Letters

Simpson took his stock.

In 1867, blacksmith Harry Simpson asked two white neighbors to write a letter on his behalf to the Goldsboro field office of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The letter is fascinating in many ways: (1) the glimpse at the independence afforded a skilled enslaved man; (2) his willingness to confront his former master’s father over a matter of equity; (3) the willingness of his neighbors vouch for his integrity and to assist him against a well-known white man.

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Wilson County N.C.

To the Freedmen’s Bureau in Goldsboro N.C.

Harry Simpson (colerd) the bearer formerly a slave of J.T. Simpson’s, was a black-smith & worked through the county from shop to shop. Said Harry lived off to himself & for some reason his owner put a portion of his stock in the care of Harry who provided for them & used them as his own & in the early part of the late war said J.T. Simpson died, having no family his property then was his fathers who let it remain with said Harry untill about the first of February 1867. Then Benjamin Simpson the father of the said J.T. Simpson took possession of it, and his pourk. We have known Harry for several years & have no just reason to doubt his character. We state the above to you by his request which are facts.

April 18th 1867  S.D. Boykin, S.J. Winborn

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For Capt. Hannibal D. Norton’s response to Simpson, which seems to miss the mark somewhat, see here.

  • Harry Simpson — Simpson does not appear in post-Civil War records of Wilson or Nash Counties.
  • J.T. Simpson — John T. Simpson (1831-1863), enlisted in Company A, 55th N.C. Infantry in 1862, died in a camp on the Blackwater River, Virginia, on 27 May 1863.
  • Benjamin Simpson — Benjamin Simpson (1804-1875), resident of Oldfields township, farmer and blacksmith.
  • S.D. Boykin — Stephen Davis Boykin (1833-1910), resident of Oldfields township, farmer, justice of the peace.
  • S.J. Winborn — Samuel Jackson Winborn (1840-1901), resident of Oldfields township, farmer and wagoner.

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Letters received, Jan 1867-1868, http://www.familysearch.org 

Tony Robbins’ side: “Please send me a paper so as I can get them.”

In August 1867, John J. Pender complained to the Freedmen’s Bureau that Toney Robbins was harassing him about Pender’s apprenticeship of three children who Robbins claimed were his grandchildren. Pender asserted that Robbins had no children, much less grandchildren. The Bureau apparently sided with Pender, as the children were with him in 1870 when the census taker passed through.

Here is one of Robbins’ letters pleading for the Bureau to intercede on his behalf.

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Joyners Depot Wilison Co NC   August 5th 1867

Freedmen Bureau

I ha [written] 2 or 3 letter to Maj Crompto a Bout 3 of my grand Children nor [illegible] Eny Anser then wrote to General Every at Raleigh he said go to the Freedmen Bureau at Rockey Mount in Edgecone County the children is in Wilison County he told me to write to you it was out of his Power as it was in Wilison County

Thy or not Bound By law, So Plese Send me a Paper So as I can get them thy ar living With John J. Pender of Wilison Co

I wait an Anser [illegible] with Respets Tony Robins

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (assistant subassistant commissioner), Roll 17, Letters received, Jul-Sep 1867, http://www.familysearch.org 

Smith transmits intelligence.

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Guthrie (Ok.) Daily Leader, 21 July 1899.

Among his duties as counsel to Liberia, Rev. Owen L.W. Smith was responsible for keeping the United States Secretary of State’s office informed about the well-being of American emigrants to Liberia. In 1899, an Oklahoma newspaper printed this transcription of Smith’s missive concerning the illness and deaths among the families of Anderson White, Joseph Brown, William House and Mann Hart, who had left Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, as members of the “Hawes emigration.”

The Civil War letters of J.R.P. Ellis, part 1.

The East Carolina University Manuscript Collection’s Josiah Robert Peele Ellis Papers contain photocopies of transcriptions of correspondence by J.R.P. Ellis of Wilson County, North Carolina, to his wife Elizabeth Grimes Ellis while he was serving in Company C of the 43rd N.C. Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.

Hugh B. Johnston Jr.’s introduction to the letters describes Josiah R.P. Ellis as “a well-to-do planter who lived in Wilson County, about a mile northwest of Stantonsburg where the road forks in the respective directions of Black Creek and Wilson.” Ellis, born in 1821, was apparently inadvertently drafted, enlisted in the Confederate Army anyway, and was fatally wounded in 1864.

Several letters include references to free and enslaved African-Americans who lived in Ellis’ community, especially in regards to Ellis’ suggestions for hiring labor to work on the farm in his absence.

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Letter #1, undated, probably written late in 1863, to wife Betsy Ellis:

“I was glad to hear that Cole and Tomy got home safe. If any of you come, you will have to get a pass to come over the bridge. Direct your letters to J.R.P. Ellis, Kinston, 43 Reg’t., Co. C, Hoke’s Brigade, Pickett’s Division. I also desire your prayers. Your affectionate husband until death.   /s/ J.R.P. Ellis   P.S. They have stopped the daily mail. The mail only comes Monday and Thursday.”

In footnotes, Johnston noted that Cole and Tomy are believed to have been men enslaved by the J.R.P. and Betsy Ellis.

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Letter #2, dated “Camp near Modern Ford, Dec. 4/63”:

“Dear Wife and Children:

“Having a favorable opportunity I will endeavor to drop you a few lines to let you know I am still living. I left Kinston on Sunday, the 22nd of November. I was sent to Goldsboro and then to Raleigh, and then to Camp Holmes and was enrolled. They told me that I had to go to Lee’s Army or Bragg’s, so I am with the 43 Regt. with Rufus and Edwin Amerson. I got to this Company last Thursday night at 11 o’clock. We left Orange Court House about sunset and walked 15 miles. I had been there about 30 minutes when we received orders to march, so we had to start and march 7 or 8 miles. We were then marched to a line of battle and remained there until day. And then we started and marched until about 9 o’clock and then we met the Yankees and throwed in a line of battle. And then in about ten minutes the sharpshooters were firing. They kept up shooting until night, and then we fell back some 2 or 3 miles and went to throwing up breastworks, and if if you ever saw poor fellows work, then was the time.

“About sunrise the sharpshooters were sent out again. I was sent with them and by the time we got to our post we saw the Yanks coming, and in about 5 minutes they were shooting us and the bullets were coming whistling. In about 10 minutes a ball struck a man in the face, and I had to help tote him off the field with the balls striking all around me. Two struck a man that was on my side a-touching me. There is no use in telling you about being scared, for it will scare the most of the time. We got our breastworks done and I felt tolerable easy under the circumstances. We lay there 4 days a-waiting for the Yanks to advance on us, but on the 4 night they left us and we started after them, but I did not want to catch them much, so we ran them over the Rapidan and then we turned back and marched some 8 or 10 miles and struck up camp and stayed all night, so we started back to our old camp. I helped bury a dead man this morning.

“I received your letter that you send my by A.J. Ellis and was glad to that you and children were tolerable well except colds, and I still hope that you are still enjoying the same blessing. You said something about hiring Eas and Emily. You can do as you please, but I think you had better hire them if they don’t ask too much for them. You had better try to make support if you can. Encourage the children to be smart and saving and careful, for you and they are left dependent on your own exertions for a living, and I sincerely hope you will do well.

“I must come to a close.  /s/ J.R.P. Ellis”

Per Johnston’s footnotes: Eas [Eason] and Emily were “Edmundson slaves.” This reference may be to Wright Edmundson.

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Letter #3, dated “The Camp of the 43rd, Dec. 9th 1863”:

“Dear Wife and Children:

“This may inform you and family that I am very unwell though I am up. I have a very heavy cold and cough. I have to lie out and take the weather as it comes. We have no shelter at all to protect us. I have to drill 4 hours a day. Cooking and drilling take all our time. We have to tote our wood nearly a half-mile. It is very cold here now, and I suffer with cold a-nights. I have not cover enough to keep me warm. I have as much as I can tote, and in fact more if I have to march much, so don’t send me any clothes or cover. I got a permit to go see the boys in Staton’s old Co. I am with the boys now. They all seem glad to see me and it makes me feel proud to see so many of my old friends. The boys are all well here.

“You have no idea how badly I want to see you and the children. I would give all the money you have got to be with you and if I could stay and not be troubled, but that time has passed, I am afraid.  Lieut. Killet wants Wyatt Lynch to bring him a qt. of the old peach brandy. You can let him have it, and T. Barnes wants a qt., too. You can send it, also, and send me a qt. by Wyatt if he will bring it. They want it for Christmas. They will pay me for it.

“Thomas Mumford wants 1/2 bushel of potatoes. Send them if you can by anybody. Write as soon as this comes to hand. Don’t put it off a minute, for I want to hear from you once a week without fail. I must come to a close as Tom wants to send some in this letter, so nothing more, only I remain yours as ever.   /s/ J.R.P. Ellis”

Johnston’s footnote: “Wyatt Lynch (born 1830) was a highly regarded free black of Wilson County. He followed the trade of plasterer and brickmason.” Captain Ruffin Barnes also made reference to Wyatt Lynch, as well as Lynch’s wife Nicey Caroline Lynch, in his correspondence. As a free man of color, Lynch was not subject to conscription as a Confederate soldier and could freely travel the countryside (carrying at all times evidence of his free status), which made him useful as a courier over the relatively short distance from Wilson County to encampments near Kinston, North Carolina.

 

I will not ask for much this year, because you can’t afford it.

At the dawn of the Great Depression, these children wrote letters to Santa Claus making modest requests for themselves and asking Saint Nick to remember their parents, siblings and teachers.

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Wilson Daily Times, 13 December 1930.

Reverend Silver comes to Wilson.

Hattie Henderson Ricks remembered:

… Mama’d make us go to Holiness Church and stay down there and run a revival two weeks.  And we’d go down there every night and lay back down there on the bench and go to sleep.  … Mama’d go every night.  And they’d be shouting, holy and sanctified, jumping and shouting.  

Mr. Silver, he had a bunch, he had 11 children, and his son had a whole bunch of ‘em.  Joseph Silver.  …  When Mama got married there on Elba Street, there at the house.  Yeah.  He come up there …  He was a little short brown-skinned man, and he was a elder and the head of the church where was down there in Halifax County.  

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On 31 August 1933, Sarah Henderson Jacobs of Wilson married Rev. Joseph Silver of Halifax County at her home in Wilson [303 Elba Street]. The ceremony was performed by Holiness minister J.H. Scott and witnessed by S.B. Thomas, Eleanor Hooker and W.M. King. Silver helped establish the Holiness church in North Carolina, and Jacobs was a Holiness evangelist.

Sarah Silver died 8 January 1938. Five years later, on 8 September 1943, Rev. Silver married Martha C. Aldridge in Goldsboro, Wayne County. Rev. Silver had performed the marriage ceremony for Martha, nee Hawkins, and her second husband, Joseph Aldridge, in Wilson on 16 December 1925. C.E. Artis applied for the license, and William A. Mitchner, Hattie Tate and Callie Barnes were witnesses.

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REV. JOSEPH SILVER DIES AT HIS HOME AT 100 YEARS OLD

Reverend Joseph Silver, Sr., well known and highly respected Negro minister, died Tuesday at his home in the Delmar community, on Enfield Route 3.  He celebrated his 100th birthday anniversary last July 22 at a large gathering of friends and relatives. Rev. Silver had been in poor health about four years and had been confined to his bed for the past four months.

Funeral services will be held from the Plumbline Holiness Church, Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. The body will lay in state at the church an hour before the funeral. The Rev. L.G. Young, of Henderson, will preach the funeral and burial will be in the family plot.  Among those expected at the final rites are Bishop M.C. Clemmen of Richmond, Va., and Bishop H.B. Jackson of Ayden.

Rev. Silver began preaching in 1893 when he he organized and built Plumbline Church.  Among other churches built by his ministry are ones at Ayden and Summitt, near Littleton. He was an organizer of the United Holiness Church of America and served on the board of Elders until his death.

Rev. Silver was married three times; first to Felicia Hawkins, who died in 1931, then to Sarah Jacobs of Wilson, who died in 1938; and last to Martha Aldridge of Goldsboro, who survives.  In addition to his wife, Rev. Silver is survived by five sons N.D. and Samuel Silver, of Washington, DC; Gideon, of Pittsburg, Pa.; Joseph, Jr., of Halifax and A.M. Silver of Route 3, Enfield; three daughters, Epsi Copeland and Roberta Hewling, of Enfield, Route 3, and Emma Goines, of Pittsburg, Pa. Eighty grandchildren, 109 great-grandchildren, and 17 great great grandchildren also survive.  [Newspaper clipping from unnamed source, 10 January 1958.]

Shortly after Rev. Silver’s death, his widow Martha wrote Hattie Henderson Ricks a letter, addressing it to her workplace, the Eastern North Carolina Sanatorium:

P.O. Box 193 Nashville

N.C.   c/o Brake

Feb. 2, 1958

Dear Hattie –

You heard of Rev. Silver’s death Jan. 7th although I didn’t notify you as I was sick and still is sick but not confine to bed.  Sarah had some things in the home.  A bed which I am sure you wouldn’t care for and a folding single bed which I am going to get but my main reason for writing you she has an oak dresser and washstand that Rev. Silver told me you wanted and said he told you you could get it if you would send for it so it is still there and it is good material if you want it.  Amos has already seen a second hand furniture man about buying it.  The Silver’s will “skin a flea for his hide and tallow.”  The Aldridges holds a very warm place in my heart and always will.  If you wish to do so you may write to Rev. Amos Silver Route 3 Box 82 Enfield and ask him if your mother Sarah’s furniture is still there.  There is also a carpet on the floor in the living room you need not mention my name.  I am very fond of Johnnie Aldridge of Dudly.  Come to see me whenever you can I think you might get with Reka at Fremont some times, she and Luke come to Enfield to see me occasionally  I am going to write Reka next week.  I married your great uncle Rev Joseph Aldridge write me

Your friend and great aunt by marriage.

M.C. (Aldridge) Silver

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  • J.H. Scott — John H. Scott died 18 November 1940 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 February 1874 in Halifax County to Alex Scott and Cathrin [no last name]; was married to Sarah Ann Scott; resided at 311 Lane Street; and was a Holiness preacher.
  • S.B. Thomas — Sarah Best Thomas.
  • Eleanor J. Hooker — Eleanor J. Farmer Hooker.
  • W.M. King — In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: redrying plant janitor William M. King, 67; wife Annie, 64, washwoman; daughter Mary Lucas, 28, laundress; and son-in-law Herman Lucas, 26, redrying plant day laborer.
  • C.E. Artis — Columbus E. Artis, an undertaker. [Note: Artis’ mother Amanda Aldridge Artis was Joseph Aldridge’s sister.]
  • W.A. Mitchner — William A. Mitchner, a physician.
  • Hattie Tate — Hattie Pearce Tate.
  • Callie Barnes — in the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Barnes Paul (c; Callie) mgr Lenora Dixon h 306 Elba [Dixon operated an East Nash Street billiard hall.]

Oral interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved; newspaper clipping and letter in the possession of Lisa Y. Henderson.

God bless Wilson and her worthy people.

One hundred nineteen years ago today, the Wilson Times ran a letter sent from Monrovia, Liberia, by Rev. Owen L.W. Smith, U.S. consul to that West African country. Largely a sycophantic roll call of Wilson’s elected officials, halfway through Smith suddenly jabs. Praising a hospital director, he commented that all had “the appearance that better things are coming, notwithstanding the ‘Jim Crow Car’ law, the election franchise act, and the constitutional amendment. But I believe you will let me vote.” He then drops a few lines describing Liberia’s system of suffrage. It’s not universal, but. Touché.

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Wilson Times, 9 June 1899.

Mary Euell and Dr. Du Bois.

To my astonished delight, historian David Cecelski cited to my recent post on Mary C. Euell and the school boycott — and shouted out Black Wide-Awake — today.  In a piece dedicated to Glenda Gilmore on the occasion of her retirement, Cecelski describes a letter from Euell to W.E.B. Du Bois he found among Du Bois’ papers, collected at and digitized by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Researching the letter’s context led him to Black Wide-Awake,  and he penned a warm and gracious thanks for my research.

Euell wrote the letter from her home at 135 Pender Street on 22 April 1918, not two weeks after leading  her colleagues in a walkout. She made reference to Du Bois’ letter of the 18th and promised to send “full details of [her] trouble here in Wilson,” including newspaper clippings and photographs. Though no follow-up correspondence from Euell is found in the collection, there is a newspaper clipping sent April 12 by Dr. A.M. Rivera, a dentist and N.A.A.C.P. leader from Greensboro, North Carolina. (Coincidentally, Dr. Rivera’s office was in the Suggs Building.)

Greensboro Daily News, 12 April 1918.

(The collection also contains a brief letter from Mrs. O.N. Freeman [Willie Hendley Freeman] referring to an enclosed a 7 August 1920 Wilson Daily Times article and noting “this might interest you or be of some value to some one as I know your sentiments by reading the Crisis.” I have not been able to locate the article in online databases and do not know whether it related to the on-going boycott.)