A good day.

Yesterday, I attended the dedication by Wilson County Historical Association of an historical marker commemorating the establishment of Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home, later known as Mercy Hospital. For much of the 20th century, Mercy was the only hospital open to African Americans in northeastern North Carolina. I was born there in its final months of operation.

A little later, I made a presentation about this blog to Association members at the group’s annual meeting.

It was a good day.

Shouts out to Perry Morrison of W.C.H.A. for spearheading the effort to establish the marker, and to Barbara Blackston and Wilson Community Improvement Association for their excellent stewardship of this building.

[John Mack Barnes, who lived next door, built this hospital as well as Saint John A.M.E. Zion and other fine brick buildings in Wilson. He was partial to this dark red brick and white marble cornerstone combination. See here.]

The mystery of Astor B. Bowser.

Astor Burt Bowser, born 1896, was one of three sons of Burt L. and Sarah Rountree Bowser. He appears with his parents (and grandparents) in the 1900 and 1910 censuses of Wilson, but in 1916 is listed at 17 Mott Street in the city directory of White Plains, New York. When he registered for World War I draft in September 1918, however, he was in Wilson, working in his father Burt’s cafe.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County, the Bowser family’s surname was erroneously recorded as “Brown.”


Occupations of the household’s inhabitants were recorded in the right-most columns. Astor’s? Doctor/dentist.


Dentist? When and where did Astor Bowser attend dental school?

Astor married Deloris Harvey of Alamance County on 17 August 1921 in Wilson. Throughout the 1920s, he appears to have continued to move between Wilson and greater New York City.  In the 1922 and 1925 city directories of Wilson, he is listed as an insurance agent residing at 520 East Nash. However, in the 1924 White Plains city directory: Astor B Bowser, clerk, at 17 Mott. And in the 1925 New York state census of White Plains, Westchester County: bank messenger Astor Bowser, 28, wife Deloris, 24, daughter Sarah, 2, and Lettia Bowser, 49, a widow. In the 1926 and 1928 city directories of White Plains, Astor is listed as a porter living at 7 Mott Street. But Astor B. Bowser Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois, in May 1928.

In the 1930 census, Astor B. Bowser, 32, Delores, 29, and their children, Astor B., Jr., 1, and Sarah, 6, are listed in Chicago, Illinois, at 4905 Vincennes, where they were lodgers. Astor worked as an artist in his own studio and Deloris as a saleslady in a millinery.

In 1942, Astor registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 29 September 1896 in Wilson, North Carolina; resided at 4905 Vincennes, Chicago; was married to Delores Bowser; and worked for the Fannie May Candy Company.

Astor died in Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, in 1981.

Was Astor really then a dentist?

A brief entry in an industry journal may clear up the matter:


The Dental Cosmos: a Monthly Record of Dental Science, Edward C. Kirk, ed. (1917).

In fact, it was Astor’s elder brother Russell L. Bowser who attended dental school, graduating from Howard in June 1917. The same month, he registered for the World War I draft. Per his registration card: Russell Linwood Bowser was born 5 March 1891 in Wilson, North Carolina; lived at 416 Oakdale Place, Washington, D.C.; was single; worked as a dental surgeon in Washington; was tall, medium build, with brown eyes and black hair; and had “defective eyesight and a weak heart.”

In the 1920 census of Chicago, Illinois: North Carolina-born Dr. Linwood Bowser, 28, dentist, was a lodger on Evans Avenue.

In 1942, Russell Linwood Bowser registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card: he was born 5 March 1891 in Wilson, North Carolina; lived at 5634 South Parkway, Chicago (telephone number Went 2910); listed as a close contact Mr. A.B. Bowser, 4905 Vincennes Avenue, Chicago; and worked in the Central Investigating Unit, Federal Security Agency, Public Health Service, 54 West Hubbard Street, Chicago.

Per the Cook County, Illinois, Death Index, Russell L. Bowser died 2 December 1951.



Wilson Daily Times, 25 August 1911.


In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Dolison Powell, 58; wife Sallie, 50; and children Dorsey, 15, Wiley, 13, and Howard, 12.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, on Saratoga Road, Dolison Powell, 68, wife Sallie, 62, and son Wiley, 24.

Dr. George W. Williams.

Though his tenure was short-lived, George W. Williams may have been the first African-American physician to practice in Wilson.

He was a native of Raleigh, where his family appeared in the 1880 census: house carpenter Thomas Williams, 50, wife Anna Eliza, 38, and children: Lucy, 22, Maria, 20, Thomas, 18, John, 16, Walker, 13, Joseph, 10, George, 8, Theodore, 5, Peter, 2, and William, 8 months.

Williams graduated from Shaw University’s Leonard Medical College in 1896 and arrived in Wilson shortly after.


Raleigh Gazette, 13 February 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 17 April 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 5 June 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 8 January 1898.

Dr. Williams quickly left Raleigh for Charlotte. In the 1900 census of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County: medical doctor George W. Williams, 25, wife Lizzie O., 25, with their boarders, the family of John and Emma Harris. In Charlotte’s 1910 census: physician George W. Williams, 36, and wife Lizzie, 38.


Charlotte Evening Chronicle, 5 March 1912.

Dr. Williams was buried in Raleigh’s Oberlin cemetery.

Dr. Clark’s normal school.

Adapted from Gillespie-Selden Historic District Design Guidelines 2013:

The Gillespie-Selden Historic District is located in southwest Cordele, Georgia, and is roughly bounded by US 280/GA 30 (16th Avenue) to the south, 13th Avenue and the CSX Railroad to the north, 11th Street to the east, and 15th Street to the west. The Gillespie-Selden neighborhood centers around the Gillespie-Selden Institute campus on West 15th Avenue.

The Gillespie Normal School was founded in 1902 by Dr. Augustus S. Clark and his wife, Anna Clark, to provide educational facilities for African-American boys and girls. The school was named in recognition of the Gillespie family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose financial gift made the school possible. The Clarks met the Gillespies during a Presbyterian Conference in South Carolina. With the financial gift, the Clarks were able to build a school and support a boarding program. Students from the eastern section of the United States, such as New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, attended the school. Some of the students worked as laborers in the rail yards to attend the institute.

Gillespie-Selden Institute originally consisted of two wood-framed buildings, a faculty of three teachers, and an enrollment of 28 students. In 1923, a hospital was financially secured with a gift of $1,000. At that time the nearest hospital for African-Americans was located 160 miles away. The first nurse was Mrs. Eula Burke Johnson, a graduate of the Gillespie Normal School. The hospital was located on the second floor of one of the early wood-framed buildings and consisted of two beds and one operating room. Local doctors, white and African-American, were on the staff. The Charles Helm Hospital, named for the benefactor, also functioned as a nursing training school. The nurses trained in patient care at the hospital and attended classes at the Gillespie-Selden Institute. In 1937, a 25-bed hospital was constructed near the Gillespie-Selden Institute and named Gillespie Hospital for William Gillespie, who donated the funds needed to build it. The hospital, in cooperation with the state nursing service and under the direction of Nurse Johnson, held weekly clinics for midwives who cared for over 50% of all maternity cases in this area of the state. In 1949, a separate nursing college, Selden Cottage, was constructed to house the nursing program.

The Gillespie-Selden Institute, located at the corner of 15th Avenue and 12th Street, includes a complex of buildings consisting of the President’s Home, Founder’s Home, girls’ dormitory, Gillespie Memorial Hospital, Administration Building and Selden Cottage. The President’s home, built circa 1925 is located next to the girls’ dormitory and is a two-story brick building with Craftsman style detailing. The Founder’s Home, also known as Dr. Clark’s House, is a Colonial Revival style house built circa 1941 and located on 15th Avenue near St. Paul Presbyterian Church. The girls’ dormitory is a three-story brick building with Colonial Revival style features built in 1929. This building was one of the first brick buildings constructed on the campus. The Gillespie Memorial Hospital is a one-story brick building with a center gable built in 1937 with Colonial Revival style features. The Administration Building, built in 1937, is a two-story brick building featuring a center tower with Colonial Revival style detailing. Selden Cottage, which served as a nursing school, is a two-story brick building constructed in 1949.

jackson davis papers uva


In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, farmer Henry Clark, 39, wife, Florah, 38, and children John, 16, Mary J., 14, Ella, 12, Henrietta, 9, Henry, 8, Augustin, 5, Thomas, 3, and Margaret, 10 months.

On 12 September 1918, 44 year-old Augustus Simeon Clark registered for the World War I draft. His occupation? “Teaching and preaching.”


In the 1920 census of Cordele, Crisp County, Georgia: at 611 – 15th Avenue West, Rev. Augustus S. Clark, 46, wife Annie, 40, and adopted daughter Louise, 14. Annie and Louise were Alabama natives.

In the 1930 census of Cordele, Crisp County, Georgia: A.S. Clark, 55, superintendent of Gillespie School; wife A.W., 52, teacher; daughter K. Louise, 24, teacher; and ten boarders, including a campus laborer, students, a nurse and two teachers.

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One of the testimonials of “Negro college presidents” who joined and contributed to National Urban League’s labor programming, Pittsburgh Courier, 7 July 1934.

In the 1940 census of Cordele, Crisp County, Georgia: at Gillespie Normal School, Augustus S. Clark, 65, president, and wife Anna Clark, 60, dean.

Augustus S. Clark died 28 July 1959 in Cordele, Georgia.

For more on preservation efforts in Cordele’s Gillespie-Selden Historic District, see Gillespie-Selden Design Charrette.

Dr. J.A. Cotton of Chicago.

Again, for a town whose population did not hit 10,000 until 1920 (and of which only half  were black), Wilson produced an astounding number of African-American physicians in the last decades of the nineteenth century and first few of the twentieth century. To the ranks of Drs. Joseph Henry WardCharles Hudson Bynum, William Henry BryantJohn Wesley Darden, James Thomas Suggs, Walter Theodore Darden, and James Alexander Battle, add James Arthur Cotton.

The record, to date, is thin. And confusing. In the 1900 census of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois: at 2703 Dearborn, North Carolina-born James A. Cotton, 38, his Mississippi-born wife Mattie, 50, his step-children William I. Buford, 19, and Irma Buford, 13, and a roomer named Frederick Scott. Is this the right James A. Cotton?  James and William’s occupations were listed as cooper. This would seem to be an error, except that the 1897 Chicago city directory lists James A. Cooper, 2703 Dearborn, as a cooper.

Three James A. Coopers appear in the 1901 Chicago directory: (1) a cook living at 2234 Dearborn; (2) a James Jr., physician, at 3150 Wentworth Avenue; and (3) a timekeeper at the Armour stock yards living at 6802 South Carpenter. The last was likely white. The middle would seem most likely, except the first shared the address advertised for Dr. J. Arthur Cotton in the 1905 edition of The Colored People’s Blue Book & Business Directory of Chicago, Illinois:

JA Cotton

The following year, in The Broad Ax, an African-American newspaper originally published in Salt Lake City, Utah, but later removed to Chicago:

JA Cotton 2

The Broad Ax, 7 July 1906.

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The Broad Ax, 7 January 1907.

In the 1920 census of Chicago, Illinois: at 33 West 22nd Street, physician and surgeon J.A. Cotton, 59, and wife Minnie, 34.

Then, too soon, in an index to Cook County, Illinois, deaths: James Arthur Cotton; born 31 July 1866 in Wilson, North Carolina; died 13 February 1922 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; physician; spouse, Minnie Cotton; father, M. Cotton; residence 33 East 22nd; buried in Lincoln Cemetery.

And in the Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929: J. Arthur Cotton; died 8 February 1922, Chicago; type of practice: allopath; licenses: Illinois, 1897; medical school: Harvey Medical College, Chicago, 1897; cause of death: uremia.

James Arthur Cotton made out a will just days before his death. His signature by mark (“X”) likely indicates that he was too incapacitated to sign properly, as he surely was not illiterate. The trusts and outright bequests Cotton left to his wife Minnie, daughter Missouri Arthur Carver, and Augustus L. Williams (his executor, no other relationship indicated) included shares in and dividends of stock in Public Life Insurance Company, Public Agency Company, and Monarch Oil Syndicate of Texas; money at Continental and Commercial National Bank of Chicago; a life insurance policy with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company; the liquidated  value of his “medicines, chemicals, surgical instruments, office equipment” and other personal property; and a 1/59th share in 12,500 acres of “oil land” near Houston, Texas.

[Note: Cotton seems to have had just one child, Missouri Arthur (or Artha Missouri) Cotton, born about 1892 in Arkansas. He apparently did not raise her. Per unsourced family trees at, Artha’s mother Missouri Philmon was born about 1875 in Altheimer, Arkansas, and died 10 January 1892, nine days after giving birth to Artha. Artha appears in the 1900 census of Plum Bayou, Jefferson County, Arkansas, in the household of her grandmother Ann Fillman, 66, with Ann’s daughter Ezell Fillman, 24, and granddaughter Lizzie Lee, 18. In the 1910 census of Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, Arkansas: at 2004 Ninth Street, Louisiana-born Floyd Caver, 28, a self-employed tailor, wife Artha, 18, daughters Hellen, 16 months, and Thersa, 1 month, and [grand]mother-in-law Ann Philmon, 77. By 1920, Floyd is gone, presumably dead, and at 2004 West Ninth: Mississippi-born insurance agent W.E. Clark; wife Aurther, 28, who owned a clean and press shop; and stepdaughters Helen, 11, Thersa, 9, Latis, 8, and Floy Caver, 6. By 1930, Artha had again remarried and had moved across the country. In the 1930 census of Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts: at 3 Pembroke Street, carpenter Charles S. Mero, 61; wife Artha M., 38; and stepdaughter Latis, 18, and Floy Caver, 17. Mero owned his house, valued at $8000. By 1940, Artha is in the Midwest, in the city in which her father died. In the 1940 census of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois: at 2956 Ellis Avenue, head porter at a shoe store Percy Williams, 31; wife Helen B., 30; children Percy Jr., 9, Theresa, 7, Glenda, 5, and Donald, 3; and Artha Mero, 48, a practical nurse in a private home. Artha M. Mero, born 1 January 1892, died 25 July 1986 in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan.]

All records found at