death certificate

No one appears to know anything of him.

Dr. A.F. Williams likely hesitated briefly before setting the nib of his fountain pen to paper. Full name of deceased? “Sam Bright (Party gave this name which may or may not be correct.)”


“This man was brought to Wilson by the Norfolk Southern train, having been found on the track. No one appears to know anything of him — either name or residence.”

He was gon get it, but he didn’t have the money.

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Death certificates are the official records of death, but often tell us very little about how the decedent’s family understood or experienced their loved one’s final illness and transition.

Jesse A. Jacobs died 6 July 1926 of apoplexy (or, as we would now call it, cerebral hemorrhage.)  “Hernia inguinal” was listed a contributing cause. “Papa Jesse” reared my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks. He died when she was 16; he was her great-aunt Sarah Henderson‘s husband. Though his hernia, which apparently had strangulated, did not directly kill him, his suffering and the blame cast within the family after his death deeply impacted her.

Here’s what she told me:

“[Papa] was ruptured from the time I can remember.

“… He was supposed to have an operation. He was ruptured, and [his daughter] Carrie [Jacobs Bradshaw], she claimed she didn’t know it. And I said, now, I was the youngest child was there, and I knowed that all that stuff that was down ‘tween his legs was something wrong with him. And I had sense enough to know not to ask no grown folks or nothing about it. And I didn’t ask Mama. I didn’t say nothing, but I was wondering, ‘What in the world was wrong with him?’

“… And Papa, he was a good person, and they want to accuse him of going with the nurse up there at Mercy Hospital. I don’t know whether she was married or not, I don’t think she was married, but she was real light-skinned lady, smaller lady, and he went up there for something, probably his rupture – I know he had to go to the hospital for treatments or something. Anyway, the last time, Carrie came down and she was fussing about if she’d known Papa had to have an operation, she’d have come down, and he’d have had it. Instead of waiting until it was too late. Now the last week they wasn’t expecting him to live. But, no bigger than I was, I knew he had it. And she was grown, old enough for my mother, and then she talking ‘bout she didn’t know he was ruptured? Well, all his tubes was, ah –  And he always had to wear a truss to hold hisself up. And when he’d be down, I’d be down there sweeping at the school, and he’d be out there plowing a field he rented out there, and he’d come up, lay down on the floor and take a chair and he’d put his legs up over the chair like that, and I’d wet the cloths from the bowl where was in the hall, some of the old dust cloths, and hand them to him, and he’d put them down on his side, and you could hear it ‘bluckup’ and that thing would go back there.

“But see it had got, his intestines, that tissue between there had bursted, and the doctor told him he needed an operation. So he was gon get it, but he didn’t have money enough to get it. Didn’t save up money enough to have the operation. So none of the children – all of them know, as large as his – but leastways he couldn’t hide himself, ‘cause even from a little child, I could see that for years, and I wondered what it was. ‘Cause I know everybody didn’t have it, at least didn’t have all that in their britches. [Pause.] And Carrie come down there, and she fuss Mama out about him not having the operation and this kind of stuff. And [Mama] said, ‘Well, we never had the money to get the operation. We tried to go and get it, and we’d pay on it by time.’ But, naw, he wanted, he was gon make something off the crop, and he’d pay. Pay it and have it then. But he never got the chance. So when they put him in the hospital and operated on him — say when they cut him, he had over a quart of pus in him. I think it was on a Thursday, and he lived ‘til that Tuesday.”

Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, 1998; all rights reserved.

He had only lived here a short time.

Newly arrived in Wilson, James McKeel fell over dead on his employer’s front steps.


“The deceased had only lived here a short time.” “We cannot get any information about the deceased at all. It seems that he was a recent employee of a mill here and came out and sat down upon the steps, and dropped over dead.”

A long trip caused the miscarriage.

The local registrar attributed the cause of Esther Atkinson Pridgen‘s miscarriage to recent long-distance travel. Though midwife Nan Best delivered the child in Wilson, it appears that Chauncey Pridgen was living in Atlantic City already, where he is found in the 1940 census.


“Supposed trip from Atlantic City N.J. the day before caused mother to miscarry.”

Divine healer?

In a nine-day span in 1914, Wilson residents Mary A. Williams and James T. Rountree died while under the care of William F. Edwards, a “divine healer.”

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William F. Edwards was only passing through town and apparently moved on with impunity. Two years later the “Gospel preacher and healer” was in Concord, North Carolina, “still curing the people.”

Concord Daily Tribune, 4 December 1916.

Concord Daily Tribune, 11 December 1916.

Four years after that, “The World’s Wonder Christian Scientist Preacher Healer” was in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, exhorting black and white to come throw their crutches away.

The Independent (Elizabeth City, N.C.), 11 June 1920.

Hat tip to D.P. for locating these articles about Edwards.

Stove explosion.

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Household appliances created fearsome everyday hazards in early twentieth-century Wilson. A stove explosion shattered insurance agent Lee A. Moore‘s tibia and fibula at the ankle on 17 February 1948. The injury did not kill Moore, but doubtless undercut his ability to cope with chronic kidney disease. He died a week later.

Blow to the head of teenaged laborer.


“Blow upon head fracture of scull accidental”

I have not been able to find additional details about 14 year-old box factory laborer Prince Albert Barnes‘ death.


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, house servant Margaret Barnes, 38, and sons Willie, 23, factory laborer, Prince, 10, and Joe, 3 months.

Struck with a pitchfork.

James H. Peacock of Wilson County met a violent death while a patient at the State Hospital at Goldsboro, North Carolina’s sole facility for the treatment of mentally ill African-Americans.


“Fractured skull was struck with the pitchfork while out in hay field — Homicide 12 hours. … Insanity — killed by another patient.”


In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: James H. Peacock, 14, farm laborer, listed as the servant of Rufus Barnes, 24, farmer.

On 5 September 1905, James H. Peacock, 19, of Cross Roads township, married Armetta Barnes, 18, of Cross Roads township, at Mary Barnes‘ residence in Wilson County. Witnesses were William Forsythe, Willie Barnes, and W.H. Pate.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson and Smithfield Road, James Peacock, 24, farmer, and wife Armeda, 21, farm laborer.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: on Black Creek and Lucama Road, James Peacock, 32; wife Armenta, 30; and children Paul, 12, Valena, 8, Savira, 5, Annie, 3, and Daniel and Blane, 1.

Rosevelt Peacock died 10 February 1922 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 9 months old and was born in Wilson County to James Peacock and Armitta Barnes. Rulius Darring was informant.

He died sitting on the steps.


“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.


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


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


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.