gun violence

White man held for murder of Sam Jackson.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 September 1924.

On 18 August 1924, Joe Cockrell, white, interrupted four African-American men — Sam Jackson, Tom Smith, Otis Taylor, and John Smith — pulling fodder in a corn field on George Dew’s farm. After demanding liquor, Cockrell argued with Jackson. Shortly after, a shot rang out, Jackson dropped to the ground, and Cockrell fled. He was on the lam for about two weeks before being arrested at his uncle’s house, charged and held without bail.

On 6 November 1924, Raleigh’s News and Observer reported that a judge had determined there was not enough evidence to hold Cockrell on first degree murder charges and had reduced the charge to second degree and released Cockrell on $5000 bond. I have not found a report of the verdict in the case. 


On 9 December 1918, Sam Jackson, 19, of Wilson, son of Turner and Nellie Jackson of South Carolina, married Victoria Watson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Will and Alice Watson of Clayton, North Carolina, at the courthouse in Wilson. 

On 4 January 1919, Sam Jackson, 20, of Wilson, son of Simon and Nellie Jackson of Conway, South Carolina, and Mary Carroll, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Major and Dollie Carroll, in Wilson. Free Will Baptist minister A.A.J. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of William Cassill, Molley Wright, and Mary Davis. [A month after Jackson married Victoria Watson??]

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farm laborer Sam Jackson, 22, and wife Mary, 23.

Sam Jackson died 18 August 1924 in Taylor’s township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 30 years old; was married; and was a farmer. He was buried in Coleman’s cemetery. George Dew was informant.

James Wiggins shot to death at tobacco barn.

Wilson Daily News, 18 November 1921.


James Wiggins, in fact, was fatally wounded. In fact, by time this article ran, he had been dead four days and buried two.

James Wiggins died 14 November 1921 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 26 years old; was born in Edgecombe County, N.C., to George Wiggins and Mary Pitt; and was a common laborer. 

  • Isaac Ford

On 10 October 1912, Isaac Ford, 22, married Jane Peaton, 21, both of Black Creek, were married at Peaton’s father’s house in Nahunta township, Wayne County (though their marriage license was issued in Wilson County.) H.R. Minshew applied for the license, and Missionary Baptist minister N.S. Newton performed the ceremony in the presence of John R. James, Peter Applewhite, and Charlie Newton.

In 1917, Isaac Ford registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 6 August 1889 in Fremont [Wayne County], N.C.; lived in Fremont; was a self-employed farmer; and had a wife and child.

In the 1920 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Isaac Ford, 32; wife Jane, 35, farm laborer; and son Calvin, 8. 

On 28 May 1927, Isaac Ford, 37, of Black Creek, married Nora Dickerson, 26, of Black Creek, in Wilson in the presence of Braxton Davis, Hugh Campbell, and Calvin Ford.

Benjamin Whitley shot Johnny Ward at an ice cream supper.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 August 1932.

Nineteen year-old Johnny Ward succumbed to his injuries three days after this article was published.


  • Benjamin Whitley

In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Rufus Whitley, 49; wife Mattie, 45; and children Mattie, 8, Wiley, 3, and Rufus B., newborn.

In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Rufus Whitley, 49; wife Mattie, 45; and children Wiley, 13, Benjamin, 12, Bettie, 7, and Lizzie, 11 months.

In the 1930 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Rufus Whitley, 59; wife Mattie, 52; and children Ben, 20, Bettie A., 18, Lizzie J., 11, and Matta B., 6; and lodger Jesse King, 22.

On 9 December 1933, Benjamin Whitley, 24, of Wilson County, son of Rufus and Mattie Whitley, married Cillie Barnes, 20, of Wilson County, daughter of Ed and Dora Barnes, at the courthouse in Greenville, Pitt County, N.C.

Benjamin R. Whitley died 4 November 1971 in Lumberton, Robeson County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 29 November 1909 to Rufus Whitley and Mattie Dupree; was a widower; resided in Middlesex, Nash County, N.C.; and worked as a farmer.

  • Johnny Ward

Johnie Ward died 18 August 1932 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 19 years old; was born in Greene County, North Carolina, to David Ward and Nancy Barnes; was single; and worked as a common laborer.

  • Wes Bynum

The death of little Etta Parker.

“Pistol ball in brain by toy pistol in hands of boy unintentionally.”

I have not been able to learn more about the death of six year-old Etta Parker, who was fatally shot in the head by an unidentified boy with a toy pistol. (What kind of toy gun shot “pistol balls”? A BB gun?)

“Oh, you are crazy. Give me that gun.”

After Thomas Debnam allegedly shot and killed Ross Flowers, the farmer from whom he rented, he went on a bizarre loop through his neighborhood before fleeing Wilson County. According to this account, he first interrupted church services to hug his wife and bid her farewell, then went to the house of man named Henry Sing. He took Sing’s gun, then sat under an oak for a while, asking a girl to remove his shoes before running into the woods. Hearing a gunshot, John A. Jones went into the woods to find Debnam lying on the ground. When Jones spoke, Debnam sat up to say he had shot Flowers and was going to kill himself. Jones, unaware of the earlier incident, scoffed, saying, “Oh, you are crazy. You have not killed Mr. Flowers; give me that gun.”

Wilson Daily Times, 20 October 1913.

On the 19th, the Charlotte Observer somehow had beat the times to the punch, providing more details of the alleged incident. Debnam and Flowers recently had made molasses from sugar cane they raised together, and Debnam demanded his immediate share of money from the sale of the molasses. Flowers said he would sell the molasses in a few days and would pay Debnam after. Debnam raised a shotgun. Flowers tried to scramble behind an African-American man on the wagon with him, but Debnam shot him in the throat. 

Governor Locke Craig authorized a one-hundred-dollar reward for Debnam’s apprehension. A description of the suspect, along with a number of stereotypical physical features, noted that Debnam was “a negro with some intelligence.”

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 23 October 1913.

An article in the same edition noted that a posse comprised of Nash County sheriff R.H. Biggs, Ross Flowers’ brother A.A. Flowers, and others had searched as far west as Eagle Rock on the Norfolk Southern rail line, believing Debnam to be hiding out with friends in the Wendell vicinity.

Six days later, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that Wilson County sheriff Howard Rowe and two deputies, “following a telephone call which told them of the possible whereabouts of the negro Tom Debnam,” drove for hours “through flooded swamps”, but did not find him.

On 12 November 1931, the Charlotte News reported: 

I have found nothing further about Tom Debnam. 


  • Tom Debnam

In the 1910 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Debnam, 23; wife Zilphia, 32; and daughter Addie, 6.

Tragedy in Elm City.

When the Daily Times reported the shooting of Ephraim Joyner on 18 August 1896, several days after the fact, it noted “the wound would probably result fatally.”

Wilson Daily Times, 28 August 1896.

Raleigh’s News and Observer got the story out a day earlier, but gave conflicting information about Joyner. The headline screams “murder” and speaks of searches for the “murderer,” but concedes Joyner was alive when the article went to press.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 27 August 1896.

Did Ephraim Joyner die after all?

It’s not clear. No death records exist for the period, and I have found no further news articles about this incident. However, there is evidence of a man named Ephraim Joyner living in the Elm City area after 1896. If he is the same man, not only did Ephraim Joyner survive the shooting, he lived a good, long life. His son Marvin Ransom was not as fortunate.


In the 1880 census of Cooper township, Nash County, N.C.: brothers and hirelings Ephram, 22, and Dallas Joyner, 16. Also, in the 1880 census of Rocky Mount township, Nash County: Harrett Joyner, 42, and sons Ephram, 21, Dallas, 16, Ballie, 15, and Lon V., 1.

On 9 January 1888, Ephraim Joyner, 25, married Mary Ann Cooper, 22, in Nash County.

Marvin Ransom died 17 June 1928 in Township #1, Edgecombe County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1899 in Edgecombe County to Ephram Joyner of Wilson County and Jennie Shaffer of Halifax County, N.C.; was married to Dicy Ransom; was engaged in farming; and was buried at Cherry Place. Jenny Shaffer was informant.

“Gunshot wound of abdomen wounding intestine in several places. Gunshot wound of perineum & scrotum. Homicide.”

In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: widower Eph Joyner, 80, farm laborer and widower, living alone.

The deaths of James and Oscar Lewis.

In this follow-up to yesterday’s post about James W. Lewis‘ murder of his wife Annie Bethune Lewis, we learn who killed James Lewis seven years later — James’ son (and Annie’s stepson) Oscar Lewis, who drowned himself after.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 December 1949.

“Asphyxiation die to drowning (in Great Swamp at tressle along A.C.L.R.R. near Black Creek NC; aggravated by his homicide of his father; suicide by drowning.”

Sheppard arrested for murder; witnesses held, too.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 June 1926.

Howard and Catherine Hamilton were arrested and jailed as witnesses to John Henry Sheppard‘s alleged murder of his wife. Will Lewis, who shot up several cars, trying to chase down Sheppard, was arrested, too.

On 29 August 1926, Raleigh’s News and Observer identified the victim as Lillie Mae Ward in an article detailing the eleven murder cases on Wilson County Superior Court’s docket. On 7 September 1926, the N&O followed up to report that a judge had convicted Sheppard and sentenced him to five years in prison.