child mortality

Boy accidentally shot by sister.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 May 1943.

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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. 

Suffer the little children: death by fire.

Well into the twentieth century, children faced harrowing odds against reaching adulthood. Disease, accidents, violence bore them away in sorrowful numbers. In the 1910s, 17% of American children died before age 5, a figure that was higher for Southern and African-American children. Few children in Wilson County were buried in marked graves. In town, original burials were in Oaklawn or the Masonic cemetery. The Oaklawn graves were exhumed and moved to Rest Haven in the 1940s, and headstones, if they ever existed, have been lost over time.

By allowing us to call their names again, this series of posts memorializes the lives of children who died during the first twenty years in which Wilson County maintained death records. May they rest in peace.

  • On 11 February 1915, Mary Mercer, 2, in Wilson, daughter of Dempsey Mercer and Maggie Hines, was burned to death.
  • On 17 February 1915, Wilbert Hall, 3, in Stantonsburg, son of James and Henrietta Hall, died after his “clothes caught fire and [he] was burned so badly he died within a few hours.”
  • On 11 December 1915, Willie Gray Harrison, 4, in Taylors township, son of Ed Wiggins and Bessie Harrison, died of accidental burns.
  • On 6 June 1916, Lizzie Green, 14, in Oldfields township, daughter of George Parker, married, was accidentally “burned to death — her dress caught fire while cooking in lumber camp, from cracks in stove.”
  • On 18 October 1916, Lucrecia Pace, 4, in Oldfields township, daughter of Dewitt Pace and Fannie Renfrow, died after “burned in clothing caught while playing in fire with no one in house but smaller baby.”
  • On 28 March 1917, Robert Rich, 18 months, in Gardners township, son of Edd Rich and Martha Dickens, died after “burned to death in burning home.”
  • On 10 May 1918, Milton Haskins, 3, in Wilson township, son of John Haskins and Eliza Joyner, died after “burned while in home asleep.”
  • On 26 September 1918, Hattie Bynum, 6, in Saratoga township, daughter of Lynn and Lena Bynum, died after being “burned by fire — clothes caught fire around wash pot.” She was buried at the “Whitehead place.”
  • On 4 March 1920, May Lillie Battle, 7, in Gardners township, daughter of Simon Battle and Mary Hines, died after being burned.
  • On 27 November 1920, Namie Pearl Clark, 5, in Saratoga township, daughter of William Clark and Ella Graves, “died in about 3 hours of burn covering entire body.” She was buried in “Vines cemetery.”
  • On 25 April 1922, Manallis Hooks, 3, in Wilson, son of Barnard Hooks and Sittie Dawson, “burned to death, caught from open fireplace during absence of parents.”
  • On 8 March 1923, Leroy Wanamaker, 6 months, in Saratoga, son of James Wanamaker and Augusta Walker, “burned to death.” He was buried “near Saratoga.”
  • On 12 November 1923, Linda Inman, 4, in Toisnot township, daughter of Lim Inman and Edna McNeal, “burned to death, dress caught from grate.”
  • On 9 January 1940, Alice Powell, 11, in Wilson, daughter of James Powell and Lela Wright, “3rd degree burns of entire body, playing in fire.”