accidental death

“Uncle Dortch” struck by train.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1928.

In June 1928, a Atlantic Coast Line railroad worker spotted a grievously wounded elderly man lying by the tracks. He flagged a train, and the “injured negro” was taken to the company’s hospital almost twenty miles north in Rocky Mount. He died. Two days later, the Wilson Daily Times reported the death of “Uncle Dortch.”

So did his death certificate. 

Though he lived at the Wilson County Home, also known as “the poorhouse,” no one seemed to know Uncle Dortch’s surname. I regret that I have not been able to restore it to him.

“Fractured Skull (found by side of R.R. track near Wilson)”

A.C.L. Hospital, Rocky Mount, N.C. (1925), East Carolina Digital Collections.

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for the clipping.

The Oliver Marable case.

I happened upon this Notice signed by Columbus E. Artis, one of the principals of the undertaking firm Artis, Flanagan & Batts, in the Wilson Daily Times. Who was Oliver Marable? What was his “case”? What were the “false reports being circulated”?

Wilson Daily Times, 14 December 1925.

Here is Marable’s death certificate:

Filled out largely in C.E. Artis’ bold, readily recognizable hand, it states that Marable died 4 December 1925 in Spring Hill township; was about 55 years old; was married to Bettie Marable; resided at 717 Manchester Street; was born in Henderson, N.C., to Grand and Cornelia Marable. In a different script, Marable’s cause of death: “fracture of base of skull accidentally incurred in a cave-in of earth.” 

Or was it accidental at all?

An inquest held into Marable’s death revealed a bizarre set of facts. On a Friday evening, Marable, who lived on Roberson Street in East Wilson, was miles away in Springhill township digging with a dozen other men for “buried treasure.” Later that night, Marable’s battered body was taken to C.E. Artis and his business partner Walter E. Flanagan, who were preparing to bury him when the police intervened. 

When Artis and Flanagan could not produce a death certificate, the police halted the funeral and contacted the coroner, who went with several county officials to the dig site. Dissatisfied with the accounts of witnesses as to what had happened to Marable, the coroner ordered an inquest. A jury traveled out to Tobe Hinnant‘s farm in Old Fields [Springhill?] township, where they found a “huge hole” in a field near a creek bank. 

The witnesses, who had been digging the hole with Marable, testified that he had been killed when the hole’s sidewalls caved in, but the jury found foul play involved. 

The physician who conducted a post mortem of Marable’s body concluded he likely met his death from a skull fracture, but had also suffered a broken arm, collar bone, and femur and contusions of the back, neck and face.

The police arrested seven people in connection with Marable’s death. Tom Boykin, conjure doctor Richard Pitts and Amos Batts [who was both Marable’s brother-in-law and the third business partner of C.E. Artis] were held without bond; William Edwards, McKinley Edwards, Tobe Hinnant, and John Hinnant bonded out. The story these witnesses told: conjure man Pitts showed up in Hinnant’s neighborhood, claiming that there was buried treasure nearby. Hinnant said he had often dreamed of such a thing, and Pitts said he could locate it. Hinnant pointed out the X in his dreams, and Pitts performed a divination with mineral oil. Though it is not clear how the rest of the treasure hunters were assembled, digging commenced. When the tip of a seven-foot augur embedded itself in a wooden object, the treasure was found. Marable died during the attempt to dig it out. The jury viewed the stuck augur, several shovels, and some sounding rods, as well as a length of white cord festooned about the perimeter to keep out the “haints” lingering in a nearby cemetery in use during slavery. (The jury concluded the augur was more likely stuck in a coffin lid than a treasure chest.) On a side note, investigators also found a large hole, filled in, in Marable’s back yard on Roberson Street, evidence of an earlier search.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 December 1925.

The next day, Raleigh’s News and Observer reported that the jury had adjourned without a verdict, but with a recommendation that Pitts be held pending investigation by a lunacy commission. (Per the Times the same day, Pitts “in his many trips and ‘treasure hunts’ in and around Wilson county had poisoned the minds of many of the negro inhabitants in regards to buried treasure and hidden pots of gold. In many cases sections of the county Pitts has ‘engineered’ treasure hunts, receiving pay for his ‘knowledge’ while honest negroes work in good faith at the task of uncovering the treasure which is never found.”) Everyone else was released. The jury had gone back to the site to find that it had been tampered with. The augur and divining rods were gone, and someone had thrown four feet of dirt into the hole. Several convicts were put to work to shovel out the dirt, but Marable’s pick could not be found. Amos Batts had testified that he did not know about the digging until Marable had died, but when told that Marable had his hand on the money when the pit collapsed, joined the enterprise. (Presumably by agreeing to bury Marable reporting the death or issuing a death certificate.) Someone named Lee Pearce testified, but no details as to what.

Five days later, the matter was dropped. Most of the 20 witnesses had testified to hearsay, Tobe Hinnant’s six-year-old swore he had never accused his father of killing Marable, and county officials gave ambiguous testimony about whether they had seen blood in the pit. The jury was hopelessly confused. Hinnant was freed, leaving only Pitts in jail, presumably for his chicanery.

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  • Oliver Marable

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab 501 Lucas al

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab Robinson nr Stantonsburg rd

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab 501 Robinson

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 501 Robinson Street, Oliver Marable, 56, oil mill laborer; wife Betie, 48; and daughter Hattie, 7; plus brother-in-law John Batts, 52, oil mill laborer.

  • Tobe Hinnant  
  • Amos Batts
  • Richard Pitts
  • Tom Boykin 
  • William Edwards and McKinley Edwards — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 609 South Railroad Street, rented for $16/month, farm laborer William Edwards, 52; wife Lillie, 49; son McKinly, 28, worker at Hackney Body Company; McKinley’s wife Maggie, 25, farmworkers; and his son Bernard, 6.
  • John Hinnant

A tree fell on him.

Wilson Daily Times, 8 February 1944.

——

In the 1870 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Peyton Vick, 29; wife Ellen, 21; children Henry, 11, Riley, 9, Roxana, 3, and Isadora, 2; and Zady Mercer, 58.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Peyton Vick, 24; wife Ellen, 24; and children Rily, 18, Roxie, 13, Isadora, 12, Lou C., 10, Defada, 8, Sablaska, 6, Investa, 4, and Invoida, 1.

On 27 October 1887, Jerry Parker, 21, of Wilson County, married Roxey Vick, 22, of Wilson County, at Paton Vick’s in Toisnot township.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Roxy Parker, 24, and children Joseph, 14, Minnie, 13, Elenn, 12, Armena, 11, Mathew, 10, and Defatie, 2.

On 19 April 1903, Charlie Hines, 40, of Wilson township, son of Wesley and Ollie Hines, married Rox Anna Parker, 40, of Wilson township, daughter of Payton and Ellen Vick. Elder B.W. Tippett, a Free Will Baptist minister, performed the ceremony in the presence of Stephen Strickland, Wm. H. Tippett, and H.F. Boswell, all of Elm City.

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) h Harper’s la nr Herring av

Seab Parker registered for the World War I draft in 1918 in Nash County, North Carolina. Per his registration card, he was born in March 1884; lived on Route 2, Elm City; farmed for J.W. Wells; and his nearest relative was Clora Parker.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lipscomb Road, widow Roxie Parker, 50, cook, and daughter Ellen, 21, farm laborer. Next door: William H. Knight, 22; wife Minnie, 24; brothers-in-law Cephus, 29, Menus, 22, and Mathew, 18; and lodgers Mary Saunders, 25, and her children Lebis, 10, and Lovie, 8.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) laundress h 731 Harper

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Parker Roxie A (c) laundress h 802 Viola

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 811 Viola, laundress Ellen Gay, 36; mother Roxanna Parker, 67; and nephew Matthew, 16.

In the 1940 census of Stoney Creek township, Nash County: in a prison camp, Sebe Parker, 65, residence Wilson County.

Charlie Seab Parker died 7 February 1944 in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 52 years old; was born in Wilson to Jerry Parker and Roxie Vick; worked as laborer for Evans Bros. Sawmill; and lived in Rocky Mount, Nash County.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 19 April 1944.

Roxie Parker died 8 August 1949 at her home at 616 Viola Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 April 1847 [likely, 20 years] in Edgecombe County to Hayden Vick and Ellen Jones and was a widow. Informant was Minus Parker.

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 August 1949.

Boiler explosion.

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“No Dr. Instantly killed and body badly mutilated, caused by explosion of boiler at pumping station.”

A fireman tends the fire for running of boilers, heating buildings, or powering steam engines. The job involves hard physical labor, including shoveling coal or wood into a boiler’s firebox, and is inherently dangerous.

I have been unable to locate additional information about Walter Brailey‘s life or death.

“Uncle John” is killed in a fall.

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Wilson Daily Times, 18 August 1936.

The local newspaper may not have known “Uncle John”‘s name, but the coroner did. Forty-nine year-old (was that “aged”?) John W. Richardson was run over on Highway 91.

——

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer John Horton, 73; wife Esther, 65; and son Louis, 23; hired girl Rosell Peacock, 19; and nephews Nathaniel Hopson, 16, and John W. Richardson, 16.

In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer John W. Richardson, 43; wife Henrietta, 38; children Ramon, 11, Lena, 7, and Nannie L., 3; mother-in-law Ida Joyner, 50; and brother-in-law Isom Joyner, 20.

Teenager killed in a car-bike accident.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 May 1946.

Fourteen year-old Jesse Lee Davis was seated on the handlebars of his friend Walter Rogers‘ bicycle when a car made a left turn in front of them. Rogers did not see the car and ran into it, killing Davis. The driver of the car, a 22 year-old white man named Vernest Ballance, was initially charged with manslaughter in Davis’ death, but the case was dismissed after a preliminary hearing.

  • Jesse Lee Davis

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Jesse Lee Davis was the son of Clinton Davis and Alliner Sherrod Davis Randall.

  • Walter Rogers

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 705 East Green (one of several families in a rooming house), tobacco factory stemmer Thomas Rodgers, 37; wife Minorh, 33, housemaid; and children Ruth, 15, Joseph, 14, Otis G., 12, and Walter, 8.

Lightning strike kills two.

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Wilson Daily Times, 6 July 1926.

This article does not reveal the depths of this tragedy — FrankJames, and Herbert Barnes were brothers, and Herbert was only 17 years old.

——

  • Frank Barnes
  • James Barnes
  • Herbert Barnes

In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farm laborer Drew Barnes, 31; wife Stella, 26; and children John, 10, Wade, 6, Frank, 5, James, 3, Lula, 2, and Andrew, 5 months.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, farmer Andrew Barnes, 40; wife Estella, 37; and children John W., 20, Wade, 16, Frank, 15, James, 13, Lula,12, Andrew 10, Maggie, 8, Fransis, 6, Joseph, 4, Ella, 3, and Hubbard, 15 months.

In 1917, Frank Barnes registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 2 April 1895 in Wilson County; lived on R.F.D. #6, Wilson; was a laborer/farmhand for Drew Barnes; and was single. He signed his full name to the document.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Drue Barnes, 51; wife Stella, 49; and children Wade, 25, Frank, 23, James H., 22, Lula D., 21, Andrew, 20, Maggie, 18, Francis, 17, Hubert, 10, Lanciel, 7, and Estella, 5.

“Killed by Lightning while in field ploughing Death was sudden”

Hat tip to J. Robert Boykin III for passing along this article.

Blow to the head of teenaged laborer.

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“Blow upon head fracture of scull accidental”

I have not been able to find additional details about 14 year-old box factory laborer Prince Albert Barnes‘ death.

——

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, house servant Margaret Barnes, 38, and sons Willie, 23, factory laborer, Prince, 10, and Joe, 3 months.

She swallowed a button.

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“No physician in attendance Died Suddenly All I can find out was that the child swalord a buton on Sowtha So the child told the Parnes.”

Seven year-old Rosa Lee Whitaker choked to death after swallowing a tufting button.

——

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Jessie Whitterker, 38; wife Mary, 27; and daughters Ethel, 7, Rosa, 3, and Annie, 20 months.