State vs. Ruffin Cook & Dora Stephens } Before Elias G. Barnes J.P.
Oscar Neal, being duly sworn, testifies as follows: Dora Stephens has been living on my place and near my house, about three years. Last June Ruffin Cook came to Dora’s and he or Dora or both asked me for a mule and buggy to go to Lucama to get married. They came back and said they were married, and have lived together since as man and wife so far as I have been able to see. They seemed to stay in the same room at night.
Joe Barnes being sworn testifies as follows: I went to Dora’s on the night of _____ at 3 o’clock A.M. and she and Ruffin were in bed together. I thought nothing of it as I thought they were married.
Ruffin Cook has a living wife. She was at this trial. Lives at Knightdale Wake county. Dora also has a living husband it is said.
On [illegible] December 1898, Gillis Stevens, 20, son of Gillis and Silvey Stevens, married Dora Adams, 20, daughter of Albert and Spicey Adams in Springhill township. Spencer S. Shaw applied for the license.
In the 1900 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: Gillis Stephens, 22; wife Dora, 25; and son Henry, 1.
In the 1910 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farm laborer Dora Stevens, 36, divorced; with children Henry, 9, James, 8, Spicy, 6, Pearl, 4, and Petdonia, 3 months.
In the 1920 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: Dora Stevens, 39, described as divorced; and her children Henry, 20, James, 18, Spicy, 16, Pearl 12, Pet D., 10, and Albert, 1.
Undated, Adultery Records, Miscellaneous Records, Records of Wilson County, North Carolina State Archives.
Rev. Spurgeon David Davis, appointed in 1918 to head one of two planned alternative schools in the wake of the Charles Coon incident, was a newcomer to Wilson. A native of Maryland, he arrived in town in 1917 to head First Baptist Church (now known as Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church.) So who was he?
In the 1900 census of Baltimore, Maryland: day laborer Jarriet Davis, 50; wife Mary A., 41; children Mary V., 21, Louis B., 20, and Jarriet W., both hotel waiters, Spurgeon D., 10, and Alice D., 7; niece Ella A. Bell, 2; daughter Augusta Addison, 17, and son-in-law Roy A. Addison, 22, a schoolteacher.
In the 1910 census of Baltimore, Maryland: farm laborer Jarrett Davis, 58, wife Alice, 50; children Alice, 17, and Spurgeon, 21, “church preacher”; grandson Jarrett, 3; niece Ella Bell, 12; and sister Annie Wall, 56.
Spurgeon Davis apparently was ordained as an A.M.E. minister prior to 1910. He headed west to a post in Kansas City, Missouri:
Kansas City Sun, 31 January 1914.
But did not stay long:
Kansas City Sun, 4 April 1914.
Davis fetched up in Rome, Georgia, but his stay there was even shorter and considerably less welcome:
Atlanta Constitution, 26 September 1914.
This escapade called for some reinvention. Davis cut his ties with the A.M.E.’s and reemerged as a Baptist preacher …
New York Age, 11 January 1917.
… and headed back South.
On 5 June 1917, Davis registered for the World War I draft in Wilson, and listed his address as 648 West Mulberry Street, Baltimore; his date of birth as 26 July 1887; and his occupation as minister employed by “So. Baptist Convention; white; travelling in South.” He also noted that he was married with two children. Wilson County’s Clerk of Superior Court transmitted the registration to Baltimore.
Shady past notwithstanding, Davis — by now, somehow, a Doctor of Divinity — was a sought-after speaker in North Carolina, as these glowing briefs demonstrate:
Wilmington Morning Star, 15 April 1917.
The Robesonian (Lumberton), 22 August 1918.
Richmond Planet, 2 August 1919.
On 23 April 1919, Davis married Nancy Jones, 27, of Wilson. Though the two obtained their marriage license in Wilson County, the ceremony, oddly, was conducted one county over by Baptist minister J.S. Brown in Rocky Mount. Wilson leading lights F.S. Hargrave and C.L. Darden were two of the official witnesses.
However, this “prince among preachers” was soon on the lam again, having hastily resigned his post in October 1919 as a bigamy scandal erupted.
News & Observer, 30 October 1919.
A more succinct narrative appeared on 7 November in Elizabeth City, North Carolina’s Independent:
Davis apparently never returned to Wilson — at least, in any long-term capacity. It is not clear who the Oklahoma wife was. Davis obtained a license to marry Ruth Olivia Jones in Lynchburg, Virginia, on 26 May 1911. The couple, however, are also listed in a District of Columbia Compiled Marriage Index with an 29 April 1912 marriage date.
Washington Times, 29 April 1912. [Note: the Davises, though white-looking, were not “white.”]
Rev. Spurgeon Davis of 139 Pender Street appears in the 1920 Wilson city directory — a volume compiled no doubt before he left town — with no spouse noted. He is not found in the 1920 federal census. However, it seems that Nancy prevailed in the skirmish, for, in the 1923 Montgomery, Alabama, city directory: Davis Spurgeon D Rev (c[olored]; Nancy E) pastor First Baptist Church h[ome] 714 High. And in the 1930 census of Montgomery, Alabama: at 714 South Ripley (an $8000 home he owned), Maryland-born Spurgeon Davis, clergyman; North Carolina-born wife Nancy, 38; and Maryland-born daughter Mary A., 10. Tragedy befell during the Depression decade, however, and in the 1940 census of Baltimore, Maryland: at 111 Railroad Street, public school principal Carrington Davis, 52; brother-in-law Douglas Smith, 45, a baseball team manager; sister Alice Smith, 45, a laundress; brother Spurgeon Davis, 49, a house man working for a private family; and nephew Jarrett Davis, 34, a gardener. (Davis was described as married, though no wife was listed in the household. In a rented house across the street at 112 Railroad, however, was North Carolina-born Nancy Davis, 44, described as divorced.) In 1942, Davis registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card: he resided in Chattolanee, Baltimore, Maryland; he was born 28 July 1887 in Chattolanee; his contact person was Mrs. Alice Smith of Owings, Maryland; and his employer was Mrs. Horace White of Garrison, Maryland. I have not found record of his death.
From a history of Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church, a photograph of Rev. Davis. From the text: “The Reverend A.L. Weeks and the Reverend Spurgeon Davis were those to follow the Reverend [M.A.] Talley. In 1919, the mortgage on the new edifice was burned as a result of a great financial effort engineered by Reverend Davis, supported by the officers and members.” There was that, at least.
Commissioner of Freedman at Goldsboro. Sir there is a Colored woman in prison in this County Committed by some Magistrate in Edgcombe County. I do not know any of the particulars. I have been told that she was in prison with one or two little children & they will certainly suffer with Cold if they remain there. Mr. John Smith of this County has in his care five orphan children have no near relations Mr. Smith has been a loyal citizen to the U.S. Government all the war, he is a good man clothes & feeds well, he wishes to have them bound. There names & ages are Samuel 17 years old, Caroline 15 years old, Symeon 13 years old, Princh 11 years old, Frank 9 years old. Mr. Smith can give the best of refference.
W.J. Bullock, Capt. L.P.F.
[Different handwriting] Roberson Baker put Redding Baker in jail and took his children.
Sir, I received a Communication from you this morning in reguard to one Redding Baker (freedman) stating that he was put in jail by Rob Baker, and I ought not to permit such proceeding &c. I presume you know nothing or but little about the case or myself either, or you would not have wrote as you did. You said Baker had no authority for taking those children &c, if he had not of had an order to that effect he certainly would not have gotten them returned to him, and that authority was the highest in this state. I presume from Col. Whitlesy. The case is as follows Redding had two wives one at Mr. Bakers, and one at a Mr. Blows. He had discarded the wife who lived at Mr. Bakers, took the other one home, I assisted him in getting his children by his wife at home; he afterwards took the children of his other wife, she went to see them, and he whipped her very bad or as she stated to me, she said she wanted her children to stay at Mr Bakers, the case was sent to Raleigh and Col Whitlesy ordered the children carried back to Mr Baker’s. I was absent at the time, Mr Baker called on a Lt of the Police to return the children as the order requested him to call on the Police to return them. The Lt served the order on Redding he promised to return them by a certain day; he did not obey the order & when I came home the Lt sent me to know what course to pursue. I ordered him to return the children to Mr Baker according to the Order from Raleigh, and to send Redding to me for whipping Annikey his abandoned wife, he was sent late in the evening I lodged him in jail for investigation I investigated the case laid no furnishment, found it was a case of not sufficient importants to send to you & discharged him. I hope the above will be satisfactory. You see Mr Baker did not put him in jail. And besides the jailor of this County is a gentleman, and knows his duty, will not receive any one in the jail unless committed by a Magistrate or myself. There have not been any freedmen put in the jail who has not been reported to you or Gen Hardin, except in cases of minor importants upon investigation discharged. There are not any freedmen in jail here at all, the last who was there escaped before I got orders to send him off.
Should the above not be satisfactory, I will try to satisfy you when up to Wilson. As for my character I will refer you to the Union men of the County among them W. Daniel, W.G. Sharp, G.W. Blount & others.
Your Obedt Servt
Capt. L.P. Force
White farmer William Bullock, 38, is listed in the 1870 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County NC. 52 year-old white farmer Roberson Baker is listed in Oldfields township. Neither Redding nor Annikey Baker nor their children appear in the county.