domestic work

Where we worked: back of the bawdy house.

In From a Cat House to the White House, Jesse D. Pender painted a richly detailed portrait of life in Wilson and Wilson County in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s — including his adventures as a driver and cook for white madam Betty Powell. Powell and Mallie Paul were among the last of the big-time brothel keepers operating in Wilson’s early twentieth century red light district centered on South Spring [Douglas], South, and East Jones Streets at the heart of Wilson’s blocks of tobacco warehouses. This area, simultaneously, was a solidly working-class African-American neighborhood known as Little Washington and home to Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church’s church and school.

On 28 July 1914, the Wilson Daily Times reported on the visit of the chief of police to all the town’s bawdy houses after “drunk and disorderly conduct at Ola LeRoy’s house a few nights ago and the suicide of” a man named Bunn. Not only had the houses not complied with an earlier directive to shape up, most were in flagrant violation. Ordering all in the trade to leave town by the end of the week, the chief listed his shocking discoveries, naming names:

  • at Cora Duty’s house, he found women from Richmond, Virginia, Washington, D.C.; Washington, N.C.; Chicago, Illinois; and Louisville, Kentucky [in the 1900 census of Wilson, Cora Duty is listed with four “boarders”; in the 1912 city directory, her address is 404 South Spring]
  • at Gertrude Augustine’s house, he found a woman from Jamestown, New York, and evidence that other young women had come and gone
  • at Beck Walston’s, one woman [probably also known as Bessie Walston; in the 1920 census, at 510 Spring]
  • at the house of Gertrude Stone, who hailed from Providence, Rhode Island, a woman from Baltimore, Maryland
  • at the house Jessie Smith, originally of Winston-Salem, N.C., no one else, because they’d all left after Bunn’s death
  • at Ada Coleman’s, no one else, but the weekend before there had been “a bunch of drunken men” and other evidence that she was violating prohibition laws
  • at Bessie E. Stamper’s, no one else, but other women had been seen there
  • at Maude Weston’s, “the others left after the death of Bunn and purpose to stay away until everything is quiet again” [in the 1916 city directory, Weston is at 511 South Spring]
  • at the house of Lou R. Padgett, alias Ola LeRoy, LeRoy and another woman were drunk only a day after LeRoy had been found guilty of disorderly conduct
  • at the houses of Gertie Sears, Lida Simpson, and “Alice,” no one else [in the 1916 city directory, Sears is at 513 South Spring; Lida (Lydia) Simpson appears in directories at 404 South Spring, 310 East Jones, and 312 East Jones; and Alice Hinson at 310 East Jones]
  • at Clyde Bell’s, known as Pat Moore, “a house full of men and beer” [a native of Norfolk, Virginia, in 1916, Bell married L.E. Pittman at her home at 313 Mercer Street]
  • at the house of Fannie Ange, alias Theodora Davis, several women [in the 1916 city directory, at 328 South Street]
  • at “the house where Trixie Clark died,” three women, including Fannie Ange’s sister [in the 1912 city directory, Clark was at 322 South Street; a Clara Clark, age 23, residing at 324 South, died 30 January 1924 of opium poisoning and a pistol shot wound — was this “Trixie”?]
  • at Mollie Johnson’s, one girl [in the 1912 city directory, at 318 South Street; in the 1916 directory, 311 South Street; in the 1920 census, 508 Spring]
  • at Fannie Burwell [Burrell]’s, one woman [in the 1900 census, Burrell ran a boarding house with three young women boarders, including Mallie Paul; in the 1908, 1912 and 1916 city directories, she is at 309 South Street]

Wilson Daily Times, 23 December 1910.

Fannie Burrell died 26 January 1917 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 64 years old; was born in Virginia; and was a “land lord of bawdy-house.” She is buried in Maplewood cemetery.

Burrell had made out a will on 23 November 1916, broadly dispensing her sizable wealth. She left money, diamond jewelry, furniture, land lots, and houses to numerous friends, including two Wilson madams, Mallie Paul and Theodora Davis, and two trusted members of her domestic staff, Mary Floyd and Carrie Strickland. [In the 1910 census of Wilson, Mallie Paul and Mollie Johnson are listed on either side of Burrell on Jones Street.]

To Floyd, her cook, Burrell left her house on Spring Street (or $400, if the house sold under option.)

To her “faithful servant and friend” Strickland, Burrell left a house at the corner of Spring and Hines Streets (or $400).

Robert N. Perry, the rector of Saint Mark’s Episcopal, witnessed Burrell’s execution of the will. He was her neighbor at 315 South Street.

Little Washington/the red light district as drawn on the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson. At (A), Saint Mark’s Episcopal and at (B) a “Sanctified Church (Negro).” The numbers mark addresses associated with white bawdy houses from 1900-1922 — (1) 313 Mercer (Clyde Bell); (2) 404 South Spring (Cora Duty; Lida Simpson; Alice Hinson); (3) 418 South Spring (Fannie Burrell); (4) 508 South Spring (Mollie Johnson) (5) 510 South Spring (Bessie Walston); (6) 512 South Spring (Nan Garrett); (7) 511 South Spring (M. Weston); (8) 513 South Spring (Gertrude Sears); (9) 308 [renumbered 409] East Jones (Betty Powell); (10) 310 [renumbered 410] East Jones (Alice Hinson); (11) 312 East Jones (Lida Simpson; Alice Hinson); (12) 314 East Jones (Evelyn Belk); (13) 309 [renumbered 304] South (Fannie Burrell; Mallie Paul); (14) 311 South (Mollie Johnson); (15) 314 [renumbered 309] South (Mallie Paul); (16) 318 South (Mollie Johnson); (17) 322 South (Trixie Clark); (18) 328 South (Theodora Davis).


  • Mary Floyd

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spring Street, Mary Williams, 20, tobacco factory laborer, and lodger Junis Floyd, 35, odd jobs laborer.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 311 Hines, Seary Mitchell, 31, and wife Gertie, 19; Junous Floyd, 41, gas plant fireman; wife Mary, 32, tobacco factory worker; brother Allen, 25, tobacco factory laborer; and roomer Pattie Williamson, 40, private cook. [Next door: Mollie Johnson, above.]

Junius Floyd died 30 November 1929 in Forks township, Wayne County, at the hospital. Per his death certificate, he was 50 years old; was married to Mary Floyd; and worked as a laborer.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 519 South Spring, widow Mary Floyd, 40; son James A., 9; and roomers Bertha Johnson, 27, and Ellen Williams, 22.

Mary Floyd died 13 May 1931 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 46 years old; was born in Franklin County, N.C., to Saul Williams and Hellen Richardson; was married to June Floyd; lived at 519 South Spring; and worked as a tobacco factory laborer. Bertha Smith was informant.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Spring Street, brickmason Goodsey Holden, 50; wife Laura, 47; daughters Estella, 25, Bertha, 24, laundress, and Ione, 20, laundress; and lodger Carrie Strickland, 18, hotel chambermaid.

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Strickland Carrie (c) dom h 603 S Spring

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 603 Spring Street, brickmason Goodsey Holden, 59; wife Laura, 52; and roomer Carrie Strickland, 29, tobacco factory worker.

In the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Strickland Carrie I (c) hairdresser h 603 S Spring

In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Strickland Carrie (c) hairdresser 528 E Nash h 504 S Lodge

Many thanks to J. Robert Boykin III for transcribing “Ordered to Leave Town: Disorderly Conduct in ‘Red Light District’ Causes Mayor Dickerson to Issue the Order,” Wilson Daily Times, 28 July 1914.


Pierce asks, “Will you do your part?”

Though I have not been able to find Fletcher F. Pierce‘s letter to the editor concerning the state teachers association, I did find these letters, published in sequence in the 26 September 1933 edition of the Wilson Daily Times.

Pierce was about 21 years old at the time and clearly had a voice that he was willing to use. In these letters, he first called on the Times to act on its commitment to justice for the laboring class by sharing information about the New Deal’s impact on low area wages.

Next, he called the employers of domestic servants to task for the abysmally low wages paid to these men and women (who were overwhelmingly African-American.) “Now how in the name of sound economics can these low salaries raise the standard of living in this town?,” Pierce asked.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 September 1933.

Where we worked: domestic service.

Through much of the 20th century, the overwhelming majority of African-American women in Wilson who worked outside their homes worked either as domestic servants or tobacco factory laborers. Mittie Clarke‘s death certificate identifies her employment precisely — she performed domestic work for Mrs. W.D. Adams.

Mittie Clark’s parents, Rhoden and Sarah Hill Clark, migrated to Wilson from Scotland Neck, Halifax County, North Carolina, circa the 1890s. Rhoden Clark was a mechanic; Sarah Clark, a laundress. Sarah Clark bought a lot on Green Street from Samuel H. Vick in 1898, and the family built a large house, signaling their ensconcement in East Wilson’s Black middle class. Maintaining their position required the contributions of all, however, and the 1900 census shows five of the seven Clark children, ranging from age 13 to 30, engaged in nursing (as in childcare — this was Mittie), dressmaking, laundry work, and work as waiters.

William D. Adams was president of Barnes-Harrell Company, Wilson’s Coca-Cola bottler. His wife, Bess Hackney Adams, was a granddaughter of Willis N. Hackney, founder of Hackney Brothers Body Company.

[Note that Mittie Clark was buried in Rountree Cemetery. This may indicate Rountree, in fact, but more likely Odd Fellows or Vick Cemeteries. No grave markers for her or her family members have been found to date.]

She went off of her own accord.

Near Wilson Oct 2 1867


My Son Walter is sick and as it may be important for you to get the information, I have concluded to write. We hired Mary Tomlin last year to wash on the farm and I asked her at the end of the year if she was willing to live with me this year and do any little thing about the house, and wash, and iron. She said she was, but did not know how to iron, therefore we had our ironing done by others, and when she washed we had our cooking done by others. She has never been burdened for she had half of her time to work for herself. We agreed to give her two dollars a month and feed her two small children which was her price and when she wanted anything we purchased it for her and charged her with it, and last summer she had a little girl that was without a home, which she wished me to hire. I told her I would, if she would let me have her for five years which I would learn her enough to make her useful to her, and herself, too. I also promised to learn her to read. I told her to think about it, that I did not wish her to answer me hastily for I did not want her without she was perfectly willing. In a few weeks she told me that she rather I would have her than any body else so we had a contract written, and I am to pay her at the end of every year. Last winter we hired her son at eight dollar a month her price, she agreed to let him have half to buy clothes as he was very destitute when he came, he has nearly had it and she wanted a settlement at the end of the year. When she left we would have owed her sixteen dollars, but she had traded to the amount of twenty dollars, fell in my debt, so we do not owe her any thing until the end of the year. About three months ago she became dissatisfied and wish to leave, I told her I could hold her to her bargain if I choose, but if she wanted to leave I would let her go off with her two small children, but she did not at that time, but was often threatening to go until she called for a settlement, and as I had told her before, that I would let her off, I did not oppose her. I had enquired where I could get some one to take her place when she did, she never was sent from here she went off on her own accord. I have always tried to be fair with all that I have hired and since she left I have said nothing against her to keep her from getting a home, and I have tried to help them from getting in debt, when her pay is due for her children it will be paid certain all that we owe. We do not want to wrong her out of a cent.   Respectfully, Margaret H. Battle


In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: minister Amos J. Battle, 65, wife Margret J., 59, sons Jesse, 19, and Cullen, 22, and fifteen hotel boarders, plus Kit Carmel, 35, his wife Louisa, 35, a hotel cook, and sons Joseph, 11, and Henry, 8; George Merit, 21, and Warren Adams, 22, hotel porters; and chambermaid Harret Barnes, 18.

Elsewhere in town: Washer woman Mary Tomlin, 40, with Ellen, 17, Orphius, 20, Blount, 9, and Willie Tomlin, 12, and James Davis, 27. Ellen worked as a domestic servant and Orphius as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Davis, who was white, worked as a store clerk and appears to have been a boarder.

Freedmen Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1863-1878 [database online],

Snaps, no. 2: Nina F. Hardy.

Nina Aldridge Hardy

Nina Hardy, circa early 1960s.

Nina Frances Faison Kornegay Hardy was born March 15, 1882, probably in northern Duplin County, to John Henry Aldridge and Addie Faison. She seems to have been married briefly to Joe Kornegay in 1899 in Wayne County, but is not in the 1900 census. By 1910, she had made her way 40 or so miles north to Wilson and was listed as “Nina Facin,” boarding  on Elba Street in the household of Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs. The census also shows a “Nina Facon” living and working as a servant in the household of Jefferson D. Farrior in Wilson. Though described as white, this is almost surely Nina Faison, who cooked and cleaned for the Farriors most of her working life.

In an interview I conducted, my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001) said:

Aint Nina lived up over the Farrior house on Herring Avenue.  Herring’s Crossroads, whatever you call it.  And that’s where she come up there to live.  Well, the maid, as far as the help, or whoever, they stayed on the lot, where they’d have somewhere to sleep. So Aint Nina was living on Nash Road, way down there, and when we went to see her, me and Mamie would run down there five miles. She was working for Old Man Farrior then.  When she was living out in the country, she was working for white people, and so she went up to their house and cooked for them.  And when we’d go down to her house, she’d have to come from up there and cook when she get home.  So we would go and spend a day, but it would be more than likely be on her day off.  But when we had the horse and buggy, Mama drove out there once, and we went, I went with Papa with the wagon to where you grind corn to make meal, down to Silver Lake or whatever that place was down there.  Lord, them were the good old days.  

The Farriors, their back porch was closed in.  It had windows.  And had a marble floor in the back, and that stairway was on, where it was closed in on the back porch, you could go upstairs, and there was a room up there.  You couldn’t go from out of that room into the other part of the house.  You had to come back down them steps then go in the house.  And that’s where Aint Nina stayed.  I said, Lord, I wouldn’t want to have stayed up there.  And then something happen … She had to come down and go down the steps, go upstairs, I mean, and come out of the kitchen, and then go up them steps out on this porch in her room.  So she stayed up there.  Lord, I wouldn’t want to stay up there.  She get sick out there, she couldn’t get nobody.  I didn’t see no – I was up in there one time, and I went up there just to look around.  Well, she had a nice room, nice bed and chair and dresser and everything.  There was a whole set in the room where she was.  That was the only time I was up there. But I wouldn’t want to stay up there.

In 1917, Nina married Julius Hardy in Wilson township.


It is likely their house that my grandmother and great-aunt visited out on Nash Road:

They had guinea chickens.  A car run over a chicken and killed it, and it kept going.  And we, me and Mamie, was going out there, and we picked up the chicken and carried it ‘round there.  And Aint Nina poured water and scald the chicken and picked it and cooked it, and we had the best time eating it.   Wont thinking ‘bout we was going out there to eat.  And so we come walking in there with that chicken, and she wanted to know, “Well, where’d you get that?”  “A car run over it, and we picked it up and brought it on over so you could cook it.”  And she said, “Yeah, it’s good.  A car just killed it?”  And it wasn’t too far from the house.  And I reckon it was one of her chickens anyhow.  Honey, she cooked that old stewed chicken, had to put pastry and vegetables in it.  Lord, we stayed out all that time, then had to come home from way out there.  But we was full. 

And her brother, his name was James Faison, lived across the street from her, and his wife, and I think the lady had been married before because they wasn’t his children.  It was two girls.  And he worked at the express, at the station.  The place was on that side, Nash Street station was over on this side.  Baggage used to come over there.  The baggage place where’d you take off the train.  That’s where you put it over on that side at that time.  And he was working over there.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County, Nina Hardy is listed as a maid in the household of lawyer William D.P. Sharpe Jr., next door to Annie V. Farrior and her brother Marvin Applewhite. Did the families share her services?

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In 2004, a Farrior descendant sent me copies of several photos of Nina Hardy. They were likely taken in the early 1950s, a few years before Annie V. Farrior’s death. The Farriors’ grand home, with its immense columned portico, was demolished in the 1960s.


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Undated photograph of the J.D. Farrior house found at Images of North Carolina, Color photo in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson. Many thanks to J.M. Brock for sharing his family photos.