Best and Marjorie Fulcher Stewart.

Best Stewart was born into the household of Ellen McCoy and Louis Stewart in Wake County, North Carolina, on December 24, 1912. He was the youngest of fourteen children …. As a young man in the Wilson area, Best started his career in real estate and super market business.

Marjorie Fulcher was born into the household of Barthena Best and George Fulcher on October 26, 1917, in Wilson, North Carolina. She was the second of five daughters: Hancey Lee, the oldest, and Ernestine, the youngest. She was raised in the area called ‘Grab-Neck’ on the east side of town adjacent to the area known as ‘Daniel Hill.’ Her mother was a holiness preacher.

“Best Stewart started his supermarket business as a very young man. He was a successful businessman with the assistance of his wife, Marjorie, at his side. He can be described as a brick-mason, community leader, gardener, fisher, and hunter and electrician. Even though he never completed his secondary education, he was a self-educated success.

“Marjorie was nicknamed ‘Dorgie’ by her family. … She was a warm, loving, easy-going, quiet and caring sweet wife and mother. She was also a business partner with her husband.

“In 1960 the family moved from the area known as ‘Daniel Hill’ because of the urban renewal project in the Wilson, N.C. area. Even though Best moved his family to the east side of town, he was determined to come back to his home area. In 1970 Best moved his family back to the area which was once known as ‘Daniel Hill’ where new brick homes were built. In 1974 they retired from the supermarket business.

“In August, 1977, Marjorie F. Stewart departed her life. In November 1980 Best Stewart departed his life. Even though these two wonderful people are gone, the memories of what they stood for will never be forgotten.”

Best and Marjorie Fulcher Stewart.


On 11 June 1913, George Fulcher and Barthena Best, both 22, were married by A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward in Grabneck. Ernest Allen, Jesse Barnes and James Daniel were witnesses.

Marjorie Bethena Fulcher was born in 1917 to George and Bathena Best Fulcher in Wilson.

Geo. Fulcher registered for the World War I draft in Wilson in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 14 September 1891 in New Bern, North Carolina; resided on Nash Street in Wilson; worked as a delivery boy for Patterson Drug; and was married with one child.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 605 Spruce Street, barber Sam Right, 25; wife Bula, 20; mother-in-law Ellen Stewart, 50, widowed laundress; brothers-in-law Lewis, 18, and Bess, 16; and daughters Myrtle E., 4, and Ready G. Wright, 2.

On July 6, 1937, Best Stewart, 25, of Wilson County, son of Louis and Ellen Stewart, married Marjorie Fulcher, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of Bathena Fulcher Lassiter. Bathena Lassiter applied for the license, and A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward preformed the ceremony in Grabneck in the presence of Ernestine Fulcher, Bathena Lassiter and Wms. Bunn.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 409 Spruce Street, retail salesman Best Stewart, 38; wife Marjorie, 27; and children Best Jr., 2, James A., a newborn, and Ellen, 70, mother.

In 1940, Best Stewart registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 24 December 1912 in Fuquay Springs, North Carolina; resided at 409 West Spruce Street, Wilson; was self-employed at Best Stewart’s Place; and his contact was Mrs. Marjorie Fulghum Stewart. Best’s brother Louis Stewart also registered. His card notes that he was born 22 April 1909 in Libby Springs, North Carolina; resided at 409 West Spruce; worked at Export Tobacco Company; and his contact was his mother Ellen Stewart.

Ellen Stewart died 6 April 1960 at 409 West Spruce Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 October 1881 in Harnett County to John and Neily McCoy. Informant was Best Stewart.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 August 1977. 

Wilson Daily Times, 17 November 1980.

Text and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

1009 East Nash Street.

The thirtieth 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 East Wilson Historic District: “ca. 1930; 2 stories. Cubic, hip-roofed house with bungalow-type porch posts; central-hall plan.”

In the 1930 Wilson city directory, cook Nannie Best, laundress Frankie Best and seamstress Eliza Best are listed as residents of 1009 East Nash Street.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Nan Best, 75, widow; daughter Frankie, 55; and grandsons William, 19, and Audrey, 15.

In 1942, Aaron Best registered for the World War II draft in Wilson:

Nannie Best died 18 June 1948 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 June 1865 in Greene County to Aaron Best [this is an error; Aaron was her husband, not father] and Evelyn [last name unknown]; resided at 1009 East Green Street; and was buried in Rountree Cemetery. Aaron Best, 1009 East Nash Street, was informant.

William Aaron Best died 21 August 1949. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 September 1900 in Wilson County to Aaron and Nannie Best; was a widower; and worked as a laborer for Export Tobacco Company. Audrey Best, 1009 East Nash, was informant.

Snaps, no. 17: Jennette Best Barnes.

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Jeannette Best Barnes (circa 1880-1947)

In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Isaac Winstead, 52; wife Jane, 35; and children Edith, 10, Robert, 7, Amanda, 3, and Aneliza, 1. [Edith and Robert’s last name was, in fact, Farmer; they were Jane’s children from a previous marriage.]

On 30 August 1877, Sam Best, 22, married Edith Winston, 20, at the residence of D.G.W. Ward, Justice of the Peace. Edward Whitehead, Lawrence Ward and Scott Ward were witnesses. [Note: One hundred years later, Sam and Edith’s granddaughter Minnie Bell Barnes Barnes rented the house that had been David D.G. Ward‘s.]

In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Isaac Winstead, 60; wife Jane; children Manda, 14, Ann, 12, Charlie, 10, Major, 7, Lucy, 4, and Levi, 1; stepchildren Ada [Edith] Best, 20, and Rob Farmer, 17; and grandchildren Sam, 3, and Mary Best, 1.

On 22 December 1898, Redman Barnes, 24, son of Calvin and Cely Barnes, married Jennet Best, 20, daughter of Sam Best and Edy Strickland, at W.H. Applewhite’s in Stantonsburg. Witnesses were Frank Farmer of Wilson County, Julius Ruffin of Stantonsburg and Charlie Ruffin of Moyton.

In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farm laborer Redmond Barnes, 25; wife Genette, 21; and daughter Dora, 8 months.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Redman Barnes, 47; wife Genette, 43; children Dora, 20, Fred, 19, Mary E., 17, Minie B., 15, Eddie Bell, 13, Petcandy, 11, Nora Lee, 9, Alice, 7, Lula Mae, 4, and Redman Jr., 1.

In the 1930 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Raymond Barnes, 59; wife Jeanette, 50; children Dora, 29, Fred, Fred, 25, Mary, 23, Minnie B., 20, Edith, 18, Bettie L., 17, Nora L., 16, Alice J., 14, Lula Mae, 12, Raymond Jr., 10, and John H., 8; and nephew Author Ellis, 20.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1116 East Nash Street, Mary Barnes, 33, who taught at Healthy Plains Grade School; her widowed mother Jenettie Barnes, 62; brothers Redman, 22, a shoe repairer at Rex Shoe Shop, and John, 19, a tobacco factory laborer; brother-in-law Doll Speight, 26, apartment elevator operator; sister Lula, 23, and their daughters Letrice, 2, and Bettie, 8 months.

Jennette Barnes died 3 April 1947 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 18 June 1886 in Wilson County to Samuel Best and Edith Winstead; was widowed; and resided at 1116 East Nash Street. Mary Estell Barnes of the same address was informant.

Photograph courtesy of user skeeweept.

Studaway injured in big Hackney fire.

Hackney Brothers Suffer Another Big Fire Loss – Within Two Months – Paint Shop Burned Yesterday Afternoon With Loss of $50,000 Covered By Insurance. Fire Quick and Hot. Four Workmen Were Injured. Two In Hospital

One of the fastest and hottest fires ever seen in this city occurred yesterday afternoon about five o’clock when the paint shop of Hackney Bros. in this city burned, and four workmen came near losing their lives before they were able to escape from the building. This is the second fire suffered by the Hackney buggy and automobile plant located on Green street and running back to an alley between this property and their store property which fronts on Nash street since Christmas. This was the fifth fire yesterday.

The fire at Christmas caused a loss of around $400,000. That fire burned two building fronting on Green street and stopped at a double wall, leaving the rear ends of the buildings adjoining the alley. The Hackneys moved their garage equipment and were getting ready to replace the old buildings with a modern garage building, with a service and filling station in front and offices on Green street, when this second fire changed their plans and now they are uncertain what to do.

After the first fire they located their paint shop in the building on the north side, here they painted buggy bodies, automobile bodies and cars for customers. In the other building just across the alley they had their workshop for repairing cars.

The front of both buildings were burned in the Christman fire. The fire yeasterday burned the paint shop, but the repair shop across the way was not injured.

The burning of this shop has completely changed the plans of the proprietors and therefore they are uncertain at present as to what they will do.

After the Christmas fire, as explained above, the company decided to erect a factory on their property on Herring avenue located on the Atlantic Coast railroad in the eastern part of the city, and just across the railroad from the Hackney Wagon Company. Here commercial automobile bodies, and buggy bodies will be built. They will not change their plans as to this, but will go ahead with their work here. The fire has for the moment caused them to be undecided as to what they will do with their property fronting on Green street which has been destroyed.

The fire yesterday afternoon was caused by the breaking of an electric light bulb, attached to an extension cord which was being used by Mr. Albert Flowers underneath a car on which he was engaged in cleaning the chassis. He had a bucket of water and gasoline, as is usual in such cases. When the bulb broke fire began to run around the floor on which was water and gasoline. Mr. Flowers got from under the car, and others around the car secured fire extinguishers and began to fight the flames.

Mr. Robert Smith who is in a local hospital, and one most badly burned, except a colored man named Lucien Studaway, who is confined in the Negro hospital, tells the following story of the accident.

“When the bulb broke, and the fire began to run around on the floor, Jim Wallace ran for a fire extinguisher, and Mr. Ben Owens, foreman of the paint shop, also came back there. All of us fought the flames but we did not think it was so bad. I then ran to get a fire extinguisher, and it seemed in a second the whole floor was in a blaze, and I said to Ed Winstead, we can’t put it out, lets get our clothes and get out. I ran to the place where my clothes were hanging, and the smoke blinded me so, I could not get to the door. I was near a window and started to break the glass with my hands. I then noticed there was a nail holding down the window and I pulled this out and escaped.”

Four altogether suffered burns and had a narrow escape. These were Mr. Bob Smith who is burned on the face and hands and arms to his elbows. He is in the hospital. Mr. John Whitehead is burned on the face, and hands, and one eye is closed. He was taken to the hospital at first, but was later taken home. He is able to sit up. Mr. Ed Winstead is burned on the face and back of the head. He is also able to be up. Lucien Sturdaway, Colored, is still in the hospital. His injuries are about as those of Mr. Smith. He is also not seriously burned.

Within a few moments after the alarm sounded the flames and smoke were pouring from the building, a three story structure containing much paint, a barrel of turpentine and linseed oil. Just where the fire started there were two automobiles, customers’ cars, newly covered with a coat of varnish, and these burned like a tinder. There were probably a dozen customers’ cars in the building and these are a total loss. Some of them carried insurance while others did not.

The firemen did heroic work, and deserve special commendation for their efforts. Notwithstanding the terrific heat and the danger from falling walls, they stayed on the roofs of the adjoining buildings and from both engines four streams of water played on the fire, two from the north side and two from the south side. By playing streams on the corners of the building they held these intact, and through the walls in the center on the north side fell in, the corners kept them from falling directly, and thus adjoining buildings were not endangered. The walls came down in sections beginning at the top. About half of the north wall fell in.

At one time it was thought the Municipal building would go, and Mr. Hinnant, city clerk, prepared to remove furniture and valuable papers, but the fine work of the fire department kept the flames confined to its origin in the Hackney building. This is the proud record of our firemen for several years. They have managed to keep the flames confined in the building where it had started. The Times believe that we have the best fire company in the country, and they should be commended by our people.

On account of the number of fires occurring yesterday, there was not sufficient time to wash and prepare the hose. Mr. Murray says he needs a place to wash the hose, and that this would save hundreds of dollars worth of fabric. The alkali in the dirt being very injurious to the fabric. The city fathers should provide a place for this purpose.

Wilson Times, 24 February 1922.


Site of Hackney Wagon Company, Sanborn insurance map, 1922.


Location of former Hackney Wagon plant today.


In the 1900 county, Wilson, Wilson County: carriage painter Wyatt Studaway, 53, wife Jancy, 43, and son Lucian, 23, tobacco factory day laborer.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Manchester Street, Wyatt Studaway, 56, wife Gincy, 48, and children Lucian, 22, Palmar, 4, and Margarett, 1.

Jensy Studaway died 23 January 1915 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was married and was born 20 September 1862 in Greene County to Lewis Bess and an unknown mother. Wyatt Studaway was informant.

Lucian Studaway registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 4 September 1874, resided at 114 Manchester Street, worked as a painter for Hackney Brothers, and was of medium height and stout build. His next-of-kin was Wyatt Studaway.

Wyatt Studaway died 2 October 1926 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he resided at 112 Manchester Street; was a widower; was engaged as a minister and merchant; was 75 years old; and had been born in Wake County to Isaac and Mary Studaway. Lucian Studaway was informant.

Lucian Studaway outlived his father by less than a year, dying 13 June 1927 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 42 years old, single, lived at 112 Manchester Street, worked as a day laborer, and was the son of Wyatt Studaway of Wake County and Jency Studaway of Wilson. Hattie Mae Vinters was informant.

Studaway executed a will three months before his death. He had been the sole heir of his parents’ property, and he passed all that he owned to his cousin Hattie May Venters, “who had been kind to me and who has visited me in my illness and shown me consideration and been attentive to my health and welfare.” Venters was the daughter of Charles and Sarah Best Thomas.


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

Daniel Best awaits the resurrection morn.


Wilson Advance, 25 July 1889.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Daniel Best, 62; wife Jane, 50; and children Laura, 19, Nicy, 17, Noah, 16, Orange, 21, and Hancy, 21.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: hireling Daniel Best, 72, and wife Jane, 55, living amid a cluster of household that included farmer Orren Best, 31, wife Hancy, 31, and children James, 9, Oscar, 6, George, 4, Frances, 2, and Hattie, 3 months; hireling Lewis Best, 53, wife Harriette, 50, and children Daniel, 23, Sarah, 12, John, 8, and Willie, 10; and brickmason Noah Best, 27, wife Sarah, 25, and sons William, 2, and Thomas, 4 months.

1300 East Nash Street.

The third in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located at 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.

On 6 January 1920, surely in the morning, census enumerator Sam E. Clark left his home just south of downtown Wilson and turned east on Nash Street, the town’s main artery. In short order, he would have crossed the Atlantic Coast Line tracks and entered African-American Wilson’s business district in the 500 block. Passing the deep red brick tower of First Baptist Church, Clark would have returned to residential district, this one at the heart of black east Wilson. Clark may have parked his car just past Carroll Street, then dug into his satchel to pull out a fresh enumeration sheet and a fountain pen. He had arrived at Wilson city limits. Across the street, then called Saratoga Road, squatted a small bungalow — household number 1 in Enumeration District 110, Wilson township — and Clark set off on foot to tackle his task.

After briefly interviewing a resident, Clark carefully inscribed the name of the head of household, Oliver N. Freeman, struggling a bit over the spelling of his first name. Freeman’s listed occupation, brickmason, hardly did justice to his growing reputation as a master builder, especially in stone.

More than 90 years later, the Freeman house, now well inside city limits, yet stands at a bend of Nash Street. In the nomination form for the historic district, the house is described as: “Nestus Freeman House; bungalow with stone veneer and gabled entry porch; enlarged to this form in the late 1920s; Freeman was noted stone mason and builder in East Wilson; contributing stone fence and six concrete yard ornaments, including dinosaur.”

Oliver N. Freeman house, 1300 East Nash Street, Wilson.


(Note that directly next door to Oliver Freeman lived East Wilson’s other artistic artisan, marble cutter Clarence Best, at 1306 East Nash.)

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2016.

“Gone but not forgotten”: the eternal art of Clarence B. Best.

Nearly all grave markers from the last 30 years or so are machine-cut, their lettering precise and even and utterly predictable. In Wilson County’s African-American cemeteries, however, even a casual perusal of older markers reveals artisanal work. Though there are many styles, one font repeatedly snags the eye — squarish letters with flared serifs and, especially, 9’s with long, pointed tails. These engravings are the work of marble cutter Clarence Benjamin Best, who, for more than 50 years, chiseled lambs, stars, stylized flowers and Masonic emblems, as well as pithy grammatically idiosyncratic epitaphs, into slabs of stone. I have found his work in rural Wilson County cemeteries and as far afield as Wayne, Edgecombe and Greene County, but Rest Haven cemetery is the ground zero of his oeuvre.

Best, whose monument business operated from his home on the outskirts of east Wilson, got his start as a marble cutter at Wilson Marble Mantle & Tile Company on North Railroad Street. By the early 1920s, he was designing and cutting headstones for African-American clients, perhaps initially as a side gig. He seemingly worked at every price point, offering custom monuments that collectively testify to his skill and endless creativity.

Clarence Best is just one of North Carolina’s unsung vernacular artists. These samples are a tribute to  the breadth of his work:


  • James Brody Artis, died 1963. June S. Artis cemetery, Eureka, Wayne County. GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.
  • George and Beulah Best, died undated and 1972. William Artis cemetery, Eureka, Wayne County.
  • William and Mary Kittrell, died 1952 and 1947. Masonic cemetery, Wilson. Likely a repurposed machine-etched stone. Not uncommonly, Best was off with his spacing estimates for lettering and here had to squeeze in the H. for William Kittrell’s middle initial.
  • Ben Hart, died 1951. Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. Modern asymmetric concrete slab inset with etched black glass.
  • Virginia Hooks, died 1972. Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. Virginia Hooks and her mother Donella died within months of one another. The shapes of their stones differ, but the style is much the same — name, dates, and a long epitaph. For Virginia, some extra verbiage crept in: WE MISS YOU NOW OUR HEARTS ARE SORE AS TIMES GOES BY WE MISS YOU NOW OUR HEARTS ARE SORE AS TIMES GOES BY WE WILL MISS YOU MORE. YOUR LOVING SMILES AN GENTLE FACE. NO ONE CAN FILL YOUR SPACE.
  • Jacob Edwards, died 1950. Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson.
  • Archie Harris, died 1935. Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. WE LOVED YOU BUT GOD LOVED HIM BEST.
  • Matthew and Lillian Williams, died 1968 and 1975. Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. Pink granite was an unusual medium for Best. Names engraved on the front. On the back, astonishing and enigmatic carvings. Depending from banners, two large peaches (hearts?) carved with a plump fish for Lillian and a rifle for Matthew.


  • Henry and Mamie Lucas, died 1942 and 1962. Masonic cemetery, Wilson. A rather plain piece with lettering somewhat rougher than usual.
  • Charles and Gertrude Jones, died 1963 and 1968. Masonic cemetery, Wilson. All Best’s main motifs — extra deeply incised family name, flowers, decorative border and religious epitaph.
  • Maggie Ellis, died 1964. Hilliard Ellis cemetery, Wilson. Dogwood design at top center.
  • Daisy Price, died 1965. Elm City colored cemetery. Extraordinary piece with stylized angel.
  • Dewey Gaston, died 1946. Elm City colored cemetery. A unique lily of the valley motif, symbolizing Christ’s second coming.
  • Link Bell, died 1959. Pyatts Chapel A.M.E. church cemetery, Edgecombe County. This oddly proportioned marker was perhaps the recycled top half of a broken slab.
  • Clarence Winstead, died 1968. Bethel A.M.E.Z. church cemetery, Stantonsburg.
  • Lucy Edwards, died 1971. Bethel A.M.E.Z. church cemetery, Stantonsburg. An apparently recycled marker, as tablet seems to have been chiseled clean.
  • Lucille Ellis, died 1964. Bethel A.M.E.Z. church cemetery, Stantonsburg. A heart engraved with a dainty ‘LOVE’ depending from a dogwood flower.


  • Fannie Newsome, died 1960. William Artis cemetery, Eureka, Wayne County.
  • Ada Artis Rowe, died 1964. William Artis cemetery, Eureka, Wayne County. Unusual ablet in the form of a closed book.
  • Sarah Artis Speight, died 1950. Artis Town cemetery, Greene County.
  • Ruel and Louise Bullock, died 1969 and 1968. Masonic cemetery, Wilson. Masonic and Eastern Star emblems.
  • Malissia Hill, died 1929. Masonic cemetery, Wilson. An early model, the tails of the 9’s are rounded. Off-center epitaph.
  • Betty J. Levy, died 1975. Masonic cemetery, Wilson. Marble plaque inset into brick. Among Best’s last works.
  • Addie W. Taylor, died 1963. Masonic cemetery, Wilson.
  • Rev. R.J. Young, died 1933. Masonic cemetery, Wilson. Masonic emblem.
  • Short W. Barnes, died 1943. Masonic cemetery. A delicate cross top center.


  • John and Mary Hogans, died 1951 and undated. Elmwood cemetery, Goldsboro, Wayne County. In God we trust, and a cross sprouting leaves.
  • Henry Sharper, died 1945. Elm City colored cemetery. Bird in tympanum (symbolizing eternal life) perhaps machine-cut. Veteran of World War I.
  • William H. Hall Sr., died 1925. Bethel A.M.E.Z. Church cemetery, Stantonsburg. One of the earliest stones, before Best settled in on the pointed 9’s.
  • Georgina Hall, died 1933. Bethel A.M.E.Z. church Cemetery, Stantonsburg. A tiny off-center cross leans curiously atop the tablet.
  • Edward Newsome, died 1956. Fremont colored cemetery, Fremont, Wayne County.
  • Milton and Nora Reid, died 1961 and 1965. Turner Swamp Baptist Church cemetery, Eureka, Wayne County.
  • Locus. Turner Swamp Baptist Church cemetery, Eureka, Wayne County. Perhaps a repurposed machine-cut stone. (The scroll at top is not Best’s work.) The incised trapezoid below the deeply cut tablet is unusual.
  • Walter M. Foster, died 1928. Rountree cemetery, Wilson. A fine early work framed in delicate florals with an epitaph whose freehand font diminishes in size.
  • Gus and Cora Armstrong. Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson. Bizarrely proportioned lines of lettering.


In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamin Best, wife Eliza, and children Virgin N., Mildred, Junius, Sopremia, Benjamin, Corinthia, Remantha, Olian, and Clarence. Benjamin and Eliza reported having been married 25 years, and Eliza reported that 10 of the 12 children she had borne were living.

In the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: widow Eliza Best, 53, with children Junius, 29, Rematha, 20, Allen, 18, and Clarence, 16, plus grandchildren Suprema, 5, and Martha A., 3.

On 24 January 1917, Clarence Best, 22, of Wilson township, son of Benjamin and Eliza Best, and Geneva Smith, 22, of Gardners township, daughter of Henry and Mahala Smith, were married in Gardners township by C.H. Hagans, a Primitive Baptist minister. Fred Woodard, John Barnes and Len Woodard witnessed.

Clarence Best registered for the World War I draft on 5 June 1917. He reported that he was born 22 October 1894 in Wayne County, North Carolina; that he resided at RFD #4, Box 4, Wilson; and that he worked as a stone rubber at Wilson Marble Mantle & Tile Company. He claimed that he supported his wife and his mother and her two grandchildren. He was described as medium height and build, with brown eyes and black hair.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Saratoga Road, marble cutter Clarence Best, 26, wife Geneva, 26, and son Clarence H., 1, plus Eliza Best, 68, Martha Ann Best, 11, and Suprema Hooks, 11. Next door, Junius Best, 38, wagon factory assembly man, wife Mary A., 27, and children Mary Olivia, 2, and Colonius, 4 months.

Eliza Best died 1 September 1929 in Wilson of “injury of rt. leg; cut her leg on a piece of tin.” She resided at 1310 East Nash Street, Wilson, and was the widow of Benjamin Best. She was about 64 years old and had been born in Wilson County to Jim Ellis and Zannie Applewhite. She was buried in Rountree cemetery; Clarence Best was informant.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 203 East Nash Street, marble works polisher Clearance Best, 37, wife Geneva, 37, and son Clearance, 11. Nearby: wagon factory laborer Junious Best, 47, wife Mary, 39, and children Mary, 12, Colanelus, 11, Mattie, 7, and Rematha, 2.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: marble dresser Clarence Best, 46, wife Geneva, 46, and son Clarence H. Best, 21, tobacco stemmer, plus nephew Frank Brake, 14.

In 1943, Clarence Herman Best registered for the World War II draft. He reported his home address as 1306 East Nash Street, Wilson; his date of birth as 3 October 1918; and his closest relative as Clarence Benjamin Best, his father. His employer was Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Genevia Smith Best died 23 September 1969 in Wilson. Per her death certificate , she was born 19 August 1896 to William Henry Smith and Martha (last name unknown.) She was buried at Rest Haven cemetery; Clarence Best was informant.

Clarence B. Best died 18 November 1980 in Wilson. The double headstone he had created after his wife’s burial — with extra pointy 9’s, a cross, and a slighty too-long epitaph — awaited his death date as a final entry. When the time came, it was, of course, incised perfectly by machine.


Be honest & true. Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.


Wilson Daily Times, 23 May 1951.

All photos by Lisa Y. Henderson.


No. 2738.

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When Aaron Bess opened an account at the Freedmen’s Bank in New Bern, he reported that he had been born and raised in Greene County, resided at the Widow Bess’ in Greene County, and farmed for Heywood Bess. He and Evelina Bess had been married 26 years and had eleven children: Orpheus, Harper, Jane, Mary (deceased), Argent, Cherry, Alice, Nancy, Samuel Lincoln, Hattie and Hope. His parents were Abel Edwards (deceased) and Argent Edwards, who lived in Wilson County, and his siblings were Richard, Margaret, Harriet, Gracie and Justina.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Cally Speight, wife Margaret, 26, and Ann Speight, 13, a domestic servant. Sharing their household were Abel Edwards, 84, Argen, 72, Jssie(?), 24, a hotel chambermaid, Gracy, 23, a domestic servant, and Ann P. Edwards, 5.

In the 1880 census of Moseley Hall, Lenoir County: laborer Aaron Best, 62, wife Eveline, 48, children Nancy, 18, Harriet, 12, Hopewell, 9, and Mariah, 4, and grandchildren Eugenia, 8, and Frances Joyner, 3.

Freedmen’s Bank Records, 1865-1871 [database on-line],

Harper Best heard from.

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Wilson Daily Times, 10 March 1911.


In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spring Street, drayman Harper Best, 30, and his lodger “Methodist preacher” Franklin Bird, 24.

Harper Best, 33, married Rosa England, 18, on 22 September 1882 in Wilson.

Before the decade was out, the Bests migrated to California, and Harper Best appears in San Jose city directories as early as 1890 and at least as late as 1916.

1892 SJ city directory

1892 San Jose, California, city directory.

In 1890, he even registered to vote in San Jose:

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 6.11.12 PM

Copy of the Great Register of Santa Clara County.

This is likely a 1901 Santa Clara death register entry for Best’s son, also named Harper Best and born in North Carolina in about 1882. Presumably, Rosa Best died before her son did:

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 7.38.14 PM

Record of Deaths, Santa Clara County.

In the 1910 census of San Jose, Santa Clara County, California: 83 South First Street, 59 year-old Harper Best was lived alone. His occupation was porter in a dry goods store, and he was described as single.

The 10 March 1911 newspaper article above is not the only time Harper Best was featured in the Wilson Daily Times. On 7 May 1912, the Times printed a short letter with an accompanying clipping from a San Jose-area newspaper:


A Worthy Colored Man Who Left Wilson and Went West.

The following letter from Mr. J.M. Waterman, private secretary to Harper Best explains itself. Harper lived with Mr. Green for 13 years and is a worthy colored man.

Mr. G.D. Green, Wilson, N.C.

Dear Sir: —

Acting upon the suggestion of your friend, Harper Best, I am sending you a newspaper clipping cut from on of our principal papers, and you will note how popular Harper is out here in the “Wild and Wooly West.”

All matters in the notice are true, regarding his physical condition and [h]is insatiable appetite. He has a regular possum grin on his face at all time.

With best regards from Harper, and hoping to hear from you in the very near future, I am,

Yours respectfully, J.M. Waterman, Private Secretary to H.B.

Harper Best and Hear[t]beats.

Almost everyone in San Jose knows Harper Best, the old and trusted handy-man around the Arcade, who has held his position for about 24 years, and who at the age of 62 can still get around like a youngster. Harper is good-natured at all times, and a few hints to his many friends at this time will not be amiss on how to stay young and be happy. Harper is an epicure. Any time you meet him he begins to talk about something to eat. Chicken, young duck, ‘possum and sweet potatoes and so on. But the ‘possum seems to be his long suit and he claims that if you know how to cook it and put plenty of sweet potatoes in the roaster at the right time you will be able to stay young. If you should happen to pretend to doubt him on the age question he will pull a typewritten statement on you and prove his age to the heart beat. Here follows his age: 62 years, 744 months, 3224 weeks, 22,568 days, 541,632 hours, 32,497,920 minutes, and 1,949,875,200 heart beats. His next expression is this way: “Now, friend, you have the proof and if you want to stay young do what I do. Eat ‘possum and you can’t get old.”

And two years later, on 2 May 1914, the Times published this letter from Best himself:

Tribute from a Colored Man.

April 23, 1914.

Wilson Daily Times, Wilson N.C.

Gentlemen: — Kindly allow me space in your valuable paper to say: “Some years ago along about 1873 I came from Snowhill, Green County, to Wilson, your city. After a couple of years, I went to work with Palmer and Green, a hardware store. I stayed with Mr. Green and worked for him until 1888. Then in January, 1888, I made up my mind to start for California.

Owing to the fact that it was so far away in the West, I had not the money as usual. I was, however, [section missing] and on cold mornings I would build a fire up for him before he got up. One morning I said to him: “I am going to leave, Mr. Green.” He said, “Where are you going?” I replied that I was going to California and he inquired how I would get there. I said, “I will have to borrow the money from yo.” So it was arranged, and I got the money from him and started for California.

Since that time Mr. Green has been a dear friend of mine as well as all the time I was employed by him. It mattered not what come or went I could always depend on him. During the many years that I worked for him, I have seen the time where there were many people in the town and county that would come to Mr. Green for favors large and small. He always did what he could for them and gave them satisfaction. After I had come to California, Mr. Green settled some of my debts for me and sent me the bills. I sent him a check for the same and if there was a friend among whites or colored that upbuild Wilson, it as Mr. Green.

His brains was often required in the courthouse, and men of all classes would come to him for advice.

I find that Mr. Frank Barnes is on my mind at this time. He was on e of the leading men of the county. Also the Woodards, several of whose names I could mention. They were farmers in the country. Also Mr. Joshua Barnes was a well-known man.

After all many of these men that I remember have passed into the world beyond, but their memory will never be forgotten as long as Wilson remains a city.

I have many friends in the section of the country where I live, San Jose, California, and my life has been such that a very large majority of the people know me — and if they don’t know my name they know my face.

Now at this time, I am thinking very strongly of paying another visit to Wilson, during the summer and perhaps I will remain there for a few months. If any of my friends wish to come out to the exposition next year I want to say to them, “California is a very good country for health, but like all countries now, money is plentiful but work for young men is very scarce. With all their education they can’t get a decent job sometime. Gold is not like it used to be, nor is silver. It takes very hard pushing now for a man to get through who hasn’t any money, but if you have plenty of money, it goes very easily. But if you haven’t it, it is very hard pulling.

If any one wish to write me during the next sixty days he can do so. I will give them all the information I can about this community and section of the country. To my many friends in Wilson I will say that Wilson is dear to me. As I meet many North Carolinians from the Western and Eastern portion and I speak of the grand old state it makes me feel very proud of North Carolina. I know that there are men of very great brains and understanding and wisdom that were reared in North Carolina. As far as I can see there are no better educated men, white or colored, in any state in the Union.

I just give this little sketch to your readers. This is from an old friend.  HARPER BEST.

Best appears to have returned to Wilson during or just after World War I. By 1920, he had joined his sister’s household at 330 South Spring Street: widowed Nannie Best, 61, her daughter Frank, 30, son Aaron, 21, and daughter-in-law Estelle, 19, and a lodger, nurse Henrietta Colvert, 24 [a Statesville native who was my great-great-aunt.] (N.B.: what appears to be the same 65 year-old Harper Best is also listed as a head of a household at 109 Wiggins Street that included his brothers Morris Best, 50, and Frank Best, 32; sister Estelle Best, 21; and son Orren Best, 19. [The recurrence of given names suggests a relationship to Daniel Best (born circa 1808) of Greene County. Daniel and his wife Jane had sons Orren Best, born about 1848, and Noah Best, born about 1854. Orren Best and his wife Hancey had a daughter Nannie. Noah Best had sons Morris and Frank.]

Here are Harper and extended family in the 1922-23 city directory:

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On 22 October 1929, Harper Best dictated a will describing himself as a resident of Wilson and leaving all his property, personal and real, to his sister Nannie Best and nieces Eliza and Frankie Best. He died just under eight months later.


California Voter Registers, 1866-1898 [database on-line],; California Death and Burial Records from Select Counties, 1873-1987 [database on-line], 

The heritage of Theodore and Edith Barnes Ellis.

Benjamin Barnes was born about 1819, probably in southern Edgecombe County or northern Wayne County, areas that later became Wilson County. Circumstantial evidence, largely in the form of naming patterns and proximity, suggests that Benjamin had at least two brothers, Andrew Barnes, born perhaps 1815, and Redmond Barnes, born about 1823. On 21 April 1866, Benjamin Barnes and Violet Barnes, born about 1817, registered their cohabitation at the Wilson County Courthouse. Their registration did not list the length of their marriage during slavery. Ben and Violet’s only certain child was Calvin Barnes, born about 1836, though they probably had several more.

In the 1870 census of Saratoga, Wilson County, Violet is described as a midwife, and three young girls, Elvy (1859), Ailcy (1862) and Spicy (1863), live with her and Benjamin. Given Violet’s age, it seems likely that these are granddaughters. Violet Barnes died sometime before 13 November 1879, when Benjamin married Mary Bynum in Wilson County. [N.B.: The Benjamin Barnes, son of Isaac and Judia Bynum, who married Lucy Barnes in 1872 in Wilson County is a different man.] Benjamin and Mary’s appearance in the 1880 census of Saratoga is their first and last. Benjamin listed his father’s birthplace as Virginia, but provided no additional information. He died before 1900.

Benjamin and Violet’s son Calvin Barnes and Sealie [Celia] Barnes registered their five-year cohabitation in Wilson County on 17 July 1866. Celia’s parents are unknown. In the 1870 census of Saratoga, Wilson County, Calvin and family were living next door to his parents Benjamin and Violet. Calvin and Celia’s children were Benjamin (1864), Spicy (1865), Jesse (1866), and Peter (1869). Also in the household were 20 year-old Dora Ebon (Calvin or Celia’s sister?) and her likely children Louisa (1866) and Mary E. (1869).

In 1880, in Saratoga, Wilson County: Calvin headed a household that included wife Celie and children Peter, Drue, Redman, Lizzie B., and William. In 1900, the family was listed in Stantonsburg township. Calvin was farming, and Celie reported 10 of 13 children living. Only four — William, Mary S., Laura and Celie Barnes, plus Mary’s daughter Dora Barnes — were at home. Son Peter was nearby with his wife Jane and children John R., General, Annie and Sallie, as was son Redmond with wife Genett [Jennette] and their first child Dora. Celia died prior to 1909, when Calvin married Cherry Brown Tart. The marriage was her third, and the 1910 census found them living in the town of Wilson on Stantonsburg Street. Ten years later, they are living at 610 Stantonsburg Street and both employed were in a private home. Calvin Barnes died 21 February 1923 in Wilson.

Calvin and Celia’s son Redmond Barnes was born 3 May 1873 near Saratoga or Stantonsburg. In 1898, Redmond married Jennette Best on W.H. Applewhite’s farm, where the Barneses were either sharecroppers or tenant farmers. (Applewhite’s grandson, James, is a celebrated poet whose writing often draws on the world of his childhood in Wilson County.) Their children included Dora Barnes Weaver Ward (1899-1994), Fred Barnes (1901-1968), Mary Estelle Barnes (1903-1989), Minnie B. Barnes Barnes (1905-1985), Edith Bell Barnes Ellis (1907-1984), Betty Lee Barnes Bullock (1909-1992), Nora Lee Barnes (1911-2001), Alice Jennette Barnes Smith (1914-2011), Lula Mae Barnes Speight (1916-1996), Redmond Barnes Jr. (1918-1989), John Harvey Barnes (1920-1994), and Jennette Barnes, who died in infancy.


Rest Haven cemetery, 2014.

Jennette Best was born about 1880 near Stantonsburg. Her marriage licenses lists her parents as Sam Best and Edy Strickland. However, in the 1870 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County, “Edy Strickland” appears as Edith Winstead, age 10, in the household of Isaac Winstead, 52, and wife Jane, 35, whose other children were Robert, 7, Amanda, 3, and Aneliza, 1. The 1880 census of Stantonsburg, shows “Ada Best” in a household with her stepfather Isaac Winstead, mother Jane, half-siblings Manda, Ann, Charlie, Major, Lucy and Levi, brother Rob Farmer, and likely children Sam, 3, and Mary Best, 1. Sam Best is not listed in the county and may have died or have deserted his family just before Jenette was born. I have not found him in any census or vital record. Nor have I found any other mention of Edith Best or Strickland.

Redmond Barnes’ brother Peter Barnes (1869-?) married Jane Ruffin in 1891 in Wilson County. Their children included John Redmond (1892-1970), General (1895), Annie (1897), Sallie (1899), and Albert (1900-1924).

Redmond’s brother Andrew “Drew” Barnes (1871-1945) married Estella “Stella” Williams in 1892 in Wilson County. [Not to be confused with Andrew Barnes, son of Andrew and Amy Williford Barnes — possibly Calvin Barnes’ first cousin — who married Stella Battle in 1870.] Their children included John (1890), Wade (1894), Frank (1895), James (1897), Lula (1898), and Andrew Jr. (1900).

Redmond’s sister Elizabeth “Lizzie” or “Betty” Barnes (1873-?) married W.T. Sherrod Ellis, son of Reuben and Clarky Ellis. Their children: Willie (1892), Robert (1895), Mary E. (1896), Maggie D. (1899), Sallie (1900), Joseph (1904) and Mamie Ellis (1906).

Redmond’s sister Mollie Barnes married Floyd Ellis. Their children included Floyd Theodore (1907-1981), Columbus (1909), John Adam (1916-1965), Mary Rebeckah (1919) and Leathie Charlotte (1922).


Isom (or Isham) Ellis was born about 1807 in southern Edgecombe County. The will of William Ellis Sr., proved in Edgecombe in 1813, declared in part, “I leave unto my said wife Unity Ellis, the following negroes, To wit, Arthur, Jonas, Isom, Belford, Lisle, Pat, Mimah, Treasy & Hester.” It seems probable that this listing is a reference to Isom Ellis.

Unity Ellis died in 1817, before her husband’s estate settled. “Pursuant to the annexed order to us directed we the commis’rs met on the 19th March at the late dwelling house of William Ellis, dec’d, and thought proper to divide the negroes between the heirs instead of selling them, after [illegible]ing the negroes belonging to the Estate of said dec’d [Unity Ellis] a draw was made as followeth:

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Isom/Isham thus passed to Willie Ellis’ ownership in 1818, when he was about 11 years old. He appears to have remained with Willie until Emancipation.

On 24 July 1866, Isom Bynum and Patience Bynum registered their 40-year cohabitation in Wilson County. Several other men — Guilford, Robert, Jackson and Lewis — also registered as Bynums, but are listed with the surname Ellis in the 1870 census. For this and other reasons, including proximity and naming patterns, I believe these men were all sons, or close relatives, of Isom Ellis.

Lewis Ellis, born circa 1834, first married Dossie Best, by whom he had one son, John Ellis (1853). He then married Millie Thompson (1832-?), who gave birth to Daniel (1860-1938), Mary (1863), Adeline “Addie” (1865), Martha (1868), Cora (1870) and James Ellis (1874). Neither Lewis nor Millie appears in the 1900 census.

Lewis and Milly’s son Daniel Ellis first married Rosa Barnes, by whom he had a daughter, Lena (1890-1928). He then married Celia Lewis (1872-1912), daughter of Furney and Eliza Lewis on 29 August 1893 in Wilson County. Their children were William (1894), Maeliza (1897), Samson (1898-1918), Harry (1900-1988), Jackson (1901-1918), Robert (1904-1968), Louetta (1906), Orran (1910-1918) and Theodore Roosevelt Ellis (1912-1979). After Celia’s death in or just after childbirth, Daniel married Maggie Woodard in 1914. Their children were Mack (1916), John Henry (1919-1963), Mattie (1922) and Jem (1925). Daniel Ellis died 10 October 1938.


Top, Fannie Hardy Ward, Theodore R. Ellis and Edith Barnes Ellis. Bottom, Eloise Ward and T. Roosevelt Ellis Jr., probably near Stantonsburg, Wilson County, circa 1939.

Photo courtesy of Monica E. Barnes.