The Denver Star, 7 November 1914.
Death certificates are the official records of death, but often tell us very little about how the decedent’s family understood or experienced their loved one’s final illness and transition.
Jesse A. Jacobs died 6 July 1926 of apoplexy (or, as we would now call it, cerebral hemorrhage.) “Hernia inguinal” was listed a contributing cause. “Papa Jesse” reared my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks. He died when she was 16; he was her great-aunt Sarah Henderson‘s husband. Though his hernia, which apparently had strangulated, did not directly kill him, his suffering and the blame cast within the family after his death deeply impacted her.
Here’s what she told me:
“[Papa] was ruptured from the time I can remember.
“… He was supposed to have an operation. He was ruptured, and [his daughter] Carrie [Jacobs Bradshaw], she claimed she didn’t know it. And I said, now, I was the youngest child was there, and I knowed that all that stuff that was down ‘tween his legs was something wrong with him. And I had sense enough to know not to ask no grown folks or nothing about it. And I didn’t ask Mama. I didn’t say nothing, but I was wondering, ‘What in the world was wrong with him?’
“… And Papa, he was a good person, and they want to accuse him of going with the nurse up there at Mercy Hospital. I don’t know whether she was married or not, I don’t think she was married, but she was real light-skinned lady, smaller lady, and he went up there for something, probably his rupture – I know he had to go to the hospital for treatments or something. Anyway, the last time, Carrie came down and she was fussing about if she’d known Papa had to have an operation, she’d have come down, and he’d have had it. Instead of waiting until it was too late. Now the last week they wasn’t expecting him to live. But, no bigger than I was, I knew he had it. And she was grown, old enough for my mother, and then she talking ‘bout she didn’t know he was ruptured? Well, all his tubes was, ah – And he always had to wear a truss to hold hisself up. And when he’d be down, I’d be down there sweeping at the school, and he’d be out there plowing a field he rented out there, and he’d come up, lay down on the floor and take a chair and he’d put his legs up over the chair like that, and I’d wet the cloths from the bowl where was in the hall, some of the old dust cloths, and hand them to him, and he’d put them down on his side, and you could hear it ‘bluckup’ and that thing would go back there.
“But see it had got, his intestines, that tissue between there had bursted, and the doctor told him he needed an operation. So he was gon get it, but he didn’t have money enough to get it. Didn’t save up money enough to have the operation. So none of the children – all of them know, as large as his – but leastways he couldn’t hide himself, ‘cause even from a little child, I could see that for years, and I wondered what it was. ‘Cause I know everybody didn’t have it, at least didn’t have all that in their britches. [Pause.] And Carrie come down there, and she fuss Mama out about him not having the operation and this kind of stuff. And [Mama] said, ‘Well, we never had the money to get the operation. We tried to go and get it, and we’d pay on it by time.’ But, naw, he wanted, he was gon make something off the crop, and he’d pay. Pay it and have it then. But he never got the chance. So when they put him in the hospital and operated on him — say when they cut him, he had over a quart of pus in him. I think it was on a Thursday, and he lived ‘til that Tuesday.”
Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1998; all rights reserved.
Six month-old Shirley Jean Everett died before Dr. T.G Bradshaw could reach her in the winter of 1948. Given the condition of the roads, it is not clear how he “sent medicine” from his office in Rock Ridge.
“Probably Pneumonia Did not see [her?] & Roads so bad no one could get to see her Sent medicine 2/4/48”
In a nine-day span in 1914, Wilson residents Mary A. Williams and James T. Rountree died while under the care of William F. Edwards, a “divine healer.”
William F. Edwards was only passing through town and apparently moved on with impunity. Two years later the “Gospel preacher and healer” was in Concord, North Carolina, “still curing the people.”
Concord Daily Tribune, 4 December 1916.
Concord Daily Tribune, 11 December 1916.
Four years after that, “The World’s Wonder Christian Scientist Preacher Healer” was in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, exhorting black and white to come throw their crutches away.
The Independent (Elizabeth City, N.C.), 11 June 1920.
Hat tip to D.P. for locating these articles about Edwards.
In 1920, a public health officer resorted to shaming to appeal to Wilson’s African-American community to (trust the white medical establishment enough to) be vaccinated against smallpox.
Wilson Daily Times, 29 January 1920.
Also, “Norfolk and Southern station”? This was not the iconic railroad station still standing at Nash Street and the Atlantic Coast Line railroad. Rather, it was a small depot at the corner of Barnes and Douglas (then Spring) Streets.
Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C. (1922).
Long abandoned as a railroad station, here is the building now.
[Sidenote: I and my cohort were among the last children in Wilson to receive smallpox vaccinations. Since 1969, I have worn the “badge of honor” at the top of my left shoulder blade.]
Streetview photo courtesy of Google Maps.
In 1828, the North American Medical and Surgical Journal published an account of Stantonsburg doctor Josiah R. Horn’s treatment of an undiagnosed bone disease in an enslaved man’s leg. The man is unnamed, and his suffering is unspeakable, despite Dr. Horn’s best efforts. Ultimately, his leg was amputated at the thigh, and he recovered.
Well into the twentieth century, children faced harrowing odds against reaching adulthood. Disease, accidents, violence bore them away in sorrowful numbers. In the 1910s, 17% of American children died before age 5, a figure that was higher for Southern and African-American children. Few children in Wilson County were buried in marked graves. In town, original burials were in Oaklawn or the Masonic cemetery. The Oaklawn graves were exhumed and moved to Rest Haven in the 1940s, and headstones, if they ever existed, have been lost over time.
By allowing us to call their names again, this series of posts memorializes the lives of children who died in the first twenty years in which Wilson County maintained death records. May they rest in peace.
Indiana History Blog published Nicole Poletika’s detailed look at Dr. Joseph H. Ward‘s role in challenging segregation as the head of Tuskegee, Alabama’s Veterans Hospital No. 91 in the 1920s and ’30s.
Dr. Ward is on the front row, center (next to the nurse) in this 1933 photograph of Veterans Hospital staff. Photo courtesy of VA History Highlights, “First African American Hospital Director in VA History,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
[Sidenote: Dr. Ward was not born to “impoverished parents” per the article, though it is possible that he himself gave this gloss on his early life. Rather, his father was Napoleon Hagans, a prosperous freeborn farmer in nearby Wayne County, and his mother was Mittie Ward, a young freedwoman whose family moved into town after Emancipation from the plantation of Dr. David G.W. Ward near Stantonsburg.]
Hat tip to Zella Palmer for pointing me to this article. She is Dr. Ward’s great-granddaughter, and they are my cousins.