Colvert

Iredell County Chronicles, no. 2.

Harriet Nicholson Tomlin Hart (1861-1924).

Me: How did she work that? How did Harriet get to be the first black woman to vote [in Statesville, North Carolina]?

Margaret Colvert Allen, my maternal grandmother: Well, because her husband [Thomas Alonzo Hart] was a lawyer.

Me: Right.

Grandma: He was a, whatchacall – a real estate lawyer. And he taught her how to read and write and do everything after he married her. Or while he was marrying her. Or something. And when time came for women to vote, she was the first black – he carried her down to the polls, and she was the first black woman to vote. And then at that time, you know, they gave you a quiz.

Me: Right. Right. Right. For black people to vote. Yeah. ‘Cause did your parents – well, did your father [Lon W. Colvert] vote?

Lon Walker Colvert (1875-1930).

Grandma: Oh, yeah. Papa voted. He voted. And the people in my home, Lisa, fought in the streets. It was dange – I mean, we could not go outside the house on election night. The people — “Who’d you vote for?” “I’m a Democrat.” “I’m a Republican.” Pam-a-lam-a-lam! [Swings fists, and I break into laughter.] People acted like they were crazy! Papa didn’t allow us out the house. “You better be getting on home!” ‘Cause they were terrible.

Me: And now you got to drag people out to vote. And then you hear people going: “I’m not gon vote now. What’s the point? I blah-blah-blah.”

Grandma: Yeah. When I came here [Newport News, Virginia] you had to pay poll tax.

Me: Yeah.

Grandma: It wasn’t a whole lot, but it was ridiculous.

Me: Yep.

[Harriet Hart was my great-great-grandmother. My grandmother cast her last ballot for Barack Obama in 2008 — at age 100.]

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Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Iredell County Chronicles, no. 1.

A few weeks ago, I promised to go a teeny way toward carrying out my original plan for several one-place studies by turning the focus of Black Wide-Awake briefly to other beloved Black communities. This week I’ll be guest-blogging (though in my own space) from time to time about Iredell County, North Carolina, my maternal grandmother’s birthplace, two hundred miles west of Wilson on the western edge of North Carolina’s Piedmont.

I’ll start with an introduction to my great-great-great-grandfather Walker Colvert, who was born enslaved about 1819 in Culpeper County, Virginia. When Samuel W. Colvert died in 1823, Walker passed to his son John Alpheus Colvert, who had migrated to Iredell County and bought land on Rocky Creek, a South Yadkin River tributary.

Only four years later, John A. Colvert died. This excerpt from his estate records shows  “Negroes hired for one year,” that is, enslaved people leased to neighbors to earn money for Colvert’s estate and the support of his widow and children. “Boy Walker” was about eight years old. That he was listed without his mother may suggest that he was an orphan, though he was about the age to be separated from her and put to work on his own. Walker’s kinship to Jerry, Amy, Joe, Ellen, Meel, Anda, Charlotte, and Lett is unknown. 

Inventory of the estate of John Alpheus Colvert, Iredell County, North Carolina, 1827.

When he reached adulthood in 1851, John’s son William Isaac Colvert inherited Walker and held him until Emancipation on his farm in Eagle Mill township. The same year, Walker Colvert fathered a son, John Walker Colvert, by Elvira Gray. The boy and his mother were likely enslaved on a nearby plantation, perhaps that of William I. Colvert’s sister, Susan Colvert Gray. Around 1853, Walker married Rebecca Parks, a relationship that was not legalized until they registered their cohabitation as freed people in 1866. Their registration notes three children — John (Rebecca’s stepson), Elvira, and Lovenia. Rebecca also had a son Lewis Colvert, born about 1860, whom Walker reared but apparently did not father.

Iredell County Cohabitation Records, Register of Deeds Office, Statesville, N.C.

Walker Colvert and his son John Walker worked for decades after slavery for William I. Colvert, likely both on his farm and at his cotton manufacturing enterprise, Eagle Mills. Walker eventually bought a small farm in nearby Union Grove township, though he did not record a deed for it. On 16 March 1901, with the help of his neighbors he drafted a short will leaving all his property to his widow Rebecca Colvert, and then to his son John Colvert. Four years later, he died.

The Landmark (Statesville, N.C.), 10 February 1905.

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In the 1870 census of Union Grove township, Iredell County: farm worker Walker Colvert, 50; wife Rebecca, 25; and Lewis, 10.

In the 1880 census of Union Grove township, Iredell County: farm worker Walker Colvert, 62; wife Rebecca, 37; grandson Alonzo, 5; and niece Bitha Albea, 3.

In the 1900 census of Union Grove township, Iredell County: farmer Walker Colvert, 84, and wife Rebecca, 60. Both reported having been born in Virginia.

Nurse Colvert catches a thief.

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Wilson Daily Times, 15 November 1929.

Iredell County native Henrietta R. Colvert was a nurse at Mercy Hospital and with North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Neighbor Alex Fields attempted a burglary at the home she rented at 721 East Green Street.

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In the 1910 census of Statesville, Iredell County, North Carolina: at 204 East Front Street, draywagon driver John Colvert, 53; wife Addie, 44; and daughters Lugenia, 20, laundress, Lillie, 18, academy teacher, and Harriet, 17.

Charlotte Observer, 21 July 1915.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 330 South Spring Street: widowed Nannie Best, 61, her daughter Frank, 30, son Aaron, 21, and daughter-in-law Estelle, 19, and a lodger, nurse Henrietta Colvert, 24.

In the 1925, 1928 and 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., directories, Henrietta Colvert was listed as a nurse living at 721 East Green.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 721 East Green Street, paying $40/month, trained insurance company nurse Henrietta Colvert, 32.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 624 East Green Street, widow Cora Powell, 41, teacher, born Wayne County; George Cooper, 24, of Washington, and wife Margaret, 26, of Hamilton, Ohio; Henrietta Colvert, 38, of Statesville; and Marian Davis, 28, Salisbury. Several occupations are misplaced. George Cooper, not his wife, was a sheet metal worker; Colvert, not Davis, was a nurse; and Davis was a teacher at Darden. [624 East Green was the former Frank S. Hargrave house, which belonged to Colvert’s boss.]

In the 1951 city directory of Charlotte, N.C., Henrietta Colvert is listed as a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Henrietta Rebecca Colvert died 9 July 1980 in Roanoke, Virginia. Per her death certificate, she was born 4 March 1911 [sic, 1893] in North Carolina; resided at 233 Harrison Avenue, N.W., Roanoke; had worked as a hospital nurse; and was buried in Williams Memorial Park, Roanoke.

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Though he redeemed himself well enough to be described as “worthy” in his Daily Times obituary, Alexander Fields was listed in the county stockade in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County.

Wilson news.

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New York Age, 9 September 1922.

  • Mrs. Jasper Coley —  Laura (or Laurena) V. Coley, daughter of Isaac and Penny Coley, married Jasper Allison Coley on 6 June 1912 in Wayne County. A native of Pikeville, Wayne County, like her husband, Laura died 12 May 1923. She was a teacher. Jasper Coley was the son of Phillip R. and Annie Exum Coley. He is listed in Wilson city directories in the early 1920s as a carpenter, a plasterer and a bricklayer, and lived at 401 North Vick Street.
  • Mrs. William Hines — Ethel Cornwell Hines (1894-1983) was a South Carolina native.
  • Roberta Battle, Glace Battle, Georgia Burks and Henrietta Colvert
  • Mrs. B.P. Coward — Sarah Adelaide Brown Coward (1867-1946) was the wife of A.M.E. Zion minister Bryant Pugh Coward.
  • Mrs. Stattie Cannon — In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charles Cannon, 35, barber in a “white shop”; wife Statie, 34; and children Charles, 11, Ruth, 9, and Statie Benton, 13. In the 1922 Wilson city directory, Stattie Cannon is listed as a dressmaker and Charles Cannon as a carpenter; both resided at 724 East Green Street. In the 1940 census of Newark, Essex County, New Jersey: Charles Cannon, 44, mother Stattie Cannon, 65, brother-in-law Fred Langford, 29, and sister Ruth Langford, 33. All were born in North Carolina and described as “white.”
  • A.N. Darden — Arthur N. Darden (1889-1948) was a son of Charles H. and Dinah Scarborough Darden and worked in his father’s undertaking business.
  • John Clark
  • Mrs. C.L. Darden — Norma Duncan Darden (1895-1987), a native of Montgomery, Alabama, was married to Arthur Darden’s brother, Camillus L. Darden.
  • Rev. A.H. George
  • Mrs. S.L. Bowser — Burt Bowser, born in Halifax County, married Sarah Rountree, daughter of Peter and Lucinda Rountree, on 4 December 1888 in Wilson. Reddin S. Wilkins, A.J. Lindsay and James W. Parrington were witnesses to the ceremony. In the 1900 census, Burt L. Bowser is described as a bar tender and in 1910 as the conductor of a pool room. Sarah is described as a dressmaker. Burt Landers Bowser died in 1920; Sarah Bowser, in 1935.
  • John Spells — In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Pender Street, carpenter John E. Spell, 50, wife Martha A., 39, and son John E., Jr., 16. (John’s death certificate lists his middle name as Stephen.) Martha A. Spell, a native of Guilford County, died in Wilson in 1966.
  • Wesley Rogers — Per the city directory, in 1922, John Wesley Rogers lived at 548 East Nash Street and worked as a porter at Oettinger’s department store. His wife,  a native of Johnston County, was Mary Elizabeth Thomas Rogers (1878-1950). Rogers was born in Durham County in 1870 and died in Wilson in 1951.
  • Deby Harper — Deborah Harper Swindell was the daughter of Argent Harper. She was briefly married to Louis Swindell.
  • Dr. DuBissette
  • Dr. and Mrs. J.B. Darden — Pharmacist James Benjamin Darden was a brother of Arthur and Camillus Darden. After a brief partnership with his brother John W. Darden, a doctor in Opelika, Alabama, he settled in Petersburg, Virginia.
  • Mrs. A.B. Bowser — Astor Burt Bowser, born 1896, was a son of Burt L. and Sarah L. Bowser, above. He married Deloris Harvey of Alamance County on 17 August 1921 in Wilson. Rev. B.P. Coward officiated. In the 1930 census, the couple and their children, Astor B., Jr., and Sarah, are listed in Chicago, Illinois. Astor worked as an artist in his own studio and Deloris as a saleslady in a millinery. Astor died in Hennepin County, Minnesota, in 1981.

Mercy Hospital.

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Founded in 1913, the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home (later known as Mercy Hospital) was one of a handful of early African-American hospitals in North Carolina and the only one in the northeast quadrant of the state. Though it struggled financially throughout its more than 50 years of operation, the hospital provided critical care to thousands who otherwise lacked access to treatment.

A small cadre of black nurses assisted the attendant physicians. One was Henrietta Colvert (1893-1980) shown below at far left. A native of Statesville in North Carolina’s western Piedmont, Henrietta received training at Saint Agnes School of Nursing in Raleigh. How and when she came to Wilson is unknown. However, this photograph suggests that she cared for Mercy’s patients in its earliest days as the man seated in the middle is hospital founder Dr. Frank S. Hargrave, who left Wilson for New Jersey in 1924. The man at right is Dr. William A. Mitchner.

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Photograph of staff courtesy of the Freeman Round House Museum, Wilson; photograph of hospital taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2013.