Crime

Indicted for the murder of slave Thomas.

In May 1860, on the testimony of H.F. Barnes and Warren Ellis, a grand jury indicted Hartwell Williford and James G. Williford for the murder of an enslaved man, Thomas, who belonged to Hartwell Williford. I have found no additional information about this crime.

Hartwell Williford and James Williford lived in the area of modern-day Elm City and were the father-in-law and husband of Nancy Mears Williford, written of here.

On 22 February 1957, the Rocky Mount Telegram ran a genealogy column by “An Old Reporter” [Hugh B. Johnston] that featured Hartwell Williford. Largely a compendium of Williford’s real estate transactions and estate purchases, it somehow missed his indictment for murder. However, there was this:

“Family tradition states that Hartwell Williford possessed a ready temper and a powerful physique in his youth. On one occasion he engaged in a rough-and-tumble fight with another man in the neighborhood, seized him by the ears, and slung him around with such force that these appendages were torn from the head of the unfortunate owner. On another occasion he became so infuriated with a slave fellow that kept stealing from the neighbors or running away and causing his master trouble and expense in bringing him back home, that he undertook this immediate, unique, and terrifying punishment. He knocked both heads from a barrel, drove short nails in the sides from every direction, tied the slave securely in it with his head out one end and his feet out the other, and rolled him a short distance down the road in front of the house. The nail pricks received through his clothes were probably inconsequential to the slave as compared with the moral effects, but at any rate he was for the rest of life a reliable and industrious person.”

Murder of Slave-1860, Slave Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

State v. Daniel Sharp and Nancy Williford.

At April Term 1868 of Wilson County’s Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a grand jury charged Daniel Sharp and Nancy Williford, both of Wilson County, “being lewd and vicious persons not united together in the bonds of marriage” before and after 1 April 1868 “unlawfully lewdly and lasciviously associate bed and cohabit together … to the evil example of all others.”  Willie G. Dixon, Patience Barnes, Abel Taylor, Henry Taylor, Drew Barnes, John B. Batts and Henry Dixon were subpoenaed as witnesses, and the jury foreman returned a true bill to the clerk of court.

Daniel Sharp was African American; Nancy Williford, white. The charge against them was fornication and adultery. As best I can determine, of the six witnesses called to testify before the grand jury, Abel Taylor, Patience Barnes, and, probably, Drew Barnes were black. No records of their testimony are included in the file in which the document above was found. Records show that Sharp and Williford had at least two children together, John B., born in 1867, and Mary E., born in 1868.

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In the 1860 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer James G. Williford, 46; [second] wife Nancy, 26; and children Mary A., 18, John T., 16, Nancy T., 14, Caroline, 11, Arabella, 5, Elijah A., 4, and James C., 1. [James Williford’s step-mother was Elizabeth Taylor Sharpe Williford. Did Elizabeth bring Daniel into the Williford household?]

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Nancy Williford, 34, and children John B., 3, and Mary E., 2. All were described as white. [I initially assumed that this Nancy was James G. Williford’s daughter. However, her age as listed in the 1870 and 1880 censuses is more consistent with that of Williford’s wife Nancy Mears Williford. Williford died in 1861. His and Nancy’s son Elijah Elbert is listed in the 1870 census as Bertie Williford, 14 year-old apprentice to Hickman Barnes, and daughter “Arvilla” is listed in the household of her half-brother William Williford. Did Nancy lose custody of her children as a result of her relationship with Daniel Sharp?]

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Benjamin Tillery, 27; wife Cherry; and daughter Jane, 3; Lucy Taylor, 23, and son Columbus, 8 months; and Daniel Sharp, 26, farm laborer.

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Jason Barnes, 26; wife Patience Barnes, 24; Lucy Barnes, 20, farm laborer; Exie Barnes, 1 month; and William Battle, 20, farm laborer.

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Virginia-born farm laborer Abel Farmer, 57; wife Viney, 45, farm laborer; and children William, 9, Elvey, 5, David, 7, and Georgiana, 17, farm laborer.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Nancy Williford, 42, and children John, 13, farm laborer, and Mary E., 12. Here, Nancy’s children were described as mulatto.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Daniel Sharp, 40, farmer.

Mary Williford, 18, daughter of Nancy Williford, and Lorenzo Barnes, 22, son of William and Sarah Barnes, obtained (but did not return) a marriage license in Wilson County on 15 April 1891.

On 20 February 1895, John Williford, 28, married Mary Ella Barnes, 21, in Toisnot township. G.A. Gaston, J.C. Ellis and Buck Dew witnessed the ceremony.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: widower John Williford, 34, farmer; daughter Mary B., 4; and boarder Sammie Barnes. 19.

On 29 October 1893, Daniel Sharp, 52, of Toisnot, married Cynda Parker, 19, of Toisnot, in the presence of John Williford, Mose Parker and Jason Barnes.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Daniel Sharp, 58, farmer; wife Lucinda, 25; and children Joseph, 6, George W., 4, and James H., 2.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Renza Barnes, 26; wife Mary, 32; and Nanny, 11, and Minnie, 8; and niece Bertha Williford, 4.

On 19 December 1900, John Williford, 34, son of Dan Sharp, married Lena Locust, 19, daughter of Elbert and Rose Locust, in Elm City in the presence of J.C. Ellis, Lucian Norfleet, Willie Locus, and George Braswell.

On 22 January 1908, John Gaston, 25, son of George and P[riscilla]. Gaston, married Nannie Barnes, 19, daughter of Rezo and Mary Barnes, at First Presbyterian Church in Elm City. Rev. C.E. Tucker performed the ceremony in the presence of James G. Mitchell, G.C. Cowell, and Oliver N. Freeman.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: John Williford, 43; wife Lena, 28; and children Bertha, 14, Beatrice, 7, John L., 6, Edward, 4, Arnold, 2, and Odell, 2 months.

James Hardy Williford died 11 November 1914 in Toisnot township. Per his death certificate, he was born 1 October 1914 to John Williford and Lena Lucas.

Willis Albert Williford died 1 November 1915 in Elm City. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 September 1915 in Elm City to John Williford and Lena Lucas.

On 17 June 1917, Bertha Williford, 22, of Toisnot, daughter of John and Lena Williford, married Paul Kelly, 21, of Toisnot, son of John and Charlotte Kelly. Missionary Baptist minister E.S. Lucas performed the ceremony at his home.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: well digger John Williford, 53; wife Lena, 38; and children John, 15, Edwin, 13, Arnel, 12, Frank, 8, and Inez, 17 months.

Mary Williford died 30 June 1920 in Elm City. Per her death certificate, she was born 18 March 1920 in Elm City to John Williford and Lena Lucas.

In the 1930 census of Elm City town, Toisnot township: John Gaston, 48, brickmason; wife Nannie, 41; daughters Pricilla, 21, and Minnie, 18; plus mother-in-law Mary Barnes, 62.

Mary [Williford] Barnes died 6 April 1949 in Elm City. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 May 1868 in Wilson County to unknown parents and was a widow. Nannie Gaston was informant.

Adultery Records-1868, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

State v. Reddick Joyner and Wilmoth Eatman.

At October Term 1855 of Wilson County’s Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a grand jury charged Reddick Joyner and Wilmoth Eatman “being lewd and vicious persons, and not united together in Marriage” who did “adulterously bed and cohabit together … and commit fornication and adultery …” contrary to law. However, after a hearing, the foreman returned the presentiment to the clerk of court as “not a true bill.” As a result, charges would have been dropped against both.

Per Eatmon’s descendants, the father of her first three children, William Joseph, Robert, Margaret was Alexander Watson Wells, a white man who died in 1862 of wounds suffered as a Confederate soldier. The father of her youngest two, Kinion and Annie, was Hackney High. The father of two others, Crawford and Missouri, is unknown.

Adultery Records – 1855, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

 

A heinous charge.

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Wilson Mirror, 6 November 1889.

Algie Vaughan’s stepdaughter was Sarah Ward, who was about 15 in 1889. Sarah’s mother Mittie Ward had two children, Sarah and Joseph H. Ward, before she married Vaughan in 1879. This terrible incident may explain why Mittie reverted to her maiden name and Minerva used “Ward” as an adult.

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On 6 May 1879, Algenon Vaughn, 22, married Mitty Finch, 27, in Wilson.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Sarah Darden, 57, son-in-law Algia Vaughn, 23, daughter Mittie, 22, and grandchildren Joseph, 8, Sarah, 6, and Macinda Vaughn, 5 months. [Joseph “Vaughn” was actually Joseph Ward, listed with his stepfather’s surname.]

Stabbed while asleep.

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Wilson News, 20 July 1899.

Another version:

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Wilson Daily Times, 21 July 1899.

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  • Warren Barnes — probably, in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Warren Barnes, 50, ditcher; wife Agnes, 38, “stimmer”; and children Addie, 18, Willie, 17, and Jinnet, 11. Warren Barnes died 10 January 1918 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was about 70 years old; married; worked in a tobacco factory; and was born in Wilson County to Dink Barnes and Judia Barnes. Agnes Barnes was informant.
  • Mrs. Warren Barnes — Agnes Barnes died 21 March 1934 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 62 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to Agnes Powell; and was the widow of Warren Barnes. Addie Lee of 204 Pettigrew Street was informant.
  • Claude Jones

 

Escaped through the cemetery.

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Wilson Daily Times, 15 July 1910.

  • Henry Hagan

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Smith Street, Katie Williams, 46, widowed boarding house cook, and boarder Henry Hagan, 54, widower, oil mill laborer. In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hagan Henry, lab h 404 Spring St alley. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 616 Suggs Street, rented for $12/month, Henry Hagan, 75, sanitary department laborer, and wife Sarah, 55. Henry Haggan who died 21 October 1931 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 67 years old; was born in Wayne County, North Carolina, to Napoleon Haggan and an unknown mother; worked as a common laborer; and lived at 611 Suggs. Mary Gatling of Newport News, Virginia, was informant.

“I want to advise the colored people against gambling.”

Months after the fact, a North Carolina newspaper picked up this blurb about the murder allegedly committed by a Wilson man:

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Wilmington Messenger, 1 August 1893.

This short account appeared in an Atlanta paper just after the crime:

The Atlanta Constitution, 4 April 1893.

After Courney’s execution, The Constitution ran a deeply detailed story of Courney’s life and the events that led to Smith’s death:

The Atlanta Constitution, 29 July 1893.

  • Jim Courney — His real name was Burroughs Kearney. Though not found in Wilson County records, in the 1880 census of Shocco township, Warren County, North Carolina: farmer Logan Kearney, 45; wife Virginia, 35; and children Burroughs, 15, Lucy, 13, Cherrie, 10, Cilla, 7, George, 4, and Emely, 3.  The family appears in the 1870 census of Sparta township, Edgecombe County, and Burroughs Kearney was married there in 1887.

Newlywed robbed and abandoned.

The mayor of Wilson offered a fifty-dollar reward for the recovery of Carrie Cooper Pettiford’s money.

Wilson Advance, 26 January 1893.

  • J.E. Pettiford — John E. Pettiford, a Wilson resident and Granville County native, son of John and Louisa Pettiford, married Carrie Cooper of Wilson on 20 December 1892.
  • Carrie Cooper Pettiford —

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Carrie Cooper, 20, school teacher, living alone.

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The marriage license of John E. Pettiford and Carrie Cooper.

In 1893, Hampton Normal School Press published Twenty-Two Years’ Work of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute at Hampton, Virginia (Records of Negro and Indian Graduates and Ex-Students with historical and personal sketches and testimony on important race questions from within and without, to which are added, by courtesy Messrs Putnam’s Sons, N.Y., some of the Songs of the Races gathered in the School), which featured an interview of Carrie Cooper.

Carrie Cooper is listed as a teacher in the 1896 edition of Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Owens Smith, 49, minister; wife Adora, 30; son Jesse, 19; daughter Flossie, 4; widowed mother Maria Hicks, 78, a midwife; and boarder Carry Pettiford, a widowed teacher.

In 1901, Carrie Pettiford was arrested with Millie Sutton for threatening the life of Adora Smith, wife of Rev. Owen L.W. Smith.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, Carrie Pettiford, 46, widow, cook, living alone.