Virginia Pou Doughton Papers, housed in the North Carolina State Archives’ Private Collections, contain dozens of letters written by an African-American man named Johnnie Farmer, who had worked as butler and cook for Doughton’s grandparents, Floyd S. and Elizabeth Barnes Davis. (Farmer’s mother, Bettie Farmer, and sister, Emma Farmer, also worked as servants for the Davises.) Farmer, a World War I veteran, had been hospitalized at the Veterans Administration hospital in Kecoughtan, Virginia, apparently for complications from diabetes.
Farmer’s letters make reference to several Davis family members, including Miss Lizzie (Elizabeth B. Davis), Miss Helen (Virginia Doughton’s aunt by marriage, Helen Patterson Davis), Mr. Frank (her uncle, Frank Barnes Davis), and Sammy Pou (Doughton, herself, by a childhood nickname.) Miss Harris was likely Alice Barnes Wright Harriss, who lived next door to the Davises at 701 West Nash Street and was Lizzie B. Davis’ sister.
In this letter to Lizzie Davis, written sometime in 1941, Farmer laments being flat on his back and unable to get around, expresses cautious optimism about the condition of his feet, and asks Davis not to share his update.
Ward 3 Room 363 1941
Miss Lizzie I know theease has bin werren you all to deth and it hasen warred you all half a bad as it has warred you know lenying flalt of you back and cant get up and get around to do nothen for your self it is a hard job to get enny baurdy to do enny thing for yo now; write miss Hellen about my foot now i realy dont wornt you all to write the Doc a boud of corse he haven tould me so but I got infore machen from the nurs and the
she said she did not know theeair was a little life comming back in it and she said as long as you see som kind of life in it ther was some so dont say enny thing to enny baurdy at hom and dont write the doc for if you all d he will come stratt to me and give me the Devel a bout it i gave the Dcoc the blanker [about?] three [??] and there is not bout one doc on this warrd and thear is a 300 mens he have to look at and i ask him to day and he said he would look after them
Just a soon a he could as warred as I am I haven eve got the blanks to thank [think?] I wont to day againg not to say enny thing about the foot untell you hear from me again tell Mr Flank I got his letter and yours togather will write him when i feal like up tell Miss Harris I am goinge to write hear soon i got enny more to say this time write when ever you feal like got a real long lettler from Sammey Pou sure did enjoy readin it Johnnie Farmer
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer George Farmer, 51; wife Bettie, 46; and children George W., 21, Miner, 19, Aulander, 18, Willie, 17, Johnny, 15, and Emma, 12.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: laborer George Farmer, 71; wife Bettie, 62; and children John, 18, and Emma, 16.
George Farmer died 4 April 1918 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 88 years old; was born in Wilson County to Harry Farmer and Betty Crumley; was married to Betty Farmer; worked as a farmer; and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery. William Farmer was informant.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Bynum Street, widow Bettie Farmer, 56; daughter Emma, 23, cook, and son Johnnie, 25, butler.
Emma Farmer died 12 October 1926 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 28 years old; was born in Wilson County to George Farmer and Betty Crumble; was single; lived at 808 West Broad Street; and worked as a cook for Mrs. Jas. H. Pou. John Farmer was informant, and she was buried in Wilson, N.C. [probably Vick Cemetery.]
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 705 West Nash, owned and valued at $20,000, widow Elizabeth B. Davis, 59; son Frank B., 35; daughter-in-law Hellen P., 34; grandchildren Frank B. Jr., 13, and Hellen P., 4; and servants Jollie [sic], 40, and Bettie Farmer, 72.
Will Farmer died 7 April 1938 in Wilson after an auto accident near Goldsboro, Wayne County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was 51 years old; was born in Wilson County to George farmer and Betty Crummel; was married to Eula Farmer; lived at 903 East Green Street; and worked as a hotel porter. He was buried in Wilson, N.C. [probably Vick Cemetery.]
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 714 Stronach Street, Johnny Farmer, 50, cook, and widowed mother Bettie Farmer, 85.
Arlanda Farmer died 14 March 1940 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 55 years old; was born in Wilson County to George Farmer and Bettie Crumble; was married to Marsha Farmer; worked as a truck driver for Carolina Ice Company; and was a veteran. He was buried in Wilson, N.C. [probably Vick Cemetery.]
Johnie Farmer died 30 March 1944 at the Veterans Administration hospital in Kecoughtan, Elizabeth City County, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1893 to George Farmer and Betty Crowell; his usual residence was 714 Stronach Alley, Wilson; and his body was returned to Wilson for burial.
Bettie Cromartie Farmer died 23 July 1945 at her home at 913 Faison Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 August 1857 in Edgecombe County, N.C.; was widowed; and was buried in the Masonic cemetery.
Johnny Farmer Letters, 1941-1944, Virginia Pou Doughton Family Papers, P.C. 1981.1, Private Collections, State Archives of North Carolina.