Wilson County

Drowned while swimming in backwaters.

An article about severe flooding on the Roanoke River mentioned the drowning death of 13 year-old Willie Forsythe in Wilson County’s Black Creek.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 August 1940.


In the 1930 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: William Forsythe, 60; wife Marilda, 55; granddaughter Nancy Forsythe, 13; and grandson William Oliver, 2 months.

Willie Forsythe died 18 August 1940 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 13 years old; was born in Wilson County (or perhaps Brooklyn, N.Y.) to James Oliver of Brooklyn and Viola Forsythe of Wilson County; and was buried in a family cemetery. Informant was William Forsythe. 

“Accidental drowning — while swimming in Black Creek”

The mattress answered the problem perfectly.

Wilson Daily Times, 5 July 1952.


Jerry L. Cooke‘s open letter to Heilig-Meyers furniture company offers an unusual glimpse of private life. Cooke wrote of his health, his medical treatment, his work history, and his consumer preferences. Born in 1886 in New Bern, N.C., Cooke lived in Wilson from about 1920 to his death in 1976. Though this letter was published a few years outside the period of Black Wide-Awake’s focus, I post it for its unique insight.

Studio shots, no. 171: John Percy Maryland.

John Percy Maryland (1906-2004).


In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: John Maryland, 40, farmer; wife Margaret, 30; children Cora, 15, Mandonia, 15, Robert, 13, Della, 10, Charlie, 6, Richard, 4, Percy, 2, and William T., 1 month.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer John Maryland, 50; wife Margritt, 40; children  Robert, 24, Della, 22, Charley, 18, Richard, 16, John P., 14, William, 13, and Primas, 11; nephew Walter, 14, and niece Hellen, 12; daughter-in-law Ether, 19; and grandchildren Maggie, 7, and Cuba, 2 months.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer John P. Maryland, 22; wife Lona, 19; and daughter Ila M., 1.

John Percy Maryland registered for the World War II draft in 1940 in Edgecombe County. Per his registration card, he was born 22 February 1906 in Wilson; lived at Route 1, Sharpsburg, Edgecombe County; his contact was wife Loanie Maryland; and he worked for W.D. Batchelor, Sharpsburg. He signed his name with an X.

John Percy Maryland died 29 March 2004 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

His obituary appeared in Greensboro’s News & Record on 1 April 2004:

“Mr. John P. Maryland, 96, died Monday, March 29, 2004.The funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Interment will follow in Maplewood Cemetery.

“He is survived by his daughters, Ms. Ida Mae Williams, Ms. Onie Johnson, Ms. Pearlie Johnson and Mrs. Effie Lee; sons, Mr. Jesse Maryland and Mr. Willie Dortch; grandchildren that he raised from birth, Mr. George Maryland, Mrs. Mary White and Mr. Larry Maryland; and a host of other relatives and friends.

“Visitation will be held 30 minutes prior to the service at the church and other times at 1507 Randolph Ave.

“Woodard Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.”

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user El maryland.

A program honoring the Great Emancipator.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 February 1941.


  • Ruffin 4-H Club — the club affiliated with Ruffin School in Black Creek township.
  • Beatrice Rogers — perhaps, in the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer James Rogers, 35; wife Agnes, 30; and children James Joe, 12, Beatrice, 9, Leslie, 7, and Josephine, 6.
  • Maggie Herring
  • Lucretia Rogers
  • Eloise Rogers
  • Clinton Williams
  • Alma Wards — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer James D. Worthy, 71; wife Flora Jane, 65; son Essex, 23; daughter Dora Ward, 40, widow; granddaughter Alma Ruth Ward, 10; and granddaughter Celesta Harden, 22.
  • Vernell Pleasant — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widower George Pleasant, 55, farmer; daughters Mittie, 27, and Nancy, 22; and granddaughter Vernell, 10.
  • Magdelene Parker — perhaps the Mary M. Parker below.
  • Beatrice Newton — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer John Newton, 42; wife Bessie, 32; and children Bennie, 16, James, 12, Beatrice, 10, Charles, 8, and Harvey Lee, 1.
  • Sallie Parker — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Toney Parker, 45; wife Sallie, 44; and children Willie Lee, 21, Levi, 20, Eli, 18, Walter Lee, 16, Mary M., 13, Sallie M., 11, and Lillie M., 8.
  • Gerlean Farmer — in the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widow Addie Farmer, 32, farm laborer; children Geraldine, 10, Marcellus, 7, Addie I., 6, Elijah, 4, and Charles, 3; and brother-in-law Earnest, 19.

Lunch with GIG360.

Grateful for the opportunity to meet virtually over lunch with the young professionals of Wilson’s Gig360. Public historian, archivist, and museum professional Beth Nevarez and I chatted with moderator Betsy Peters Rascoe of Design Dimension Inc. and GIG360 members about the development and curation of the Freeman Round House Museum, including its new virtual exhibits; Oliver Nestus FreemanSay Their Names; the Lane Street Project; and the importance of amplifying the stories and histories of the whole of Wilson’s community.

Anchor-and-Ivy Style.

I’ve written about the artistry of Clarence Best‘s distinctive grave markers and the markers I’ve dubbed Concrete Stipple Style. Another common school of gravestones found in Black Wilson County cemeteries is one I’ll call Anchor-and-Ivy. The basic form: a concrete monolith with rounded top; a panel featuring an anchor and ivy vine; deeply stamped letters in a strongly serifed, all-caps font similar to Century Schoolbook; tight line spacing; and irregular indentation. They also often display lengthy, if formulaic, epitaphs. 

The headstones below are found across Wilson County, though I’ve seen the style as far afield as southern Wayne County. Were they the work of a single artist or workshop? 

Renda wife of James Green. Died June 2, 1908, Age 47 Yrs. Gone to a brighter home where death cannot come.

W.S. Ward. Born Apr. 12, 1901. Died Jan. 12, 1929. Another link is broken in our household bank, but a  chain is forming in a better land.

John H. Jones. Born July 4, 1851. Died June 10, 1928.  

Rufus, son of James and Amelia Artis. Born July 16,1900. Died April 24, 1916. We Can Safely Leave Our Darling Harboring In Thy Trust.

Tempsey, wife of Rufus Speight. Died July 15, 1917. Age 75 years. Gone To A Brighter Home Where Grief Cannot Come.