American Legion

A Memorial Day parade to the cemetery.

Memorial Day services at “the cemetery” — which might have been Rest Haven, but was probably what we now know as Vick and Odd Fellows Cemeteries — were a regular event in the early 20th century.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 May 1940.

This Memorial Day: who was Henry T. Ellis?

On 3 June 1919, the Daily Times published a list of Wilson County soldiers who died during World War I. The list is segregated. First in the Colored List is Henry Ellis, who was killed 6 October 1918 and in whose honor Wilson County’s African-American post of the American Legion was named.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 1919.

The Daily Times had commemorated Ellis’ death when it received word in December 1918:

“Private Henry Ellis Son of Mrs. Mary J. Howard, Route 1, Wilson, N.C. Died of wounds received in action while fighting for his country and oppressed humanity.” Wilson Daily Times, 4 December 1918.

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In the 1870 census of Chesterfield township, Nash County, N.C.: farmer Martin Lucus, 52; wife Eliza, 42; and children Irvin, 19, Neverson, 16, Sidney, 13, Eliza, 7, Westray, 6, Anne, 4, and Mary, 2.

In the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Eatmon, 66, wife Eliza Eatmon, 50, daughters Amanda Locus, 18, and Mary J. Locus, 14, “son-in-law” Asa Locus, 10, and “daughter-in-law” Lougene Locus, 4, Margaret Howard, 21, and Harriet Howard, 2. [Nelson Eatmon married Eliza Locust on 28 January 1880 in Wilson County. The Locuses’ relationship designations are obviously erroneous; they were Nelson Eatmon’s stepchildren.]

On 6 February 1887, Warren Ellis, 19, of Wilson County, married Mary Jane Locust, 19, of Wilson County, in Wilson County. Phillis Ellis was one of the witnesses.

In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary J. Ellis, 34, widow, and children Willis, 12, Walter, 9, William, 8, Henry, 5, and Lou, 4.

In the 1910 census of Jackson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Mary Jane Ellis, 44, and children Henry, 16, Louise, 13, and Charles, 6; and brother Neverson Lucas, 56.

Henry Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Nash County, N.C, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 10 November 1895 in Wilson County; lived at Route 2, Bailey; was a tenant farmer for Elijah Griffin; and was single. He signed his card in a neat, well-practiced hand: “Henry T. Ellis.”

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary Howard, 52, widow; son Charlie Ellis, 17; and sister Luginer Colman, 45, widow.

Mary J. Howard died 20 June 1936 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Manuel Howard; was 65 years old; and was born in Wilson County to Martin Locus and Louisa Brantley. Gray Ellis was informant.

Henry T. Ellis, then, was the son of Warren Ellis and Mary Jane Locus Ellis and stepson of Manuel Howard. He was descended (or connected) on his mother’s side from several free families of color with deep roots in the area of western Wilson County — Locuses, Brantleys, Eatmons, Howards — and on his father’s from Hilliard and Faribee Ellis, a formerly enslaved couple who established a prosperous farm in the New Hope area shortly after the Civil War.

I have seen no evidence that Ellis’ body was returned to Wilson County for burial. His parents, grandparents, and siblings are buried in Hilliard Ellis cemetery, but there is no marked grave for him there.

Memorial Day celebration at Rountree Cemetery.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1932.

On Memorial Day 1932, Henry Ellis Post #17 of the American Legion led a group in a march from post headquarters to Rountree Cemetery [which was probably actually Odd Fellows or Vick Cemetery.] There, they held a program that “includes song services and public speaking at which special tribute will be paid to the soldiers of all wars who sleep in Roundtree’s cemetery.

[Note: Via Lane Street Project, I had hoped to be able to arrange a ceremony with Post #17 for this Memorial Day. Perhaps in 2022.]

American Legion Post 17’s memorial services.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1921.

Poppy Day.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 May 1930.

American Legion Post 17 groundbreaking.

On 25 March 1978, the Wilson Daily Times published this photo with a long caption about the groundbreaking ceremony for a new headquarters on New Bern Street for Henry Ellis Post 17 of the American Legion.

The veterans depicted are (front row):

  • James C. Bess, post commander — Rev. Bess (1915-2002) was a World War II veteran.
  • George C. Alexander, post adjutant — George Caswell Alexander (1911-1986) was a World War II veteran.
  • E.L. Joyner, finance officer — Eddie Lee Joyner (1895-1989) was a World War I veteran.
  • Bennie Sanders, “a World War I veteran who is one of the oldest members of the local post” — Bennie Saunders (1894-1980).

On the back row:

  • Milton Lucas, member — Milton Lucas was a World War II veteran.
  • Nelson Farmer, service officer — Nelson Thomas Farmer Jr. (1925-2005) was a World War II veteran.
  • S.J. Satchell, membership chairman — Spencer J. Satchell Jr. (1910-1986) was a World War II veteran.
  • Ernest Bridges, member — Ernest Bridgers (1921-2000) was a World War II veteran.
  • Raleigh Williams, member — Raleigh Ferguson Williams (1909-1992) was a World War II veteran.

T/5 Whitehead’s remains returned for burial.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 May 1948.

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In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on S.H. Crocker Farm Road, tenant farmer, John Whitehead, 37; wife Nellie, 36; children E.K., 16, William H., 13, Anna V.O., 7, Anna Nula, 5, and J.B., 4; and great-uncle[?] Josh Whitehead.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, express laborer [no first name] Whitehead, 49; wife Ella, 45; and children Anna V., 17, Nora, 16, John, 14, and William, 24. All were born in Georgia except Ella [Nellie], who was born in North Carolina.

In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: widow Nellie Whitehead, 56; son J.B., 24, truck driver for a contractor; daughter Anna Hagans, 27, tobacco company stemmer; son-in-law Henry Hagans, 32, town garbage remover; and daughter Elnora Whitehead, 26.

John Baptist Whitehead registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 25 December 1915 in Chester, Georgia; lived at Route 4, Box 39, Wilson; worked for Imperial Tobacco, Barnes Street; and his contact was his mother, Nellie Whitehead.

Concert at the Community Center.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 November 1946.

Acclaimed African-American tenor Emanuel Mansfield and Native American pianist Robert Evans appeared in concert at Reid Street Community Center in November 1946. Henry Ellis Post Number 17 of the American Legion sponsored the event. Tickets were available at Wade’s Shoe Shop, 533 East Nash Street, Wade M. Moore, proprietor.

The obituary of Olander Williams, World War I veteran.

Wilson Daily Times, 28 April 1949.

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In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Mollie Williams, 28, cook, and children Orlanda, 9, Nathaniel, 8, and Rosetta, 2.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Mollie Williams, 37, private cook, and children Nathaniel, 18, odd jobs laborer; Roseta, 12, laborer; and Allander, 19, odd jobs laborer.

Aulander Williams registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born in August 1891 in Wilson County; lived on Route 6, Wilson; was single; and farmed for Sallie Graves near Stantonsburg.

Orlander Williams, 26, of Stantonsburg, son of Alex Joyner and Mollie Williams, married Lula Evans, 24, of Wilson, daughter of Mingo and Martha Evans, on 5 August 1917 in Wilson County. Alexander Leake applied for the license, and Missionary Baptist minister H.H. Sanders performed the ceremony in the presence of Ernest May, Jesse Darden and Walter Haskins

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Aulander Williams, 28, cropper; wife Lula, 25; and son Aulander jr., 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Orlanda Williams, 34; wife Lula, 35; children Orlanda, 12, Nick, 8, Sarah, 7, Nora, 5, and Lula M., 2; and nephew Elmer, 14.

Lula Williams died 29 July 1947 at her home at 1016 Wainwright Street. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 January 1898 in Edgecombe County to Mingo Edwards and Martha Mercer; was married to Olanda Williams; and was a factory worker. She was buried in Rountree cemetery.

Olander Williams died 26 April 1949 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 August 1890 in Edgecombe County to Elex Johnson and Mollie Williams; lived at 520 Hadley Street; and was a laborer. Daisy Williams was informant.