child neglect

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.

They have urged me to take them from their father.

Bu.R.F.&A.L., Office Asst. Sub. Asst. Com, Rocky Mount N.C. Dec 3rd 1867

Brt.Lt.Col. C.E. Compton, Sub. Asst. Com.


There is a colored man living in Wilson County by the name of Exum Joyner, who has five children, the oldest is about fifteen years of age.

The children have been to me twice and urged me to take them from their father & send them to some place where they could earn a comfortable support & protect them in so doing. I told them I had no authority to take them away from their father & sent them back to him.

I have made enquiries of both White & Black men who are neighbors, and know Exum’s character & the response has been, in every case, that he is Lazy worthless fellow & that he does not take [care] of his children.

They were certainly in a pitiable condition when they came to my office.

Would it be proper for me to ask the court in Wilson County to appoint a guardian for them

These children have a half brother who is twenty five years old, and he is an active, intelligent man; he is willing to take charge of them, providing he can be properly authorized.

I have the honor to be, Very Respectfully, Your Obed’t Svt.,

Wm. H. Culler, Brt.Lt.Col. & A.S.A.C.

Freedmen Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1863-1878 [database online],