The mysterious deaths of Miles and Annie Pearson.

An anonymous letter arrived at the sheriff’s office on 13 January 1922. Miles Pearson had killed his wife, it said, and fled the scene, leaving her lying the yard. The sheriff and several deputies rushed to the scene to find Annie Pearson‘s body, shot through the heart and mutilated by hungry animals. 

“Pistol shot wound through the heart. Murdered by husband”

The Daily Times reported on 14 January that the Pearsons were sharecroppers who had been on this farm, owned by Lithuanian Jewish brothers-in-law Morris Barker and Morris Popkin, just weeks. Their animals were found tied up and famished. 

… and then Miles Pearson was found in the woods, shot in the back.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 January 1922.

A Black man named Jim McCullen and two white men, prowling about the farm, found Pearson’s body stretched out behind a log with a shotgun nearby. Suddenly, it seems, everyone recalled a man and woman who’d been living with the Pearsons and were nowhere to be found. A week earlier, some said, they had briefly borrowed a horse and buggy from George Barnes, but had not been seen since.

“Pistol shot wound Murdered by unknown parties No Doctor in Attendance”

Were the Pearson murders ever solved?

He said he was going home to change clothes.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 November 1930.

In the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: widow Annie Barnes, 35, and children Flora, 9, Alvester, 8, Jona, 7, Hejikiah, 4, and Zachariah, 2.

On 7 February 1917, Sylvester Barnes, 21, of Black Creek, son of Ben and Annie Barnes, married Esther Woodard, 19, of Black Creek, daughter of Ella Woodard, at Ella Woodard’s in Black Creek township.

Sylvester Barnes registered for the World War I draft in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 12 February 1896 in Wilson County; farmed for himself in Black Creek township, and supported his wife and mother.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Sylvester Barnes, 23; wife Esther, 20; and mother Annie, 58, divorced.

“Found dead in Bed no sign of foul looked as it Body had been dead 10 or 15 days”

Batts struck and killed on bicycle.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 22 October 1937.


In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Amos Batts, 45; wife Clara, 43; and children Martha A., 21, Mary J., 19, Pennina, 17, Vaulentine, 15, Lena, 12, Nancy, 10, Lissie, 8, John D., 5, and Amos, 2.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Amos Batts, 56; wife Clara, 55; sons Jon, 16, and Amos, 12; and grandchildren Pearcie, 6, and Clara, 2. 

In 1917, Amos Batts registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his draft registration card, he was born in 1895 in Elm City, N.C.; lived in Black Creek, N.C.; was single; and was a self-employed farmer in Black Creek township.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: on the road east from Black Creek to Wilson, farmer Mathew Williams, 34; wife Rena, 32; sons Willie, 7, Mathew Jr., 4, and George, 2; stepson Percy Burl, 16; and brother-in-law Amos Batts, 22, farm laborer.

On 22 February 1920, Amos Batts, 25, of Black Creek, son of Amos and Clara Batts, married Elizabeth Barnes, 22, of Black Creek, daughter of Rob and Emma Barnes, at Rob Barnes’ in Black Creek. Matthew Williams applied for the license, and a justice of the peace performed the ceremony in the presence of Grant Farmer, Fred Locus, and Ernest Tucker.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Amos Batts, 29; wife Elizabeth, 29; and children Arlettie, 13, James, 8, Roosevelt, 7, and Amos Lee, 5.

“Run over on highway with auto killing him instantly”

Amos Batts’ widow Elizabeth Batts applied for a military headstone for his grave, which was located in Jim Loach’s cemetery in Black Creek.


In February 1938, glorified gossip columnist John G. Thomas penned a column about the guilt-soaked confession of William Mercer, who had killed Wade Farmer in the summer of 1921, then fled the state. Mercer had joined a church in his adopted home of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and his conscience preyed on him as he stood in the choir stand.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 February 1938.

The details are difficult to pin down. When the Daily Times article broke the story of William Mercer, alias Green, on 21 February 1938, it quoted B.E. Howard, the sheriff at the time of the murder, who admitted he could barely recall the details of the incident — had the victim had been shot or stabbed? — though he thought it occurred after a “negro dance or frolic.” On the other hand, the 27 February Raleigh News and Observer reported that an argument had broken out at a church gathering, and Farmer “got in the road” of a bullet fired from Mercer’s gun.

Wade Farmer’s death certificate does not shed much light:

Per the document, Wade Farmer of Macclesfield died in Gardners township near Wilbanks in May 1922.  He was 22 years old, married to Minnie Farmer, and farmed for Essex Webb, who could provide no information about his parents. The medical certification section is so faded as to be almost unreadable, except for “198,” which was the code for “homicide by cutting or piercing instrument.” The place and date of burial and undertaker fields are similarly washed out, and the registrar did not sign it until 3 January 1923.

On 5 March 1938, the Daily Times reported that Mercer had pled guilty to Farmer’s murder, and a judge had sentenced the 42 year-old to one and-a-half to three years, saying he had been merciful because Mercer had given himself up voluntarily.

But had he really?

Wilson Times, 7 September 1934.

Just four years before Mercer’s “confession,” around the time he claimed he had gotten religion, the Times reported that he had been indicted for Wade Farmer’s May 1922 murder and was to be extradited from New Jersey. Mercer had been arrested in Bridgeton, New Jersey, forty miles south of Philadelphia.

Why, then, the framing of Mercer’s come-to-Jesus moment as the astonishing re-appearance after 17 years of a man who’d gone underground for a crime barely remembered? 

Well, in part, because the man arrested in New Jersey in 1934 and hauled back to Wilson was not William Mercer. Rather, he was Ben Faison, originally of Faison, North Carolina. Though an informant positively identified the man as Mercer, several others who “looked him over” said he was not. On 21 September, the Daily Times informed its readers that Wilson police nonetheless would hold Faison until they were satisfied of his identity. 

So, while law enforcement had never forgotten Farmer’s murder, Mercer’s apprehension was entirely the result of his own doing. He had made an apparently upstanding life for himself in Pennsylvania and had completely cut ties with Wilson in order to do so. When his mother Fannie Mercer visited him at the Wilson County jail, it was the first time she had seen her son in 17 years.

News and Observer, 27 February 1938.

The obituary of Henry Powell.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 October 1928.


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brothers James Powell, 24, and Henry Powell, 22, both farm laborers.

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Powell Henry (c) laborer h 136 Manchester; also, Powell James (c) laborer h 136 Manchester

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: James Powell, 33, farm laborer; wife Martha, 28; daughters Mattie B., 4, and Charity, 1; and lodger Henry Powell, 32, farm laborer.

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Powell Henry (c) fireman h East nr Nash

On 6 November 1912, Henry Powell, 34, married Sarah E. Hagans, 25, at the bride’s house in Wilson. Primitive Baptist elder Jonah Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Dempsey Lassiter, Alus Harris, and Charles Parker.

In the 1920 census of Jackson township, Nash County: on Raleigh and Tarboro Road, farmer Henry Powell, 43; wife Sarah, 35; and children Eva, 16, Hallah, 13, Mildred, 11, John, 8, Maso, 6, Ruth, 5, Annie B., 3, Charlie L., 2, and Millie, 3, months.

Cora Miller Powell died 13 November 1926 in Jackson township, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 September 1926 in Nash County to Henry Powell and Sarah Hagans, both of Wilson County; and was buried in Nash County. Henry Powell was informant.

Henry Powell died 29 September 1928 in Jackson township, Nash County. Per his death certificate, he was born November 1877 in Wilson County to Ichabod Powell and Mary Ann Lassiter; was married to Sarah Powell; was a farmer; and was buried in Nash County.

Sarah Powell filed for letters of administration in Nash County Superior Court on 9 October 1928. His estate was estimated at $5500, of which $4500 was land. His heirs were his wife and children Ruth Powell, Geneva Woodard, Mahala Powell, J.H. Powell, Mildred Powell, Maso Powell, Annie Belle Powell, Christine Powell, Charles L. Powell, Irene Powell, Freeman Powell, Junius Powell, and Lorenzo Powell.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Who was G.G.W. Coppedge?

Wilson Daily Times, 1 April 1955.

Though his success was singular, G.K. Butterfield Sr. was not the only African-American seeking elected office in Wilson in the mid-1950s. Brickmason General George Washington Coppedge also threw his hat in the ring for a First Ward seat.


In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Coppedge General (c) bricklyr h 133 E Nash; also Coppedge James G Rev (c) pastor Second Baptist Church h 113 Manchester

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Street, brickmason George Copage, 25, and wife Mary A., 23, restaurant cook.

James G. Coppedge died 16 July 1913 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1861 in North Carolina to Washington Coppedge and an unknown mother; lived on Manchester Street; was married; and worked as a butler. G.W. Coppedge was informant.

On 26 September 1915, Geo. W. Coppedge, 30, of Wilson, son of J.G. Coppedge and Sarah D. [last name not given], married Mittie Bynum, 27, of Wilson, daughter of Berry Bynum, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister J.S. Jackson performed the ceremony in the presence of Dudley Bynum, C.L. Coppedge and Allen Brown.

General Washington Coppedge registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born 1 February 1885; lived at 200 Vick Street; worked as a bricklayer for John Barnes, Green Street; and his nearest relative was Mittie Coppedge.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 200 Vick Street, brickmason George Coppedge, 34; wife Mittie, 34; and children George Jr., 4, and Elenora, 2.

Mittie Coppedge died 13 December 1933 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 December 1887 in Wilson to Berry Bynum and Lottie Willoughby; was married to G.W. Coppedge; lived at 200 North Vick; and was a housewife.

On 18 November 1936, George Coppedge Jr., 21, of Nash County, son of George and Mittie Coppedge, married Eloise Allen, 19, of Nash County, daughter of James and Rachel Allen, in Nashville, Nash County, North Carolina.

On 5 June 1937, Ruth E. Hooker, 29, of Wilson, daughter of Frank and Ella Hooker, married General W. Coppedge, 45, of Wilson, son of James and Sallie Coppedge. Presbyterian minister O.E. Sanders performed the ceremony at 708 East Green Street in the presence of Annie L. SandersLenora Carroll and Eleanor J. Hooker.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 200 South Vick, George Coppedge, 55, bricklayer; wife Ruth, 40, schoolteacher at county school; [his] son George Jr., 23; daughter-in-law Elouise, 20; and grandchildren Julia, 4, Deloris, 2, and Carrol, 1.

In 1940, George W. Coppedge Jr. registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 14 November 1915 in Lynchburg, Virginia; lived at 1823 H Street, N.E., Washington, D.C.; his nearest relative was father George W. Coppedge Sr., 200 South Vick, Wilson; and he worked for “Fed. Wk. Ag.”

Ruth Hooker Coppedge died 26 May 1945 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 41 years old; resided at 200 South Vick Street, Wilson; was married to George Coppedge; was born in Wilson to Frank Richard Hooker of Greene County and Eleanor Farmer of Wilson County; and was a school teacher.

On 10 July 1963, the Wilson Daily Times reported that George W. Coppedge was awarded a plaque in recognition of fifty years of service to Wilson as a firefighter. Wilson Fire Chief Tyrus Bissette and George K. Butterfield Sr. “praised Coppedge’s work and participation in religious organizations, politics and fraternal groups.”

George W. Coppedge died 15 May 1973 in Washington, D.C. His obituary noted that he ran for public office twice.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 May 1973.