Drowned boy shows up?

What in the world happened here?

These articles appear back-to-back in the same issue of the Daily Times, and I have not yet found further information to clear up the confusion.

An eight year-old boy named James Applewhite had been missing a week when 13 year-old Raymond Sheppard confessed to police that he had pushed the younger boy into Toisnot Creek, where he had drowned. The very next day, James Applewhite showed up the police department claiming that he had gotten lost on his way home from school — a doubtful claim in 1940s Wilson — and wound up on a farm between Lucama and the Dixie Inn. Police had begun to drain “the lake in Maplewood cemetery” [what lake? Toisnot reservoir? It’s a half-mile north of Maplewood]* when Wiley Barnes‘ wife brought him into town, having just heard about a missing boy. He had appeared at her family’s farm, she said, and had asked for work. To compound the confusion, Raymond Sheppard and other boys claimed this was not the boy who had drowned, though that boy was also named Applewhite.

An article by John G. Thomas, often the Times‘ local-color writer, but here somewhere between straight reporter and editorialist, immediately followed the one above. The focus of the piece leaps from place to place, but these asserted facts emerge: Raymond Sheppard threw rocks at two boys trying to save Applewhite, hindering their efforts; the police rounded up eight boys and parked them in jail while investigating; the year before, Sheppard and two other boys had been charged with beating a white man, who later died of his injuries, for thirty cents’ gain; two of the boys, John Sowers, 15, and Andrew Jackson, 13, had admitted to burning down a Black man’s store and throwing a railroad spike through a truck windshield; Sheppard, Sowers, and Jackson were free because there was no place to hold them (a situation remedied on the spot); Jesse Lee Barnes, 9, Paul Mitchell, 12, Mitchell Hargrove, 13, Roy Lee Barnes, 14, and James Hall, 15, were also arrested; William Roberts, apparently owner of the burned store, pleaded with county commissioners for more police protection in East Wilson; they punted him to the Board of Aldermen.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 April 1945.

*Update: Toisnot Reservoir didn’t exist in 1945, but there was a small pond in Maplewood Cemetery that has since been filled in. Thanks, Matthew Langston!

Studio shots, no. 173: Paul Applewhite.

Paul Applewhite (1878-1955).


In the 1880 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer Luke Applewhite, 67; wife Sara, [age illegible; and sons Henry, 11, and Paul, 2.

In the 1900 census of Fremont township, Wayne County: Luke Applewhite, 64, “renter” [i.e. tenant farmer]; wife Sarah, 70, “washing & orning”; daughter Lizzie, 25, “feale work,” and Caro., 8, “laborr,”and sons Paul, 22, “farmer haird,” Noah, 20, day laborer Davie, 16, Peter, 13, and Moses, 10, farm laborers. 

Paul Applewhite, 25, of Wayne County, son of Luke and Sarah Applewhite, married Mary Eliza Thompson, 21, of Wayne County, daughter of Penny Thompson, on 10 January 1905 near Fremont, Nahunta township, Wayne County. A.L. Rountree was a witness.

In the 1910 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer Paul Applewhite, 32; wife Mary Eliza, 23; and children Penny, 5, and Sarah, 1.

In 1918, Paul Applewhite registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born January 1878; lived at Route 3, Lucama, Wilson County; farmed for W.H. Tomlinson, Lucama; and his nearest relative was Mary Eliza Applewhite.

Pennie Applewhite died 29 June 1918 in Cross Roads township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 28 July 1905 in Wilson to Paul Applewhite and Mary Eliza Thompson; and was buried in the John Moore grave yard.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Paul Applewhite, 43; wife Mary, 28; and children Sarah, 10, John, 9, May, 7, Walter, 5, Pauline, 4, and Herman, 2.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Paul Applewhite, 56; wife Mary L., 42; and children Sarah, 2, John, 20, Mabel, 18, Walter, 16, Pauline, 15, and Herman, 10.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 306 Walnut Street, Paul Applewhite, 66; wife Mary Eliza, 48, cook; children Sarah, 31, laundress; Mary Belle, 27, farm laborer; Walter, 25, gasoline filling station attendant; Pauline, 24, cook and nurse; and Herman, 20, gas station attendant; and grandson William, 8.

In 1940, Walter Applewhite registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his draft registration, he was born 28 July 1915 in Fremont, N.C.; lived at 306 East Walnut Street, Wilson; his contact was father Paul Applewhite; and he worked for Lester Watson, “cor. Barnes & Lloyd Wilson.”

Herman Applewhite died 3 February 1946 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 19 November 1919 in Wilson County to Paul Applewhite and Mary Thompson; worked as a laborer; lived at 306 East Walnut; was married to Delories Applewhite; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Pauline Applewhite, 523 South Lodge Street, was informant.

Paul Applewhite died 6 May 1955 at his home at 306 East Walnut Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 January 1881 in Wayne County, N.C., to Luke Applewhite and Sarah Greene; was a laborer; and was married. Mary Applewhite was informant.

John Ive Applewhite died 25 June 1967 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 28 April 1910 in Wayne County to Paul Applewhite and Mary Liza Thompson; lived at 306 East Walnut; was married; and worked as a laborer.

Photo courtesy of user sheppard4.

Who was the victim?

Pittsburgh Courier, 16 May 1942.

In a nutshell: James Applewhite was arrested and charged with the murder of Willie Fate. A burial society paid an undertaker to conduct Fate’s funeral. After the service, a burial society adjuster thought he saw Willie Fate on his way home. The society contacted the Wilson County draft board for information about Willie — presumably, his whereabouts, if not dead — but got none. Had the adjuster seen Willie’s brother Perry Fate instead? Or was Perry the man dead and buried? Applewhite confessed, but whom did he kill? Perry was nowhere to be found.

Willie H. Fate’s death certificate shows that he was killed on 25 April 1942 on 264 Highway by a pistol shot to the chest. Toney Funeral Home of Spring Hope, Nash County, performed the burial, but there’s no indication of the society that paid for it.

Apparently, the matter was not cleared to the satisfaction of the United States military until 10 August 1942, when Willie Fate’s registration card was cancelled.

Willie H. Fate’s draft registration card.


In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Robert Fate, 33; wife Monna, 31; children Alice, 17, Willie H., 17, Perry, 11, Geneva, 7, Robert Jr., 5, and Mary E., 2; and in-laws Alice Jurant, 55, and Melvin Jurant, 56. All save the youngest three children were born in South Carolina.

In 1940, Willie Henry Fate registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 27 January 1917 in South Carolina; he resided at R.F.D. #4, Wilson; his contact was Lula Fate; and he worked as a laborer for Mark Ellis, R.F.D. #4, Wilson.

In 1940, Perry Fate registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 7 January 1920 in Florence, South Carolina; resided at Route 1, C-10, Elm City; his contact was M.L. Ellis, Route 4; and he worked for James L. Ellis, Route 1, Elm City.

Aberdeen & Abraham.

In the name of God, Amen. I Elisha Applewhite of the State of North Carolina and County of Wayne being sick and weak of body but of a sound mind and memory thanks be given unto god calling into mind the mortality of my body and knowing that it is appointed for all men once to die do make and ordain this my last will and testament that is to say principally and first of all I give recommend my soul into the hands of almighty god that gave it and my Body I recommend to the Earth to be buried in a decent Christian Buriel at the discretion of my Ext. nothing doubting but at the General Resurrection I shall recieve the same again by the mighty power of god and as touching such worldy Estate wherewith it has pleased god to Bless me with in this life I give and devise and dispose of the same in the following manner to wit:

I lend my wife Elizabeth during her widowhood ten acres of land including all the houses and buildings where I now love I also lend her during her natural life one negro man by the name of Ishmael I also lend her during her natural life two negroes Avy & Narcissa also I give her my black mare and three cows and calves and two sows and pigs and one feather bed and stead and furniture and my loom and gear and two woolen wheels and one flax wheel and two paid of cards one painted chest and formerly called her own and six setting chairs all my kitchen furniture including the pot iron pewter and earthen ware and eight head of sheep her choice and all the gees and poultry and one years provision to be alloted her by my executors and one other respectable person and farming tools sufficient for her farm.

Item I lend my daughter Smithey Deans two negroes by the name of Aberdeen and Abram during her natural life and provided she ever has an heir begotten of her body to live to the age of twenty one years the right and title to remane in her forever but if she dies without issue the said negros to be sold and the money divided between all my children then living.

Item I give my son John Applewhite two negroes by the names of Dick and Feriba; also I give my son Peter Applewhite one negro woman Anzy and all the children she has with her and one boy by the name of Henderson; also I lend my daughter Dorotha Daniel during her natural life one negro woman by the name of Sarah and if she is taken out of the house from the said Dorotha business and put in the cornfield with out her consent it is my wish that my son Peter take the negro Sarah and higher her out or keep her himself and pay the said Dorotha the worth of her labour and after the descas of my daughter Dorotha I give the negro Sarah to my Grandson Elisha Daniel him and his heirs forever.

Also I give my son Robert Applewhite two negroes by the names of John and Imigin also I give my daughter Martha two negroes by the names of Rose and Hannah they and there increase to her and her heirs forever. Also I give to my son Lewis Applewhite two negroes Killis and Cilvy also I give my son Jesse Applewhite four negroes by the names of Jacob Chaney Eceline and Crisa also I give my daughter Elizabeth one negro boy by the name of David.I also give her after the widowhood of my wife Avy and all her increase and after the death of my wife I give her my negro man Ismail and one death bed and furniture one woolen wheel and one pair of cards.I give to my son Jesse all my land on the west side of Ballards Mill Swamp and two hundred and fifty acres where I now live lyin next to Westly Howells including the buildings where I now live the exception above named one sorrel horse also I give my daughter Elizabeth my gray horse and one cow and calf also I give my son Jesse one feather bed and furniture and one cow and calf the balance of my land not given away in legisses to be equally divided between my two sons Robert and Jesse and the balance of my Estate not given away in legisses to be sold and all my just debts to be paid lastly I nominate and appoint my friend Zadock Peacock and my son Robert Applewhite hole and sole Executors of this my last Will and Testament this the 21st of February 1835.   /s/ Elisha Applewhite

Signed, sealed and acknowledged in the presence of us  /s/ Raiford Hooks, B.W. Vail


Elisha Applewhite (1770-1835) lived in the Nahunta area northeast Wayne County, adjacent to Wilson County. He was the uncle of Henry Applewhite, whose plantation house near Stantonsburg, Wilson County, is described here, and his son Robert Applewhite married Elizabeth Deans, daughter of Bartley Deans of Nash and Wilson County. In 1848, Bartley Deans, you may recall, placed two enslaved men with the slave-trading firm of Moye & Adams for sale on speculation in Mississippi. Those two men, Aberdeen and Abraham, as shown in this will, had originally been owned by Deans’ son-in-law’s father, Elisha Applewhite, whose will devised the men to his unmarried daughter, Smithey Deans Applewhite.

North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line],


The poor house.

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In 1880, seven of the 22 paupers living in Wilson County’s poorhouse were African-American — Cary Williams, 65; Sampson Odam (“sore leg”), 89; David Rountree, 75; Mary Applewhite, 50; Mourning Privett, 52; Sallie Selby, 54; and Doublin Short, 75. Rountree appears in the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, as a 67 year-old farm laborer living alone. The others’ whereabouts in 1870 are unclear.

Applewhite plantation.

Built about 1847, the W. H. Applewhite House is a historic plantation home near Stantonsburg, Wilson County, North Carolina. It is a two-story, three-bay, single pile, Greek Revival-style frame dwelling with a one-story, shed-roofed rear wing. The house features a double-gallery porch with sawn ornament and trim added about 1900. The plantation has been in the possession of the Applewhite family since 1841, when Henry Applewhite (1806-1850) purchased 425 acres on the west side of Toisnot Swamp. After Henry Applewhite’s death, his widow Orpha Pike Applewhite came into possession. Their son William H. Applewhite (1840-1903) was its next owner.  The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Though the Nomination Form describes Henry Applewhite as a “prominent planter,” it makes no mention of the Applewhites’ status as slaveowners. Census records, however, tell the story. The 1850 slave schedule of Edgecombe County reports that Orpha Applewhite owned eight slaves — five females aged 68, 40, 16, 14, and 5, and three males aged 21, 12 and 8. In the 1860 slave schedule of Saratoga township, Wilson County, Orpha Applewhite is listed with two slaves, her daughter Celia Applewhite with one, son Jonathan Applewhite with five, and son W.H. Applewhite with two.

This, from an unsourced post at “Among the surviving papers of Henry and Orpha Pike Applewhite of the Stantonsburg area of Wilson Co., NC are the names and ages [sic] of the following negroes: Sherod, born 16 July 1838; Patrick, born 1 May 1840; Mariah, born 27 September 1844; Penny, born August 1834; Mary, born spring 1832; Enos, born 1 January 1829.”

In the 1870 census, Stantonsburg, Wilson County: Patrick Applewhite, 25, wife Luvenia, 21, and son George, 6, with Loucinda Taylor, 18, and daughter Sarah, 1.

In the 1870 census, Stantonsburg, Wilson County: Enoch Applewhite, 40, Cherry, 24, Mary, 35 (described as “idiotic”), and Lucindah, 1. In the 1880 census, Stantonsburg, Wilson County: Enos Applewhite, 50, wife Cherry, 33, Lucinda, 12, Luvinia, 11, Henry, 7, Frank, 6, John, 4, and Virginia, 2 months.

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Photo of the Applewhite house in 1985 in nomination file.

Respected poet James Applewhite, born in Stantonsburg in 1935, is a great-grandson of William H. Applewhite. His poetry often explores the rural South of his childhood, much spent at the Applewhite farmhouse, and the fraught relationships between blacks and whites in the era.

In his poem “The Deed”:

“… certain human beings. Beedy, Lewis, Offy;

Wealthy, Feruba, Bright; Tabitha

Mereca, Jinna, and Litha – I write your names again

here, since the many burnings of the iron-fenced family

graveyard have erased whatever chalked letters

once named you on the blackened

boards of heart pine.”

Click to access WL0692.pdf