The last will and testament of Henry Jones, alias Barnes.

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In May 1903, Samuel H. Vick swore in Superior Court that he had witnessed Henry Jones, alias Barnes, make his mark on will. Because Walter Hulin was deceased, his widow Hattie Hulin swore to the validity of his signature on the document.


In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Henry Barnes, 35, and wife Milah, 30.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm laborer Henry Barnes, 52; wife Mila, 40; son Amanuel Robins, 22; and boarder John Hardy, 20.

On 2 August 1899, Walter B. Hulin, 21, married Hattie Artis, 18, at the Artis home in Wilson. Rev. W.B. Perry, Episcopal, performed the ceremony in the presence of James Artis, Irine Winstead and Mrs. Barnes.

Mily Barnes died intestate in the late summer of 1909. Dr. F.S. Hargrave applied for letters of administration for her estate, estimated at $100 value.


North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

Milly Jones’ probate.

Milly Jones, widow of Henry Jones, passed away 21 November 1877 in Wilson.

She had executed a detailed will in August 1877, directing, among other things, that:

  • her son A.W. Jones receive “the shop lot” on Nash Street located beside her residence and measuring twelve by twenty feet;
  • the remainder of her land to be sold “to some member of the family” and the proceeds divided equally among her children;
  • enough of her personal property be sold to pay off her debts and funeral and the remainder divided among her children by two neutral people;
  • and son Kernel M. Jones act as executor.

Kernel [Colonel?] Morris Jones, with his youngest brother’s help, had some immediate tasks to address:

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  • four dollars paid by son A. Wilson Jones to casketmaker Charles H. Darden for a coffin:

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  • one dollar and thirty-two cents to Anthony Nadal for handles and other hardware for the coffin:

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Having carried out his mother’s wishes, in February 1878, K.M. Jones filed with the court an account of the distribution of her estate. After debts, including those above, were paid out of the three hundred dollars secured from the sale of her lot, each child — K. Maurice Jones, Mac Jones; Sarah Best, wife of Noah Best; Harry Martin Jones; and A.W. Jones — received just over $42.



In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: shoemaker Henry Jones, 55; wife Milly, 50; and sons Morris, 19, a bakery worker, and Wilson, 11. [A. Wilson Jones later married — and murdered — Samuel Vick’s sister Nettie Vick.] Daughter Sarah Jones, 15, was listed as a domestic servant in the household of grocer John A. Crofton.

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],



The estate of Ann Williamson.

Documents in the 1822 estate files of Ann Williamson of Nash (now Wilson) County include several references to the sale or “hier” of enslaved people. Williamson was the widow of Joseph Williamson, and Bartley Deans was her executor.

Williamson had executed a will in 1807, fifteen years before her death. She listed three enslaved people — women named Pat and Rachel and a boy named Arch.


A partial inventory in Williamson’s estate records also lists Arch, Rachel and Pat. Rachel and Pat are listed together at one place in documents and may have been mother and daughter. (Note that, as she was only ten years old in 1822, the Pat in in Williamson’s estate could not have been the Pat in her will.)


Here, record of the sale of “Negro gal Pat” to Eatman Flowers for $353.88; the hire of Arch, first to Jesse Sillivant, then to Thomas Williamson; and the hire of Rachel to Ford Taylor. These three were hired out repeatedly.


A receipt for partial proceeds from the sale of Jack to John Watson, executor of Luke Collins:


Estate of Ann Williamson (1822), North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],



Ayers found dead in his yard.

WA 2 2 1883

Wilson Advance, 2 February 1883.

The “old man” was William Ayers, who appeared in the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, as a 46 year-old farmer. Though he was marked married, he is listed as the only person in his household.

William’s wife, Rose Ayers, quickly moved to open his estate in probate court, relinquishing her right to administer his estate to Thomas J. Rowe.


The court duly appointed Rowe, estimated the size of Ayers’ estate at $250, and named Rosa, Jesse and Joseph Ayers as his heirs. The latter two, presumably, were his sons (or descendants of deceased children.)


By late February, William Ayers’ personal property had been sold at auction, yielding a little more than $200. The account revealed that, in addition to carpenter’s tool, household furnishings and clothing, Ayers owned a fiddle and a single bottle of cologne.


On 22 November 1883, commissioners laid off Rose Ayers’ dower, granting her twenty acres of her late husband’s 80 acres in Cross Roads township, representing one-third value of the land. In December 1883, commissioner F.A. Woodard placed a series of notices in The Wilson Advance (Josephus Daniels’ first newspaper), presumably advertising the sale of Ayers’ land.


Estate records show that Edwin Barnes was the highest bidder at $430 for Ayers’ property on 7 January 1884. (The commissioners’ report also lists another heir, Council Ayers.)


  • Rose Ayers — Rose Ayers, 45, married Nash Horton, 50, on 5 December 1888 at Meeksville post office, Spring Hill township. James G., I., and Guilford Wilder were witnesses.
  • Jesse Ayers — probably,  in the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: 28 year-old farmer Jesse Ayers; wife Elizabeth, 28; and children Ida, 8; Harriet, 6; Howard, 5; and Hubbard, 2; all described as mulatto.
  • Joseph G. Ayers
  • Council Ayers — In the 1870 census of Beulah township, Johnston County: Council Ares, 52, wife Mary, 33, and William Smith, 3. However, this man was older than William and could not have been his son. (He died 1 December 1915 in Spring Hill township, and his death certificate lists his father as Sampson Ayers.) Similarly, the Council Ayers, age 21, who appears in the 1910 census of Spring Hill township with wife Beadie, 25, was born after William Ayers’ death.

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

Redden Sanders Wilkins and family.


Redden S. Wilkins and daughters Hattie Margaret and Mary Della.

Redden S. Wilkins, 28, of Wilson, and Mary Blount, 31, of Wilson, were married 20 January 1889 by Methodist minister J.H. Mattocks at Peter Rountree‘s in Wilson. Witnesses were Samuel B. Parker and Samuel H. Vick of Wilson and W.E. Palmer of Washington D.C. [Mary Blount may have been a close relative of Samuel Vick, whose mother was Fannie Blount Vick.]

In May 1897, the Wilkinses, who were living in a house owned by Samuel Vick’s father Daniel Vick, suffered a devastating house fire.


Wilson Times, 20 May 1897.


Wilson Advance, 21 May 1897.

As posted here, Mary Wilkins, 43, died 27 March 1899, of an “internal tumor.” Undertaker Wootten & Stevens’ register notes that “Mary was wife of Redmond Wilkins, was in bad health for a long time, was a good woman.” She was buried in the “colored cemetery.”

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Redding Wilkins, 35, a widower, and his widowed mother Iserbella Battle, 85. [His children were not listed in the household.]

On 28 January 1903, Redden S. Wilkins, 33, of Wilson, married Mary [Hines] Boddie, 26, of Edgecombe County, at Haret Hines’ in Township No. 14, Edgecombe County. Witnesses were E.L. Reid, A.S. Henderson and John A. Gaston, all of Wilson.

The 1908 Wilson city directory lists Redmond Wilkins, laborer, at 414 South Lodge Street.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at Lodge Street, Redmond Wilkins, 42, odd jobs laborer; wife Mary, 35; and daughters Hallie, 4, Mary B., 23, a cook, and Isabell, 1. [Mary B. was Redden’s daughter with Mary Blount Wilkins. Hallie and Isabell, in fact, were named Hattie Margaret and Mary Della.]

Redden S. Wilkins died 7 October 1915 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was found dead of a lung hemorrhage. He was born in 1861 in Edgecombe County to Ephram Wilkins and Margaret Battle, both of Edgecombe; was married; and worked as a drayman. Mary Wilkins was informant. Per, he was buried in Hines/Bullock cemetery (his second wife’s family graveyard), near Pinetops, Edgecombe County.

On 6 November, Mary Wilkins applied in Wilson County Superior Court for letters of administration for his estate. She listed his assets as a house and lot valued at about $800.00, money in the bank at $145.00, and house and kitchen furniture at $50.00. As heirs at law, she listed only herself and her daughters, though at least one of her step-daughters — Redden’s oldest child, Lula Wilkins Brown — was living.


In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 507 Vance Street, widow Mary Wilkins, 45, cook, and daughters Margaret, 13, and Della, 10.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 506 Vance Street, rented for $12/month, cook Mary Wilkins, 47; daughter Della Mary, 18; lodgers Ethel Adkins, 20, a divorced teacher, and Henretta Smith, 53, widow; and nephew Paul Bullock, 21.

On 5 July 1932, Hattie M. Wilkins of Detroit, 24, born in North Carolina to Reden Wilkins and Mary Hines, married Abraham Butler of Detroit, 28, born in South Carolina, a factory worker.

In the 1940 census of Cairo, Alexander County, Illinois: physician Urbane F. Bass, 30, a native of Virginia, and wife Mary Della, 28, a North Carolina native. Urbane reported that he had been living in Saint Louis in 1935; Mary Della, in Wilson, North Carolina. [Urbane was the son of Dr. Urbane Francis Bass Sr., an African-American doctor and first lieutenant in the United States Army who was posthumously  awarded the Distinguished Service Award for his actions in World War I. See also entry for “Urbane Francis Bass” in W. Douglas Fisher and Joann H. Buckley, African American Doctors of World War I: The Lives of 104 Volunteerswhich touches upon Urbane Jr.’s practice in Cairo, which he abandoned several years after his and Mary Della’s home was firebombed in 1952 by segregationists. The family relocated to Los Angeles.]

In the 1940 census of Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan: at 1505 Labelle, Abraham Butler, 37, auto plant laborer; wife Hattie, 34; children Gibson, 6, Mary, 4, and Hattie, 2; and mother Josephine Butler, 69.

Per, Mary Della Wilkins Bass, born 2 February 1909, died 10 February 1988. She was buried in Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson.

Per the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, available at, Hattie Margaret Wilkins Butler Franklin, daughter of Redden Wilkins and Mary Ann Hines and born 9 March 1906 in Wilson, North Carolina, died in August 1993 in Highland Park, Wayne County, Michigan.

Photo courtesy of user laviemsvie.


[Personal note: for a brief period in the spring of 1998, I corresponded prolifically with Deborah Moore Vles, a descendant of Redden S. Wilkins and his first wife, Nelly Bynum Wilkins. Deborah shared with transcripts of letters Redden wrote in 1912 and 1915 to his eldest daughter, Lula Wilkins Brown — his “dear baby” — who had left Wilson for Missouri before 1910. In the letters, tender testaments to a father’s love for his child, Redden asks about his grandchildren, frets about his failing health and laments the distances between their far-flung relatives. I have been unable to find current contact information for Deborah and hope that she will somehow find this post. — LYH]

Narrow escape.

A Narrow Escape from Death.

Gray Coleman, colored, had a narrow escape from being burned to death on Friday night last. He had retired leaving the fire burning to assist in keeping out the cold, but hardly to the extent that the result proved. Some time in the night he awoke to find to find the house ablaze. After he had gone round the room to wake his children he only had time to get out before the building fell in. The entire house and contents were destroyed with the exception of one trunk which Coleman seized as he made a wild dash for the outer air. Coleman is much distressed over his loss, and especially the death of his four faithful dogs who were burned with the building.

Wilson Advance, 21 February 1895.


In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Squier Coleman, 47, wife Nancy, 36, and children Gray, 18, Mary, 16, Afonzo, 9, Margret, 4, and Thomas, 2, plus Cassa Jordan, 70, Riley Jordan, 7, and Thomas Jordan, 25.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Gray Coleman, 28, wife Harriet, 26, and children Henrietta, 4, Lea, 2, and Eddie, 9 months, plus Molly Strickland, 7.

In the 1900 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: widower farmer Gray Coleman, 51.

On 1905, Gray Coleman, 56, married Cary Woodard, 45, in Old Fields township.

In the 1910 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: on County Line Road, farmer Gray Coleman, 63, wife Caroline, 58, daughter Mamie, 17, and step-grandson Clarence Barnes, 2. The surrounding households: farmer Alfonzo Coleman, 45 Squire Justice Coleman, 24,

Gray Coleman apparently died after 1910 and before about 1914, when the state began to require death certificates. His undated estate contains an inventory of his personal property and his widow Carrie’s dower.



North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

The Woodard plantations.

Woodard Family Rural Historic District is a national historic district located near Wilson, Wilson County, North Carolina. It encompasses 29 contributing buildings in a rural area near Wilson. The district developed between 1830 and 1911 and includes notable examples of Colonial Revival and Greek Revival style architecture. Notable buildings include the William Woodard House, built circa 1832; the Woodard House, build circa 1855; William Woodard Jr. House, built circa 1850; and Elder William Woodard Sr. House, built later. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Per the Nomination Form, the historic district consists of a cluster of farmhouses and outbuildings built on land acquired by William Woodard in the 1820s and ’30s. The 550-acre district in eastern Wilson County is located in the fork of Toisnot Swamp and White Oak Swamp. Most of the land is cleared for agriculture, but there is a large timbered section near Buck Branch. The main houses of the district are located along modern Alternate Highway 264, which largely follows the route of the antebellum Wilson to Greenville Plank Road. “Associated with the agricultural prosperity in the eastern part of present Wilson County during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Woodard Family Rural Historic District is indicative of the character and diversity of rural life in the area.”

This rural life, of course, was supported by many dozens of enslaved people and, later, tenant farmers. In 1852, after William Woodard was declared dead years after disappearing during a trip to Texas, his estate went into probate, and his assets were distributed to his heirs. Fifty-five men, women and children, valued at more $19,000, were divided thus:


Their names: Mintas, Siller, Ginny, Rose, Easther, Thain, Dark, Pleasant, Morris, Blont, Ben, Arch, Alford, Tom, Peg, Rody, Silvier, Charlot, Liberty, George, Jonathan, Jim, Rachel, Nancy, Ned, Elizur, Sarah, Cherry, Amy, Harry, Gray, John, Jess, Piety, Edy, Mandy, Little Rose, Mal, Lewis, Lizzy, Sal, Little Mintas, Mariah, Hiliard, Beck, Phereby, Little Ned, Simon, London, Amos, Harrit, Richard, Dennis, Randol, and Venice.

These 55 people did not represent the total of the Woodard family’s human capital however. William’s widow Elizabeth Woodard, for example, had reported 67 slaves in the 1850 federal schedule. Her sons William Jr., Warren, James S., and Calvin reported 21, 21, 14 and 18, respectively, in the 1860 schedule.


The heart of the Woodard Family Rural Historic District today.

Estate Record of William Woodard, North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

The estate of Henderson Bagley.

Late in the winter of 1906, Henderson Bagley closed his eyes in death. Born a slave, perhaps in Nash County, he had defied odds to accumulate a sizeable estate in western Wilson County. Despite his advanced age, however, he died without a will, and his family stepped forward to ask the County Superior Court to appoint Samuel H. Vick as the estate’s administrator. Bagley’s widow, second wife Lenora, marked the petition with an X, but sons Nestus and Ruffin Bagley penned confident signatures. Notes at the bottom identified more heirs — Zilla Bagley Renfrow, Ida Jones, Etta Bagley and Allen Bagley‘s children Willie, Hattie, Sarah and Gertrude — and estimated the value of his property.


On 7 March 1906, Vick filed an inventory of Bagley’s personal estate: a mule, a cart, a wagon, nine hogs, 17 geese, 25 chickens, about five barrels of corn, one and a half stacks of fodder, four feather beds, and some furniture, valued in total at $150; $458.35 received from the sale of timber; and $220.66 paid into the estate by son Ruffin. Vick noted that the heirs had decided that their stepmother should receive Bagley’s personal property as the year’s allowance due her as a widow.


Two months later, three commissioners and a surveyor paced the irregular outlines of Bagley’s nearly 180 acres, dividing it into parcels of equal value for distribution to Bagley’s heirs. Here is their report:

NORTH CAROLINA, Wilson County  }  In the Superior Court, Before the Clerk.

Leno Bagley, widow, Zillia Rentfrow, Nestus Bagley and others, Ex Parte. }

Report of Commissioners.

To S.G. Mewborn, Clerk of the Superior Court of Wilson County:

Obedient to a summons of the sheriff of Wilson County, we, the undersigned commissioners appointed to divide and allot in severalty the lands of the petitioners, containing 178 3/5 acres, assembled on the premises in Old Fields Township, Wilson Co. on the 5th, day of June, 1906, and after being duly sworn, and proceeded to partition the lands among the said tenants in common, according to their prospective rights and interests therein, after first laying off and allotting to Leno Bagley, widow, her dower and thirds in the lands of Henderson Bagley, deceased, the metes and bounds of dower and of each share, being as follows (as will appear by reference to plat of same, filed herewith):

To Leno Bagley, widow of Henderson Bagley, deceased we allot the following tract of land, as her dower:

Beginning at a stake at (B), Wiley Pearson’s corner, thence to said Pearson’s line S. 85; 20 E. 20 chains and 44 links to a stake on the north side of a certain ditch, at (C) on plat; thence S. 4, 9 W. 14 chains and 37 links to a large black gum on a branch, at (D) on plat; thence S. 87; 30′ E. 6 chains and 19 links to a large pine, Wiley Pearson’s corer thence along an agreed line, with said Pearson, S. 4; 53′ E. 7 chains to a stake, at (E) on plat, corner of Lot No. 1, thence with the line of Lot No. 1, S. 87; 30′ W. 25 chains and 75 links to a stake, at (A), thence North 24 chains and 82 links to the first station, containing 40 8/10 acres.

Lot No. 1, assigned to Ruffin Bagley, consisting of two shares, 1st share in his own right and 2nd share in the right of his sister, Zilla Rentfrow, as per her deed to Ruffin Bagley, is described as follows:

Beginning at a stake, in Morgan’s line, at the intersection of said Morgan’s line and the Center of Avenue, thence with the center of said Avenue N. 87; 30′ E. 40 chains and 25 links to a stake on Wiley Pearson’s agreed line; thence along said agreed line, this day marked, S. 4; 53′ E. 10 chains and 50 links to a Bay, on the run of Juniper Swamp, then up the run of said swamp to the mouth of a ditch, Morgan’s corner; thence along Morgan’s line, N. 2 E. 18 chains and 25 links to the first station, containing 64 acres, and valued at $400.00.

Lot No. 2, assigned to Willie, Hattie, Sarah and Gertrude Bagley is composed of two tracts (2 and 5 on the map), first tract, being lot no. 2. is described as follows:

Beginning at a stake at intersection of Morgan’s line and the Avenue the beginning corner of Lot No. 1, thence along said Morgan’s line N. 2 E 34 chains and 25 links to a stake, said Morgan’s corner; thence S. 85; 50′ E 5 chains and 50 links to three pines, an old corner same course continued, 2 chains and 59 links to a stake, thence south 33 chains and 24 links to a stake, on the line of Lot No. 1, thence along said line S. 87; 30′ W. 8 chains and 30 links to the first  station, containing 33 9/10 acres; 2nd Tract, marked on plat No. 5, being in widow’s dower, is described as follows, Beginning at a large pine, Wiley Pearson’s corner, thence along said Pearson’s line S. 4; 53′ E. to a stake, corner of Lot No. 1, thence along line of Lot No. 1 S. 87; 30 W. 15 chains and 50 links to a stake S. 85 E. 10 chains and 19 links to a stake on the south side of a ditch, thence S. 4; 9′ W. 14 chains and 37 links to a large Black Gum, in a branch, thence S. 87; 30′ E. 6 chains and 19 links to the beginning, containing 23 4/10 acres, valued at $200.

Lot No. 3, assigned to Nestus Bagley, is composed of two tracts marked on plat no. 3 and 4, 1st tract is described as follows:

Beginning at three pines, thence N. 4; 30′ E. 9 chains and 71 links to a stake, thence S. 85 E, 8 chains and 50 links to a stake, thence S. 17 chains and 47 links to a stake, Pearson’s and the Dower corner, same course continued 24 chains and 82 links to a stake on line of Lot No. 1, thence along line of Lot No. 1. S. 87; 30′ W. 6 chains and 30 links to a stake, corner of Lot No. 2, thence along line of Lot No. 2, 33 chains and 24 links to a stake, thence N. 85; 50′ W. 2 chains and 59 links to the first station, containing  33 9/10 acres; 2nd tract, being on the Dower, and marked no. 4 on plat, is described as follows, Beginning at a stake at (B) on plat, Pearson’s corner, thence along Pearson’s line a stake, in line of Lot No. 1. thence along line of Lot No. 1, S. 87; 30’W 10 chains and 35 links to a stake, thence North 24 chains and 82 links to the beginning, containing 23 4/10 acres, valued at $200.00

The Plat, showing the above division, dated June 14, 1906, made by James W. Taylor Surveyor, is hereto attached and made a part of this report.

Respectfully submitted,  W.N. Glover, A.R. Taylor, N.W. Williams, Commissioners

This 20th day of June, 1906. A correct copy. S.G. Mewborn, C.S.C.

Bagley plat


On 22 August 1866, Henderson Bagley and Thana Williams registered their 12-year cohabitation in Wilson County, thereby legitimating a marriage made during slavery.

In the 1870 census of Chesterfield, Nash County: Henderson Bagley, 40, and children Catherine, 15, Allen, 10, Zillie, 8, Nestus, 6, and Thomas R., 4.

In the 1880 census of Old Fields, Wilson County: farmer Henderson Bagley, 53, and children Allen, 21, Zillah, 18, Genestus, 17, and Ruffin, 14.

On 4 July 1880, Henderson Bagley, 50, married Lenora Jones, 25, in Wilson County. J.W. Smith, Cena Smith and D.J. Scott witnesses the ceremony, which was performed by a justice of the peace.

On 7 October 1880, Allen Bagley, 22, married Mary Rountree, 20, at Alfred Woodard‘s in Wilson County. [Mary Rountree and her sister Louisa, who married Allen’s younger brother Ruffin, were Alfred Woodard’s stepdaughters. They are listed in the household of their father Warren Rountree in the 1870 census of Wilson township with mother Sarah, and siblings Florence, Rhebecca, Howell, Sallie and Warren Jr. Alfred Woodard, his first wife Harriet and their children are listed next door. Alfred Woodard married Sarah Rountree on 13 February 1873.]

On 18 December 1884, Nestus Bagley, 22, married Margarett Coleman, 20, at Washington Farmer‘s with J.W. Turner, Oscar Jones and James Locus witnessing.

On 27 November 1889, Ruffin Bagley, 22, son of Henderson and Bethany Bagley, married Louisa Rountree, 20, daughter of Warren Rountree and Sarah Woodard, at Alfred Woodard’s in Wilson County. Witnesses were W.W. Rountree, Sam Winstead and Henry Deans.

In the 1900 census of Old Fields, Wilson County: farmer Henderson Bagley, 70, wife Lenora, 48, daughter Etta, 18, and grandchildren Lonna Locus, 8, Earnest Locus, 6, and Percy Locus, 2. Next door: Ruffin Bagley, 32, wife Luesah, 25, and son Arthar, 6.

Ruffin Bagley, age 50, died 30 December 1915 in Old Fields township, Wilson County, of gastritis. His death certificate lists his parents as Henderson Bagley and Fannie Williamson. Nestus Bagley was informant.

On 12 March 1933, Ida Jones, daughter of Henderson Bagley and Lena Jones, both of Wilson County, died of uterine cancer. Her death certificate reports that she was married to Thomas Jones.

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.comCommissioners’ Report at Plat Book 1, page 4, and plat at Plat Book 1, page 5, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Crossing the Divide: A Quick Case Study in Tracing an African-American Family

IMG_9343 copy

Jonah L. Ricks, Wilson, 1953.

Jonah Lewis Ricks was born near Bailey, Nash County, in 1885. His mother, Nancy Jones Ricks, was born about 1865 in western Wilson County to Jacob and Milly Powell Jones, both born into free families of color. (Jacob was a grandson of Bethana Jones.) Jonah’s father was Joseph Ricks.

Several of Joseph Ricks’ descendants, including Jonah, migrated to Wilson and Elm City and beyond beginning in the 1930s. Joseph’s death certificate, filed in Nash County in 1949, asserts that he was born about 1876 in Nash County to Square [sic] and Nicey Ricks. However, the censuses of 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 consistently list 1860 as his birth year.

What follows is a summary of research I conducted to pierce the veil of slavery and shed light on Joseph Ricks’ family just before and after Emancipation.

Initially, I was unable to find either Joseph Ricks or his parents in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. However, I had found a Kinchen R. Ricks (1858-1915) whose Nash County death certificate listed his parents as Squire Ricks and Nicie Braswell, so I looked for him instead. In the 1880 census of Jackson township, Nash County, 22 year-old Kenchin Ricks appears as a servant in the household of Marmaduke Ricks. Next door is this household: Sqare Perry, wife Nicy, and their children, including 18 year-old Joseph. I went back ten years to 1870 to find, in Chesterfield township, Nash County: Esqire Perry, 52, wife Nicey, 47, and children Primus, 22, Willie, 18, Mary J., 16, Rebecca, 13, Kinchen, 11, Joseph, 9, Robert, 8, and Matilda, 6. Also sharing the household were Judy Finch, 19, and her 7 month-old Nancy, and Sham Freeman, 63, Silva, 58, Mary, 25, and Rosa Freeman, 18. Thus I determined that Joseph Ricks was known as Joseph Perry as a child.  His parents were known as Squire and Nicey Perry and, I later learned, all of his siblings except brother Kinchen retained the surname Perry.

Squire Perry was born circa 1815, according to census records. His wife Nicey was born circa 1824. As neither appears in censuses earlier than 1870, I assumed that both were born slaves. I consulted Timothy Rackley’s volumes on Nash County estate divisions and slave cohabitations and discovered records of the division of the estate of Clabourn Finch, which was conducted 18 December 1849.  Finch’s property, which included slaves Jacob, Benjamin, Squire, Sam, Henry, Gilbert, Adam, Primus, and Nicy and her child, was divided among his heirs.  Squire, valued at $550, went to Finch’s daughter Betsy and her husband Jacob Strickland.  Nicy and child, valued at $700, went to Finch’s daughter Nicy and her husband Marmaduke Ricks. Thus, the family was divided during the last decade and a half of slavery.


Page from the estate of Clabourn Finch, Nash County, 1849. The enslaved people distributed to his heirs at November Term of court differ slightly from those listed in this inventory.

The 1850 slave census of Nash County shows Jacob Strickland as the owner of four slaves and Marmaduke Ricks as the owner of ten. The 1860 slave census of Sullivants township, Nash County, lists him as the owner of 18 slaves.

Among post-Emancipation Nash County cohabitation records, I discovered that, on 19 August 1866, Esquire Strickland and Nicey Ricks registered their 22-year marriage with a Nash County Justice of the Peace.  At the time they reunited, each was using the surname of his or her most recent former owner. By the 1870 census, however, as noted above, Squire had settled upon Perry.

It is probably not coincidence that another of Clabourn Finch’s daughters, Ann C., was married to a Perry. Clabourn Finch’s slaves were divided among his children at his death and may have been further sold or traded within the family. At present, Squire’s reason for choosing Perry rather than Ricks or Strickland is not clear, nor is the basis for Joseph Ricks’ report on his brother Kinchen’s death certificate that their mother’s maiden was Braswell. Similarly, the reason that two of their sons, Kinchen and Joseph, reverted to Ricks is unclear.

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Original photograph and funeral program in my possession. Federal population schedules; North Carolina Certificates of Death filed in Nash and Wilson Counties; Timothy W. Rackley, Nash County North Carolina Division of Estate Slaves & Cohabitation Record 1862-1866; Rackley, Nash County North Carolina Division of Estate Slaves 1829-1861; North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

The last will and testament of Ishmael Wilder.

In the name of God, I Ishmael Wilder of the County of Wilson and State of North Carolina being of sound mind and memory and in feeble health and considering the uncertainty of my earthly existence and the certainty of death do make and declare this my last will and testament in the manner and form following

First that executors hereinafter named shall out of the first money coming into their hands as a part of my estate pay all my funeral expenses together with my just debts wheresoever and to whomsoever owing.

Item 1. I lend to my son Josiah Wilder 60 acres of land to be cut off of the east side of my tract of land so as to include my present residence but not to include the place where he formally lived to him during his natural life and at his death I give and bequeath it to his bodily heirs if any and if none to return to my estate.

Item 2. I lend to my son H.G. Wilder 60 acres of land to be cut off next to my son Josiah Wilder’s piece so as to include the house where Josiah Wilder formally lived and not to include the house on the road where Joe Barnes now lives; to him during his natural life and at his death I give and bequeath it to his bodily heirs if any and if none to return to my estate.

Item 3. I lend to my daughter Laura A. Reed 59 1/2 acres the remainder of my land to include the house where Joe Barnes now lives to her during her natural life and at her death I give and bequeath it to her bodily heirs if any and if none to return to my estate.

Item 4. I give and bequeath to the six children of my deceased son Hinton Wilder One Hundred and Seventy Five dollars each in money.

Item 5. I give and bequeath to the two children of my deceased daughter Victoria Hinnant Three Hundred dollars in money.

Now I have some insurance and some personal property which I desire sold and used in the payment of the items above mentioned and if there be a deficiency which I think there may be it is my will and my desire that my two sons Josiah Wilder and H.G. Wilder and my daughter Laura A. Reed shall pay the deficiency each of them paying one third of said deficiency so that my grandchildren may have what I have bequeathed to them and I make this a first lien of the lands devised to them until they have paid said deficiency.

Lastly I hereby appoint my two sons Josiah Wilder and H.G. Wilder my lawful executors to execute this my last will and testament and I hereby revoke and declare void all other wills and testaments and I hereunto set my hand and seal this the 16th day of October 1913.  /s/ Ishmael Wilder

Made and declared by Ishmael Wilder to be his last will and testament and at his request and in his presence and in the presence of each other we sign the same as witnesses thereto. This October the 26th 1913.  Witnesses R.T. Barnes, S.C. [Simon C.] Barnes


J.T. Revell surveyed and divided Ishmael Wilder’s land in Springhill township among his heirs on 21 April 1920. A map of the division is found on page 390 of Will Book 5-6, housed in the Wilson County Register of Deeds office.

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This was not the end of the matter.

Laura Wilder Reid and her husband, Henry S. Reid, contracted to sell Oscar Neal her 59 1/2 acre portion of her father’s estate for $10,000. Reid contended that she had title to the land in fee simple, but Neal questioned her ability to convey the land to him under the terms of Ishmael Wilder’s will. On 19 October 1921, the Reids filed suit to clarify the matter. A trial judge found in their favor, and Neal appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Here is the statement of facts and initial judgment in Reid v. Neal, 182 N.C. 192 (1921).

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Five dense pages of legalese later, the Supreme Court concluded that Laura Reid had only a life estate in her father’s property and thus could not sell it. Judgment reversed.


On 27 August 1866, Ishmal Wilder and Sarah Richards registered their cohabitation before a justice of the peace in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census, Springhill township, Wilson County: Ishmael Wilder, 41, wife Sarah 38, and children Hinton, 6, Josiah, 4, and James, 2.

In the 1880 census, Springhill township, Ishmal Wilder, 44, his mother Classey, 65, his wife Sarah, 36, and children Hinton, 15, Josiah, 13, James, 12, Lorrian, 9, Guilford, 8, Clarian, 7, Henry, 5, and Nancy An, 3.

On 11 November 1893, H.G. Wilder, 21, son of Ishmael and Sarah Wilder, married Francy Earp, 19, daughter of Sidney and Nancy Earp, in Oldfields township, Wilson County.

On 6 January 1894, Josiah Wilder, 27, son of Ishmael and Sarah Wilder, married Christina M. Earp, 25, daughter of Sidney and Nancy Earp, in Oldfields township, Wilson County.

On 22 October 1895, Laura Wilder, 25, daughter of Ishmael and Sarah Wilder, married Henry S. Reid, 34, son of Washington and Penina Reid of Wayne County. Samuel H. Vick applied for the couple’s license. (Henry was a brother of veterinarian Elijah Reid and principal J.D. Reid.)

On 31 January 1900, Ishmael Wilder, 60, son of Ben and Clarisa Wilder, married Edna Newsom, 55, in Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Ishmael Wilder, 63, wife Edney, 55, and daughter Clara, 26.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson & Raleigh Branch Road, Ishmael Wilder, 74, divorced, living alone. Next door, the “Joe Barnes” mentioned in his will: Joseph Barnes, 57, wife Chana, 51, children Elijah, 16, Joseph, 13, and Sarah Barnes, 10, and granddaughter Fletchie L. Williams, 6. Joseph reported that he was renting the land he farmed; he was Ishmael’s tenant.

Ishmael Wilder died 10 February 1917.


North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line],