child labor

The death of young Alex Washington.

Twelve year-old Alexander Washington died of appendicitis in March 1918, a not uncommon outcome in an era of clumsy surgery and few antibiotics. Compounding the sadness of his young death is the realization that he was already a full-time working man when he was struck down.

Washington’s death certificate notes that he was a servant in a boarding house and employed by Mrs. Lillie Barnes. Astonishingly, in 1916, when he was 11, he was listed as a butler in the Wilson city directory. I have not been able to identify with certainty Lillie Barnes or the boarding house. The inclusion of the honorific “Mrs.” implies that Lillie Barnes was white. However, there was only one Lillie Barnes listed in the 1912 and 1916 city directories, and she was “colored.” In 1916, Lillie Barnes was listed with no occupation and living at 612 East Nash Street. The 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson reveals a small shotgun, or “endway,” house at this address, not a dwelling large enough to have been a boarding house requiring a full-time servant.


In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spruce Street, Aaron Washington, 46, drayman; wife Stella, 36, laundress; and children Clee, 17, cook, Ora, 12, cook, Grey A., 10, Hattie, 8, Alex, 6, Beatrice, 5, Lillie R., 2, and James W., 1.

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Washington Alex (c) butler h Wainwright av nr S Reid. Also: Washington Aaron (c) drayman h Wainwright av nr S Reid; Washington Hattie (c) dom h Wainwright av nr S Reid; Washington Ora M (c) dom h Wainwright av nr S Reid.

[Note: The informant on Alexander Washington’s death certificate was his paternal grandmother, Judia [Julia] Washington. She correctly named Alex’s father, Aaron Washington, but when asked “maiden name of mother,” she gave her own maiden name — Judia Sharpe. It was a surprisingly common mistake. Alex Washington’s mother was Estella Simms Washington.]

Blow to the head of teenaged laborer.


“Blow upon head fracture of scull accidental”

I have not been able to find additional details about 14 year-old box factory laborer Prince Albert Barnes‘ death.


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, house servant Margaret Barnes, 38, and sons Willie, 23, factory laborer, Prince, 10, and Joe, 3 months.