Isaac and Sarah Williamson lived in Old Fields township, Wilson (formerly Nash) County. In 1853, Sarah Williamson filed for divorce from her husband, citing, among other things, serious physical and emotional abuse. The Williamsons lived in a part of Wilson County that was then in Nash County. Their divorce file is replete with accusations and counter-accusations of violence, alcohol abuse, infidelity and general profligacy. It also contains several references to the Williamsons’ enslaved laborers and free colored neighbors.
The court required Isaac Williamson to sequester $2500 pending a decree in the case and was given the choice to post a bond or to hand over to the sheriff “negroes Harry, Lewis, Viney, Reuben, Ben & Margarett.” [Isaac Williamson died in 1854 or 1855, ending the proceedings.]
In her deposition, Nancy Williamson, Isaac and Sarah’s 20 year-old daughter, swore that “at another night he run mother and me out of the house and then called in a Negro fellow made him get the gun, powder and shot — the gun was loaded and he, my father took it and said if he found my mother he would drop her wherever he found her. …” “At another time my father asked a negro fellow who had a wife there, to come into the house and he did so, cursed and abused my mother — and my father would not allow my mother to say any thing to the negro but told him to say what he pleased to her.”
Neighbor Jethro Harrison testified that “I am well acquainted with Isaac Williamson the Defendant, He is a man who drinks hard — when he has not liquor at home he goes off and drinks he does not attend to his business like a man ought to. I have seen the Defendant on my bed and one morning about an hour per sun I saw him on a bed at Elijah Powell‘s a free negroe who had living with him a daughter grown and a wife & other children. …” On cross examination, Harrison stated: “… the Defendant was lying across the bed at the free negroes house with his shoes off and a quilt over him I think his clothes were not off. He was drunk or quite drinkey.”
Son-in-law Robertson Baker testified: “Some five or six years ago the Defendant and myself were riding in the night along together he had a coloured woman supposed to be a Negro riding on his horse behind him, he stopped in the path I went back and found him on the woman — I rode off and in a short time he came on with the woman behind him I saw the woman put up behind him as we started from a sale or hireing at A[illegible] At the Defendant’s request there being two Negro girls at our horses where we went to start I took one of them behind me for the purpose of getting him off home.”
Daughter Kesiah Williamson, 17, testified that Isaac Williamson told her “if I stuck up to him that I would get a negro or two but if I stuck to mother I never should have any of his property.”
Dempsey Powell was subpoenaed to testify in a deposition, but the file does not contain a record of any such statement.
Harry, Lewis, Viney, Reuben, Ben & Margarett — A document in the Williamson divorce notes that Isaac Williamson owned about 12 enslaved people. In 1864, Williamson’s youngest sons received their inheritance from their father. Isaac Jr. took possession of Harry, Jacob, Priscilla and Wesley, and son Eli Williamson, Reuben, Margaret and child Riney, Hittie and Elias.
Elijah Powell — in the 1850 census of Nash County, listed next door to Isaac and Sarah Williamson: Robert Simpson, 36, farmer; Elijah Powell, 50, cooper; wife Selah [Celia Taylor], 48; and children Denis T., 22, Henry, 21, Elijah, 19, Mary, 18, Stephen, 10, Jane, 6, Jabe, 2, and Sally, 18. [Presumably, the girl on the bed was either Sally or Mary Powell.]
Dempsey Powell — in the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: turpentine worker Dempsey Powell, 30, who claimed $130 personal estate; Sallie Simpson, 28; and Sallie Simpson, 9.
Many thanks to Traci Thompson for sharing these documents, which are housed in Nash County Records at the North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
In 1911, Dempsey Mercer filed for divorce from his wife Mattie Knight Mercer.
Wilson Daily Times, 11 October 1911.
In the 1900 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Laura Mercer, 65, and children Dollie, 26, farm laborer, Susan, 22, and Dempsey, 16, farm laborer.
In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Cooper Farmer, 55; wife Caroline, 55; boarder Lewis Williams, 18, farm laborer; and servant Mattie Knight, 16.
On 23 January 1902, Dempsey Mercer, 20, married Mattie Knight, 20, in Edgecombe County.
In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Dempsy Mercer, 27; wife Mattie, 20; children Charles, 7, William, 6, Robert, 3, and Walter, 2 months; nieces Lula, 2, and Gertrude Hines, 1 month; and sister Margarett Hines, 19.
Dempsey Mercer died 7 July 1914 in Gardners township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 January 1914 in Wilson County to Dempsey Mercer of Edgecombe County and Mattie Hines of Nash County.
Mary Mercer died 11 February 1915 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born March 1912 to Dempsey Mercer and Maggie Hines.
In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Dempsy Mercer, 40, widower; children Charley, 17, William, 15, Robert, 10, Walter, 9, and Maggie, 8; sister-in-law Maggie Hines, 24, and her children Lula, 8, Silvey, 7, and James, 4. [Dempsey Mercer was divorced rather than widowed.]
On 24 June 1921, Dempsey Mercer, 40, of Wilson County, son of Joe Williams and Louisa Mercer, married Fannie Barnes, 37, of Wilson County, daughter of Luke Holmes and Mary Holmes, at W.A. Pool’s in Black Creek.
In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Dempsey Mercer, 50; wife Fannie, 40; children Charlie, 27, Lee, 19, Jonah, 16, Jamar, 13, and C[illegible], 10; and lodger Rachel Melton, 30. [The younger children appear to be Fannie’s by an earlier relationship.]
In the 1930 census of Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County: Gilmore C. McCoy, 58, tobacco factory stemmer, and wife Mattie, 49, laundress.
Robert Mercer died 9 December 1930 in Gardners township. Per his death certificate, he was 23 years old; was born in Wilson County to Dempsey Mercer and Mattie Knight, both of Edgecombe; was a farmer; and was single.
Charlie Mercer died 9 December 1936 in Gardners township. Per his death certificate, he was born January 1902 in Edgecombe County to Dempsey Mercer and Mattie Knight, both of Edgecombe; was a farmer; and was single. Informant was Mattie McCoy of Rocky Mount.
Dempsey Mercer died 20 April 1949 in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 6 September 1883 in Edgecombe County to Joe Mercer and an unknown mother and was married. Informant was Will Mercer of Bailey, N.C.
Mattie Knight McCoy died 31 December 1970 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was born 9 September 1897; resided in Edgecombe County; was widowed; and was a retired tobacco worker. MaryBullock, 1205 Atlantic Street, Wilson, was informant.
Third in a series abstracting some of the folders of actions filed in Wilson County Superior Court. (The allegations of misdoing summarized are derived from court pleadings and were not necessarily true.)
Alice Barnes v. Alonzo B. Barnes
February term, 1905. Married November 1897. Defendant Alonzo Barnes abandoned plaintiff in 1900.
Lonza Barnes, 21, of Stantonsburg township, son of Stephen and Adline Barnes, married Alice Brooks, 22, of Stantonsburg township, daughter of Gray and Darkis Brooks, on 1 December 1897 at Darkis Brooks.
Nellie Barnes v. John T. Barnes
Married 10 April 1893. Defendant John Barnes abandoned plaintiff on 3 June 1893. Couple has one living child. Defendant now living in open adultery with Jennie Ruffin, alias Barnes.
John T. Barnes, 20, married Nellie Campbell, 19, on 7 April 1894 in Wilson County.
Jenny Barnes v. Amos Barnes
May term, 1875. Married 4 November 1870. Plaintiff charged that on 1 September 1874 defendant beat her with a large switch or stick in a cruel and inhumane manner and that he had transmitted to her venereal diseases that kept her confined to her bed and unable to work for long periods. Defendant denied all. Witnesses subpoenaed were Willie Strickland, Jacob Strickland, Mintus Woodard, Mary Hines, Balaam Bynum, Jane Bynum and William Mercer.
Amos Barnes, 22, married Jennie Woodard, 18, on 4 November 1872 in Wilson County.
Daniel Barnes v. Mariah Barnes
Fall term, 1882. Married May 1877 in Black Creek township. Defendant Mariah abandoned plaintiff Daniel in January 1880, had committed adultery with Henry Barnes and Isaac Dew, and given birth to “a bastard.” Witnesses subpoenaed were Jack Hooks, Sarah Barnes, Henry Barnes and Isaac Dew.
Daniel Barnes, 24, married Mariah Barnes, 18, on 18 May 1878 in Black Creek township.
Handy Barnes v. Annie Barnes
Married April 1903 in Edgecombe County. On 4 July 1903, defendant Annie committed adultery with Van Edwards and abandoned plaintiff.
Attorney John E. Woodard filed this divorce petition on behalf of his client, Sallie M. Barbour, in Wilson County Superior Court in early 1901.
Charles and Sallie M. Barber were married 11 July 1886 in Clayton, Johnston County. [Note: as shown in her signature, Sallie, at least, spelled her last name “Barbour.”]
Their sons — Luther, 13, twins James and John, 9, and Hubert, 7 — live with their father, “who is not a proper person to have the care and custody” of the children.
On 27 February 1900, Charles assaulted Sallie with a pistol, forcing her to flee their home to a neighbor’s house.
Charles, “who is a strong man,” also struck Sallie, “a frail delicate woman,” with his fist.
Charles is a “habitual drunkard” who, when under the influence, has repeatedly threatened Sallie’s life.
Since she was forced to leave their house, Charles has refused to support Sallie. Sallie has tried to support herself as a school teacher, but Charles, “to annoy and embarrass” her, notified the school superintendent and trustees to pay her salary to him.
Charles has committed adultery with Dora Sills, Hannah Cooke and others.
Sallie, a life-long North Carolina resident, is seeking divorce, child custody, and costs.
In the 1880 census of Clayton, Johnston County: Essex Blake, 53; wife Clara, 43; and children Della, 23, Robert, 21, Sallie, 19, Benjamin, 17, James, 15, Halsey, 12, Antney, 10, Timothy, 8, Ardelia, 6, Narsissie, 6, and Jerry, 5.
The 1900 census reflects the Barbours’ separation. In Wilson, Wilson County: mechanic Charley Barber, 41, described as married; sons Luther, 13, James and John, 7, and Hubert, 5; widowed sister Mary Tomlingson, 42, and her children Ella, 9, and Charley, 4; and boarders Turner Utley, 27, John Purkison, 31, and George Garrett, 25. In a different household: John W. Rodgers, 30; wife Mary E., 22; sister Minnie, 17; and boarder Sallie Barber, 35, described as “widowed.”
In the 1908 version of Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, the only Barbers listed are James M., Jno. W., and Luther Barber at 129 Pender Street, and Sallie Barber next door at 131 Pender.
However, over the next decade, the couple reconciled. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: mechanic Charlie Barber, 47; wife Sallie, 40, teacher; sons Luther, 21, James and John, 17, and Hubert, 15; and roomers Willie Harris, 17, and Carrie Mayswood, 16.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 809 Nash Street, barber John Barber, 27; wife Ethel, 26; widowed mother Sallie, 59, a school teacher; and brother Luther Barber, 32, also a barber.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1100 East Nash Street, Sallie Barber, 67, widowed public school teacher, and her sister Tiny Hill, 69, also a widowed teacher.
Sallie Minnie Barbour died 22 April 1942 at her home at 1100 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 71 years old; was born in Wake County to Essex Blake and Clara Hodge; was a widow; and was a schoolteacher. Ardelia Nunn, 1100 East Nash, was informant.
Second in a series abstracting some of the folders of actions filed in Wilson County Superior Court. (The allegations of misdoing summarized are derived from court pleadings and were not necessarily true.)
Bettie Barnes v. Morrison Barnes
May term, 1910. Married 8 October 1903 in Wilson County. In November 1903, defendant Morrison Barnes deserted plaintiff Bettie Barnes and now lives in a state of fornication and adultery with Mollie Howard, by whom he has three children.
On 28 October 1903, Marson Barnes, 20, son of Silas and Mary Barnes, married Bettie Batts, 26, daughter of Tom Batts, at Mary Barnes’ in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Frank Barnes, Mary M. Barnes and Mary Thorn.
Henrietta Barnes v. Lemon Barnes
May term, 1909. Married 23 January 1907. In March 1907, defendant Lemon Barnes abandoned plaintiff Henrietta Barnes and now lives in a state of fornication and adultery with Fannie Horne. Witnesses to these facts were Otho Isham, who lived on the Frank W. Barnes place) and Jerry Williams.
On 23 January 1907, Lemon Barnes, 21, of Wilson, son of Charles and Jack Ann Barnes, married Henrietta Blowe, 20, of Wilson, daughter of Joe and Jane Blowe, at Jane Blowe’s. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Merriman Watkins, James Taylor and Charlie H. Barnes.
Champion Barnes v. Luvenia Barnes
Married October 1899. Plaintiff claimed defendant committed adultery with Bill Thompson in February 1911. Divorce granted.
On 11 November 1897, Champion Barnes, 44, of Stantonsburg, son of Daniel and ErcyBarnes, married Louvenia Applewhite, 21, of Stantonsburg, daughter of Enos and Cherry Applewhite, at Enos Applewhite’s in Stantonsburg. [This was Champion Barnes’ second marriage.]
In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Champ Barnes, 48; wife Louvenia, 30; and children Violet, 18, Granvill, 17, Anarchy, 15, Effie D., 11, Henry, 14, and Droy, 6. [Louvenia reported having given birth to one child, who still lived. Was this Droy?]
Ben Barnes v. Annie Barnes
Plaintiff Ben Barnes is 49 years old. He and defendant Annie Barnes were married 22 November 1888. Defendant Annie left him in April 1898 and gave birth to a child about five years later. A pencilled note in the file reads: “Vance Street. Boy Zack works at 5 & 10 c store.”
On 21 November 1888, Benjamin Barnes, 23, son of Gaston and Watey Barnes, married Annie Parker, 24. John Hagans applied for the license, and John Parker, Dennis Parker and Kiziah Mercer witnessed the ceremony.
Ben Barnes v. Lou Barnes
The parties were married 5 January 1885. About 10 June 1892, defendant Lou Barnes committed adultery with Roy Jones.
The files of nineteenth and early twentieth century divorce cases are housed at the North Carolina State Archives. This is the first in a series abstracting some of the folders of actions filed in Wilson County Superior Court. (The allegations of misdoing summarized are derived from court pleadings and were not necessarily true.)
Henry Artis v. Mary Ann Artis
May term, 1901. Married 4 January 1893 in Wilson. After about a year, defendant Mary Ann deserted plaintiff Henry. She also committed adultery with Jim Pool and others and was a “common prostitute.”
On 4 January 1893, Henry Artis, 20, of Wilson township, son of Richard and Eliza Artis, married Mary Ann Lewis, 19, of Gardners, daughter of John and Mary Lewis, in Wilson.
Tom Artis v. Ida Artis
November term, 1910.
William Artis v. Mollie Artis
May term 1906. Married December 1898 in Wilson County. Mollie abandoned William in December 1903. In 1905, she committed adultery with Noah Foreman.
James Artis v. Louvenia Artis
February term, 1914.
On 28 February 1908, James Artis, 29, of Gardners township, son of Jesse and Patsey Artis, married Louvenia Pleasant, 19, of Gardners, daughter of George Pleasant. Blount Best performed the ceremony.
George Barnes Jr. v. Milly Barnes
June term, 1896. Married 4 July 1895 in Wilson County by Free Will Baptist minister Crockett Best. Witnesses produced at trial: Richard Eatman, Smith Battle, Jerry Scarboro, William Barnes, Reuben White, George Towe, Alfred Thompson and Alfred Woodard. Divorce denied.
Plaintiff George asserted that he was unaware that Milly was pregnant at the time of their marriage. When he discovered her condition three weeks later, he left her as he was not the child’s father. Defendant Milly responded that she was an “innocent young woman and was seduced by the plaintiff under a promise of marriage to yield to his embrace and that she became pregnant by cohabitation with him”; that he was the child’s father; and that she had never had “carnal intercourse” with any other man.
Richard Eatman, who was served his subpoena in Halifax County, testified that he was acquainted with Milly Barnes for a number of years, “having been raised in the same neighborhood” with her; that about four years prior he began to have sex with her from time to time for about a year; that he never promised to marry her; that he did not think she was “innocent” when he first had sex with her; and that she had admitted to him having sex with Daniel Barnes.
H.E. Bell testified that he lived near Milly and had known her a number of years and that she had the general reputation of “a woman of loose morals.” He also knew George: “he is a young colored man, of good habits, sober and reliable in every way, that his reputation for truth is as good as any colored man” that Bell knew. Also, Bell stated, Milly lived with her father, Hilliard Ellis, who “provides for her and is able to continue to do so.”
On 4 July 1895, George Barnes, 24, son of George and Anica Barnes, married Milly Ellis, 20, daughter of Hilliard and Feriby Ellis as Hilliard Ellis’ house. A.J.C. Moore applied for the license, and Free Will Baptist minister Crockett Bestperformed the ceremony in the presence of G.W. Ellis, William Roberts and General Barnes.
On 20 December 1900, Millie Ellis, 23, daughter of Hilliard and Phereby Ellis, married James Smith, 22, son of Pink Smith, in Taylors township.
Annie Barnes, 24, daughter of Charles and Rebecca Barnes, married Moses Gunn, 31, son of Joe and Amanda Gunn, on 22 December 1900 in Wilson. (Annie Barnes Gunn was a sister of John M. Barnes and B. Frank Barnes.)