Family

Detail.

I have written here of 303 Elba Street, a small L-plan cottage a few steps off East Green Street. Built before 1908, it is among the oldest surviving houses in the East Wilson Historic District, though its days are clearly numbered.  Their names are lost to time, but the carpenters that built this house by hand were almost certainly African-American, drawn from Wilson’s tiny pool of talented craftsmen.

A peek into the house, now abandoned, reveals few original details, but the ones that remain speak to the attention paid to the aesthetics of even working-class housing. The fireplace surround — simple trim molding on the mantel shelf and across the header and, on the mantel legs, double brackets atop delicate spindles. The pleasant asymmetry of the door’s five floating panels.

[My family spent three decades in this house, opening and closing this door times innumerable, resting an elbow or laying a piece of mail on this mantel.]

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson.

Cemeteries, no. 22: John and Bettie Hinnant Jones family cemetery.

This small family cemetery is adjacent to the Sane Williams graveyard, described here.

The graves of John A. Jones and Bettie Hinnant Jones lie under two of the brick vault covers seen below.

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In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Dempsy Powell, 52, farmer; wife Sallie, 46; daughter Susan A. Jones, 27, and her husband John A. Jones, 34; their children Thomas A., 13, Jessee B., 11, James A., 7, Celia C., 5, Sallie C., 4, and John A., 1; and W.D. Lucus, 21, laborer.

John A. Jones, 20, of Old Fields, son of John A. and Susan Jones, married Celia Williamson, 18, of Old Fields, daughter of Spencer and Senia Williamson, on 17 January 1898 at Jim Jones’.Witnesses included Thomas A. Jones.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer General V. Hinnant, 38; wife Martha A., 35; and children Alice V., 13, Minnie A., 12, Ezekiel, 11, Bettie J., 9, William V., 4, Oscar, 2, and Herman, 2.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Vandorne Hinnant, 48; wife Betsy J., 46; and children Ezekial, 22, Bettie, 19, Willie, 13, Oscar, 12, Luther, 10, Regest W., 9, Roland, 8, Ralon, 6, Ollien, 4, and Roy E., 2.

J.A. Jones, 34, son of John A. and Susan Jones, of Old Fields, married Bettie Hinnant, 21, daughter of Vandorn and Janie Hinnant, of Springhill township, on 5 May 1912. Missionary Baptist minister William H. Mitchiner performed the ceremony at the Hinnant home.

In 1918, John Alce Jones registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he resided at R.F.D.#1, Sims; was born 25 January 1897; was a self-employed farmer; and Bettie Jones was his nearest relative.

In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: on Jones Hill Road, farmer J.A. Jones, 42; wife Bettie, 28; and children Johnie W., 16, Grover, 7, Susie, 5, Maomie, 4, and Ruth, 1.

In the 1930 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: John A. Jones, 53, farmer wife Bettie J., 39; and children Grover L., 17, Sussie J., 15, Namie, 13, and Ruth, 11.

John Asley Jones died 21 April 1962 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 October 1878 in Wilson County to John Allen Jones and Susan Powell; was married to Betty Hinnant; was a retired farmer; and lived in Sims, Wilson County.

Bettye Hinnant Jones died 21 May 1866 in Enfield, Halifax County, North Carolina. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 February 1891 in Wilson County to Vandorn Hinnant and Martha Jane Horton; was widowed; and resided in Sims, Wilson County.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2018.

 

Golden wedding … and more.

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Wilson Daily Times, 1 December 1953.

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Wilson Daily Times, 23 November 1963.

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B.H. Edwards, 23, of Nash County, married Lucy Kearney, 17, of Wilson, on 9 November 1903 in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of J.J. Murfree, J.H. Pulley and W.L. Hardy.

Lucy K. Edwards died 26 March 1966 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 8 November 1886 in Franklin County, North Carolina, to Anna Williams; resided in Elm City, Wilson County; was married to Buck H. Edwards; and was buried in William Chapel cemetery.

Buck H. Edwards died 12 December 1967 in Elm City, Taylors township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 February 1891 in Nash County to Robert Edwards and Sallie Parker; was married to Bettie M. Edwards; was a minister; and was buried in William Chapel cemetery. Informant was Mrs. Mae Guzman, 1214 Queen Street, Wilson.

Newest and finest.

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Wilson Daily Times, 26 March 1948.

Seventy years later, Edwards Funeral Home — still operated by the Edwards family — remains a cornerstone of East Wilson business. Its website sets out the company’s history:

“On a calm, sunny day in March 1948, two brothers, Oliver H. and James Weldon Edwards, opened the doors of Edwards Funeral Home, Inc. at 805 E. Nash Street in Wilson, North Carolina. The story does not begin there. Rather it begins with the conception and dream that two brothers had of being entrepreneurs and opening their own business, a funeral home. Oliver, the older of the two, lived in Raleigh and worked at a funeral home as a licensed funeral director. He encouraged James, who had just completed a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in World War II, to attend school in funeral service and mortuary science rather than pursue another career and major. James was in New York City by this time, and he began and completed American Academy of Mortuary Science in New York City (now American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service) as a licensed funeral director and mortician. The dream moves toward reality. Having met two of the requirements (experience and knowledge) for starting an enterprise of this type, both men had to decide where to locate the business. The decision was a fairly easy one – to go home. “Home” was the tri-county area of Wilson, Nash, and Edgecombe Counties where the Edwards family had deep roots, dating back several generations to at least the 18th Century and where the brothers, as well as the extended family, grew up, went to school, and attended church. Their father, the Reverend B.H. Edwards, was a highly respected Baptist minister who pastured Sandy Fork Missionary Baptist, Red Oak Grove Missionary Baptist, Rising Sun Missionary Baptist, and Mary Grove Missionary Baptist Churches over a span of 42 years. In their youth, Reverend Edwards carried his boys (and all his children) throughout the various church communities and neighborhoods in these counties. Thus, Oliver and James knew the people, and the people knew them. The decision was made – Wilson. The brothers, encouraged by their parents and wives, bought a two story white frame house in East Wilson. Located on the main thoroughfare, this “home” was a classic representative of the Colonial Revival type of architecture. It still has the original interior paneling, crown molding, woodworking, winding stairway and a marble hearth fireplace. The site was chosen as much for its location and the charm of this house far for the warmth and friendliness of the neighbors and the neighborhood (some of whom reside there today). The funeral home (with interior and exterior renovations and expansions) remains in the same location today due mostly out of a desire to remain in the area where the family still lives and because of the history and symbolism of the structure. Oliver and James worked hard and opened the doors to Edwards Funeral Home and established it as a thriving business. Both brothers ran the business until Oliver’s death in July 1963. James assumed leadership, ownership and management of the business until May 1982 when he died. James’ widow, the former Josephine Farmer from Nash County, assumed leadership, after her husband’s death. She wanted to keep the dream and legacy alive for their children, Angela and Carla. Having worked as a classroom teacher in the public schools of Nash and Wilson Counties for 36 years, Josephine joined the ranks of the funeral home staff upon her retirement in 1987. Under her watchful nurturance, the funeral home continued to operate and prosper in a profession that has been traditionally dominated by men. Despite “being a woman in a man’s world,” Josephine expanded the funeral home to include, among other changes, a chapel with an organ. The chapel has a seating capacity of 200 people. Her commitment to the business, the people, the community and to serving Wilson and surrounding counties is evidenced by her ever presence at the funeral home and at funerals. Josephine’s community orientation and dedication to Wilson County is also evidenced by her service as a county commissioner, per participation in the various local, civic, and service organizations/clubs and her service through appointment on state committees by Governor Hunt. The future of Edwards Funeral Home, Inc. is certain. It is moving into the second millennium under the family oriented leadership of Mrs. Edwards with the support of her children: Angela R. Edwards Jones, Carla D. Edwards Williams, Tyrone P. Jones, III, and Darryl A. Williams. Hopefully the third generations will keep the legacy alive with the grandchildren, Darian and Carlin Williams. The legacy lives. Mrs. Edwards remembers and is appreciative for the kind support of her patrons throughout the years. She hopes to continue serving you in the difficult times during and after the loss of a loved one. She gives the best in dignified, personalized, professional care and service at the time of death and afterwards. Edwards Funeral Home, Inc. hopes to continue this tradition of meeting people’s needs with friendliness, kindness, understanding, warmth, innovation, and confidentiality. Over these sixty years, many employees have helped to insure quality service and care to patrons. Mrs. Edwards is thankful to all persons who have assisted the family since 1948. The fine tradition of service with dignity continues to be the aim of the Edwards Funeral Home staff. ‘Let Gentle Hands and Kind Hearts Care For You When Loved Ones Depart.'”

  • Rev. B.H. Edwards — Buchanan Hilliard Edwards (1891-1967)
  • O.H. Edwards — Oliver Hazel Edwards (1907-1963)
  • James W.  Edwards — James Weldon Edwards (1921-1982)
  • Josephine Farmer Edwards (1922-2013)

 

He never set up a claim to them until recently.

We read earlier of Violet Blount‘s successful attempt to gain custody of her grandsons, Oscar and Marcus Blount, who were first cousins to Samuel H. Vick. Though that battle played out in the Goldsboro field office of the Freedmen’s Bureau, George W. Blount’s statement was filed in the Rocky Mount office. In it, he gave details about the relationship between the boys’ mother, Margaret Blount, and Samberry Battle.

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Statement of G.W. Blount.

Margarett was the name of the mother of the children. Oscar & Marcus, two colored children bound to B.H. Blount their former master by Wilson County Court. The mother of these children is dead and has been for several years. Samberry Battle did have the mother of the children for a wife & by her begot one child who is now of age & whose name is William. After the birth of William the mother became intimate with another man, by name Hillman, by whom she had two children, James & [illegible]. After the birth of the first of these two Samberry left the mother on account of her infidelity and took another woman and never after had anything to do with the mother of these. Marcus has a different father from Oscar, and there is yet another child by a different father. It is notorious among negros & whites that Samberry is not the father of any of the children except William and never set up a claim to them, until recently. He has never mentioned the mother to B.H. Blount in whose custody the children have always been. The grandmother of the children is living under the protection of B.H. Blount who will not see her suffer and said Grandmother protests against the claim of Samberry Battle. The fathers of the two children referred to above if living are not in this country & if so could not claim them as they were both begotten illegitimately. Therefore the binding by the Court without Notice to them is valid. The binding was regular & in accordance to law.

Roll 56, Miscellaneous Records, Rocky Mount Assistant Superintendent’s Records, North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, National Archives and Records Administration images, www.familysearch.org

 

The Harris Brothers.

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Elm City’s Harris Brothers Quartet. Left to right: Jesse Harris Jr., William Amos Harris, Archie Harris, James Roscoe Harris Sr., and Willie Richardson (on guitar). [The photo is dated about 1945, but likely was somewhat later, as William Amos Harris was born in 1932 and Archie Harris in 1933.]

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In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Jessie Harris, 34; wife Delphia, 36; and children Rosetta, 12, Alberta, 9, James, 2, and Jessie James, 1; and mother Rosa, 66.

In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farm laborer Jack Harris, 43; wife Delphia, 40; children Rosetta, 22, Odell, 20, Annie M., 15, James Oscar, 13, Jessie, 12, Thelma, 10, Amos, 8, Archie, 7, and Chaney Mae, 5; plus grandchildren Ned, 5, and Leroy, 1.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Harris (and printed in the Wilson Daily Times, 25 May 2018).

 

The Dardens secure their son’s start.

In March 1905, Charles H. and Diana Darden conveyed to their son Camillus L. Darden a one-quarter interest (with a life interest retained) in a lot on the south side of Nash Street “whereon is located the new shop and hall” in order to encourage his interest in a bicycle repair business. The elder Dardens also leased to C.L. Darden one-half of the first and second floors in the shop building. The lease was to continue year after year for five dollars per year as long as C.L. pursued his business. If C.L. ever wished to sell his interest in the property, his parents had right of first refusal to purchase it for $250.

Deed book 72, page 49, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

London Woodard, Penny Lassiter Woodard and the London Church.

On 14 February 1970, the Wilson Daily Times published a full-page article detailing the life of London Woodard, founder of London’s Primitive Baptist Church.

London Woodard was born enslaved in 1792. He was recorded in the estates of Asa Woodard in 1816 and Julan Woodard in 1826 (in which he was recognized as a distiller of fine fruit brandies.) In 1827, James B. Woodard bought London at auction for $500. The same year, London married Venus, a woman enslaved by Woodard. In 1828, London was baptized and appears as a member in the minutes of Tosneot Baptist Church. Venus was baptized in 1838 and died in 1845.

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Transfer of title to “a negroe man by the name of Lonon” from Nathan Woodard to James B. Woodard, 1928.

J.B. Woodard’s second wife in 1837, and he hired Penelope Lassiter, a free woman of color, as a housekeeper and surrogate mother to his children. Lassiter, born 1814, was the daughter of Hardy Lassiter, who owned a small farm south of Wilson. She met London, who was working as overseer, at Woodard’s. In 1852, Penny Lassiter bought 106 acres for $242 about five miles east of Wilson on the Tarboro Road.

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In 1854, Penny Lassiter purchased her husband London, then about 62 or 63, from J.B. Woodard for $150. In 1858 Lassiter bought another 53 acres near her first tract and purchased 21 acres in 1859. The same year, she sold a small parcel to Jordan Thomas, a free man of color [who was married to her step-daughter Rose Woodard.] In 1866, the years after he was emancipated, London Woodard bought, subject to mortgage, a 200-acre parcel.

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In 1866, London Woodard was granted authority to preach “only among his acquaintances,” i.e. African-Americans. A member of Tosneot Baptist donated an acre of land to build a black church, regarded as the first in Wilson County. London Woodard was licensed to preach in 1870.

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London Woodard preached his last sermon on 13 November 1870. The next day, he suffered a stroke and fell into an open fireplace. Despite severe burns, he was able to dictate a will before his death.

The history of London Church for the 25 years after Woodard’s death is murky. In 1895, white churches Tosneot and Upper Town Creek dismissed several African-American members in order that they might establish an independent congregation at London’s. [London Church reorganized under the umbrella of the Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Association in 1897.]

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By the terms of his will, London Woodard provided for his wife Penelope; sons William, Hardy, Haywood, Howell, Elvin, Amos and London; and daughters Treasy, Rose, Pharibee, Sarah, Harriet and Penninah. (Deceased son John’s daughter was apparently inadvertently omitted.)  “A few facts” about Woodard’s children follows.

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Receipts for payments for taxes and accounts for Penny Lassiter and London Woodard.

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This building was moved around the corner to London Church Road. It has long been abandoned and collapsed in 2017 after suffering serious storm damage the year before.