domestic servant

At the beach.

When wealthy Wilsonians shifted their households to the beach in summer, their domestic servants were pulled with them. Jane Cooke Hawthorne recently shared several photographs taken circa 1910-20 at the North Carolina shore, with thoughtful commentary about her evolving understanding of the relationships between her ancestors and the men and women who eased their lives. These photographs, which captured posed, but casual, groupings of an extended family of wealthy tobacconists, include “the help.”

In the first photo below, Lucy M. “Nolia” Gardner Whitehead stands in a white dress on the porch of the family’s Morehead City, North Carolina, summer home, surrounded by extended family. (For more about the house, which was built as headquarters of the precursor to the North Carolina Education Association, see here.) Her daughter Nolia Whitehead (later Davis) sits on the steps beside Edward K. Wright, who years later would inherite the farm that wraps around Vick Cemetery. The elderly woman in black standing at right is Matilda “Mattie” Bynum Barnes, who, with her husband Frank W. Barnes, sold Rountree Baptist Church land for its cemetery and sold Samuel H. Vick the land that would become Odd Fellows and Vick Cemeteries. The woman leaning on the newel post with clasped hands is Elizabeth Barnes Davis, who received the letter from Johnnie Farmer we read here. The little girl seated on the rail is Virginia Davis Pou, in whose daughter Virginia Pou Doughton’s papers that letter is found. Behind her are her parents Frank Barnes Davis and Helen Patterson Davis. And seated in front of Mattie Barnes is her daughter Alice Harriss Barnes Wright, from whom Ed Wright inherited Wright Farm. At the far edges of the group are four African-American women and one African-American man. The women, whom we have not been able to identify, were likely cooks, laundresses, nannies, and maids. The man is believed to be Simeon Haskins, and he probably worked as a general factotum.

Below, Howell G. Whitehead III sits at top left with a dog. Sim Haskins holds a small boy at bottom left.

Below, Mattie Barnes stands in the middle of another family grouping, with three African-American women and one man sitting cross-legged below. They appear to be a different group than those depicted in the first photograph.


Do you recognize these men or women?

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on “N&S RR” [Norfolk & Southern Rail Road], farmer Damp Haskins, 60; wife Stella, 52, servant; children Martha, 23, cook, James, 18, wagon factory laborer, Lessie, 16, lumber mill laborer, John, 15, lumber mill laborer, Annie, 8, Earnest, 7, and Damp, 3; plus grandsons Simeon, 15, retail grocery laborer, and Ambrose Haskins, 7. [Damp Haskins was buried in Vick Cemetery.]

Many, many thanks to Jane Cooke Hawthorne.