I’ve written about the artistry of Clarence Best‘s distinctive grave markers and the markers I’ve dubbed Concrete Stipple Style. Another common school of gravestones found in Black Wilson County cemeteries is one I’ll call Anchor-and-Ivy. The basic form: a concrete monolith with rounded top; a panel featuring an anchor and ivy vine; deeply stamped letters in a strongly serifed, all-caps font similar to Century Schoolbook; tight line spacing; and irregular indentation. They also often display lengthy, if formulaic, epitaphs.
The headstones below are found across Wilson County, though I’ve seen the style as far afield as southern Wayne County. Were they the work of a single artist or workshop?
Renda wife of James Green. Died June 2, 1908, Age 47 Yrs. Gone to a brighter home where death cannot come.
W.S. Ward. Born Apr. 12, 1901. Died Jan. 12, 1929. Another link is broken in our household bank, but a chain is forming in a better land.
I don’t know when or why two dozen intact headstones, and bits of several more, were piled atop one another in Odd Fellow cemetery’s midsection, or who did it. (Though I don’t believe this was the city’s dirty work.) Here’s the way I found a buried stack in the pile.
After disassembling the visible stack, I prodded the earth around it for hidden stones. My soil probe struck a solid surface here:
I snapped the wisteria runners with a lopper, brushed away soil and leaves, and found this:
I turned it over — the top half, and below that the bottom half, of the headstone of infant Johnnie McNeal. (And a few pieces from a different grave marker.)
Below McNeal’s headstone, another came into view.
This belonged to Belle Dewey, who died in the middle of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic.
And under Belle Dewey’s stone, half the headstone of Adeline, wife of Daniel S[mith], plus more bits of others.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Willis Barnes, 30; wife Cherry, 25; and children Rachel, 7, West, 5, Jesse, 2, and Ned, 5 months.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Willis Barnes, 42; wife Cherey, 20; stepdaughter[?] Rachel Battle, 17; children Wesley, 15, Jesse, 13, Ned, 11, Eddie, 7, and Mary Barnes, ; niece Ellen Battle, 2; and son Willey Barnes, 1.
On 21 September 1882, Mike Taylor, 20, Wilson, married Rachel Barnes, 19, of Wilson, in Wilson. Baptist minister Louis Croom performed the ceremony in the presence of W.T. Battle and Edmon Pool. [Prominent planter Howell G. Whitehead (Jr. or Sr.?) applied for the marriage license on Mike Taylor’s behalf, suggesting a personal relationship — most likely employment. Whitehead erroneously named Taylor’s father as “John” Taylor and admitted he did not know the names of Taylor’s mother or either of Barnes’ parents.]
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Mike Taylor, 36, drayman; wife Rachel, 36; and childrenRoderick, 17, Maggie, 14, Mattie, 13, Maddie, 12, Bertha E., 8, and Hennie G., 6. Rachel and daughters Maggie, Mattie and Maddie were occupied at washing. Roderick and the youngest girls “go to school.”
On 16 May 1906, W.T. Taylor applied for a marriage license for Roddrick Taylor, 23, of Wilson, 23, son of Mike Taylor and Rachel Taylor, and Mary J. Pender of Wilson, 18. Fred M. Davis, Baptist Minister, performed the ceremony the same day at Mike Taylor’s in Wilson, with witnesses W.T. Taylor and Addie Rauls.
On 30 May 1906, W.I. Barnes, 22, married Madie Taylor, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Mike and Rachel Taylor, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister N.D. King performed the ceremony in the presence of William Mitchell, Alex H. Walker, Roderick Taylor, and Sarah Ward.
On 10 August 1906, Sam Ennis, 22, of Durham, N.C., son of Freeman and Della Ennis of Smithfield, N.C., married Maggie Taylor, 20, of Durham, daughter of Mike and Rachel Taylor of Wilson, in Durham. Presbyterian minister I.H. Russell performed the ceremony.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lee Street, drayman Mike Taylor, 52; wife Rachel, 51, laundress; daughters Mattie, 21, Bertha, 18, and Henny, 16, laundresses; and niece Louise, 12.
Hennie Taylor died 25 December 1916 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 1897 in Wilson County to Mike Taylor and Rachel Barnes; worked as a domestic; and was buried in Wilson. Rodderick Taylor was informant.
On 14 January 1920, Bertha Taylor, 24, of Wilson, married Jimmie Reaves, 26, of Pitt County, in Wilson. Rev. B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of Roderick Taylor, John Barber, and Van Smith.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 114 Lee Street, Mike H. Taylor, 50, cook in cafe; wife Rachel, 58; son [actually, nephew] Tom Perry, 12; bricklayer Van Smith, 33, and his wife Mattie, 28.
Rachel Taylor died 2 October 1925 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 54 years old; was born in Wilson County to Willis Barnes and Cherry Barnes; was married to Mike Taylor; lived at 108 West Lee Street; was buried in Wilson; and worked as a laundress. Roddrick Taylor was informant.
Mike Taylor died 8 January 1927 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was about 68 years old; was the widower of Rachel Taylor; worked as a day laborer; was born in Wilson County to Green Taylor and Ferby Taylor; and was buried in Wilson. Roddrick Taylor was informant.
Roderick Taylor Sr. died 4 August 1947 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 March 1882 in Wilson to Henry Taylor and Rachel Barnes and worked as a barber. Informant was Mary J. Taylor, 607 East Green St., City.
Bertha Reaves died 18 June 1962 in Greenville, Pitt County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was born 12 March 1891 in Wilson County to Henry Taylor and Rachel [no maiden name]; was married to James Reaves; worked as an elevator operator; and lived at 1400 West Fourth Street, Greenville. She was buried in Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson.
I’ve gone on and on about the artistry of Clarence B. Best, the marble cutter who carved hundreds of gravestones in and around Wilson County between the 1920s and mid-1970s. Now, after a few years of exploring local African-American cemeteries, I recognize the signature work of other monument makers. Whether the work of an individual, like Best, or a company, they were likely produced in Wilson or an adjoining county, and perhaps by African-American craftsmen.
One common type of concrete monuments dates from the first quarter of the twentieth century. The basic design, which I will call Concrete Stipple Style, is a large rectangle with rounded edges, a smooth central field with stamped block letters and no punctuation, and a stippled border. Unlike Clarence Best’s work, the inscriptions are rigorously centered. I do not know enough about molding concrete to speculate why so many Concrete Stipple stones develop a deep crack about one-third down the face of the monument. (See below.)
My guess would have been that this is a foot stone for the grave of Charles S. Thomas, who died in 1937. However, this marker is in the Masonic cemetery, and Charles S. Thomas’ lovely headstone is in Odd Fellows.
This lovely little headstone was discovered in Odd Fellows cemetery this very morning by volunteers at Lane Street Project’s Clean-Up Kick-Off!
Lula Dew Wooten’s grandparents and several generations of descendants are buried in the Dew cemetery on Weaver Road, northeast of Wilson. Lula’s grave in Odd Fellows cemetery suggests that she was buried in a plot purchased for her and her husband, Simeon Wooten. Wooten died in 1950, and his death certificate lists his burial location as “Rountree.” As we know, Rountree was the name broadly applied to Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick cemetery.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Jeff Dew, 38; wife Jane, 32, farm laborer; children Bessie, 12, Lesse, 9, Lula, 8, Nettie, 6, James E., 3, Lizzie, 2, and Jesse, 1 month.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Nash Road, Jeff Dew, 46, farmer; wife Jane, 43, farm laborer; children Bessie, 21, Lessie, 19, Lula, 17, Nettie, 16, Eddie, 13, Lizzie, 12, Jessie, 9, Joseph, 8, Margaret, 6, and Jonah, 3. Jane and all but the youngest two children worked as farm laborers.
In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Rocky Mount Road via Town Creek, Jefferson Dew, 57, farmer; wife Jane, 55; children Lula, 26, Nettie, 24, Eddie, 22, Jesse, 20, Joe, 17, Margaret, 16, and Jonie, 14.
On 11 July 1920, Sim Wooten, 38, of Wilson, son of John and Claudia Wooten, married Lula Dew, 26, of Wilson, daughter of Jeff and Jane Dew, at Jeff Dew’s residence. Daniel A. Crawford applied for the license, and Primitive Baptist minister C.H. Hagans performed the ceremony in the presence of Moses Dew, J.C. Lassiter, and John P. Battle.
Lulu Jane Wooten died 7 November 1927 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 May 1892 in Wilson County to Jefferson Dew and Jane Weaver; was married to Simeon Wooten; lived at 510 South Lodge, Wilson; and was a dressmaker.
Tuesday’s clean-up netted two and a half intact additional gravestones — Gray Pender and his daughter Louvenia Pender and Lottie Marlow, whose name was hidden on the enshrouded side of the marker she shares with her husband Daniel Marlow. Gray and Louvenia Pender’s headstone were nearly buried under vines and leaf mulch within a few feet of one another. A large base (without a headstone) nearby suggests additional graves in what appears to be a Pender family plot. In addition, about 25 feet east, we found a small concrete marker carved with the initials B.E. along one edge.
Gray Pender and Louvenia Pender
Gray Pender born Feb 15 1861 died Aug 22 1928 Beloved father farewell
Louvenia dau of Gray & Katie Pender born Dec. 23, 1885 died July 4, 1908
We first met Gray Pender in 1877, when his grandfather Abram Farmer petitioned for guardianship after the death of Gray’s parents.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Rich’d Pender, 28, farm laborer; wife Sarah, 25; and sons Gray, 9, and George, 1.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, farmer Abram Farmer, 63; wife Rhoda, 45; step-children Charlotte, 16, Kenneth, 15, Fannie, 11, and Martha, 10; and grandchildren Gray Pender, 17, Gray Farmer, 19; and Thad, 13, and John Armstrong, 10.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Gray Pender, 37, farmer; wife Katie, 36; and children Richard [Richmond], 16, Louvenia, 13, Caroline, 10, Wilson, 6, Floyd, 4, and Jonah, 11 months.
Louvenia Pender died in 1908, prior to the issuance of death certificates in Wilson County.
In the 1910 census to Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Gray Pender, 47; wife Lillie, 35; and Eliza, 18 months, and Aniky, 4 months.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: laundress Katy Pender, 47, and children Richmond, 26, grocery store delivery man, Carrie, 18, Willie, 16, Floyd, 14, and Joseph, 10. [Apparently, Gray Pender and Katie Pender were permanently separated or divorced.]
Catie Pender died 16 December 1910 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 48 years old; was born in Wilson County to George and Carolina Woodard; worked washing and ironing; and was married. (Her cause of death: laryngitis and “change of life.”)
In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Grey Pender, 58; wife Lily, 44; and children Elijah, 11, Annie, 10, Herman, 8, Rosetta, 9, Furney, 6, Dennis, 4, and Victoria, 2.
Grey Pender died 22 August 1928 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 67 years old; was born in Wilson County to Richmond and Sarah Pender; was married to Lillie Pender; and was a tenant farmer for Mrs. Mattie Williams.
Lottie wife of Daniel Marlow born Oct 11 1874 died Feb 6 1916
D.J. Marlow, 28, of Wilson, married Lottie Battle, 23, of Wilson, daughter of Turner and Effie Battle, on 2 February 1898 at Mrs. F.A. Battle‘s. A.M.E. Zion minister H.H. Bingham performed the ceremony in the presence of W.A. Roberts, Charles H. Darden, and Linc[?] Mills.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Dan G. Marlow, 40; wife Lottie, 35; and Hattie May, 6.
Lottie Marlow died 6 February 1916 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 41 years old; was born Edgecombe County to Turner Battle and Effie Parker; was a widow; and was a factory hand. Effie Battle was informant.
Here is a closer look at a photograph published in the Wilson Daily Times in February 1989. Ben Mincey Jr. is shown standing at the grave of his father, Benjamin Mincey, renowned as a chief of the Red Hot Hose Company, an all-Black volunteer fire company. Fittingly, Mincey Sr.’s gravemarker is a fire hydrant.
Tragically, that grave is in Odd Fellows cemetery, and today the hydrant is strangled by wisteria vines.
Marker of the grave of Benjamin Mincey (ca. 1881-1950).
After reading about Cornelius Barnes, Officer Jose A. Rivera Jr. visited Bethel cemetery to look for his grave. Officer Rivera and the Stantonsburg Police Department have taken an interest in the upkeep of this historic graveyard, and he sent this photo this morning. (The marker was carved by the fine folk artist and stonecutter Clarence B. Best.)
It was chilly Saturday morning, too, but not as bitingly cold as at my last visit. This time, I focused on the end of Odd Fellows cemetery closest to its boundary with Vick.
First depressing thing I notice — some jackass has been spinning donuts in Vick cemetery.
Once I clawed my way into Odd Fellows, though I was achingly aware that the depressions I was stumbling in were collapsed gravesites, I didn’t see much beyond broken stones scattered here and there across the forest floor.
Have I mentioned the vines? The vines are insane.
The low-lying back of the property, which has standing water, probably year-round.
After poking around in piles of broken bottles and rusted-out enamelware, I finally spotted a cluster of grave markers about thirty feet distant.
This is the only military headstone I’ve seen in Rountree or Odd Fellows, and may be the only military marker I’ve seen anywhere with “after-market” enhancement.
James F. Scott North Carolina PVT 365 INF 92 DIV March 28, 1939 Born March 6, 1887 Who is now with the Lord
In the 1910 census of Weldon township, Halifax County, North Carolina: farmer John Scott, 53; wife Mary J., 46; and children James F., 22, Annie B., 16, Salomie A., 15, John A., 13, Sylvester, 11, Eliga, 9, Mary E., 7, David, 5, Sarah J., 3, and Inthe, 1.
James Franklin Scott registered for the World War I draft in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 6 March 1887 in Wayne County, N.C.; lived on “Robinson” Street, Wilson; worked as a porter for Carroll Grocery Company; and was single.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wainwright Street, farm operator John Scott, 60; wife Mary, 51; and children James, 30, wholesale company helper; Elijah, 19, David, 14, Sarah, 11, and Ianthe, 13.
Bessie Wife of John McGowan Born 1888 Jan. 7 1925 Gone But Not Forgotten
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John McGowan, 40, brickmason; wife Bessie, 35; and Beatriss, 13.
Jesse Parker Dec. 1, 1890 Apr. 12, 1937 light from our household is gone
And then there was this stack, roped with vines:
The broken granite marker supports two intact concrete headstones, two marble footstones, and a few other chunks of rock.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Edd Hunter, 27, odd jobs laborer.
Ed Hunter, 27, married Minnie Woodard, 23, daughter of Ruffin and Lucy Woodard, on 28 December 1910 at Lucy Woodard’s in Wilson. Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of James H. Knight, J.L.Barnes Jr., and Joe Baker.
Ed Hunter, 30, married Lossie Ruffin, 27, on 18 March 1914. Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at William Coppedge’s in Wilson in the presence of William Coppedge, Timcy Jones, and Bessie McGowan.
In 1918, Ed Hunter registered for the World War I draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 30 August 1883; lived on Carroll Street, Wilson; worked at Barnes-Harrell bottling plant; and his nearest relative was Lossie Hunter.
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Washington Street, laborer Edd Hunter, 37; wife Lossie, 33; children Maeoma, 3, and Eliza, 1; and step-children Inise, 13, and Addie L. Ruffin, 11.
Rufus Son of James & Amelia Artis Born July 16, 1900 Died Apr. 24, 1916
Blount Artis died 24 April 1916 in Boon Hill township, Johnston County. Per his death certificate, he was about 16 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jim Artis and Amelia Artis; was single; and worked as a clerk in a drugstore. Charles Gay was informant. [Though the first name is different, this appears to be the same boy as Rufus Artis.]
Tempsy Wife of Rufus Speight Died July 16, 1917 Aged 75 Yrs. Gone to a Better Home, Where Grief Cannot Come.
In the 1870 census of Upper Fishing Creek township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Rufus Speight, 23; wife Tempsy, 25; and children Isabella, 8, Rufus, 3, and Celey, 1.
In the 1880 census of Upper Fishing Creek township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Rufus Speight, 45; wife Tempsy, 38; and children Isabella, 19, Rufus, 12, Wesley, 8, and Celey A., 10, and Mattie, 4.
Back toward the cleared section of the cemetery near the road, two broken concrete markers lay atop the marble base of a missing monument that must have been quite large.
Only the footstone of Mark H. Cotton, engraved with the Odd Fellows’ triple links symbol, is standing.
Mark Cotton, 23, married Jane Freeman, 22, on 27 February 1878 in Wilson, Minister Joseph Green performed the ceremony in the presence of I.S. Westbrook, S.W. Westbrook, and Charles Smith.
In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: laborer Dempsey Parker, 60; wife Phareby, 50; and children Mark, 27, works in nursery, Sanders, 23, laborer; Mary, 22, cook; and Lemuel, 40, laborer.
Mark H. Cotton, 45, son of Dempsy and Fereby Cotton, married Mahalia Battle, 22, daughter of Turner and Effie Battle, on 26 June 1895 at the residence of Mahalia Battle in Wilson. Henry C. Rountree applied for the license, and Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Thomas J. Day and J.T. Deans of Wilson and J.T. Tomlinson of Black Creek.
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: graded school janitor Mark Cotton, 45; wife Mahaley, 27; daughter Mary E., 2, and adopted daughter Rosa L., 11.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Gold Street, school janitor Mark Cotton, 52.
Mark Cotton 67, son of Dempsey and Farebee Cotton, married Minnie Brooks, 38, daughter of Tobe Farmer, on 11 December 1922 in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of Edward Smith, Sallie Smith, and Rosa Arrington.
Mark Henry Cotton died 19 November 1934 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 95 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to Dempsey Cotton and Fariby Mercer; was married to Minnie Cotton; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Wilson.
Wilson Daily Times, 20 November 1934.
I stepped from the wood line into the cleared section of Odd Fellows cemetery. At its line with Rountree cemetery, remnants of a stone border nestle in moss, then the ground dips into a vine-choked ditch. Below, the city has recently clear-cut the western side of the street, a section of which was once part of Rountree cemetery. A short stretch of stone or concrete border remains.
Naturalized daffodils hint at the strip’s past as a graveyard.
This ambiguous concrete rectangle is the sole evidence I saw of a grave marker.
Picking my way toward the back edge of the cleared section, it dawned on me that this was once the main entrance to Odd Fellows. The hinges on the post to the right were the give-away. And the traces of asphalt driveway.
Standing near Irma Vick‘s headstone and looking in, I spotted this, plain as day. It’s hard to imagine how I missed it in December.
It’s the double headstone of Daniel and Fannie Blount Vick, Samuel H. Vick‘s father and mother. Daniel Vick died in 1908 (112 years to the day before my “discovery” of his grave) and Fannie Vick sometime in the late 1800s. (Is that a bullet pockmark?)
A few feet away, the headstone of Viola Leroy Vick, daughter of Samuel and Annie Washington Vick. She died as a toddler in 1897, and East Wilson’s Viola Street was named in her honor.
And then, perhaps 25 feet away, cocooned in honeysuckle and evil smilax, this monument loomed. Was it Sam Vick’s?
To my astonishment — no. The honeysuckle pulled off like a cape (after I wasted time hacking at the briars on the other side) to reveal that this remarkable marble headstone, which tops six feet, marks the grave of Wiley Oates. (More about him later.) Samuel and Annie Vick’s gravestones remain elusive.
I’d bought the cheapest hand pruners I could find, and they performed cheaply, but I got through to this gravestone and its companion, which appear to lie across the property line in Rountree cemetery.
The gravestone for Amos Batts’ wife, Jennie Batts, who died in 1945. Behind it in the left corner of the frame you can see the base of a pine whose diameter is at least two feet, which gives a measure of how long this cemetery has been neglected.
Here is the “canal” described in the Rountree cemetery deed. It’s a channeled section of Sandy Creek, and I imagine Rountree Missionary Baptist Church once performed baptisms here. I spent idyllic childhood afternoons exploring along the banks of this waterway perhaps a quarter-mile downstream. Sandy Creek is a tributary of Hominy Swamp, which flows into Contentnea Creek, which empties into the Neuse River at Grifton, North Carolina.
Here, I’m standing on the south bank of Sandy Creek looking down into the bowl that was once Rountree cemetery. I have not found any markers in this low-lying section, though there appear to be collapsed graves. Repeated flooding was one of the factors that led to the abandonment of cemetery. The undergrowth is starting to green up and, as the weather warms, soon these graveyards will be nearly impenetrable without sharper, heavier tools.
Daffodils are not native to eastern North Carolina and would not ordinarily be found blooming in the middle of the woods. This thick drift has naturalized from bulbs perhaps more than one hundred years old. Daffodils were commonly planted in cemeteries to symbolize the death of youth or mortality.
My exit strategy failed at the edge of barricade of wild blackberry twenty-five feet deep between me and Lane Street. I had to scramble back through the woods to gain egress at the ditch dividing Rountree from Odd Fellows. All this battling ate up my time, and I wasn’t able to explore the far end of Odd Fellows, next to Vick. Peering through the fence, though, I did see this marker for Lizzie May Barnes, daughter of H. and L. Barnes, who died in 1919.
Amos Batts died 24 March 1937 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 61 years old; was born in Wilson County to Thomas and Mariah Batts; was married to Jennie Batts; worked as a common laborer; and lived at 1202 East Nash Street. Informant was Jennie Batts.
Jennie Batts died 25 December 1945 at her home at 1202 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Amos Batts; was 58 years old; was born in Wilson County to unknown parents; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Eddie Batts was informant.
Lizzie Barnes died 3 April 1919 in Taylor township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 August 1918 in Wilson County to Henry Barnes and Lena Woodard.