child mortality

Lane Street Project: in memory of Jesse Henderson Jr. (1928-1929).

I’ve spoken of the database I am developing of likely burials in Vick, Odd Fellows, and Rountree Cemeteries. My spreadsheet draws upon death certificates, obituaries, and other sources — most distressingly imprecise. The term “Rountree Cemetery” on these documents may refer to Vick, Odd Fellows, or Rountree. Some documents broadly refer only to burial in Wilson. However, in the absence of official burial records for any of the cemeteries, we make do.

This series honors the men, women, and children who never had grave markers, or whose stones have been lost or stolen or destroyed. Graves believed to be in Vick Cemetery, which the City of Wilson stripped of remaining markers in 1996, will be identified with a Vick Cemetery logo.


Jessie Henderson Jr. died 15 April 1929 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 5 months old; was born in Wilson to Jessie Henderson of Dudley, N.C., and Pauline Artis of Johnston County, N.C.; lived at 318 Pender Street; and was buried Rountrees Cemetery [likely Vick Cemetery] by C.E. Artis.

Arthur Lee Sharp, 9, is badly burned.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 November 1941.

Little Arthur Lee Sharpe lost his fight and passed away 8 December 1941.


In the 1940 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Larry Sharpe, 62; wife Bessie, 42; and children Edward, 17, Marie, 16, Lucinda, 13, Larry Jr., 12, Wilbert, 9, Aurthur Lee, 8, Juanita, 3, and James E. Sharpe, 1, and Debbie Barnes, 19.

Arthur Lee Sharpe died 8 December 1941 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 March 1932 in Wilson County to Larry Sharpe of Wilson and Bettie Guest of Spartanburg, S.C.; was a student; lived at Route 4, Wilson; and was buried in Simon Barnes cemetery. Cause of death: “extensive burns entire body — fell in hot grease [due to] accident.”

The death of Alton Hagans, 13, struck by a truck while riding a bicycle.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 September 1921.


In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Viola Street, Bryant Mill laborer Isic Haggins, 23; wife Essie May 19; and son Alton, 1.

Alton Hagans died 8 September 1921 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 November 1910 in Saratoga, Wilson County, to Isaac Hagans and Ezziemay Farmer; lived on Hines Street; and worked as a grocery delivery boy. His cause of death: “instantly killed by auto struck while riding bicycle.”

The death of little Etta Parker.

“Pistol ball in brain by toy pistol in hands of boy unintentionally.”

I have not been able to learn more about the death of six year-old Etta Parker, who was fatally shot in the head by an unidentified boy with a toy pistol. (What kind of toy gun shot “pistol balls”? A BB gun?)

The death of little Bud Horne.

Four year-old Bud Horne‘s cause of death is unfathomable: “It is supposed this child swallowed matches, fire was flaming from his mouth when discovered.”


In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lodge Street, brickyard laborer Richard Horne, 59; wife Lizzie, 60, laundress; children Elizabeth, 17, Mary, 15, and Emma, 8; and granddaughter Rosa, 1.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: also on Lodge Street, widow Adeline Suggs, 48, and her children  Alex, 18, Pattie, 15, and Fannie, 14.

Funeral directors argue over girl’s body.

The competition between rival undertakers was ferocious. Martha Lucas died two days after her twelfth birthday. Unbeknownst to the family, a nurse at the “local colored hospital” (later known as Mercy Hospital) called Batts Brothers and Artis undertaking firm to prepare the girl’s body for burial. Later, the Lucas family asked C.H. Darden & Sons to perform the service. When Darden discovered the body missing, they showed up at Batts and Artis demanding possession. Batts and Artis refused to hand her over unless Darden paid transportation expenses. Darden went to court.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 August 1921.

Three days later, Martha’s father Wiley Lucas and Camillus L. Darden also appealed to the court of public opinion. Lucas stated that he, not Darden, had caused the sheriff’s department to file a claim and delivery action on the advice of police when Amos Batts dramatically claimed he would rather die than surrender Martha’s body. (Replevin, or claim and delivery, is a legal remedy that enables a person to recover personal property taken unlawfully and to obtain compensation for resulting losses.) Lucas “emphatically [denied] that any undertakers but C.H. Darden & Sons were instructed to attend to the funeral arrangements, as I knew of no other colored funeral directors in Wilson at the time ….”

C.L. Darden chimed in to direct readers to the magistrate’s record for the facts, noting that Batts had been told he could sue the hospital if he felt aggrieved. “But Batts knows as the public knows — as I can prove if it comes to a showdown — that Artis’ wife, who is head nurse in the institution, solicits in the hospital for the firm of Batts Bros. & Artis, of which her husband is a member of the firm.” “Artis” was Columbus E. Artis, and his wife was registered nurse Ada Artis.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 August 1921.

Batts Brothers and Artis responded three days after that, “that the public may not be misled.”  They denied having refused to give up the girl’s body, contending that they only sought to be paid for services rendered. The firm claimed the trial justice agreed they were entitled to a “small fee,” but, perhaps taking the temperature of public sentiment, they agreed to drop their claim and pay court costs.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 August 1921.

Martha Lucas’ death certificate.

Little William Isam succumbs to rat bite.

In the spring of 1949, five month-old William Earl Isam died in his crib after a large rat bit his face. 

Wilson Daily Times, 27 April 1949.

The county coroner was incensed. Not only had the boy died in horrific circumstances, but he had not been seen by a doctor beforehand, and his adoptive father Henry Gervin had buried his body before receiving a death certificate.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 April 1949.

William Isam finally received a death certificate six days after he died. Per the record, he was born 3 November 1948 to Annie Bell Isam. The document bristles with details of the boy’s death. The “Register of Deeds gave burial permit without death certificate.” The cause of death was “Probably blood stream infection from rat bite. Bitten in its crib about midnight. Died 9 hours later Coroner not notified. Heard about 24 hours after burial.” 

Three days later, the Daily Times followed up with a report on little William’s neighbors’ concerns. What they thought about the boy’s death went unmentioned, but their indignation that Rock Ridge’s reputation had been smeared is clear.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 May 1949.

April clippings courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.