Recommended reading, no. 13: the long emancipation.

Priscilla Joyner was born in Nash County, not Wilson, but close enough for her life story — and the context in which it unfolded — to be of particular interest to Black Wide-Awake readers.

“Priscilla Joyner was born into the world of slavery in 1858 North Carolina and came of age at the dawn of emancipation. Raised by a white slaveholding woman, Joyner never knew the truth about her parentage. She grew up isolated and unsure of who she was and where she belonged—feelings that no emancipation proclamation could assuage.

“Her life story—candidly recounted in an oral history for the Federal Writers’ Project—captures the intimate nature of freedom. Using Joyner’s interview and the interviews of other formerly enslaved people, historian Carole Emberton uncovers the deeply personal, emotional journeys of freedom’s charter generation—the people born into slavery who walked into a new world of freedom during the Civil War. From the seemingly mundane to the most vital, emancipation opened up a myriad of new possibilities ….

“… Uncertainty about her parentage haunted her life, and as Jim Crow took hold throughout the South, segregation, disfranchisement, and racial violence threatened the loving home she made for her family. But through it all, she found beauty in the world and added to it where she could.”

Priscilla Joyner’s family in the 1860 census of Dortches township, Nash County, N.C. She is believed to have been the daughter of Ann Liza Joyner and an unknown African-American man.

Review at www.wwnorton.com.

I do like they done.

Martha Ann Tyson Dixon of DeValls Bluff, Arkansas, sat for an interview with a Federal Writers Project worker in the late 1930s. Dixon had spent her childhood enslaved near Saratoga, Wilson County, and she and her husband Luke D. Dixon had migrated west in the late 1880s. More than 50 years after Emancipation, she vividly described the hardships of life during and after slavery.

“I am eighty-one years old. I was born close to Saratoga, North Carolina. My mother died before I can recollect and my grandmother raised me. They said my father was a white man. They said Jim Beckton [Becton]. I don’t recollect him. My mother was named Mariah Tyson.

“I recollect how things was. My grandmother was Miss Nancy Tyson’s cook. She had one son named Mr. Seth Tyson. He run her farm. They et in the dining room, we et in the kitchen. Clothes and somethng to eat was scarce. I worked at whatever I was told to do. Grandma told me things to do and Miss Nancy told me what to do. I went to the field when I was pretty little. Once my uncle left the mule standing out in the field and went off to do something else. It come up a hard shower. I crawled under the mule. If I had been still it would have been all right but my hair stood up and tickled the mule’s stomach. The mule jumped and the plough hit me in my hip here at the side. It is a wonder I didn’t get killed.

“After the Civil War was times like now. Money scarce and prices high, and you had to start all over new. Pigs was hard to start, mules and horses was mighty scarce. Seed was scarce. Everything had to be started from the stump. Something to eat was mighty plain and scarce and one or two dresses a year had to do. Folks didn’t study about going so much.”

“I had to rake up leaves and fetch em to the barn to make beds for the little pigs in cold weather. The rake was made out of wood. It had hickory wood teeth and about a foot long. It was heavy. I put my leaves in a basket bout so high [three or four feet high.] I couldn’t tote it — I drug it. I had to get leaves in to do a long time and wait till the snow got off before I could get more. It seem like it snowed a lot. The pigs rooted the leaves all about in day and back up in the corners at night. It was ditched all around. It didn’t get very muddy. Rattle snakes was bad in the mountains. I used to tote water — one bucketful on my head and one bucketful in each hand. We used wooden buckets. It was a lot of fun to hunt guinea nests and turkey nests. When other little children come visiting that is what we would do. We didn’t set around and listen at the grown folks. We toted up rocks and then they made rows [terraces] and rock fences about the yard and garden. They looked so pretty. Some of them would be white, some gray, sometimes it would be mixed. They walled wells with rocks too. All we done or knowed was work. When we got tired there was places to set and rest. The men made plough stocks and hoe handles and worked at the blacksmith shop in snowy weather. I used to pick up literd [lightwood] knots and pile them in piles along the road so they could take them to the house to burn. They made a good light and kindling wood.

“They didn’t whoop Grandma but she whooped me a plenty.

“After the war some white folks would tell Grandma one thing and some others tell her something else.  She kept me and”

“cooked right on. I didn’t know what freedom was. Seemed like most of them I knowed didn’t know what to do. Most of the slaves left the white folks where I was raised. It took a long time to ever get fixed. Some of them died, some went to the cities, some up North, some come to the country. I married and come to Fredonia, Arkansas in 1889. I had been married since I was a young girl. But as I was saying the slaves still hunting a better place and more freedom. Grandma learnt me to set down and be content. We have done better out here than we could done in North Carolina but I don’t believe in so much rambling.

“We come on the passenger train and paid our own way to Arkansas. It was a wild and sickly country and has changed. Not like living in the same country. I try to live like the white folks and Grandma raised me. I do like they done. I think is the reason we have saved and have good a living as we got. We do on as little as we can and save a little for the rainy day.”


In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Nancy Scarborough, 47; Victoria, 10, Susan, 6, and Laurina Scarborough, 3; farm manager Seth Tyson, 23; and Julia, 18, Nancy, 17, Aaron, 15, and Abner Tyson, 13.

In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Mary Tyson, 62, with Edith, 23, John, 21, Abraham, 16, and Martha Tyson, 11.

In the 1880 census of Lower Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: Martha Tyson, 20, was a cook in the household of white marchant/farmer Mark Atkinson.

Martha Tyson, 26, married Luke Dixon, 26, in Wilson County on 12 February 1885. Minister E.H. Ward performed the ceremony in the presence of Charles Batts, Tempey Cotton and Green Taylor.

In the 1910 census of Watensaw township, Prairie County, Arkansas: Luke Dixon, 49, saw filer at Bar factory, and wife Martha M., 52.

In the 1920 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cedar Street, farmer Luke Dixon, 58; wife Martha, 59; and cousins Margaret Tyson, 14, and Oleo McClarin, 9.

In the 1930 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cypress Street, owned and valued at $2000, Luke D. Dixon, 70, born in Virginia, and wife Martha, 70, born in North Carolina, with cousin Allen Reaves, 8.

In the 1940 census of DeValls Bluff, Prairie County, Arkansas: on Cypress Street, owned and valued at $2000, Luke Dixon, 84, born in Virginia, and wife Martha A., 84, born in North Carolina.

Federal Writers’ Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 2, Arkansas, Part 2, Cannon-Evans, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mesn.022.

First-generation freedom, pt. 2.

The second in a series of annotated abstracts of Wilson County death certificates of African-Americans born before 1870, the cusp of slavery and freedom. The records are a trove of information about otherwise obscure family relationships among enslaved and free people of color and shed light on intra- and interstate migration patterns in the decades after Emancipation.


Armstrong, Alice. Born 26 April 1865, Wayne County. Died 26 January 1948, Elm City. Bowel obstruction. Father, Primers Mitchell. Mother, Caroline Mitchell, Wayne County. Widow. buried Elm City cemetery. Informant, Fred Armstrong, Elm City. [In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Primus Mitchell, 25, wife Caroline, 35, and children William, 12, Laurance, 1, and infant girl, 2.]  In the 1940 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: at 237 Cobb Avenue, Alice Armstrong, 73, daughter Maggie McFaden, 53, granddaughter Lucille McFaden, 26, and son Gray Armstrong, 28.]

Armstrong, Elnora. Born 1869, Halifax County. Died 22 October 1945, Wilson County. Father, Monroe Williams, Virginia. Mother, Susie Williams, Virginia. Widow. Resided 608 East Green Street, Wilson. Informant, Carrie Jones, Philadelphia. [In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Elnora Armstrong, 90, widow, a lodger in the household of N. Andrew and Ada W. Pierce at 415 East Green Street.]

Armstrong, Garry. Born 1846, Edgecombe county. Died 1 February 1928, Toisnot township. “No doctor within last 30 days.” Father, Abraham Armstrong, Edgecombe County. Mother Cherry Armstrong, Edgecombe County. Farmer. Wife, Henrietta Armstrong. Buried in family cemetery, Wilson County. Informant, John H. Armstrong, Elm City. [In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County, Gary Armstrong appears as a 20 year-old farm laborer sharing a household with 20 year-old George Batts. See also Nelson Armstrong, below.]

Armstrong, Guston. Born 1835, Edgecombe County. 30 November 1923, Toisnot township. Chronic nephritis. Father, Quinnie Braswell. Tenant farmer for F.R. Hall. Wife, Sillie Armstrong. Informant, Van Armstrong, Sharpsburg. [In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Augustus Armstrong, 30, wife Pricilla, 22, and children Sallie, 4, Stella, 2, and William, 4 months.]

Armstrong, Hatliss. Born 1851, Ashton, North Carolina. Died 3 March 1936, Wilson. “Probably chr. nephritis.” Father, Darry Armstrong, Ashton. Widower. Laborer. Resided 711 Sugg Street, Wilson. Informant, Oscar Armstrong, 711 Sugg Street.

Armstrong, Martha. Born 1835, Wilson County. Died 29 August 1931, Gardners township. “No doctor within last 30 days.” Father, Peter Williams, Wilson County. Mother, Winnie Williams, Wilson County. Widow of Lewis Armstrong. Informant, Rosa Ruffin, Elm City. [In the 1880 census of Gardners, Wilson County: Louis Armstrong, 38, Morthwy, 38, and children Charles, 11, Peter, 9, Deler, 7, Matty, 5, and Ida, 2.]

Armstrong, Mary. Born 1866, Edgecombe County. Died 25 September 1924, Toisnot township. Born 1866, Edgecombe County. Died 25 September 1924, Toisnot township. Father, Crumel Bullock. Mother, Rena Bulluck. Husband and informant, Nelson Armstrong, Sharpsburg (see below.)

Armstrong, Nelson. Born 1854, Edgecombe County. Died 8 December 1934, Toisnot township. Father, Abraham Armstrong, NC. Mother Cherry Armstrong, NC. Farmer. Widower. Informant, Henry Armstrong, Stantonsburg. [In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Abraham Armstrong, 52, wife Cherry, 32, and children Nancy, 16, Haywood, 14, Nelson, 12, Joshua, 11, and Burlee, 7.]

Arrington, Lillie. Born 12 March 1864, Enfield, North Carolina. Carcinoma stomach. Died 11 January 1942, Elm City. Father, Sisroe Thornton, Enfield. Mother, Roda Whitaker, Enfield. Widow of Henry Arrington. Buried Elm City cemetery. Informant, W.E. Arrington, Elm City. [Census records suggest that Cicero Thornton was born about 1855 and his daughter Lillie about 1880.]

Artis, Benjamin. Born 1856, Wilson County. Died 18 July 1936, Wilson County. Cause of death not determined. Father, Richard Artis, Wilson County. Mother, Eliza Artis, Wilson County. Widower. Farmer. Resided at County Home. Informant, David Ruffin. [In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County: Richard Artis, 28, wife Eliza, 40, and children Ben, 12, Henry, 11, Richard, 3, and Jane, 2.]

Artis, Cain. Born March 1851, Wayne County. Died 23 March 1917, Wilson township. Pulmonary tuberculosis. Father, Adam T. Artis, Wayne County. Mother, Winnie Coley, Wayne County. Farmer. Married. Buried Wilson County. Informant, W.M. Coley.  [In the 1880 census of Nahunta, Wayne County: Cain Artis, 25, wife Anie, 25, and children Ivey C., 2, and Appie, 1. Cain’s father was a free man of color, and Cain, his mother and sister were enslaved. See here.]

Artis, Edd. Born 1861, Wayne County. Died 10 June 1936, Wilson township. Father, Alford Artis, Wayne County. Mother, Eliza Artis, Wayne County. Farmer. Wife, Zilpha Artis. Buried Rest Haven cemetery. Informant, Clarence Artis.

Artis, Eliza. Born 1842, Wilson County. Died 4 December 1920, Wilson township. “Old age stated as no doctor.” Father, Harry Cobit, North Carolina. Mother, Nicy Barnes, North Carolina. Widow. Tenant farmer for E.B. Baines; informant, Watts Barnes.

Artis, Fabie. Born 1864, Wilson County. Died 30 March 1930, Wilson. Paralysis. Father, Silas Barnes, Wilson County. Mother, Rosetta Farmer, Wilson County. Widow. Resided 1213 Washington Street, Wilson.  Buried Rountree cemetery. Informant, John T. Artis, Wilson. [In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Silas Barnes, 49, wife Rosa, 45, and children Wade, 23, and Feribee, 20.]

Artis, Henry. Born 1864. Died 22 October 1918, Stantonsburg township. Father, Richard Artis, North Carolina. Mother, Liazza Artis, North Carolina. Farmer for Chester Jordan. Married to Anna Artis. Buried at Billy Barnes’ place, Stantonsburg. Informant, Chester Jordan. [See Benjamin Artis, above.]

Artis, John. Born 1862, Wayne County. Died 16 September 1927, Wilson. Valvular heart disease. Father, Joe Artis, Wayne County. Married to Sarah Artis. Resided on Stantonsburg Street, Wilson. Informant, James Ward, Stantonsburg.

Artis, Lucinda. Born 1847, Wayne County. Died 23 June 1931, Wilson County. Cerebral hemorrhage. Father, Henry Hobbs. Mother, Elizabeth Hobbs, Wayne County. Widow of Jessie Artis. Resided 310 Reid Street, Wilson. Buried Wayne County. Informant, Cora Artis, Wilson. [In the 1850 census of the North Side of the Neuse, Wayne County: farm laborer Henry Hobbs, 26, wife Eliza, 27, children Lucinda, 2, and John, 1 month, and Mary Hobbs, 54.]

Artis, Luvennia. Born 1854, Wilson County. Died 11 May 1924, Wilson. Father, Haywood Moye, North Carolina. Mother, Eliza Stanton, Wilson County. Laundress. Widow. Resided 177 Narroway. Informant, Emma Artis.

Artis, Noah. Born 14 September 1856, Wilson County. Died 16 May 1952, Wilson County. Father, Adam Artis. Widower. Resided 312 Finch Street, Wilson. Buried family cemetery, Wilson County [actually, Wayne County]. Informant, Pauline Harris. [In the 1860 census of Davis district, Wayne County: Adam Artis, 30, children Kerney, 4, Noah, 2, and Mary Jane, 1, plus Jane Artis, 26, and infant, 1 month. Sidenote: Cain Artis and Lucinda Artis, above, were Noah’s half-brother and aunt by marriage.]

Artis, Patsy Ann. Born 1869, Edgecombe County. Died 3 April 1922, Wilson township. Cerebral paralysis. “Patient had small-pox at time of death.” Father, Charly Hines, Edgecombe County. Tenant farmer for Judge Fleming. Married to Jessie Artis.

Artis, Winnie. Born 1832, Wayne County. Died 25 November 1922, Spring Hill township. “No doctor in attendance. Died of general infirmities of old age.” Father, Reuben Reaves, Wayne County. “Invalid for Years.” Servant. Widowed. Buried Wayne County near Pikeville. Informant, Dock Brown, Kenly.


On Christmas mornin’ we serenaded de master’s family.


Henry Rountree, 103 years old, of near Newsom’s Store in Wilson County.

“I wus borned an’ bred in Wilson County on de plantation of Mr. Dock Rountree. I wus named fer his oldest son, young Marse Henry. My mammy, Adell, my pappy, Shark, an’ my ten brothers an’ sisters lived dar, an’ aldo’ we works middlin’ hard we has de grandes’ times ever.

“We has two er three corn shuckings ever’ fall, we has wood splittin’ days an’ invite de neighbors in de winter time. De wimmen has quiltin’s an’ dat night we has a dance. In de col’ winter time when we’d have hog killin’s we’d invite de neighbors case dar wus a hundret er two hogs ter kill ‘fore we quit. Yes, mam, dem wus de days when folkses, white an’ black, worked tergether.

“Dar wus Candy pullin’s when we makes de ‘lasses an’ at Christmas time an’ on New Year’s Eve we has a all night dance. On Christmas mornin’ we serenaded de marster’s family an’ dey gived us fruits, candy an’ clothes.

“My marster had game cocks what he put up to fight an’ dey wus valuable. When I wus a little feller he had one rooster that ‘ud whup me ever’ time I got close ter him, he’d whup young Marse Henry too, so both of us hated him.

“One day we set down wid bruised backs ter decide how ter git rid of dat ole rooster, not thinkin’ ‘bout how much he cost. We made our plans, an’ atter gittin’ a stick apiece ready we starts drappin’ a line of corn to de ole well out in de barnyard. De pesky varmint follers de corn an’ when he gits on de brink of de well we lets him have it wid de sticks an’ pretty shortly he am drownded. Marse ain’t never knowed it nother.

“De missus had a ole parrot what had once ‘longed ter her brother who wus a sea captain. Dat wus de cussingest thing I ever seed an’ he’d Cuss ever’body an’ ever’thing. One day two neighborhood men wus passing when dey heard somebody ‘holler “Wait a minute.” Then dey turns ‘roun’ de ole parrot sez, “Go on now, I jist wanted ter see how you looks, Great God what ugly men!” ‘An’ de ole thing laughs fit ter bust.

“Dat ole parrot got de slaves in a heap of trouble so de day when de hawk caught him we was tickled pink. The hawk sailed off wid de parrot screamin’ over an’ over, “Pore polly’s ridin’. We laughed too quick case de hawk am skeerd an’ turns de ole fool parrot loose.”

“De war comes on an’ as de n*ggers l’arns dat dey am free dar am much shoutin’ an rejoicin’ on other plantations, but dar ain’t nothin’ but sorrow on ours, case de marster sez dat he always give us ever’thing dat we needs ter make us happy but he be drat iffen he is gwine ter give us money ter flingaway. So we all has ter go.

“Ole marster doan live long atter de war am over, but till de day dat he wus buried we all done anything he ax us.

“I has done mostly farm work all of my life, an’ work aroun’ de house. Fer years an’ years I lives on a part of Marse’s land an’ atter dat I lives here I ain’t got no kick comin’ ’bout nothin’ ‘cept dat I wants my ole age pension, I does, an’ I’d like to say too, Miss, dat de n*ggers ‘ud be better off in slavery. I ain’t seed no happy n*ggers since dem fool Yankees come along.”

— From Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves, Works Progress Administration (1941).