gun violence

Twelve year-old accidentally shoots twelve year-old.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 January 1917.

I have not been able to find a death record for a 12 year-old child in early January 1917. Nor have I been able to identify a 12 year-old boy named Clark living in the Elm City area in 1917.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Williams killed in South Wilson.

More articles about the mysterious circumstances under which Joe Gaffney (or Goffney) shot and killed his girlfriend Blanche Williams in September 1921.

The breaking news:

Wilmington Morning Star, 26 September 1921.

The Daily Times‘ edition, published the same day, gave a blow-by-blow of the testimony adduced at the preliminary hearing. Both Gaffney and Williams were married to other people, but were in a relationship. Williams had come to Wilson from Goldsboro to work in domestic service. Gaffney and Williams were at the home of a woman named Joe Lee (or Joe Brodie) when Clifton Johnson brought in a gun. While Gaffney was examining it, he accidentally shot Williams. However, witnesses claimed they overheard Gaffney say, “If you go with that man I will kill you.” When Williams stepped in the house, Gaffney shot her, then threatened everyone else in the house before he fled.

In December 1921, Joe Gaffney was convicted of Williams’ manslaughter. He drew a twelve-month sentence “to be hired out to pay costs.”

Wilson Daily Times, 23 December 1921.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 December 1921.

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  • Joe Gaffney

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Lemon Barnes, 51; wife Dollie Ann, 51; children Ida, 26, Lemon Jr., 20, Mattie, 17, Charlie, 15, and Howard, 12; and stepsons Cornelius Neal, 12, Paul Goffney, 17, and Joseph Goffney, 15.

  • Blanche Williams

Blanch Williams died 24 September 1921 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 24 years old; was single; was born in Wayne County to Wash Smith and Laura Williams; and worked as a common laborer. Selina Craig of Goldsboro, N.C., was informant.

Cause of death: “Revolver wound of head (probably accidental)”

All over 25 cents.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 July 1912.

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. 

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  • 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.

 

 

Drapped the wrong one.

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.”

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  • Will Scarborough 

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.

  • Robert Hilliard

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.

  • Riley Faison  

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.

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*See Brent Staples’ opinion piece in the 11 July 2021 New York Times, “How the White Press Wrote Off Black America.”

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Blackwell accidentally shot his wife to death.

Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1920.

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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.

A hunting accident?

Wilson Daily Times, 15 November 1929.

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.”

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  • 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.
  • Wray Bridgers

“Mary, Mary, Mary!”

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 7 May 1907. 

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.

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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.