death certificate

He died sitting on the steps.

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“No Physician — I understand the deceased died sudden while sitting on steps at Imperial Hotel”

Built around 1900, the Imperial Hotel was located at 320 East Nash Street, the current location of Wilson’s city bus station. Catty-corner from the Atlantic Coast Line rail station, the three-story brick hotel was a popular with travelers until the Hotel Cherry was erected across the street.

As shown on the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson below, the Imperial had a wrap-around wooden porch that faced Nash and Lodge Streets. It’s likely here that Joe Bennett was seated when he keeled over dead.

A pair of homicides.

Twenty-one year-old Charlie Wynn shot and killed twenty year-old Arthur Wiggins on 22 February 1920 and was in turn shot and killed the same day. I have not been able to find more about this double homicide.

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“Homicide — shot & killed by Charlie Wynne at a dance. No Dr.”

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“Gun shot wound of the Heart Only saw deceased after death. Homicide.”

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In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: common laborer John Wiggins, 50; wife Mollie, 40; and children Elizabeth, 14, nurse; John, 12, brick yard employee; Arthur, 3; and Clarence, 1.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Willie Winn, 50; wife Jennie, 23; and children Bessie, 18, Cora, 14, Charlie, 11, Annie, 10, John, 9, Ray, 7, Dortch, 4, Pinkie, 1, and Jessie, 17.

Arthur Wiggins registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born in August 1897 in Elm City; lived in Elm City; his father was born in Edgecombe County; and his nearest relative was Mollie Wiggins.

Charley Winn registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born in 14 April 1900; lived in Elm City; worked as a railroad laborer for Norfolk & Southern Rail Road Company; and his nearest relative was father Will Winn.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer John Wiggins, 55; wife Mollie, 50, cook; and children Elizabeth, 24, cook; Arthur, 13; Clarence, 11; and Annie May, 4.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer William Winn, 59; wife Jennie, 48; and children Charley, 21, John, 19, Dorch, 13, Pink, 10, and Jeneva, 8.

Someone to take care of her.

Like hundreds of others, Annie Mae Lewis likely came to Wilson during the Depression to seek work in the tobacco factories. She fell sick though, far from her family, and died in the winter of 1934.

Registrar Kate C. Daniels’ note on Lewis’ death certificate: “This girl came here from S.C. & the welfare dept got this woman at 313 Manchester St to take care of her.”

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The obituary of Cora Artis.

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Wilson Times, 20 November 1925.

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In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Jessie Artis, 34; wife Patsey, 35; and children Adeline, 15, Dora, 12, Lornce, 7, Barney, 4, Jane, 2, and Corah, 2 months.

In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Jessie Artis, 55; wife Patsie, 58; and children Larnce, 27, Bonnie, 24, James, 22, Cora, 20, and Emma, 17.

In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Jessie Artis, 55; wife Patsie, 58; and children Larnce, 27, Bonnie, 24, James, 22, Cora, 20, and Emma, 17.

In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Jessie Artis, 69; wife A. Patsy, 64; and daughter Cora, 30.

Cora Artis died 17 November 1925. Her death certificate belied the newspaper’s claim of the heroic efforts of four physicians to save her life, noting her cause of death as “pneumonia stated to us no Doctor.”

She look at a hog.

My mother’s first job after she married and moved to Wilson was as a teacher at North Greene Elementary, a small segregated school fifteen miles southeast in tiny Walstonburg. She carpooled to and from Wilson with several other teachers who worked in Greene County, and in the spring of 1964 was pregnant with me, her firstborn. My mother generally rode in the backseat and, on this particular day, Dora Dickerson was back there with her. As they passed a farm, my mother, a city girl, exclaimed, “Ohhh! Look over there at those pigs!” Ms. Dickerson slapped her hand across my mother’s eyes. “Girl! Don’t look at that! You can’t look at pigs when you’re expecting!”

I have been hearing this story since I was a little girl, and my mother and I never fail to get a good laugh from it. The danger she faced, however, was real to many, as shown on this 1921 death certificate. Though baby John Moore was stillborn in Nahunta township, Wayne County, his parents James and Mamie Moore were from neighboring Wilson County. Midwife Cassie Exum Sherrod, who spent her life in Wayne and Wilson Counties in the Watery Branch area, attended the delivery. Though not a doctor, Sherrod completed the newborn’s Medical Certificate of Death. In her opinion, Mamie Moore’s own carelessness had caused her baby’s death: “She look at a hog an had not of look at him he might of been living to day.”

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“She look at a hog an had not of look at him he might of been living to day.”

Hat tip to Suzannah McCuen.

The Clarks and Taylors: reconnecting an enslaved family.

While researching for the Henry Flowers estate piece, I noticed that John H. Clark was informant on the death certificates of Isabel Taylor and Alex Taylor, children of Annis Taylor and Henry (last name uncertain). What was Clark’s connection to this family?

Detail from death certificate of Isabel Taylor, who died 26 October 1929 in Wilson. 

The crucial clue: Katherine Elks mentioned that Henry Flowers’ youngest daughters married brothers John P. Clark and Sidney P. Clark. Their father, Phineas P. Clark, had brought his family from Connecticut to Nash County to set up as a buggy maker. (His employee Willis N. Hackney went on to found the carriage-making company that became Hackney Brothers Body Company.)

P.P. Clark does not appear to have been a slaveholder. However, John P. Clark is listed in the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County as the owner of five enslaved people. One was a 19 year-old male, the correct age and sex to have been Harry Clark, John H. Clark’s father. John P. Clark was a 21 year-old newlywed at the time of the census. Where he had obtained five slaves? Had his wife Nancy Flowers brought them into the marriage?

Detail from the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson district, Wilson County.

Recall the distribution of Henry Flowers’ enslaved property. In 1850, the group was divided into three lots. Lot number 3 included a boy named Harry. Though existing estate records do not specify, it’s reasonable to assume that Lot 3 went to Nancy Flowers when she achieved majority some years later. When Nancy married John P. Clark, he assumed legal control over her property, which included Harry. (The 25 year-old woman was likely Peggy, who was also in Lot 3, and the children were probably hers. They were born after the 1850 division of Henry’s property and thus were not named.)

Harry was one of the children of Annis, as were Isabel and Alex. Harry adopted the surname Clark after Emancipation, while his siblings adopted Taylor, the surname of their last owners, William and Charity Flowers Taylor. So, what was John H. Clark’s connection to Isabel and Alex Taylor? He was their nephew.

Many thanks to Katherine Elks.

The first entry.

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“Kept By the Register of Deeds: The Life History Could Be Your Own,” David Witherspoon, Wilson Daily Times, 24 August 1963.

This paragraph from an article about Wilson County’s Record of Deeds Office asserts that the first entry in county death records was for a three month-old African-American girl.

The town of Wilson began recording sporadically in 1909, and the county followed in 1913. However, as digitized in Ancestry.com’s database of North Carolina death certificates, Wilson County’s first death of 1913, recorded January 1 of that year, was for two day-old A.L. Darden Jr., a white child. In fact, the death certificate this article describes is nowhere to be found in the digital database in the month of January.

Mishaps and mayhem, no. 1.

Causes of death (or, just as often, manners of death) listed on death certificates in the early twentieth century could be surprisingly detailed or confoundedly vague. Then, as now, most people died of disease, but fatal injuries — accidental and intentional — were distressingly common, as seen below.

  • Atkinson, Lafayett. Died 19 March 1933, Spring Hill township, Wilson County; was married to Etta Atkinson; was 48 years old; was born in Wilson County to Handy Atkinson and Susan Barnes; and worked as a farmer. “Stabbed in heart — murdered with knife”

  • Atkinson, Stephen Clyde. Died 9 January 1923, Spring Hill township, Wilson County; single; born 26 March 1899 to S.T. Atkinson and Zillie Barnes; worked as a farmer; buried in Boyetts cemetery. “Embolism (cardiac) — Homicide — Gunshot wound thigh.”

  • Exum, Leslie. Died 4 July 1934, Wilson; married to Beulah Exum; resided at 304 North Reid; age 27 years, 9 months; taxi driver; born in Wayne County to Willie Exum and Ada Artis; informant, Beulah Exum. “Homicide — Hit over stomach with Brick.”

  • Fields, Peter. Died 5 May 1923, Cross Roads township, Wilson County; single; about 33 years old; worked as a tenant farmer for W.J. Scott; born Wilson County to Daniel Hodge and Chritchania Allen; buried in Lamm Cemetery. “Murdered by Walter Bethea. Death was instantly.”

  • Gaston, Fred. Died 17 November 1916, Wilson township, Wilson County; single; 27 years old; farm hand; born in Elm City to William Gaston of Virginia and Marriah Battle of North Carolina; informant, Elmer Gaston. “Injury of the brain, Homicidal — Blow with flue in head.”

  • Hawkins, Ernest. Died 7 March 1923, Toisnot township, Wilson County; married to Sulester Batts; about 20 years old; worked as a tenant farmer for H.C. Crumpler; born in Nash County to Lola Maryland. “Shot by County Sherrif Stilling whiskey.”

  • Hinnant, Cleophus. Died 8 December 1923, Cross Roads township, Wilson County; married Gessie Hinnant; born 24 March 1902 in Wilson County to Josiah Hinnant and Victoria Wilder; buried in Hinnant graveyard. “Was murdered. Shot to death by a man named Turner Williamson.”

  • Johnson, Herbert. Died 20 July 1923, Wilson township, Wilson County; married to Winnie Johnson; age 40; farmer for Petway & Anderson; born in Duplin County to Joseph Johnson and Rania Pearson; buried in Colman cemetery, Wilson. “No Doctor. Shot Gun. Cornes Inquest. Kill by gun shot. — Homicide.”

  • Perkins, Columbus. Died 2 January 1918, Saratoga township, Wilson County; was married; was 35 to 40 years old; and was a farmer/laborer. “Shot through head by unknown party or parties — Dr. S.H. Crocker held the inquest Stantonsburg — Shot to death by Walter Hopkins.”

  • Taylor, George. Died 4 May 1918, Wilson, Wilson County; married to Maggie Taylor; aged about 44; carpenter; born Wilson County to Jordan Taylor and Winnie [last name unknown]; buried in Wilson cemetery. “Shot by Police & killed while under arrest.”

The death certificate of Henry Moses.

Henry Moses had two death certificates, each of which offers unique information.

The basics: Henry Moses died 15 December 1913 of a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

  • Certificate #1. This document is most complete. Moses lived on Youngs [Alley or Avenue]; was born 27 May 1878 in Franklin County, North Carolina; was married; could read and write; and operated both a restaurant and a pressing club. Undertaker A.D. McGowan buried him in Wilson.

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  • Certificate #2 is a copy of the first, but on a slightly different form. The person who filled it out misread the signature of the registrar, L.A. Hinnant, and wrote it “Hinerant.” He or she (most likely he) also misread the first name of the informant, who was Henry Moses’ father Caesar Moses. This document dispensed with Moses’ occupation, but added two detailsto his cause of death: (1) it was a homicide and (2) “gambling” was the contributory cause.

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On 22 November 1905, Henry Moses, 27, of Wilson, son of Caesar Moses, married Sandora Dancey, 25. Rev. P.H. Howell, a Christ Disciple minister, performed the ceremony at Henry Moses’ home in the presence of W.M. Mayo, L. Studeway and Frank Sims.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: tobacco factory laborer Henry Moses, 31; wife Dora, 31; and daughter Luevenia Dancy, 16, servant.

Also in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on TIllmans Road, house carpenter Caesar S. Moses, 56; wife Alice, 53; and children Oliver, 22, and Walter, 13.

Caesar Moses died 19 January 1917 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was a widower; was 63 years old; worked as a carpenter; and his father was named Crofford Stone. Oliva Moses was informant.

[Note: the 1900 census of Jeffreys township, Florence County, South Carolina, lists a Henry Moses in the household of his father Caesar Moses. As uncommon as the names are, this is a coincidence. This Henry Moses died of typhoid fever in 1917 in Florence County.]