#FamilyPicturesUSA

Tonight I’m getting my whole entire life watching Family Pictures USA, which explores North Carolina stories in Episode 1. (Shout out to Jaki Shelton Green, fellow Taller Portobelo ’06 alum!) Many of my favorite posts in Black Wide Awake feature snapshots and studio portraits of African-American men and women in or of Wilson, and I so often wish I knew more about their lives than the bare bones of census records and vital statistics. Family Pictures USA, airing on PBS, amplifies this impulse in ways that made me laugh and caught in my throat.

“Family Pictures USA is a documentary-style magazine show, filmed before a live studio audience, that journeys through a rapidly changing landscape where the foundations of a familiar and idealized “AMERICA” are being transformed. As ordinary Americans begin to discover their hidden family histories, stashed in boxes in dusty attics or on old floppy disks and new smartphones, they will unpack more than artifacts and ephemera. They will re-meet their relatives and old friends —fascinating characters, brought back to life by images and stories —giving them a new home in our collective consciousness, and introducing us to a more nuanced and diverse story of our common history, shared present and evolving future. Family Pictures USA will mine this rich treasure trove of personal narratives to reveal roots, connections, and provocative parallels that will surprise us and illuminate the path toward a new America for a 21st Century.

“Like StoryCorps, Family Pictures USA guides participants through a personal narrative in a short interaction with a host/producer, but using photographs and images as the primary medium of the story. Like Antiques Roadshow, Family Pictures USA travels to different locations within a given community, town or region and the surprise is in uncovering little known and unusual personal stories and connecting them to a larger narrative that better contextualizes a particular locale. The value revealed is in how these images inform our larger understanding of the culture, beyond mere family memoir.

“Each episode [of FamilyPictures USA] will illuminate connections among and between individual family narratives to create an inclusive new Digital American Family Album, exposing threads of history that enrich and enlarge our understanding of our nation and its diverse people and expanding our ideas of who we are as a people. It continues the work of the series’ award-winning Executive Producer, Thomas Allen Harris, to bridge inter-generational and cross-cultural differences and bring communities closer together by transforming strangers into family.”

Tune in!

The Kerseys.

42091_331822-00181.jpg

John Kearsey married Julia Richardson in Franklin County, North Carolina, in 1849. Both were free people of color. The couple migrated to the Town of Wilson prior to 1860.

In the 1860 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John Kersey, 37, blacksmith; wife Julia, 31; and children Louisa, 9, Dellah, 6, John, 5, and William, 1.  Kersey reported personal property valued at $300.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: blacksmith John Kirsey, 45, wife Julia, 42, and children Louisa, 19, Idella, 16, John, 13, Walter, 10, and Robt., 9.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: blacksmith John Kersey, 61; wife Julia, 53; and son Walter, 21; plus boarder William Joyner, who worked in the blacksmith shop.

John and Julia Kersey’s children included:

  • Louisa Kersey — Louisa Kersey Johnson died 15 January 1934 in Wilson after a fall from her front porch. Per her death certificate, she was 78 years old; was born in North Carolina to John and Julia Kersey; was married to Henry Johnson and lived at 503 Warren Street. Gertrude Jones, 309 Elba Street, was informant.
  • Ardella Kersey
  • John Kersey Jr.
  • William Kersey
  • Walter Kersey 
  • Robert Kersey — like Walter, Robert Kersey migrated to Indiana. Robert Kersey died 30 August 1902 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was 36 years old; was born in North Carolina to John Kersey and Julia Robinson; and worked as a laborer.

They are non-residents of this state.

Hardy Lassiter died about 1853 in a section of Edgecombe County that two years later became part of the newly created Wilson County. During the probate of his estate, the court ordered this ad placed in an attempt to locate his daughter Sally Lassiter Artis and her husband, Morrison Artis.

The Tarborough Southerner, 24 September 1853.

Where were the Artises?  Indiana.

Morrison Artis, son of Micajah and Bedie Powell Artis, was born about 1822 in or near what would become Wilson County. His father Micajah is listed as a head of household in the 1830 census of Taylor district, Nash County, and the 1840 census of Davis district, Wayne County. Morrison Artis married Sarah “Sally” Lassiter circa 1845. Born about 1827 in what was then Edgecombe County, she was the daughter of Hardy and Obedience Lassiter. Morrison and Sally’s first child, Benjamin F. Artis, was born in 1847, and within a year or so the family struck out for Indiana with Morrison’s family.

In the 1850 census of District 85, Parke County, Indiana: Morrison Artis, 24, farmer; wife Sarah, 21; and children Benjamin, 3, and Rachel, 6 months. All except Rachel were born in North Carolina.

In the 1850 census of District 85, Parke County, Indiana: Micajah Artis, 50, farmer; wife Bedy, 40; and children Arcada, 17, Eliza, 14, Burket, 4, and Henriette, 1. All but Henriette were born in North Carolina.

In the 1860 census of Reserve township, Parke County, Indiana: farmer Morrison Artis, 35; wife Sally, 33; and children Benjamin, 13, Rachel. 10, and Martha, 5. Morrison reported owning $1000 in real property and $465 in personal property.

In the 1860 census of Adam township, Parke County, Indiana: Micajah Artis, 58, farmer; wife Beda, 50; and children Birket, 16, Henrietta, 10, Elmeda, 8, and Benson, 7.

Per Early Black Settlements by County, indianahistory.org, “During the 1850s, the Bassett, Artis and Ellis families left Parke County, Indiana, and established a settlement in Ervin Township. (The Bassett and Artis families were free African Americans who came to Indiana from North Carolina.)  At least 11 families lived in this area that became a small farming community of blacks sometime known as the Bassett Settlement or the Bassett and Ellis Settlement.  They had a school, church, cemetery (located at 950 W.), general store, blacksmith shop and a post office.  Some of the other surnames associated with the settlement include Canady, Griggs, Jones, Kirby, Mosely, and Wilson.

“Zachariah and Richard Bassett served as ministers at the Free Union Baptist Church in Howard County.  The 1870 census list Bassetts, Artis, and Ellis as farmers.  Richard had land valued at $8,400 and Morrison Artis’s land was valued at $2,800.  In 1892, Richard Bassett became the third black person to be elected to the Indiana state legislature.”

The heart of the Bassett Settlement as shown in this 1877 plat map. Two parcels are labeled M. Artis — one, perhaps, Micajah and the other Morrison. A small cross is visible at the center of the image in a parcel marked R. Bassett; it marks the community cemetery in which the older Artises were buried. [For an account of my visit to Bassett cemetery and a family connection to this place, see here and here.]

In the 1870 census of Ervin township, Howard County, Indiana: Morrison Artis, 46; wife Sarah, 40; and children Benjamin, 23, Martha, 16, and William, 1. Morrison reported owning $2800 in real property and $500 in personal property.

In the 1870 census of Ervin township, Howard County, Indiana: Macajah Artis, 65, farmer; wife Bedea, 65; and children Henrietta, 22, Almedia, 20, and Benson 17. Morrison reported owning $700 in real property and $100 in personal property.

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 1.18.45 PM.png

Indianapolis Leader, 30 August 1879.

In the 1880 census of Ervin township, Howard County, Indiana: farmer Morrison Artis, 57; wife Sarah, 55; children Benjamin, 33, Martha, 26, and William M., 11; and grandson Melvin, 8.

In 1891, Morrison Artis was nearly swindled from his life’s accumulation in a fraudulent land transaction.

Kokomo Saturday Tribune, 12 May 1891.

Morrison Artis died in April 1896 after terrible head injuries sustained when his spooked horse threw him, then fell on him.

Kokomo Daily Tribune, 9 April 1896.

Benjamin F. Artis died 8 September 1910 in Coopers Grove, Howard County, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 February 1947 in North Carolina to Morrison Artis and Sarah Lassiter; was married to Caroline Artis; and was a retired laborer.

Melvina Bassett died 7 April 1917 in Kokomo, Howard County, Indiana. Per her death certificate, she was born April 1839 in North Carolina to Micajah Artis and Bedie Powell; was the widow of John Bassett; and was buried in Bassett cemetery. William Bassett was informant.

Benson Artis died 17 April 1919 in Kokomo, Howard County, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was 56 years old; was born in Indiana to M. Artis and an unknown mother; was single; lived at 145 Western Avenue, Kokomo.

William M. Artis died 27 August 1920 in Indianapolis. Per his death certificate, he was born 26 February 1869 in Indiana to Morrison Artis and an unknown mother; was married to Lula Artis; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Kokomo.

U.S. Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

901 East Green Street.

The one-hundred-seventeenth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District: “ca. 1930; 2 stories; two-bay, side-hall, gable front house.” Like 817 East Green, Walter S. Hines (and his heirs) owned and rented out this house. It was demolished in 2001.

In the 1928 and 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Brooks Maggie (c) cook h 901 E Green

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 East Green, renting for $21/month, widow Maggie Brooks, 45, servant; Eszie M. Brooks, 26, nurse; roomer Roland Sudden, 24, factory laborer; Christene Brooks, 2; and roomers Robert Harvey, 26, glass cutter, and wife Mary, 22, both born in Georgia.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 East Green, rented for $15/month, barber Henry D. Coley, 44; wife Eva J., 39, teacher in public schools; and daughters Elizabeth P., 16, Grace L., 14, and Eva E., 10.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Coley David H (c; Eva) barber Walter S Hines h 901 E Green

Eva Janet Coley died 7 October 1941 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 9 June 1899 in Greene County to Jacob Speight and Ida Ward; was married to David H. Coley; was a teacher; and lived at 901 East Green Street.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2019.

County payments.

In the era before robust municipal services, Wilson’s County Commissioners contracted with private citizens to perform certain public work. Occasionally, African Americans benefited from such contracts, but most obtaining public money received them in the form of witness fees for court appearances.

“A statement according to the law of the amount claimed and allowed by the Board of County Commissioners and to whom allowed beginning 1st Monday in September 1879 and ending 1st Monday in September 1880, and the county revenue for same period, to wit:”

Wilson Advance, 1 October 1880.

  • Nathan Blackwell, D. Lassiter, Harriet Blackwell, Edwin Blackwell — Nathan Blackwell and Delphia Locus Lassiter were parents of Edwin Blackwell. (The couple would marry in 1890.) Harriet Blackwell was Delphia Lassiter’s daughter. (It is not clear whether her father was Matthew Lassiter or Nathan Blackwell.)
  • Jack Williamson
  • Richard Lindsey — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, mechanic Richard Lindsey, 51; wife Olive, 42, “keeping house & midwife;” and sons Richard, 14, Henry, 11, and Austin, 23, drayman.
  • A. Rhodes
  • Charles Darden — Charles H. Darden was a blacksmith whose sideline building coffins turned into one of the first African American undertaking businesses in North Carolina.
  • Charity McGowan — McGowan was married to the town jailer, Tillman McGowan.
  • Handy Gully — in the 1880 census of Toisnot township, farm laborer Handy Gully, 24; wife Easter, 19; and daughters Ella, 3, and Rena, 4 months.
  • Sheppard Best — in the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Shepherd Best, 51, and John Terry, 41, both “keeping water tank on R road.”
  • Lewis Phillips — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brick mason Lewis Phillips, 35; wife Dilly, 17; and son Charlie, 1 month.
  • Samuel Mitchell — in the 1880 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: laborer Samuel Michel, 22; wife Jane, 22; daughter Minnie, 4 months; and laborer Benjamin Edwards, 25.
  • Amos Hinnant — in the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Amos Hinnant, 45, and wife Lendy, 34.
  • Zina Boyett
  • Sol Applewhite –in the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Solomon Applewhite, 60; wife Alley, 60; and children Susan, 18, Cew, 16, Vance, 14, Beedy A., 12, and Danford, 10.
  • Swift Ford — in the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Swift Ford, 24; wife Mary, 18; and children Mary, 3, and Falcus, 1.
  • Hilliard Ellis

 

Coley receives a degree in library science.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 June 1947.

Elizabeth Pauleze Coley was almost certainly the first, and perhaps the only, African-American native of Wilson to graduate what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. A 1940 graduate of Charles H. Darden High School, she received her first degree from North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in 1944.

Coley married Kelly Winslow Bryant of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and eventually migrated to suburban Washington, D.C. Though it’s not clear whether she ever worked in Wilson — the main library on West Nash Street was whites-only in 1947, and the tiny Negro branch remained a fledgling — Elizabeth Pauleze Coley Bryant did become a librarian.

Roundtable (1969), the yearbook of Frank W. Ballou High School, Washington, D.C.

——

Elizabeth P. Coley was born 1 May 1923 in Wilson to David Henry Coley and Eva Jane Speight.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 930 [sic, 931] Carolina Street, barber Henry Coley, 48; wife Eva, 46, teacher; and children James, 16, Eva, 15, and Elizabeth, 13. [The ages of this entire family are off. David H. Coley was in fact about; Eva, about 30; Elizabeth, about 6; and Eva, about 4.]

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 901 East Green, rented for $15/month, barber Henry D. Coley, 44; wife Eva J., 39, teacher in public schools; and daughters Elizabeth P., 16, Grace L., 14, and Eva E., 10.

In the 1948 Rocky Mount, North Carolina, city directory: Bryant Kelly W (c; Pauleze; Wright’s Chick Shack) r 522 Raleigh rd

 

The 200 block of East Street and the 900 blocks of Carolina and Washington Streets.

In February 1920, Atlantic Coast Realty Company surveyed an irregularly shaped parcel of land between East and Vick Streets in Wilson. The land, commonly known as the Sallie Lipscomb property, belonged to J.H. Griffin and others, who planned to carve out 45 lots for sale to home builders.

[Note: Sarah A. Barnes (1842-1927), daughter of Edwin T. and Theresa Simms Barnes, married Virginia-born Oswald Lipscomb in 1869. Per documents in Lipscomb’s estate file, Lipscomb and his brother-in-law John T. Barnes entered into a partnership to form Lipscomb & Company (also known as Lipscomb & Barnes), a contracting, carpentry and woodworking business that operated from a shop at Pine and Lee Streets. The business operated profitably until “opposition in business, a general falling off of the trade, the contraction in prices and one or more contracts for building houses in which the firm lost money” caused Lipscomb to give up the trade and “retire to his wife’s farm near the town of Wilson.” It is reasonable to assume that the Sallie Lipscomb property platted here was (part of) that farm. (Lipscomb & Barnes continued to struggle, and Barnes piled on more debt to keep the firm afloat. Lipscomb died in 1891, and Barnes in 1894. Soon after, Edwin T. Barnes, administrator of John T. Barnes’ estate, sued to make sure their brother-in-law’s estate claimed no portion of the business.)]

Plat book 1, page 184, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County.

The plat map shows neighboring landowners as “Vick” (almost certainly Samuel H. Vick), Dorsey Williams, Robert Rice and “Howard.” Development did not commence immediately, as the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map below shows empty space along the 200 block of East Street and between the 900 blocks of Washington and Carolina Streets. The six houses on Washington and one on Carolina lie beyond the borders of the Sallie Lipscomb property. Sam Vick’s house is at top left on Green Street, and the strip of land he owned at the edge of the map seems to have been behind houses in the 700 block of Green. Dorsey Williams’ house was at 304 (formerly 147) East Street.

1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of WIlson, N.C.

On 12 February 1924, barber David H. Coley and wife Eva Speight Coley, a teacher, purchased Number 44, one of the larger lots in the subdivision, and built a house on it. On 1 October 1929, they executed a deed of trust with realtor D.S. Boykin to secure a loan from Carolina Building and Loan Association. Exactly four weeks later, the stock market collapsed, and it is not hard to imagine that the Coleys’ fortunes fell with the country’s. They defaulted on their loan, and in February 1932, Boykin advertised the impending sale.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 February 1932.

Here is the approximate location of the Sallie Lipscomb property as shown on Google Maps today. The Coleys’ house at 931 Carolina Street was long ago demolished; it is not listed in the East Wilson historic district inventory.

 

Notice of sale of McGowan’s lot.

Tillman McGowan and wife Charity McGowan died within days of one another in 1892. In an earlier post, I noted that I had not found estate records for the McGowans. Now, I have.

The McGowans had at least nine children — Martha McGowan Cole, Chloe McGowan Barnes, Amy McGowan Hinnant, Lucinda McGowan Harper, Aaron McGowan, Ira McGowan, Delia Ann McGowan Morgan, Nathan McGowan and Courtney McGowan. At appears that three — Martha, Aaron and Courtney — died before their parents, though of these only Martha left heirs.

The McGowan children inherited as tenants in common a half-acre single lot at the corner of Vance and Maplewood Streets. Too small to divide seven ways, the McGowan heirs sought to sell the lot and divide the proceeds equally among them. To do this though, everyone needed to be on board. Ira and Nathan McGowan had migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana, and Delia McGowan Morgan was still living in Wilson. It is not clear to me where Chloe Barnes, Lucinda Harper or Amy Hinnant were living, but they were accounted for. All joined as plaintiffs in a suit for partition, naming their nieces and nephews — Charity, Nelson, Mary, Aaron and John Cole — as defendants. The Coles could not be found in the state, however, and the court named Henry G. Connor as guardian ad litem to represent their interests. The notice below ran for six weeks in the Wilson Mirror, but the children did not respond. On 10 December 1894, an appointed commissioner conducted a public sale of the lot, netting a $345 bid. After fees were deducted for the plaintiffs’ attorney ($20.00), the guardian ($5.00) and the commissioner ($10.00), the McGowans shared the proceeds.

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 6.05.41 PM.png

Wilson Mirror, 19 September 1894.

——

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Setta Whitfield, 37, domestic servant; Gross Conner, 18, a white news dealer; Tillman McGown, 35, farm laborer, wife Charity, 36, and children Amy, 17, Lucinda, 15, Aaron, 20, Ira, 5, Delia A., 7, Nathan, 3, and Courtney, 1.

On 15 October 1875, Lucinda McGowan, 20, married Richard Harper, 22, in Wilson.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Tilman McGown, 43, wife Charity, 49,  and children Delia A., 18, Ira R., 15, and Nathan, 13.

On 1 September 1892, Delia Ann McGown, 22, of the Town of Wilson, daughter of Tilghman and Charity McGown, married Dennis Morgan, 38, of Wilson township. Rev. Crocket Best performed the ceremony in the presence of J.T. Deans, Paul Loyd and Cora Beckwith.

On 24 May 1894, Nathan McGowan married Clara Hester in Marion County, Indiana.

On 2 December 1894, Ira R. McGowan married Alice A. Stout in Marion County, Indiana.

Ira McGowan died 17 May 1939 at his home at 952 Camp, Indianapolis, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was born 8 January 1865 in North Carolina to unknown parents; worked as a laborer; and was married to Alice McGowan.

The colored firemen’s convention.

The Red Hot Hose Company of Wilson hosted the 1904 convention and tournament of North Carolina Volunteer Firemen’s Association (Colored). Southern Railway ran this notice of special round-trip rates for firemen and brass bands making the trip from various points across the state.

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 6.22.04 PM.png

The Morning Post (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 July 1904.