Land

The removal of graves from Oakdale cemetery.

Wilson really has not done right by its dead.

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Wilson Daily Times, 6 November 1941.

Some notes:

  • “the town had condemned the land to build several roads through it” — No mention of poor drainage conditions in the cemetery. Rather, a suggestion that the unnamed city alderman’s 1925 comment about the cemetery occupying valuable land had gained traction.
  • “the old negro Wilson cemetery over near Stantonsburg street” — Stantonsburg Street (now the lower section of Pender Street) ran just east of the cemetery.
  • “Dozens of graves” were moved to “the newer Rest Haven cemetery” — There were surely hundreds of people, not dozens, buried in Oakdale. Were unmarked graves left behind? Does the Cemetery Commission have records of this disinterment and reburial in Rest Haven?
  • “Most recent grave in the old cemetery that could be found was dated 1902” — This can only be true if they were not looking hard. The notice of removal of graves, published in 1940, stated that the last burials were in 1924.
  • “the cemetery is at least 50 years old.” — This roughly corroborates the founding of Oakdale as 1895, when county commissioners took up the question of a “suitable burying ground for the colored people.”

The purchase of land for Macedonia.

As we saw here, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church is one of the few surviving early twentieth-century wooden gable-end African-American churches in Wilson County. In 1917, Macedonia trustees R.A. Worrell and Matthew Sauls acted on behalf of the church to purchase the one-half acre lot on which the church was later built. 

Note the reference to the adjoining property — the “public school lot, known as Powell’s school house (col).” Powell School predated the Rosenwald school-era. It was not listed in a recent state survey of early African-American schools in Wilson County.

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In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: on Goldsboro Road, Matthew Sauls, 43; wife Fannie, 36; and children Sylvester, 15, Nellie, 12, Maggie, 6, Dred, 4, Hattie, 2, and Bessie, 5 months.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: on W.R. Raper Road, farmer R[ichard] A. Worlds, 40; wife Rachel, 43; and children Bessie, 16, Eddie, 13, Effie, 12, Richard, 10, Iona, 7, Elnora, 6, Viola, 3, and John, 2.

Deed book 111, page 195, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Another deed for Rountree cemetery.

I published here the deed for the purchase in 1906 of one acre of the land that now comprises the abandoned Rountree cemetery. I speculated that the remaining acre was purchased later. However, it appears that, in fact, Rountree Missionary Baptist Church trustees bought the first acre of the burial ground — the section west of Lane Street — almost ten years earlier, in 1897.

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North Carolina, Wilson County  }

This Deed, made this 2nd day of August, A.D., 1897, by F.W. Barnes and wife, Mattie B. Barnes, Parties of the first part, to George Harris, Charles Bullock and Arch Harris, Trustees, of the Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, Parties of the Second Part, all of County and State aforesaid, witnesseth:

That the Said Parties of the first part, for and in consideration of the sum of Twenty Five Dollars, to them in hand paid, (the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged), have bargained and sold, and do by these presents convey unto the Said Parties of the Second part, and their successors in office, that certain lot of land, lying and being situate in Wilson Township, county and state aforesaid, adjoining the lands of F.W. Barnes and Martin V. Barnes, and more particularly described as follows: Beginning at a stake on the path leading from the Plank road to the Stantonsburg road where a small branch crosses said path, thence westerly with said path, a fence row, 270 feet to a stake cornering thence northerly 250 feet to a stake in Said branch, thence down said branch or ditch to the beginning containing one acre, more or less. It is understood and agreed that the path above referred to Shall at no time be closed up and that the public shall have the enjoyment thereof without the interference or interruption from the said parties of the first part.

To have and to hold said real estate unto the said parties of the Second part and their successors in office in fee simple. And the said F.W. Barnes, for himself, his heirs, executors and administrators, doth covenant to and with the said parties of the Second part, and their successors in office, that he will forever warrant and defend the title to the Said land against the lawful claim or claims of all other persons whomsoever. In Testimony whereof the Said parties of the first part have hereunto  set their hands and seals, the day and year first above written.  /s/ F.W. Barnes, Mattie B. Barnes

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Note this description: “beginning at a stake on the path leading from the Plank road to the Stantonsburg road where a small branch crosses said path.” The “small branch” is Sandy Creek. The plank road is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the continuation of East Nash Street beyond U.S. Highway 301. Stantonsburg road is still Stantonsburg Road. The path? That’s modern-day Lane Street, which no longer spans the entire stretch between MLK and Stantonsburg. Instead, just beyond Vick cemetery it makes an abrupt westward turn toward 301.

Here’s detail from the United States Geological Survey’s 1904 topographic map of North Carolina’s Wilson Quadrangle:

The rough area of the cemeteries is encircled. Lane Street clearly continued down to Stantonsburg Road at the time.

  • George Harris
  • Charles Bullock — Bullock was also one of the trustees who purchased the second parcel.
  • Arch Harris — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Arch Harris, 53; wife Rosa, 45; and children James, 22, Arch, 20, Mary Jane, 18, Nancy, 16, Lucy, 12, Minnie, 11, Maggie, 8, Jessie, 6, and Annie, 3.
  • Rountree Missionary Baptist Church

Deed book 45, page 153, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

The A.M.E. trustees buy a lot on Suggs Street.

On 25 July 1906, Norris Stevens, C.C. Goffney, Moses Bennett, J.M. Sanders and M.L. Phillips, trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, paid $200 for a 90′ by 110′ lot on Suggs Street.

The A.M.E. church as drawn in the 1922 Sanborn map of Wilson, N.C. 

The church was the first home of Saint Luke A.M.E. Church, which moved to its current location at Vick and Atlantic Streets in the 1930s. Saint Luke’s cornerstone describes its founding as 1910, however, which seems to indicate that a different, earlier congregation built this building.

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  • Norris Stevens — Norris Stephens died 5 December 1909 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 35 years old; was married; lived on Darden Alley; was born in Duplin County to Joe Stephens of Sampson County and Emline Flowers of Wayne County. Lum C. Goffney was informant.
  • C.C. Goffney — In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Sugg Street, Christopher Gofney, 44, carpenter; his wife Fannie, 30; and son Clinton, 16; plus lodger Freeter Moseley, 19, insurance agent. Christopher Columbus Goffney died 3 September 1918 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 22 December 1858 in Ed[ge]combe County to Woodson Goffney and an unknown mother; and worked as a carpenter. Lucy Goffney was informant.
  • Moses Bennett — Moses Bennett died 27 April 1917 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 47 years old; was married; worked as a laborer; was born in Sampson County to Wright Bennett. Informant was Calline Bennett.
  • J.M. Sanders
  • M.L. Phillips

Deed book, page 361, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Cemeteries in the flood plain.

From the website of the Wilson County GIS/Mapping Office, a map showing the flood plain of Sandy Creek. As is obvious from the drifts of trash littering the low-lying rear of Rountree cemetery, much of this graveyard is regularly underwater. The same holds for the southeast quadrant of Odd Fellows cemetery and nearly all of the section of Rountree across Lane Street.

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The Colored Free Will Baptist Church buys a lot on Vance Street.

This deed made this 29th day of May 1900 by S.H. Vick and wife to Louis Bess, Daniel Blount and Windsor Darden Trustees of the Colored Free Will Baptist Church of Wilson and their Successors in office all of the County of Wilson and State of North Carolina,

WITNESSETH: — THAT FOR and in consideration of the sum of thirty five dollars to them in paid, the receipt whereof of is hereby acknowledged the said S.H. Vick and wife have bargained and sold and do by these presents bargain sell and convey to the said Louis Bess Daniel Blount Windsor Darden and their successors in office one lot or parcel of land lying and being situate in Wilson Township County of Wilson, and State of North Carolina, and bounded and described as follows:

BEGINNING at a stake in the corner of Elba and Vance Streets and running with Vance Street North West 30 feet, thence South West forty five feet, thence south east thirty feet, thence North East forty five feet to the beginning, containing thirteen hundred and forty square feet.

TO HAVE OR TO HOLD the above described lot or parcel of land to the said Louis Bess, Daniel Blount, Windsor Daniel and their successors in office in fee simple and the said S.H. Vick binds himself and heirs to warrant and defend the premises hereby conveyed against the lawful claims of all persons whomsoever.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF WITNESS our hands and seals the date above written. /s/ S.H. Vick, Annie M. Vick

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In 1900, the trustees of Piney Grove Free Will Baptist Church bought a small lot at the corner of Vance and Elba Streets from Samuel H. and Annie M. Vick. The church they built is shown in this detail from the 1913 Wilson, N.C., Sanborn map, below. The one-story wooden building was heated with stoves and lit with oil and featured a two-story tower on its front elevation. Though this building is long gone, Piney Grove remains an active congregation. Per the current church’s cornerstone, the church was founded in 1882 by Reverends A. and D. Blunt.

  • Louis Bess — in the 1900 census of Wilson, WIlson County: Louis Best, 70, wood sawer; wife Harrit, 60, washing; and son William, 31, driver.
  • Daniel Blount — in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Daniel Blunt, 35; wife Susan, 26; and children Ellen, 5, Eva, 3, Demsey, 1, Daniel, 12, and Charley, 10. Daniel Blunt died 28 July 1924 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 87 years old; was born in Pitt County, N.C., to Dempsey Blunt and Julia Carr; was married to Susanna Blunt; and worked as a laborer. [Dempsey Blunt was the son of Amos Blunt. Were they the A. and D. Blunt who founded Piney Grove?]
  • Windsor Darden — in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Winsor Darden, 37; wife Mattie, 29; and children George, 11, Jesse, 8, Willie, 5, William, 3, and Mathis, 1; plus mother Mary Darden, 55. Windsor Darden died 8 February 1940 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 85 years old; was the widower of Mattie Darden; lived at 1017 Mercer Street; had been a common laborer; and was born in Wilson County to Benjamin Darden and Diliah [maiden name unknown]. Sarah Darden Harris was informant.

Deed book 65, page 297, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

The 1913 deed for Vick cemetery.

It’s hard to understand how Wilson ever thought to deny its responsibility for Vick cemetery. Here’s the deed for its $700 purchase of the 7.84 acre tract, whose description notes its adjacency to “the colored Odd Fellows Cemetery tract.” (As a reminder: the Vick cemetery is so-called because Samuel H. and Annie M. Vick sold it to the city of Wilson, not because they were buried there. The Vick family plot is, in fact, in Odd Fellows cemetery.)

Deed book 97, page 85, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Valentine Farmer buys four acres.

This indenture made the 4th day of September in the year of our lord eighteen hundred & seventy three between Warren Woodard & Jerusha Woodard wife of Warren Woodard of the County of Wilson & State of North Carolina of the first part & Volentine Farmer of the County of Wilson & State of North Carolina of the second part Witnesseth that the said party of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged has given bargained sold & granted & conveyed and does hereby give grant bargain sell & convey to the said party of the second part his heirs and assigns all that tract or parcel of land lying in the County of Wilson State of North Carolina bounded as follows Beginning at at a lightwood stake in S.B. Farmers line thence N 85 East by chaines & thirty two & 1/2 links to a lightwood stake thence N 1 East Six chaines and thirty two and 1/2 links to a stake thence S 5 E six chaines and thirty two and 1/2 links to a stake in line thence S 1 west by chaines & thirty two & 1/2 link to the first station containing four acres to have & to hold the same with the appurtenances thereunto belonging Volentine Farmer the said party of the second part his heirs and assigns forever And the said party of the first part for the consideration aforesaid does hereby covenant and agree to warrant and defend the persons(?) aforesaid to the said party of the second part his Executors Administrators and assigns against the claims & entry of all persons whatsoever And said Warren Woodard and Jerusha Woodard does further Covenant that the said Volentine Farmer is seized of the premises in fee simple and has power to make and convey such an estate by this Indenture and has  done the same by these

In witness whereof the said party of the first part has hereunto [set] their hand & seals on the day & year above written    /s/ Warren Woodard, Jerusha Woodard

Witness M.D. (X) Franklin

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Valentine Farmer paid Warren and Jerusha Woodard the nominal sum of one dollar for four acres, his first land purchase. Jerusha Farmer Woodard was the daughter of Moses Farmer Sr., Valentine Farmer’s former owner, which may shed light on the basis of the favorable transaction.

Deed book 8, page 194, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Another search for gravestones in Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

First: my request for the Vick cemetery survey and documentation re the decision to destroy its headstones? As yet unfilled, though the city attorney assures me it’s coming soon.

With boots and gloves and a hand pruner, I returned to Rountree/Odd Fellows/Vick cemeteries on a frosty Saturday morning to see what else there is to see.  Walking through the clear strip of Odd Fellows, I noticed immediately that someone had neatened up the stones that are usually lying higgledy-piggledy on the ground. Here, Clarence L. Carter and his daughter Omega Carter Spicer.

Picking my way toward the back edge of the cleared section, it dawned on me that this was once the main entrance to Odd Fellows. The hinges on the post to the right were the give-away. And the traces of asphalt driveway.

Standing near Irma Vick‘s headstone and looking in, I spotted this, plain as day. It’s hard to imagine how I missed it in December.

It’s the double headstone of Daniel and Fannie Blount Vick, Samuel H. Vick‘s father and mother. Daniel Vick died in 1908 (112 years to the day before my “discovery” of his grave) and Fannie Vick sometime in the late 1800s. (Is that a bullet pockmark?)

A few feet away, the headstone of Viola Leroy Vick, daughter of Samuel and Annie Washington Vick. She died as a toddler in 1897, and East Wilson’s Viola Street was named in her honor.

And then, perhaps 25 feet away, cocooned in honeysuckle and evil smilax, this monument loomed. Was it Sam Vick’s?

To my astonishment — no. The honeysuckle pulled off like a cape (after I wasted time hacking at the briars on the other side) to reveal that this remarkable marble headstone, which tops six feet, marks the grave of Wiley Oates. (More about him later.) Samuel and Annie Vick’s gravestones remain elusive.

I’d bought the cheapest hand pruners I could find, and they performed cheaply, but I got through to this gravestone and its companion, which appear to lie across the property line in Rountree cemetery.

The gravestone for Amos Batts’ wife, Jennie Batts, who died in 1945. Behind it in the left corner of the frame you can see the base of a pine whose diameter is at least two feet, which gives a measure of how long this cemetery has been neglected.

Here is the “canal” described in the Rountree cemetery deed. It’s a channeled section of Sandy Creek, and I imagine Rountree Missionary Baptist Church once performed baptisms here. I spent idyllic childhood afternoons exploring along the banks of this waterway perhaps a quarter-mile downstream. Sandy Creek is a tributary of Hominy Swamp, which flows into Contentnea Creek, which empties into the Neuse River at Grifton, North Carolina.

Here, I’m standing on the south bank of Sandy Creek looking down into the bowl that was once Rountree cemetery. I have not found any markers in this low-lying section, though there appear to be collapsed graves. Repeated flooding was one of the factors that led to the abandonment of cemetery. The undergrowth is starting to green up and, as the weather warms, soon these graveyards will be nearly impenetrable without sharper, heavier tools.

Daffodils are not native to eastern North Carolina and would not ordinarily be found blooming in the middle of the woods. This thick drift has naturalized from bulbs perhaps more than one hundred years old. Daffodils were commonly planted in cemeteries to symbolize the death of youth or mortality.

My exit strategy failed at the edge of barricade of wild blackberry twenty-five feet deep between me and Lane Street. I had to scramble back through the woods to gain egress at the ditch dividing Rountree from Odd Fellows. All this battling ate up my time, and I wasn’t able to explore the far end of Odd Fellows, next to Vick. Peering through the fence, though, I did see this marker for Lizzie May Barnes, daughter of H. and L. Barnes, who died in 1919.

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  • Amos Batts died 24 March 1937 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 61 years old; was born in Wilson County to Thomas and Mariah Batts; was married to Jennie Batts; worked as a common laborer; and lived at 1202 East Nash Street. Informant was Jennie Batts.
  • Jennie Batts died 25 December 1945 at her home at 1202 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Amos Batts; was 58 years old; was born in Wilson County to unknown parents; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Eddie Batts was informant.
  • Lizzie Barnes died 3 April 1919 in Taylor township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 August 1918 in Wilson County to Henry Barnes and Lena Woodard.

An example worthy of following.

The Special Collections Research Center of North Carolina State Libraries has digitized several annual reports submitted to the state’s Cooperative Extension Service by Negro County Extension Agent Carter W. Foster. Below, part 1 of a series revealing the 1942 report.

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“… I have attempted to give you an insight of the major activities carried on by Negro farmers in the county during the year.” Foster credited farm families, county officials, home economics extension agent Jane A. Boyd, the extension staffs at North Carolina State A.&T. and North Carolina State Universities, and members of the Negro school systems for the year’s successes.

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Foster named Mark Sharpe the Outstanding Man of the Year.

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Sharpe was born and reared on the farm he was buying. His father, a life-long tenant farmer, lived with him. Their landlord had made a standing offer to sell the farm for $6000 years before. “Not being satisfied with the manner in which his father was living,” Sharpe decided to buy. He happened upon an article about Farm Security Administration loans for low-income tenants. Within days he was approved. The farm was on Highway 42 on the Wilson-Edgecombe border, and about 40 of its 51 acres were suitable for farming.

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The house was in fairly good condition at purchase, but was upgraded with screens, paint and a pump on the back porch, and Sharpe constructed a laying house, a smokehouse and an outhouse.

Sharpe was a young man — just 29 years old. He was the father of five, a member of the Negro Farmers Advisory Committee, and a Neighborhood Lender. “He is an example worthy of following by many tillers of the soil.”

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