Coley v. Artis, pt. 5: Maybe he might redeem it.

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.


The obituary of Charles Diggs.

Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 9.32.02 PM.png

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 2 May 1919.

Charles Diggs left Wilson County shortly after Emancipation, and I have found no record of him there. He is remarkably elusive in federal census records as well, but newspaper clippings and other records offer glimpses of his family and the rich life he led in Brooklyn, New York. (Why was he called “Colonel,” though? Was he a veteran of the United States Colored Troops?0


On 25 April 1872, in Brooklyn, New York, Charles Diggs, 25, of Wadesborough, Virginia [sic], son of James Diggs and Lydia Harris, married Carter Corlea Jones, 25, of Lynchburgh, Virginia, daughter of Riley Carter and Polly Reed.

In the 1874 Brooklyn, N.Y., city directory: Diggs Charles well sinker 1191 Atlantic av

A female child was born 14 October 1874 in Brooklyn to Charles Diggs and Carter Carlea Jones.

A male child was born 4 April 1878 in Brooklyn to Charles Diggs and Carter Jones.

Florence R. Diggs was born 20 October 1878 in Brooklyn to Charles Diggs and Carter C. Jones.

A male child was born 2 December 1880 in Brooklyn to Charles Diggs and Carter C. Jones.

In the 1889 Brooklyn, N.Y., city directory: Diggs Charles welldriver 289 Franklin av

Carter Diggs died 25 March 1890 in Brooklyn, New York. Per her death certificate, she was 46 years old, was born in Virginia, and was married.

In 1890, Diggs was initiated into the Brooklyn Literary Union, organized in 1886, and where he would rub elbows with journalist T. Thomas Fortune:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 8 May 1890.

In the 1892 state census of Brooklyn, Kings County, New York: Chas. Diggs, 45, well digger, and children Rosa, 19, [illegible], 15, Horace, 10, and Florence, 12.

In the 1895 Brooklyn, N.Y., city directory: Diggs Chas welldigger 485 Waverly av

Horace L. Diggs, age 16, died 9 June 1898 in New York, New York.

A 1901 article noted that Diggs was one of a few Brooklyn residents to have been born into slavery:

From “Brooklyn’s Colored Population: It Is Believed to Number Eighteen Thousand — Progress in Prosperity and In Intellectual Advancement — Paying Taxes on Property Amounting to About One Million Dollars. The Brooklyn Citizen, 8 December 1901.

In the 1905 state census of Brooklyn, Kings County, New York: at 111 DeKalb Avenue, Louis Paultry, 42, laborer; wife Harriett Paultry, 38; well digger Charles Diggs, 59; porter James Teamer, 32; stable man Edward Scoot, 46; and laborer John Harry, 27.

“Colonel” Charles Diggs helped plan the Garnet Republican Club’s Lincoln Dinner in February 1908. During the event, he delivered a speech on “Organization and Unity.”

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 13 February 1908.

Diggs helped plan the Garnet Republican Club’s observance of the 100th anniversary:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 28 November 1908.

In 1911, the Society of the Sons of North Carolina, to which Diggs belonged, planned a “monster mass meeting” and published an appeal for support of its efforts to address “the condition of immorality existing among the young girls of our race in certain sections ….”

New York Age, 6 July 1911.

Of more personal concern, in late 1911, widow Rosa Hardnut signaled her intent to sue Bristol Meyers Chemical Company, where her husband was buried alive while working on a dig for Charles Diggs.

Brooklyn Daily Times, 9 December 1911.

Charles Diggs died 29 April 1919 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. Per his death certificate, he was born 1848 to James and Lydia Diggs; was a well digger; was a widower; and was buried in Mount Olivet cemetery.

Florence Varner died 28 April 1928 in Manhattan. Per her death certificate, she was 61 years old; was widowed; was born in 1886 in New York City to Charles Diggs of North Carolina and Carter Jones of North Carolina.

Mae Wilson died 23 July 1941 in the Bronx. Per her death certificate, she was 42 years old; was widowed; and was born 24 October 1880 to Charles Diggs of North Carolina and Carter Jones.

[What was the Society of the Sons of North Carolina?

The Bystander (Des Moines, Iowa), 26 May 1911.

205 North Vick Street.

The ninety-ninth 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 the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1945; 2 stories; gable-front house with bungalow type porch posts; aluminum-sided.”

Edgar H. Diggs Jr. died 21 December 1925 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 5 days old; was born to Edgar H. Diggs of Wayne County and Mary Grant of Statesville, N.C., and resided at 205 North Vick. He was buried in Diggs cemetery, Wayne County.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Diggs Edgar H (c; Mary) barber W S Hines h 205 N Vick

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 205 Vick, valued at $2000, Edgar Diggs, 49, barber at Hines Barber; wife Mary, 39, teacher in Stantonsburg; and children Edgar, 13, Mary, 9, and Preston, 11.

Edgar Grant Diggs registered for the World War II draft in 1945. Per his registration card, he was born 14 January 1927 in Wilson; his contact was Mary Diggs, 205 North Vick; and he was a student.

Preston Walter Diggs registered for the World War II draft in 1946. Per his registration card, he was born 27 September 1928 in Wilson; his contact was Mary Diggs, 205 North Vick; and he was a student at Mary Potter School, Oxford, North Carolina.

Edgar H. Diggs died 17 November 1970 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 1 August 1890 to Sula (last name unknown); was married to Mary Estella Grant; resided at 205 North Vick; and was a barber.

Mary Diggs died 22 February 1974 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 12 March 1900 to unknown parents; was a widow; resided at 205 North Vick; and was a retired teacher. Walter Preston Diggs of Washington, D.C., was informant.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2018.


Class portrait, Stantonsburg Street School.

Classroom 001

Colored Graded or Stantonsburg Street School (later known as the Sallie Barbour School), circa 1933. Annie Marian Gay is second from left on the top row. First on the row below her is Lucian J. Henderson. The boy at far right on the third row from the bottom is a Diggs. The teacher is believed to be Elizabeth Courtney Plummer Fitts. Please contact me if you can positively identify any more of these children.