gun violence

Shooting scrape.

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Wilson Advance, 12 March 1896.

  • James Artist — perhaps, in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason James B. Artis, 26; wife Cornelia, 31; and son Solomon, 7 months; plus brother-in-law Charlie B. Fort, 12.
  • West Barnes — perhaps, in the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm laborer Willis Barnes, 30; wife Cherry, 25; and children Rachael, 7, West, 5, Jesse, 2, and Ned, 5 months. In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Willis Barnes, 42; wife Cherey, 20; stepdaughter Rachel Battle, 17; children Wesley, 15, Jesse, 13, Ned, 11, Eddie, 7, Mary Barnes, niece Ellen Battle, 2; and son Willey Barnes, 1. On 4 June 1885, Sylvester [sic] Barnes, 21, married Ellar Mercer, 22, at Dempsey Mercer’s in Wilson County. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: teamster Wesley Barnes, 32; wife Ella, 35; and children Joseph, 14, Lucy, 11, Sylvester, 7, Viola, 5, and Charley, 3. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: West Barnes, 44; wife Ella, 47; and children Sylvester, 17, Viola, 15, and Charlie, 13. Wesley Barnes died 20 January 1919 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 54 years old; was born in Wilson County to Willis Barnes and Cherry Eatmon; was married to Ellar Barnes; and worked as a drayman for Tominson & Company.

Escaped through the cemetery.

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Wilson Daily Times, 15 July 1910.

  • Henry Hagan

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Smith Street, Katie Williams, 46, widowed boarding house cook, and boarder Henry Hagan, 54, widower, oil mill laborer. In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hagan Henry, lab h 404 Spring St alley. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 616 Suggs Street, rented for $12/month, Henry Hagan, 75, sanitary department laborer, and wife Sarah, 55. Henry Haggan who died 21 October 1931 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 67 years old; was born in Wayne County, North Carolina, to Napoleon Haggan and an unknown mother; worked as a common laborer; and lived at 611 Suggs. Mary Gatling of Newport News, Virginia, was informant.

Suffer the little children: death by violence.

Well into the twentieth century, children faced harrowing odds against reaching adulthood. Disease, accidents, and violence bore them away with stunning regularity. In the 1910s, 17% of American children died before age 5, a figure that was higher for Southern and African-American children.

Few Wilson County children who died in that era were buried in marked graves. In town, original burials were in Oaklawn or the Masonic cemetery. The Oaklawn graves were exhumed and moved to Rest Haven in the 1940s, and headstones, if they ever existed, have been lost over time. By allowing us to call their names again, this series of posts memorializes the lives of children who died in the first twenty years in which Wilson County maintained death records. May they rest in peace.

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Though it appears that there was relatively little intentional homicide, death by gunshot was a dispiritingly common occurrence:

  • On 16 March 1910, Mary Lillie Loyd, 10, of Wilson, daughter of Bettie Loyd, died “from gunshot wound, accidentally fired.”
  • On 23 October 1911, Ida L. Speights, 7, of Wilson, daughter of J.C and Rebecca Robinson Speight, died of a “gun shot accidentally by Fred Davis carelessly handling gun among children.” (In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Green Street, Jake Speights, 45, laborer; wife Rebecca, 30; and children Eva, 14, Lennie, 12, Joseph, 10, Ida, 5, Bessie, 3, and Addie, 1.)

Wilson Daily Times, 27 October 1911.

  • On 28 January 1913, Floyd Anderson, 6, of Toisnot township, son of Charlie Anderson, “was accidentally shot by his brother a boy 8 years old.” (In the 1910 census of Rocky Mount, Township #12, Edgecombe County: Charlie Anderson, 24, and wife Viola, 20, both farm laborers, and sons Thomas, 4, and Floyd, 3.)
  • On 24 March 1914, James Scott Johnson, 8, of Elm City, son of James and Lola Batten [Battle] Johnson, died of an “accidental gunshot wound, self-inflicted.” (In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: James Johnson, 35, drayman for wholesale grocery; wife Lola, 34, washerwoman; and children Laurenzell, 6, and James S., 4.)
  • On 5 July 1914, Clinton Sylvester Ayers, 6, of Wilson, son of William and Zilfie Dew Ayers, died of a “gunshot wound, accidental.” A second death certificate, for Sylvester Ayers, 6, of Spring Hill, gives the cause of death as “gunshot wound in knee, death from shock after operation, accident.” (In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Red Hill Road, William T. Ayres, 54; wife Zilphia, 45; and children David J., 15, Lillie, 11, Albert, 9, Walter, 7, Solomon, 4, and Clinton S., 1.)
  • On 2 January 1917, Minnie Barnhill, 11, of Wilson, daughter of Marcellus and Mary Barnhill, died from a “rifle bullet through brain by another person, accidental.”
  • On 31 January 1917, Eugenia Abram, 11, of Toisnot township, daughter of Tom and Sallie Bunn Abram, died from a “hemorrhage from gun shot wound (accidental).” (In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Tom Abram, 25, sawmill laborer; wife Sallie, 22; and daughters Genie, 4, Mary, 2, and Savannah, 1.)
  • On 18 November 1918, Simon Moore, 13, of Saratoga township, son of Marcellus and Lissie Rountree Moore, was “accidentally killed by gunshot wound.” (In the 1910 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County: Marcelas Moore, 26; wife Lissie, 24; and sons Simon, 4, and Henry, 2.)
  • On 22 July 1919, Lewis Henry Williams, 15, of Toisnot township, son of Czaar and Annie Williams, died of “accidental gun shot in abdomen.”
  • On 24 March 1920, Mary Brown, 16, of Wilson, daughter of Willie and Mary Brown, died of a “stab wound above left nipple, homicide.”
  • On 20 May 1920, David Jackson Moore, 4, of Wilson, son of Andrew Moore and Minnie Mercer Moore, died of “gunshot of head, accident.”
  • On 8 July 1921, Ira Owens, of Wilson, son of Mack and Mary Gardens Owens, died as a result of “punishment received while at work on county road.” [In other words, Owens was beaten or otherwise abused to death while serving on a road crew, a sentence imposed by a county court.]

Misfortunes of Marcus.

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Wilson News, 7 December 1899.

The course of events here is not entirely clear, but it seems that Haywood Marcus, Lee Whitaker and John Mobley were on the west side of the tracks at a saloon or shot house. Mobley was drunk, and Whitaker and Marcus tried to help him get back “across the railroad” home. Mobley’s brother Jim Mobley intercepted them, cursed Marcus out, and shot him. (Huh?)

  • Haywood Marcus
  • Lee Whitaker
  • John and Jim Mobley — John and James Mobley were sons of John H. and Jane Rountree Mobley.

Shot over the heart. (But will live.)

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Wilson Daily Times, 24 October 1911.

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Wilson Daily Times, 27 October 1911.

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Ruth Maultsby was the sister of Mattie L. Maultsby, who was a daughter of Daniel L. and Smithia C. Maultsby and wife of Dr. William A. Mitchner. It appears that the Maultsbys were from Pitt County, North Carolina, and D.L. Maultsby briefly served as pastor at a Methodist church in Wilson, most likely Saint John A.M.E. Zion.

Goffney bound over.

The Times published a blow-by-blow of the preliminary hearing Wilson mayor E.F. Killette held over the homicide of Blanche Williams. Joe Goffney entered a plea of not guilty, but Killette found sufficient evidence to hold him over for trial in the Superior Court.

Joe Brodie testified first. Goffney, who was married, came with Williams to the house in which she lives. Brodie was in the back room when the shot rang out. Williams staggered out and fell to the floor. Goffney ran out, shouting that he had not known the gun was loaded. Brodie sent for Dr. Mitchner, who declared Williams dead.

Nellie Williams testified that Goffney and Blanche Williams had entered the house laughing and talking. She was in the next room lacing her shoe when she heard the gun fire and heard Goffney say, “I didn’t say a word — or I will kill all of you.” Nellie Williams ran out of the house with one shoe on.

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Clifton Johnson also testified that Goffney and B. Williams entered the house talking and laughing. Johnson said he saw the gun on the center table when he entered and did not know to whom it belonged. (Neither Brodie nor N. Williams corroborated this, saying that as far as they knew there had been no gun in the house.) Goffney picked up the gun and said “let me see it.” Johnson’s back was turned to them when Goffney fired. Goffney did not say anything “out of the way” to Williams. The remark about “killing them all” came after the shooting. Goffney told them to get a doctor, then left the house. He gave Johnson the gun, who threw it away.

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“Colored physician” William Mitchner testified that he found Blanche Williams on the porch dead. The bullet had struck her in the chin, breaking her lower jaw, and exited the back of her neck, possibly fracturing her spine. In his opinion, Goffney was standing directly in front of Williams when he fired, and the bullet’s trajectory was slightly downward.

Clifton Johnson was recalled to testify that he and Goffney were on the same side of the table, and he was behind Williams.

Goffney testified that Clarence Johnson carried concealed weapons. [Is this Clifton? Or a different man?] Clarence had placed a magazine and .32 cartridges on the table.

Officer Weathersbee testified that he and Officer Sikes asked Johnson for the gun, and Johnson said he had thrown it in the pea patch. Johnson admitted the gun was his, and it had not been found.

Clarence Johnson denied telling Weathersbee the gun was his. He did not own a gun. Goffney was mistaken when he said Johnson had pulled the gun from his pocket and that there had been a magazine on the table. Johnson works at an express office and borrowed a holster from a fellow employee. He did not borrow a gun. The holster is in a bureau drawer at his house. Mayor Killette interjected that the holster had been found between the bed[frame] and mattress in Johnson’s room. Johnson could not explain why he borrowed a holster.

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Joe Lee denied seeing Goffney take a pistol from Johnson’s pocket. Apparently, Nettie Williams did, too. Johnson’s mother testified that he did not own a gun and had not brought one to the house the night of the killing.

Johnson’s lawyer F.D. Swindell argued that in the excitement of the moment, it was perfectly natural for Johnson to throw away the gun Goffney gave him. The only evidence that the gun was his was Goffney’s testimony, which was inherently biased.

The mayor was satisfied that Johnson had borrowed the pistol and bound him over as a material witness and for carrying a concealed weapon. He fined Johnson $75 and set his bond for $500. Goffney was sent to jail to await trial.

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Wilson Times, 30 September 1921.

  • Joe Goffney — Was Joe Goffney convicted? I have not found a follow-up, but the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists: Goffney Joseph tobwkr [tobacco worker] h 206 Manchester. This is likely the Joseph Goffney listed in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Lemon Barnes, 51; wife Dollie Ann, 51; children Ida, 26, Lemon Jr., 20, Mattie, 17, Charlie, 15, and Howard, 12; stepsons Cornelius Neal, 11, Paul Goffney, 17, and Joseph Goffney, 15; and grandson Sylvester Barnes, 6.
  • Blanche Williams — Per her death certificate, Blanch Williams was 24 years old; single; resided on Stantonsburg Street; and worked as a common laborer. She was born in Wayne County, North Carolina, to Wash Smith and Laura Williams, and Selena Craig of Goldsboro was informant. Her cause of death: “revolver wound of head (probably accidental).” [A 26 September 1921 Times article about the shooting reported that Williams was married and lived in Goldsboro, but had come to Wilson to work briefly in domestic service. She had planned to return to Goldsboro the week she was shot. She had been “going with” Goffney while in Wilson, and jealousy was believed to be at the root of the violence. Unnamed witnesses heard Goffney tell Williams, “If you go with that man, I will kill you,” as they walked to Joe Lee’s home. As Williams walked out of the house to return home, Goffney called her back in and shot her.]

  • Joe Brodie — possibly Josephine Brodie listed in the 1922 city directory as a student living at 303 Mercer Street.
  • Nellie Williams
  • Clifton/Clarence Johnson — perhaps the Clifton Johnson listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory as a porter living at 118 Ashe Street.
  • Dr. Mitchner — William A. Mitchner.
  • Joe Lee — possibly Joseph Lee listed in the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory as a factory hand living at 115 Manchester Street. [However, the 26 September Times article identified Joe Lee and Joe Brodie as the same person, a woman.]
  • F.D. Swindell — lawyer Fred D. Swindell.
  • W.A. Finch — lawyer William Atlas Finch.
  • Mayor Killette — mayor Edwin F. Killette Sr.
  • Officer Weathersbee
  • Officer Sikes

Some claim the negro resisted.

On the afternoon of 24 March 1916, Wilson chief of police John A. Wiggs approached two black men foraging for old bottles in a trash pile near the city cemetery. Before long, one man lay dead in the street.

Newspapers across North Carolina picked up the story immediately, reporting it with varying degrees of detail.

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Wilmington Morning Star, 25 March 1916.

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Concord Times (Concord, N.C.), 27 March 1916.

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Western Sentinel (Winston-Salem, N.C.), 28 March 1916.

After a few days, the Everything, a newspaper published in Greensboro, offered a tentative assessment.

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Everything (Greensboro, N.C.), 1 April 1916.

Four months later, Wiggs went to trial. The verdict: Not guilty.

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Salisbury Evening Post, 7 September 1916.

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Phillip Worth seems to have been a newcomer to Wilson and to have had no one in town who knew him well. His death certificate contains little information (not even that he may have been from Alamance County) beyond his cause of death: “bullet wound in heart from pistol in hands of officer of law.”

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