Batts

Batts struck and killed on bicycle.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 22 October 1937.

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In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Amos Batts, 45; wife Clara, 43; and children Martha A., 21, Mary J., 19, Pennina, 17, Vaulentine, 15, Lena, 12, Nancy, 10, Lissie, 8, John D., 5, and Amos, 2.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Amos Batts, 56; wife Clara, 55; sons Jon, 16, and Amos, 12; and grandchildren Pearcie, 6, and Clara, 2. 

In 1917, Amos Batts registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his draft registration card, he was born in 1895 in Elm City, N.C.; lived in Black Creek, N.C.; was single; and was a self-employed farmer in Black Creek township.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: on the road east from Black Creek to Wilson, farmer Mathew Williams, 34; wife Rena, 32; sons Willie, 7, Mathew Jr., 4, and George, 2; stepson Percy Burl, 16; and brother-in-law Amos Batts, 22, farm laborer.

On 22 February 1920, Amos Batts, 25, of Black Creek, son of Amos and Clara Batts, married Elizabeth Barnes, 22, of Black Creek, daughter of Rob and Emma Barnes, at Rob Barnes’ in Black Creek. Matthew Williams applied for the license, and a justice of the peace performed the ceremony in the presence of Grant Farmer, Fred Locus, and Ernest Tucker.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Amos Batts, 29; wife Elizabeth, 29; and children Arlettie, 13, James, 8, Roosevelt, 7, and Amos Lee, 5.

“Run over on highway with auto killing him instantly”

Amos Batts’ widow Elizabeth Batts applied for a military headstone for his grave, which was located in Jim Loach’s cemetery in Black Creek.

Moneys should be kept in the bank.

Wilson Daily Times, 13 January 1920.

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Perhaps, in the 1930 census of the Town of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: in a house owned and valued at $1000, widow Mary A. Batts, 50, servant; daughter Mamie, 26, servant; and son Lonnie, 35, farm laborer.

Thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for sharing this clipping.

Lane Street Project: another search for gravestones in Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries.

First: my request for the Vick cemetery survey and documentation re the decision to destroy its headstones? As yet unfilled, though the city attorney assures me it’s coming soon.

With boots and gloves and a hand pruner, I returned to Rountree/Odd Fellows/Vick cemeteries on a frosty Saturday morning to see what else there is to see.  Walking through the clear strip of Odd Fellows, I noticed immediately that someone had neatened up the stones that are usually lying higgledy-piggledy on the ground. Here, Clarence L. Carter and his daughter Omega Carter Spicer.

Picking my way toward the back edge of the cleared section, it dawned on me that this was once the main entrance to Odd Fellows. The hinges on the post to the right were the give-away. And the traces of asphalt driveway.

Standing near Irma Vick‘s headstone and looking in, I spotted this, plain as day. It’s hard to imagine how I missed it in December.

It’s the double headstone of Daniel and Fannie Blount Vick, Samuel H. Vick‘s father and mother. Daniel Vick died in 1908 (112 years to the day before my “discovery” of his grave) and Fannie Vick sometime in the late 1800s. (Is that a bullet pockmark?)

A few feet away, the headstone of Viola Leroy Vick, daughter of Samuel and Annie Washington Vick. She died as a toddler in 1897, and East Wilson’s Viola Street was named in her honor.

And then, perhaps 25 feet away, cocooned in honeysuckle and evil smilax, this monument loomed. Was it Sam Vick’s?

To my astonishment — no. The honeysuckle pulled off like a cape (after I wasted time hacking at the briars on the other side) to reveal that this remarkable marble headstone, which tops six feet, marks the grave of Wiley Oates. (More about him later.) Samuel and Annie Vick’s gravestones remain elusive.

I’d bought the cheapest hand pruners I could find, and they performed cheaply, but I got through to this gravestone and its companion, which appear to lie across the property line in Rountree cemetery.

The gravestone for Amos Batts’ wife, Jennie Batts, who died in 1945. Behind it in the left corner of the frame you can see the base of a pine whose diameter is at least two feet, which gives a measure of how long this cemetery has been neglected.

Here is the “canal” described in the Rountree cemetery deed. It’s a channeled section of Sandy Creek, and I imagine Rountree Missionary Baptist Church once performed baptisms here. I spent idyllic childhood afternoons exploring along the banks of this waterway perhaps a quarter-mile downstream. Sandy Creek is a tributary of Hominy Swamp, which flows into Contentnea Creek, which empties into the Neuse River at Grifton, North Carolina.

Here, I’m standing on the south bank of Sandy Creek looking down into the bowl that was once Rountree cemetery. I have not found any markers in this low-lying section, though there appear to be collapsed graves. Repeated flooding was one of the factors that led to the abandonment of cemetery. The undergrowth is starting to green up and, as the weather warms, soon these graveyards will be nearly impenetrable without sharper, heavier tools.

Daffodils are not native to eastern North Carolina and would not ordinarily be found blooming in the middle of the woods. This thick drift has naturalized from bulbs perhaps more than one hundred years old. Daffodils were commonly planted in cemeteries to symbolize the death of youth or mortality.

My exit strategy failed at the edge of barricade of wild blackberry twenty-five feet deep between me and Lane Street. I had to scramble back through the woods to gain egress at the ditch dividing Rountree from Odd Fellows. All this battling ate up my time, and I wasn’t able to explore the far end of Odd Fellows, next to Vick. Peering through the fence, though, I did see this marker for Lizzie May Barnes, daughter of H. and L. Barnes, who died in 1919.

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  • Amos Batts died 24 March 1937 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 61 years old; was born in Wilson County to Thomas and Mariah Batts; was married to Jennie Batts; worked as a common laborer; and lived at 1202 East Nash Street. Informant was Jennie Batts.
  • Jennie Batts died 25 December 1945 at her home at 1202 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Amos Batts; was 58 years old; was born in Wilson County to unknown parents; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Eddie Batts was informant.
  • Lizzie Barnes died 3 April 1919 in Taylor township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 August 1918 in Wilson County to Henry Barnes and Lena Woodard.

The stake of life.

While director of the University of North Carolina Press, W.T. Couch also worked as a part-time official of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, serving as assistant and associate director for North Carolina (1936-1937) and as director for the southern region (1938-1939). The Federal Writers’ Project Papers are housed at U.N.C.’s Southern Historical Collection and include Couch’s correspondence and life histories of about 1,200 individuals collected by F.W.P. members. At least two African-American residents of Wilson, Georgia Crockett Aiken and William Batts, were memorialized in this way. 

Folder 550 contains the transcript of the interview with William Batts, titled “The stake of life.” Batts, a tobacco packer, lived at 804 Stronach Avenue. [The 1940 city directory described Stronach Alley as “(formerly Young’s Line) — from a point east of North Av at Adams, north to Tilghman rd.”]

Batts had worked as a packer for ten seasons and enjoyed the work. He was six feet tall and muscular and had farmed on rented land before working in the warehouse.

Batts’ family were sharecroppers, working to keep half the crop they produced. As he reached adulthood and realized how little money his parents received for their toil, he determined to find different work. Batts had wanted an education, but his father did not believe in the value of schooling needed him to work. “He learned us how to treat white folks and let our education stop at dat.” In response to his father’s view that literacy was for white people, Batts said, “… if de nigger could do his own figuring de white folks ‘ud have to figure harder, too.” His first job was as a section hand for Norfolk & Southern Railroad, which he quit to drive a dray.

From there, Batts went to work at a wagon company. (Almost certainly Hackney Wagon.) After he was laid off, he got a job at a tobacco warehouse. The work was seasonal — August to November — and he had been paid $11.88 a week for the ten years he had worked there as a packer, unloading tobacco from farmer’s wagons and placing it in baskets in the warehouse. The odor of tobacco sickened him at first, but he could not quit because his wife was not working and the dollar-a-day he made doing farmwork during the summer did not go far.

Batts worked 7 o’clock A.M. to 6 P.M. five days a week and a half-day on Sunday. When the season ended, he hustled to find more work to supplement his wife’s work washing clothes, “cooking when company come to de white folks” and other occasional work. “when the spring opened up,” there was farm work — setting our tobacco plants, chopping cotton, barning tobacco, and picking cotton kept him “in a regular strut.” In winter, he dug ditches, sawed wood in a sawmill, and cleared land.

“I reckon you’d say I ain’t got no regular job, but I work pretty regular, ‘specially all de months besides December and January.” His wife worked stemming tobacco for about $8 a week. Still, they had trouble saving money. “We had to buy some furniture and clothes and keep up our life insurance and our rent and lights.” The couple was fortunate that their water was included in their rent — “We can take a bath every day if we want it …”

Their son and daughter no longer lived with them. Batts missed them, especially for help when his wife felt poorly because of high blood pressure.

He was seldom seriously ill and felt bad for her and tried to help. She would probably have to quit working. “I reckon I can support us ’cause we don’t owe no debts.” They bought their furniture for cash, and paid groceries ($15/month) and rent ($10/month) in cash. They had life insurance and had set aside a “little,” but feared running into bad luck. Batts dreamed of buying a small farm and a mule. “I think dat is the de stake of life.” A farm could provide security, something he had not thought much of until the stock market crash of 1929.

Batts’ wife was a Christian when they married, but it took her five years to convert him. When she “made [him] see the point,” he joined a Disciples Church. It brought him great comfort.

Batts introduced the interviewer to his wife, who was in the kitchen peeling potatoes. The room contained newly painted furniture, a four-burner oil stove, a linoleum rug, and “snowy white” linens. Mrs. Batts explained that Batts had gotten the idea to paint the furniture green from an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. He had wanted to paint the walls after the owner of the house refused, but she counseled him to paint the things they could take with them if they had to leave the house.

Nursey Batts longed for her own house that she could “fix and mess over” and believed the Lord would provide. She came from a large family with hard-working parents who denied their own needs in their struggle to provide for their children. Only six of their 14 lived to adulthood.

Nursey Batts believed few white folks believed in ghosties or witches or conjuring, and black people were “outgrowing” it. She opined on the origins of conjure. She also had this opinion: “Most niggers feels like dey is imposed on just ’cause dey is niggers, but lemme tell you, a good honest nigger needn’t be skeered of living. De white folks has always been good to me and [William.]”

While waiting for an  iron to heat, Nursey Batts showed the interviewer her parlor, which was neatly furnished and decorated.

“A body never knows when a important person will drop in on him and everything will most likely be like de devil’s had a fit on it. I hate for company to catch me, as de saying is, with my breeches down.” Still, she downplayed the appearance of the room. She had crocheted the bedspread from tobacco twine in a pattern she got from a woman who lived out in the country. She was proud of the chifforobe her husband had bought her for Christmas.

Nursey Batts was hopeful that she and William Batts would get their farm and thought another term for Franklin Roosevelt would be helpful. “I wish dat we could vote for him, but [William] can’t read or write so he can’t vote. I can read a little, but I don’t know nothing ’bout de Constitution of the United States.”

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On 7 July 1915, Will Batts, 23, of Wilson, son of Morris and Nancy Batts of Taylor township, married Nurcy Hill, 22, of Wilson, daughter of Robert Hill, at Graham Woodard‘s in Wilson township. Missionary Baptist minister Jeremiah Scarboro performed the ceremony in the presence of Jason Farmer, Bessie Farmer, and Mena Littlejohn.

In 1917, Will Batts registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 15 December 1889 in Wilson County; lived on Vance Street; and was a butler for N.L. Finch.

In the 1920 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Batts Nursey (c) dom 601 Warren; Batts William (c) drayman h 601 Warren

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: a 804 Stronach Alley, Will Batts, 46, public school janitor; wife Nursey, 36, tobacco factory stemmer; and brother-in-law Freeman Hill, 29, tobacco factory office boy.

In 1942, Freeman Hill registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 25 November 1900 in Wilson; lived in 623 East Viola; his contact was Nursey Batts, 722 Stronach Avenue; and worked for Wilson Tobacco Company, South Railroad Street.

Will Batts died 24 February 1947 in Wilson of congestive heart failure. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 December 1890 in Wilson County to Morris Batts and Nancy Bynum; was married to Nursey Batts; was the janitor at Charles L. Coon High; and lived at 722 Stronach Avenue.

Snaps, no. 23: Willie Batts and children.

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Willie Batts with daughter Josephine and son William.

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Tom Batts, 37; wife Maria, 34; and children Joseph, 15, Henry, 13, John, 12, Bettie, 10, George, 8, Amos, 6, Willie, 4, Charles, 3, and “no name,” 1, and granddaughter Eliza, 1.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Tom Batts, 69; wife Mariah, 60; and children Eddie, 22, Willie, 20, Blossom, 18, William, 15, Bettie, 29, and Frank, 11.

On 10 February 1904, Livia Mercer, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Ella Barnes, married Willie Batts, 22, of Wilson, son of Tom and Mariah Batts. Benjamin Ellis applied for the license, and the ceremony took place at E.S. Toney’s home in the presence of Bud Batts, Wade Vick and Addie Batts.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 628 Warren Street, farm laborer Willie Batts, 28, wife Olivia, 29, and children Ernest, 8, Claria, 5, Elizabeth, 3, and twins Jodie and Josephine, 6 months.

Will Batts registered for the World War I draft in 1918. Per his registration card, he lived on R.F.D. 5, Wilson; was born 3 July 1880; and worked as a farmer for Billie Stott.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Willie Batts, 39, wife Olivia, 39, and children Ernest, 17, Clara, 16, Elizabeth, 13, Josephine, 10, William, 7, E. George, 5, and M. Mary, 1 1/2.

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Will Batts, 50, wife Olivia, 50, and children Ernest, 25, William, 16, Georgiana, 14, Magdelene, 11, Rosa L., 10, and Henry, 8.

Willie Batts died 19 July 1939 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 58 years old; was born in Wilson County to Thomas and Mariah Batts; was married to Oliva Batts; worked as a common laborer.

Photograph courtesy of Ancestry user brianandrewbonner.

Studio shots, no. 8: Olivia Mercer Batts.

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Olivia Mercer Batts (1882-1978).

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In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Dempsey Mercer, 61; wife Cherry, 58; daughters Mary M., 30, Hannah, 24, and Sarah Mercer, 22; granddaughters Olivia P., 18 and Addie S. Mercer, 16; and grandchildren Jesse, 10, Mamie, 8, and Nettie Barnes, 5. [Next door: white farmer E.S. Toney, 37, and family.]

On 10 February 1904, Livia Mercer, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Ella Barnes, married Willie Batts, 22, of Wilson, son of Tom and Mariah Batts. The ceremony took place at E.S. Toney’s home in the presence of Bud Batts, Wade Vick and Addie Batts. [Per her descendants, white farmer Joseph A. Farmer was the father of Olivia, and possibly, Addie Mercer. Their mother, Ella Mercer, married Wesley Barnes, son of Willis and Cherry Battle Barnes, on 4 June 1885 in Wilson County. Ella’s sister Mary Mag married Wesley Barnes’ brother Jesse Barnes on 3 April 1889; their children are in the Mercer household in 1900. (Ned Barnes was Wesley and Jesse’s brother.) Witnesses Bud and Addie Batts were Willie and Olivia’s brother and sister, respectively.]

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 628 Warren Street, farm laborer Willie Batts, 28, wife Olivia, 29, and children Ernest, 8, Claria, 5, Elizabeth, 3, and twins Jodie and Josephine, 6 months.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Willie Batts, 39, wife Olivia, 39, and children Ernest, 17, Clara, 16, Elizabeth, 13, Josephine, 10, William, 7, E. George, 5, and M. Mary, 1 1/2.

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Will Batts, 50, wife Olivia, 50, and children Ernest, 25, William, 16, Georgiana, 14, Magdelene, 11, Rosa L., 10, and Henry, 8.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 518 Carroll Street, tobacco stemmer Olivia Batts, 61, and children Ernest, 36, farm laborer; Mary M., 21, and Rosa Lee, 20, household servants; and Henry, 16, “new worker.”

Olivia Mercer Batts died 5 September 1978 in Wilson. She is buried in Rest Haven cemetery.

Photograph courtesy of findagrave.com.

The Matthew and Tempie Ann Harris family.

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Tempie Ann and Matthew Harris.

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Nathan, Hattie, Novella, Emma, Oliver and Sidney Harris, circa 1920.

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Sidney Harris with Model T Ford.

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Alus, Martha and Ada Harris.

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In the 1870 census of Cedar Rock township, Franklin County: James Fogg, 52, wife Berchet, 51, daughter Frances, 25, and granddaughters Fannie, 11, and Temperance Fogg, 5.

In the 1880 census of Nashville, Nash County: farmhand Mathew Harris, 24, and wife Tempie, 16.

On 2 June 1880, Matthew Harris, 24, of Nash County, son of Sol and Cealy Harris, married Tempy Fogg, 18, of Nash County, daughter of Jas. Fogg and Frances Fogg.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Mathew Harris, 39, wife Tempy, 30, and children Sidna, 16, Saunders, 14, and Minnie C., 1.

On 2 June 1903, Alias Harriss, 20, married Martha Powell, 20, in Taylors townships. Witnesses were James Harriss, M. Thompson and Mena Thompson.

On 17 February 1909, Sidney Harriss, 24, of Toisnot, son of Matthew and Tempy Ann Harris, married Hattie Lena Batts, 19, of Toisnot, daughter of Dennis and Rose Ann Batts at Dennis Batts’ house. Witnesses were G.A. Gaston, J.G. Mitchell, and J.F. Carter, all of Elm City.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Mathew Harris, 54, wife Tempie, 44, and daughter Minnie G. Harris, 11.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Sidney Harris, 26, drayman, wife Hattie, 21, and daughter Emma, 4 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Street, Alus Harris, 24, and wife Martha, 25, who shared a home with John Davis, 30, and wife Mary, 28. Alus worked as a drayman for a sawmill, and John, as a sawmill fireman. Martha was a laundress, and Mary, a private cook.

On 12 September 1918, Sidney Harris and Alus Harris registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Sidney’s registration card listed his address as Elm City, his occupation as a laborer for B.A. Harrelson, and his next of kin as Mrs. Sidney Harris. Alus’ registration card lists his address as 909 Carolina Street, gives his date of birth as 1 November 1883, and his occupation as a carpenter with Bobbitt & Roberson, Contractors, of Camp Hill, Newport News. His temporary address was 708 20th Street, Newport News. His next of kin was wife Martha Harris.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Matthew Harrise, 59, and wife Tempy, 51.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Sidney Harris, 41, wife Hattie, 26, and children Emma, 9, Oliver, 7, Nathan, 5, and Novela, 3.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Alous Harris, 28, house carpenter, wife Martha, 30, and daughter Ada O., 8.

Tempie Ann Harris died 31 December 1922 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 January 1865 to Jerry Perry and Frances Fogg in Franklin County, North Carolina. Her husband, Mathia Harris of Elm City, was informant.

On 20 July 1923, Matthew Harris, 50, son of Solomon and Celia Harris, married Sarah Person, daughter of Larry and Henrietta Person, in Nashville, Nash County.

Alus Harriss died 19 September 1923 of a stroke. Per his death certificate, he was 38 years old; born in Wilson County to Mathew Harriss and Tempy Corppedge; was married to Martha Harriss; worked as a carpenter; and resided at 1007 Carolina Street.

Per his gravemarker, Matthew Harris died 1 June 1927. He is buried at William Chapel church cemetery near Elm City. Upon authentication by witnesses Lula Whitehurst and John D. Gold, Harris’ last will and testament entered probate in Wilson County in January 1928. In the document, dated 28 September 1923, Harris bequeathed (1) to Martha Harris the forgiveness of Alus Harris’ debt of $550; (2) his personal property to be divided between children Sidney Harris and Minnie Armstrong; and (3) his real property to Sidney and Ada; and appointed Sidney Harris his executor.

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Sidney Harris, 50, wife Hattie, 40, and children Emma, 17, Oliver, 16, Nathan, 13, Novella, 11, Volious, 8, Hattie M., 6, Beatrice, 3, and Clarence, 1.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Sidney Harris, 59, wife Hattie, 50, and children Novella, 22, Volious, 17, Hattie Magarette, 15, Beatrice, 13, and Clearance, 12, and granddaughter Deloris McMillian, 6.

Sidney Harris died 1 July 1964 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 October 1881 in Nash County to Matthew Harris and Tempie Copplege; was married to Hattie Harris; was a farmer; and resided at 1008 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson. Informant was Nathaniel Harris, Elm City.

Many, many thanks to Shearer Bridges, a great-granddaughter of Matthew and Tempie Fogg Harris, for sharing these wonderful family photographs. They stand as important documentation of Wilson County’s African-American heritage.

Jurors for the regular term.

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Wilson Daily Times, 6 February 1880.

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In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Washington Farmer, 43, wife Wady, 44, children Edith, 14, Fortin, 13, Gimsey, 11, John W., 8, Nancy, 6, and Orgius, 6, and farm laborer Nelson Thomas, 21. In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Washington Farmer, 52, wife Waity, 50, children Edieth, 25, Gincy, 21, John W., 18, Nancy, 16, and Ojus, 13, and granddaughters Mariah J., 5, and Margaret, 2.

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Orren Batts, 41, wife Mary, 34, and children Dennis, 16, Amos, 14, Henriet, 10, Haywood, 9, Precilla, 5, and Louisa, 3. In the 1880 census of Toisnot: Orren Batts, 53, wife Mary, 47, and children Haywood, 19, Priscilla, 14, Louiza, 12, John, 9, Reddick, 7, and James B. Batts, 1.