Wills & Estates

Final rites for Aggie M. Williams.


Wilson Daily Times, 24 March 1951.

The Daily Times‘ editorial policy, apparently, provided that the most remarkable fact of the lives of men and woman who had been enslaved was that they had been enslaved. However, as set forth in detail here, Aggie Mercer Williams died possessed of a house and two lots in Elm City and two farms outside of town, which suggests a lifetime of notable achievement.

Littleton Ellis’ land division.

Littleton Ellis‘ land was surveyed, divided and platted in the spring of 1942, several decades years after his death between 1900 and 1910. The road slicing across the middle of the plat appears to be today’s Forest Hills Road, with directions east “To U.S. Hwy. No. 301” and west “To Road Leading to the Wilson Via of Winstead Sch.”

Plat book 2, page 175, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

The division of Mary Eliza Farmer’s land.

In late September 1934, a surveyor walked the land of Mary Eliza Farmer and prepared a plat dividing it into five equal sections. Mary Eliza had inherited a life estate in the property from her husband Valentine Farmer, and upon her death or remarriage it was to pass to her children and step-children. The double line at the left edge of the plat denotes a road and fronting it, in the fourth strip of lad, a pack house and dwelling are marked.


On 5 February 1882, Vaul Farmer, 52, married Mary E. Ruffin, 43, in Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Valintine Farmer, 70, wife Mary, 58, children Mattie, 30, Elizabeth, 26, Mary J., 24, and Elizar, 22, son-in-law Charly Freeman and daughter Carolina. All did farm work except Elizabeth, who was a cook, and Elizar, who was a schoolteacher.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: widowed farmer Mary L. Farmer, 64; daughter Mattie, 48; and granddaughter Mary Batts, 28.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Winstead Road, widowed farmer Mary Farmer, 75, and daughter Mattie, 40.

Mary Eliza Farmer died 31 October 1928. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 February 1836 in Wilson County to Bob Shelley and Minerva Barnes; was the widow of Vol Farmer; and her informant was Mattie Stallings.

Plat book 2, page 101, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

The last will and testament of Isaac Rich.

In the Name of God, Amen. I, Isaac Rich, of Lucama, Wilson County, State of North Carolina, being of sound mind and memory do this 22nd day of March, A.D. 1911, make and publish my last and testament in manner following, that is to say: At my death I wish to be decently buried and according to the wishes of my friends.

ITEM. I give to my beloved wife, Jack Ann Rich, during her life time or widowhood, the home place where on I now live containing thirty (30) acres, more or less, which is separated and marked by a line from the railroad bridge to the old line the corner, and after her death I give my granddaughter Viola Dawson the said home place during her life time

ITEM. I give my daughter, Martha Ann, wife of James Pearce, one tract of land separated from the home place by a line from the railroad bridge above mentioned, to the old line including the church lot adjoining Mr. Jesse Lucas line and also three and one fourth acres across the railroad, all together containing thirty (30) acres, more or less, to her and her heirs forever.

ITEM. I give and bequeath to my beloved daughter, Marilda Forsythe, one tract of land called the grave yard tract, adjoining Jesse Lucas’s line at spring branch, a corner, thence to the railroad corner above, to include two acres across the rail road, the whole together containing twenty one (21) acres, more or less, to have and to hold to her the said Marilda Forsythe, during her life and after her death I bequeath the aforesaid land to Martha Ann Pearce, her heirs and assigns.

ITEM. I give and bequeath to my grand daughter, Viola Dawson, after the death of my wife, the home place mentioned in my will, to her and her heirs.

ITEM. I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife one horse and buggy her choice at my death. Also her share according to law of the cattle and other stock, and also her share of all other perishable property at my death and the sale of my property.

ITEM. At my death I give to Roman Oneal, my foster son, who has been faithful to me, a horse worth not more than twenty dollars and one Bible to cost one dollar

And if any money remain after the settlement of my estate, I bequeath the same to my children and their decendants

In testimony whereof, I hereunto set my hand an seal the day and date above mentioned in the presence of T.C. Davis and F.S. Davis the subscribing witnesses to this my will.                 /s/ Isaac (X) Rich


On 30 April 1872, Isaac Rich, son of Branch O’Neal and Rachel Peacock, married Elizar Darden, daughter of Lizzie Darden, at George Thompson’s in Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Isaac Rich, 30; wife Eliza, 30; children Martha Ann, 9, Marilda, 7, Zachariah, 5, and Elafare, 2; mother Mary Howell, 65; and George Washington Bass, 15, farm worker.

On 13 September 1899, Marilda Rich, 23, daughter of Isaac and Eliza Rich, married Mack Forsythe, 28, son of Alex and Nancy Forsythe, in Cross Roads township. William Forsythe applied for the license.

In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: widower Isaac Rich, 50, farmer; daughters Martha A., 28, and Wibby, 16; niece Lettie Langston, 8, and nephew Rommie Oneil, 8.

On 12 December 1900, Isaac Rich, 50, of Wilson County, married Jack Ann Ricks, 35, of Wilson County. Methodist minister G.A. Wood performed the ceremony at the bride’s residence in Wilson in the presence of Moses Depree and Mingo Hines.

Willie Dawson, 23, of Black Creek township, son of Benjamin and Caroline Dawson, married Susie Ann Richs, 22, of Cross Roads, daughter of Isaac and Eliza Richs, on 12 January 1905. Free Will Baptist minister W.H. Frost performed the ceremony at W.M. Forsythe’s in the presence of Forsythe, William Daniels and Aaron Barnes, all of Lucama.

James Pierce, 28, of Cross Roads, married Martha Rich, 24, of Cross Roads, daughter of Isaac and Eliza Rich, on 18 January 1906 at Martha’s residence. Free Will Baptist minister J.M. Richardson performed the ceremony in the presence of Thomas Ayers, William Forsythe and J.T. Horton, all of Lucama.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Isaac Rich, 60, farmer; wife Jacan, 45; nephews Roman Oneil, 18, and Robert Creech, 18; and laborer Bruce Depree, 18.

Isaac Rich died in the summer of 1913. James H. Newsome applied for letters of administration for his estate, naming widow Jack Ann Rich and Martha Ann Pearce, Marilda Forsyth, Viola Dawson (minor) and Roman O’Neal as heirs. Rich’s estate was estimated at $5600, including land.

Martha A. Pierce died 23 February 1918 in Cross Roads township. Per her death certificate, she was 42 years old; the daughter of Isaac Rich and Eliza Hayes; was married; and was buried in the Ricks graveyard. William Forsythe was informant, and Mack Forsythe, the undertaker.

Image of original will and administration letters available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.




The last will and testament of James H. Holden.

State of North Carolina, County of Wilson.

I, James H. Holden, of the City of Wilson and State of North Carolina, do make my last will and testament as follows:

First – I give and bequeath unto my wife Isabella Holden, my home house and lot on Bank Street where I live and which was paid for me and her.

Second – I give and bequeath unto my wife Isabella Holden all monies coming to my estate from lodges to which I belong and all insurance companies in which I am insured to be used at her own discretion after she has given me such a burial as maybe satisfaction to her.

Third – I give and bequeath to my wife Isabella Holden my share of the lot in Smithfield which was left to me and my two brothers Jesse Holden and Edward Holden. This lot was owned by my father and left to the three of us. My part will be one third interest and the amount of $20 which I have paid for taxes over and above my part of the taxes on the lot since my father’s death. The taxes should have been paid by all three of us and if this had been done my part would have been one third of the taxes, but this was not done and I have paid out for taxes on the lot $20 paid over to my wife Isabella Holden and after she is paid the amount and when the time comes to divide the property I want my one third interest paid over to my wife.

In Witness Whereof, I, James H. Holden, have to this my last will and testament hereto set my hand and seal, this the sixteenth day of May, A.D. one thousand nine Hundred and eighteen.   /s/ James H. Holden

Signed, sealed published and declared by the said James H. Holden as and for his last will and testament, in the presence of us, who, in his presence and at his request, and in the presence of each other, I have hereto set our hands as witnesses, the day and year last above written. /s/ A.L.E. Weeks, Annie E. Weeks


In the 1880 census of Smithfield, Johnston County, North Carolina: laborer Anderson Holden, 27; wife Rachel, 22; daughter Ether, 6, and Sarah, 3.

James H. Holden, 35, of Wilson, son of Rachel Holden, married Isabell Deans, 25, on 25 January 1900 in Wilson. Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of J.T. Deans, Cora Beckwith and Goodsey Holden.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: brick mason James Holden, 24; wife Isabelle, 35; and children Ether, 1; and brother Jesse, 7.

Ed Holden, 27, married Gussie McClammie, 20, on 10 December 1903 in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of M.C. Bynum, Eliza Mayo and J.H. Palmer.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 391 Jones Street, Ed Holden, 30, brickmason; wife Gussy, 26; and children Carrie L., 6, and Andrew J., 12.

James Holden died 8 August 1918 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 July 1874 in Johnston County to Anderson Holden and Rachel Whitfield, both from Wake County; resided at 428 Bank Street, Wilson; and was married. Belle Holden was informant.

Isabella Holden quickly remarried. On 17 June 1919, she wed Zeke Artis, 35, in a ceremony performed by Baptist minister Spurgeon Davis in Wilson. F.S. Hargrave, A.V. Bowser, and Mrs. M.A. Spell witnessed.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 703 Lodge Street, bricklayer Edd Holden, 36; wife Gussie, 30; and children Carrie, 15, Anderson, 11, David, 8, Roy Lee, 6, Russell, 3, and Thermon, 1.

Jesse Holden, 33, married Beatrice Gay, 32, on 14 February 1925 in Wilson. Eddie Holden applied for the license, and A.M.E.Z. minister J.E. Kennedy performed the ceremony in the presence of A.L. Winstead, Will Farmer(?) and Clarence Mc[illegible].

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 607 East Green, bricklayer Jessie Holden, 35; wife Beatrice, 38; and stepdaughter Jeroline Wood, 20.

Jesse Holden died 26 February 1965 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born July 1893 in Johnston County to Anderson Holden and Rachel Whitfield; resided at 623 East Green; was a retired brickmason; and was a World War I veteran. Beatrice Gay Holden was informant.

Image of original will available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

The last wills and testaments of Joel Newsom Sr. and Jr.

In the name of God amen I Joel Newsom Senr of the State of No. Carolina & County of Wayne being in a low State of Health but of Perfect mind & memory do make & ordain this my last will & Testament in manner & form as follow towit —

Item — I lend unto my wif Pennellopy Newsom one half my plantation whereon I now live with half the west room of my Dwelling house & Kitchin — also one feather berd & furniture half dozin siting chears two Puter dishes two Basons haf Dozen Plates the Iron ware that belongs to the Ketchen a sufficent quantity of Corn & fodder as will serve her & her family one year & a sufficient quantity of Provision as will last her & family the same term & two Cows & Calves two Sows & Pigs also the sum of fifty dollars to purches her a Horse — also Two negroes (to wit) Tom & Nel — also as much cotton flax & wool as Shall be sufficient to serve her & family for one year also four Ews also two Plow hoes two weading hoes one ax & one grubbing hoe — the above named Property I lend unto my wife during her natural life or widowhood & after her death or widow hood it it my will & desire that the whole be Sold & be disposed of as I Shall hereafter direct

Item I give & bequeath unto my son Joel Newsom all the tract of Land on the south Side of the March Branch & negro Sam to him & his heirs for ever

… I have hereunto set my hand & seal this 26th Sept 1818 attest — Joel X Newsom     Benjn. Simms, Stephen Woodard


In the name of God, Amen, I Joel Newsom of the county of wayne and State of No Carolina being in a low state of health, but in sound mind and memory, do make and ordain this to be my last will and Testament, as follows – (viz)

Item, 1st, I Give and bequeath unto my son Larry Newsom, all my lands lying on the south side of black Creek (i.e.) the lands whereon I formaly, the lands whereon Sally Daniel now lives, and also the lands I purchased of Willis Garner and also a tract of piney land adjoining the tract I bought of Willis Garner, I also give and bequeath unto my Son Larry Newsom, four negroes (viz) Harry, Allen, Ben, and Tom, to him and his heirs forever ….

Item 2nd I lend unto my daughter, Zilpha Daniel and my son in law Jap. Daniel, my lands I bought of Elisha Daniel, lying between black Creek and Cotentna creek, with the exception of the fruit that may grow in the orchard on said lands, untill my Grand son Larry Daniel, son of Jas. & Zilpha Dan’l arrives to the age of twenty one years, I also lend unto my daughter Zilpha Daniel one negro girl named Hanner during her lifetime ….

Item 3rd I Give and bequeath unto my son James Newsom my tract of land whereon I now live lying on the north side of black creek also three negroe boys (viz) Tony, Will and Sam ….

Item 5th I give and bequeath unto my sister Patience Pearce a negro Girl by the name of Dill, to her and her heirs forever

Signed Sealed and acknowledged in the presence of us – John Rowe, Burket Barnes       Joel Newsom Augt. 14th 1837


The Newsoms lived in the Black Creek area of Wayne County, which became part of the new Wilson County in 1855.

In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, North Carolina, Ben Newsome headed a household that included wife Edna, 31, and children Amos, 10, Gray, 7, Penelope, 6, and Mary, 2. It is likely that Newsome was the Ben referred to Joel Newsom Jr.’s will 33 years earlier. (Note that one of his daughters shared a first name with Joel Newsom Jr.’s mother Penelope.) As required by law, Benjamin Newsome and Edna Newsome registered their 16-year cohabitation in Wilson County in 1866. (Edna was likely considerably older than 31 in 1870.) Harry Newsom, who may have been the Harry listed in Newsome Jr.’s will, registered his ten-year cohabitation with Rachel Woodard in 1866.

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Image of original will available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

The estate of Elijah Cox.

Less than a decade after gaining freedom, Elijah Cox passed away in southern Wilson County. He had assembled a small farm in Cross Roads township, but it would not pass intact to the next generation.

Receipt for reimbursement to Ben Cox, alias Horne, for clothing purchased “for burying father.”

Dr. R.E. Cox filed a claim against the estate for medical care provided in Elijah Cox’s final illness.

In 1874, Patience Cox applied for letters of administration in Wilson County Superior Court for her husband’s estate. His heirs were named as Haywood Sauls and wife Fannie; Sherrod Cox and wife Diana; Simon Dew and wife Telitha; Jerry Everett and wife Jane; Ben Barnes and wife Hester; Ben Cox; William Horne; and Warren Barnes. His estate file reveals that Cox owned about 56 acres at his death and that his debts were estimated at $175. For her support, Patience Cox was allotted barrels of corn, shucks, fodder, cotton seed, cattle, hogs, peas, potatoes, garden tools, plows, and household and kitchen furniture, which essentially wiped out Elijah’s personal property. As a result the court ordered Cox’s land sold to create assets to pay off his debts.

Inventory of Elijah Cox’s estate.

In a final accounting after the sale, heirs received payments of about $16 in February 1876.

Request from Cox’ daughter Fannie Sauls of Fremont, Wayne County, to have her share delivered via her husband Haywood Sauls.


In 1866, these formerly enslaved couples registered their cohabitations in Wayne County (Haywood Sauls and Fannie Newsome, 4 years) and Wilson County (Simon Dew and Litha King, 18 years, and Benjamin Barnes and Hester Barnes, 20 years.) I have not found cohabitation records for Elijah and Patience or their other children. (Sidenote: the multiple surnames used by Elijah’s children — Cox, Horne, Barnes, King, Newsome — suggests that they had different mothers or were held in slavery by several different owners.)

In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: shoemaker Elijah Cox, 66; wife Patience, 65; and children (or grandchildren) Jerry, 11, Clara, 5, and Patience Cox, 3. Cox claimed $150 real estate.

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Ben Jamin Horne, 33; wife Mandy, 26; and children William Henderson, 14, Alvester, 10, Hilliard, 8, Amos, 6, and Louetta Cox, 3; and mother Patience Cox, 70.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: wagon driver Haywood Sauls, 46, and wife Fannie, 56.

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Simon Dew, 55; wife Lithy, 48; children Lany, 27, Peter, 25, Lucy, 23, Diannah, 21, Isaih, 20, Hilliard, 18, Hester, 16, Aarch, 14, Liscy, 12, Patience, 10, Sarah, 8, and Simon, 6; and grandchildren Zilpha, 13, Roxie A., 2, and William, 1.

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Benjaim Barnes, 52; wife Hester, 52; and children Ervin, 17, Rebecca, 16, Bettie, 13, Larry, 10, Thomas, 8, and Benjaim, 6.

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Williamson v. Williamson, 57 N.C. 272 (1858).

This case was filed in Wilson County Court of Equity by Garry Williamson and Jesse Fulgham, executors of the will of Thomas Williamson, concerning the distribution of certain enslaved people for whom Williamson claimed ownership. The principle question posed to the North Carolina Supreme Court was whether enslaved children, born before Williamson died, passed with their mothers to the designated legatees. “The general rule is clearly settled that the bequest simply of a female slave and her increase passes the mother only, and not the increase which she may have had before the will was executed, or between that time and the death of the testator.” An exception would be where the testator’s intent to include the children can be inferred from a reference to the enslaved woman having previously been in the possession of the legatee. Otherwise, the children become part of the “residue,” i.e. property to be liquidated and the proceeds equally divided among legatees.

The chart below summarizes the fates of 26 of the enslaved people — all women and children — that Thomas Williamson owned. It is a stark encapsulation of the devastating impact of slavery on African-American families. And where were their men? An examination of Williamson’s will, drafted in August 1852, reveals further separation. Thomas Williamson had separately bequeathed Turner, Patrick and Dennis to his wife Keziah Williamson, and Jack to son Garry Williamson.


The last will and testament of Lucy Woodard.

Lucy Woodard drafted her will in 1921, but lived another 13 years. By its terms, she left:

  • her house and lot on East Street, all household and kitchen furnishings, and all residual property to Cornelia Coleman, Charlie White and Annie Howard [Howell]
  • her piano to Annie Howell’s daughter Ethel Gray Howell


In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Ruffin Woodard, 50 farmer; wife Lucy, 38; and children Zilpha, 19, John, 13, Polly, 12, Sallie, 2, Oscar, 1; and servant Willie Barnes, 12.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed day laborer/tobacco stemmer Lucinda Woodard, 52; children Sallie, 23, Viola, 17, Minnie, 13, and Winnie, 11; and grandchildren Cornelia, 4, Anderson, and Ruffin O. White, 10 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Lucy Woodard, 62; daughters Minnie, 23, cook, and Louvenia Woodard, 20, cook; daughter Mollie Thomas, 38, cook, and her daughter Mary, 17; and boarders widow Margret Jones, 28, cook, and her daughter Marthy, 4.

Lucy Woodard died 29 June 1934 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 94 years old; was the widow of Rufin Woodard; and was born in Wilson County to Harry and Hanah Simms of Wilson County. Informant was Annie Howell.

[Ethel Gray Howell (not Howard) was the daughter of Harry and Annie Thompson Howell. Her and her mother’s relationship to Lucinda Simms Woodard is not clear.]

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

The last will and testament of Zebulon M. Johnson.

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On 19 November 1905, Zebulon Johnson, 33, son of Jere and Minnie Johnson, all of Northampton County, married Armittie Powell, 25, daughter of Isaac and Georgia Powell, at Jerusalem Church, Rich Square township, Northampton County, North Carolina.

In the 1910 census of Rich Square, Northampton County: Armittie Johnson, 28, and her children Elvalene, 3, and Allene, 1 1/2, are listed in the household of her mother Georgianna Powell, 61. Armittie is described as married, but her husband Zebulon is not found.

In 1918, Zebulon Myer Johnson registered for the World War I draft in Nash County. Per his heart registration card, he resided at R.F.D. 3, Rocky Mount; was born 17 September 1872; was employed as a chiropodist and farmer; and his nearest relative was wife Mittie Johnson. [Where did Johnson receive his medical training? Was he actually a physician?]

On 1 December 1926, Zebulon Johnson, 48, of Wilson, married Roberta Battle, 38, of Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Mamie Lucas, Ella Allen and Henry Lucas.

In 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1008 East Nash Street, chiropodist Zebulon M. Johnson, 56, and wife Roberta, 37.

On 13 July 1934, Zebulon Myer Johnson died in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 61 years old; born in Bertie County to Jerry and Winnie Johnson; was married to Robetta Johnson; and worked as a chiropodist. He was buried in Rich Square, North Carolina.

As noted in the document above, Johnson’s will entered probate ten days after his death. As required, for several months, his executrix ran an ad in the local newspaper, notifying claimants and debtors of their obligations.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 August 1934.

There was a response — likely, unexpected. Armittie Powell Johnson, who lived in Rocky Mount, stepped forward to file a claim. By the brief notation handwritten in the will book, above, it appears that she asserted that she, and not Roberta, was Zebulon Johnson’s legal widow. I have no further information on the outcome of this challenge, but it is clear that Roberta Johnson remained in the house she had been bequeathed in the will.

Roberta Battle Johnson died 28 July 1958 at Mercy Hospital. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 October 1889 in Wilson to Parker Battle and Ella (last name unknown); was widowed; resided at 1108 East Nash; and worked as business manager for Mercy. Informant was Grace Battle Black, 1108 East Nash Street.

[Sidenote: Zebulon Myer Johnson was the grandfather of noted Nash County educator and activist Kanawha Zebulon “K.Z.” Chavis (1930-1986), whose mother was Arlin Johnson Chavis.]