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.
In July 1857, the Tarboro jailer advertised in a local newspaper that an enslaved teenager named Arch had been committed to jail. Arch, who had a scar on his wrist from being struck by a grubbing hoe, told Benjamin Williams that William J. Moore of Wilson County was his owner.
“Long” John Webb, so-called because his height distinguished him from several contemporaries of the same name, lived in a section of southwest Edgecombe County that is now northeast Wilson County. His will, drafted in 1845, entered probate in August 1853 and included these provisions:
“I, John Webb, of the State of North Carolina and County of Edgecombe, being of sound mind and perfect memory blessed be God do this 19th day of October in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty-Five, make and publish this my last will and testament in the following manner:
“First: I give and bequeath to my son John Webb one Negro man by the name of Prussian; also one by the name of Jim and a Negro woman by the name of Maci and one by the name of Anaky and a Negro boy the name of Peter.
“Second: I give and bequeath unto my son David Webb one Negro girl by the name of Bet and one Negro boy by the name of Harry, one Negro boy by the name of Elie.
“Third: I give an bequeath unto my son Nathan Webb one Negro woman by the name of Nance and her daughter Silvy, and one other by the name of Mary Lettie, her child.
“Fourth: I give and bequeath to my son Orman Webb one Negro boy by the name of Tom, also one Negro boy by the name of Ephraim.
“Fifth: I give and bequeath to my son Willis Webb one Negro boy by the name of Dennis, also one Negro girl named Gatsy.
“Sixth: I also give and bequeath unto my daughter Anna Webb one Negro boy by the name of Miles and one Negro girl by the name of Anna.
Seventeenth: And lastly I do hereby make and ordain my worthy friend David Williams my executor to this my last will and testament, revoking all other wills by me made or cause to be made.
Lemon Ruffin executed his will shortly before leaving for war as a Confederate soldier. He did not return. He died as a prisoner of war in Illinois in 1864, age 32. (His brothers Etheldred, George W. and Thomas Ruffin also died in the war.) As set forth in more detail below, Ruffin received the bulk of his enslaved property as an inheritance from his exceedingly wealthy father Henry J.G. Ruffin, who died in 1854. An inventory of the elder Ruffin’s estate listed 138 enslaved people held on plantations in Franklin, Greene, Wayne and Edgecombe Counties.
I Lemon Ruffin of the county of Wilson, State of North Carolina, being of sound mind and memory, but considering the uncertainly of my existence, do make and declare this my last will and testament in manner and form following, that is to say:
First: That my executors shall pay my debts out of the money that may first come into their hands on part or parcel of my estate.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister S.B. Ruffin my tract of land situated in Wilson Co NC adjoining the lands of Warner Woodard & others on Tosnot — to have and to hold to her and her heirs in fee simple forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister M.H. Fugitt the proceeds of the sale of the Negro slaves Amos, Sallie and Henderson. Amos to be sold in Alabama. My will and desire is that Sallie and Henderson be brought to N.C. and sold in Wilson County.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister, Nina W. Ruffin, the Negro slaves Crockett and Harriet to her and her personal representatives forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Dr. W. Haywood Ruffin of Misourah the Negro Slaves Isse(?) the first and her three children and grandchildren, viz; Eliza, Esther, Elizabeth and Haywood.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Thomas Ruffin, the Negro slaves Patience and her children named Isaac, Lettuce & Jerre and the youngest child to him and his personal representative forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Etheldred Ruffin, Beck and all her children named Ned, Elving(?), Arabella and Thom to him and his personal representatives forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew, Samuel Ruffin, Jr. of Mississippi, the Negro slaves Isse(?) the 2nd commonly called Son[illegible] to him and his personal representative forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my niece Mary L. Ruffin the negro slave Creasy to her and her personal representative forever.
I do whereof I the said Lemon Ruffin do hereunto set my hand and seal this 24th day of June 1862.
In the 1860 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Lemon Ruffin is listed as a 28 year-old farmer living alone, with $5000 in real property and $21,600 in personal property.
These are the relatives listed in his will:
sister S.B. Ruffin — Sarah Blount Ruffin.
sister M.H. Fugitt — Mary Haywood Ruffin Williams Fugett.
sister Nina W. Ruffin — Penina Watson Ruffin Ruffin of Franklin County.
brother Dr. W. Haywood Ruffin — William Haywood Ruffin, who migrated to Lexington, Missouri (and later Choctaw County, Alabama.)
brother Etheldred Ruffin — Etheldred F. Ruffin, Greene County.
nephew Samuel Ruffin Jr. — son of W. Haywood Ruffin, but migrated to Pushmataha, Choctaw County, Alabama, to join his uncle Samuel R. Ruffin. Samuel R. Ruffin was the largest slaveholder in that county at Emancipation, and a list of his slaves reveals a number of first names common among Henry’s slaves. See below.
niece Mary L. Ruffin
Henry John Gray Ruffin, father of the above and husband of Mary Tartt Ruffin, died in 1854 in Franklin County, North Carolina. He had accumulated immense wealth and prudently executed a precise will, which entered probate in Franklin County. Among the provisions to son Lemon Ruffin were one-half interest in a plantation on Toisnot Swamp in Edgecombe [now Wilson] County (son George W. Ruffin received the other half) and “twenty negro slaves of average value.” (In addition, Mary Tartt Ruffin was to receive “my old negro man servant Bryant now living at my Tossnot plantation.”) The inventory of Ruffin’s property listed 51 people enslaved on his Franklin County plantation, 50 enslaved on a plantation in Greene and Wayne Counties, and 37 in Edgecombe. (Other enslaved people were distributed among his children prior to his death.)
When distribution was made in September 1854, Lemon Ruffin received Beck, age 23, and her children Wyatt, 3, and Ned, 1; Patience, 32, and her children Isaac, 5, Lettuce, 3, and Jerry, 1; Maria, 45, and her children Eliza, 7, Hester, 5, and Elizabeth, 1; Isaac, 44; Reuben, 43; Crockett, 21; Isaac, 9; Arthur, 9; Sally, 19; Charlotte, 50; Harriet, 12; and Henry, 13. Per the inventories of Ruffin’s plantations, most had been enslaved on the Greene/Wayne County farm previously.
In the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson township, Wilson County, Lemon Taylor is listed with 21 slaves living in three dwellings. He enslaved eight males aged 6, 11, 15, 20, 25, 25, 51 and 52, and 13 females aged 1, 5, 7, 7, 9, 9, 11, 18, 18, 20, 25, 40 and 50. (Above him on the list was his brother G.W. Ruffin and his 22 slaves, aged 3 to 43.)
Two years later, Lemon Ruffin’s will showed that he retained ownership of 14 of the 20 enslaved people he had inherited from his father. Beck’s son Wyatt was likely dead, but she had had three more children, Elvin, Arabella and Tom, in the interim. Maria was dead or sold away; her children Eliza, Hester/Esther and Elizabeth were listed with their grandmother Isse (who seems to have been the “old” Isaac of the inventory, though Isaac is generally a masculine name). Reuben, Charlotte, Arthur and Henry do not appear in Lemon Ruffin’s will, but Crockett, young Isaac, Sallie and Harriet do. Lemon had also purchased or otherwise come into possession of Amos, Henderson and Creasy. (There are an Amos and Creasy listed in the “residue” of Henry Ruffin’s slaves after distribution. Perhaps Lemon had purchased them from the estate.) Per Lemon Ruffin’s will, Amos, Henderson and Sallie were in Alabama (on lease? on loan?) Sallie and Henderson were to be brought back to Wilson for sale, but Amos was to be put on the block In Alabama. None of it came to pass, as Ruffin’s estate did not enter probate until 1866, when his formerly enslaved property was beyond reach.
A North Carolina-born Amos Ruffin, age 35, appears in the 1870 census of Township 13, Choctaw County, Alabama, with his wife and children. Was this the Amos who was targeted for sale in Lemon Ruffin’s will?
In 1866, Patience Ruffin and Michel Ward appeared before a Wilson County justice of the peace to register their 16-year cohabitation. In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmworker Patience Ward, 50, and daughter Lettuce, 20, with Mitchell Ward listed next door.
None of other men, women and children Lemon Ruffin possessed at his death are clearly identifiable in post-Emancipation records.
Children up to about age 7 were usually grouped with their mothers for purposes of sale or distribution. It is almost certain that the children listed with Patience and Maria in Henry Ruffin’s distribution were merely their youngest and that their older children were separated from them.
Though enslaved people sometimes married men or women with whom they shared an owner, more often they married outside the farm or plantation on which they lived. Patience Ruffin and Mitchell Ward are an example.
Wealthy planters often owned multiple plantations and moved enslaved people among them at will. Henry Ruffin divided his Edgecombe (Wilson) County plantation into halves. However, the people who had lived on that plantation during his lifetime did not necessarily remain in place after his death. In fact, it appears that the 20 people with whom Lemon Ruffin stocked his half of Toisnot plantation came primarily from his father’s Greene/Wayne plantation. The former Toisnot slaves were shifted to plantations elsewhere. This kind of movement resulted in the further splintering of families as parents owned by neighboring enslavers were left behind.
White eastern North Carolina slaveowners were among the earliest settlers of Alabama in the early 1800s, taking North Carolina-born enslaved people with them. Slaveowners who did not leave North Carolina often sold their “excess” enslaved property to meet the ravenous labor needs of Alabama’s booming cotton economy.
Herbert G. Gutman argued in his exhaustively researched The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1825 that enslaved African-Americans strove to maintain and transmit ties of kinship by repeating first names among generations of a family. Though we do not know the relationships among all the Ruffin slaves, this pattern can be observed among them. More on this later.
Images of estate documents available atNorth Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
On 12 October 1914, Dr. William A. Mitchner tendered to the Clerk of Wilson County Superior Court a document purporting to be the last will and testament of Courtney Goffney. Satisfied that the document was authentic, the clerk entered the will into probate.
Goffney’s wishes were simple: (1) erect a suitable marble or granite headstone over the graves of her and her husband William “Billie” Goffney and (2) give all her property, real and personal, to her beloved nephew Sylvester Goffney.
In the 1870 census of Swift Creek township, Edgecombe County, North Carolina: farm laborer Spencer Battle, 55; wife Eda, 49; and Constance, 26, Annie, 7, Mende, 2, Ovia, 24, Corteney, 19, Paul, 16, and George Battle, 14.
On 29 December 1881, William Goffney, 30, married Cortney Battle, 27, in Edgecombe County.
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster William Gwaltney [Goffney], 56; wife Courtney, 50; step-son John Bunn, 25, blacksmith; and nephew Sylvester Gwaltney, 6.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, widow Courtney Goffney, 50; Ada Battle, 30(?), graded school teacher; and lodger Sylvester Goffney, 16, factory laborer.
Courtney Goffney died 9 October 1914 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 September 1845 to Spencer and Edia Battle and was a widow. Informant was Constance Battle, Rocky Mount, N.C.
Images of estate documents available atNorth Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
I posted the obituary of Jane Rountree Mobleyhere.
Her great-great-granddaughter, Carolyn Maye, has graciously shared these photographs of Jane Mobley’s descendants, many of whom moved into Edgecombe and Pitt Counties in the early years of the 20th century.
Rhoda Mobley Barnes
In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm worker John Mobley, 35; wife Jane, 28; and children Rhoda, 9, Henrietta, 6, Jane, 5, Isaac, 4, and John H., 1.
On 13 January 1889, Ben Barnes, 42, of Wilson township, married Rhoda Mobley, 21, of Toisnot township, on F.A. Woodard’s plantation in Wilson township. Primitive Baptist minister Samuel Burston performed the ceremony in the presence of Harry Sharp, Dennis Bynum and Mike Barefoot.
Rhoda Barnes died 1 June 1951 in Macclesfield, Edgecombe County. Per her death certificate, she was born 1 October 1854 [actually, about 20 years later] in Wilson County to John Mobley and Jane [maiden name unknown]; was a widow; and was buried in Harrell cemetery near Crisp, North Carolina. Mattie Howard was informant.
Ben Barnes died 19 April 1935 on Amanda Pitts’ farm in Edgecombe County. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 December 1835 in Wilson County to Isaac Barnes and Julia [maiden name not given]; was married to Rhoda Barnes; was buried at Harrell cemetery. Informant was Jessie Barnes.
Martha Lee Roberson Maye (1932-2014), daughter of Willie and Annie Barnes Roberson, at age 7 and shortly before her death.
Mattie Barnes Howard (1905-1977), daughter of Rhoda and Ben Barnes.
In the 1880 census of Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County: farmer John Maryland, 58, born in Maryland; wife Melvel, 40; and children Haywood, 17, who was deaf; Schofield, 16; Walter, 10; Mary, 9; John, 7; Hattie, 6; Primas, 4; and Jonas, 2.
In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek, Edgecombe County: farmer Handy Lewis, 38; wife Jane, 40; children Wash, 16, Joshua, 12, Margarette, 8, Caroline, 6, Tiney, 4, and Robert, 2; and step-daughter Nicey, 16.
Margaret Lewis Maryland (ca. 1872-1965)
John Maryland, 21, of Nash County, married Margaret Lewis, 19, of Edgecombe County, daughter of Handy Lewis, on 8 April 1894 in Edgecombe County. Haywood Maryland applied for the license.
In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: John Maryland, 40, farmer; wife Margaret, 30; children Cora, 15, Mandonia, 15, Robert, 13, Della, 10, Charlie, 6, Richard, 4, Percy, 2, and William T., 1 month.
An unnamed baby was stillborn 10 July 1914 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born prematurely in Wilson County to John Maryland and Margaret Lewis, both of Edgecombe County. John Maryland, R.F.D. 1, Elm City, served as both informant and undertaker. The child was buried in “burying ground – Wesley Williams farm.”
William Maryland died 19 September 1919 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 23 years old; a farmer; married; born in Wilson County to John Maryland and Maggie Lewis; and buried in Nash County.
In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer John Maryland, 50; wife Margritt, 40; children Robert, 24, Della, 22, Charley, 18, Richard, 16, John P., 14, William, 13, and Primas, 11; nephew Walter, 14, and niece Hellen, 12; daughter-in-law Ether, 19; and grandchildren Maggie, 7, and Cuba, 2 months.
In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Rocky Mount-Town Creek Road, John Maryland, 58, farm laborer; wife Maggie, 49; son Richard R., 23, farm laborer; daughter-in-law Mamie, 23; and grandchildren Daisy L., 6, and Willie C. Maryland, 4.
In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer John Maryland, 67; wife Maggie, 65; and grandchildren John, 17, and Martha Maryland, 12.
Per his grave marker, John Maryland died 23 June 1947.
Maggie Margaret Maryland died 27 February 1965 in Sharpsburg, WIlson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 September 1885 in Nash County to Handy Lewis; was a widow; and was buried in Wesley Williams cemetery. Robert Maryland, Sharpsburg, was informant.
Robert Maryland died 14 October 1971 in Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 July 1903 to John Maryland; was married to Estella Bunn; lived at 720 Brooks, Rocky Mount; and was a retired janitor at Morgan Motel. Willie Lee Maryland was informant.
Photographs courtesy of Ancestry.com user ElijahDoby.
In the 1910 census of Town of Tarboro, Edgecombe County: laborer George Powell, 26; wife Mary, 25; and children Annie, 13, Viola, 6, Russel, 3, Johnny, 5, George H., 2, and Mattie, 2 months.
In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Frank Bryant, 30; wife Annie, 30; children William, 16, farm laborer, and Elizabeth, 11; and nephew George Powell, 19, farm laborer.
On 24 November 1937, in Wilson, George Powell, 24, of Gardners, son of George Powell and Mary Jones, married Beatrice Hines, 23, of Gardners, daughter of Turner Hines and Rosa Hines.
George Henry Powell registered for the World War II draft in Wilson in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 20 October 1912 in Edgecombe County; he resided at R.F.D. 4, Wilson; his contact was wife Beatrice Powell; and he was employed by William Mack Brown, R.F.D. 4, Wilson.
George Henry Powell died 22 May 1992 in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 February 1910 in Edgecombe County to George Powell and Mary Cotton; resided at 1505 Queen Street Extension, Wilson; was married to Beatrice Hines Powell; and had worked as a carpenter.
In the 1900 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Gray Read, 47; wife Lucy, 37; and children Joseph R., 18, Nancy L., 7, Elija, 5, Mart Eva, 4, Jona, 3, and Lucy, 5 months.
In the 1910 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Amos Read, 64; lodger Gray Read, 57, and children Gray, 18, Eligh, 15, Margrett, 13, and John, 13.
Elijah Reid, 21, of Gardners township, son of Gray Reid, married Ida Hagans, 18, of Gardners, daughter of James and Hannah Hagans, on 13 January 1915 on the Old Whitehead farm. Witnesses were Robert Hilliard, Lawrence Hagans and J.B. Owens.
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: James Hagans, 53; wife Nora, 50; sons John, 18, Joe, 18, and Laurence, 16; daughter Etta, 21; grandchildren Elizabeth, 15, Sudie M., 13, Leeoma, 10, David, 5, Bessie M., 3, Lillie M., 1, and Charlie Reid, 4; and daughter Ida Reid, 32.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: tobacco factory laborer Elijah Reid, 49; wife Ida, 44; and children Willie, 12, Troy, 8, Sudie, 20, Naomie, 17, David, 15, Bessie, 14, Eula, 9, and Ester, 6.
Naomi Reid, 21, born in Wilson to Elijah Reid and Ida Hagans, married Oliver Lee Howard, born in Wilson to Will Lucas and Lena Howard, were married 28 January 1943 in Norfolk, Virginia, where both resided.
Lillie Mae Reid, 20, daughter of Eligha and Ida Reid, married William Atkinson, 26, son of Lester and Martha Moore Atkinson, on 25 February 1951 at 300 South East Street, Wilson. Witnesses were Mildred Reid, 911 Washington Street; Howard Hopkins, 703 Manchester Street; and David Reid, 300 South East STreet.
Ida Hagans Reid died 29 June 1967 at her home at 300 South East Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 21 August 1896 in WIlson County to James Hagans and Hannah Bynum; was married to Elijah Reid; and worked as a tobacco factoryhand. Elizabeth Reid was informant.
Elijah R. Reid Jr. died 26 March 1977 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 7 October 1917 in Wilson to Elijah Reid Sr. and Ida Hagans; was married to Mildred Coel; worked as a minister; and resided at 911 Washington Street.
Elijah Reid Sr. died 24 August 1982 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 2 August 1894 in Edgecombe County to Gray Reid and an unknown mother; resided at 804 Hines Street, Wilson; was a widower; and worked as a self-employed repairman. Eula Wilkins of Washington, D.C., was informant.