Wilson County

“It is good just to know where you came from.”

At the end of October, I had the extraordinary good fortune to conduct three workshops for Gentlemen’s Agreement, an achievement program targeting African-American young men attending Wilson County high schools. Both the format and the audience were new for me. I was nervous, but I needn’t have been. The students were attentive and responsive and gratifyingly curious about the history of their hometown and the contributions of African-Americans to Wilson’s development. I am grateful to Gentlemen’s Agreement, Living the Word Ministry/North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Wilson County Public Schools and Freeman Round House and Museum for the opportunity to introduce these young people to the idea of sankofa and to give back to the community that nurtured me.

The Rev. Maurice Barnes, left, and historical blogger Lisa Henderson, right, joined Wilson high school students for a windshield tour of African American history in Wilson. Pictured are some of the students who participated. From left are Barnes, Michael Thomas, Jaden Spruill and Christopher Richardson, all Hunt High School students, and Henderson. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Times.)

Windshield tour a reminder of Wilson’s past.

By Drew C. Wilson, 12 November 2019.

Wilson teens from three high schools took windshield tours of places in African American history recently.

“In Our Backyard: Black Genius and the Quest for Racial Equity” is a youth development and leadership program to show participants of The Gentlemen’s Agreement and other youth from Wilson’s three traditional high schools a slice of Wilson history that is often forgotten.

Lisa Henderson, curator of the Black Wide Awake blog about black history in Wilson, led the most recent tour on a bus through Wilson’s streets.

“It was an amazing opportunity for me,” Henderson said. “One of the reasons I do the blog is to create a record that anyone can access going forward and to be able to connect. What is always exciting to me is to be able to find something in the historical record and then picture where it is now or what’s there now. And Wilson has changed so much in good ways and in bad that I wanted to give these students a sense of possibilities, a sense of what has come before and what could be possible going forward.”

Henderson is a Wilson native who was born at Mercy Hospital and educated in Wilson schools.

“To be able to take the windshield tour and go down the 500 block of Nash Street and see some of the sights that we had talked about in the workshop and have them go, ‘Wow, wait, I know that place,’ or ‘Yeah, I get my hair cut there’ or ‘I go to church there’ and to understand the age of these places and the significance of these places in history is really rewarding.” 

“It showed us where people stayed and bigger places like the Mercy Hospital,” said Jaden Spruill, a senior at Hunt High School. “A lot of people don’t know these things. I personally didn’t know a lot of these things until I got into Gentlemen’s Agreement. I feel like this is important to know. If you don’t know this about Wilson, you get the history behind Wilson and you take more pride and you get more understanding about what was really going on around here before we were here.”

“I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know about Wilson about the old places from back in the ’30s I didn’t know,” said Christopher Richardson Jr., a Hunt junior. “We heard is was just a country road past the hospital, and now they have a lot more. It is important for people to know about the past then and what can happen now.”

Michael Thomas, a Hunt sophomore, said it was a good experience. “I just learned about black history in Wilson,” he said. “It is good just to know where you come from and what your background is.”

“There was a lot that I didn’t know,” Michael added. “That strip of downtown, the 500 block of Nash Street, before you get to the railroads, there were a lot of stores there, but now it’s just empty. I could picture those roads there being jam-packed with people, and it was a good sight to see. You’ve got to know where you come from. If you are going to live here in Wilson and have an impact, you have got to know where you come from.” 

Henderson had given talks here about African American history in Wilson when the Rev. Maurice Barnes approached her to ask if she could lead a series of workshops for The Gentlemen’s Agreement program. 

“I jumped on the opportunity,” Henderson said. “The more I understood about the organization and what it is trying to do with promising young men in our school systems, any way I could help, I wanted to do it. It is important for young people to understand the past and the history of their community and have a pride in that community. Any way that I can contribute to another generation of Wilsonians knowing their past, I am happy to do it.”

“All told, for all three days, we had about 55 kids, from all three of the high schools to participate in this three-day workshop,” Barnes said. 

Similar workshops held in January and March and the windshield tours were paid for by a collaborative grant from Living the Word Ministry and the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House Museum.

The sixteenth to fall.

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Wilson Daily Times, 3 December 1918.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Raleigh Road, farmer Simon Horne, 53; wife Nancy, 43; children Louisa, 22, Matha, 18, Benjamin, 17, Minnie, 14, Annie B., 12, Darling, 10, Thomas, 8, William, 6, and Tobe, 4; grandson Freeman, 4 months; and mother-in-law Bunny Barnes, 78, widow.

Front of Benjamin Horne’s draft registration card.

Army transport passenger list.

U.S. Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939, database on-line, http://www.ancestry.com.

Barbara Jones’ daughter Bethany Jones.

In January 1828, Barbara Jones of Wayne County “in consideration of the natural love and affection which I do bear towards my daughter” transferred to Bethany Jones 100 acres in Nash County bounded by the lands of Jethro Harrison on the north and east, Cuzzy [Keziah] Williamson on the south, and John Grice on the west (minus two acres sold to Mary Hobbs).

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Deed book 12, page 190, Nash County Register of Deeds Office, Nashville, N.C.

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I have long identified Bethana Jones as a the matriarch of a large free family of color rooted in what is now southwestern Wilson County. However, if this is the same Bethana Jones, this astounding document advances the Jones family genealogy back a generation to Bethana Jones’ mother, Barbara Jones.

The evidence is limited, but suggestive. The time period is correct. Most critically, the named neighbors place Barbara and Bethana Jones’ land in Old Field township in the neighborhood in which Bethana Jones was known to live. Jethro Harrison’s son and grandson were among the men and women who purchased items from Bethana Jones’ 1852 estate sale. Keziah Williamson was likely a close relative of Isaac Williamson, who had a daughter named Keziah and also showed up at Jones’ estate sale. (It seems less likely that this was a reference to Kesiah Williamson, wife of Thomas Williamson, as ownership of property in a married woman’s own name during her husband’s lifetime would have been unusual.)

Barbary Jones appears in a 1782 tax list of Nash County, but no census records, which was not unusual for free women of color. The earliest certain reference to Bethany Jones (other than this deed) is in the 1830 census of Eatmon’s district, Nash County, North Carolina, in which Bethany Jones is head of a household of free people of color that included three males under age 10; one aged 10-23; and one aged 24-35; one female under 10; one aged 10-23; and two aged 36-54. (Were the latter two Bethana and her mother Barbara Jones?)

Garry Williamson house.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

The house as photographed for Ohno’s book.

“Garry Williamson was born in 1817, the son of Thomas and Kasiah Williamson. Williamson inherited part of the land between Contentnea Creek and Marsh Swamp granted to his grandfather, Joseph Williamson, in 1779 by Governor Richard Caswell. Family tradition has it that an earlier plantation house was incorporated into the present house, which Williamson inherited from his father in 1857 and which he is said to have remodelled in the same year. Williamson married Gillie Flowers in 1840. The couple’s daughter Sallie married prominent local physician, Dr. H.F. Freeman, in 1878. Howard Franklin Freeman was born in Franklin County in 1848 and he was educated at Wake Forest University and the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore. Upon graduation from college, Freeman began his medical in the Rock Ridge area. After his marriage to Sallie Freeman the couple resided wit Garry Williamson and his family at the family homeplace. … The Freeman heirs owned the property until 1976. The house shows little indication of its pre-1857 origins, and the bulk of the fabric of the building appears to date from Garry Williamson’s occupancy. The oldest section of the house consists of a two-and-one-half story gable roofed structure with robust exterior end chimneys. These chimneys are notable because of the use of native stone mixed with brick which was stuccoed and gauged to resemble blocks of dressed stone. The mixed stone and brick chimneys are typical of Old Fields township and seldom found in the easten part of the county, but the gauged stucco work is extremely rare. At the rear of the house stands a one-story ell with porches, which was probably added by Dr. Freeman circa 1880 when he build his office on the northwest corner of the house. In recent years Freeman’s office was moved to the Country Doctor Museum in Bailey. Although little remains of Dr. Freeman’s famous garden, the old turn-of-the-century kitchen stands to one side of the main house. Family tradition asserts that the kitchen was moved to its present location so that Garry Williamson and a daughter could occupy the structure. The interior of the main house exhibits a hall-and-parlor plan with an enclosed stair ascending from the rear of the house. The rear ell appears to have consisted of two rooms.”

It is difficult to reconcile this image from Ohno’s book with that above, but this is said to be the Garry Williamson house in 1903, with members of daughter Sallie Williamson Freeman’s family.

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In the 1850 census of Nash County, North Carolina: farmer Garry Williamson, 33; wife Gilly, 26; and children Hinnant, 10, Nancy 7, and Lucinda, 3.

In the 1850 slave schedule of Nash County, North Carolina, Garry Williamson with two enslaved people, a 20 year-old male and a 17 year-old female, both described as mulatto.

In the 1860 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Garry Williamson, 44; wife Gilly, 35; and children Lucinda, 13, Nancy, 11, Sidney, 5, and Sarah A., 2.

In the 1860 slave schedule of Old Fields township, Wilson County, having inherited from his father’s estate, Garry Williamson is listed with eight enslaved people, three men aged 23, 28 and 55, and five girls, aged 8 months, 4, 7, 8, 10 and 11.

I have blogged extensively about the extended Williamson family’s slaveholdings (including Garry Williamson’s father, grandparents and brother) and about the lives of African-American Williamsons.

The estate of Moses Hagans.

Moses Hagans died early in the spring of 1873. His wife Theresa Lassiter Hagans, unlettered and unfamiliar with the workings of probate, signed over her rights to administer her late husband’s estate to Larry D. Farmer, a public administrator.

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Farmer filed in Probate Court for letters of administration, estimating the value of Hagans’ estate at $200 and naming his heirs as widow Theresa Hagans and Lucinda Hagans Brantley, who was Hagans’ daughter.

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On 12 April 1873, Farmer filed an inventory of Hagans’ personal estate, which consisted of meat and lard; household kitchen furniture; “old plunder in & around the houses”; a small amount of lint cotton; corn and peas; a cart and a crosscut saw; fodder; poultry and dogs; a horse and farming implements; sows and pigs; and a garden of greens. All of it was allotted to “Trecy” Hagans for her support while the estate was in probate.

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It was a meager showing, insufficient to meet the $300 minimum required for a year’s support.

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In the 1830 census of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Moses Hagans was head of a household of four free people of color.

In the 1840 census of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Moses Hagans was head of a household of nine free people of color.

On 10 February 1846, Moses Hagans, “now of Edgecombe,” paid Thomas Hadly of Wayne County $328.50 for 164 1/4 acres on Little Swamp in Nash County. The transaction is recorded in Deed Book 18, page 331. (A mortgage for the purchase is recorded at book 18, page 325.) Little Swamp is now in Wilson County. It rises near Old Raleigh Road; flows south between Radio Tower and Flowers Roads; crosses under Interstate 95 near its junction with N.C. Highway 42; then flows east to join Contentnea Creek.

In the 1850 census of Nash County, North Carolina: Moses Hagans, 48, farmer; wife Pitty, 38; and son Gray B., 19, farmer. Also: Thomas Brantley, 28, turpentine worker, and wife Lucinda, 23.

On 25 October 1857, Moses Hagans applied for a license to marry Trecy Laciter in Wilson County.

In the 1860 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Moses Heggins, 60, farmer, and wife Theresa, 48. Moses claimed $125 in real property and $115 in personal property. [Hagans’ estate records do not mention real property.] Also, Thomas Brantley, 52, farmer; wife Lucinda, 35; and children William, 9, and James W., 6. Thomas claimed $800 in real property, $200 in personal property.

In the 1870 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Moses Hegans, 70; wife Trecy, 50; and James R. Locust, 12, farm laborer. Also: farm laborer Thomas Brantly, 57; wife Lucinda, 39; and son Willie, 15, farm laborer.

Estate Records of Moses Hagans, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Poll holders and registrars, 1884.

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Wilson Advance, 26 September 1884.

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  • Tom Johnson — in the 1880 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Thomas Johnson, 30; wife Milly, 25; and children Willie, 9, Ella, 8, and Daisey, 5.
  • Jolly Taylor — in the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Jolly Taylor, 60; wife Cherry, 38; son Richard, 18, farm laborer; and David Cotton, 18, farm laborer.
  • Jack Woodard — Jackson Woodard. In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Jack Woodard, 35; wife Fanny, 32; and children John, 12, Julia, 7, Cynthia, 6, Albert, 5, and Aaron, 2.
  • Woodard Williams
  • Randall Hinnant — in the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Randall Hinnant, 33, farmer; wife Angeline, 26; and children J. Thomas, 10, James H., 8, Lilly Ann, 6, Roscoe F., 4, and Hugh M., 7 months.
  • Ruffin Woodard — in the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Ruffin Woodard, 56; wife Lucy, 38; and children Zilpha, 19, John, 13, Polly, 12, Sallie, 2, and Oscar, 1.
  • Joe Cox — perhaps, in the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Joseph Cox, 33; wife Litha, 27; children Augustin, 6, Bunyan, 11, Iredell, 4, and Zella, 3; and farm laborer Esther Hinard, 54.
  • Ned Scarboro — in the 1880 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: laborer Ned Scarboro, 35; wife Bedie, 27; and children Rufus, 14, Leda, 11, Jennie, 8, Polly, 6, Martha, 3, and Penny, 1.
  • Preston Jenkins — probably, in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Preston Jenkins, 49; wife Patsy, 43; daughters Nancy, 22, and Lizzie, 18; and adopted son King Tom, 20.
  • Alfred Woodard — in the 1880 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Alfred Woodard, 50; wife Sarah, 45; children Florence, 28, Mary, 22, Howell, 18, Sarah E., 16, Zilly A., 17, Lundon, 13, Minnie, 12, Willie, 10, Josephine, 7, and Evvy, 4; and grandchildren Elizabeth, 7, Robt. B., 5, and John H. Bynum, 4.
  • J.I. Parker

The Hilliard family in Toisnot township.

Thomas Hilliard and daughter Marie.

“Our late father and mother were Thomas and Mamie Armstrong Hilliard. Members of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church in Rocky Mount in 1914, they moved to Wilson Co. in or around 1917 when their two daughters, Cornelia and Magnolia, were eight and nine years old. Our grandparents were Tom and Fortant Hilliard and Nelson and Mary B. Armstrong.

“We farmed and attended Parker and Turners Elementary School in Wilson Co. Our social activities were concerts and in-school spelling matches every Friday evening. After growing up and marrying we still farmed and kept house. Our pleasures were fireplace reading and church and Sunday school.

“Our most sorrowful experience was when we lost our mother at an early age in 1932. Often we picked cotton in the late fall; the weather was so cold that icicles were hanging on the bolls of cotton. We helped clear new ground by removing stumps and roots by hand after school in the evening.

“We had a 1919 Model T Ford our father drove often. We drove a mule and buggy to Sunday school and church. The family was missionary Baptist. Our father, Tom, was the Sunday school superintendent. Today Cornelia, Magnolia and Marie are mission workers around our community, if we can help somebody along life’s way. Our children are all grown and have their own families.

“After marriage I, Magnolia H. Joyner, went to Baltimore, Md. reared six children and worked for 30 years. I bought a home and retired; then I came back to my old house in Toisnot township to live the rest of my life in 1978. My husband expired, but I’m not alone; God is still by my side.”

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In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Hilliard, 53; wife Fortine, 58;  children Olive, 24, Becky, 21, and Thomas, 16; and adopted son Thadeous Battle, 12.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Armstrong, 45, wife Mary Ann, 40, and children Mamie, 15, Hattie, 13, and Henry, 12.

On 7 February 1906, Thos. Hilliard, 22, son of Tom and F. Hilliard, married Mamie Armstrong, 21, daughter of Nelson and Mary Armstrong. Missionary Baptist minister N.H. Arrington performed the ceremony at Thomas Hilliard’s in Toisnot township.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot, Wilson County, on Wells Daws Avenue, Nelson Armstrong, 58, Mary, 45, daughter Hattie Armstrong, 22, son Henry Armstrong, 20, son-in-law Thomas Hilliard, 25, daughter Mamie, 24, and their children Carnelia, 3, and Magnora Hilliard, 2.

In 1918, Thomas Hilliard registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 2 September 1883; resided on R.F.D. 1, Elm City; was a self-employed farmer; and his nearest relative was Mamie Hilliard. He was literate.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson & Tarboro Road, farmer Thomas Hilliard, 36; wife Mamie, 35; and children Cornelia, 12, Magnolia, 11, and Luther Thomas, 1.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Tom Hilliard, 45; wife Mamie, 40; and children Maggnolia, 22, Luther, 11, Marie, 7, and Robert, 7.

Mamie Hilliard died 23 May 1932 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 December 1885 in Wilson County to Nelson Armstrong and Mary Bulluck and was married to Tom Hilliard.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Hilliard, 56; wife Rena, 41; and children Robert, 17, and Marie, 17; and Lucille, 15, Bettie Ruth, 14, and Helen Earles, 11.

Thomas Hilliard died 24 August 1966 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 2 November 1886 in Wilson County to Thomas Hilliard and Fortney Killebrew; resided in Elm City; was a farm laborer; and was married to Rena B. Hilliard. He was buried in Sharpesburg cemetery, Nash County.

Text and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

Snaps, no. 59: anonymous group.

The photograph is found in the O.N. Freeman Family Collection, and a copy is displayed in the Round House and Museum. It is clearly taken outside a school building, or perhaps a church, but is otherwise anonymous. (If it’s a school, it may be Wilbanks School, to which the Freemans commuted to teach first grade. The school, which was located in the Bridgersville community in eastern Wilson County, was not a Rosenwald facility.)