The fifth 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 T.F. Jones, who being duly sworn, testifies:
I had a conversation with Napoleon Hagans about this land, the 30 acre piece. (Plaintiff objects to question and answer.) I got after Uncle ‘Pole to see me the land. I told him if he would give me a deed for both places, the Calv Pig, that is the 24 acre piece, and the Tom Pig place, the 30 acre piece, I would take them. He told me he would sell me the Calv Pig place, but the Tom Pig place he had promised to let Tom stay on that as long as he lived, that maybe he might redeem it. That about ended the conversation with us. I bought some timber off this land from Tom. Off of the 30 acre piece. I suppose Hagans knew about it. (Plaintiff objects.) I couldn’t say that Hagans saw me hauling the timber, I guess he saw me. (Plaintiff objects.) Hagans never made any objection. I had a conversation with Tom about this land along during that time, when Uncle ‘Pole Hagans first got rid of that Calv Pig place, about 15 years ago. I asked him if he wouldn’t sell his part, and what would he ask for it, (Plaintiff objects). He said he didn’t want to sell it, he expected to redeem it sometime. Last Fall I told him if he expected to get that mortgage he had better attend to it. He said he had boys in Norfolk, who would take it up; that he had confidence in Will Hagans. That if his boys let it slip out after he died, they could. (Plaintiff objects.)
Mr. W.J. Exum died about 1885. Tom is known as Pig. I don’t know why he was called Pig. I think they got “Pig” from “Diggs”. Some of his people ‘way back there, were named “Diggs”, and they got to calling it “Pig” for short. I remember when Napoleon Hagans died. I was down the Country. I left here in ’94, and came back in 1900. He died during that time. I got this timber 20 years ago. I was buying all I could, I don’t know how much I got. I got it by the tree. I went in 1881 and milled ’till 1890. Either ’81 or ’82. I bought the timber about that time. I didn’t know that the deed from Mrs. Exum to Hagans was executed before 1892.
Jones’ guess about the origins of Tom Artis’ nickname is unsatisfying. “Pig” from “Diggs”? In fact, Thomas and Calvin Artis took their nickname from their father, an enslaved man, who was called “Simon Pig.” Artis was the surname of their mother Celia, a free woman of color. (Tom Artis was not a Diggs, but his niece Frances Artis married Wilson (or William) Diggs in 1868 in Wayne County.) I have found no other record of manumission, but Simon Pig Artis is listed as the head of his household in the 1860 census of Davis township, Wayne County. He reported (or was attributed with) $800 of real property and $430 of personal property. The land was almost surely his wife Celia’s; she is one of the earliest free colored property owners appearing in Wayne County deed books.
1860 census, Davis district, Wayne County, North Carolina.
Several Diggs descendants settled in or owned property in Wilson County; see here and here and here.