granny woman

Midwives and granny women.

Forty-three Wilson County midwives (41 black) met with state health officials to receive training. Wilson Daily Times, 17 June 1921.

Well into the 20th century, most babies in Wilson County were delivered by midwives, whose ranks were overwhelmingly comprised of African-American women. Here is a running list of them:

  • Rachel Armstrong Allen
  • Phereby Barnes Artis
  • Violet Barnes Barnes — in the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farm laborer Benjamen Barnes, 52; wife Vilet, 54, midwife; and Elvy, 10, Ailcey, 7, and Spicey, 6.
  • Nannie Best — in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Best Nannie midwife, h 332 S Lodge
  • Nancy Staton Boykin
  • Sarah Dawes Bunn
  • Charlotte Bynum — in the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Bynum Charlotte, midwife 553 E Nash
  • Bertha Cade — in the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Cade Bertha midwife, h 412 E Walnut
  • Lucy Sorsby Dail — Lucy Dail died 15 March 1928 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 63 years old; was born in Nash County to Nelson Salisbury and Carolina Cooper; was the widow of Jos. Dail; lived at 519 South Spring; and had been a midwife. Mary Proctor was informant.
  • Viney Drake
  • Mary Fuller
  • Mariah Battle Gaston
  • Maria Hicks — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Owens Smith, 49, minister; wife Adora, 30; son Jesse, 19; daughter Flossie, 4; widowed mother Maria Hicks, 78, a midwife; and boarder Carry Pettiford, a widowed teacher.
  • Fortune Hilliard
  • Nannie Kirby — Per death certificate, Kirby attended the stillbirth of Joseph Kent, son of Charlie and Victory Kent, on 6 October 1930 in Springhill township.
  • Anna Johnson — Per death certificate, Johnson attended the premature birth of Olive Frances Hannah, daughter of Lemore Hannah and Almeda Morgan, who was born 21 November 1930 and died 28 December 1930 in Wilson.

  • Olive Lindsey — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, Richard Lindsey, 51, mechanic; Olive, 42, midwife; and sons Richard, 14, Henry, 11, and Austin, 23, a drayman.
  • Mary Miller — in the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Miller Mary, midwife h 405 N Pine
  • Charlotte Minor — in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Minor Charlotte midwife, h 121 Manchester
  • Susan Mitchell — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Susiana Mitchel, 65, a “grannie,” and son Edd, 33, a barber. [A “granny-woman” was a midwife.]
  • Etta Plummer — in the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Plummer Etta midwife, h 1104 Wainwright Av
  • Bettie Pree — listed as midwife on the death certificate of the infant of James H. and Lillie Taylor, who was stillborn on 24 December 1917.
  • Cherry Rogers — in the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Watson Stanton, 65, wife Rosa, 53, children Richard, 15, Adeline, 13, Feribee, 8, and Louisa, 21; midwife Cherry Rogers, 80; and Hardy Barnes, 20.
  • Isabella Samuel — in the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Samuel Isabella midwife, 509 Church [residence ditto]
  • Caroline Williamson Vick
  • Mittie Wood — in the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Wood Mittie midwife, h 701 Railroad
  • Eliza Woodard — in the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Woodard Eliza midwife, h 1109 Woodard Av

1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, page 65.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 October 1921.

Nineteen and a half acres.

Know all men by these presents that we Thomas Stancil and Elizabeth Stancil of the said Thomas Stancil of Wilson County and State of North Carolina in consideration of the sum of one hundred and seven dollars to us paid by Benjamin Artis & Farby Artis of the County of Wilson & State of North Carolina the receipt whereof we do hereby acknowledged do hereby give grant bargain sell and convey unto the said Benjamine & Farby Artis their heirs and assigns forever a certain piece or parcel of land situated in the County and State aforesaid adjoining the lands of Gordin Thomas Penny Woodard and others and begins at a stake in Penny Woodard line and Runs S 48 W 108 po[les] with said Woodards line to a stake thence S  25 3/4 E 60 po[les] along the path to the beginning containing nineteen and a half acres More or less to have and to hold the same & the said Benjamine & Farbey Artis their heirs and assigns to them and to [illegible] and behoof forever and we the said Thomas Stancil & wife Elizabeth Stancil for our selves our heirs Executors and administrators shall warrant and defend the same to the said Benjamine & Farby Artis their heirs and assigns forever against the lawful claimes and [illegible] of all persons we hereunto signs our names and fix our seals this May the 12 day AD 1872.

Witness B.F. Briggs        /s/ Thomas Stancil, Elizabeth Stancil


In 1997, the Wilson County Genealogical Society published Some Black Families of Wilson County, North Carolina as part of its series, The Hugh B. Johnston Jr. Working Papers. Benjamin and Phariba Artis’ family were among those about whom Johnston left detailed notes based both on records and family and local lore.

Here are Johnston’s notes, with my comments in brackets:

The Old Picture of Benjamin and Phariba Artis

This picture, taken at Wilson about 1895, portrays two former slaves who became highly respected citizens of Gardner’s township in Wilson County. I borrowed the picture from my cousin Robert Edwin Stott of Wilson County. [Unfortunately, no copy of the photo is included.] Benjamin “Ben” Artis (1824-October 2, 1905) was a native of Greene County, it is said. About 1849 he married Phariba Woodard, daughter of London and Venus Woodard who were slaves of James Bullock Woodard. After “freedom” the Rev. London Woodard became the founder and first pastor of London’s Primitive Baptist Church which still exists on the eastern outskirts of Wilson. The two Artises were longtime members of the Oaken Grove Primitive Baptist Church. Ben’s parents were probably Solomon Williams and Vicey Artis. [No, they were not his parents. This appears to be a conjecture based on information I provided Johnston in 1988 about my ancestor, Adam T. Artis, who was in fact Solomon and Vicey’s son. As there is no evidence of Benjamin Artis’ freedom prior to 1866, I believe that he was born to an enslaved mother and a free father from whom he took his surname.]

“Aunt” Phariba was a “granny woman” or midwife and was greatly beloved by both whites and blacks. She was born in 1828 and died on September 30, 1905. She and her husband were buried in the London Woodard graveyard on land that was purchased before the Civil War by a free woman of color [Penny Lassiter] who became the second wife of the Rev. London Woodard.

“Aunt Phariba” assisted not only the colored families in the neighborhood but also a number of the best white families in Gardner’s township. Her services were frequently required in nursing, and she was in much demand where there was a need of domestic help of superior quality. She lived a long and useful life and died much lamented by her numerous family and friends.



In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Benj’n Artis, 46, farm laborer; wife Phebee, 42; and children and grandchildren Mary, 2, Julia, 6, Sarah, 17, Debby, 18, and Benjamin, 20. Benjamin reported owning $100 in real estate and $125 in personal property.

On February 1870, Benja Artis, son of Benj. Artis and Ferebee Artis, married Ferebee Barnes, daughter of Silas and Rosa Barnes, at Silas Barnes’. [Yes, Ben and Fereby Artis’ son Benjamin Jr. married a woman named Fereby.]

In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Benn Artis Sr., 54; wife Pheraba, 45; daughters Judia, 18, and Mary, 14; and grandson John, 11. Next door: Benn Artis, Jr., 31, Pheraba, 30, and Harett, 1.


In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Benjamin Artis, 76, wife Faber, 74, and grandson Wylie, 10. Fereby reported that only five of her 15 children were living.

The neighbors referred to in the deed were Jordan Thomas and Fereby’s step-mother Penny Lassiter Woodard.

Deed Book 6, page 255, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office, Wilson, North Carolina.