Work Life

Stepney Buck, a faithful newspaper worker.

In an undated manuscript titled “Early Wilson Newpapers,” James H. Evans reminisced about working for various Wilson journals between 1865 and 1882.

As he recalled his hire by Josephus Daniels at the Wilson Advance, Evans noted: “… and by the way, I have been overlooking one very faithful worker on every newspaper in town — Stepny Bush[sic], a colored man, he pulled every Washington hand press on every newspaper in the town, and it kept him very busy; he had press work every day except Sunday.”

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Street, Martha Vick, 30, servant; her children Thomas, 13, Lucy, 8, Peter, 3, and John, 10 months; and Stepney Buck, 50.

In the summer of 1881, a pseudonymous writer contributing news of Elm City happenings praised Buck’s work while the Advance‘s editors were away:

Wilson Advance, 1 July 1881.

A year later, Buck’s name appeared in this incomprehensible jab at future United States Congressman James E. O’Hara published in the Wilson Siftings, which Evans described as “a semi-news and humorous newspaper”:

Wilmington Weekly Star, 4 August 1882.

Eight months later, Buck was dead. On 20 April 1883, horse dealer T.H. Selby, newspaper owner/editor Josephus Daniels, bookkeeper H.R. Strong, printer J.C. Rhodes, James Lucas, and lawyer (and later United States Congressman) F.A. Woodard posted a seventy-dollar bond for the appointment of Selby as administrator of Stepney Buck’s estate. I have found nothing further about this.

Notice to colored Imperial employees.

Tobacco factory work was seasonal, and late fall meant the end of work for hundreds across Wilson County. The color line extended even to applying for unemployment benefits, and “colored claimants” who had worked at Imperial Tobacco were directed to report to Darden Funeral Home to continue their claims.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 November 1940.

Where we worked: Boykin Grocery Company.

Boykin Grocery was a major grocery wholesaler in Wilson for decades. The business moved to this handsome brick building, formerly home to Barnes-Harrell Grocery Company, in the mid-1920s, and this photograph was likely taken shortly thereafter. (The building still stands, largely unaltered except for the enclosure of the bays, at the corner of Barnes and Douglas Streets.) 

The front office staff, all clad in dark suits except the lone woman, stands in front of the first bay. To their left, six African-American men (one is barely visible on the running board) lean against two company vehicles, and a sixth leans against the building. The men standing at the cars were likely truck drivers, like Willie Forbes and Orlando Farmer.

Photo courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III. Thank you!

Outside the Cherry Hotel.

This photo depicts two Hackney Company vehicles, a new coupe, a pile of lumber, and a platform dolly on the sidewalk in front of Hotel Cherry, with the Atlantic Coast Line passenger rail station in the background. Per the license plate, it’s 1939. Barely visible, leaning against the edge of the building, is an African-American bellhop. Can anyone identify him?

Photo courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

The Peacock house.

An unidentified African-American woman stands with three white adults while holding a white child. Behind them, the house built in Stantonsburg about 1860 by James B. Peacock and later owned by Jonathan Applewhite, John L. Yelverton, and Yelverton’s descendants. The photo is undated, but was taken before 1914, when an enormous portico was added to the front of the house.

Though this photo was taken well after slavery, enslaved people lived and worked in this house. Peacock reported four enslaved people in the 1860 federal slave schedule — an 18 year-old woman and three girls aged 10, 3, and 1. His mother, Sarah Peacock, who lived with him, reported another eight enslaved people — men and boys aged 60, 52, 23, 4, and 2, and women and girls aged 50, 19, and one month. Per the population schedule, the Peacock household also included free people of color, Eliza Hall, 45, and her children William, 15, Patrick, 14, Margaret, 13, Lou, 12, and Balum, 11, whose father was James B. Woodard. 

Photo courtesy of Stantonsburg Historical Society’s A History of Stantonsburg Circa 1780 to 1980 (1981).

Railroad section crew in Stantonsburg.

A Norfolk-Southern railway section crew resting on a handcar, circa 1914-15, Stantonsburg. Foreman Ernest N. Richards (1885-1934) is at right and Hardy Ellis is at left with a pipe. The other men are unidentified.


In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Riubin Ellis, 70; wife Clarky U., 57; children Kansas, 22, Allen, 16, Henrietta, 15, Gemima, 13, Cherry, 12, Hardy, 10, and Benjamin N., 9; and grandchildren Plumer, 16, and Henrietta, 5 months; and Jane Bynum, 66, widow.

In 1917, John Hardy Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 10 December 1895 in Wilson County; lived in Stantonsburg; was single; and worked  as a section hand for Norfolk & Southern Railroad Company.

J. Hardy Ellis’ signature on his draft registration card.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: washerwoman Louvenia Applewhite, 49, widow, and lodger Hardy Ellis, 30, railway laborer.

In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Railroad Street, railroad laborer Hardy Ellis, 54.

John Hardy Ellis died 18 March 1952 at his home at 911 Viola Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 December 1886 in Wilson County to Rubin Ellis and Clark Ann Atkinson; was single; worked as a laborer; and was a World War I veteran. Mamie Sutton, 911 Viola, was informant.

Cherry Ann Ellis applied for a military headstone for her brother John H. Ellis on 7 April 1952. His application noted that he had served in the 304th Service Battalion.

Photo courtesy of Stantonsburg Historical Society’s A History of Stantonsburg Circa 1780 to 1980 (1981).

White man held for murder of Sam Jackson.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 September 1924.

On 18 August 1924, Joe Cockrell, white, interrupted four African-American men — Sam Jackson, Tom Smith, Otis Taylor, and John Smith — pulling fodder in a corn field on George Dew’s farm. After demanding liquor, Cockrell argued with Jackson. Shortly after, a shot rang out, Jackson dropped to the ground, and Cockrell fled. He was on the lam for about two weeks before being arrested at his uncle’s house, charged and held without bail.

On 6 November 1924, Raleigh’s News and Observer reported that a judge had determined there was not enough evidence to hold Cockrell on first degree murder charges and had reduced the charge to second degree and released Cockrell on $5000 bond. I have not found a report of the verdict in the case. 


On 9 December 1918, Sam Jackson, 19, of Wilson, son of Turner and Nellie Jackson of South Carolina, married Victoria Watson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Will and Alice Watson of Clayton, North Carolina, at the courthouse in Wilson. 

On 4 January 1919, Sam Jackson, 20, of Wilson, son of Simon and Nellie Jackson of Conway, South Carolina, and Mary Carroll, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Major and Dollie Carroll, in Wilson. Free Will Baptist minister A.A.J. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of William Cassill, Molley Wright, and Mary Davis. [A month after Jackson married Victoria Watson??]

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farm laborer Sam Jackson, 22, and wife Mary, 23.

Sam Jackson died 18 August 1924 in Taylor’s township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 30 years old; was married; and was a farmer. He was buried in Coleman’s cemetery. George Dew was informant.

Daily Times paperboys, no. 5.

  • Elmo Parker

Wilson Daily Times, 7 October 1950.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: S.T. Parker, 39; wife Irene, 20; children Elma, 5, William, 3, and Fannie P., 1; sister Bertha, 34; nephew Jessie Lewis, 8, and Daisy Lee Parker, 4.

  • Frank Barnes

Wilson Daily Times, 6 October 1950.

  • Timothy Autry

Wilson Daily Times, 6 October 1950.

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 507 Hadley Street, plowman Henry L. Hill, 64; wife Rosa, 43, seamstress; daughter Mammie, 36, beautician; and grandchildren Delores, 16, Dorothy, 14, Timothy, 12, and Peggie J., 8.