Wilson Daily Times, 16 August 1922.
Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.
Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as in the Great Migration north. This post is the first in a series of excerpts from interviews with Hattie Henderson Ricks, their adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)
Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, born in 1872, was the eighth of nine children. By time she moved to Wilson, only her brothers James Lucian Henderson, born 1859, and Caswell C. Henderson, born 1865, were living. (Hattie was her sister Loudie Henderson’s grandchild.) Caswell had migrated to New York City by about 1890, but Lucian remained in Dudley to farm. He and his wife, Susan McCollum Henderson, had only one child, who died in early adulthood without a spouse or children.
Susie Henderson had long been sickly and, by the late 1920s, Lucian Henderson’s health had begun to fail. Jesse Jacobs’ nephew, John Wesley Carter, lived nearby. He had developed a close relation with the Hendersons, but could not be expected to assume complete responsibility for their care.
The family turned to the Atlantic Coast Line Rail Road for a solution:
“Mama Sarah [would] fix dinner and send it down to Dudley on the train. The man that run the whatchacallit — engine? Up there, where stokes the fire or whatever is on the train. He would take it. But she would tell what day she was gon send it. And so somebody’d be up there to the train station to get it. And the train, ‘cause a lot of time the train didn’t stop in Dudley. But anyway, the man, the conductor, he would pull the thing, whatever, for the train to stop long enough for him to drop off this package. … Somebody she’d have be out there when the train come through, and then the porter on the train — Mama knew him — and so then Johnnie and them or somebody be out there to take the package. It’d be a shoebox full of food, already cooked and ready to eat. So that’s the way they helped Uncle Lucian and A’nt Susie, like that. Until they died, and so that was the end of trying to feed them and take care of them.”
Look closely at this snippet of a 1936 map of the Atlantic Coast Line’s routes. Wilson is just above the center point. Lucian and Susie Henderson’s care packages traveled south through Goldsboro to the whistle stop at Dudley’s platform, nine miles below and just above Mount Olive.
Adapted from interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1996 and 1998. All rights reserved.
My grandmother, Hattie Henderson Ricks, inherited two lots in the southern Wayne County town of Dudley from Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, her great-aunt and foster mother. [Because she had been informally adopted by Sarah and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr., my grandmother used the surname Jacobs until adulthood, when she reverted to Henderson.]
Sarah Jacobs, who moved to Wilson about 1905, supported her parents in their final years, sending them food via train and building a small house in Dudley proper closer to neighbors and family. My grandfather recalled:
Mama had the lot where the house was, where Grandma Mag [Margaret Balkcum Henderson (1836-1915)] lived. Had that house built for her. The house they was staying in was up by the railroad, was just about to fall down. Somewhere down up there by where the Congregational Church is. And she built that house down there next to Babe Winn. I don’t think it was but one room. The porch, one room, and a little shed kitchen, a little, small, like a closet almost, and had the stove in it. Then had a stove in the room where she was, one of them round-bellied stoves where you take the top off and put wood in it. I remember that.
Just recently, we discovered documents related to the purchase of these lots. They were in this envelope from the Wayne County Register of Deeds, postmarked 11 August 1941 and addressed to my grandmother at 1109 Queen Street in Wilson. (She penciled in updated addresses as she moved in the 1940s and ’50s.) Sarah Jacobs Silver died in 1938, and I imagine my grandmother received this letter pursuant to the settlement of her estate.
There was this promissory note for the purchase for $20 of lots 15 and 16 of block number 2. It is signed “Sary Jackobs” by someone other than Sarah Jacobs.
And then another, dated 16 October 1911 at Dudley, that she did sign. (Her address was given as 106 Elba Street, Wilson, which was an early designation for 303 Elba.) A notation scribbled in pencil across it confirms that she timely paid off the purchase price.
Marion Post Wolcott image of man and two women rendering fat after a hog killing, near Maxton, N.C., 1938. Library of Congress. (Not Wilson County, but this scene would have been familiar.)
Time to dig in those old scrapbooks. Black Wide-Awake is collaborating on a major research project, and we need your help! We are looking for African-American family photos of Wilson County pig pickings, whole hog barbecues, cookouts, and farm life. If you are interested in sharing your family photos for an amazing project that will celebrate the foodways, traditions, and legacy of Wilson, North Carolina, please contact Zella Palmer at email@example.com. or Lisa Y. Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo of Parker’s Barbecue pit worker courtesy of “The Barbecue Bus: Parker’s Barbecue, Wilson, N.C.” (2011).
Seated, William “Bill” Woodard and Zilphia May Adams Woodard. Standing, Eva Woodard, Wesley Woodard, Elvin Woodard and Lena Woodard, who were among their children.
William Woodard was the grandson of London Woodard, the famous preacher and founder of London’s Primitive Baptist Church, and his first wife, Venus.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Elvin Woodard, 47; wife Deber, 48; and children William, 21, Sylvia, 18, and Amanda, 16.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer William Woodard, 35; wife Zilpha, 27; and children Elvin, 8, James, 5, and Minnie, 2.
In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer William Woodard, 52; wife Zelpha, 44; children James, 22, sawmill laborer, Minnia, 20, Wesley, 17, Eaver, 14, Lenar, 11; and boarders Irvin Eatman, 18, and Art Edwards, 20.
In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer William Woodard, 64; wife Zilfa, 60; children Eva, 23, and Lena, 20; and grandchildren Bettie Williams, 6, and Arthur Woodard, 3 months. Next door: Westley Woodard, 27; wife Easter, 30; stepson Richard Poole, 10; mother-in-law Gracie Poole, 40; and sister-in-law Minnie Poole, 11.
In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: William Woodard, 70; wife Zilfie, 75; and daughter Lena Barnes, 27.
James Woodard died 1 May 1927 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 51 years old; was born in Wilson County to William Woodard and Zilphia Moye; was married to Mary Woodard; and was a tenant farmer for Bunyan Boyette
Zilphia Woodard died 22 April 1934 in Wilson township. Per her death certificate, she was 85 years old; worked in farming until two days before her death; was born in Wilson County to David Moye and Harriett Daniel; and was a widow. Minnie Williams was informant.
Elvin Woodard died 30 March 1941 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 February 1879 in Wilson County to William Woodard and Zilphia Moore; was a laborer; was the widower of Frances Woodard; and was buried in Ellis cemetery. Westley Woodard was informant.
Minnie Williams died 21 May 1941 in Taylor township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born in Wilson County in 1887 to William Woodard and Zelphia Adams; was a widow; and had been engaged in farming. Mamie Melton was informant.
Eva Thorne died 7 May 1948 in Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 October 1894 in Wilson County to William Woodard and Zilpha Adams; was a farmer; and was married to Bill Thorne. Informant was Gladys Hoskins.
Thanks to LeRoy Barnes for sharing this family photo.
I find myself with an unexpected day off, so what better way to kick off the real holiday than chopping it up with Zella Palmer about family, Black history, and Wide-Awake Wilson?
Zella is chair and director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture and renowned for her innovative work to preserve African-American food culture. Find out what she and I have in common — besides everything Black — this afternoon at 3:00 PM Eastern in our Instagram Live conversation @maisonzella!
One of the great benefits of blogging is the insight and information contributed by readers. In October 2019, I wrote of an 1866 custody dispute referred to the Freedmen’s Bureau by John B. Batts, former owner of a woman named Penny and her children. (The 1860 slave schedule of Gardners township, Wilson County, lists John B. Batts with seven slaves — a 55 year-old man; a 21 year-old woman; boys aged 9, 8, 7, and 6; and a 2 year-old girl.) The children’s father, Abram, was seeking to take them, and Batts and Penny contested his claim. Batts did not name the children in his petition, nor did he give surnames for Penny and Abram.
Isabelle Martin cracked the mystery on the basis of information provided in Nash County marriage license applications filed in the 1870s. Penny Hines was the mother, Abram Sharpe was the father, and the children were Alexander, Adline, Amanda, Gandy, Joshua, and Peter Batts (and maybe others.) That the children adopted J.B. Batts’ surname, rather than that of their mother or father suggests (but does not prove) that they remained with him well after slavery, and demonstrates the folly of making assumptions about relationships among freedmen on the basis of their last names.
Here’s what I now know about the family:
We’ve already met Abram Sharpe here. He was enslaved by Benjamin W. Sharpe and named in Sharpe’s will. Abram Sharpe, son of Church Bynum and Thana Sharp, married Caroline Hines, daughter of Allen Hines and Harriet Hines, on 12 January 1869 in Wilson County.
In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Abram Sharp, 30, wife Caroline, 19, and son John, 9 months.
In the 1900 census of No. 13 Cokey township, Edgecombe County: farmer Abram Sharp, 64; wife Caroline, 62; children Willie, 15, Mamy, 14, and Richard, 8; grandchildren Fred, 7, Nathan, 4, and Liza, 2; and widowed mother-in-law Harriett Hines, 77. But also, in the 1900 census of No. 10 township, Edgecombe County: farmer Abrom Sharp, 55; wife Caline, 50; and children Mamie, 8, Willie, 7, and Hattie, 30.
In the 1880 census of Cooper township, Nash County: Penny Hines, 40, hireling. [On either side, son Red Batts and daughter Amanda Batts Hargrove. All appear to have been working for white farmer Wiilis Eason.]
On 31 December 1883, Alice Batts, 19, daughter of Penny Hines, married Daniel Parker, 21, at Redman Hines’ in Nash County. [Is this another of Abram and Penny’s children? Or just Penny’s?]
[Was Penny a Hines because she remarried? Was her next husband Redman (or Reddin) Hines, called “Red”? Red Hines hosted or witnessed the marriages of three of the Batts children. In the 1880 census of Stony Creek township, Wilson County: ditcher Reddin Hines, 40; wife Penny, 40; and children Alice Ann, 15, Margaret, 12, Jno., 7, Calford O., 6, Charles B., 4, and Joe and Ida, 1.]
On 20 December 1874, Alex Batts, 19, married Mariah Daniel, 24, at Red Hines’ house in Nash County.
In the 1880 census of Stony Creek township, Nash County: ox driver Alex’r Batts, 23; wife Mariah, 26; and children Bettie, 4, Jno. Rich’d, 1, and Mary, 3 months.
In the 1900 census of Rocky Mount township, Nash County: farmer Alex Batts, 46; wife Maria, 45; and children Johnnie, 22, Joseph, 14, Laurence, 12, Mancy, 11, Lula B., 9, Rosco, 8, and Roy, 4.
On 26 December 1871, Adline Batts, daughter of Abram Sharp and Penny Batts, married Jerry Davis, son of Doctor O. Bunn and Harriet Davis, at Red Hines’ in Nash County.
On 4 November 1875, Charles Hargroves, 35, of Nash County, married Amanda Batts, 18, of Nash County, daughter of Abram Sharpe and Penny Hines, in Cooper township, Nash County.
In the 1880 census of Cooper township, Nash County: next to Red Batts, 23, hireling, and Penny Hines, 40, hireling, hireling Charles Hardgrove, 46, and wife Amanda, 18, hireling.
In the 1900 census of Township No. 14 Upper Town Creek, Edgecombe County: farmer Charles Hargroves, 63; wife Amanda, 38; and children John C., 16, Mance H., 13, Maggie, 11, Cora, 10, Bessie, 8, Ether, 5, and Ella, 1.
Manda Lane died 10 June 1914 in Township #12, Edgecombe County. Per her death certificate, she was about 53 years old; was married; and was the daughter of Abram Sharp and Pennie Forehand. Mance Hargrove was informant.
Ether Bryan died 11 June 1916 in Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County. Per her death certificate, she was born August 1894 to Charles Hargrove and Amanda Hines; and was married. Flora Hargrove was informant.
Mance Hargrove died 5 May 1945 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Per his death certificate, he was born 22 June 1886 in Nash County to Charles Hargrove and Manda Batts; was married to Florida Hargrove; lived in Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County; was a merchant in a grocery store; and was buried in Unity cemetery, Rocky Mount.
Lillie Williams died 26 December 1947 in Sharpsburg, Rocky Mount township, Edgecombe County. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 March 1907 in Nash County to Charles Hargrove and Mandy Lewis; was married to Mandonia Williams; and was buried in Unity cemetery, Rocky Mount.
On 23 May 1878, Gandy Batts, 24, of Nash County, son of Abram Sharp and Penny Hinds, married Emily Whitley, 18, daughter of John and Crensy Whitley, in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Red Hines was a witness.
In the 1880 census of Stony Creek township, Nash County: farm laborer Gandy Batts, 26; wife Emily, 21, and son Balaam, 1.
In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Gandy Batts, 48; wife Emma, 40; sons Bailey [Balaam], 21, and Allen, 15; and cousin Charley Hines, 24.
Gandy Batts is buried in Elm City Colored Cemetery. His broken headstone, made in the anchor-and-ivy style, states: Gandy Batts died Sept. 22, 1908 Age 53 Yrs. Gone to a brighter home Where grief can not [come.]
Ballam Batts died 25 March 1952 at his home at 1000 Roberson Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 October 1886 to Gandy Batts and Emily Whitley; was married to Clara Batts; worked as a farmer; and was buried in Elm City [Colored] Cemetery.
On 10 May 1873, Joshua Batts, 20, of Nash County, son of Abram Sharp and Penny Hines, married Silvia Whitaker, 25, of Nash County, daughter of Gray Whitley, at John Joyner’s plantation in Coopers township, Nash County. Peter R. Batts applied for the license and was a witness.
In the 1880 census of Stony Creek township, Nash County: farmer Joshua Batts, 26, farm laborer; wife Sylvia, 28; and children William, 15, Fountain, 10, Ella, 6, Helen, 5, Ella, 2, and Mindy Ann, 1 week.
In the 1900 census of Morehouse Parish, Louisana: farmer Josh Batts, 54; wife Silvie, 52; and daughter Elvie, 15.
On 27 July 1878, Peter Reddick Batts, 22, of Nash County, son of Abram Sharp and Penny Hines, both of Wilson County, married Harriet Whitaker, 20, of Nash County, daughter of Jacob Whitaker, at Charlie Hargro’s in Cooper township, Nash County. Joshua Batts was a witness.
In the 1880 census of Cooper township, Nash County: Red Batts, 23, hireling, and Penny Hines, 40, hireling.
Peter R. Batts died between 1880 and 1885. On 5 January 1885, his widow Harriett Batts married Charles Farmer at the Wilson County Courthouse. Farmer adopted her and Red Batts’ infant son, Edward, and the family migrated to Arkansas.
In the 1900 census of Ellis township, Pulaski County, Arkansas: farmer Charles Farmer, 53; wife Harriett, 48; and son Claudis, 13, all born in North Carolina.
Edward Berry Farmer died 13 July 1938 in Brodie County, Arkansas. Per his death certificate, he was 62 years old; was born in North Carolina to Red Bats and Hattie Whitaker; and lived near Little Rock. Ida Taylor was informant.
Ida Taylor Parker died 17 January 1962 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 March 1880 in North Carolina to Red Bats and Harriette [maiden name not given]; was a widow; and was buried in Mount Zion cemetery. Bernice Joyner, Oakland, California, was informant. [Taylor and Parker were married names. Presumably, Ida’s maiden name was Batts.]