The sixth in a series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. The dispute centered on 30 acres of land. Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from William J. Exum, a wealthy white farmer. In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold the land to Napoleon Hagans. Hagans died in 1896, and the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans. In 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother William, who sold the 30 acres in 1908 to J. Frank Coley, a young white farmer. Tom Artis laid claim to the property, arguing that Napoleon Hagans had sold it to him. Coley filed suit and, after hearing the testimony of more than a dozen witnesses, the court decided in his favor. (Paragraph breaks and some punctuation have been inserted for better readability.)
Defendant introduces JONAH WILLIAMS:
I have had a conversation about this land. All I know is what Hagans and Tom told me. The first talk was with Napoleon Hagans. (Defendant objects.) Best I remember I went to him to borrow some money to open my brick yard in the Spring. He referred to this deal and some other deal. Tom wanted to take up some papers, and had done so, and I remarked to Hagans how much better off than he was before. He said he was rejoicing at the opportunity. He promised to give 800 lb. of cotton until he could work a advance to him. He said if Tom did that he would never disturb him his life time. I asked Hagans to have it in a written contract, that his heirs might dissent from it. He replied that 800 lb. was a good interest on his money, and his heirs would probably be satisfied. I had a conversation with Tom. I saw him two or three weeks after that. (Plaintiff objects.) I spoke to him about Hagans taking up the Exum paper. He told me Hagans had ***** to take that up. Hagans had given him a chance to pay the debt off. Whenever he paid anything on the principal, he would not have to pay the 800 lb., but simply a lawful interest on the money. I advised Tom to do his best and pay some in on his principal.
He said that he had taken up the mortgage; had it transferred. He said “claim,” I might have said “mortgage.” I don’t say ‘Pole Hagans told me all his business, but I knew about as much as anybody. Said he was going to let him (Tom) pay 800 lb. of cotton until he could pay the principal. Mortgage given in 1881 to Mrs. Exum. This conversation about 12 or maybe 14 years ago. Don’t know whether it was as late as 1890. Began brick business in 1893. I can’t tell whether it was in 1880 or ’90. ‘Pole Hagans died about two or three years before this took place. Tom married my sister. He is not a member of my church. I turned him out. He is a Primitive Baptist. I preached Napoleon Hagans’ funeral.
Jonah Williams’ church was Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist, just north of Eureka in Wayne County, but he helped establish a string of Primitive Baptist congregations in Wilson and Edgecombe Counties. His daughter Clarissa Williams served as principal of Wilson’s Colored Graded School after the boycott, and several of his brother Adam T. Artis’ children settled in Wilson County.