In the 1920 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas A. Jones, 51; wife Mary I., 45; children Milbry, 28, Andrew, 19, Leonia, 17, James H., 14, Ollie T., 9, Ida May, 7, Paul H., 5, and Jim Lawrence, 3; and granddaughter Bettie Lee, 4.
In the 1920 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer J.A. Jones, 42; wife Bettie, 28; and children Johnnie W., 16, Grover, 7, Susie, 5, Maomie [Naomi], 4, and Ruth, 1.
In the 1920 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: widowed farmer George Gaston, 69, and children [and grandchildren] Ada, 33, Nina, 31, August, 27, George J., 6, Lucile, 2, and Ernest, 9 months. (Also, in Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Garfield Perkins, 36; wife Laura, 36; children Ethel, 15, and G. William, 12; and boarder P. Ada Gaston, 34, a teacher.
A.N. Darden — Arthur N. Darden, son of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden, was only 23 years old when he penned this opinion letter published in the Cleveland Gazette, an African-American newspaper. His message of “race pride” to Black clergy is summarized in his final paragraph: ” … if the race sticks together in business life the day is nearer than we think when Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hand to God and our race become the chief corner stone that the builders rejected.”
Booker T. Washington mentioned Mahala J. Williamson in this letter to Warren Logan, treasurer of Tuskegee Institute. Williamson, a Hampton Institute graduate, served in several positions at Tuskegee, including head of the laundry department, principal of the night school, and librarian.
A couple of years ago, I ran across this entry in a search of the digital Collections Catalog of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture:
I recently requested the letter, and when the good folks at the Virginia Museum returned from pandemic exile, I received a copy of the two-page note. I had hoped to find that Queen Bruce had lived in Wilson County, but now conclude that she did not. Rather, her home was Halifax County, Virginia, and she had been enslaved by the family of Anne Ruffin Sims’ husband. I post the letter here, though, to clarify for other researchers.
Here’s a transcript:
Newark N.J. 5th 23rd 188[illegible] Letter from old family nurse to Mrs Sims
Mrs. A.R. Sims
Dear Miss Annie it affords me much pleasure in penning you these few lines to inform you of my health I am well hoping to find you all well I heard from you through Ellen Hicks and was glad to head that you was well and had not forgotten me for I often think of you and wish I could see you although I am surrounded by all the comforts of life but I must say I have never realize there is any place like home Miss Anna please give my love to Old master and mistress Miss Birdy and the rest Theoderick from me with his best wishes to the Colonel and master Jno. Sims Please except my best love for your self Mas William the baby kiss the baby for me my love to Master Jno. Sims tell him I expect to come home next year and I want to cook a nice dinner for him and his wife my love to miss Eliza and her family Excuse my short note and please write to me and let me hear from you soon I remain your Humble & Obedient Servant
Queen Bruce, 152 Howard St., Newark, N.J.
Wilkins says give his love to Master Willie and Master Johnny if you please
Anne Cameron Ruffin was born in 1861 to Dr. John Kirkland Ruffin and Susan Tayloe Ruffin. By 1870, her family was living in Wilson, where her father opened a medical practice. Anne Ruffin married William Bailey Sims in Wilson in 1883. Their oldest child, William Howson Sims, born 1886, may have been the baby to whom Queen Bruce sent kisses. William B. Sims’ father was also named William Howson Sims and owned a large, old plantation and called Black Walnut and more than one hundred enslaved people in rural Halifax County, Virginia. He is likely the “old master” Bruce referred to in her letter. John Sims was the brother of William B. and son of William H. Sims; Eliza Broadnax Sims Timberlake was sister and daughter.
In the 1870 census of Roanoke township, Halifax County, Virginia: Wilkins Sims, 43; wife Queen, 38; and children Jannah, 13, Odrick, 8, and Morriss, 13. During the following decade, the family changed its surname from Sims to Bruce. Joanna Bruce, 18, daughter of J.W. and Queen Bruce, died 15 June 1877 in Halifax County, Virginia. Theoderick Bruce, 22, son of Joe and Queen Bruce, married Lucinda Coleman, 19, on 29 December 1881, in Halifax County, Virginia. One year-old Theoderick Bruce died 10 July 1886 in Newark, New Jersey. Morris A. Bruce married Catherine Jackson in Newark, N.J., on 1 October 1893. In the 1895 Holbrook’s Newark, N.J., city directory: Bruce Morris Albert (c) driver, h 373 Halsey; Bruce Theo K (c) letter carrier, h 215 Court; and Bruce Wilkins (c) h 55 Broome. In the 1903 Holbrook’s Newark, N.J., city directory: Bruce Queen, wid Joseph, h 131 Broome. Records for Newark’s Woodland Cemetery show the burial of Queen Bruce, colored, age 72, who died on 9 February 1908.
The North Carolina State Archives holds records of the former Department of Public Instruction’s Division of Negro Education, including correspondence between the Rosenwald Fund and county school superintendents.
In March 1926, Rosenwald Fund Supervisor W.F. Credle wrote Wilson County School Superintendent Charles L. Coon to update Coon on his visit to Elm City and to tout several sources of funding “for the colored children of North Carolina.” “We are very anxious to add on schools in towns the size of Elm City where buildings large enough for the accommodation of a high school can be provided.”
Though initially cool to the idea of external control of funds, Coon responded quickly, inviting Credle to meet with the Board of Education to discuss “the whole problem of colored school buildings for Wilson county.”
On April 26, Credle sent Coon a report on the schools he had inspected during his visit and urged him to consider employing a Jeanes teacher, who “could assist the people in raising as much money by private contributions for school buildings and equipment as the county would have to spend for her salary.” (The Jeanes Foundation funded educational and vocational training in rural African-American communities, primarily via teacher placement.)
On May 31, Credle wrote again, “happy to advise” that checks for Stantonsburg ($900), Evansdale ($700) and Saratoga Schools ($900) were attached, and Yelverton and New Vester were coming.
Here we examined the messy machinations of the administration of Weeks Parker’s estate, which entered probate in Edgecombe County in 1844. One of his legatees was daughter Margaret H. Battle, wife of Rev. Amos J. Battle and a Wilson resident by the mid-1850s.
Hugh B. Johnston transcribed this May 1861 letter to Rev. Battle from James Davis of Wilson, the court-appointed trustees of Margaret Battle’s share of estate. (The original letter does not appear to have preserved among the Battle papers.) The letter is difficult to decipher out of context but to seems to suggest that Davis felt significant pressure to bring in quick money by selling slaves rather than hiring them out and was protesting the interference in his management of Mrs. Battle’s affairs. Recall that Weeks Parker had purposefully drafted the terms of his will to hold in trust slaves Lucindy, Stephen, Turner, Lewis, George, Marina, Tony, Matilda, Caroline, William, Holly, Big Hardy, Ben, Cena, Moses, Syphax, Little Hardy, Jim, Lucy and Little Jim “for the sole and separate use and benefit of daughter Margaret H. Battle wife of Amos J. Battle during her natural life free from the management and control of her present or any future husband.”
My Dear Sir, I have striven in vain in the management as Trustee of Mrs. Battle’s affairs to act in such a way as would conduce to the interest of all concerned and at the same time to avoid giving occasion to those dissensions & wranglings in the family which I know are so harassing to you all. I have not in any arrangement which I have attempted to make been actuated by an motive of self interest of for my own security — but having been fully satisfied by the last years management of the farm & negroes that there could not upon any just ground be expected an adequate support for the family for the ensuing year from the farm, I advised the hireing out of the negroes & I was of the opinion & still am that it would have been best to have hired out every single man — According to an understanding had some 2 or 3 months ago I gave to Dr. Bullock the choice and the refusal of all the hands to be hired out; in pursuance of this arrangement I went to see Mrs. Battle & knew of her which of the negroes she had determined to keep & told her at the time that Dr. B. was to have such of the rest as he wanted, & this arrangement I shall most certainly adhere to as long I have any say-so in the matter, because I have made the promise to Dr. B. & I see no just reason why I should violate it.
In regard to the sale of the Women and Children and the appropriation of the proceeds of the sale to any other purpose than the buying of such other property as the Court may be satisfied is of equivalent value, I am satisfied upon an examination the will can not be done. I am however perfectly willing to appropriate every dollar of the hire of the negroes to the purchase of provisions & I will take the notes and advance the money (Provided the sureties to that notes agree to this arrangement) & I can not see why they should not in view of the condition in which you find yourself as to provisions.
If Mrs. Battle wishes the girl at Dr Harrel’s Exchanged, I will try and effect the Exchange as soon as I can conveniently do so, but I can not and will not do that with regard to this property which I am not authorized to do by the will. If I could have the absolute and undisturbed control of the negroes, I have not the shadow of a doubt I could realize from them a handsome support for your family, but as long as their whims and caprices are to consulted & there is no settled plan as to their management, there will inevitably be confusion and trouble.
I am writing plainly, not out of any feeling of vexation or resentment, but simply because you have written thus to me, and because the circumstances of the case demand plain and prompt action. I am now as I ever have been very willing to render through motives of friendship such service to your family as I may be able, & it is only by the exercise of the strictest economy that in the present arrangement of your force that you can get through this year, & instead of hireing either for the farm or for other purposes, it most certainly is the true policy to get clear of every one that can possibly be dispensed with.
I was from home from Tuesday last to Saturday evening or you would have heard from me sooner. You must be content as I and as many others have to, tho, to trust the future somewhat. I have not got corn enough on hand to last 2 months & but few have a year’s supply of corn or meat & if the Sureties to that note will as I have no doubt they will if the matter is properly represented to them consent to the appropriation of the negro hire to the purchase of provisions, it will place some 1200$ at your disposal & as soon as the notes are placed in my hands you can buy corn or meat & draw on me for the full amount of the notes & I will pay the orders.
This amt will surely relieve you till the next term of our Sup’r Court, when we can obtain (if necessary) in a legal manner such a decree as will enable us to get along for the bal. of the year, but as I have already said, I will not without proper authority violate the plain letter of that will — and I can but think that your threat to sell those negroes is made without due consideration. It is but too evident that there is a feeling of restlessness in regard to those negroes, a continual disposition to sell or exchange, which must result if persisted in to the detriment of the estate, & while I am always willing to do that which will promote the comfort or interest of Mrs. Battle or her family, I must see a good reason why a sale or exchange should be made before I proceed to make it. You need not send the Woman & children to me, but if you wish to dispose of her for the year, please come & let me know what kind of a negro she is, what incumbrance to her &c I will Endeavor to get her off your hands.
P.S. I have just seen Dr B. he gives up Hardy & keeps Stephen, Hilliard, & Turner — says further that he is willing to the appropriation of the negro hire Except his own to be applied as above proposed & I have no doubt will willingly agree to his own hire going in the same way if I solicit it, which I will if Mrs. Battle signifies her assent to the arrangement. It may be proper for me here to say in order to give Mrs. Battle time to select another that I shall be compelled upon the first opportunity (which will be at the June Court) to resign my Trusteeship because I see probability of my being able to so manage her affairs as to secure her best interest & retain the good will of others concerned
Turner, Hilliard, Hardy, and Stephen were among the group of enslaved people Margaret P. Battle inherited from her father.
Letter transcribed in The Past Speaks from Old Letters, “a copy of the working papers found in the files of Hugh B. Johnston, Jr., acquired in the course of his lifelong avocation as a professional genealogist and local historian,”republished by Wilson County Genealogical Society, March 2003.
Heather Goff, Wilson Cemetery Commission Leader, has gone above and beyond to educate herself about the city’s historic black cemeteries and to search for documents concerning these little-known properties. She recently unearthed these Cemetery Commission records shedding light on Rest Haven Cemetery’s early days.
A document labeled Agreement: Town of Wilson vs. Colored Cemetery Commission:
The text of the document does not make reference to a lawsuit or the Colored Cemetery Commission. The passive voice construction in the first independent clause conceals a critical fact: who conveyed 38 acres known as the Jesse Barnes land to the Cemetery Trustees of the Town of Wilson on 24 October 1933? The Town of Wilson actually put up the money for the property and held it in trust until the Trustees paid the Town $3500, plus interest. This amount was to be realized, after deducting operating expenses, from sums raised from the sales of burial lots. The document is signed by the white Cemetery Trustees of Wilson, and I have not been able to identify any “colored” ones. The notes on the reverse show six payments totaling $2000 made between 1939 and 1945.
And thus we get an establishment date for Rest Haven cemetery — 1933 — and the provenance of its earliest section.
So, who was Jesse Barnes?
This 12 June 1975 letter proclaims that “the lots adjacent to the Rest Haven Cemetery are have been, and in the future will be set aside for the heirs of the said, Jessie R. and Sarah L. Barnes. These lots are located at the back of Section No. 2 on row beside the ditch in the cluster of trees.” Frank Barnes signed the letter.
Jesse Reese Barnes (1873-1949) and Sarah Eliza Barnes Barnes (1872-1936) were married in 1893. Frank Washington Barnes was their son. Without access to deeds, I cannot determine at this time when the Barneses purchased their 38 acres. However, presumably, Jesse and Sarah sold it to the Cemetery Commission.
And “the back of Section No. 2 on row beside the ditch in the cluster of trees”? It’s here:
Less than a month after the note above, Frank W. Barnes sold four grave plots to John E. Dixon. This note is on file with the Cemetery Commission: “This is to certify that I, Frank W. Barnes of 308 Ward Boulevard, Wilson, North Carolina acting on behalf of myself and with the full consent of other concerned members of the Barnes family do hereby for the sum of Ten Dollars ($10.00) and other value received do convey to said John E. Dixon and family of 411 N. Vick Street of Wilson, North Carolina space for four (4) grave plots in the Barnes Family Cemetery which is a part of REST HAVEN CEMETERY of Wilson, North Carolina. These grave plots are located near the south-east corner of the Barnes Cemetery between two (2) big Cedar trees. These plots are theirs to have and hold from this day hence-forth.” Joan Howell’s Cemeteries, Volume V, lists the burials of Jesse Barnes, Jesse J. Barnes, John E. Dixon, Mabel B. Dixon and Levi C. Dixon in the Barnes section of Rest Haven.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Lemon Barnes, 32, farmer; wife Nancey, 26; and children Morrison, 8, Jessee R., 7, Ida, 6, Eddie, 3, Lemon Jr., 2, and General, 3 months.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Ned Barnes, 34; wife Margaret, 35; and children Luvenia, 9, Franklin, 8, Walter, 10, and Sarah Eliza, 7.
Jesse Barnes, 19, married Sarah Barnes, 21, daughter of Ned Barnes and Margarett Artis, on 2 December 1893 at the bride’s home in Wilson County. Per their marriage license, Presbyterian minister L.J. Melton performed the ceremony in the presence of L.A. Moore, John Hardy and Davis Barnes.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Jesse R. Barnes, 27; wife Sarah, 28; and children Lucretia, 5, Ned, 4, Nancy, 2, and Lemon, 11 months.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Saratoga Road, Jesse Barnes, 37, farmer; wife Sarah, 31, public school teacher; and children Lucresia, 16, Ned, 14, Nancy, 12, Lemon, 11, Jessie Bell, 10, Maggie May, 7, and Ardenia, 5.
Lucrettia Barnes died 11 March 1915 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 October 1894 to Jesse Barnes and Sarah Barnes.
In 1919, Margaret Edmundson Barnes Artis, signed her mark to a will leaving her real property to daughter Sarah Barnes Barnes. The land was described as a tract “adjoining the lands of Martin Barnes, Harry Clark, Daniel Vick‘s heirs, Dollison Powell and the Singletary Place, containing forty-four acres more or less.” (Margaret had jointly owned or inherited this property from her second husband Cain Artis.]
In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Saratoga Road, farmer Jesse Barnes, 46; wife Sarah, 47; and children Ned, 23, Nancy, 22, Lemon, 20, Jessie Belle, 18, Maggie, 15, Ardenia, 13, Frank, 11, James, 6, and Mildred, 3.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Powell Street, farmer Jessie R. Barnes, 55; wife Sarah, 56; and children Mildred, 16, James, 13, and Frank, 18; granddaughter Alma, 10; daughter Nancey Farmer, 30, and son-in-law Andrew Farmer, 29, truck driver for Wilson Sales Grocery.
Sarah Eliza Barnes died 29 August 1936 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 52 years old; was born in Wilson County to Ned Barnes and Margarette Edmundson; lived on East Nash Road; and was married to Jesse R. Barnes.
Jessie Reese Barnes died 20 April 1949 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 3 April 1873 in Wilson County to Lemuel Barnes and Nancy Woodard; was a widower; was a farmer. Frank Barnes, 513 East Nash, was informant.
Many thanks to Heather Goff for her diligent search for these records.
Camp Near Orange Court House VA., November the 16, 1863
Mrs. Mary J. Edwards, Wilson P.O., Wilson County, N.C.
I take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well at this time and hoping you the same. Bunyan, I want to hear from you. Let me hear from you, and let me know how you are getting along. Bunyan, I want you to let me know how everything is getting along, and write me all the news. I heard that you have been having chills. I want to know whether it was you who shot your thumb, or not. Tell Mary Gray to write to me every time she can. Tell Sister Betty to write to me, for I want to hear from her. Tell Nanney also to write to me. Tell Aunt Penny I want to see her. Tell Uncle London I want to see him very badly. I have nothing to write, only very hard times here. We are expecting to have to march every minute. I must come to a close by saying I remain your dear brother until death. Excuse my bad writing. George Woodard
George Washington Woodard, son of James Bullock Woodard and wife Sallie Peele, enlisted in April 1862 as a private in Company A, 55th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. Debilitated by chronic diarrhea, Woodard died 23 March 1864, at a military hospital in Gordonsville, Virginia. On 2 September 1950, in the column “Looking Backward,” the Wilson Daily Times published Hugh B. Johnston’s transcription and notes about letters George W. Woodard sent home from war, including the one above.
In 1935, Rev. Thomas G. Clark sent a congratulatory letter to mark the New York Age’s “50 years of untrammeled service to the race, nation and the world.” In it, he revealed details of his early educational struggles, and the epiphany to which Edward A. Johnson’s A School History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1890 brought him. [Johnson, born enslaved in Wake County in 1860, was educated at Atlanta University and wrote A School History at the urging of a school superintendent. The book was the first by an African-American author to be approved for use in North Carolina’s public schools. (Sidenote: I won’t rest until I secure a copy.)]