Here is a vexing example of why you cannot accept census entries at face value, but must interrogate them to get closer to truth.
This snippet from the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, appears to show Willis Barnes, his wife Farby, their children, and his mother Rose. The reality is quite different.
In fact, this is a blended family. Willis Barnes’ first wife, Cherry Battle (or Eatmon) Barnes, died in the mid-1890s. They had at least nine children together, none of whom are listed here; their younger children were taken in by older siblings when their mother died.
On 2 March 1897, Willis Barnes, 59, of Wilson township, married Fereby Artis, 47, of Toisnot township, in Wilson County. They had not, as the census taker noted in the column next to that in which he wrote an M for “married,” been married 25 years.
The four children listed in this census entry — despite the dash implying their surname was Barnes — were Fereby’s children (Willis’ stepchildren) and were Artises. And Rosa Barnes was not Willis’ mother at all. She was his mother-in-law — Fereby Barnes Artis Barnes’ mother.
The occupation and industry columns in federal population schedules sometimes yield unusual results, even in an era in which most African-Americans in Wilson worked as farm laborers, tobacco factory hands, or domestic workers.
In the 1930 census, 22 year-old Alfonso Ward gave his occupation as:
I have not been able to find any additional information on Ward’s career as a roadshow comedian, though he likely played chitlin’ circuit venues.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 122 East Street, laborer John Ward, 28; wife Addie, 27; and children Alfonsa, 13, Edgar, 8, Oritta, 5, Thelma, 2 months, and Jos[illegible], 3.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 112 East Street, rented at $12/month, widow Addie Ward, 37, and children Alfonso, 22, Edgear, 17, Othena, 16, Jasper, 14, and Thelma, 10.
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Ward Alfonso (c) hlpr r 112 East
In 1940, Alfonso Ward registered for the World War II draft in Kings County, New York. Per his draft card, he was born 1 May 1908 in Wilson, N.C.; lived at 3040 B 7th Street, [Brooklyn], Kings County; his contact was friend Flossie Barrington, 614 Ocean View Avenue; and he worked for Louis Super, 419 B[righton] B[each] Avenue, Kings County. Ward’s address was amended to 413 Bri[ghton] Beach Ave. on 15 February 1943. [Per his signature, Ward spelled his first name “Alfonza.”]
In the 1940s, the Daily Times regularly published John G. Thomas’ “Wilsonia,” a column of observations of town life. Thomas considered himself a great wit and took particular interest in shining a light on the more picturesque aspects of Wilson’s black community. Here, he praises a “stunt” an enumerator pulled to secure African-American cooperation with census-taking.
When recording the 1850 census, the enumerator who covered the Stantonsburg area of Edgecombe County (which was soon to be Wilson County) marked FREE in the column designated for “Color.” Here, Eliza Hall and her childrenWilliam, Patrick, Martha, and an unnamed girl:
At April Term 1856 of Wilson County’s Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a grand jury charged Martin Locust and Bede Wells, both of Wilson County, “being lewd and vicious persons not united together in the bonds of marriage” before and after 1 April 1856 “unlawfully lewdly and lasciviously associate bed and cohabit together … to the evil example of all others.” William Wells and Josiah Boyett were subpoenaed as witnesses, and jury foreman Jacob Taylor returned a true bill to the clerk of court.
This is the bond Locus and Wells pledged for their appearance in court. Curiously, the names of two co-pledgers were crossed out — Kingsberry Wells and William Wells. Both were likely relatives of Bedie Wells, and William Wells was a witness before the grand jury.
Martin Locus was of African, European and Native American descent. Obedience Wells was white. Their 1856 prosecution and, presumably, conviction did not much alter their lives, as they are found living together four years later in the 1860 census. (The third column after their names was used to indicate race or color. Wells’ was left blank; white was the default. Locus’ M stood for mulatto.)
1860 census of Kirbys district, Wilson County.
1850 census of Nash County, North Carolina.
Going back ten years, the 1850 census of Nash County shows the household of Kingsberry Wells and his next-door neighbors, Beedy and Martin Wells, who was actually Martin Locus. The age disparity is likely a recording error. In fact, contrary to their prosecution, Martin Locus and Obedience Wells, listed as “Pheby Wells,” were married in Nash County on 22 November 1822, despite laws forbidding interracial marriage. Per descendant and family historian Europe Ahmad Farmer, after about 1830, when North Carolina began to strip away rights from free people of color, the couple made an effort to appear to live separately.
1822 Nash County marriage license of Martin Locust and Pheby Wells.
Martin Locus and Obedience Wells’ son Martin Locus Jr. was the father of Martin John Locus.
Adultery Records-1856, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.
Prior to 1850, enslaved people were enumerated only as numbers in columns designated for sex and age. In 1850 and 1860, the federal government expanded the census to include “slave schedules.” Though enslaved people still were not recorded by name, they were enumerated individually by age, sex and color and grouped by slaveowner (or representative). Additional columns tallied “fugitives from the state,” “number manumitted,” “deaf, dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic,” and “no. of slave houses.”
These pages are the first and second in the 1860 slave schedule of Black Creek township, Wilson County. In them,
Sallie Simms reported that she owned ten slaves aged 7 months to 72 and sheltered them in two houses.
William Thompson reported that he owned 22 slaves aged 7 months to 44 and sheltered them in five houses.
Dr. A.G. Brooks reported that he owned 29 slaves aged 1 to 55 and sheltered them in four houses.
Enos Barnes reported that he owned two teenaged boys and sheltered them in one house.
Celia Barnes reported that she owned 28 year-old and 53 year-old men.
James Barnes reported that he owned nine slaves aged 3 to 50 and sheltered them in four houses.
Jesse Watson reported that he owned one ten year-old boy.
James Daniel reported that he owned four male slaves aged 9 to 60 and sheltered them in two houses.
Joseph Farrell reported that he owned nine slaves aged 5 months to 38 and sheltered them in one house.
James Nusom reported that he owned 22 slaves aged 1 to 28 and sheltered them in four houses.
Jesse Sauls reported that he owned seven slaves aged 3 to 26 and sheltered them in two houses.
Nancy Bass reported that she owned eight slaves aged 5 months to 36 and sheltered them in two houses.
Belinda Aycock reported that she owned six slaves aged 3 to 38 and sheltered them in two houses.
Sallie Daniel reported that she owned 14 slaves aged 11 months to 53 and sheltered them in four houses.
Elisha Bass reported reported that he owned six slaves aged 3 months to 30 and sheltered them in one house.
Jeremiah Bass reported that he owned a 17 year-old girl and two babies, aged 2 years and 4 months, who were probably her children.
Ephraim Bass reported that he owned a 36 year-old man.
City directories offer fine-grained looks at a city’s residents at short intervals. The 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., directory reveals the types of work available to African-Americans during the booming tobacco era. This post is the seventh in an alphabetical series listing all “colored” directory entries for whom an occupation was listed. The address is the resident’s home, unless a business address is noted.
Gaines, Charles, elevator operator, 203 Stantonsburg Road
Gaines, Dora, domestic, 528 Smith
Gardner, Alice, maid — Wilson Sanatorium, Sunshine Alley
Gardner, George, farmer, Spring Street Alley
Gardner, Preston, clerk — Peter Artis, Wiggins Street
For the first time in 1940, the federal census recorded income. As reported in column 32, “Amount of money wages or salary received (including commissions),” these 27 men and women had the highest incomes among African-Americans in the city:
Only four women earned a thousand or more dollars a year, all of them teachers. (At what “private school” did Alberta Daniels teach?)
Dr. Joseph F. Cowan reported the highest salary of any African-American in town. However, other doctors and dentists in East Wilson, including Boisey O. Barnes, George K. Butterfield Sr., and William A. Mitchner, reported no wages or salary at all, perhaps because their income derived not from self-paid salaries, but from practice or business profits or investments.)
Each of the United States federal censuses from 1850 to 1880 included a mortality schedule enumerating individuals who had died in the previous year previous. Each entry noted family number in the population schedule, name, age, sex, color, marital status, place of birth, month of death, occupation, and cause of death.
Here is the 1870 mortality schedule for part of Wilson township, Wilson County:
Farmer, James. Age 28, black, worked in iron foundry, died in February, consumption.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Rosa Farmer, 35, and children Gray, 16, Turner, 17, Mary, 16, Thomas, 13, Daniel, 12, Leah, 10, Jefferson, 8, Louisa, 10 months, and Anna, 3, plus Arche Barnes, 73, cooper.
Rountree, Louisa. Age 18, black, died in February, consumption.
Rountree, Jesse. Age 3 months, mulatto, died in November, hooping cough.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Rebecca Rountree, 50, and children and grandchildren Henry, 20, butcher, John, 23, barber, Dempsy, 26, farm laborer, Charles, 15, Benjamin, 24, butcher, Mary, 30, domestic servant, Joseph, 9, Willie, 8, Lucy, 20, domestic servant, Worden, 2, and Charles, 1.
Taylor, Marcellus. Age 1, black, died in November, scrofula.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Peter Taylor, 32; wife Classy, 37; and children Harred, 8, Haywood, 10, William, 5, and Susan, 8 months.
Blount, Mary. Age 30, mulatto, married, died in June, consumption.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Calvin Blount, 35; farm laborer John Bantler, 23; and Dick, 12, Tillman, 10, Frank, 6, Wright, 7, and William Blount, 4.
Mitchell, Maggie. Age 6 months, black, died in July, inflammation stomach.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Eliza Mitchell, 26, and daughter Rebecca, 9.
Renfrow, [illegible]. Age 46, black, married, farm laborer, died in October, pneumonia.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Sarah Renfrow, 45, Isaac, 14, Rosa, 30, and Dennis, 4, plus Lewis Kelly, 23.
Milton, Lindsey. Age 48, black, married, farm laborer, died in May, heart [illegible].
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: domestic servant Eliza Milton, 41, and children John, 13, Robert, 12, and Francy, 8; Susan Benjamin, 2; and Mark Blount, 18.
Ruffin, infant. Age 1, black, died in October, unknown.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Green Ruffin, 36; wife Tamer, 30; children Ora, 3, and Martha, 2; and Nicey Watson, 58.
Farmer, Luther. Age 19, black, died in February, farm laborer, pleurisy(?).
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Washington Farmer, 43; wife Wady, 44; and children Edith, 14, Fortin, 13, Gimsey, 11, John W., 8, Nancy, 6, and Orgius, 6; and farm laborer Nelson Thomas, 21.
Bell, Adeline. Age 20, black, died in February, worked on farm, consumption.
Battle, Manerva. Age 30, mulatto, died in May, worked on farm, asciteas.
Ascites is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity. In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Hardy Bell, 65; Lucinda, 48; and children Wilson, 17, Isabella, 13, and Ellen, 7; and Turner, 4, Julia, 10, William, 8, Lucinda, 6, Anna, 3, and infant Battle, 10 months.
Not known. Age 65, black, widowed, died in March, general debility.
Remarks: “The name of the person in column 2, line 19 could not be ascertained.”
Barnes, Caswell. Age 1, black, died in October, cholera infantum.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Charles Barnes, 26, born in Maryland, and Jackson, 19, and Williams Barnes, 3.
Saunders, Jane. Age 4 months, black, died in October, pertussis.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Guilbert Sanderson, 34; wife Mary, 36; and children Nash, 12, Timothy, 9, Henry, 8, and Margrett, 6.
Eatman, Judea Ann. Age 8 months, black, died in September, pertussis.
Eatman, Zora. Age 8 months, black, died in October, pertussis.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Cynthia Eastman, 40, and children Luke, 23, domestic servant, Turner, 21, Wady, 18, and David, 6.
Barnes, Vilet. Age 75, black, widowed, domestic servant, died in September, died from general debility.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: blacksmith Mark Barnes, 56; wife Judea, 55; daughter Adeline, 19; and grandchildren Lara, 2, and Warren, 7; farm laborer Robert Rountree, 19; and invalid Sophia Barnes, 40.
Barnes Rachel. Age 1, black, died in March, epilepsy.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Short Barnes, 35, wife Rosa, 21, and daughter Rena, 5.
Wilder, Caroline. Age 75, black, widowed, died in March, consumption.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Charles Mathews, 68, and wife Sarah, 65; farm laborer Alfred Farmer, 26, wife Cilla, 23, and son Henry, 2; and Jane Noobly, 8.