703 East Vance Street.

The one hundred sixty-third in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1913; 1 story; saddlebag house aluminum-sided and heavily remodeled.”


For several weeks in 1920, an unidentified African-American nurse living at 703 East Vance advertised her skills in the Wilson Daily Times.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 January 1920.

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bennett Fredk D (c; Lillie) h 703 E Vance

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 703 Vance, rented for $11/month, Fred D. Bennett, 46, minister, Holiness Church; wife Lily, 43, laundress; and children Herbert, 15, Willie, 12, Ruth, 6, Naomi, 10, and Charles E., 4. The Bennetts and their two oldest children were born in Georgia; the remaining children in South Carolina. [In 1940, the Bennett family was enumerated in New Haven, Connecticut.]

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Rogers Wm (c) h 703 Viola

In the 28 October 1944 edition of the Wilson Daily Times, a “Land Transfers” column detailed this transaction: 

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Darden Moses (c; Cora) h 703 E Vance

The Dardens did not keep the house long:

Wilson Daily Times, 1 December 1950.

Lane Street Project: Smith Bennett, revisited.

I’ve written of the dozens of simple narrow marble grave markers in Odd Fellows Cemetery. Most are inscribed with the full name of the deceased and, often, the fraternal organization’s emblem. Were they headstones or footstones, though?

Yesterday I had a go at unscrambling the chunks of concrete from a shattered anchor-and-ivy marker found when trash and privet were cleared from the edge of the parking lot bordering Odd Fellows. There was an obvious base and, around it, two dozen or so pieces of headstone, which I sorted more quickly than I’d expected. I was surprised to recognize the name of the deceased — Smith Bennett — especially since I’d already found a Smith Bennett marker

Smith Bennett Died Apr. 30, 192_ [May the Resur]rection Find Thee On the Bosom of Thy God

The first stone, which lies about 15 feet from this one, is of the smooth white marble variety that the Odd Fellows seem to have supplied to lodge members and their families. Presumably, in this instance, it served as a footstone, though it (or the headstone) has obviously been dislodged from its original place. 

Smith Bennett’s footstone. At top, between the trees, his broken headstone.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2021.

Lane Street Project: Smith Bennett.

Smith Bennett’s grave marker in Odd Fellows cemetery.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: blacksmith Smith Bennett, 47, widower; daughter Addie, 20; boarder Robert Wilkerson, 36, cooper, born in Virginia; and lodgers Archie Williams, 34, carpenter, and Samuel Wooten, 18, farm laborer.

Smith Bennett, 48, of Wilson, son of Hardy and Riny Bennett, married Mariah Ray, 36, of Wilson, on 7 March 1901. Hilliard Ellis Jr. applied for the license, and Free Will Baptist minister David Crockett Best performed the ceremony at Smith Bennett’s in the town of Wilson in the presence of Robert W. Wilkerson, Hilliard Ellis Jr., and Dawson Williams.

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bennett Smith lab h 310 S Spring

Wilson Daily Times, 15 November 1910.

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bennett Smith fireman h 314 S Spring

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Mercer Street, Smith Bennett, 68, and wife Mary, 47, laundress.

Smith Bennett died 29 April 1920 at Saint Agnes Hospital, Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was 68 years old; was married; was born to Hardy Bennett and Marina Robbins, both of Edgecombe County; was a resident of Wilson; was a farmer; and was buried in Wilson. He died of “shock following operation for removal of hypertrophied prostate.”

Smith Bennett in 1894. Detail from a photo of employees of Wainwright Foundry.

He died sitting on the steps.


“No Physician — I understand the deceased died sudden while sitting on steps at Imperial Hotel”

Built around 1900, the Imperial Hotel was located at 320 East Nash Street, the current location of Wilson’s city bus station. Catty-corner from the Atlantic Coast Line rail station, the three-story brick hotel was a popular with travelers until the Hotel Cherry was erected across the street.

As shown on the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson below, the Imperial had a wrap-around wooden porch that faced Nash and Lodge Streets. It’s likely here that Joe Bennett was seated when he keeled over dead.

Employees of Wainwright Foundry.

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On 18 May 1985, the Wilson Daily Times printed this remarkable photograph with the caption: “The employees of Wainwright Foundry, located on the north side of Pine Street between Broad and Kenan streets, posed for this photograph in 1894. From left are Jack Williamson, Frank Perry, George Rowland, Ad Holland, proprietor George H. Wainwright, William D. Thomas, Parker Battle and Smith Bennett. (Photo contributed by Hugh B. Johnston, restoration by Claude Anthony).”

Hat tip to Jim Skinner.

Dr. Harriss?

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Wilson Daily Times, 2 November 1911.

  • Burwell Harriss — Was Burwell Harriss actually a physician? I have found no other reference to a Dr. Burwell Harriss in Wilson or elsewhere. However, in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Hines Street, Burrell Harris, 49, odd jobs, and wife Lillie, laundress.
  • Annie Howard
  • Mamie Bennett

They are all the time playing with the gun.

North Carolina, Wilson County }

We the undersigned Jury summoned by L.O. Hays coroner of Wilson County to investigate the killing of Abraham Harris, met on the premises on this the 15 day of January 1899, and after being duly sworn, and viewing the body of deceased, and hearing the evidence of the following Witnesses to wit: Jack Hilliard, Laura Hilliard, John Hilliard, Dutch Bennet, Mattie Harris and Mintus Woodard do render the following verdict to wit: That the deceased Abraham Harris came to his death from a shot from a gun in the hands of Robt Hilliard and we find that said shooting was accidental.   /s/ [torn] Farmer, [torn], J.F. Mayo, B.F. Taylor, W.C. Mayo, A.G. Winstead. I hereby approve the same 1 15 1899. /s/ L.O. Hayes Cor.

Witnesses in case of Death of Abraham –

Jack Hilliard.

Is the father of the boy who killed Abraham Harris. Lives in this house. Saw Abraham early this morning. Dutch Bennet Robt Hilliard and Dutch Bennett were together playing had no stick time was after sun up. Sun about two hours and a half high. Robt lives with me. Robt left here after sun up to go to [illegible] House. Abrham married Robt sister. Did not all go in the house. They were playing at gate and Robt slammed the gate too run in the house and hid between the beds and Abraham came in the house after him. Abraham grabbed Johnnie for Robert and shook him. My wife said that is not Robert yonder is Robert. Then Robert kneeled down. Soon as Robert kneeled down the gun struck the bed and went off. Robert had hold of the gun. The gun was sitting back of gun [sic] Robert reached and got the gun as Abraham turned John loose and started towards him. Abraham did not say anything to Robert. Robert did not say anything. Single barrel Breech loder. Robert had the gun in his hand sitting with face towards Abraham. As Robert dropped down towards him it struck the bed. Robert did not have gun pointed toward him. Both were laughing. I was near fire place. My wife was in front of me. Don’t know that my wife had hold of him or not. She eased him down. Abraham did not say a word. Robt said Lord Lord have I killed my brother in law. They are all time playing with the gun. Took the gun I think to point at him. Don’t think he intended to shoot him. Robert about sixteen. Abraham and Robert had no fuss had not been drinking. Abraham has been married around 8 years. Saw him when he was squatted down and had the gun. Do not know whether the gun was cocked or not. Did not see his hand at that time. When the gun struck the floor hit hard cant tell whether barrel struck bed or floor. Jack (X) Hilliard

Laura Hilliard.

I was comeing in the door. They were laughing. Abraham caught hold of Johnnie and Johnnie said this is not Robt. Johnnie went out doors. I pointed my finger at Robt and said yonder is Robt. Robt stooped down the gun fired. As I turned my head to look Robt said Lord Ma I aint I shot my brother in law. I said no he aint hurt. He is standing here laughing. When I laid him down on the floor he was smiling. I felt the blood then was the time I knew he was hurt. He did not live many minutes after he was shot. Laura (X) Hilliard

John Hilliard.

I got up started out to tell Dutch Bennet to come in house and heard gun fire. Turned round he was falling. As I went out Abraham came in Robt had gun in his hand when I went out standing up. Abraham did not say anything to me. Abraham run up against me and shook me. Did not know gun was loaded. Mintus Woodard was at fireplace his mule was at gate Dutch Bennet was out there I did not here ma say anything. Robt did not say anything when he got the gun. Robt had gun when Abraham came in house. John (X) Hilliard

Dutch Bennett.

Live across field no kin to parties, I first saw Abraham Harris at his house this morning Robt came to his house as were fixing to go off. Had no conversation Abraham wanted to borry Robs hat and was coming after got to playing at the gate grabbing at each other. I told Rob to bring hat to the gate. He said no let Abraham come and get it. They got to grabbing at each other playing and laughing. Rob came running to the house and Abraham after him. I stayed out and heard the gun fire. Have never heard Rob say anything about shooting Abraham. Never heard of there having any difficulty. Came in house pretty soon after gun fired. Door was open. Saw Abraham falling he did not speak after I got in house. Did not see Abraham before gun shot. When I came in aunt Laura was in house. Rest had gone out. All were out doors crying and hollering. Rob said O Lord I have killed my brother in law I would not have done it for anything. I staid out about five minutes after gun shot before I came in. Have not talked to matter over with others before this. Don’t know where Mintus Woodard was at the time. Don’t remember seeing him was not frightened. Come here right often. Intimate with family do not run with Robt know Mintus Woodard when I see him. Been over swamp today, and home. Sun was about two hours of more high when gun fired. Staid at house about an hour afterwards. Dutch (X) Bennett.

Mattie Harris.

I am the wife of Abraham Harris and sister of Robt Hilliard. Abraham left home between 8 and 9 oclock. Dutch Bennett and Rob were with him. Robt went home about eight or nine oclock. Rob and Abraham were talking about hat. Abraham asked Rob for his hat. After the talk about hat Abraham went off. Robt has not been to house often. Robt and Abraham have never had any fuss. Always mighty loving. I heard Robt saying he had shot his brother in law. I asked Mintus Woodard how come it. He said they were playing. Robt said I did not know there was a load in the gun Don’t know who was in the house at the time. When I heard gun I thought they had shot at something in the field. Mattie (X) Harris

Mintus Woodard.

I was sitting by the fire when Rob run in house — run on other side the bed and grabbed up a gun. When he run in the door he was laughing Rob had in his hand pointed towards fire place when Abraham came in. I don’t know whether it was cocked or not. Abraham came in and said where is he about that time gun fired. When gun fired he fell down. Robt did not say anything before he shot. He was stooping down. I don’t remember him slamming gun on the floor. Soon as he fell I got up and went out. Jack was in one corner & me in other. Abraham was by himself when shot. I did not hear Laura say there is Rob. Rob said I have shot my brother in law I did not know gun was loaded. Have not heard of any fuss between Rob & Abraham. Mintus (X) Woodard


In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Jack Hilliard, 44, wife Laura, 25, children Mattie, 5, John, 3, and Doctor, 1; Alford Harris, 16; plus John, 20, and Ben Wasdon, 20, both white.

In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Jack Hilliard, 62, wife Laura, 60, and children Henry, 16, and John, 22. Laura reported 5 of 6 children living. Also in the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township: widow Mattie Harris, 25; her children Abraham, 6, Laurena, 5, Charity, 3, and Maggie, 1; brothers Dock, 21, and Robert Hilliard, 19; and boarder Eady King, 23, also a widow.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.


The death of Moses Brandon.

Victim of Heart Failure.

Moses Brandon, a negro, fell dead today at 2:15 from heart failure.

The negro, it appears, was walking on Spring street, opposite the Norfolk Southern cotton platform, when suddenly he threw up his hands and fell to the ground. Smith Bennett, another negro who lived nearby, saw him and ran to his assistance. He saw though that Brandon was dying and ran to get a chair. Brandon died in a few minutes.

The deceased had conducted a restaurant in this city for a great many years and is one of Wilson’s best known colored citizens.   — Wilson Daily Times, 4 March 1914.


Moses Brandon, son of Frances Terry of Virginia, married Amie Hilliard on 22 May 1895 in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister L.B. Williams performed the ceremony, and Charles H. Darden, Braswell R. Winstead and L.A. Moore served as witnesses.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Virginia-born Moses Brandon, 50, day laborer; wife Emmie, 45, washerwoman; and son Marvin, 12. (Smith Bennett, 47, a brickmason, and his daughter Addie, 20, also appear in the Wilson census.)

In the 1908 Wilson city directory, Moses Brandon’s listing shows his “eating house” at 127 South Goldsboro Street and his home at 125 Ashe.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Moses Brandon, 55, proprietor of boarding house, and wife Amy, 51, laundress. Her only child was reported dead.

In the 1912 Wilson city directory, Moses Brandon’s listing shows his eating house at 411 East Nash and his home at 127 Ashe.

Page_11) 127 E. Goldsboro. 2) 411 E. Nash. 3) 125-127 Ashe. 4) N&S cotton platform, Spring Street. Sanborn map of Wilson NC, 1913.

Brandon died intestate. Two months after his death, his widow Amy applied for letters of administration for his estate, valued at $300. Camillus L. Darden (son of Charles L. Darden, above) and Roderick Taylor joined her to give a $600 bond.

M Brandon Admin Bond

Amy Brandon did not long outlive her husband. The will she drew up in September 1916 was proved six months later:

North Carolina, Wilson County.   I, Amy Brandon, a colored woman, of the state of North Carolina and county of Wilson, being of sound mind and memory but considering the uncertainty of this my earthly existence and wishing to arrange for the proper handling of my affairs and the distribution of my property in the event of my death, do make, publish, and declare this my last will and testament in manner and form following:

First: my executor, hereinafter named and designated, shall give my body a decent burial, suitable to the wishes of my relatives. And it is my desire that my said executor have my body interred in the burial ground at Wilson, North Carolina. [Almost certainly, Vick Cemetery.]

I direct my said executor to pay all my funeral expenses and all my just debts out of the first moneys coming into his hands from my said estate.

Second: I give, bequeath and devise to my beloved and only sister, Lucinda Holloway, now living and residing at No. 624 Princess Anne Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia, all my property, real and personal, of whatsoever kind and condition and wheresoever situate, to her and her heirs and assigns, in fee simple forever.

Third: I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint, Camillus Darden, a colored man of Wilson, North Carolina, a friend of myself and family, my lawful executor, to all intents and purposes to execute this my last will and testament and every part and clause thereof according to the true intent and meaning of the same, hereby revoking and declaring void all other wills and testaments by me heretofore made.

In Testimony Whereof, I, the said Amy Brandon, have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal, this the 8th day of September, 1916.     Amy (X) Brandon  {seal}

Signed, sealed, published and declared by the said Amy Brandon to be her last will and testament in the presence of us, who at her request and in her presence, and in the presence of each other, have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses thereto.    Witnesses: /s/ D.C. Yancey, Ph.G., L.A. Moore