drowning

Freeman’s Pond.

Among the many ventures to which Oliver Nestus Freeman turned his hand was the establishment of a recreation area for African-Americans. The exact location of the park is surprisingly hazy, given that it contained a pond large enough to swim and boat in. This article about the 1933 drowning of Lawrence Haskins is the only written reference to Freeman’s Pond that I’ve found. The “fair grounds,” which had hosted horse racing, bicycle racing and baseball since the late 1800s, was beyond city limits in a wooded area just beyond present-day Dick’s Hot Dog Stand and Wells Elementary School.

Screen Shot 2019-11-28 at 8.12.41 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 29 July 1933.

This photo of Connie Freeman and friends in small rowboats on Freeman’s Pond is reproduced at the Freeman Round House and Museum.

——

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Warren Street, Robert Haskins, 37, bottling company laborer; wife Gertrude, 28; and children Mandy, 14, Elizabeth, 12, Estelle, 10, Robert, 7, Lossie, 5, Lawrence, 4, and Thomas, 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: insurance agent Robert Haskins, 44; wife Gertrude, 39; and children Mandy, 22, Elizabeth, 20, Estell, 18, Robert, 17, Lossie, 14, Larence, 12, and Tommie, 11.

Laurence Edward Haskins died 29 June 1933 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 September 1917 in Wilson to Robert Haskins and Gertrude Farmer; he was a school boy; and he lived at 1300 Atlantic Street. Cause of death was “accidental drowning while in [sic] bathing in Contentnea Creek.” [This does not comport with the conjectured location for Freeman’s Pond above.]

The first drowning at Contentnea Park.

I posted here about the accidental drowning of Samuel H. Vick Jr.‘s friend Eugene Fisher. The Daily Times noted that Fisher’s death was the second at Contentnea Park in a little over a week. Eddie Simms was first:

Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 9.47.48 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 22 July 1924.

  • Eddie Simms — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Manchester Street, tobacco factory worker Frances Simms, 34, and children Milton, 22, Eddie, 18, Raymond, 10, Maggie, 8, Ava, 5, Richard, 2, and Bay, 3 months. Eddie B. Simms died 17 July 1924. Per his death certificate,he was born 3 August 1904 in Wilson to Ed Mitchell and Frances Simms; was single; lived at 610 Manchester Street; worked as a shoeshiner; and “drowned while in the act of swimming accidentally.” Informant was Millie Simms.

Details of a drowning.

The day after Eugene Fisher drowned while swimming in the lake at Contentnea Park, the Daily Times printed an article suggesting that “Sam Vick,” i.e. Samuel H. Vick Jr., bore some responsibility for the accident.

Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 7.45.08 PM.png

Wilson Daily Times, 29 July 1924.

Vick immediately fired back. His grief, he stated sharply, had “been still more aggravated by the misstatement of facts concerning my part in the matter, for the facts were badly twisted and really just the opposite what really happened.” Georgia Aiken also contributed a corrective, milder in tone, but just as firm.

Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 6.35.51 PM.png

7 30 1924.png

Wilson Daily Times, 30 July 1924.

And where was Contentnea Park? References in contemporaneous news articles reveal that (1) it was not an African-American-only park — the Kiwanis met there regularly — but rather seems to have had a section reserved for black patrons, “the negro park”; (2) it was privately owned and operated; (3) it was located above the dam on Contentnea Creek; and (4) entrance was gained via a road marked by two stone pillars. A dam spans Contentnea Creek just above U.S. Highway 301 to form what is now known as Wiggins Mill Reservoir, still a popular recreational area. With a hat tip to Janelle Booth Clevinger, here is my best guest at the park’s location:

——

  • Eugene Fisher — Connecticut-born Eugene Leonard Fisher was newly arrived to Wilson at the time of his tragic death. His father Edwin W. Fisher was a manager with North Carolina Mutual and moved his wife and remaining children to Wilson between 1926, when Edwin is listed in the 1926 Durham, N.C., city directory, and 1928, when he appears in the Wilson directory. They settled into 624 East Nash Street, the house built for Dr. Frank S. Hargrave next door to Samuel Vick’s family home at 622. The Fishers appear in Wilson in the 1930 census, and Daisy Virginia Fisher (Eugene’s stepmother) died there on 25 April 1935. Per her death certificate, she and her husband were living at 539 East Nash at the time. Eugene Fisher’s younger brother Milton W. Fisher remained in Wilson into the 1940s, and his older brother Edwin D. Fisher lived there the remainder of his life.

Eugene Fisher’s death certificate reveals that he was an insurance agent for North Carolina Mutual. Fisher was living at an unspecified address on Nash Street. His father Edwin, then a Durham resident, was informant.

40050_2421406260_0363-00775

Eugene L. Fisher served in the United States Naval Reserve Force during World War I as a mess attendant. The Messman Branch of the Navy, which was restricted to non-white sailors, was responsible for feeding and serving officers. Fisher was assigned to U.S.S. Black Hawk, a destroyer depot ship. After his death, his brother Edwin D. Fisher of 600 East Green Street applied for a military headstone to be shipped to the “Negro Cemetery (Fayetteville Street)” in Durham. [Edwin Fisher, himself a veteran of World War I, signed as “Liaison Officer, [illegible] A.V. of World War, Sumter S.C. chap. #2.” (What does this signify?)]

Aerial images courtesy of Google Maps.

UPDATE, 9 April 2019:

The “stone” pillars I identified above are actually brick. Until a better guess arrives though, I will stick with hypothesis that they mark the entrance to Contentnea Park. Many thanks to Janelle Booth Clevinger for this photo. — LYH

UPDATE, 11 April 2019: Per additional intel, the pillars shown above were erected in the 1960s. Thus, the location of Contentnea Park remains a mystery.

Struggling and sinking.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on the 22nd day of April 1872 I, H.W. Peel one of the Coroners of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, viz J.W. Crowell, John L. Baley, Elijah Williams, M.G. Trubuthan, J.W. Fryar, W.D. Farmer, B.J. Cogins. R.S. Wells. Jas. W. Taylor, Henry Dixon, W.H. Cobb, William A. Farmer by me summoned for that purpose according to law after being by me duly sworn and impaneled at Farmer Mill Pond in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of Joseph Perry, col and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of deceased from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured the Jury find as follow that is to say that the deceased came to his death by accidental drowning.  /s/ J.W Crowell, Foreman, L. Baley, W.A. Farmer, Wm. D, Farmer, Henry Dixon Jnr., Elijah Williams, B.J. Coggins, M.G. Trevathan, W.H. Cobb, J.W. Friar, R.S. Wells, J.W. Taylor.

——

James G. Cobb being duly sworned says that on Sunday April 21 1872 himself, Ralph Faison & Bynum Arrington Crisp McNair together with Joseph Perry Deceased were at Mill Pond of W.D. Farmer in County of Wilson state of North Carolina & Proposing to go in Washing or bathing. There upon said Cobb & Ralph Faison proceeded to swim a distance of seventy five yds or thereabout & parties consisting of the other witnesses Bynum Arrington Crisp McNair & Jos Perry deceased were left on & near the shore, upon being called by Bynum Arrington he the said Cobb looked back & saw Joseph Perry deceased appearantly struggling & sinking under twice after he the said Cobb saw him. Further stating that aid Perry threatened to swim as far as any of the party & that he saw no person or persons interfere with deceased in any way by which he could have been encouraged to go beyond his depth in water. The other witnesses above being duly sworn testified to the facts as above and all agree in the matter that Joe Perry was alone & no person interfered with him while in the water.  /s/ James (X) G. Cobb, Ralph (X) Faison, Bynum (X) Arrington, Crisp (X) McNair.

——

  • Joseph Perry – probably, in the 1860 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Kinchen Locust, 8, and Joseph Perry, 6, in the household of Henry Dixon, 76, a white farmer. Kinchen was black; Joseph, mulatto. Also, in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Joseph Perry, 15, farm laborer, living in the household of Eveline Evans, 52. Eveline and her children are described as white; Joseph, as mulatto.
  • Ralph Faison
  • Bynum Arrington – in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Haywood Arrington, 45; wife Louisa, 35; and children Bynum, 16, Ervin, 11, and Anthoney, 8.
  • Crisp McNair
  • James G. Cobb — in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County, James G. Cobb, 12, the son of Gray and Martha Cobb. (Though he was still a minor, Cobb, who was white, was the only witness who actually gave testimony.)

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Accidental drowning.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on the 20th day of June 1878 I, H.W. Peel one of the Coroners of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, viz S.M. Warren, Ruffin Lamm, J.H. Worrell, J.T. High, J.M. White, L.T. Raper, Frank Farmer, E. Holoway, G.W. Barefoot, Aaron Skinner, Henry Wiggins & Robt. Strickland by me summoned for that purpose according to law after being by me duly sworn and Empannelled at J. Barefoot Mill Pond in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of William Barnett, col and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of the deceased from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured the Jury find as follows that is to say that the deceased came to his death by accidental drowning.  /s/ Frank (X) Farmer, S.M. Warren Foreman, E. (X) Holoway, Ruffin (X) Lamm, G.W. Barefoot, J.H. Worrell, Aaron (X) Skinner, J.T. High, Henry (X) Wiggins, G.M. White, Robt. (X) Strickland, L.T. Raper

——

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on the 20th day of June 1878 I, H.W. Peel one of the Coroners of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, viz S.M. Warren, Ruffin Lamm, J.H. Worrell, J.T. High, J.M. White, L.T. Raper, Frank Farmer, E. Holoway, G.W. Barefoot, Aaron Skinner, Henry Wiggins & Robt. Strickland by me summoned for that purpose according to law after being by me duly sworn and Empannelled at J. Barefoots Mill Pond in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of Thos Hooks, cold & his son Al. Hooks and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of the deceased from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured the Jury find as follows that is to say that the deceased came to there death by accidental drowning.  /s/ Frank (X) Farmer, S.M. Warren Foreman, E. (X) Holoway, Ruffin (X) Lamm, G.W. Barefoot, J.H. Worrell, Aaron (X) Skinner, J.T. High, Henry (X) Wiggins, G.M. White, Robt. (X) Strickland, L.T. Raper

——

  • William Barnett — in the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, Virginia-born farm laborer William Barnett, 21, and wife Rosa, 30.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Working on the railroad, drowned on the river.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 3.43.02 PM

Wilson Advance, 16 February 1883.

When construction resumed after the Civil War, the state of North Carolina leased thousands of African-American convicts — many sentenced for trivial crimes — to the Western North Carolina Rail Road Company to perform the dirty, dangerous work of grading, laying rail and excavating tunnels. Hundreds died, including Jerry Smith.

The W.N.C.R.R. crosses the Tuckaseegee River, which flows entirely in North Carolina, several times between Bushnell and Almond, North Carolina.

The Wilson Collegiate Institute, a private school for boys, opened in 1872 and operated for about 20 years.