domestic violence

The Lord told me to.

Wilson Daily Times, 22 November 1948.


In the 1900 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: Joseph Wooten, 38; wife Chaney, 28; and children Cora, 11, James, 6, Lossie, 4, and Nora, 1.

In the 1900 census of Sparta township, Edgecombe County: Watt Vines, 30; wife Emma, 29; and children Eddie, 11, Patsey, 5, Junius, 3, and Yettie, 3 months. 

In the 1910 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: Joseph Wooten, 50; wife Chaney, 40; and children James, 17, Lossie, 15, Jacob, 11, Mark, 9, and Andrew J., 1.

On 27 January 1915, James Wooten, 21, of Edgecombe County, son of Joe and Chaney Wooten, married Yettie Vines, 18, of Saratoga, daughter of Watson and Emma Vines, in Saratoga. Joe Wooten applied for the license, and Primitive Baptist minister Ruffin Hyman performed the ceremony in the presence of C.C. Vines, J.J. Vines, and Miles E. Reid.

In the 1920 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: James Wooten, 25, and wife Yettie.

In the 1930 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: James Wooten, 36; wife Yattie, 30; and William J., 7.

In the 1940 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Jim Wooten 45; wife Hattie, 39; sister Mary Bullock, 50; and cousins Melba M., 9, and Ada R. Edwards, 6.

The 8 December 1948 Daily Times reported that Yettie Wooten, an “aging colored woman,” had been sentences to ten to fifteen years in state prison, with a recommendation that she placed in the division for the criminally insane. 

Yettie Vines Wooten died 9 October 1990 in Wilson. 

State vs. Lee Simms.

In the summer of 1913, justice of the peace Elias G. Barnes issued an arrest warrant for Lee Simms for assault with a deadly weapon against his wife Mary Simms.

Barnes took this testimony in support of the charge:

State vs. Lee Simms  }   Before Elias G. Barnes J.P.

Mary Simms, witness for the State, being sworn says: I am Lee Simms’ wife. On Sunday the 15th day of June 1913, in the morning I asked Lee to cut some stove-wood for me. He got his gun and tried to shoot me, but my daughter and myself got hold of the gun and prevented his shooting me. While we were strugling for the gun, Lee fired it off, but it did not hit any one.

Maggie Simms, being duly sworn says: Mother asked pappa to cut her some stove-wood. He said he would stop her from following him. He went into a room, and got his gun. I took hold of his gun. We went into the yard. Mother helped me, and we kept him from shooting her. While we were scuffling over the gun, father fired it off, but it did not hit any one.

W.M. Michener [Mitchner], being sworn, says: I was passing Lee Simms’ on Sunday morning, and saw him, his wife, and daughter in the yard, they seemed to be scuffling over something. His wife asked me to come and help her. I thought they were playing. While I while I [sic] was noticing a gun fired.


On 12 August 1887, Lee Simms 23, and Mary Harriss, 16, were married in Wilson County. Disciples minister P.E. Hines performed the ceremony in the presence of Joe Patterson, Martha Winstead, and Addie Blount.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason Lee Simes, 35; wife Marry, 29, washing; daughters Bessie, 13, tobacco stemmer, and Maggie, 9.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Saratoga Road, Lee Sims, 44; wife Mary, 40, laundress; and daughter Maggie, 18.

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Simms Lee (c) bricklyr h south of Nash nr Carroll

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Simms Lee (c) bricklyr h 813 E Nash

In the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Simms Lee (c) bricklyr h 648 Wainwright

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 648 Wainwright Street, Lee Simms, 56; wife Mary, 47; daughter Maggie Williams, 25; and son-in-law Sam Williams, 26.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Simms Lee (c; Mary) brklyr h 410 Hadley

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 410 Hadley Street, owned and valued at $1300, Lee Simms, 66, building bricklayer; wife Mary L., 60, laundress; and adopted son Clarence Williams, 6.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: ay 205 South Vick, widow Mary Simms, 70; daughter Bessie Woodard, 52, tobacco factory laborer; son-in-law Luther Woodard, 53, oil mill laborer; and grandson Clarence Woodard, 16; daughter Maggie Sharpe, 45; and son-in-law Van Sharpe, 45.

Criminal Action Papers, 1913, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

He said he would shoot her head off.

On 21 August 1911, Martha Atkinson pressed charges against her husband, Dock Atkinson, for assault with a deadly weapon. She and her daughters testified in support of the arrest warrant:

Martha Atkinson being sworn says: That the defendant drew a double barrel shot gun on her at her house on Sunday night Aug 19th & swore that he would shoot her head off. That she ran out of the house & hid under the house until she thought her husband had gone to sleep, then she went out in the cotton patch & stayed until 3 o’clock, & from there to the house of another woman in the neighborhood, & that she has not been back home since, & is afraid to go.

Daisy Atkinson corroborates her mother almost verbatim.

Rosa Atkinson says that her father took the gun from the rack & pointed it at her mother & said he would blow her brains out.


In the 1870 census of Selma township, Johnston County, North Carolina: farmer Louis Atkinson, 60; wife Rose, 50; and children Jimmima, 20, Raiford, 17, Henrietta, 15, Allen, 10, Hardy, 8, Dock, 6, and Cook, 2.

In the 1870 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County, North Carolina: Vinous Bullock, 50; Mike Bullock, 60, farmer; [Mike’s wife?] Gatsey, 50; Alexander, 29; his wife Hannah, 23; and their children Martha, 4, Charley, 2, and General Grant, 5 months.

In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: laborer Alex Bullock, 30; wife Hannah, 34; and children Martha, 14, Charlie, 13, Gen’l Grant, 8, George, 7, Puss, 7, Mary, 5, Nannie, 3, and Orren, 4 months.

On 20 September 1884, Blount Powell, 21, married Martha Bullock, 19, in Edgecombe County.

Dock Atkinson, 26, of Stantonsburg, son of Louie and Rosa Atkinson, married Martha Powell, 20, daughter of Alex Bullock, in Stantonsburg township, on 9 December 1897. Daniel Ellis applied for the application.

In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Dock Atkinson, 35; wife Martha, 32; daughters-in-law [stepdaughters] Mary E., 14, Martha, 13, and Daisey Powell, 11; daughter Rosella Atkinson, 4; son Lewy Atkinson, 6 months; and cousin Jollie Bullock, 24.

In the 1910 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Dock Atkinson, no age given; wife Martha, no age given; and children Daisey, 17, Rosetta, 14, Louie, 10, Ida, 7, Alexander, 5, and William A., 4.

Lewis Atkinson died 25 July 1919 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 28 October 1899 in Wilson County to Dock Atkinson and Martha Bullock; was single; and worked as a tenant farmer.

Martha Adkison died 29 October 1932 in Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born February 1866 in Edgecombe County, N.C., to Alex Bullock and Hannah Bennett; and was a widow.

Martha Farmer died 1 December 1965 in Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 July 1889 in Edgecombe County to Blount Powell and Martha Bullock.

Criminal Action Papers, 1911, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Annie Lewis slain by husband.

Wilson Daily Times, 31 July 1942.

Annie Russell Bethune Lewis was felled with a blow from an axe in her own yard. Her husband James Lewis was quickly arrested and allegedly confessed, claiming he “just couldn’t get along with her.” On September 9, the Daily Times reported that Lewis had entered a plea of not guilty by virtue of insanity. On September 11, the paper reported that a jury convicted him of manslaughter, and a judge sentenced him to 10-15 years in state prison.

James Lewis did not serve his full sentence. By 1949, he had returned to Black Creek — where he was shot in the back and killed on November 25.


In the 1900 census of Sammy Swamp township, Clarendon County, South Carolina: Theodore Bethune, 34; wife Mary A., 25; and children Florence, 8, Alberta, 7, Amanda, 5, Oneitha, 3, and an unnamed girl infant, 2 months.

In the 1910 census of Stony Creek township, Wayne County, N.C.: Duckery Lewis, 42; wife Smithy, 36; and children John, 12, Ben, 10, James, 8, Floyd, 7, Albert, 6, and Needham, 3.

In the 1910 census of Manning township, Clarendon County, South Carolina: on Georgetown Road, Theodore Bethune, 45; wife Ann, 36; and children Florence, 18, Elberta, 17, Charlotte A., 15, Arnetha, 12, and Annie R., 10.

In the 1920 census of Sammy Swamp township, Clarendon County, South Carolina: Theodore Bethune, 45; wife Annie, 44; and daughters Charlotte, 17, Onithea, 15, and Annie, 13. [The children’s ages are wildly off.]

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Duckrey Lewis, 50; wife Smithy, 40; and children Ben, 20, James, 19, Floyd, 17, Albert, 15, Needham, 13, and Duckrey Jr., 7.

On 31 March 1931, James Lewis, 29, of Black Creek, son of Duckrey Lewis and Smithie [maiden name not given], married Annie R. Bethune, of Wayne County, 25, daughter of Theodore and Annie Bethune, in Wilson.

In the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Theodore Bethune, 70; wife Annie, 60; daughter Annie Lewis, 30; and grandchildren Annie M., 7, Willie, 5, and Ned, 2.

“Murdered hit on head with axe by husband James Lewis killing her instantly” 

In 1942, James Willie Lewis registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 7 July 1901 in Wayne County; lived on Clifton Tomlinson’s farm, Black Creek township; his contact was Sip Rogers, Route 1, Black Creek; and he worked for Clifton Tomlinson, Route 1, Black Creek.

On 25 November 1949, James Willie Lewis died at Mercy Hospital, Wilson, of a gunshot blast to the back. Per his death certificate, he was born 7 July 1900 in Wayne County to Duckrey Lewis and Smithie Barnes; was a widower; and lived at Route 1, Black Creek.

The death of John Jenkins (alias Thomas Washington).

Wilson Daily Times, 3 July 1931.

According to this news account, Minerva Barnes slashed her brother-in-law John Jenkins across the forearm because he had slapped her sister. However, the dead man’s death certificate reports his name as Thomas Washington

Minerva Barnes’ charges were eventually upgraded to manslaughter, but she was acquitted in February 1932.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 February 1932.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Sheppard arrested for murder; witnesses held, too.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 June 1926.

Howard and Catherine Hamilton were arrested and jailed as witnesses to John Henry Sheppard‘s alleged murder of his wife. Will Lewis, who shot up several cars, trying to chase down Sheppard, was arrested, too.

On 29 August 1926, Raleigh’s News and Observer identified the victim as Lillie Mae Ward in an article detailing the eleven murder cases on Wilson County Superior Court’s docket. On 7 September 1926, the N&O followed up to report that a judge had convicted Sheppard and sentenced him to five years in prison.

Squabble ends in death in Oil Mill Alley.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 November 1948.

In his 2005 memoir Son of the Rough South, civil rights journalist Karl Fleming identified this column as his first front-page story in the Daily Times.

On 18 February 1949, the Daily Times reported that Leroy Hammonds [not Hamilton] had been convicted of Louise Parker‘s murder. 


  • Louise Parker

In the 1930 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farm laborer Robert Gray, 34; wife Minerva, 34; and children Lossie, 15, Robert, 14, Willie, 11, Louisa ,7, Etta, 6, and Maggie, 1.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Therman Ruffin, 33, lumber mill laborer, and wife Delzell, 27, cook; plus Curtis Parker, 26, lumber mill laborer, and wife Louise, 19.

Curtis Hersey Parker registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 12 March 1912 in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina; lived at 814 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; his contact was wife Louise Sis Parker; and worked for Stephenson Lumber Company on Stemmer Street.

Louise Parker died 1 November 1948 at 804 Oil Mill Alley, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 23 August 1925 in Wilson County to Robert Gray and Minnie Knight and was married to Curtis Parker. Lossie Williams, 625 Cemetery Street, was informant.

  • Leroy Hammonds

In the 1920 census of Wishart township, Robeson County, North Carolina: William L. Hammond, 27; wife Lula H., 23; and children Josiah, 7, William E., 5, Luther E., 3, and Grover L., 1. The family was described as Indian.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Luther Hammond, 59 [sic]; wife Lula, 32; and children Joseph, 17, Elwood, 14, Wallace R., 12, Grover, 10, and Hubart, 2.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Luther Hamonds, 41, light plant foreman; wife Lula, 40, tobacco factory laborer; and children Luther Jr., 24, tobacco factory laborer; Leroy, 21, body plant laborer, Hubert, 13, Lillie, 7, and grandson Junior Hamonds, 2.

The murder of Maggie Wooten Coleman.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 December 1922.

The “ginger cake colored” woman was Maggie Coleman.

“Struck with stick on forehead and a gash under chin by party unknown (murdered). Sudden Death.”

Per a 26 December Daily Times article, “About noon Jim came into this office and said that his wife had not returned from a trip to Wilson on Thursday where she came to buy her Christmas. He was told that a body of a negro woman had been found and went to the undertaking establishment where he identified the body as that of his wife. It is believed that Jim wanted to get rid of her and took her to the woods and killed her, and then pretended he knew nothing about it.”

Maggie Coleman was buried on Christmas Eve, and her husband James Coleman was arrested for her murder.

The Independent (Elizabeth City, N.C.), 29 December 1922.

On 18 January 1923, the Daily Times reported on the inquest over Coleman’s murder. Jim Coleman did not testify on his own behalf. Maggie Coleman had been found about about two miles north of Wilson near the Atlantic Coast Line railroad. She and her husband lived west of the city “up Nash road.”

June Ross testified that two weeks before Maggie’s death, during a visit to Jim’s store, he had witnessed the two arguing. “Jim told her to shut up and reached up after a pistol.” Ross left. Albert Staples testified that he had seen the Colemans in Wilson on Thursday, but did not know if they had come together. Maggie had been at High’s store and Jim at “the old Mose Rountrees Corner.”

An unnamed witness said he had seen Jim chase Maggie with a knife and said “if she said anything about the other woman he would cut her head off.” “They lived bad together witnesses said.”

Dallas Vail testified that he knew nothing about the killing, but “My wife’s mother bought a pair of shoes, and Jim’s wife wanted them and said Jim would pay for them. Saw Jim who said he would pay for shoes if his wife picked cotton smart. I went later after the money, and Jim said he bought several pair of shoes for her and she had run through them. He said she don’t need any shoes. She has a good pair on now, and the best thing for me to do is to get the shoes and give back to you. He gave me back the shoes. That was Saturday morning when the woman was found dead. I asked when she left home. He replied Thursday. I asked him why he had not looked for her. He said he thought she might have gone to see a relative. He said he and Bill Thorne looked for her. She did not return and they did not go hunting. He said he sent his wife to Mr. Sauls in Grab Neck and Mr. Sauls said he let her have $2.00.” 

Wilson Best testified that about December 1, on Warren Street in Wilson, Jim Coleman told him his wife tried to poison him, and he had been staying by himself for three months and had been eating can goods. “He offered me $100.00 to kill her.”

Hattie Vail (the shoe seller) testified that the report “about the woman Henrietta Knight who lived near them and Jim was bad.” 

Paul Barnes testified that he lived up Nash road about a mile from Jim Coleman and knew Coleman’s [mule] team. He said he encountered a mule and wagon headed toward Wilson on Nash road on Friday night between Lamm’s store and Etheridge. A person standing up in the wagon turned his head to the side and Barnes could not see his face, but believed him to be Coleman. The person was wearing a man’s coat and seemed to be a colored person. 

Tom Coleman testified that there had been much trouble over the past two months between Jim and Maggie Coleman over Henrietta Knight. Jim threatened to kill Maggie before she could testify against Knight [presumably in an adultery action.] Tom was at Henrietta’s house one night in December and asked for a Pepsi-Cola. Maggie also asked for one, and Jim cursed at her. Tom paid for the drink. Jim threatened to hit Maggie with the bottle, and Tom stayed his hand. Jim was Tom’s nephew, and Maggie was Tom’s wife’s half-sister. 

Prosecutor Oliver Rand read a statement by Elam Ross, who testified that he was at his father’s house near Barnes crossing and saw a man and woman going north toward Elm City. The woman was wearing a red sweater. “She went down the embankment and the man followed. Both disappeared in the woods.” Ross stated he went to the jail and identified Coleman as the man he had seen going into the woods.

Jim Baker testified that he lived near Coleman about five years. He saw Jim Thursday night on a wagon coming to Wilson about eleven at night, but did not pay attention. He heard on Saturday that Jim’s wife was dead. 

Jim Coleman was tried and convicted of Maggie Coleman’s murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Three years later, Roy Armstrong was arrested and charged with the same crime. Armstrong had been a suspect at the time of Coleman’s murder, but had escaped prosecution by leaving town. According to “the evidence,” Roy Armstrong and Maggie Coleman argued over ten dollars she found, and he killed her with a blow to the head. Armstrong went to Coleman’s husband, who said “I don’t care,” and demanded twenty dollars for his escape. Coleman, though he had always protested his own innocence, apparently did not implicate Armstrong until Armstrong was arrested. 

Wilson Daily Times, 7 November 1925.

Despite this development, little changed. Nearly a year later, Armstrong was still in jail awaiting prosecution, and I have found no record that he was ever tried. 

In February and March 1930, Jim Coleman’s attorneys published a series of notices that he intended to apply for a pardon for his wife’s murder, having served a little more than seven years.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 March 1930.  

The application apparently was turned down. However, Coleman walked free three years later when the governor of North Carolina paroled him for risking his life to prevent a boiler explosion at the prison camp saw mill. (Note the article states Coleman had served 18 years of a 20-year sentence. In fact, he served no more than ten years. 

Charlotte Observer, 18 April 1930.


  • Maggie Coleman and James Coleman

In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Benjaman Wooten, 51; wife Clara, 55; and children Elizabeth, 19, Joseph, 15, Maggie, 11, Eddie, 5, and Willie, 11 months.

In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: James Coleman, 15, was a servant in the household of white farmer John F. Flowers, 29.

Jim Coleman, 22, of Taylor township, son of Gray and Harriet Coleman, married Maggie Wootten, 18, of Wilson township, daughter of Ben and Clara Wootten, at Ben Wooten’s in Wilson township. Free Will Baptist minister Daniel Blount performed the ceremony in the presence of Ben Wooten, Eddie Coleman, and Spisey Barnes

In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: sawmill laborer James Coleman, 25; wife Maggie, 21; and children Bettie, 3, and Grady, 3 months.

In 1918, Jim Coleman registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his draft registration card, he was born 1 October 1880; lived at Route 3, Wilson; was a farmer [“owns home”]; and his nearest relative was wife Maggie Coleman.

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Jim Coleman, 35; wife Maggie, 34; and children Grady, 11, Sanders, 7, Claydee and Collie, 6, and Leroy, 2.

Perhaps, in the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Tom Wilson, 56; wife Leanna, 50; and children Sarah, 17, Ester, 15, Thomas, 14, Georgia, 11, Nancy, 9, Gola, 7, and Margie, 3; plus sister Nanie, 16.

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: on Finch Mill Road, farmer June Ross, 40; wife Nancy, 38; and children Sylvina, 14, Nancy Ann, 11, Charles Willie, 8, John Ed, 5, and Marse Robert, 1.

  • Dallas and Hattie Vail

On 8 February 1914, Dallas Vails, 34, of Wayne County, son of Ned and Rachel Vails, married Hattie Barnes, 23, of Wayne County, daughter of Perry and Louisa Barnes, at Turner Swamp church. Primitive Baptist minister Jonah Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Thomas Ayres of Lucama, Geo. Robbin of Spring Hope, and C.H. Hagans of Sharpsburg.

In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer James Joyner, 27; wife Mahalia, 26; and boarders Auston Daws, 28, farm laborer, and Roy Armstrong, 3.

In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: on Wilbanks and Elm City Road, farmer Guston Armstrong, 73; wife Pricilla, 66; and grandchildren John C. Geer, 14, Roy Armstrong, 12, Frank Armstrong, 11, and Paulina Armstrong, 5. 

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Roy Armstrong, 23; wife Mary, 22; children Daisey, 3, and Mary, 2; and boarder Gerin(?) Bullock, 21.