Immigration

The life and times of Wilton M. Bethel, part 1.

Black Wide-Awake benefits from the largesse of so many, and J. Robert Boykin III is at the forefront of its benefactors. Recently, Bobby shared a box of photographs left in a sidewalk trash pile after the death of Wilton Maxwell Bethel in 1986. A native of the Bahamas, Bethel was a long-time salesman for North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, son-in-law of John H. Clark, and a devoted Episcopalian.

I pulled from the box several sleeves of loose sepia snapshots, several formal portraits mounted in cardboard folders, several large group photos, and a photo album. At first glance, no faces seemed familiar, but as I continue to sit with the box, it’s giving up its secrets. I’ll share them in groups, starting with the photo album.

Wilton M. Bethel’s photo album.

Five year-old Wilton M. Bethel arrived in the United States on 6 April 1911 with his mother Phillis E. Bethel, 33, described as a widowed washwoman; his eight year-old brother Alfred M. Bethel; and his four year-old niece Flosie L. Bethel. The family’s last residence was Eleuthera, Bahamas, and their “nationality” was British West Indies. Their nearest relative in their home country was Phillis Bethel’s sister Sarah J. Gardner, Cat Island, Bahamas. The Bethels’ final destination was listed as Eleuthera, which suggests a return trip home, but the family appears to have remained permanently in Miami, Florida. Phillis Bethel reported being in possession of ten U.S. dollars and stated that the family had not visited the country before. They were headed to visit her son George Bethel in Miami.

Detail of List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival.

In the 1920 census of Miami, Florida: at 630 2nd Street, Philis E. Bethel, 57; sons Arvis, 20, hotel bellman, Alfred, 18, aviation camp laborer, and Wilton, 15, jewelry store porter; and daughter Jessie, 19. All reported arriving in the U.S. in 1911 from the Bahamas and were “aliens.”

This photo broke the code. On the reverse:

It’s the young Wilton M. Bethel, “a pal indeed,” in January 1924, when he was 18. His mother ordered four copies, it appears.

Speaking of Phillis E. Bethel, this may be her image. The shotgun houses at rear, as the palm tree at right discloses, are not in Wilson. Rather, they are the type built by early Bahamian immigrants in Miami neighborhoods such as Coconut Grove.

Wilton Bethel at right at the beach with a man, a child, and a woman in a cloche, pearls, stockings, and high-heeled mary janes.

In 1924, Bethel arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, to enroll in the high school division of Saint Augustine’s College’s, which did not yet offer baccalaureate degrees. (Bethel was already 19 years old, but older students were not uncommon in an era in which childhood illness, family finances, and the scarcity of public high schools for Black students often delayed completion of secondary education.) He is listed in school catalogs from 1924-25 through 1928-29 as he progressed through four years of high school and a year in the College Department. His first two years, his hometown is listed as Miami; the latter three, as New York, N.Y.

Bethel’s scrapbook seems to span his late teens and early twenties, with most of the photos snapped at Saint Aug. The nearly one hundred pictures do not appear to be in chronological order, and none are labeled. Several, though, are stamped “Finished by Siddell Studio, Raleigh, N.C.,” and a handful bear inscriptions on the reverse. Bethel himself appears to have been the photographer for many.

Wilton Bethel sitting on a stump, holding a 3A Folding Pocket Kodak.

On the reverse: “With love Al.” Is this Bethel’s elder brother Alfred Bethel?

Bethel, top left, with pals, probably at Saint Augustine’s College in the late 1920s.

Unidentified woman.

Unidentified man skiing in tie and newsboy cap.

On the reverse: “Will arrives in Raleigh 5 40 Thurs after meet Train”

Around 1929, Bethel took a position as an insurance salesman with North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company and moved to Wilson, where he first lodged with the Noah Tate family.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bethel Wilton M (c) slsmn N C Mut Life Ins Co h 307 Pender.

Flora Clark Bethel.

On 18 June 1930, Wilton M. Bethel, 21 [sic], of Wilson, son of Ernest and Phillis Bethel, married Flora Ruth Clark, 21 [sic], of Wilson, daughter of John H. and Ida R. Clark, in Wilson. Protestant Episcopal minister Eugene Leon Henderson performed the ceremony at Saint Mark’s in the presence of the Clarks and Percy Young. [Actually, Wilton Bethel was 24. Flora Clark Bethel was about 7 years older than her husband. She had also attended Saint Augustine’s College, graduating in 1924, when it was a junior college.]

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John Clark, 76; wife Ida, 65; son-in-law Wilton Bethel, 33, insurance agent for N.C. Mutual, and daughter Flora, 30, teacher at Darden High School.

Wilton Maxwell Bethel registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 5 September 1906 in Miami, Florida; was an American citizen; lived at 706 East Nash Street, Wilson; his nearest relative was wife Flora C. Bethel; and he worked for N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company, Goldsboro, N.C.

Wilton M. Bethel died 14 January 1986 in Wilson.

Florida, Arriving and Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1898-1963, database on-line at http://www.ancestry.com.

Application to take oath of allegiance.

Daisy Unas, nee Battle, applied to the United States District Court in Boston to take an oath of allegiance to the United States on 28 March 1942. Per her application, she was born 12 April 1888 in Wilson, North Carolina; lived at 144 Worcester Street, Roxbury; had a dark complexion, brown eyes, and black/gray hair; was 5’7″, 180 pounds; married Henry Unas on 27 November 1908 in Boston; and believed she had lost her citizenship by marrying a subject of Great Britain. Daisy Unas took the oath of renunciation and allegiance on 6 April 1942.

——

In the 1900 census of Portsmouth, Virginia: Lizzie Battle, 40, laundress, born in Virginia; children Charlie, 18, teamster, Lee J., 13, day laborer, Daisy, 11, and Sylvester, 8; and boarder Ross George, 32, day laborer. Sylvester was born in Virginia; the other children in North Carolina.

On 27 November 1908, Henry Unas, 22, resident of 1 East Lenox Street, seaman, born Barbuda, West Indies, to Thomas Unas and Frances Webber, married Daisy Battle, 23, resident of same, cook, born in Durham, N.C., to William Battle and and Sarah James.

In the 1910 census of Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts: widow Elizabeth Battle, 38, born in Virginia, washing; daughter Daisey E. Eunice, 20, born in North Carolina, domestic; son-in-law Henry Eunice, 24, Spanish West Indies, collard laborer; and granddaughter Marion, 3.

In 1918, Henry Alfred Unas registered for the World War I draft. Per his registration card, he was born 24 September 1884 in “Great Britain, West Indies;” lived at 69 Ruggles Street, Roxbury; worked as a longshoreman for United Fruits Company; and his wife was Dasie Unas.

In the 1920 census of Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts: at 24 Westminster Avenue, Henry A. Unis, 36, furniture expressman, born in British West Indies; wife Daisy A., 33; and children Marion U., 12, and Alice G., 5.

In the 1930 census of Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts: at 24 Westminster Avenue, owned and valued at $3000, Henry Alfred Unas, 43, born in Barbuda, West Indies, employed as “expressing-moving”; wife Daisy U., 43, born in North Carolina; and children Alice S., 14, and Doris P., 3; and nephew Paul C. Galloway, 8. Unas immigrated in 1908.

In the 1940 census of Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts: at 31 Eustis, Dasey Unes, 52; nephew Paul Galloway, 18; and daughter Doris Unes, 13.

In the 1942 Boston, Massachusetts, city directory: Unas Daisy A Mrs dom h 31 Eustis Rox[bury]

Henry Alfred Unas petitioned for naturalization on 1 October 1945. Per his petition, he was born 24 September 1889 in Barbuda, British West Indies; lived at 23 Westminster Street, Roxbury; had a dark complexion, brown eyes, and black hair; was 6’1″, 175 pounds; married Daisy on 27 November 1908; had two children, both born in Boston, Alice, 12 May 1916, and Doris, 12 November 1967; and migrated into the United States from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, on 15 October 1906.

Boston Globe, 24 July 1967.

George R. Murrain’s journey.

On 30 July 1928, Presbyterian minister A.H. George conducted the marriage ceremony of George R. Murrain, 25, of New York, son of George R. and Elizabeth Murrain, and Della Mae Whitehead, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Henry and Victoria Whitehead, in Wilson. Witnesses were Elizabeth Brodie, H.M. Fitts, and Pennie A. Bynum. The license notes that Murrain’s father was dead, but his mother resided in Africa.

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Immigration documents reveal that George Richard Murrain was the son of George Richard Murrain and Elizabeth Burnette Murrain, missionaries who traveled the world on behalf of the Church of the Brethren, one of the three historic peace churches. The elder Murrains moved for decades between South America, Africa, Europe and North America, a peripatetic international existence that George and Della Murrain also briefly carried out.

Digitized immigration records show some of the Murrain family’s travels.

“List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival” details passengers sailing from Liverpool, England, 31 July 1913, on the S.S. Adriatic, arriving at the Port of New York on 8 August 1913. The manifest included George Richard Murrain (the elder), 45, wife Elizabeth, 43, and their children Frederick, 15, Stanley, 13, Jeanie, 12, George, 10, Joseph, 8, Mona, 6, and Elliott, 5. The family’s last permanent residence was Hualondo, Africa, and their contact was Missionaries of Christian Brethren, Bile, West Central Africa.

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This “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival” shows passengers sailing from Southampton, England, 10 January 1922, on the S.S. Olympic. The manifest lists missionary Mary Augusta Murrain, 29, and students George Richard, 20, and Mona Elizabeth Murrain, 18. All were citizens of Great Britain whose last residence was Hualondo, Africa. Their father was G.R. Murrain, Missan Ingleza Bie Angola, and their final destination was Enfield, North Carolina.

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Mary, George and Mona Murrain apparently were detained upon arrival in the United States and appear on a “Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry.” The codes do not readily reveal the reason for their detention or how long they were held.

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On 27 July 1924, the Murrains arrived at the Port of Southampton, England, on the Zeelandia. The ship sailed originally from Buenos Aires, and the family boarded in Lisbon. Below is a portion of the “Names and Descriptions of British Passengers” showing George R. Murrain, 55, wife Elizabeth Augusta, 53, and sons Joseph Nathaniel, 20, and Elliot Sydney, 16. Angola was listed as their country of last permanent residence.

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On 29 August 1924, George R. Murrain the elder set sail to Canada on the S.S. Montclare. His “Declaration of Passenger to Canada” shows that he was married to Elizabeth Agusta; that he was a missionary; that he was born in the West Indies; was colored; was British; his religion was Brethren; was going to Canada for vacation; that he had visited the country before; that he first arrived in Canada via New York in 1914; and that his destination was Toronto.

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The trip ended in tragedy.

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There was no “British Guinea”; Murrain was likely from British Guiana, now Guyana, on the northeast Atlantic coast on South America. From “The Believers’ Magazine: For the Ministry of the Word and Tidings of the Work of the Lord,” John Ritchie, editor, volume 25, page 26 (February 1925).

Twenty years after George Murrain Jr. and Della Whitehead married, part of the family appeared on the “Manifest of In-Bound Passengers (Aliens)” arriving tourist class at the Port of New York, from Southampton, England, on the Queen Mary on 13 September 1948. The manifest shows Della Murrain, age 41, and her three children George, 11, Fitzgerald, 9, and Kenneth, 16. Della, George and Fitzgerald were United States citizens; Kenneth was British. The younger boys were born in West Africa.

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Another manifest dated 18 months later shows British citizen George Richard Murrain, age 47, of Route 4, Box 35, Wilson, North Carolina, arriving first class at the Port of New York on the Washington on 24 January 1950. The ship had left Southampton, England, a week earlier.

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George Richard Murrain died 31 August 1982 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 June 1902 in Silva Porto [now Kuito], Angola, West Africa, to George Richard Murrain and Elizabeth Burnette Murrain; was married; was a retired carpenter; and resided at 105 Tacoma Street. Della Whitehead Murrain was informant.

New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957; U.K. Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960; U.K. Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [databases on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Early Afro-Latino residents of Wilson.

Peter Lupe, Cape Verde

  • When Pearlean Barnes married Louis Perrington in Cumberland County in 1943, she listed Peter Lupe as her father. (Her mother, Lucy Barnes Watson, is listed as “Lucy Lupe,” but was never married to Peter.) Pearlean was born about 1916.
  • On 5 June 1917, Peter Lupes registered with the draft board in Wilson, Wilson County. He stated that he was born in 1896 in Portugal and was not a United States citizen. He lived on West Nash Street and was employed as a lot boy for J.T. Wiggins. He was single, and his mother and father partly depended on him. He was described as tall and of medium build with brown eyes and black hair.
  • On 30 April 1924, Peter Lupes, age 30, son of Manuel and Mary Lupes, married Hannah L. Peacock, 21, daughter of Levi and Hannah H. Peacock, in Wilson. Rev. John Mebane performed the ceremony at a Missionary Baptist church, and W.H. Phillips, W.H. Kittrell, and James Mack served as witnesses.
  • In the 1925 city directory of Wilson: Peter Lupes, carpenter, 140 Ashe. His wife Hannah Lupe is listed as a schoolteacher.
  • In the 1930 city directory of Wilson: Peter Lupe (c), shoe shiner, 511 E Nash.
  • On 29 November 1939, Peter Lupes married Rosa Rhyne in Emporia, Greenesville County, Virginia. He was a merchant, a resident of Wilson, North Carolina, divorced, and listed his age as 45. He was born in Portugal to Joe and Mary Lupes. Rosa was widow born in Johnston County who also lived in Wilson.
  • In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 717 Viola Street, Peter Lucas [sic], 50, and wife Rosa, 35. Peter’s birthplace was listed as Massachusetts. He worked as the operator of a beer parlor and Rosa as the operator of a cafe.
  • Peter Lupe died 21 May 1958 in Wilson. He death certificate notes that he was a resident of the city for 50 years and that he was a United States citizen. He was born 21 March 1891 in “Cape of Verdia Island, Portugal” to Teorga Montel Lupe and Mary Montel Lupe; lived at 717 East Viola Street; and worked as a merchant. His wife Rosa Lupe was his informant.


Peter Lupe’s house at 717 Viola, July 2016.

Ramon Jose Martinez, Argentina

  • In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Ramon Martinez, 38, is listed as a roomer in the household of Mena Pitts, 39, at 903 Vance Street. He reported that he was born in Argentina, had been living in Pennsylvania five years previously, and worked as a sign painter.
  • On 16 February 1942, Ramon Jose Martinez registered for the draft in Wilson. He listed his birth date and place as 7 September 1898 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He worked as a commercial artist, resided at 903 Vance Street, and Ximena Pitts Martinez was his contact person. He was 5’6″, 184 pounds, with brown eyes, black hair, and dark brown skin. The registrar noted: “he limps (right leg).”
  • Ramon Jose Martinez died 15 September 1973 in Wilson. His death certificate reports that he was born 7 September 1900 in Argentina and worked as a self-employed commercial artist. His parents were unknown.

John Sanchas [Sanchez], Texas

  • In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Texas-born macadamized road laborer John Sancha, 38, was a lodger in the household of Henry Maynard. Sancha, who was described as mulatto, reported that both his parents were born in Mexico.
  • In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Texas-born laborer John Sanchas, 49, wife Mary, and children Hattie, 21, Timothy, 17, Herbert, 14, and John Jr., 11; all described as black.
  • In Hill’s 1925 edition of the Wilson city directory, Herbert, Jno., Jno H. and William Sanctious are listed at 210 Finch Street.
  • On 20 May 1931, John Sanchas, a resident of 210 Finch Street, Wilson, died of chronic myocarditis. He was colored, age 57, married to Mary Sanchas, and worked as a common laborer. He was born in Texas; his parents’ names were unknown to informant Bessie Bowden.

Emilio Suarez Guzman, Puerto Rico

  • On 27 January 1974, Emilio Suarez Guzman died in Wilson of pancreatic cancer. He was born in Puerto Rico on 20 July 1892 and his “color or race” was Spanish. He resided at 1212 Queen Street and worked as a dry goods merchant. He was buried at William Chapel Missionary Baptist Church cemetery. Wife Mae G. Edwards Guzman was informant.

Photographs of house and gravemarkers (in Rest Haven cemetery), Wilson, by Lisa Y. Henderson.