Letters

Pfc. Thomas writes his family.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 December 1918. 

Wilson Daily Times, 27 December 1918.

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The Daily Times published a handful of letters from African-American soldiers written during World War I, including these from Elton Thomas and two from Arthur N. Darden.

Despite their hopes, Thomas and his buddies did not get home until March 1919. Dave Barnes suffered the effects of his gas attack the rest of his life. This history of Company H, 365th Infantry’s battles in France suggests that the date of injury was November 10, not the 18th.

This service card provides details of Thomas’ time in the Army.

North Carolina World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919, www.ancestry.com

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  • Elton Thomas

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charlie Thomas, 38, printing office pressman; wife Sarah, 33; children Elton, 9, Louis, 8, Elizabeth, 6, and Hattie May, 2; and lodgers Manse Wilson, 36, and Johnnie Lewis, 21, both carpenters.

In the 1908 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Thomas Elton (c) lather h 616 E Green

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charlie Thomas, 49, laborer for printing office; wife Sarah, 44; and children Elton, 20, Lizzie, 18, Louis, 15, Hattie M., 11, Mary, 5, and Sarah, 1 month.

In 1917, Elton Thomas registered for the World War I draft. Per his registration card, he was born 17 July 1889 in Wilson; lived at 616 East Green Street; was single; and worked as lathing contractor for Kittrell & Wilkins. 

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Clarence Dawson, 23, barber; wife Elizabeth, 22; and daughter Eris, 2; widower father-in-law Charley Thomas, 59; brother-in-law Clifton Venters, 24, his wife Hattie, 20; and in-laws Elton, 29, Marie, 15, Sarah, 10, and Beatrice Thomas, 8.

In the 1927, 1929, 1930, 1934, and 1942 Newark, New Jersey, city directories, Elton H. Thomas is listed at several addresses, including 117 Summer Avenue, 105 Somerset Avenue, and 109 Sherman Avenue.

In 1942, Elton Henry Thomas registered for the World War II draft in Newark, Essex County, New Jersey. Per his registration card, he was born 15 August 1894 in Wilson; resided at 108 Sherman Road, Newark; his contact was Charles Thomas, 619 East Green Street, Wilson; and worked for Julius Rose, 327 Amherst Street, Orange, New Jersey. 

On 27 November 1947, Elton Thomas, 52, of Wilson, son of Charlie and Sarah Best Thomas, married Rebecca Williams, 44, of 804 East Vance Street, Wilson, daughter of Solomon and Lettie Kittrell in Wilson. Free Will Baptist minister E.H. Cox performed the ceremony in the presence of Lillie J. Thomas, 715 East Green; Harold E. Gay, 623 East Green; and Louis Thomas Jr., 715 East Green.

Elton Thomas died 15 December 1970 in Goldsboro, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 5 July 1891 to Charlie Thomas and Sarah Best; was married to Rebecca Thomas; resided in Wilson; and had worked in lathing construction.

  • Miss Richardson
  • Rev. Coward — Bryant P. Coward, pastor of Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church.

 

Cemetery records request update, no. 7: burials at Vick Cemetery.

I submitted my most recent public records request to the Wilson Cemetery Commission on 16 December 2021. In pertinent part, it read:

The response was quick. At this time, the Cemetery Commission has no record of any burials made in Vick Cemetery and cannot identify the reference to 37 burials made between 1949 and 1955. Further, the Cemetery Commission has no record of a 1990 report.

The re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan.

On 21 December 1920, Dr. Frank S. Hargrave penned a letter to the editor of the Wilson Daily Times expressing quiet alarm about anonymous invitations sent to white men to become members of “the most powerful secret organization in America,” the Ku Klux Klan.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 December 1920.

Though not framed as a direct response, the Times published a tepid editorial a week later in which it cautioned against the rise of secret societies comprising the “worst,” not the “best” men in the county. “We just throw this out as food for thought, for we believe we know some of the gentlemen who are members of the Ku Klux Klan, and we believe also that they would not have joined if they had for one moment suspected that they had a single member in the fraternity with brains so small and intelligence so little” as to have written J.D. Gold an unspecified note — perhaps the invitation to which Dr. Hargrave referred?

Wilson Daily Times, 31 December 1920.

As we now know, Gold gave the “best men” of Wilson too much credit. By the end of the decade, the Klan held its regular meetings in the white Odd Fellows Hall upstairs at 208 South Goldsboro Street, along with all of the other white-only benevolent and fraternal organizations except the Masons.

Santa, I am sitting here thinking of no one but you.

Wilson Daily Times, 23 December 1936.

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In the 1930 census of Ormonds township, Greene County, N.C.:  farmer Clearance Murphy, 32; wife Mittie, 25; and children Mamie, 6, Laura M., 4, Clearance Jr., 3, and Walter, 1.

On 23 September 1955, Laura Mae Murphy, 30, of Wilson, daughter of Clarence Murphy and Mittie Wilks Murphy, married John H. Wm. Baker, 48, son of Haywood Baker and Ora Harper Baker, in Wilson.

On 1 December 1988, the Wilson Daily Times ran an obituary for Laura Mae Murphy Baker of Wilmington, formerly of Wilson. The notice noted that she was survived by husband Rev. John H. Baker; daughters Brenda James and Ora Jean Willoughby of Durham, N.C., and Joann Baker of Raleigh, N.C.; sons Carl and Peter Baker of Durham and Reginald Baker of Bolivia, N.C.; sisters Addie L. Murphy of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Mamie Tyson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and brothers, Clarence Paul Murphy Jr. of Los Angeles, California, Charlie Murphy of Wilson, and Walter Murphy of Long Island, N.Y.; plus six grandchildren.

Bring me a bicycle and some nuts and apples.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 December 1924.

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Albert Gay, whose letter to Santa was published in 1924, was the son of Albert S. Gay Sr. and Annie Bell Jacobs Gay. At that time, his brothers were Jesse, Harold, and baby Samuel. (Albert Jr. apparently received the bicycle he wished for — seven months later, he broke three ribs when he and his bike collided with an automobile.)

Family ties, no. 7: “They’ll skin a flea for his hide and tallow.”

Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the seventh in a series of excerpts from documents and interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)

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As discussed here, after Jesse A. Jacobs Jr.’s death, Sarah Henderson Jacobs married Rev. Joseph C. Silver. Sarah died just a few years later, and in 1943 Rev. Silver married Martha C. Hawkins Henderson Aldridge.

Shortly after Rev. Silver’s death in January 1958, his widow Martha sent my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (who had formerly been known as Hattie Jacobs) a letter addressed to her workplace, the Eastern North Carolina Sanatorium. Martha Silver mentioned their mutual family connections and offered advice on reclaiming household furnishings that Sarah Silver had brought to the marriage.

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

——

Martha Silver, seated second from right, with her husband Joseph’s children Daniel W. Aldridge, Allen Aldridge, and Mary Aldridge Sawyer, seated, and William J.B. Aldridge, Milford Aldridge, Lillie Aldridge Holt, George M. Aldridge, and Joseph L. Aldridge. Occasion unknown, but well after Joseph Aldridge’s death in 1934.

Though Martha Silver was not a Wilson native, she and her second husband Joseph Aldridge (my grandmother’s great-uncle, Johnnie Aldridge was her uncle) were married in Wilson. Rev. Silver (who would become Martha’s third husband) performed the marriage ceremony on 16 December 1925. C.E. Artis applied for the license, and William A. Mitchner, Hattie Tate, and Callie Barnes were witnesses. I have seen no evidence that either Martha or Joseph lived in Wilson, and I do not know why they chose to be married there. C.E. Artis was Joseph Aldridge’s nephew, but there are no obvious relationships between either bride or groom and Dr. Mitchner, Hattie Tate (she was Artis’ next-door neighbor — was she simply a stand-in?), or Callie Barnes (who was a close neighbor of my grandmother on Elba Street).

Letter and copy of photo in personal collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Family ties, no. 5: I wish it was so that I could come to you & family.

Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the fifth in a series of excerpts from documents and interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)

——

Sarah Silver died of a massive heart attack on a train platform on 8 January 1938 while on her way from Wilson to Greensboro, North Carolina. After receiving the news via a shocking and confusing telegram, my grandmother sent word of Sarah’s death to other relatives. One went to Sarah’s widowed sister-in-law Carrie L. Henderson Borrero, who replied via letter immediately:

Sunday Jan. 9. 38

My Dear Hattie

I received your telegram to-day. 1 P.M. it was certainly a shock to me you & family certainly have my deepest sympathy & also from my family.

I did not know your mother was sick you must write later and let me know about her illness.

It is so strange I have been dreaming of my husband Caswell so much for the past two weeks he always tells me that has something to tell me & that he feels so well so I guess this is what I was going to hear about your mother.

I wish it was so that I could come to you & family but times are so different now seems as if we cannot be prepared to meet emergencies any more but you must know that my heart & love is with you & family.

I am just writing to you a short note now will write you again. Let me hear from you when you get time to write

From

Your Aunt in law

Carrie L. Borrero

322 E. 100th St.  N. Y City

Letter in personal collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Family ties, no. 4: I pray for the whole family.

Wilson’s emergence as a leading tobacco market town drew hundreds of African-American migrants in the decades after the 1890s. Many left family behind in their home counties, perhaps never to be seen again. Others maintained ties the best way they could.

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. left Dudley, in southern Wayne County, North Carolina, around 1905. They came to Wilson presumably for better opportunities off the farm. Each remained firmly linked, however, to parents and children and siblings back in Wayne County as well as those who had joined the Great Migration north. This post is the fourth in a series of excerpts from interviews with my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001), Jesse and Sarah’s adoptive daughter (and Sarah’s great-niece), revealing the ways her Wilson family stayed connected to their far-flung kin. (Or didn’t.)

——

A few months after my grandmother passed away in January 2001, my father, mother, sister, and I converged on her little rowhouse at 5549 Wyalusing Avenue, Philadelphia, to clean it out. In a drawer of a large steel desk in the basement, I found a packet of papers. In them, a letter I’d never known existed, from my great-great-grandmother Loudie Henderson‘s brother Caswell C. Henderson to their sister, Sarah H. Jacobs, who reared my grandmother. It is dated 16 August 1926 and was mailed to Sarah in Greensboro, N.C., where she was visiting their niece, Mamie Henderson Holt.

Though he does not say so directly, Caswell Henderson seems to have been responding to the news of the death of Sarah’s husband Jesse A. Jacobs about five weeks earlier. Sarah has asked him to come to North Carolina, for a visit or perhaps permanently, but he cannot, pleading health and finances. (Caswell worked as a messenger for the United States Custom House in lower Manhattan.) He is hopeful, though, that soon they will be together to “help one another.” He expresses the importance of his family by sending greetings to his great-nieces (my grandmother Hattie and her sister Mamie) and inquiring after niece Minnie Simmons Budd, who had migrated to Philadelphia from Mount Olive, North Carolina. Of course, while “prayers are wonderful when said in all sincerity from the heart,” the prayers of his friends could not keep Caswell C. Henderson forever, and he died 16 January 1927.

Lots in Dudley.

My grandmother, Hattie Henderson Ricks, inherited two lots in the southern Wayne County town of Dudley from Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, her great-aunt and foster mother. [Because she had been informally adopted by Sarah and her husband Jesse A. Jacobs Jr., my grandmother used the surname Jacobs until adulthood, when she reverted to Henderson.]

Sarah Jacobs, who moved to Wilson about 1905, supported her parents  in their final years, sending them food via train and building a small house in Dudley proper closer to neighbors and family. My grandfather recalled:

Mama had the lot where the house was, where Grandma Mag [Margaret Balkcum Henderson (1836-1915)] lived. Had that house built for her. The house they was staying in was up by the railroad, was just about to fall down. Somewhere down up there by where the Congregational Church is. And she built that house down there next to Babe Winn. I don’t think it was but one room. The porch, one room, and a little shed kitchen, a little, small, like a closet almost, and had the stove in it. Then had a stove in the room where she was, one of them round-bellied stoves where you take the top off and put wood in it. I remember that.

Just recently, we discovered documents related to the purchase of these lots. They were in this envelope from the Wayne County Register of Deeds, postmarked 11 August 1941 and addressed to my grandmother at 1109 Queen Street in Wilson. (She penciled in updated addresses as she moved in the 1940s and ’50s.) Sarah Jacobs Silver died in 1938, and I imagine my grandmother received this letter pursuant to the settlement of her estate.

There was this promissory note for the purchase for $20 of lots 15 and 16 of block number 2. It is signed “Sary Jackobs” by someone other than Sarah Jacobs.

And then another, dated 16 October 1911 at Dudley, that she did sign. (Her address was given as 106 Elba Street, Wilson, which was an early designation for 303 Elba.) A notation scribbled in pencil across it confirms that she timely paid off the purchase price.

The park should be named in his honor.

In 1980, the Mary McLeod Bethune Women’s Civic Club petitioned Wilson Parks and Recreation Director Burt Gillette to name a new city park for Oliver Nestus Freeman. Their letter contains interesting details of Freeman’s life, including more about his amusement park and the focus of his real estate development.

The petition was successful.