In August 1920, James Dempsey Bullock penned a letter to the newspaper urging the city to establish burial plots for World War I soldiers who had died at war in France and whose remains were just then being repatriated. “… [S]ome one should see to it that a beautiful plat in Maplewood cemetery should be set aside for the interment of those whose parents wish them buried there and one in Oakwood for the colored.”
Oakwood, also known as Oakdale and Oaklawn, was Wilson’s first (or maybe second) public cemetery for African-Americans. If the city established a plat for returning soldiers, it is lost. Oakwood had already fallen out of favor as a burial ground by 1920, as families opted for private cemeteries like Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Masonic, or for the city’s newer public cemetery, now known as Vick. Oakwood was essentially abandoned just a few years later, though the city did not move its graves until 1941.
Six African-American Wilson County men — Henry T. Ellis, Benjamin Horne, Luther Harris, Pharaoh Coleman, Frank Barnes, and Vert Vick — were recorded as having died or been killed in service during World War I. It is not clear to which soldier’s body Bullock was referring as expected to arrive in New York.
When Algiers Augustus Walker, a Watson Warehouse employee boarding with Rev. R. Buxton Taylor, registered for the World War II draft in Wilson, the registrar reported “tattooing” as “obvious physical characteristics that will aid in identification.”
The National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers were established following the Civil War to provide living space for disabled American soldiers and sailors. Henry Borden, born in Wilson County, entered the home at Hampton, Virginia, a few months before his death in 1911.
The hospital’s registry shows that Borden had enlisted on 25 April 1864 at New Bern, North Carolina, and served as a private in Company C, 14th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. [Three other Bordens from Wilson County — Dennis, Edward and Jerry— enlisted the same day. Their relationship is unclear.] He was discharged 11 December 1865 in New Bern. His disability: “old injury to right foot, arterio sclerosis, &c.”
Borden was born in Wilson County, N.C.; was 85 years old; was five foot three inches tall; had a black complexion, black eyes, and gray hair; had worked as a laborer; had lived in Bertie County, N.C., after his discharge; was married; and his nearest relative was his wife Cora Borden of Winton, Bertie County.
Borden’s rate of pension was 15 [dollars per …?], and he was admitted to the hospital on 26 April 1911. He died 19 August 1911.
Henry Borden was buried in Hampton National Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia. Per the cemetery’s burial registry, he was buried in row 10117; had been a member of Company C, 14th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery; died August 19; and was from Windsor, N.C.
Cora Borden applied for a widow’s pension on 19 September 1911.
On 24 December 1874, Henry Barreden, 36, black, married Cora Johnson, 17, “light black,” in Windsor, Bertie County, North Carolina.
In the 1880 census of Whites township, Bertie County: farmer Henry Bartly, 28; wife Cora, 26; and daughters Leah, 3, and Cora, 1.
In the 1900 census of Windsor township, Bertie County: farmer Henry Bardin, 64; wife Cora, 48; and children Leoha, 22, Ida, 20, Minnie, 17, Lazarus, 11, and Henry, 7.
Cora Burden died 14 February 1917 in Plymouth, Washington County, North Carolina. Per her death certificate, she was a widow; was 59 years old; and was born in Washington County to Cora Johnson. Lazarus Borden was informant.
National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938, http://www.ancestry.com; original data: Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Burial Register, Military Posts & National Cemeteries, 1862-1960, http://www.ancestry.com; Civil War Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, http://www.ancestry.com.
None of these veterans’ headstones have yet been found in Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Vick Cemeteries, the cemeteries collectively known as “Rountree.”
Dave McPhail registered for the World War I draft in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born April 1896 in Wade, N.C.; lived in Darden’s Alley; worked as an auto mechanic for S.H. Vick; and was single.
David McPhail died 6 March 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 31 December 1899 in Cumberland County to Raford and Laura McPhail; lived at 208 South Vick; was married to Juanita McPhail; and worked as a mechanic.
Jessie Oliver registered for the World War I draft in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 24 December 1890 in Waynesboro, Georgia; lived in Black Creek; worked as a laborer for M.B. Aycock; and was single.
Jessie Oliver died 12 February 1938 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 48 years old; was born in Georgia; was divorced; and worked as a laborer. Mary Jones was informant.
Robert Reaves died 7 December 1932 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 37 years old; was born in Orangeburg, S.C., to Robert and Luella Reaves; was married to Daisy Reaves; lived at 510 Smith Street; and worked as a mechanic for a cement finisher.
Doc Richardson registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born in 1887 in Johnston County, N.C.; lived at 523 Lodge Street, Wilson; and worked as a railroad section hand for J.B. Hooks.
Doc Richardson died 5 March 1937 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 March 1889 to David and Vicey Ann Richardson; was single; worked as a laborer; and lived at 713 Viola Street. Lee Richardson was informant.
Dock Royall died 31 March 1938 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 September 1898 in Sampson County, N.C., to Samuel and Rachel Royall; was married to Ossie Mae Royall; lived at 310 Hackney Street; worked as a mechanic for Hackney Body Company. George W. Royall of Clinton was informant.
Plummer Williams registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born in 1896 in Pitt County, N.C.; lived at Route 6, Wilson; worked as a farm hand for W.F. Williams, Wilson; and was single.
Plummer Williams died 11 December 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 44 years old; was married to Annie Williams; worked as a common laborer; and was born in Falkland [Pitt County], N.C., to Haywood Williams and Francis Barnes.
Five years after his death in India, Herbert Lee Simms‘ body was returned to Wilson for burial.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Marcella [Marcellus] Simms, 30; wife Tempie, 30; and children Annie M., 7, Herbert L., 5, and Guthra [Gertrude] M., 2.
In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: cotton oil company truck driver Marcellaus Simms, 40; wife Tempie, 41; and children Annie Mae, 17, Herbert Lee, 15, Gertrude, 12, Doris O., 9, Robert L., 7, Roland, 4, and Willie Jr., 7 months.
Herbert Lee Simms registered for the World War I draft in 1941. Per his registration card, he was born 12 March 1923 in Wilson County; lived at Route 4, Box 39, Wilson; his contact was mother Tempie Simms; and he was unemployed.
The application for Herbert L. Simms’ military headstone.
On 3 June 1919, the Daily Times published a list of Wilson County soldiers who died during World War I. The list is segregated. First in the Colored List is Henry Ellis, who was killed 6 October 1918 and in whose honor Wilson County’s African-American post of the American Legion was named.
Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 1919.
The Daily Times had commemorated Ellis’ death when it received word in December 1918:
“Private Henry Ellis Son of Mrs. Mary J. Howard, Route 1, Wilson, N.C. Died of wounds received in action while fighting for his country and oppressed humanity.” Wilson Daily Times, 4 December 1918.
In the 1870 census of Chesterfield township, Nash County, N.C.: farmer Martin Lucus, 52; wife Eliza, 42; and children Irvin, 19, Neverson, 16, Sidney, 13, Eliza, 7, Westray, 6, Anne, 4, and Mary, 2.
In the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Eatmon, 66, wife Eliza Eatmon, 50, daughters AmandaLocus, 18, and Mary J. Locus, 14, “son-in-law” Asa Locus, 10, and “daughter-in-law” Lougene Locus, 4, Margaret Howard, 21, and Harriet Howard, 2. [Nelson Eatmon married Eliza Locust on 28 January 1880 in Wilson County. The Locuses’ relationship designations are obviously erroneous; they were Nelson Eatmon’s stepchildren.]
On 6 February 1887, Warren Ellis, 19, of Wilson County, married Mary Jane Locust, 19, of Wilson County, in Wilson County. Phillis Ellis was one of the witnesses.
In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary J. Ellis, 34, widow, and children Willis, 12, Walter, 9, William, 8, Henry, 5, and Lou, 4.
In the 1910 census of Jackson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Mary Jane Ellis, 44, and children Henry, 16, Louise, 13, and Charles, 6; and brother Neverson Lucas, 56.
Henry Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Nash County, N.C, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 10 November 1895 in Wilson County; lived at Route 2, Bailey; was a tenant farmer for Elijah Griffin; and was single. He signed his card in a neat, well-practiced hand: “Henry T. Ellis.”
In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary Howard, 52, widow; son Charlie Ellis, 17; and sister Luginer Colman, 45, widow.
Mary J. Howard died 20 June 1936 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Manuel Howard; was 65 years old; and was born in Wilson County to Martin Locus and Louisa Brantley. Gray Ellis was informant.
Henry T. Ellis, then, was the son of Warren Ellis and Mary Jane Locus Ellis and stepson of Manuel Howard. He was descended (or connected) on his mother’s side from several free families of color with deep roots in the area of western Wilson County — Locuses, Brantleys, Eatmons, Howards — and on his father’s from Hilliard and Faribee Ellis, a formerly enslaved couple who established a prosperous farm in the New Hope area shortly after the Civil War.
I have seen no evidence that Ellis’ body was returned to Wilson County for burial. His parents, grandparents, and siblings are buried in Hilliard Ellis cemetery, but there is no marked grave for him there.