Benjamin J. Stott and Handy Hodge were sharecroppers, or perhaps tenant farmers, on D.J. Scott’s farm in southern Wilson County. As they walked to work on a Saturday morning, Hodge confronted Stott about 25 cents Stott owed Hodge’s son, and Stott shot Hodge through the thigh with a .38.
After Hodge’s wound was treated, he and Stott decided to get in front of the law and hustled to a Wilson justice of the peace with a watered-down version of events. They were given moderate fines and released. However, Crossroads law enforcement got wind of the fracas, arrested Stott, and charged him with shooting Hodge and carrying a concealed weapon. He was “tried” by a justice of the peace (apparently, something akin to a probable cause hearing) and released under a hefty $200 bond to appear in county Superior Court.
B.J. Stott — In the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer Benjamin Stott, 49, and wife Lucinda, 39.
Handy Hodge — in the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: next door to the Stotts, farmer Handy Hodge, 52; wife Roxie, 50; children David, 16, and Handy, 13; and widowed aunt Jennie Newsom, 80.
Casual violence among young men is not new. Unsurprisingly, historically newspapers have sensationalized such violence when it involved black men, playing into the stereotypes and fear-mongering of the era.
I recognize the viciousness of this propaganda.* I also recognize articles reporting violent crime as invaluable, if distorted, glimpses into the lives of ordinary African-Americans during a period in which they were poorly documented. Beyond the basic facts of the terrible crime reported here, what can we learn?
News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 30 July 1907.
“on the Owens place” — This reference to the owner of the farm on which the events took place indicates the protagonists were likely sharecroppers or tenant farmers. The Saratoga Road is today’s U.S. Highway 264-A (formerly N.C. Highway 91.)
“a negro dance and barbecue supper was given by Robert Hilliard” — Hilliard, who was Black, hosted a Saturday night party on the farm, perhaps in a barn. He sold barbecue — surely Eastern North Carolina-style, with a vinegar-and-red pepper sauce — and sandwiches to patrons from a stand near the road.
“a wheezy fiddle” — the source of music for the dance. (Who was the fiddler? Was he locally renowned? Was there accompaniment? Was fiddling a common skill? I can’t name a single one from this era.)
“‘Hilliard is the n*gger I wanted to drap.” — The meaning and usage of this now-extreme pejorative has shifted over time. Here, it is almost, but not quite, neutral. More interesting, to me, is the now-archaic pronunciation “drap” for the verb “drop.”
On 29 January 1903, Will Scarborough, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ashley and Ellen Scarborough, married Lucy Anderson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Bob and Winnie Anderson, in Wilson County. Jack Bynum applied for the license.
Will Scarborough died 6 August 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was the son of Ashley Scarborough and Ellen [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived in Stantonsburg; and was buried at Saint Delight cemetery, Walstonburg. Informant was James E. Best, Stantonsburg.
On 1 November 1900, Robert Hilliard, 20, of Wilson County, son of Jack and Laura Hilliard, married Ailsy Bynum, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of West and Sopha Bynum, in Gardners township, Wilson County.
Robert George Hilliard Sr. died 27 February 1944 at his home at 211 Finch Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jack Hilliard and Laura [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; was engaged in farming; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mattie Moore, 211 Finch Street, was informant.
On 8 May 1902, Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, at “Mr. Frank Barnes Plantation.” A.M.E. Zion elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony in the presence of Mattie V. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.
On 20 August 1904, William Blackwell, 29, of Taylors township, son of Nancy Howard, married Sally Ann Taylor, 18, of Taylor township, daughter of Ellen and Dora Taylor, in Wilson County.
In the 1910 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: on Sharp Road, William Blackwell, 29; wife Sallie A., 20; and son Bennie, 11 months.
In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: tenant farmer William Blackwell, 45; wife Sally Ann, 29; and children Bennie, 10, Amos, 7, Jakie, 5, and Nancy, 1.
Sallie Ann Blackwell died 10 June 1920 in Taylors township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born in 1882 in Wilson County to Dora Locus and was married. Cause of death: “gunshot wound, shot accidentally.”
William Blackwell died 28 January 1928 in Old Fields township, Wilson County, of smallpox. Per his death certificate, he was 50 years old; was born in Wilson County to Nancy Howard; was a farmer; and was married to Carrie Blackwell. Bennie Blackwell was informant.
I have not found any follow-up to this news story, but Harvey Rodgers‘ death certificate lists his cause of death as “Gun shot wound of chest accident while hunting.”
Harvey Rodgers — in the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: Jim Rogers, 60; wife Lanie, 50; children Latina, 15, Harold, 12, Louisa, 9, and Harvey, 8; and nieces Ema B., 20, and Mabel Sanders, 6.
The setting: the former plantation of Joshua Barnes, then three miles north of Wilson and now on the outskirts.
Several people gathered at Willie Barnes‘ home to go together to a dance in the neighborhood. Barnes was eating his evening meal, and his wife, children, and neighbors sat before the fire. Mary Talley suddenly rushed in. Moments later, her husband Robert Talley appeared in the doorway, cried “Mary, Mary, Mary!,” and emptied a shotgun barrel into his wife’s hip. Willie Barnes grabbed the gun, which discharged its other barrel into the ceiling. Mary Talley lost considerable blood, but the wound was judged not serious. A sheriff’s posse found Talley holed up in his residence with a loaded gun, but arrested him without incident.
I haven’t found anything further about this incident. However, Robert Talley went to prison, he didn’t stay long. He appears in the 1910 census of Wilson … with Mary Talley.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Robert Talley, 23, and wife Mary.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Talley, 31, store janitor; wife Mary, 28, cook; and three boarders Lula Vick, 18, cook, Rachel Miller, 19, cook, and Buster Miller, 15 months.
In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Tally Robert (c) lab 409 N Pine
In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Talley Mary (c) dom h Young’s New Line nr Water Works rd
Mary M. Talley died 22 May 1945 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 57 years old; was born in Asheville, N.C., to Eleck Robinson and Dora Miller; was single; and lived at 200 West Lee Street. Rachel Ellis, 200 West Lee, was informant.
In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Stephen Barnes, 50; wife Adline, 48; and children Martha, 27, Florence, 18, Jennie, 17, Jodie, 16, John R., 14, and Austin, 10.
Austin Barnes died 5 January 1916 in Black Creek township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 1 May 1896 in Wilson County to Steve Barnes and Harritt Coehn; and was a farmer. Johnie Williams of Black Creek was informant. His cause of death: “Buy Being shot and bled to death Accident.”
At findagrave.com, a family member offers a sympathetic portrait of William Bunn and a glimpse at the rest of the life of 17 year-old Maggie Barnes Bunn, who survived her husband’s attack.
“MR. WILLIAM BUNN the first husband of Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn. Their union was blessed with two daughters – Dorothy Mae Bunn and Virginia Bunn. Mr. William Bunn was a loving husband and father and friend. Mr. William Bunn accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at an early age, also Mr. William Bunn was reared in a Christan Home. However, Mr William Bunn became very controlling and jealous of his wife Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn, which lead him into Domestic Violence toward his wife Mrs. Maggie Baines Buun. Mr. William Bunn left home to go to work on the Farm and Mrs. Maggie Baines Bunn took her two daughters Dorothy and Virgina and went to her parents home, Mr General Barnes and Mrs. Clyde Barnes. When Mr. William Bunn arrived at home, he found out that his wife Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn and his daughters had left him. Mr. William went over to his wife’s parents home and shot his mother-in-law Mrs. Clyde Barnes, killing her and he shot and wounded her sister. Next Mr. William Bunn found his wife Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn and shot her, but the bullet glanced her on the nick and arm. Mr. William left his wife’s parents home, thinking that he had killed his wife Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn, Mr. William preceded to a tree that he had in-graved a heart shaped with William and Maggie Love Forever in the tree and blow his brains out. NOTE: Please do not be disrespectful of Mr. William Bunn’s behavior on this sad day, because Mr. William’s was crapped in his mind and heart by being in a jealous rage, which lead him out of his mind.”
“Mrs. Maggie Barnes Bunn Baines, was born on May 15, 1918 in Wilson, North Carolina to Mr. General Barnes and the late Mrs. Clyde Barnes. Maggie was educated at Calvin Level School in Wilson, North Carolina. After completing High School, Maggie met and married the late Mr. William Bunn. Their union was blessed with two daughters. Later Maggie met and married Mr. Jake Baines Sr. Their union was blessed with eleven children. Maggie was a loving devoted wife and mother, always cooked home made meals for her family and friends. Maggie loved to up-keep her home and Maggie was extremely talented at cooking sewing clothing for her children and coats. Maggie would make blankets, bed sheets and curtains for her house windows. Maggie would share her talents with her family, friends and the neighborhood. Maggie loved people and whenever help was needed, Maggie would respond with assistance to those who had a need. Maggie was a Christian Woman and reared her children in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Maggie always encourage her children to love the Lord Jesus Christ, to love one another, to love their family members, to love their neighbors and most of all to love their-selves. Maggie was a kind, caring and loving person, always made numerous of friends wherever she went and Maggie will be sincerely missed by all who loved and knew her. Maggie leaves to cherish her everlasting memories: her devoted husband – Mr. Jake Baines Sr.; six daughters – Mrs. Dorothy M. Dingle, Mrs. Virginia Williams, Mrs. Lillie M. King. Ms. Jackie Baines, Ms. Helen Baines and Ms. Paulette Baines; seven sons – Mr. Jake Baines Jr., Mr. John Davis Baines, Mr. James Arthur Baines, Mr. Willie Gray Baines, Mr. Charles Baines, Anthony Baines and Mr. Christopher Baines; her father – Mr. General Barnes and step-mother Mrs. Laffey Cox Barnes; five sisters – Mrs. Ruth Boykin, Mrs. Lucy Allen, Mrs. Irene Floyd, Mrs. Odessa Boykin and Mrs. Mildred Boykin; three brothers – Mr. Darthur Barnes, Mr. Wiley Barnes and Mr. John Dallas Barnes; five brothers-in-law – Mr. Howard Taft Boykin, Mr. Frank Allen, Mr. James Floyd, Mr. William J. Boykin and Mr. Lee Roy Boykin; one sister-in-law – Mrs. Rosa Barnes; numerous of great-children; aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and a host of other relatives and friends. NOTE: Maggie was forty-three years old and Cancer was the cause of her death.”
General Barnes, 21, of Gardners township, son of Jarman and Mollie Barnes, married Clyde Barnes, 18, of Gardners township, daughter of Wiley and Lucy Barnes, on 2 December 1916 in Wilson in the presence of James Barnes of Elm City and Louis Barnes and Dempsey Mercer of Wilson.
In the 1920 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer General Barnes, 21; wife Clyde, 19; and children E. Ruth, 3, and E. Maggie, 1.
In the 1930 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: farmer General Barnes, 31; wife Clyde, 29; and children Ruth, 13, Maggie, 11, Luther, 9, John D., 8, Arthur, 5, Wiley, 3, and Irene, 1.
William Thomas Bunn died 6 August 1935 in Crossroads township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 23 years old; was married to Maggie Barnes Bunn; was a farmer; and was born in Lucama to James (crossed through) Bunn and Maggie Oniel (crossed through). James Bunn, 606 Warren Street, Wilson, was informant. Cause of death: “(Suicide) by shooting self in head with shot gun.”
Clyde Barnes died 6 August 1935 at Mercy or Moore-Herring Hospital [both are listed.] Per her death certificate, she was 33 years old; was married to General Barnes; was a farmer; was born in Wilson County to Wiley Oree and Lucy Barnes; and died of a gunshot wound to the neck.
This story, as breathlessly reported by the Wilson Daily Times, hit all the marks for maximum titillation — a strange “big black” criminal, a shoot-out in Darktown, a triumphant police officer.
Wilson Daily Times, 17 December 1924.
In a nutshell (with facts, or purported ones, augmented by a Wilson Mirror article published the same day): Around midnight, Officers Buck Stallings and Jesse Hamilton were patrolling near the Atlantic Coast Line railroad station when they encountered Pearl Morris, who had just been badly beaten “in a boarding house on East Nash street … formerly known as the Carnation Hotel.” (Though I’ve never seen it called by this name, I am certain this is the Orange Hotel.) The policemen followed Morris to the boarding house; a 25 to 30-year old man standing in the doorway turned and ran inside when he saw them. (Per the Mirror, “The police were informed … of the stranger’s presence in town and also were acquainted with the fact that he was carrying a gun ….”) The officers confronted the man on the second floor balcony, and he allegedly shot Stallings in the hand. Stallings and Hamilton opened fire; the man unloaded, turned and leapt over the railing. When he hit the ground, he did not move. (Per the Mirror, a shot sent him “whirling around and crashed him up against the upper porch railing.”) “A colored physician happened to be in the crowd” — William Mitchner, who lived a few doors down? — and declared the man near death. He was loaded into somebody’s car and rushed to Mercy Hospital, but died en route. (Again, the Mirror casts a more dramatic scene: Stallings, despite his injuries, holding back the crowd with his gun until reinforcements arrived.)
The man’s body was taken to police headquarters. A search of his clothing yielded a name, Thomas Leak, and an address in Durham, N.C. He had been shot four times by two guns, with one shot passing through his heart and killing him. Meanwhile, Officer Stallings basked in adulation at the station house, cracking jokes and recounting his adventure. (The Mirror: “His escape from death was little short of miraculous.”)
Without explaining the discrepancy with the information found in his clothes, the Times named the strange man as Willie Leach. The Mirror added that he had come from Columbia, S.C., or Durham, and his suitcase contained “a strange assortment of articles, razors, four or five fountain pens, carton of cigarettes, screw driver, vanity box and numerous other things.”
Within hours of the shooting, a coroner’s jury held an inquest and found the homicide of Willie Leach justified.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Green Street, painter David Morris, 34; wife Lillian, 30; and children Pearl E., 12, Charles, 9, Lillian, 7, and David E., 7 months. [The Morrises appear to have lived on the first block of Green east of the railroad in a block that was otherwise occupied by white families.)
In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Morris Pearl (c) dom h 114 N Pettigrew
In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Morris Pearl (c) cook h 215 Stantonsburg
Pearl Morris died 16 October 1936 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 28 years old; was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to David Morris of Henderson, N.C., and Lillian Hinson of Boston; and lived at 723 East Nash Street. Mable Phillips, Smith Street, was informant.