Mahala Artis’ property.

Mahala Artis lived in a house on Goldsboro Street, owned by George H. and Elizabeth P. Griffin. After Griffin died in 1881, and the property went into default, trustee H.G. Connor advertised it and Griffin’s carriage and wagon factory for sale.

Wilson Advance, 21 December 1883.

Eleven years later, Artis’ own property was advertised for sale for non-payment of taxes.  Artis was on her way out of Wilson, however, and in 1899 sold her lot at the corner of Green and Pender Streets to Samuel H. Vick.

Wilson Advance, 22 March 1894.

The passing of John Clarence Artis, age 100.

John Clarence Artis, 16 October 1922-13 June 2023.


John Clarence Artis was born 16 October 1922 in Wilson County to John Columbus Artis and Nancy Pearsall [Pender?]

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1113 Queen Street, widow Mary Pender, 45, laundress; daughter Nancy Artist, 23, laundress; grandsons John C., 7, and Willie, 5; son William H. Pender, 25, auto mechanic at garage; and lodger Maggie Edwards, 21, cook.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Simon Pope, 37; wife Nancy, 33; stepson John Artis, 17; lodger David Ward, 16; nephew James Harris, 10; and mother-in-law Mary Jane Pender, 56, widow.

In 1942, John Clarence Artis registered for the World War II draft in Portsmouth, Virginia. Per his registration card, he was born 16 October 1922 in Wilson; he lived at 1029 London Street, Portsmouth; his contact was Mary Pender, 206 Manchester Street, Wilson; and he worked at the Naval Hospital, Portsmouth.

On 19 July 1957, John C. Artis Jr., 34, of 641 Cemetery Street, Wilson, son of John C. Artis and Nancy Pender Artis, married Margie Dunston, 26, of Lucama, daughter of Aaron and Lenatha Thompson, in Wilson.

Photo courtesy of

The obituary of Pauline Artis Henderson.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 June 1950.


In the 1900 census of Ingrams, Johnston County: widower farmer Archie Artis, 78; daughters Bathanie, 32, and Alice E., 22; and granddaughters Victoria, 13, Effie, 10, and Pollie, 1.

On 3 Dec 1914, Solomon Ward applied for a marriage license for Jesse Henderson of Wilson, age 21, son of Jesse Jacobs and Sarah Jacobs, both dead, and Pauline Artis of Wilson, age 18, daughter of Alice Artis.  On the same day, Fred M. Davis, Baptist minister, performed the ceremony at his residence before Mary Barnes, Annie Hines, and Willie Cromartie, all of Wilson.  [Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs, who were very much alive, reared Jesse, who was the son of Sarah’s sister.]

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 217 Pender Street, Jesse Henderson with wife Pauline, daughter Bessie, and mother-in-law Alice Artis.  Jesse worked as a truck driver for a woodyard. Alice was a cook for a private family.

In the 1928 Wilson city directory: Jack Henderson, a driver, and wife Pauline, were listed at 318 Pender Street.

Jessie Henderson Jr. died 15 April 1929 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 5 months old; was born in Wilson to Jessie Henderson Sr. of Dudley, N.C., and Pauline Artis of Johnson County, N.C.; and lived at 318 Pender Street. Pauline Henderson was informant.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 318 Pender Street, Jack Henderson, 38, wife Pauline, 31, and children Bessie, 12, Alic, 10, Joice, 7, Mildred, 6, and Archy, 4, mother-in-law Alic Artis, 49, paying $18/month rent. Alice worked as a cook for a private family, and Jack as a truck driver.

Archie Henderson died 11 May 1930 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 4 years old; was born in Wilson to Jessie Henderson of Wayne County, N.C., and Pauline Artis of Johnson [sic] County, N.C.; and lived at 318 Pender Street. Alice Artis was informant.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 309 Pender Street, Alice Artis, 56, widow [in fact, she was not married]; Pauline Henderson, 39, widow [in fact, she was separated]; and grandchildren Bessie, 23, Alice, 20, Joyce, 18, Mildred, 16, Doris, 10, and Robert [Bobby], 4.

Lewis Artis sells 100 acres in 1825.

This Indenture made the 7 day of August one Thousand Eight hundred and Twenty five Between Lewis Artice of the State of North Carolina and County of Edgecombe of the one part and William Woodard of the other part of County and State aforesaid Witnesseth that I the sd. Lewis Artice for an in consideration of the sum of Four Hundred and three Dollars to me in hand paid at or before the sealing or Delivery of these presents the receipt whereof I hereby acknowledge that I have Bargaind, Sold and Conveyed unto the sd. William Woodard and his Heirs a Certain tract or parcel of land situate in the County above Written and on the South side of Little Contentney Creek and Boundered as follows to Wit Beginning at a white oak in the Creek then a line of Mark’d trees to a corner pine then to red oak which is a Dividing Corner Between the sd. tract and Wilie Ellis land then a line of mark’d trees to a Corner Sweetgum in the Creek then up the various Courses of sd. Creek to this first Station Containing one hundred and 3/4 Acres be the sum more or less the sd. Lewis Artice do warranted forever defend the rite title and Claim unto the sd. Wm. Woodard and his Heirs forever in witness whereof I have hereinto set my hand and seal the day and date ante written Signed and Sealed in presents of us. Jas. B. Woodard   Lewis X Article


Little Contentnea Creek arises just east of Saratoga in what is now Wilson County (but was Edgecombe County in Lewis Artis‘ day) and flows a short distance into Pitt County on the Greene-Pitt County line.

The relationship between Lewis Artis and John Artis Jr. is unknown.

Deed Book 18, page 433, Edgecombe County Register of Deeds Office, Tarboro, North Carolina.

Adam T. Artis, part 2.

I have blogged many times about siblings Cain Artis, William M. Artis, Walter S. Artis, Alberta Artis Cooper, Columbus E. Artis, Josephine Artis Sherrod, and June S. Artis — but not specifically about their father Adam Toussaint Artis, a free-born farmer who bought and sold hundreds of acres of farm and woodland near present-day Eureka in Nahunta township, Wayne County, North Carolina. Artis had five wives over his long life, and more than 25 children. Many of his thousands of descendants, including me, have ties to Wilson.

In this second post, a look at Adam T. Artis’ life with his second wife.


Per an unsigned narrative (“The Adam Artis Family History”) written, I think, by one of Adam Artis’ great-grandchildren:

Adam Artis had about five wives and 39 children. His first legal wife was Frances Hagens of Eureka. She was very fair and had beautiful long black silky hair. Adam was very tall and slender. He owned a large farm in Eureka and was a first class carpenter. They lived in a nice two story house. Frances’ brother, Napoleon Hagens, owned a very large plantation near Eureka. He had several tenants and/or slaves there. He was very mean to his wife and tenants. He would sit on the fence in the shade and watch the tenants plow. If they didn’t plow the way he wanted them to, he would crack them with a whip. One day a tenant grabbed the whip and beat Napoleon’s shirt off.

This is a nice starting point for this phase of Adam Artis’ life, if not entirely accurate. Frances Seaberry was Adam’s second legal wife, not his first. (If he had 39 children, not even his last surviving daughter, Josephine Artis Sherrod, could name them.) Frances, born free in 1845 in Wayne County to Aaron Seaberry and Levisa Hagans Seaberry, married Adam Artis 20 August 1861 in Wayne County. (Frances’ half-brother Napoleon Hagans never owned slaves, though he had many tenants, and he cast a shadow large enough that his sister’s descendants thought his last name was hers.)

Marriage license of Adam Artis and Frances Seaberry, Wayne County Register of Deeds Office, Goldsboro, North Carolina.

The “Family History” goes on to state: Frances and Adam Artis had 9 children (Hayward, William, Walter, Addie, Jesse, Doc, Georgianna, Luvicie and Ida.) Luvicie and Ida were twins. Frances died when the twins were only 13 years old.

In fact, Adam and Frances Seaberry Artis had 11 children:

Ida Artis was born about 1861. She married Isaac Reid (1853-??), son of Zion and Lucy Reid, about 1876. Their children were Frances Reid (1877-??) and Lorenzo Eli Reid (1879-1952). Ida Artis Reid died 1880-1900.

Napoleon Artis, known as “Doc,” was born 28 February 1863. He married Sallie Taylor; their sons were Humphrey, Leslie, and Odell Artis. Doc died 16 October 1942. His descendants still live on land along Route 222 between Stantonsburg and Eureka once owned by Adam Artis.

When Luvicie Artis was 13 years old, she married John Aldridge of Dudley. John was the son of Robert and Eliza Aldridge. … Luvicie had very high cheek bones. Luvicie was a mid-wife and nurse. She died at the age of 64. She only wanted to eat peas and sweet potatoes. She wouldn’t eat much meat or green vegetables, and would drink hardly any water.

Louvicey “Vicey” Artis was born in 1865 and married John Aldridge in 1879. Their children surviving to adulthood were Zebedee Aldridge, Lula Aldridge, Frances Aldridge Cooper, John J. Aldridge, James Thomas Aldridge, Amanda Aldridge Newsome, Beulah Aldridge Carter, Correna Aldridge Newsome, Catherine Aldridge Davis, and Christine Lenora Aldridge Henderson. Vicey Artis Aldridge, a midwife, died 13 February 1927.

Louvicey’s twin, Eliza Artis, married Haywood Everett. Before 1900, the couple migrated to Lonoke County, Arkansas. They had no children, and Eliza died 10 October 1936.

Georgeanna Artis was born 1867. She married Henry Reid (1859-1930), son of John and Mozana Hall Reid (and first cousin to Isaac Reid, above) on 29 November 1883. Their children were Alice Reid Williamson, Cora Reid Sampson, William H. Reid, Brodie Reid, Lenny Reid, Nita Reid, Henry N. Reid, Linda B. Reid, and Georgia Reid. She died 18 August 1923 in Goldsboro NC.

Adam Toussaint Artis Jr. was born in 1868. He married Rena G. Wynn in 1893 in Wayne County and had one son, Lafayette. Adam Jr. migrated to Washington DC, and married second wife Agnes West in 1904. Their son was Harry L. Artis.

Haywood Artis was born in 1870. He migrated to Norfolk, Virginia, in the 1890s, and married Harriet Hawthorne. Their children included Bertha Artis, Jesse Artis, Hattie Artis Johnson, Mae Willie Artis, Haywood Artis Jr., and Charles Artis.

Emma Artis, born 1872, married Robert H. Locust and died within months of the wedding.

Walter Scott Artis was born 2 October 1874. He married Hannah E. Forte. Their children: Napoleon Artis, Beatrice Artis, Estelle Artis, Adam Toussaint Artis III, and Elmer Hazel Artis. Walter Artis died 25 June 1951.

William Marshall Artis was born 28 August 1875 and married Etta Diggs.  Their children: Beulah M. Artis Exum, Margaret Artis Thompson, Irene Artis Carter, Frances Artis Edmundson, William M. Artis Jr., Adam H. Artis, Fletcher Artis, Doris V. Artis Carr, Haywood T. Artis, and Elmer W. Artis. William died 28 September 1945.

Jesse Artis was born in 1878. Frances Seaberry Artis died the same year, perhaps from complications from her last childbirth.

Interrogating evidence in census records.

Here is a vexing example of why you cannot accept census entries at face value, but must interrogate them to get closer to truth.

This snippet from the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, appears to show Willis Barnes, his wife Farby, their children, and his mother Rose. The reality is quite different.

In fact, this is a blended family. Willis Barnes’ first wife, Cherry Battle (or Eatmon) Barnes, died in the mid-1890s. They had at least nine children together, none of whom are listed here; their younger children were taken in by older siblings when their mother died.

On 2 March 1897, Willis Barnes, 59, of Wilson township, married Fereby Artis, 47, of Toisnot township, in Wilson County. They had not, as the census taker noted in the column next to that in which he wrote an M for “married,” been married 25 years.

Fereby (or Phereby, or any number of spellings) Barnes was born about 1849 to Silas Barnes and Rosetta Farmer Barnes. On 20 December 1879, Fereby Barnes married Benjamin Artis Jr., who was born about 1849 to Benjamin Artis Sr. and Fereby Woodard Artis, a daughter of London and Venus Woodard. (So, yes, Ben Jr. and his wife had the same names as Ben Jr.’s parents.) Fereby and Benjamin Artis Jr.’s children included Harriet Artis Simms, Morrison Artis, Silas A. Artis, Louvenia Artis Hayes, and Wade Artis.

The four children listed in this census entry — despite the dash implying their surname was Barnes — were Fereby’s children (Willis’ stepchildren) and were Artises. And Rosa Barnes was not Willis’ mother at all. She was his mother-in-law —  Fereby Barnes Artis Barnes’ mother.

John Artis Jr. buys two parcels.

The Artises were a large extended free family of color with roots in late 17th-century Tidewater Virginia. They began to migrate individually into North Carolina in the mid-1700s, and John Artis Jr. is the earliest Artis recorded in Edgecombe County. In 1765, Artis bought a parcel of land on the south side of Toisnot Swamp in what is now Wilson County. He sold it in 1782. His deed reflects the earliest known land purchase by an African-American in the county.

In his groundbreaking (and often conjectural) study of colonial free people of color, Paul Heinegg posited John Artis Jr. as the ancestor of several Artises who appear in Edgecombe County records in the late 1700s and very early 1800s, including Absalom Artis, who died in Wayne County circa 1864. However, the links, if any, between John Artis Jr. and the Artises featured elsewhere in Black Wide-Awake is not known.


North Carolina } To all persons to whom these presents shall come I Jesse Blackwell send Greeting This Indenture made the 10th day of June Anno Dom. one thousand seven hundred & sixty five Between Jesse Blackwell of the County of Edgcombe Planter of the one part & Jno. Artiss Jr. of the County afs’d of the other part Witnesseth that for the consideration of this sum of ten pounds [illegible] money to him in hand paid by the sd. Jno. Artiss before the sealing & Delivery of this Presents the Receipt thereof Is hereby Acknowledged & the sd. Jno. Artiss thereof & every part thereof acquitted & Discharged hath given granted Bargained Sold Aliened Enfeeofed Conveyed & Confirmed & by these Presents do fully & absolutely give Grant bargain sell convey and Confirm assigned [illegible] over all that tract of parcel of Land unto the sd. Jno. Artiss his heirs & assigns Forever Lying & being in the County of Edgcombe & Province aforesd. Beginning at a maple in the mill Branch then North to Arthur Dews line to a pine & by the sd. Dews line and Hickmans Line So. a pine then along sd. Hickmans line to the mill Branch to a live Oak it B part of a Grant granted to the sd. Jesse Blackwell bearing date the third day of Nov’r Anno Dom 1761 To have & to hold the sd. Land & Premises with all Liberties Privileges prophets Benefits & Comodities thereto belonging to gether with the woods Meadows waters & timbers & the Impertinances belonging to the same unto him the sd. Jno. Artiss his hairs for ever he & they Subject to pay the Quitrents Due to his Lordship & the sd. Jno. Artiss his heirs & Assigns forever Shall & may from time to time & at all times for ever here after by Virtue of these presents Lawfully peaceably & quietly have Hold Occupy & Injoy the sd. Land & Premises & all the Appertainances pertaining there to against the Lawfull Claim & Demand of him the sd. Jesse Blackwell against all & every other person or Persons, whom so ever shall & will For ever warrant & Defend & Secure unto him the sd. Jno. Artiss his heirs & assigns forever firmly by these presents in Witness whereof the sd. Jesse Blackwell hath set his hand & assigned his seal the day and the Year first above written Jesse X Blackwell

Signed seald & Delived in presence of Jesse Pitman Nath’l Hickman Sen’r

October Court 1765 The above deed of sale was duly proved in Open Court & on mo[illegible] Ordered to be Regis’d Test Jas. H[illegible]

Deed Book C, page 369, Edgecombe County Register of Deeds Office, Tarboro, North Carolina.


This Indenture made this twenty first day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty two John Artis Jun’r of the State of North Carolina & County of Edgecombe planter of the one part & Thomas Vivrett and Thomas Vivrett of the said Place of the other part Witnesseth that I the said John Artis for & in consideration of the sum of Twenty Five pounds Specie to me in hand paid but the said Thomas Vivrett before the Sealing & delivery of these presents the receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge & myself to be fully satisfied and contented therewith, Hath granted bargained & Sold aliened enfeoffed conveyed and confirmed & by these presents do grant bargain sell alien enfeofe convey & confirm unto him the said Thomas Vivrett his Heirs and Assigns forever one certain Tractor parcel of Land situate lying and being in the County aforesaid and South side of Tosneot Swamp Viz. Beginning at a maple in the Mill Branch and runs thence down to Arthur Dews line to a Pine, then by the said Dews & Nathaniel Hickman jun’r to a Pine then along the said Hickmans line to a live Oak in the Mill branch, being part of a Tract of Land granted to Jesse Blackwell bearing date the 3rd November 1761, To Have and to Hold the said Land and Premises, together with all Houses, Orchards, buildings ways water & water courses tenements, priviledges and all other profits and priviledges whatsoever belonging to the said Land or in any wise Appertaining to him the said Thomas Vivrett his Heirs and Assigns & to their only proper use benefit & behoof of him the said Thomas Vivrett his Heirs & Assigns forever & I the said John Artis for myself my Heirs Exec’s Admr’s and Assigns doth Covenant & agree to and with the said Thomas Viverett his Heirs Exrs Admires & Assigns that the said land and Premises with the appurtenances to the sd Thomas Vivrett his Heirs Executors Admors and Assigns and I the sd John Artis for myself my Heirs Admrs Admrs & assigns shall and will warrant & forever defend the sd Land and Premises from all Persons whatsoever laying any claim or claims in any wise hereof to him the said Thomas Vivrett his Heirs & Assigns forever, the Taxes of the State only excepted. In witness whereof I the said John Artis have hereunto set my hand and fixed my Seal the day and year above written   John Artis {seal}

Signed Sealed & delivered in the presence of Jas Cobb Stephen Cobb Natha’l Hickman Junr. Benj’a Cobb

Edgcombe County February Court 1783. The execution of the within deed of sale was duly proved in open Court by the Oath of Jas. Cobb a subscribing witness thereto. Ordered ti be registered Test Edward Hall Cl[erk]

Deed Book E, page 256, Edgecombe County Register of Deeds Office, Tarboro, North Carolina.

Adam T. Artis, part 1.

I have blogged many times about siblings Cain Artis, William M. Artis, Walter S. Artis, Alberta Artis Cooper, Columbus E. Artis, Josephine Sherrod Artis, and June S. Artis — but not specifically about their father Adam Toussaint Artis, a free-born farmer who bought and sold hundreds of acres of farm and woodland in Nahunta township, Wayne County, North Carolina. Artis had five wives over his long life, and more than 25 children. Many of his thousands of descendants, including me, have ties to Wilson.

In this first post, a look at Adam T. Artis’ early years, relationships, and wealth-building.


Adam Toussaint Artis was born 19 July 1831, most likely in the Bullhead area of northwestern Greene County, North Carolina, or the Nahunta area of northeastern Wayne County, North Carolina. His mother Vicey Artis was a free woman of color, and his father Solomon Williams was an enslaved man. [Artis’ middle name, pronounced “too-saint,” is both fascinating and mysterious. How had his mother, an unlettered woman who spent her entire life in deep rural eastern North Carolina, heard of Toussaint Louverture, who died a few years before she was born?]

Detail of 1850 census, Greene County, North Carolina.

In the 1850 census of Greene County, North Carolina: at #428, Adam, 18, Jane, 17, and Charity Artess, 13, appear in the household of white farmer Silas Bryant. Though no bonds or other indenture documents survive, it is most likely that the Artis children were involuntarily apprenticed to Bryant until age 21 by the Greene County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Next door, at #429, probably living on Bryant’s land, were their mother and siblings Vicy, 40, Zilpha, 22, Louis, 8, Jonah, 7, Jethro, 5, and Richard Artis, 1.  I have not been able to identify Solomon Williams’ whereabouts during slavery.

In the mid 1850s, Adam Artis began a relationship with an enslaved woman named Winnie. They had two children together, Cain, born about 1854, and Caroline, born about 1856.

On 29 September 1855, Adam Artis bought ten acres in Wayne County, North Carolina, from John Wilson, husband of his sister Zilpha Artis Wilson. Artis mortgaged the property to Wilson in exchange for its $124 purchase price.

Detail, Nash County marriage register.

On 10 October 1855, Adam Artis married Lucinda Jones in Nash County, North Carolina. Jones’ father Jacob Ing was bondsman, William T. Arrington witnessed, and justice of the peace D.A.T. Ricks performed the ceremony. [In the 1850 census of Nash County: Jacob Ing, 64, white, farmer; Easter Jones, 55, John Jones, 20, [his wife] Dolly Jones, 21, Matthew Jones, 18, and Lucy Jones, 16, all mulatto.]

Lucinda Jones Artis died circa 1859.

Detail of 1860 census, Davis district, Wayne County, North Carolina.

The 1860 census of Davis district, Wayne County, tells a nuanced story. This entry contains the sole census reference to Adam Artis’ skills as a carpenter, probably gained during his apprenticeship to Bryant. The $200 in personal property he claimed probably consisted mostly of the tools of his trade, and the $100 value of real property reflects his early land purchases. Artis was a widower in 1860; Kerney, Noah and Mary Jane were his children by Lucinda Jones Artis. (Artis’ elder children, Cain and Caroline, as enslaved people, are not named in any census prior to 1870.) Jane Artis was Artis’ sister; her one month-old infant may have been daughter Cornelia. I’ve included two lines of the next household to highlight a common pitfall — making assumptions about relationships based on shared surnames. Celia Artis was not related to Adam Artis. At least, not in any immediate way. (Ultimately, nearly all Artises trace their lineage to a common ancestor in 17th-century Tidewater Virginia.) Adam’s brother Jesse Artis testified directly to the matter in the trial in Coley v. Artis: “I don’t know that Tom [son of Celia and Simon Pig Artis] and I are any kin. Just by marriage.”)

Adam Artis was 30 years old at the start of the Civil War, a farmer and carpenter who had already begun to build some wealth. Unlike many free men of color, he may have avoided conscription by the Confederacy to build breastworks at Fort Fisher near Wilmington. However, Artis had been forced to pay taxes on his crops to the Confederate government. (The reference to “Wife” on the assessment below suggests that she was acting in his absence, which could hint that he had been conscripted.) Artis likely had to turn over stock and provisions to Union soldiers foraging in Wayne County, but after the war did not file a claim with the Southern Claims Commission to recoup any losses.

Assessment of Adam Artis’ crop of cured fodder,Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-1865 (NARA M346),

In an 1863 Confederate tax assessment of David district, Wayne County, John Coley, as administrator, reported that H. Woodard Lewis’ estate included Winney, age 29, Cane, age 9, and Caroline, 7. This, of course, was Adam Artis’ first set of children and their mother, who remained enslaved until the end of the Civil War.

On 8 April 1867, Jacob Ing made out a will that provided in part, for bequests to “Mary Reynolds, wife of Benjamin Reynolds, Elizabeth Boon wife of Jesse Boon, Selah White, wife of James White, Sally Reynolds, wife of William H. Reynolds, William C. Jones, Matthew Jones, also old Chaney Freed woman (formally my house servant) also Lucinda Artist (dead) to her Children if any surviving (all colored).” Ing died a few years later, and Augustus K., Noah, and Mary Jane inherited about a hundred dollars each. In 1872, Adam Artis filed a guardianship application in order to manage his children’s estates until they reached the age of majority.


Adam T. Artis’ elder children:

  • Cain Artis adopted his father’s surname in adulthood and farmed his own land in northwest Wayne County.  He married first Annie Thompson, then Margaret Barnes. By 1890, he had bought a house in Wilson, and in 1900, he and his second wife sold land to Mount Hebron Masonic Lodge for its cemetery. (Adjoining land passed through Margaret Barnes Artis to her heirs, who eventually sold it to the city of Wilson to establish Rest Haven Cemetery.) The 1912 city directory shows Cain Artis a small grocery with Wiley Oates just outside city limits on East Nash road. He died of tuberculosis in Wilson in 1917.
  • Caroline Coley married Madison Artis, son of Calvin and Serena Seaberry Artis in Wayne County in 1878. Caroline and Madison Artis appear in the 1880 census of Wayne County, but I have not found them after.
  • Augustus K. Artis,who was known as Gus, Gustus, and Kerney, was born about 1857. Some time between the birth of daughter Lena in 1882 and 1893, Gus and wife Mary Rebecca Morgan migrated to the Little Rock, Arkansas, area. The city’s 1914 directory lists him as a laborer at J.W. Vestal & Son, a nursery. He died of heart disease 2 June 1921 in Brodie township, Pulaski County, Arkansas, and was buried in a “fraternal cemetery” there.
  • Noah Artis, born in 1856, remained in northeastern Wayne County, where he farmed, married Patience Mozingo, and fathered children Nora Artis Reid, Pearl Artis, Pauline Artis Harris, Rena Belle Artis Foster, William N. Artis, and Bessie Artis Taylor. He died in 1952 in Wilson.

Noah Artis (1856-1952).

  • Mary Jane Artis, born about 1858, married Henry Artis, son of Warren and Percey Artis. (Though all of Wayne County Artises are probably ultimately related, the exact kinship between Adam Artis and Warren Artis, whose parents are believed to have been Absalom and Clarkey Artis, is unknown.) Mary Jane remained in the Nahunta area of Wayne County all her life and died 20 June 1914 in Goldsboro, Wayne County. Her and Henry’s children were Armeta Artis, Alonzo Artis, Lucinda Artis, Calonza Artis, John C. Artis, Mattie Artis Davis and May Artis.

Will of Jacob Ing, Wills, Nash County Records, North Carolina State Archives; Estates Records, Wayne County Records, North Carolina State Archives; Marriage Records, Register of Deeds Office, Wayne County Courthouse, Goldsboro NC; Nash County Marriage Records, North Carolina Marriage Records, 1741-2011,; photo courtesy of W. Waheed.

Recommended reading, no. 9.

I know I have a romantic view of old East Wilson (old, as in before it was ravaged by disinvestment and the crack trade), attributable to my very safe and happy childhood there. Still, I am sometimes reminded how shallow my rosy recollection can be and how it may serve to erase or obscure less happy stories.

One of my cousins, 20 years older than I, published a memoir a few years ago. The early pages of Sherrod Village are set on streets I’ve walked and peopled by folks I knew in East Wilson. Barbara Williams Lewis’ grandmother Josephine Artis Sherrod was my great-great-grandmother’s sister; they were two of the “innumerable” children of Adam T. Artis. (Barbara’s mother, in fact, is who described them to me that way.) I thought I would recognize so much in Barbara’s book. And I did. But I didn’t.

Children are shielded from so much ugliness — if they’re lucky, as I was — and understand so little of what they see. The ragged past of sweet old people is not always apparent in their mild present. Nonetheless, though my own family’s story involved poverty and insecurity and pain, I have believed that my recollected truth was true. I have, perhaps, counted on it.

I’ve spoken often about viewing East Wilson as a palimpsest. However, for too long I processed little beneath the surface of my own Polaroid-tinted memories of crepe myrtles, corner stores, and swimming lessons at Reid Street Community Center. I knew the history of the place, but not the often bitter stories of its people. Fifteen pages into Sherrod Village, I wrote to Barbara that I was “staggered.” I finished the book in the same state of astonishment.

I thank Barbara for her honesty and bravery. I thank her also for pushing me toward deeper and more empathic consideration as I continue to build space for our community’s stories.