Johnnie Farmer writes home, no. 1.

Virginia Pou Doughton Papers, housed in the North Carolina State Archives’ Private Collections, contain dozens of letters written by an African-American man named Johnnie Farmer, who had worked as butler and cook for Doughton’s grandparents, Floyd S. and Elizabeth Barnes Davis. (Farmer’s mother, Bettie Farmer, and sister, Emma Farmer, also worked as servants for the Davises.) Farmer, a World War I veteran, had been hospitalized at the Veterans Administration hospital in Kecoughtan, Virginia, apparently for complications from diabetes.

Farmer’s letters make reference to several Davis family members, including Miss Lizzie (Elizabeth B. Davis), Miss Helen (Virginia Doughton’s aunt by marriage, Helen Patterson Davis), Mr. Frank (her uncle, Frank Barnes Davis), and Sammy Pou (Doughton, herself, by a childhood nickname.) Miss Harris was likely Alice Barnes Wright Harriss, who lived next door to the Davises at 701 West Nash Street and was Lizzie B. Davis’ sister.

In this letter to Lizzie Davis, written sometime in 1941, Farmer laments being flat on his back and unable to get around, expresses cautious optimism about the condition of his feet, and asks Davis not to share his update.

Ward 3 Room 363     1941

Miss Lizzie I know theease has bin werren you all to deth and it hasen warred you all half a bad as it has warred you know lenying flalt of you back and cant get up and get around to do nothen for your self it is a hard job to get enny baurdy to do enny thing for yo now; write miss Hellen about my foot now i realy dont wornt you all to write the Doc a boud of corse he haven tould me so but I got infore machen from the nurs and the

she said she did not know theeair was a little life comming back in it and she said as long as you see som kind of life in it ther was some so dont say enny thing to enny baurdy at hom and dont write the doc for if you all d he will come stratt to me and give me the Devel a bout it i gave the Dcoc the blanker [about?] three [??] and there  is not bout one doc on this warrd and thear is a 300 mens he have to look at and i ask him to day and he said he would look after them

Just a soon a he could as warred as I am I haven eve got the blanks to thank [think?] I wont to day againg not to say enny thing about the foot untell you hear from me again tell Mr Flank I got his letter and yours togather will write him when i feal like up tell Miss Harris I am goinge to write hear soon i got enny more to say this time write when ever you feal like got a real long lettler from Sammey Pou sure did enjoy readin it Johnnie Farmer


In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer George Farmer, 51; wife Bettie, 46; and children George W., 21, Miner, 19, Aulander, 18, Willie, 17, Johnny, 15, and Emma, 12.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: laborer George Farmer, 71; wife Bettie, 62; and children John, 18, and Emma, 16.

George Farmer died 4 April 1918 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 88 years old; was born in Wilson County to Harry Farmer and Betty Crumley; was married to Betty Farmer; worked as a farmer; and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery. William Farmer was informant.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Bynum Street, widow Bettie Farmer, 56; daughter Emma, 23, cook, and son Johnnie, 25, butler.

Emma Farmer died 12 October 1926 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 28 years old; was born in Wilson County to George Farmer and Betty Crumble; was single; lived at 808 West Broad Street; and worked as a cook for Mrs. Jas. H. Pou. John Farmer was informant, and she was buried in Wilson, N.C. [probably Vick Cemetery.]

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 705 West Nash, owned and valued at $20,000, widow Elizabeth B. Davis, 59; son Frank B., 35; daughter-in-law Hellen P., 34; grandchildren Frank B. Jr., 13, and Hellen P., 4; and servants Jollie [sic], 40, and Bettie Farmer, 72.

Will Farmer died 7 April 1938 in Wilson after an auto accident near Goldsboro, Wayne County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was 51 years old; was born in Wilson County to George farmer and Betty Crummel; was married to Eula Farmer; lived at 903 East Green Street; and worked as a hotel porter. He was buried in Wilson, N.C. [probably Vick Cemetery.]

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 714 Stronach Street, Johnny Farmer, 50, cook, and widowed mother Bettie Farmer, 85.

Arlanda Farmer died 14 March 1940 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 55 years old; was born in Wilson County to George Farmer and Bettie Crumble; was married to Marsha Farmer; worked as a truck driver for Carolina Ice Company; and was a veteran. He was buried in Wilson, N.C. [probably Vick Cemetery.]

Johnie Farmer died 30 March 1944 at the Veterans Administration hospital in Kecoughtan, Elizabeth City County, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1893 to George Farmer and Betty Crowell; his usual residence was 714 Stronach Alley, Wilson; and his body was returned to Wilson for burial.

Bettie Cromartie Farmer died 23 July 1945 at her home at 913 Faison Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 August 1857 in Edgecombe County, N.C.; was widowed; and was buried in the Masonic cemetery.

Johnny Farmer Letters, 1941-1944, Virginia Pou Doughton Family Papers, P.C. 1981.1, Private Collections, State Archives of North Carolina.

The obituary of John Hearne, servant.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 May 1935.

  • John Hearne 

In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborers Sallie Hearn, 65, widow, and son John, 35.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: at West Railroad Street, Manalcus B. Aycock, 34, farmer; James M. Aycock, 40, farmer/partner; wife Annie, 29; sons Yancey, 10, and Douglass, 8; and servant John Herring, 38.

John Hearn died 19 May 1935 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 60 years old; was born in Pitt County, N.C., to John [illegible] and Sallie Lawrence; was single; and worked as a cook.

John Hearn was buried on his employers’ farm, but I have not been able to identify that location. (Manalcus and Annie Moore Aycock were buried in Maplewood Cemetery in Wilson.)

John Hearne lived and worked in this house, built by Manalcus B. Aycock 1900-1901 in Black Creek. The house, which is listed on National Register of Historic Places, still stands on West Center Street.

The will and estate of William Barden.

The second in a series documenting enslaved people held by the Bardin/Barden family, who lived in the Black Creek area in what was once Wayne County, but is now Wilson County.


When William Barden (1785-1837 drafted his last will and testament on 3 October 1835, he disposed of his enslaved property in two paragraphs. First, “my negro man Dred” was to be sold. Second, “all the rest of my Negroes” were to be equally divided among his children Celia Barden, James Barden, Jacob Barden, Penelope Barden Holmes, John Barden, Henry Barden, Nancy Barden, William Barden, Phebe Barden, Charity Barden, and Sally F. Barden.

William Barden died in 1837.

Immediately, on 20 March 1837, his executor hired out several enslaved people to bring in income.

A 15 May 1837 note in Barden’s estate file reveals that, even before he died, Barden authorized his son Jacob Barden “to carry out of the state and sell the negroe boy Dred.” Accordingly, J. Barden took Dred to Alabama and sold him to John Cook for $1000 — $500 down and $500 on credit.

On 6 June 1837, a committee divided the men, women, and children who had lived together as Arthur Barden’s enslaved property:

  • Ben, valued at $600, to Sally F. Barden
  • Whitley, valued at $550, to James Barden
  • Hardy, $525, to Nancy Barden
  • Tom, $500, to William Barden
  • Wilie, $425, to Jacob Barden
  • Milly, $500, to John Barden
  • Cherry and child, $550, to Pheraby [Phebe] Barden
  • Jerry, $325, to Penny Holmes
  • Mary, $325, to Henry Barden
  • Pursey and Ruffin, $425 to Lilia Barden
  • Lany and Patrick, $500, to Charity Barden


All William Barden’s children moved to Pontotoc and Itawamba Counties, Mississippi, within a few years of their father’s death. They undoubtedly took with them named here, pulling them hundreds of miles from the families and communities they knew and loved. I have only been able to locate what appears to be further record of one — Dred, who was sold away.

  • Dred

On 14 August 1867, Dred Cook, colored, registered to vote in Precinct No. 17, Greene County, Alabama. (John J. Cook had settled in Greene County as early as 1825.)

In the 1870 census of Mount Hebron township, Greene County, Alabama: Dred Cook, 83, farmer, born in North Carolina; presumed wife Mahala, 50, born in N.C.; and Wiley, 19, and Delia Cook, 15, both born in Alabama.

Also, in the 1870 census of Boligee township, Greene County, Alabama: Dred Cook, 83, farmer; presumed wife Haley, 50; and Wiley, 18, and Deley Cook, 15, all reported born in Alabama.

Estate File of William Barden (1837), Wayne County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998,

Five generations of Barnes women.

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Wilson Daily Times, 20 April 1950.

The caption identifies this as a photograph of five generations of an African-American Barnes family that lived on the Edwin Barnes farm, “one of the fine old plantations of the state.” There is no mention of the age of the photograph (I would guess approximately 1900-1910) or its provenance. The names of the young woman and baby at bottom left were unknown. “Old Aunt Rose” is at bottom right. Standing at top right is “Aunt Sylvia,” who was a cook for Edwin Barnes and then his daughter Mrs. J.T. Graves for forty years and was “famous for her chicken stew.” At top left is Aunt Sylvia’s daughter, Jane Barnes Simms.

To my surprise and disappointment, I have not been able to document Rose Barnes, her daughter Sylvia, and granddaughter Jane Barnes Simms. Can anyone help?

They came back and said they were married.

State vs. Ruffin Cook & Dora Stephens  }  Before Elias G. Barnes J.P.

Oscar Neal, being duly sworn, testifies as follows: Dora Stephens has been living on my place and near my house, about three years. Last June Ruffin Cook came to Dora’s and he or Dora or both asked me for a mule and buggy to go to Lucama to get married. They came back and said they were married, and have lived together since as man and wife so far as I have been able to see. They seemed to stay in the same room at night.

Joe Barnes being sworn testifies as follows: I went to Dora’s on the night of _____ at 3 o’clock A.M. and she and Ruffin were in bed together. I thought nothing of it as I thought they were married.

Ruffin Cook has a living wife. She was at this trial. Lives at Knightdale Wake county. Dora also has a living husband it is said.


On [illegible] December 1898, Gillis Stevens, 20, son of Gillis and Silvey Stevens, married Dora Adams, 20, daughter of Albert and Spicey Adams in Springhill township. Spencer S. Shaw applied for the license.

In the 1900 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: Gillis Stephens, 22; wife Dora, 25; and son Henry, 1.

In the 1910 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: farm laborer Dora Stevens, 36, divorced; with children Henry, 9, James, 8, Spicy, 6, Pearl, 4, and Petdonia, 3 months.

In the 1920 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: Dora Stevens, 39, described as divorced; and her children Henry, 20, James, 18, Spicy, 16, Pearl 12, Pet D., 10, and Albert, 1.

Undated, Adultery Records, Miscellaneous Records, Records of Wilson County, North Carolina State Archives.

916 East Green Street.

The twenty-sixth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for East Wilson Historic District: “ca. 1930; 2 stories; Thomas Cook house; cubic form with low hip roof and bungalow elements; asphalt shingles; Cook was a house painter.”

Actually, Thomas Cook lived at 900 Stantonsburg Street, across from the Wesley Jones family. This home, instead, belonged to Jerry L. and Clara Godette Cook, who arrived in Wilson from New Bern, North Carolina, in the 1920s.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Hadley Street, railroad mail clerk Jerry L. Cook, 43; wife Clara, 39, teacher; children Henderson, 20, Edwin D., 18, Clara G., 14, Georgia E., 12, Annie, 8, Jerry L., 6, and Eunice D., 4; sister Georgia E. Wyche, 48, teacher; and nieces Kathaline Wyche, 7, and Reba Whittington, 19.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 916 East Green Street, railway clerk J.L. Cook, 54, born Wake County; wife Clara, 48, born Craven County; children Henderson J., 30, Clara, 24, Annie, 18, Jerry, 16, and Eunice, 14; and cousin Ella Godette, 18. Henderson and young Clara were born in New Bern; the remaining children in Wilson.

Clara Godette Cook died 31 January 1952 at her home at 916 East Green Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 18 April 1891 in Craven County, North Carolina, to Jesse P. Godette and Eliza Ann Fenner; was married; and worked as a teacher. Clara Cook Bailey, 916 East Green Street, was informant.

Jerry Lee Cooke died 9 September 1976 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 30 November 1886 to Henderson Cooke and Mariah D. Matchlor; resided at 916 East Green Street; was widowed; and was a retired postal clerk.

Cuts and cooks.

African-Americans dominated certain trades in early twentieth-century Wilson, including barbering and operating eating houses. Here, in their entireties, are the entries for these vocations in the 1908 Wilson city directory. “Colored” people were designated with asterisks.

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  • James Austin — In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 506 Green Street, railroad laborer James Austin, 54; wife Martha, 49, washing and ironing; cousin Neicy Edmundson, 39, cook; and son Charles Austin, 23. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: 507 East Green, widower James Austin, 61, cousin Mac Edmonson, 37, niece Annie Wright, 35, and great-niece Dorthy Brown, 5.
  • S.W. Barnes —Short William Barnes was a carpenter. However, in the 1910 census of  Wilson, Wilson County: Short Barnes, 50, wife Frances, 50, daughter Maggie, 16, and boarder Mark Ellis, 25. Maggie was a barber and Mark, a minister.
  • Jno. Blount — On 4 March 1886, John Blount, 24, married Jane Bryant, 21, at Caroline Vick‘s house in Wilson. Witnesses were Caroline Vick, Julius Watkins and Bettie Rountree. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber John Blount, 48, wife Mary J., 44, and son Walter, 9. John Blount died 29 October 1917 in Wilson. He had been born in 1863 in Greene County to Right and H. Blount. Informant was J.M. Blount.
  • Wm. Hines — William Hines.
  • Henry C. Holden — On 4 January 1904, Henry C. Holden, 23, son of Wm. and H. Holden, married Lila Tomlin, 19, daughter of L[emon] and E. Tabron, at Edmonia Taborn‘s in Wilson. Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony. In the 1912 Wilson city directory, Henry C. Holden’s workplace was listed as Mayflower Barber Shop and his home address as “Daniel nr N S Ry.”  On 12 September 1918, Henry Clay Holden of 309 South Street, Wilson, registered for the World War I draft. He reported that he was born 15 April 1876, that he was a barber for Bill Hines at 119 South Tarboro Street, and that his nearest relative was his mother Hawkins Holden, who lived in Smithfield, Johnston County. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber Henry Holden, 43, and Virginia-born wife Mamie, 27, at 309 South Street.
  • Levi Jones — Levi Hunter Jones.
  • A.N. Neal — In the 1900 census of Freeman township, Franklin County: widower Austin Neal, 30, and children Bryant, 3, and Bertha, 1, plus brother Abram, 17, and sisters Tabitha, 19, and Bessie, 21. In the 1912 Wilson city directory, Austin Neal was listed as a barber at 409 East Nash. His home address was “Wainwright av for Freeman.” In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 105 Wainwright, widowed barber Austin Neal, 42, with children Bryant, 21, also a barber, Daisy, 16, Annie, 13, Samuel, 7, and Ruth, 5. In the 1930 census, Wilson, Wilson County: at 1214 Wainright Avenue, barber Austin Neal, 61, wife Lizzie, 38, servant for a private family, and son Samuel, 18, a hotel bell hop. Austin N. Neal died 14 February 1949 at Mercy Hospital of terminal uremia. He was born 11 November 1878 in Franklinton, North Carolina, to Abron Neal and Louise Brodie. He was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mrs. Lizzie H. Neal was informant.
  • Richard Renfrow — On 12 November 1895, Richard Renfrow, 35, son of Julia Gay, married Victoria Knight, 28, daughter of Harriet Knight in Wilson. W.T.H. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of Levi Jones, H.T. Ransom and Maggie Ransom. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber Richard Renfrow, 38, wife Victora, 35, her mother Harriet Knight, 61, and Harriet’s grandchildren Hattie, 16, Andrew, 14, and Alis Knight, 12.
  • Tate & Hines — Noah John Tate and Walter Scott Hines. On 24 November 1904, Walter S. Hines applied for a marriage license for Noah J. Tate, 28, son of Hardy and Mary Tate, and Hattie Pearce, 20, daughter of Andrew and Alice Pearce. Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at the home of Richard Renfrow in Wilson. Witnesses were S.H. Vick, W.H. Simms, and J.D. Reid. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber Noah Tate, 28, wife Hattie, 24, and children John P., 3, and Helen, 2. (On one side of the family lived John Blount; on the other, Austin Neal.) Noah J. Tate of 307 North Pender Street, 50, died 3 January 1926 in Wilson of pulmonary tuberculosis. He was married to Hattie Tate and worked as a barber. He was born in Grimesland, North Carolina, to Hardy Tate of Wayne County and Mary Jane Dawson of Pitt County. He was buried in Rountree cemetery.
  • Sidney Wheeler — On 23 December 1896, Sidney Wheeler, 24, married Lou Armstrong, 20, in Wilson. Witnesses were Richard Renfrow, S.A. Smith, and Janie Booth. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: barber Sidney Wheeler, 40; wife Lou, 30, cook; Sidney, 9, Dave, 7, Floyd, 4, and Emma, 2. On 8 March 1912, Sidney Wheeler of 710 Vance Street, age 35, died in Wilson of acute gastritis. Dr. W.A. Mitchner certified his death. He was born in Nash County to Richard and Annie Wheeler, and Lula Wheeler served as informant.

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  • Annie Best
  • Moses Bradon — Moses Brandon.
  • Manda Bynum — Wright Bynum married Amanda Hargrove on 2 January 1890. A.M.E. Zion minister J.H. Mattocks performed the ceremony, and O.L.W. Smith, John Ellis and Haywood Foreman stood as witnesses. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Wright Bynum, 37, servant, with wife Amanda, 30, and four lodgers, including Jonas Gay, 36.
  • Adelaide Farrell — Adelaide Farrell seems to have lived in Wilson only a short time. In the 1910 census of Snow Hill, Greene County: she was a 55 year-old widowed private cook listed in the household of her son-in-law and daughter, Allen and Mary Barfield. She may have been the Adelaide Farrell, 26, listed with husband Wesley and children in the 1880 census of Center, Chatham County, North Carolina.
  • Sarah Gaither — In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer Rufus Gaither, 57, wife Sarah, 56, and children Julius, 22, Mandy, 18, Aaron, 17, and Clarence, 15. In the 1912 Wilson city directory: Gaither Sarah eating house 418 e Nash h 401 Stantonsburg rd.
  • E.S. Hargrove — In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed laundress Adeline Hargrove, 60, with sons Esau, 20, and Douglas Hargrove, 18, and two lodgers. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Vance Street, D. John Hargrove, 28, wife Vina, 25, and children D[illegible], 8, Willie, 6, Jacob, 4, and John Ben, 2, plus mother Adline, 50, brother Esias, 30, and niece Melia A., 15. In the 1912 Wilson city directory: Hargrove Esau S, gen mdse Viola nr Vick. On 20 July 1912, E.S. Hargrove, 40, married Annie Thomas, 20, in Wilson. In the 1930 census, at 803 Viola Street, Esis Hargrove, 51, wife Annie, 38, and children William, 15, and Maggie, 8. “Esis” was a Baptist clergyman and owned his home, valued at $2000.
  • J. Thomas Teachey — On 12 January 1880, James T. Teacher, 21, son of Andrew J. and Nancy J. Teacher, married Betsey J. Musgrove, 20, daughter of Hay’d and Penny Musgrove, at the Wayne County courthouse. In the 1900 census of Dudley, Wayne County: farmer James T. Teachie, 41, wife Betsey, 37, and children Jhon H.M., 19, Lu V.J., 17, Hareward T., 15, Ann L.J., 13, Betsey J., 10, Julia A., 6, Louis J.E., 3, Susan A.L.B., 11 months. In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Nash Road, house carpenter James Teachee, 53, wife Betsey, 48, and children Haywood, 22, Julia, 18, Louis J., 14, Susie L., 12, and Chas., 10; plus Garfield Granton, 30, Betsey, 23, and son John, 2.  James Thomas Teachey died 27 December 1944 in Wilson, probably of a heart attack. He was a widower and had worked as a contractor and builder. He was 86 years old and had been born in Duplin County to Nancy Teachey. He was buried at Rountree cemetery. Daughter Luvicy Wynn, who resided at 402 North Vick with Teachey, was informant.
  • Sidney Wheeler — Wheeler had a finger in many pots. See above.
  • Isaac Whittaker — In the 1912 Wilson city directory, Isaac Whitaker operated an eating house at 504 Smith Street. Issac Whitaker, single, died 29 April 1915 in Wilson. He was 70 years old and worked as a cook. Leah Whitaker of Enfield, North Carolina, reported that Isaac was the son of Bob and Clara Whitaker.  He was buried in Enfield.


Sanborn Fire Map of Wilson, N.C., 1908.

 (Click to enlarge.) In eating houses in red: (1) Annie Best, 121 South Goldsboro; (2) Moses Brandon, 127 South Goldsboro. Four other eating houses were three blocks southeast in the 400 block of Nash Street, which straddled the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. Barbershops in blue: (1) S.W. Barnes, 123 South Goldsboro; (2) Richard Renfrow, 126 South Goldsboro, (3) A.N. Neal, 109 East Nash; (4) Henry C. Holden, Branch Bank, 125 East Nash; (5) Tate & Hines, New Briggs Hotel, 209 East Nash Street; (6) Levi Jones, 105 North Goldsboro; (7) William Hines, 119 South Tarboro.

All census and vital records found at