child mortality

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.

Boy accidentally shot by sister.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 May 1943.


On 27 February 1929, Rufus Wallace, 23, of Taylors township, son of C. and Lillie Wallace, married Dorethea Etheridge, 15, daughter of Wiley and Lula Etheridge, in Wilson.

In the 1940 census of Sterlings township, Roberson County: Rufus Wallace, 36; wife Dorothea, 29; children Wade, 10, Eileen, 8, Lula Mae, 6, Rufus Jr., 5, and Jimmie Carl, 3; and brother-in-law Wiley Etheridge, 19.

In 1942, Rufus W. Wallace registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 7 January 1904 in Robeson County, N.C.; lived on Route 4, Wilson, Gardners township; his contact was Martha Rountree, 913 Mercey [Mercer] Street, Wilson; and he worked for J.C. Corbett, Route 4, Wilson.

“Gun shot wound of head. Shot by sister accidental.”

In the 1950 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: well digger Rufus Wallace, 46; wife Doreatha, 39; and children Lula Mae, 16, Jimmy, 13, Freddie, 7, and Bobby, 4.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Lucy Ward’s baby.

Death certificates have not always been complete or reliable sources of primary evidence. When a two month-old girl died on 9 January 1914 in Wilson, her name was originally given as “Lucy Ward‘s Baby.” Her first name was later added as “(Mildred)” and, later still, a surname, her mother’s.

Worse, the toddler’s cause of death is wholly unsatisfactorily: “Don’t know — didn’t have a physician.” End of inquiry.

Mildred Ward’s place of burial is broadly noted as Wilson, N.C. Assuming this indicates a cemetery within town limits, she likely was buried at the old Oakdale Cemetery or the newly opened public cemetery that we now refer to as Vick.

Twelve year-old accidentally shoots twelve year-old.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 January 1917.

I have not been able to find a death record for a 12 year-old child in early January 1917. Nor have I been able to identify a 12 year-old boy named Clark living in the Elm City area in 1917.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Nothing compares to the loss.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 March 1923.

Incredibly, Augusta Walker dropped by the Daily Times office a few days after her infant son Leroy Wanamaker was burned to death in a house fire. She wanted to explain the circumstances of the tragedy.

Per his death certificate, Leroy was six months old; was born in Wilson County to James Wanamaker of South Carolina and Augusta Walker of Durham, N.C.; and died in Saratoga township, Wilson County.

No other trace of Augusta Walker is readily found in Wilson County records. She may have only recently arrived when she gave birth in Wilson County and may have had no family with which to leave her son while she worked. 

Mother and child killed in oil can explosion.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 November 1921.

In 1917, Avery Johnson registered for the World War I draft in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Per his registration card, he was born 25 June 1891 in Marietta, N.C.; lived at 636 Green, Wilson; worked as a laborer for Worth Bros., Coatesville, Pennsylvania; and had a wife and one child.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Avery Johnson, 27; wife Carrie, 24; and children Evaline, 2, and John L., two months.

The child who died in the oil can explosion was a son, John Elry Johnson, not a daughter. He was two weeks past his second birthday.

Avery Johnson’s wife Carrie Wingate Johnson also succumbed to her injuries, after four days of suffering.