We celebrate Dr. Joseph H. Ward this Veterans Day!

This past September, the Department of Veterans Affairs posthumously awarded an Exceptional Service Award to Wilson native Dr. Joseph H. Ward for his leadership of the V.A.’s first all-Black hospital “during an era of severe discrimination and racial hostility.”

To learn more about Dr. Ward and Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital, see this recent NPR piece, A Century Ago, Black WWI Vets Demanded Better Care. They Got Their Own Hospital, and this National Archives blogpost, The Trials and Triumphs of Dr. Joseph H. Ward.

Dr. Joseph H. Ward stands at center in the first row in the photograph taken of the V.A. Hospital’s ground-breaking all-Black medical staff.


Dr. Ward pays a visit.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 21 July 1931.

I found this odd article while searching for a digital version of the article re Rev. J.P. Stanley’s funeral. It purports to highlight Col. Joseph H. Ward, but mangles the facts of his life — starting with his name, which was not John D.

As a reminder, Joseph H. Ward’s mother, Mittie R. Ward, was the daughter of Dr. David G.W. Ward and Sarah Ward, an enslaved woman. So, Mittie was born enslaved, but her son Joseph, was not born until 1872, decidedly was not. And he didn’t “take” his own name, it was given to him by his mother at birth. Misinformation aside, what caught my eye here was Dr. Ward’s visit to his half-uncle, Judge David L. Ward — who was an unvarnished white supremacist in the mold of Josephus Daniels, Charles B. Aycock, and Furnifold M. Simmons.

Johnnie Farmer writes home, no. 2.

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 an unknown recipient, written in October 1941, Farmer speaks briefly of how he is faring, mentions two unknown men, and expresses sympathy for “Teance,” who has to wear glasses. He finishes by giving, I think, instructions for care of a boxwood.


                                                                                             Wed Oct 8 1941

Rec your Letter Monday after noon and sunday is the First day the Doc would Let me set up Eanny and then in bed at that saw you all can see that i have time to see them about Enny Like that it was some, Whair around 11 oclock in i got hear did not see but one Doc and one nuce they ak a Lots of Qustions and gave me some cind of a Little white Pill and when I went to bed I did not know nothen untill the next morning I am in the man part of the hospital and Howard and John B. is just a bout a half mile from me and you see it is hard to see them so glad you all wend dow to hope she is getting along all Right and the same thing We are only arlied to see out three Letters a week unless you have your own stampe and then you can seend as miney as you wont so sorry teance has got to wair glases hope she wont have to wair then all the time I am still in bid yet so I am going to write you all Just as often as I can my ankles and Leges has gone down still they wont Let me be op Except in bet the stuff I pout the Box Wood is in the gareige is true and you dont have mix Enny thing with it tharr is a Little sprain in the aket but it may not be Long Enuff to do Enny good so Just Pour the stuff in a Pan and take that bug Brush and Just sprankly it on Like that

Hospital at Veterans’ Administration Facility, Hampton, Va., 1940s. “C.T. Art-Colortone” Postcard, Curt Teich Company.

A successful surgery for a six year-old.


Tarborough Southerner, 21 June 1856.

Dr. Newsom Jones Pittman practiced in Tarboro and apparently was renowned for his successes in lithotomy, the removal of stones from the bladder, kidney or gallbladder. With anesthesiology in its infancy, the surgery must have been excruciating for this six year-old.

Workers at the Confederate hospital.

Did you know Wilson was the site of a Confederate hospital? 

Its remnants stand at the corner of Lee and Goldsboro Streets.

In 1954, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources’ North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program installed a marker near the original site of the hospital, and the agency’s website features the startling essay below.

“The Confederacy organized its Medical Department late in 1861 and within months, in April of 1862, the North Carolina General Military Hospital No. 2 was established in Wilson in what had once been the Wilson Female Seminary. Dr. Solomon Sampson Satchwell, who had graduated from Wake Forest College and studied medicine at New York University before serving as a military surgeon with the Twenty-fifth North Carolina Infantry, was appointed Surgeon-in-Charge. In the 1864 Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal the Wilson hospital was listed as one of twenty-one principal hospitals in North Carolina. It served those wounded in fighting along the coast.

“The hospital made Wilson known outside of the state of North Carolina. Employing thirty-five to forty people, it also boosted the local economy. Most nurses and orderlies were unskilled soldiers; however, at least seven local women were known to have worked at the hospital as matrons. Their duties included food preparation and cleaning. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad that ran through Wilson provided the military hospital with supplies, including ice and turpentine, used to treat fevers.

“Fighting never broke out in Wilson, but, on July 20, 1863, ‘an immense armament of negroes and Yankees’ advanced on Wilson. Reportedly, a group of invalids from the hospital and local militia defended Wilson by destroying the bridge over the Toisnot Swamp to halt the invaders. All of those who died at the hospital were buried in a mass grave. The hospital closed at the end of the war. When Wilson created a town cemetery, they were re-interred there with a Confederate monument erected over the site. Wilson Female Seminary reopened in the former hospital and received a charter as Wilson Collegiate Institute in 1872.”

The interpretive signboard in front of the building, erected by the North Carolina Civil War Trails program (and badly in need of a good wash), reads:

“This is the only known surviving portion of one of Wilson’s earliest school buildings, the Wilson Female Academy, which also served as a Confederate hospital during the war. Wilson’s location on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad, the principal north-south line that was linked to Virginia in Weldon by the Petersburg Railroad, made the town a good site for a hospital after the war began. On April 1, 1862, Confederate authorities seized the building for use as a general military hospital.

“Dr. Solomon S. Satchwell, the surgeon in charge, turned the forty classrooms and other rooms into wards and treated hundreds of patients there. The frame, two-story building had a two-hundred-foot-long facade and a large one-story rear addition. It also had dozens of large windows, essential for summer ventilation.

“Soldiers who died there of wounds or disease were buried near the academy grounds. In 1894, they were reinterred under a burial mound in Maplewood Cemetery two blocks north of here. The Confederate monument on top of the mound was dedicated on May 10, 1902.

“Edmund G. Lind, a British architect who emigrated to New York in 1855 and subsequently practiced in Maryland, North Carolina, and Georgia, designed the Italianate-style school building. It was completed in 1859 about two blocks south of here. After the war, the former female academy and hospital served as Wilson Collegiate Institute from 1872 until it closed in 1898, when the building was separated into housing units. This section, part of the school’s rear addition, was moved here in 2005 and rehabilitated.”


Typically, the historical marker essay makes no mention of the men and women performing the hospital’s essential grunt work. Enslaved men and women toiled as nurses, cooks, and laundresses, and the reports Dr. Satchwell was required to file regularly reveal their names.

Daniel, Samuel, Benjamin, Edy, Annie, Sarah, William, Francis, Flora, Eli, Jerry, Matilda, Harmon, Hoyt, Martha, Dorcas, Laura, Mary, Oliver, Alvana, Alfred, George, America, Isabella, Harriet, Rachel, Henry, Joseph, General, Ansley, Tilda, Minerva, Delphia, Maria, Mahala, Nicey, Chaney, Esther, Eliza, Tom, and Charles cooked, cleaned, and cared for wounded Confederate soldiers over the next two years. Pomeroy P. Clark, a Connecticut-born buggy manufacturer who arrived in Wilson in 1851, had a near-monopoly over the provision of enslaved people to the hospital, supplying almost all of the men and women named above.

Muster Roll dated 1 April 1862 showing enslaved people, at bottom left, rented to the Confederate Hospital.

This is curious. P.P. Clark is listed in 1850 slave schedule of Nash County, North Carolina, as the owner of four enslaved people. In the 1860 census of Wilson, Wilson County, he is described as a lumber manufacturer with $2000 in personal property, but is not listed in the slave schedule. We know that in 1860 Clark bought four enslaved people from John P. Clark as trustee of Nancy B. Clark. The adult in this group of four, a woman named Peggy, is not named as a hospital laborer. Peggy had once belonged to Henry Flowers, whose daughter was Nancy B. Clark. Flowers’ estate also included enslaved women named America and Isabelle, and an enslaved man named Henry (known as Harry), who married a woman named Flora around 1859. These four match names of people put to work at the Confederate Hospital, but who were the others? If Clark (who himself worked at the hospital as steward were acting as a broker for other enslavers, would Dr. Satchwell have recorded the workers as “Negro slave hired of P.P. Clark”? 

In addition to enslaved people, a few free people of color worked at Confederate Hospital No. 2. On 26 May 1864, Lemon Taborn and William Jones were hired to perform unspecified work at $11.00/month. Alexander Jones was hired five days later at the same rate and, on June 1, Mord. Hagans came aboard for $10/month. The Jones cousins appear in the 1860 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County, and Mordecai Hagans in the 1860 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County.

Muster Rolls, Hospital Department, Wilson, N.C., 1862-1864, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, National Archives and Records Administration; photos by Lisa Y. Henderson.

Wright completes a nursing course.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 1950.

The well-known Lincoln School of Nursing in New York City trained African-American nurses, but I have not found a s0-named school in Chicago.


In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: tobacco factory laborer Eli Wright, 38; wife Margret A., 34, tobacco factory laborer; and children Eli Jr., 15, Willie, 13, Annie, 11, Henry, 9, and Geneva, 5.

In 1942, Eli Wright registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 9 April 1902 in Darlington, South Carolina; lived at 117 N. East Street, Wilson; his contact was Willie Wright, 117 N. East; and he worked for Cash Williams Farm, care of Art Newton, Wilson.

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 603 Darden’s Alley, Elie Wright, 48, drives truck for county garage; wife Margaret C., 42; daughters Annie, 22, and Margaret, 15; grandchildren Gwendolyn G., 2, Jo-An, 5, and Luther Jr., 6; and father Willie Wright, 91.

Eli Wright died 14 December 1971 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 9 April 1902 in Darlington, South Carolina, to Willie Wright and Carrie [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived at 603 Darden Street; and was a retired laborer. Eli Wright Jr., Plainfield, New Jersey, was informant.

Annie Mae Wright died 12 June 1992.


The 1940’s prescription transfer case, created by an unidentified Wilson pharmacist, holds hundreds of prescription slips from doctors across town, including Boisey O. Barnes and Joseph F. Cowan. African-American patients also saw white specialists, such as eye, ear, nose and throat doctor T.M. Blackshear. Note that Shade‘s Pharmacy provided Drs. Barnes and Cowan with complementary prescription forms, but patients, of course, were under no obligatory to patronize Shade’s.

Hat tip to J. Robert Boykin III.

Booker T. Washington responds.

As explained here, Dr. Frank S. Hargrave and Samuel H. Vick originally planned to open both a hospital and a “tubercular home,” i.e. a sanatorium. The hospital opened in 1913, but the following year Charles L. Coon wrote Booker T. Washington for help securing funding for a facility for tuberculosis patients. Unfortunately, Washington could not help.

Letter from Booker T. Washington to Charles L. Coon, 23 May 1914, regarding Coon’s request for guidence in establishing a tuberculosis hospital for African Americans in Wilson, N.C., Folder 47, Charles L. Coon Papers (1775-1931), Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.