sit with him, and people would stop by and say hello. That’s the way he was — always making friends.

It’s also why his wife, Lillie Mae Wilder, didn’t think twice when he brought a stranger into their Capitol Hill Northeast home two weeks ago. The man she had never seen before followed her husband up the stairs to his bedroom.

There, he robbed Seth Wilder — and broke his neck, police and hospital officials say.

Seth Wilder, who would have turned 89 next month, died Tuesday, his big, six-foot frame strapped to a hospital bed.

For 12 days he could only blink his eyes. Doctors told the family that his chances for survival were a million to one, but his wife wouldn’t let the doctors shut off the machines that kept her husband alive. They had been married for 59 years.

Police say they have several suspects but have made no arrests in the case. They also say it was one of the most vicious attacks on an elderly person they have ever seen.

“It was an act of total brutality,” said 5th District Capt. Maralyn Hershey. “This man was defenseless and could offer no resistance.”

The crime has outraged the neighborhood, a changing middle-class community of longtime residents and young professionals. Elderly residents especially have been living in fear ever since the assault, said James Lawlor, who heads the local community association in Northeast.

He said one of Seth Wilder’s longtime friends has been walking around the street with a hammer “looking for the man who hurt his buddy.”

At a community meeting last week, Fred Raines, deputy chief of the 5th District, one of the busiest stations in the city, pledged to a crowd of 50 residents that he would find the man.

Police have interviewed dozens of neighborhood residents, including the men who live and work in a shelter for the homeless five houses away from the Wilder home on Maryland Avenue NE.

Wilder withdrew $500 in cash from a bank less than two blocks from his home early in the afternoon of April 13, according to bank records obtained by police. It was money he needed to buy a couple pairs of glasses, said his daughter, Callon Jacobs.

Police said the man followed Wilder home from that errand. His wife said she heard him and the man talking in hushed voices outside the front door. The stranger followed him inside and introduced himself. She doesn’t remember his name or what he looked like. The two men went upstairs, she said.

A few minutes later she saw the man leave “walking hard as he could,” she said.

Even then, Lillie Mae Wilder said, she didn’t think anything was wrong. About three hours later, their daughter came home and was chatting with her mother when she heard her father’s faint cry for help. She rushed up the stairs and found him on the foor, his head cocked down to the side.

“I said, ‘What happened, Daddy, did you fall?’

“He said, ‘No.’

“I said, ‘What happened?’

“He said, ‘A man came up here and choked me and took my money.’ ”

Jacobs said her father asked her to take off his shoes.

She said he never spoke a word after that.

“I don’t know what happened in that room,” she said. “That’s the thing I can’t deal with — what happened before and how afraid he must have been.”

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Seth Wilder Sr. and Jr., Washington, D.C.

Many thanks to Eunice F., who posted a comment on a yesterday’s post about Seth Wilder reminding us that her uncle’s life was not defined by a single careless incident with tragic consequences. The Wilders relocated to Washington, D.C., after Seth Wilder’s release from prison. He became a fixture on his Capitol Hill street, and his 1990 murder shocked his neighborhood. In less than a week, a homeless man was arrested and charged with killing Wilder, but was released without indictment after spending eight months in jail.

Photo courtesy of Edith Jones Garnett.

Store owner convicted in accidental shooting.

An act of self-defense at a small Springhill store ended in the death of an innocent bystander:

 

Wilson Daily Times, 12 October 1948.

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Asheville Citizen Times, 9 January 1949.

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In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson & Raleigh Road, Joseph Wilder, 44; wife Chestina, 40; and children Almita O., 15, Elizabeth, 11, Seth B., 8, Sidney, 6, and Luther, 4.

In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Old Raleigh Road, widow Chestiney Wilder, 51, and children Elizabeth, 21, Seth, 17, Sidney, 15, and Luther, 13.

On 28 December 1924, Seth Wilder, 22, married Aldonia Ruffin, 20, in Johnston County.

Aldonia Wilder died 24 July 1929 in Springhill township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 24 years old, born in Wilson County to Charlie Ruffin of Johnston County and Sarah Jane O’Neil of Wilson County; was married to Seth Wilder; and was buried in Barnes cemetery.

In the 1930 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Mc. Coward Tucker, 47; wife Bella, 34; and children Mildred, 18, Albert, 17, Eddie, 14, Charles, 11, Martha, 8, Joe, 4, and James, 1.

On 14 January 1931, Seth Wilder, 31, son of Josiah and Chestinie Wilder, married Lillie Mae Creech, 24, daughter of Wright and Sallie Creech, in Smithfield, Johnson County.

In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Seth Wilder, 37; wife Lillie Mae, 32; and children Willie May, 2, and Seth, 1; Chestiney Wilder, 72; Sally Creech, 57, and her children Sally, 18, Geneava, 16, and Addie Lee Creech, 13; and Waltie Monque, 26.

In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Dowell Tucker, 71; wife Isebell, 47; and children Charles, 21, Bennie, 17, Martha, 15, Joe B., 13, James, 10, Dove, 8, Joe Lewis, 5, and daughter-in-law Mamie Ree, 14.

Seth Wilder registered for the World War II draft in 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 6 May 1902 in Wilson County; resided at Route 1, Box 261, Lucama; was self-employed; and his contact was R.H. Neal.

Seth Wilder died 2 May 1990 in Washington, D.C.