They will tell the true story when they get home.

Northern Neck (Va.) News, 20 February 1880.

Who were the anonymous informants who “would rather live one year in North Carolina than to live to be as old as giants” in Indiana?

Not Joseph Ellis, whose testimony before Congress about Black migration from North Carolina to Indiana  declared that he was “well pleased with [his] situation.” On the other hand, Green Ruffin, who testified on 16 February 1880, was adamant that he never going back to Indiana if he could get home. Peter Dew and Julia Daniels shared similar sentiments in letters to the editor of the Wilson Advance.

Armstrong cemetery, Scott, Arkansas.

Wilson County native Haywood Armstrong, son of Abraham and Cherry Armstrong, lead his family to Lonoke County, Arkansas, in the 1890s. Armstrong and his wife, Agnes Bullock Armstrong, reared 14 children and are buried in Hickory Grove cemetery near Scott, Arkansas. In the fall of 2020, their descendants came together for a cemetery clean-up. Lydia Bledsoe Hunter shared these images of the family’s work, as well as a commemorative family calendar developed to raise funds for ongoing upkeep. 


Other suns: Indiana.

Indiana was an early destination for African-Americans leaving North Carolina for perceived greener pastures. Several hundred free people of color migrated to Indiana in the 1830s and 1840s, but only two families have been definitively linked to the area that is now Wilson County. Another large migration circa 1880 was the subject of a Congressional inquiry. During the Great Migration, Indianapolis was a popular focus of migration.

Other suns: Arkansas.

Arkansas was not a Great Migration destination. Rather, it was a state from which thousands of African-Americans streamed North to cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit. However, no doubt, many such families had come to eastern and central Arkansas from Wilson County in the 1880s and ’90s.

  • Ellis, Littleton, and Julia Barnes Ellis and children, unnamed location, ca. 1886
  • Dixon, Luke, and Martha Tyson Dixon, DeValls Bluffs, 1889
  • Armstrong, Haywood, and Agnes Bullock Armstrong, and children Charlie, Mollie, William, Joshua, and Herman, Lonoke County, ca. 1890
  • Parker, Caesar, and Cinda Parker and children Mattie, Willis, Daniel, and Louvenia, Keo, Lonoke County, 1890
  • Barnes, Nathan, and Lucy Barnes, and children Marson, Mary Jane, Claudie, and Elroy, Saint Francis County, ca. 1890
  • Ruffin, Thomas, and Martha Farmer Ruffin, and children Wiley, Marina, and James, Brodie, Pulaski County, ca. 1891
  • Scarborough, George, and Millie Armstrong Scarborough and children Walter, George, Martin J., and Charity, Lonoke County, ca. 1892
  • Scarborough, George, and children Martin, Cromwell, Arie, Jesse, Fannie, Joseph, and Leon, Lonoke County, betw. 1893 and 1900
  • Forbes, Wiley, and Penny Forbes and siblings Johnnie, Mary B., Martha J., and Tinsey, 12; and father Toney Forbes, bef. 1894
  • Bynum, Isaac, and Martha Bynum and children, Lonoke County, ca. 1895
  • Daniels, Henry, and Elizabeth Daniels, and children William H., Matilda A., and Mary J., Pine Bluff, bef. 1896
  • Lucas, Ephraim, and Annie Lucas, and son Luther, Cross County, betw. 1896 and 1900
  • Bullock, Harriet, county unknown, bef. 1897
  • Taylor, George W., Pulaski County, ca. 1898
  • Barnes, Smithy, and sons George, Sidney and Bruce Cooper, Pine Bluff, bef. 1900
  • Farmer, Peter, and Mariah Farmer, and children John, Margaret, Isaac, Eli, and Louisa, Cross County, bef. 1900
  • Armstrong, Isaac, and Laura Armstrong and children William, David L., Mary B., and James G., Ashley County, bef. 1900
  • Jones, George D., Little Rock, bef. 1900
  • High, Joseph W., Lafayette County, bef. 1900
  • Farmer, Peter, and Mariah Lofton Farmer, and children Hardy and Essie, Cross County, bef. 1900
  • Hines, Cherry Ward, Lonoke County, bef. 1900
  • Barron, Mark, Ashley County, bef. 1900
  • Aycock, Green, and Janie Aycock, and children Robert, Larry, and Peter, and mother Faine Aycock, Jefferson County, bef. 1900
  • Davis, Paul, and Annie Davis and Louvinia, Sadie, Emma and Claud, Cross County, bef. 1900
  • Armstrong, Burton, and Clara Armstrong, Ashley County, bef. 1900
  • Barnes, Haywood, and Tena Barnes, and sons James and Clayton, Lonoke County, bef. 1900
  • Wesley, Hayward, Columbia County and Pine Bluffs, bef. 1900
  • Woodard, John H., Pope County, bef. 1900
  • Lewis, Kinchen, and children Cora, John, William and Arthur, Marianna, Lee County, bef. 1900
  • Adams, Abram, and Millie Adams, and Fannie Adams Owens, Union County, bef. 1900
  • Hooks, Thomas, Pulaski County, bef. 1904
  • Baker, James, Lonoke County, bef. 1910
  • Harp, Adeline, Lee County, bef. 1910
  • Brown, Rhoda Tabron Taylor, Saint Francis County, bef. 1910
  • Thomas, Hattie Sharpe, Lonoke County, bef. 1910
  • Griffin, Josh, Little Rock, bef. 1910
  • Barnes, Clayton, and Jennie Barnes and sister-in-law Lucille Jones, Lonoke County, bef. 1910
  • Smith, Jesse A., Crossett, Ashley County, ca. 1911
  • Joyner, Ada Barnes, Pine Bluffs, bef. 1916
  • Davis, Drew, Jefferson County, bef. 1926
  • Barnes, Fred, Saint Francis County, bef. 1930
  • Connor, Thomas F., Mississippi County, bef. 1930 (prior, in Mississippi)
  • Horn, Gray, Desha County, bef. 1939 (prior, in Louisiana)
  • Barnes, Richard B., Little Rock, bef. 1930
  • Scarborough, Jesse, Pulaski County, bef. 1930
  • Tabron, Elzie Jones, Cross County, bef. 1930
  • Bynum, Lawrence, and Edna Bynum, and James C., Mary, Charlie, and Hattie, Lonoke, bef. 1930
  • Bines, Lillie Ricks, North Little Rock, bef. 1931
  • Robinson, Alvanie Sharp, Desha County, bef. 1937
  • Jones, Andrew J., Bradley, Lafayette County, bef. 1940
  • Bullock, Eliza Barnes, Chicot County, bef. 1940
  • Langston, George W., Lewisville, Lafayette County, bef. 1940
  • Horn, Henry, Dermott, Chicot County, bef. 1942
  • Hooks, Elijah W., West Helena, Phillips County, bef. 1942
  • Lassiter, Hardy, Pine Bluff, bef. 1942
  • McDowell, Charlie, Bradley County, bef. 1942 
  • Aycock, Jethro, Scott County, bef. 1942
  • Gay, Charlie, Blytheville, Mississippi County, bef. 1942
  • Adams, Edward, Prattsville, Grant County, bef. 1942
  • Hines, Paul, Sebastian County, bef. 1942
  • Dillard, Mary Simms, Crittenden County, bef. 1951
  • Phillips, Martha Farmer, Little Rock, bef. 1955

Death certificate of Hayward Wesley, who died 23 July 1924 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The merchant had been born in Wilson, North Carolina.

As different as chalk and cheese.


The man is working for Daniel Evans, near Russellville, Putnam County. He has a nice brick house to live in, has a nice garden spot, fire-wood, and a team to haul it, a milch-cow and food to feed her, and $15 in cash each month; in all, equivalent to about $24 a month. He is delighted with Indiana, and urges that all his people come to our State as soon as they can get there. In an interview with me, he said: “Neither you nor any other Republican in Greencastle ever said a word to me about voting, nor asked me how I was gaining to vote; nor have I known of your asking any of our people how they were going to vote. All that has been said to us was about finding us homes and work, and taking care of us. They have done all for us they could, and our people are grateful to them for it. None of us want to go back to North Carolina; neither does any man who is honest and has sound judgment. I would take my oath on that. Most of our people who have come here are religious. I belong to the Missionary Baptist church, and am a licensed preacher. I came here to better the condition of myself and family, and to raise them respectably. I have found it better than I expected. Indeed, I don’t think that I hardly deserve as good treatment as I have received and am still receiving. From my own experience, I know that my people in North Carolina could greatly better their condition by coming here, and if they knew the facts they would come.

In a subsequent interview Croom said:

“I came from Wilson County, North Carolina. Have been here several weeks. I came because I had heard that colored men could do better here than in North Carolina, and I find that it was a true statement. There is as much difference between there and here as there is between chalk and cheese. It is altogether different. Here we are men just like the whites, get good wages, have good homes, and there are good schools for our children. The climate is no worse for us here than there. I have not yet seen as cold weather in Indiana as I have seen in North Carolina. And then the people are so different. They are just as kind to us as they can be. It seems as though they can’t do enough for us.”


Possibly: William Croom died 17 July 1910 in Indianapolis, Center township, Marion County, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was 57 years old; was born in North Carolina to Sam Croom and Cherry Latta; was married to Diana Croom; and was a farmer. He was buried in Mount Jackson cemetery.

Cora Allen died 9 November 1925 at Provident Sanitarium in Indianapolis, Center township, Marion County, Indiana. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 May 1884 in Indiana to William Croom and Diana Ellis, both of North Carolina and was married to James Allen. She was buried in Floral Park cemetery.

Senate Report 693, Part 2, 2nd Session, 46th Congress.  Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States (1880).  U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

This is the cause of the exodus.


I lived in Wilson County, North Carolina. I have a wife and eight children. It cost me one hundred and twenty-three dollars to get here. I never heard any thing about politics until I got to Indianapolis; then I was asked by a Democrat if some Republican did not go South and make fine promises to me, and did they not bring me here to vote? I told him, no, that I brought myself; I came on my own money; and that I came because I could not get any pay for my work, nor could I educate my children there; and now that I have seen the difference between the North and South I would not go back to North Carolina for anything, and I never expect to go back in life nor after death, except the buzzards carry me back. Mr. Turnbull, of Toisenot, N.C., a white Democrat, told me that I was coming out here to perish, but so far from perishing I am faring better than I ever fared before in my life. I wish to say that cases like the following is what brought about the exodus: A colored man rented a farm, for which he was to pay three bales of cotton, weighing 450 pounds each; he raised on that farm eleven bales of cotton, weighing 450 pounds each, and 25 barrels of corn, which left to the tenant eight bales of cotton, and 25 barrels of corn, pease, &c. The tenant bought nothing but a very small amount of very coarse food and clothing, using all the economy during the crop season to make no large account, thinking thereby to have something coming to him at settling day; but when settling day came the landlord had so enlarged his account as to cover everything — the eight bales of cotton, the 25 barrels of corn, pease, and all, and then said that the tenant lacked a little of paying out, although cotton sold at ten cents per pound. This and numerous other things is the cause of the exodus.


Probably, in the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Thomas Bynum, 32; wife Bethana, 28; and children James, 11, Oliver, 8, Mary, 6, Lavinia, 4, and “no name,” 2; and Lucy Pitt, 53. “Ages of this family are in doubt.”

In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: merchant P.J. Turnbull, 29, and family.

In the 1900 census of Indianapolis, Howard County, Indiana: at 1622 Guffin Street, street laborer Albert Whitley, 36; Polly, 32; children Cicero, 13, Mamie, 12, Albert, 9, Leonard, 6, and Wilber, 3; and grandfather Thomas Bynum, 65. All the adults were born in North Carolina.

Senate Report 693, Part 2, 2nd Session, 46th Congress.  Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States (1880).  U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

I would not go back to North Carolina for any consideration.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.14.59 PM

In the 1880 census of Russell township, Putnam County, Indiana: laborer Joseph Ellis, 27, and wife Prissa, 23, both born in North Carolina.

In the 1900 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana: widowed day laborer Joseph Ellis, 48; son Theodore, 16, and daughters Margaret, 10, and Vera, 8.

Senate Report 693, Part 2, 2nd Session, 46th Congress.  Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States (1880).  U.S. Congressional Serial Set.


I want to come back right away.

Wilson_Advance_2_6_1880_Julia_Daniel_exoduster (1)

Wilson Advance, 6 February 1880.

Forty-seven year-old white farmer Kinsey Hyman “K.H.” Winstead headed a household in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County. Farmer Kinchen H. Watson, 29, is listed in his mother’s household in Wilson township, south of the Plank Road.  I have not found Julia Daniels. However, in the 1880 census of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, 32 year-old Peter Dew, his wife Ellen, 29, and their children William, 9, Georgeanna, 6, and Jennie, 3, all North Carolina-born, appear at 352 West North Street, the address that Julia used.

Wilson County marriage records show that Peter, son of H. Ellis and Jinny Dew, and Ellen, daughter of Raford and Emily Daniel, married 15 August 1869.

I suppose they thought it was no use talking to me; I wasn’t going nohow.


HILLIARD ELLIS, colored, sworn and examined.

By Senator Vance [Zebulon B. Vance, Democrat-North Carolina].

Question.  Where is your place of residence?  — Answer.  In four miles of Wilson Township, in the county of Wilson, North Carolina.

Q. Has there been any movement among the colored people with reference to this exodus movement in your section? – A. Yes, sir; I suppose there has been some.

Q. Do you know anything about it? – A. Well, sir, I have heard people talking about it.

Q. Do you know what inducement was held out to them to leave North Carolina? – A. Some, I think, were going for better wages, and some were complaining that they could not get their rights under this law. I cannot really tell you all that was said, for I just heard it. I think some of them went just to have a big ride – come for one thing and some for another.  They did not talk much to me about it.

Q. Why? – A. Because I suppose they thought it was no use talking to me; I wasn’t going nohow. They organized a club there, I understand.

Q. Was that a secret society? – A. Yes, sir; I think so. Nobody could get their secrets unless he joined the club.

Q. Was there any agents up there making speeches to them? – A. Yes, sir; there was a fellow from Goldsboro’ by the name of Evans; I think they said that was the name. He was encouraging the thing along, as I heard it.

Q. What were the inducements he held out to these people? – A. He said they could get from one to two and three and four dollars a day, according to the season. When spring opens, I think they were to get two dollars and a half and three dollars.

Q. Was that in Indiana? – A. Yes, sir.

Q. Do you know what inducement was offered them about transportation? – A. Yes, sir; I heard some say that they had to pay so much, and then they gave them the secret of how to get along out to Indiana. Some of them thought they were going to go free.

Q. What is your occupation? – A. I am a farmer.

Q. Do you own land? – A. Yes, sir.

Q. How much? – A. I have a little upwards of two hundred acres.

Q. Is it good or poor land? – A. It is tolerably good land.

Q. What is it valued at? – A. I can hardly tell you, but my taxes are twelve or thirteen dollars a year, as I pay no poll tax.

Q. You can tell us the usual price of labor there? – A. In my neighborhood we don’t pay as much as they do down below on the big farms. The wages are eight and ten dollars down there; but we don’t push them up our way, and only pay them seven and nine dollars. That is the price right in my neighborhood.

Q. What does that include? – A. It gives them a house rent free, fire wood free, and a patch to tend, and five pounds of meat, and a peck of meal a week.

Q. You pay them from seven to nine dollars, according to the grade of the hand? – A. Yes, sir; but there are some I would rather give nine to than to give seven to others.

Q. You give them five pounds ration, a peck of meal, a house, a patch and fire wood free? – A. Yes, sir.

Q. How long does that last? – A. That is for twelve months. I generally hire for a year at a time.

Q. What do day-laborers get when you hire them? – A. Forty cents a day, with lodgings and rations.

Q. Is there any restriction upon the rights of the colored people in your county? Are they interfered with in their right to vote? – A. No, sir; not at my township. I have been poll-holder there myself for a long time.

Q. You mean you have been a judge of elections? – A. yes, sir. Sometimes we have a little differences about the men’s registering, but there is no violations and no difficulties there.

Q. Do the colored people vote the same as others? – A. Yes, sir; a black man votes the same as a white man.

Q. Is it the same way all over the county? – A. I heard of little disturbances around in places, but I do not think there were any disturbances in town.

Q. Your voting place is not in Wilson – in the town, I mean? – A. No, sir; I live four miles out, and vote at a place about a mile from my place.

Q. What is the state of feeling between the whites and the blacks there? – A. I have heard of no difficulties between them. I know, of course, in town, when they are drinking, of Saturday evenings, they are liable to have difficulties and fights. But there is nothing political in that.

Q. Do you know of any reason, in the way of political disturbances or proscription or discrimination of the laws, to make these people leave your country? – A. No, sir. One think I heard them say, that they were going where they could get better wages; that they could not live on the prices if cotton was low. But I think it amounted to about the same, in the way of living, as when they got thirteen and fourteen cents for cotton.  They could get meat for five cents, which was cheaper than they ever got it before.  The price of cotton is better than it was last year, and the price of labor has gone up with it.

Q. About how much real estate has been acquired by the colored people in your county? – A. I could not tell you, sir. I know people right in my neighborhood, and could pick out scattered men, who own a good deal.

Q. Can a colored man who is sober and industrious stand as good a chance as a white man to acquire property, when both of them start without any? – A. Well, sir, I have always done so myself.

Q. Can one do as well as the other? – A. I think they do. If any difference has been made, I can’t see it. I always do well myself.

Q. These men, you said, were going to Indiana for better wages, have you heard anything from them since they have been out there? – A. I have head of them but not myself. Mr. Farmer, who lives near me, received a letter from some of them, which they said to send to Hilliard Ellis’s church to be read.

Q. Was it read? – A. Yes, sir.

Q. What were the contents of it? – A. He wanted them to make up some money to bring him back home. He said he wanted all the members to throw in a little bit to help him.

Q. What reason did he give for wanting to come home? – A. He said had been there eighteen days and only made two dollars. He said he had stopped there in town and could get no work, and he wanted his friends to help him back.

Q. Did he come back? – A. No, sir; not yet, unless he has got there since I left home.

Q. Did they make up money for him? – A. No, sir; I think they said they didn’t know whether he would get the money or not; and they would look further into it. They asked me if I would give something, and I said I did not know.

Q. Could a man who is getting ten dollars a month, his home and rations, and patch to tend to, support himself and family on that? – A. He ought to do it at the present prices of provisions.

Q. In the cotton-picking season, don’t the women and children make good wages? – A. Yes, sir; that is the time of their best wages. A child can pick out as much as a man, almost, and they make more in cotton-picking time, than any other time. That is the reason that a good many of them won’t hire only until fall.  They work until the crop is laid up, and then depend on making double wages during the picking season.

Q. Do you know of any complaints as to injustice being done them in the courts? – A. I have heard some of them grumble about not getting justice in some cases; but I have heard both sides to that. One says that they didn’t do right, and the other say that it was right, and backwards and forwards in that way.

Q. Is there no complaint that there is a difference made in the courts between whites and blacks? – A. I have heard of it. I have heard some of them say they didn’t get justice because they were black men.

Q. You do not know of any case that was so? – A. No, sir; I only heard that the colored people, as a general thing, was oftener in the courts for larceny than the white people.

Q. That makes a difference and causes more of them to be in the penitentiary? – A. Yes, sir.

Q. Because more of them commit these little crimes? – A. Yes, sir; I think they think they are not dealt justly by, and then sometimes they slip into the penitentiary before they know it, not being enlightened to know the law. But, I think, in my neighborhood, they try and take care of themselves.

Q. When a colored man has an established character for integrity and honesty, don’t he stand the same chance of getting justice as the white man? – A. I think he does in my town; I don’t go there myself about the courts, and I only hear about it after the courts are done.

By Senator WINDOM [William Windom, Republican-Minnesota]:

Q. You spoke of some complaints; are they general among the colored people? – A. I have heard them complain a good deal after the courts were over for a while. I have heard them say that in such a such case that was tried that they didn’t think they got justice because it was a colored person.

Q. Did they think it was an injustice to them because of their color? – A. Yes, sir; on account of their color. But then you know, in many times, they may be mistaken.

Q. There is an impression that they didn’t get even-handed justice? – A. That is the talk among them. I would not know, probably, if I was to see it.

Q. Have you heard anything in the way of complaints about the tenants law? – A. Yes, sir, a little; but not enough to tell.

Q. Is your county Republican or Democratic? – A. It is Democratic, and always has been. They have got a majority there.

Q. How far do you live from Goldsborough? – A. It is about twenty-four miles from Wilson to Goldsborough.

Q. About how many people have gone from your county? – A. I do not know, sir; really I could not tell. But there are a good many gone right out of that town.

Q. You say you have heard of some political troubles in the Wilson County? – A. Yes, sir; but not serious. They were just little differences between individual men.

Q. Did you hear any of them given as a reason for this emigration? – A. No, sir; but some of them says they wanted to go where they could get better wages.

Q. You said you heard of no disturbance in your locality, but there were some in Wilson? – A. Yes, sir; but it was mostly from whisky. It would be where they were drinking, and they would have a drunken fight. There was no Democrats or no Republicans in it.



Wilson Advance, 6 February 1880.

In the 1870 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: 43 year-old farmer Hilliard Ellis, wife Feribee, and children Caroline, William, George, Emily, Hilliard, Mary Ann and Warren. In 1880, still in Taylors: Hilliard Ellis, wife Fereby, and children Hilliard Jr., Mary A., Warren, Phillis and Milby.

Senate Report 693, 2nd Session, 46th Congress.  Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States.  [Sessions held Washington, beginning Tuesday, March 9, 1880]  U.S. Congressional Serial Set.