Armstrong

The estate of William J. Armstrong.

William J. Armstrong died in Wilson County in September 1856. Several months later, his heirs, as tenants in common, petitioned for the division of his enslaved property, identified as Quinny, Abram, Jim, Birden and his wife and child, Ned, Tony, Harry, Julann and her two children, Lizett, Nance and her child, Ciller and her two children, Jane, Lucinda and two children, Berry, and Mahala.

At January term 1858 of the Wilson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a team of commissioners reported their division, randomly allotted, thus:

  • Lot 1 to Catherine Armstrong, consisting of Abram, Avy, Nelson and Allis, valued at $2275.
  • Lot 2 to Caroline Armstrong, consisting of Julan, Mahala and Nancy, valued at $2175.
  • Lot 3 to Willie G. Barnes and wife, consisting of Quinny, Harry, Scilla and her child, valued at $3050.
  • Lot 4 to George W. Armstrong, consisting of Ned, Clary, Sarah and Barry, valued at $3100.
  • Lot 5 to James G. Armstrong, consisting of James, Burton, Rufus and Lucinda and her child, valued at $3325.
  • Lot 6 to John H. Winstead and wife, consisting of Tony, Lizette, Lucinda, Jane and her child, valued at $3320.

Some notes:

  • The petitioners clearly underestimated the number of enslaved people William Armstrong had owned at his death.
  • Scilla and one of the Lucindas were each separated from one of their (youngest) children. (Children over about age eight would have been listed individually.) Julann and Nancy were completely divided from their children.
  • Burton, who seems to have been the only man with a wife living on the Armstrong plantation, was separated from his wife Clary and child.

Only a few of the men, women and children formerly enslaved by William J. Armstrong are readily identifiable in post-Emancipation records:

  • A Wilson County justice of the peace registered Abram Armstrong and Cherry Proctor’s 16-year cohabitation in 1866. In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Abraham Armstrong, 52, wife Cherry, 32, and children Nancy, 16, Haywood, 14, Nelson, 12, Joshua, 11, and Burlee, 7. As Cherry Armstrong and children were owned by a different enslaver, this Abraham’s son Nelson is a different person than the Nelson listed above. So is Nancy.
  • A Wilson County justice of the peace registered Burton Armstrong and Clary Armstrong’s 18-year cohabitation in 1866. In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Burden Armstrong, 45, farm laborer, who owned $400 personal and $300 real property, and wife Clara, 38. Burton and Clara Armstrong became Exodusters and are found in the 1900 census of Portland township, Ashley County, Arkansas, with granddaughter Laura Binam, 6.
  • A Wilson County justice of the peace registered James Armstrong and Pricilla Braswell‘s two-year cohabitation in 1866.
  • In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Lucinda Armstrong, 41; her children Charley L., 16, Gray Anna, 13, and Shadrick, 10; her sister Lizette Armstrong, 51; and Mourning Pitt, 80. Charley Armstrong may have been the child allotted with Lucinda to James G. Armstrong. Though they presumably spent the last decade of slavery owned by Barneses, Lucinda and Lizette retained Armstrong as their surname.
  • A Wilson County justice of the peace registered Ned Armstrong and Eliza Whitehead‘s cohabitation in 1866.

Images of estate documents available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Sankofa: remembering Marie Everett.

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For hundreds of years, the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and aphorisms. Sankofa is often illustrated as a bird looking over its back. Sankofa means, literally, “go back and get it.” Black Wide Awake exists to do just that.

I had never heard of Marie Everett until I read Charles W. McKinney’s excellent Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina. I’m not sure how it is possible that her struggle was so quickly forgotten in Wilson. However, it is never too late to reclaim one’s history. To go back and get it.  So, here is the story of the fight for justice for Everett — a small victory that sent a big message to Wilson’s black community and likely a shudder of premonition through its white one:

On 6 October 1945, 15 year-old Marie Everett took in a movie at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Wilson. (The Carolina admitted black patrons to its balcony.) As Everett stood with friend Julia Armstrong at the concession stand, a cashier yelled at her to get in line. Everett responded that she was not in line and, on the way back to her seat, stuck out her tongue. According to a witness, the cashier grabbed Everett, slapped her and began to choke her. Everett fought back. Somebody called the police, and Everett was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The next day in court, Everett’s charge was upgraded to simple assault. Though this misdemeanor carried a maximum thirty-day sentence and fifty-dollar fine, finding her guilty, the judge upped Everett’s time to three months in county jail. As Wilson’s black elite fretted and dragged their feet, the town’s tiny NAACP chapter swung into action, securing a white lawyer from nearby Tarboro and notifying the national office. In the meantime, Everett was remanded to jail to await a hearing on her appeal. There she sat for four months (though her original sentence had expired) until a court date. Wilson County appointed two attorneys to the prosecution, and one opened with a statement to the jury that the case would “show the niggers that the war is over.” Everett was convicted anew, and Judge C.W. Harris, astonishingly, increased her sentence from three to six months, to be served — even more astonishingly — at the women’s prison in Raleigh. (In other words, hard time.) Everett was a minor, though, and the prison refused to admit her. Branch secretary Argie Evans Allen of the Wilson NAACP jumped in again to send word to Thurgood Marshall, head of the organization’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall engaged M. Hugh Thompson, a black lawyer in Durham, who alerted state officials to the shenanigans playing out in Wilson. After intervention by the State Commissioner of Paroles and Governor R. Gregg Cherry, Everett walked out of jail on March 18. She had missed nearly five months of her freshman year of high school.

The Wilson Daily Times, as was its wont, gave Everett’s story short-shrift. However, the Norfolk Journal & Guide, an African-American newspaper serving Tidewater Virginia, stood in the gap. (Contrary to the article’s speculation, there was already a NAACP branch on the ground in Wilson, and it should have been credited with taking bold action to free Everett.)

Norfolk Journal & Guide, 23 March 1946.

Sankofa bird, brass goldweight, 19th century, British Museum.org. For more about the Carolina Theatre, including blueprints showing its separate entrance and ticket booth for African-Americans, see here.

Wheeler family tragedy.

Misfortune dogged the Wheeler family for decades.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 March 1896.

Sidney Wheeler was a man, not a boy, and married nine months after this mishap. On 23 December 1896, Sidney Wheeler, 24, married Lou Armstrong, 20, in Wilson. W.T.H. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of Richard Renfrow, S.A. Smith and Janie Booth.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: day laborer Sidney Wheelus, 27; wife Lula, 23; and son Sidney, 8 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Sidney Wheeler, 40, barber; wife Lou, 40, private cook; and children Sidney, 9, Dave, 7, Floyd, 4, and Emma, 2.

In March 1910, Sidney Wheeler Jr. accidentally shot his sister in the head while playing with a gun. She died instantly. Their mother was away from home cooking supper for Frederick Woodard’s family; their father presumably was also at work. The Wheeler girl’s name is unknown. The 1900 census lists only one child; the 1910, only one daughter, Emma, who lived to adulthood. Though described as eight years old, Sidney Jr. was more likely about ten.

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 17 March 1910.

Fourteen months later, Sidney Wheeler Jr. (still described as eight years old) was charged with assault with a deadly weapon against General Tyler, “another colored boy.”

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Wilson Daily Times, 19 May 1911.

The Daily Times published two articles about the incident. The second doubled down on the sensationalist editorializing, but there seems little question that Sidney Jr. engaged in unusually violent behavior.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 May 1911.

Six months later, a Raleigh paper picked up a local-interest bit from Wilson and printed it using the exaggerated dialect and descriptions saved for negro anecdotes. In a nutshell: Anderson Dew visited Sidney Wheeler”s barber shop. With half his face shaved, Dew attempted to spit. Wheeler warned there was no spitting while he was shaving. Further, there was the matter of Dew having  testified against Wheeler on a liquor charge. Dew distracted Wheeler’s attention, then jumped from the chair and ran off to tell this tale.

The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh, N.C.), 7 November 1911.

Sidney Wheeler died 8 March 1912 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 35 years old; was born in Nash County to Richard and Annie Wheeler; worked as a barber; was married; and resided at 710 Vance Street. Lula Wheeler was informant.

Six and-a-half years after their father died, Sidney Wheeler Jr.’s younger brother Dabbie fetched up in court on a breaking and entering charge. As he had already done time on a county road gang, the judge sentenced him to five-to-ten in the state penitentiary.

News & Observer, 7 September 1918.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Hackney Street, college cook Lula Wheeler, 49, widow, and children Richard, 12, Emma, 10, John, 8, and Sammie, 6.

Dabbie Wheeler died four years into his prison term of tuberculosis of the shoulder joint and bowels. He was 17.

Dabbie Wheeler died 21 June 1922 at the State Penitentiary in Raleigh, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 27 August 1904 in Wilson to Sidney Wheeler and Lula Armstrong and worked as a laborer. He was buried in Chapel Hill.

Ten months later, Sidney Wheeler Jr. escaped from a prison camp near the Rocky Face Mountain quarry in Alexander County, North Carolina. I have found nothing further about him.

Alamance Gleaner, 5 April 1923.

Lulu Wheeler died 5 May 1925 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 August 1878 in Elm City to Emma Armstrong; she was the widow of Sid Wheeler; she resided at 523 Church Street; and she did housework for Atlantic Christian College. Emma Wheeler was informant.

Studio shots, no. 88: Jack Armstrong, supercentenarian.

Among the dozens of families who migrated up to Wilson County from North Carolina’s southern Sandhills area were those of Dock Roberson and Margaret Armstrong McDougal Blue. After her husband Levi Blue died in Wilson County in 1919, Maggie Blue and Dock Roberson married, and Maggie’s parents John “Jack” and Annie Murphy Armstrong briefly came to live with their blended family in Taylors township. Likely during this time, Jack Armstrong traveled into Wilson to sit for a portrait in Picture-Taking George W. Barnes‘ studio. Jack’s descendants explained that his curled fingers were the result of an injury inflicted during slavery.

John “Jack” Armstrong (ca. 1820-1932), circa 1920.

——

In the 1870 census of Flea Hill township, Cumberland County, North Carolina: farm laborer John Armstrong, 40; wife Anna, 38; and children Dublin, 14, Charles, 9, Penny, 8, Margrett, 7, Elizabeth, 5, Barbry, 4, William, 3, and David, 2; plus Amy Armstrong, 52.

In the 1880 census of Flea Hill township, Cumberland County, North Carolina: farmer John Armstrong, 54; wife Annie J., 43; and children Charley, 18, Margret, 16, Barbra A., 12, William J., 10, David, 8, Joe, 6, Daniel R., 4, and Rebecca, 3; plus A. Murphy, 60, mother-in-law.

In the 1900 census of Geddies Gin township, Cumberland County, North Carolina: farm laborer Jack Armstrong, 75; wife Annie, 68; daughter Janie, 15; and grandson George W. Murphy, 12.

In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Doc Robinson, 55; wife Maggie, 53; children Mary, 18, James C., 19, Virginia, 17, David, 14, Elijah, 12, and Jessie B., 3; Vangie, 32, Geneva, 17, and Addie McDoogle, 15; and Moses Robinson, 8, and lodgers Jack, 103, and Annie Armstrong, 101.

Annie Armstrong died 5 April 1920 in Taylor township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 103 years old; was born in Johnston County to Annie Murphy and an unknown father; worked as a farmer for George Piage; and was married to Jack Armstrong. William Jas. Armstrong was informant.

Maggie Roberson died 5 April 1928 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 55 years old; was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Jack and Annie Armstrong; was married to George Roberson; and farmed for Will Carr.

Jack Armstrong died 5 January 1932 in Mingo township, Sampson County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 11 February 1815 to John Wood and an unknown mother; was widowed; and was a farmer.

Newspapers across the state reported that Jack Armstrong had been “the oldest North Carolinian” at the time of his death.

Wilson Daily Times, 12 January 1932.

Photo courtesy of F. Cooper Jr., great-great-grandson of Jack Armstrong.

Studio shots, no. 87: Haywood and Agnes Bullock Armstrong.

Haywood and Agnes Bullock Armstrong.

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Abraham Armstrong, 52, wife Cherry, 32, and children Nancy, 16, Haywood, 14, Nelson, 12, Joshua, 11, and Burlee, 7.

On 28 February 1878, Haywood Armstrong, 21, married Agnes Bullock, 18, in Township No. 13, Edgecombe County. Frank Bullock, Nelson Armstrong and B.P. Jenkins witnessed. [Agnes Bullock is listed in her (widowed?) mother Rena Bullock’s household in the 1870 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County. Serena Bullock was married to Crumel Bullock, and another of their daughters, Mary, married Haywood Armstrong’s brother Nelson Armstrong. If researching this line, please be mindful that several Cromwell/Crummel/Crumel Bullocks, both black and white, lived in northeastern Wilson County/southwestern Edgecombe County durimng the late 19th century.]

In the 1880 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County: laborer Haywood Armstrong, 23; wife Agnes, 18; and daughter Caroline, 1.

In the 1900 census of Richwoods township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: renting a farm, Haywood Armstrong, 48; wife Agness, 38; and children Charlie, 19, Mollie, 16, William, 14, Joshway, 12, Hirman, 11, Cherry, 10, Annie, 8, Frank, 6, Minnie, 4, and Agnes, 2. The last five children were born in Arkansas.

In the 1910 census of Richwoods township, Lonoke County, Arkansas: Haywood Armstrong, 54; wife Agness, 48; and children Henry, 23, Joshaway, 22, Himan, 21, Cherry, 19, Anna, 18, Frank, 16, Minnie, 14, Agness, 11, James Haywood, 10, Eddie, 8, and Lottie, 3.

Agnes Bullock Armstrong died 10 September 1915. Haywood Armstrong died in 1917. Both were buried in Hickory Grove cemetery, Lonoke County.

Many thanks to Lydia Hunter for sharing these photographs of her ancestors, who migrated from Wilson County to Lonoke County, Arkansas, about 1889.

Liquor bust.

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 August 1944.

  • Clarence Barnes
  • Mark Jenkins — on 17 October 1944, the Daily Times reported that Jenkins received one year’s probation for a liquor law violation.
  • Gus Armstrong — the same article reported that Armstrong was sentenced to a year and a day at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for a liquor law violation.
  • Sam Moore — Moore also received a year and a day at Atlanta.

Cemeteries, no. 19: the Nelson Armstrong family.

This cemetery — way down an unpaved track and surrounded on three sides by soybeans — is back in the cut, as they say, but lovingly maintained. Nelson Armstrong and his brother Gary were prosperous farmers who owned large farms northeast of Elm City near the Edgecombe County line.

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Abraham Armstrong, 52, wife Cherry, 32, and children Nancy, 16, Haywood, 14, Nelson, 12, Joshua, 11, and Burlee, 7.

On 10 January 1884, Nelson Armstrong married Mary Ann Bulluck in Edgecombe County.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Armstrong, 45, wife Mary Ann, 40, and children Mamie, 15, Hattie, 13, and Henry, 12.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot, Wilson County, on Wells Daws Avenue, Nelson Armstrong, 58, Mary, 45, daughter Hattie Armstrong, 22, son Henry Armstrong, 20, son-in-law Thomas Hilliard, 25, daughter Mamie, 24, and their children Carnelia, 3, and Magnora Hilliard, 2.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: Nelson Armstrong, 60, wife Mary, 50, and boarder Grover Barnes, 19.

Nelson Armstrong was an initial investor in Commercial Bank of Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: Henry Armstrong, 42, wife Mimia, 33, and children Mary, 11, Fred, 8, Rosa, 6, Clarence, 4, and Nathan, 1, plus widower father Nelson, 75.

Nelson Armstrong died 8 December 1934 in Toisnot township. Per his death certificate: he was 80 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to Abraham and Cherry Armstrong; was a farmer; and was a widower.

  • Mary Ann Armstrong

Mary Armstrong died 25 September 1924. Per her death certificate, she was 58 years old; married to Nelson Armstrong; and born in Edgecombe to Crumel and Rena Bulluck.

  • Hattie Armstrong Lucas

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Armstrong, 45, wife Mary Ann, 40, and children Mamie, 15, Hattie, 13, and Henry, 12.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot, Wilson County, on Wells Daws Avenue, Nelson Armstrong, 58, Mary, 45, daughter Hattie Armstrong, 22, son Henry Armstrong, 20, son-in-law Thomas Hilliard, 25, daughter Mamie, 24, and their children Carnelia, 3, and Magnora Hilliard, 2.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Elias Lucas, 44; wife Hattie, 40; and children Ada, 16, Turner, 14, Eva, 13, Marie, 6, and Nathaniel, 5.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Elias Lucas, 54; wife Hattie, 52; and children Marie, 16, and Nathanel, 15.

Hattie Lucas died 17 November 1943. Per her death certificate, she was 56 years old; born in Wilson County to Nelson Armstrong of Wilson County and Hattie Armstrong of Edgecombe County; was married to Elias Lucas; and was buried in the Armstrong cemetery.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2017.

Robbed the watchman.

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Wilson Daily Times, 2 September 1921.

In 1917, Jake Armstrong registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 11 May 1890 in Wilson; lived at 210 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; worked as a laborer for Farmers Cotton Oil Company; and had a dependent mother and sister.

On 8 September 1919, Jake Armstrong, 23, of Wilson, married Della Jones, 22, of Wilson. B.P. Coward performed the ceremony at the A.M.E. Zion church in the presence of Rose McCullers, Berta Faulkland and Lucy A. Richards.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Broad Street, oil mill laborer Jake Armstrong, 23; wife Della, 21; and children Kathryn, 6, and Charlie, 1.

The obituary of Elnora Williams Armstrong.

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Wilson Daily Times, 27 October 1945.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Alnora Armstrong, 37, widow, with son Allen, 10.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: odd jobs laborer James Daniel, 50; wife Louise, 53, laundress; daughters Minnie, 21, Louise, 19, and Lillie, 17, all cooks; daughter Debie Black, 30, and her children Jessie, 9, Moses, 6, Minnie, 2, and Gertie Black, 1 month; plus Ellen Armstrong, 50, widowed house servant, and her son Allen, 18, a railroad laborer.

On 25 November 1915, Allen Armstrong, 26, son of Allen and Elenora Armstrong, married Annie Lewis, 23, daughter of Ed and Sophia Lewis. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at Ed Lewis’ home in Wilson in the presence of Bessie Woodard, Nathaniel Williams, and Isum Harris.

On 5 June 1917, Allen Armstrong registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 15 November 1887 in Wilson;  resided at 532 Church Street; worked as a machinist for W.T. Clark; and supported his mother and wife.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 407 Viola Street, Allen Armstrong, 35, laborer, and mother Ellen Armstrong, 70, widowed family cook. [Both are erroneously reported as Texas natives.]

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 311 North Hackney Street, Sarah Mursley, 45, widowed laundress; son George, 15, tobacco factory laborer; and lodgers Doc Battle, 50, and Elnora Armstrong, 67, a widowed family cook.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 415 East Green Street, insurance collector N. Andrew Pierce, 61; wife Ada W., 58, a seamstress; nephew Otha R. Davis, 28, a beer parlor owner; his wife Lillie, 23, a nurse; their son Otha R., Jr., 6 months; and mother Ella Davis, 52; plus lodgers Elnora Armstrong, 90; Thomas Williams, 35, and Johnie Sarvis, 33.

Elnora Armstrong died 22 October 1945 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born in 1869 in Halifax County, North Carolina, to Monroe and Susie Williams; was widowed; had worked as a domestic; and resided at 608 East Green Street.

[Armstrong’s long-time employer was William T. Clark (1868-1939), a wealthy tobacconist.]