Farmer

Killed as she crossed the street.

Wilson Daily Times, 23 May 1928.

Mattie Farmer was knocked down and killed as she crossed from one side of the 500 block of Nash Street, where she lived, to the other. 

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Mattie Farmer died 23 May 1928 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 28  years old; was married Eli Farmer; lived at 522 East Nash Street; worked as a common laborer; and was born in Laurinburg, N.C., to Henry and Hattie McLaurin. She was buried in Rountree cemetery.

Military funeral for Cpl. Lonnie E. Farmer.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 April 1949.

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In the 1920 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer Josh Farmer, 42; wife Mattie, 36; and children William A., 12, Luther, 9, Joshia W., 6, Warneda, 4, Lonnie D., 2, and Baby, 6 months.

In the 1930 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer Josh Farmer, 51; wife Mattie, 46; and children William A., 21, Josh W., 17, Waneta, 14, Lonnie D., 12, Robert, 10, Albert H., 6, and J.C., 3.

In the 1940 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Jack Farmer, 57; wife Mattie, 55; and children Authur, 28, Jack Jr., 23, Robert, 20, Harry, 16, and J.C., 13; daughter Juanita Barnes, 22, and her children Mattie Lee, 3, and Marjorie, 1.

Lonnie Edward Farmer registered for the World War iI draft in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 26 August 1919 in Wilson; his contact was his mother Mattie Farmer; and he worked for J.T. Dew, Wilson.

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Just three years before Cpl. Farmer’s death in the Phillipines, the Farmer family’s youngest son, J.C., also a World War II veteran, was murdered by law enforcement officers near Sims.

Confession.

In February 1938, glorified gossip columnist John G. Thomas penned a column about the guilt-soaked confession of William Mercer, who had killed Wade Farmer in the summer of 1921, then fled the state. Mercer had joined a church in his adopted home of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and his conscience preyed on him as he stood in the choir stand.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 February 1938.

The details are difficult to pin down. When the Daily Times article broke the story of William Mercer, alias Green, on 21 February 1938, it quoted B.E. Howard, the sheriff at the time of the murder, who admitted he could barely recall the details of the incident — had the victim had been shot or stabbed? — though he thought it occurred after a “negro dance or frolic.” On the other hand, the 27 February Raleigh News and Observer reported that an argument had broken out at a church gathering, and Farmer “got in the road” of a bullet fired from Mercer’s gun.

Wade Farmer’s death certificate does not shed much light:

Per the document, Wade Farmer of Macclesfield died in Gardners township near Wilbanks in May 1922.  He was 22 years old, married to Minnie Farmer, and farmed for Essex Webb, who could provide no information about his parents. The medical certification section is so faded as to be almost unreadable, except for “198,” which was the code for “homicide by cutting or piercing instrument.” The place and date of burial and undertaker fields are similarly washed out, and the registrar did not sign it until 3 January 1923.

On 5 March 1938, the Daily Times reported that Mercer had pled guilty to Farmer’s murder, and a judge had sentenced the 42 year-old to one and-a-half to three years, saying he had been merciful because Mercer had given himself up voluntarily.

But had he really?

Wilson Times, 7 September 1934.

Just four years before Mercer’s “confession,” around the time he claimed he had gotten religion, the Times reported that he had been indicted for Wade Farmer’s May 1922 murder and was to be extradited from New Jersey. Mercer had been arrested in Bridgeton, New Jersey, forty miles south of Philadelphia.

Why, then, the framing of Mercer’s come-to-Jesus moment as the astonishing re-appearance after 17 years of a man who’d gone underground for a crime barely remembered? 

Well, in part, because the man arrested in New Jersey in 1934 and hauled back to Wilson was not William Mercer. Rather, he was Ben Faison, originally of Faison, North Carolina. Though an informant positively identified the man as Mercer, several others who “looked him over” said he was not. On 21 September, the Daily Times informed its readers that Wilson police nonetheless would hold Faison until they were satisfied of his identity. 

So, while law enforcement had never forgotten Farmer’s murder, Mercer’s apprehension was entirely the result of his own doing. He had made an apparently upstanding life for himself in Pennsylvania and had completely cut ties with Wilson in order to do so. When his mother Fannie Mercer visited him at the Wilson County jail, it was the first time she had seen her son in 17 years.

News and Observer, 27 February 1938.

Emma Jane Farmer fatally injured.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 December 1928.

The Daily Times misnamed the victim of this terrible accident. Emma Jane Barnes Farmer was killed near Holden’s Crossroads while standing behind her father John Barnes‘ automobile holding a lantern. Reddin Walston, a white teenager, was arrested and charged with her death, but freed after a grand jury refused to indict him. He was rearrested in January 1928 after a judge received additional evidence in the case. I have not been able to determine whether Walston was convicted. However, nine years later, Walston’s uncle shot and killed him in a dispute over liquor.

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Tom Farmer, 43, of Wilson township, married Emma Barnes, 25, of Gardners township, on 24 October 1927. Primitive Baptist minister John R. Barnes performed the ceremony in Gardners township in the presence of Charlie Davis, Florence Battle, and Elijah Barnes

Emma Jane Farmer died 11 December 1928 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 26 years old; was born in Wilson County to John Barnes and Bettie Parker; was married to Thomas Farmer; and was a tenant farmer on Sallie Gray’s farm. Her cause of death was “concussion of brain” six hours after an auto accident.

Farmer’s mare stolen.

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Wilson Advance, 21 June 1888.

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The 1900 census of Wilson County lists three men named Toby Farmer, any of whom might have been the man whose horse was stolen. (Though barber Tobias Farmer, who lived in town, is least likely.)

In Black Creek township: John Melton, 42, farmer; wife Lucy, 43; sons John, 15, and Samuel D., 3; stepson Johnson Farmer, 23; and father-in-law Tobious Farmer, 75, widower.

In Wilson township: Tobias Farmer, 70, wife Willie, 69, and son Warren, 48.

In Wilson town: day laborer Junius, 22, Rosa, 17, Freeda, 10, Robert, 7, Richard, 5, Mark, 2, and Ericker Farmer, 7 months, plus boarder Tobias Farmer, 48, barber.

Studio shots, no. 154: Cromwell and Charity Farmer Bullock.

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Cromwell and Charity Farmer Bullock.

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In 1866, Cromwell Bullock and Charity Farmer registered their 17-year marriage with a Wilson County justice of the peace.

In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farm laborer Crummell Bullock, 49; wife Charity, 45, farm laborer; and children Nathaniel, 14, Crummell, 12, Caroline, 9, Milly, 6, Peter, 4, and Harry, 2.

In the 1880 census of Auters Creek township, Edgecombe County: Crumell Bullock, 62, farmer; wife Charity, 49; and children Crumell Jr., 22, Carolina, 19, Milly, 17, Peter, 13, Harry, 11, Jessie, 9, Dempsy, 7, and Leer, 5.

Per her grave marker, Charity Bullock was born 12 January 1833 and died 26 December 1893. She was buried in Bullock family cemetery in Edgecombe County.

In the 1900 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Cromwell Bullock, 70; wife Fanner, 57; and stepchildren Priscilla, 19, and Benny, 17.

On 3 June 1903, Crummel Bullock, 70, of Edgecombe County, married Polly Wootten, 55, of Saratoga township, daughter of Reuben [illegible] and Gatsey Moore, in Saratoga township, Wilson County.

Cromwell Bullock made out his will in Edgecombe County on 29 October 1907. Per its terms: (1) to wife Pollie, the cleared land of the Pollie Edwards tract and permission to use all the wood and lightwood off that tract; ten barrels of corn; a cart and gear; a set of farming tools; a horse and buggy; 1000 pounds of fodder; 200 pounds of wheat; a sow and pigs; three still chairs; kitchen furniture; tubs, buckets, wash and dinner pots; (2) to children Cromwell Bullock, Millie Scarborough, John Bullock, Nathan Bullock, and Lea Moore, $50 each; to granddaughter Charity Edwards, $25; to children Peter Bullock, Jesse Bullock, Dempsey Bullock and Caroline James, all his real estate, and son Harry Bullock to have the house in which Henry and Lea Moore were living; (3) all moneys for minor heirs to be deposited in Wilson Savings Bank until child reaches age twenty.

In the 1910 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: on Fountain Road, Cromwell Bullock, 84, and wife Poly, 54. Cromwell reported that he had been married three times.

On 9 February 1910, Harry C. Bullock, 43, of Edgecombe County, son of Cromwell and Charity Bullock, married Ida Vines, 24, of Edgecombe County, daughter of Jesse and Matilda Carney, at the Edgecombe County Courthouse.

On 6 October 1919, in Pitt County, Cromwell Bullock prepared a codicil to his will to note that his children had already been deeded the tracts of land set forth in the earlier document.

In the 1920 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: Crumwell Bullock, 105, and wife Pollie, 88.

Cromwell Bullock died 26 January 1920 in Township No. 9, Edgecombe County. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1815; was married to Polly Bullock; and was born in Plymouth, N.C. Peter Bullock was informant.

Polly Bullock died 2 February 1920 in Township No. 9, Edgecombe County. Per her death certificate, she was about 80 years old; was married to Crumwell Bullock; was a farmer’s wife; and was born in Edgecombe County to Howell and Gatsey Moore. Dempsey Bullock was informant.

Peter Bullock died 30 April 1938 in Township No. 9, Edgecombe County. Per his death certificate, he was born 1874 in Wilson County to Cromwell Bullock and Charity Farmer, both born in Wilson County [the Bullocks lived in the area where Wilson, Edgecombe and Pitt Counties meet near the town of Fountain, and their various birth places and residences are attributed to all three counties]; was married to Fannie Bullock; was a farmer; and was buried in Bullock cemetery.

Harry Bullock died 4 November 1942 in Township No., 9, Edgecombe County. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 April 1873 in Wilson County to Cromrall Bullock and Charity Farmer, both born in Edgecombe County; was single; and was buried in Bullock cemetery.

Dempsey Bullock died 18 November 1946 in Gardners township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 9 April 1873 in Pitt County to Cromwell Bullock and Chariety [last name unknown], both born in Pitt County; was married to Marina McNair Bullock; was a farmer; and was buried in Bullock cemetery near Fountain, N.C. Informant was Carlas Bullock, Stantonsburg.

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user algorham1.

The colored brethren of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church.

In 1946, the Wilson Daily Times published an article by Hugh B. Johnston commemorating the history of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church. I’ve excerpted below the sections that mention the church’s African-American members.

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Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, Asheville Post Card Co., undated.

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“On April 24, 1920, the Church agreed to begin construction as soon as possible and to include a baptismal pool, memorial windows for a number of outstanding members, and a balcony for the convenience of remaining colored brethren.”

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“A gallery for colored members ran entirely around the second story of the [1859] church, excepting the end above the tall, broad pulpit.”

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At a conference held at the Tosneot Baptist Church on Sept. 23, 1865, “a proposition was made and agreed to that all colored members that had ‘left their owners before the proclamation of freedom was made, and gone to the Yankees should be dealt with and excluded if they could not give satisfaction of their disorder.’ … [N]one of the offending members appeared … [and when they failed to appear at a postponed date,] motion was made to expel them: on which motion servants Thomas Farmer and Redic Barnes were expelled from all rights of the church.”

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“As a result of the formation of London’s Primitive Baptist Church for the convenience of the colored membership who were being served outside of regular meetings by Elder London Woodard, a conference was held at the Tosneot church on May 21, 1870, and “the following resolution was adopted by unanimous consent of the members, white and colored, that in the future, as before, the white members of the church shall have the entire control of the discipline and government of the church as this place. [This understanding was entered into the minutes] so as in after days there could not be any misunderstanding between the white and colored members of this church.”

Wilson Daily Times, 19 November 1946.

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Some thoughts:

  • The balcony in the back of the 1920 church is visible starting at 1:29 of this Youtube video.
  • What African-Americans were members of Wilson Primitive Baptist as late as 1920? Do the church’s records exist?
  • I have been unable to identify specifically Thomas Farmer and Reddick Barnes, the members who audaciously took their freedom into their own hands.
  • “The formation of London’s Primitive Baptist Church for the convenience of the colored membership who were being served outside of regular meetings” by London Woodard sounds like more like a recognition of a new reality: Toisnot’s black members had left to worship among themselves under a charismatic black preacher. It’s not surprising that those who remained unanimously agreed that white people would control the church.

Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, 1859-1920. The gallery for black members ran along three interior walls. Marion Monk Moore Collection, Images of North Carolina, http://www.digitalnc.org.

 

The obituary of Eleanor F. Hooker.

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Wilson Daily Times, 18 October 1944.