Farmer

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.

Studio shots, no. 145: James and Jenny F. Woodard.

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James and Jenny Farmer Woodard.

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Jack Woodard, 25; wife Cherry, 24, farm laborer; and daughter Martha, 2.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Jason Farmer, 33; wife Candas, 29; and children Florance, 9, Isaih, 6, and George, 4.

In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Jack Woodard, 36; wife Cherry, 36; and children Martha, 13, Mattie, 8, James, 6, Mary, 4, Fannie, 3, and Nicey, 5 months.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Jason Farmer, 43; wife Candas, 44; and children Florrence, 17, Isaiah, 13, Geo. W., 11, Jessie, 9, Jason, 6, Jennie, 4, and Mayland, 2.

On 13 January 1897, James Woodard, 22, married Jennie Farmer, 21, at the residence of Jason Farmer in Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer James Woodard, 25; wife Jennie, 26; and children Dophin, 3, Mary, 2, and Rosa, 1.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer James Woodard, 35; wife Gennie, 34; and children Dorthy Lee and Mary, 11, Rosa, 10, Minnie, 6, James Jr., 5, Walter, 3, Jonie, 2, and George D., 10 months; and niece Athena Adkins, 15.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Black Creek Road, James Woodard, 45; wife Jennie, 44; and children Rosa, 19, Mary, 21, Minnie, 16, James Jr., 14, Walter, 13, John, 12, George D., 10, Cherry, 8, Saphronnia, 7, Ed, 5, Jennie Lee, 3, and Martha, 1.

Jannie Woodard died 22 September 1922 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 May 1874 in Wilson to Jaison and Candas Farmer and was a farmer on her own land.

James Woodard died 4 February 1937 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 63 years old; was a widower; was a farmer; and was born in Wilson County to Jack and Charity Woodard.

Minnie Woodard, 22, of Wilson County, [daughter of James and Jennie Farmer Woodard,] married James Ellis, 22, of Wilson County, [son of William and Sarah Barnes Ellis,] on 22 March 1928 in Wilson County. Missionary Baptist minister Geo. Cooper performed the ceremony.

This post honors Minnie Doris Ellis Cummings, born in 1931 to James C. and Minnie Virginia Woodard Ellis. Mrs. Cummings, who passed away 22 March 2020, was one of the mothers of my childhood village. Rest in peace.

Top photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user ziggazigga; photo of Mrs. Cummings courtesy of Edwards Funeral Home, Wilson.

The Latham-Farmer marriage.

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 March 1948.

The Daily Times‘ 8 March 1948 edition announced the marriage of Nelson T. Farmer and Almeter L. Latham. Their marriage license gives a few more details (and the correct spellings of attendees’ names.)

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  • Mr. and Mrs. James Lathan — James H. Latham, 21, son of Moses Latham and Fannie [maiden name unknown], married Marzella Jones, 19, daughter of Daniel H. and Lillie J. Jones, at the bride’s home in Wilson on 5 October 1924. Free Will Baptist minister E.W. Hagans performed the ceremony in the presence of Peller Chambers, William Uzzell, and James Brady. In the 1930 census of Williamston, Martin County: on State Highway No. 90, farmer James Latham, 24; wife Marzella, 24; daughter Almeta, 5; and sister Carrie, 15.
  • Almeter La Verne Lathan
  • Nelson Thomas Farmer — Nelson Thomas Farmer registered for the World War II draft in 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 10 November 1925 in Wilson County; his contact was father John Robert Farmer, Elm City; and he worked for S.S. Daniel, Elm City.
  • Mr. and Mrs. John Farmer — in the 1940 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Jhon R. Farmer, 53; wife Clee, 46; and children Robert, 22, Ruth, 19, Willie, 16, Nelton, 14, Marshall, 12, and Mary Ann, 10.
  • Rev. P.J. McIntyre
  • Jennette Cooper — Jeanette Cooper.
  • Dan H. Jones — in the 1920 census of Rocky Point township, Pender County, North Carolina: widowed farmer Daniel H. Jones, 40, and children Ellis, 17, Lottie, 14, Marsella, 13, Daniel H. Jr., 11, Minnie, 9, Alexandra, 7, and Pembrook, 6. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 700 East Suggs Street, tobacco factory laborer Daniel H. Jones, 49; wife Lou H., 48; children Lottie, 23, Daniel Jr., 21, Alexand, 16, and Pembroke, 15; roomers Alexander, 23, and Minnie Yarborough, 20; grandchildren Hattie L., 16, David, 13, Marian, 24, and Etta Lewis, 21, James Maloyed, 6, and Mattie L. Lewis, 3; and roomer Willie Windley, 30.
  • Alice Jones
  • Rhody Jurify — Rhoda Jones Purefoy died 12 September 1969 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 November 1895 in Virginia to Dennis Jones and Sarah Eliza Miller; was a widow; and lived at 104 South Vick Street. Informant was Thaddeus Purefoy of the home.
  • Bert Farmer
  • Morris Farmer — in 1945, James Morris Farmer registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 4 June 1927 in Wilson County; his contact was John R. Farmer; and he worked “farming with father.”

A producer of fine quality tobacco.

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Wilson Daily Times, 9 August 1946.

Floyd W. Farmer was not only a prosperous farmer, he was a force in the effort to get Wilson County to build rural high schools for African-Americans in the late 1940s.

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In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Cromwell Farmer, 57; wife Mary Jane, 48; and children James, 20, Ida, 20, Cromwell, 19, Ella, 17, Maggie, 16, Clara, 14, Floyd, 12, Viola, 9, Liola, 9, Esther, 8, Lee A., 7, and George, 6.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Mary Jane Farmer, 65, and children Floyd W., 21, Leola, 19, Viola, 19, Queen Esther, 17, and George, 15.

In 1940, Floyd Willie Farmer applied for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born in April 1919 in Wilson; lived on Route 1, Elm City; his contact was mother Mary Jane Farmer; and he worked as a tenant farmer for Mrs. M.A. Bryant.

On 14 November 1942, Floyd Farmer, 24, of Elm City, son of Crumel and Mary J. Farmer, married Odell Sharp, 20, of WIlson, daughter of Alvin and Carrie Sharp, in Wilson. C.E. Artis applied for the license, and a justice of the peace performed the ceremony in the presence of J.H. Forbes, J.E. Miles and B.E. Howard.

Floyd W. Farmer died 16 April 2014.

Valentine Farmer buys four acres.

This indenture made the 4th day of September in the year of our lord eighteen hundred & seventy three between Warren Woodard & Jerusha Woodard wife of Warren Woodard of the County of Wilson & State of North Carolina of the first part & Volentine Farmer of the County of Wilson & State of North Carolina of the second part Witnesseth that the said party of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged has given bargained sold & granted & conveyed and does hereby give grant bargain sell & convey to the said party of the second part his heirs and assigns all that tract or parcel of land lying in the County of Wilson State of North Carolina bounded as follows Beginning at at a lightwood stake in S.B. Farmers line thence N 85 East by chaines & thirty two & 1/2 links to a lightwood stake thence N 1 East Six chaines and thirty two and 1/2 links to a stake thence S 5 E six chaines and thirty two and 1/2 links to a stake in line thence S 1 west by chaines & thirty two & 1/2 link to the first station containing four acres to have & to hold the same with the appurtenances thereunto belonging Volentine Farmer the said party of the second part his heirs and assigns forever And the said party of the first part for the consideration aforesaid does hereby covenant and agree to warrant and defend the persons(?) aforesaid to the said party of the second part his Executors Administrators and assigns against the claims & entry of all persons whatsoever And said Warren Woodard and Jerusha Woodard does further Covenant that the said Volentine Farmer is seized of the premises in fee simple and has power to make and convey such an estate by this Indenture and has  done the same by these

In witness whereof the said party of the first part has hereunto [set] their hand & seals on the day & year above written    /s/ Warren Woodard, Jerusha Woodard

Witness M.D. (X) Franklin

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Valentine Farmer paid Warren and Jerusha Woodard the nominal sum of one dollar for four acres, his first land purchase. Jerusha Farmer Woodard was the daughter of Moses Farmer Sr., Valentine Farmer’s former owner, which may shed light on the basis of the favorable transaction.

Deed book 8, page 194, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.