The murder of Mordecai Hagans.

We first met Mordecai Hagans, born a free man of color, here, as an employee of Wilson’s Confederate hospital.

Fifteen or so years later, Hagans was murdered.

Wilson Advance, 16 July 1880.

(Josephus Daniels was editor of the Advance at the time, so it’s no surprise he thought it paramount to note that Hagans faithfully voted the white supremacist Democratic ticket. He tells us nothing of Hagans’ family, his occupation, his history — but we know this.)

Wilson Advance, 30 July 1880.

The Advance‘s follow-up was devoted almost exclusively  to the exculpation of J. Frank Eatmon, primarily via inferences from the testimony of Hagans’ “old, half-idiotic” unnamed wife, who had been severely beaten the night her husband was killed.


In the 1860 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: Mordecai Hagans, 23, farm laborer, living alone.

In the 1870 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farm laborer Mordecai Hagans, 37, and wife Cherry, 45.

In the 1880 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: laborer Mordicia Hagins, about 50, and wife Cherry, about 45. [They are listed immediately after the households of J. Frank Eatmon and Pearson Eatmon’s mother Aquilla Eatmon and likely lived on the property of one or the other.]

Thank you, Freeman-Hagans family.

I was honored to be asked to speak at the Freeman-Hagans reunion last night — the first family reunion I’ve addressed beyond my own. The family is fortunate to have richly documented genealogical knowledge, so I knew I couldn’t just show up and tell the Freemans about the Freemans. As I considered topics, I remembered a passage in Mary Freeman-Ellis’ fantastic The Way It Was in which she vividly described attending services at London’s Primitive Baptist Church. As genealogy is brought to life, so to speak, by an understanding of the contexts of our ancestors’ lives, I decided to talk about the history of the church that was so central to the lives of Eliza Daniels Freeman and several of her children. My thanks to Patricia Freeman for the invitation;  to the Lillian Freeman Barbee family for sharing their table with me; and to all who welcomed me so warmly.

London Church twelve years after it was moved from its original location on Herring Avenue. A hoped-for benefactor had not materialized, and the building was beginning to break down. Wilson Daily Times, 31 March 2004.

Here’s the inspirational excerpt from Mary Freeman-Ellis’ memoir:

“… Aunt Lydia [Freeman Norwood Ricks], Uncle Lovette [Freeman], and Julius [F. Freeman Jr.] were members. Once a year, usually early spring, the church had its annual meeting. People came from near and far. A great deal of time was spent inside the church during the service. This was the annual ‘Big August Meeting,’ I used to hear Aunt Lydia say, lots of preparation occurred during the year to cleanse the heart, soul and the mind in order to be able to receive communion. The church grounds, as they were called, were set up with long wooden tables with benches to sit on. Each table was covered with a sheet then a white table cloth.

“I had never seen so much food any place before. There was fried chicken, roast beef, roast pork, potato salad, slaw and several tin tubs with iced cold lemonade. There were also several kinds of pies and cakes. This was the first time I had ever seen anybody eat only cake and fried chicken together. We tried it and it was good. People ate, greeted each other with big hugs and the preacher did his share of hugging the sisters. London Baptist Church was a primitive church; I never understood that term.

“Although the fellowship of the church grounds was a vital part of this Big August Meeting, what transpired inside was the thing that had us traumatized. For example, the services started with the pastor greeting the congregation. The membership was made up of all blacks and the women far outnumbered the men. The service continued with a long prayer, going into a song led by the pastor. There was no organ or piano. Most of the songs appeared to have anywhere from five to eight verses. I was familiar with the hymn, Amazing Grace, but had never heard it sung the way the Primitive Baptists sang it. The preacher would read off two lines as follows: ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. It saved a wreck [sic] like me.’ The congregation would follow with these same two lines. The pastor would continue with, ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.’ This was called ‘lining a hymn.’ The preacher took his text from the Prodigal Son. He had him going places and doing things I had never heard of before. Since we were children, we knew to keep quiet because this was a house of worship and it was good manners to sit quietly. We had also begged Aunt Lydia to take us and we did not want her to know how disappointed we were. There was very little going on for children other than eating when the time came.

“We could not get home fast enough to tell Mother and Dad about our experience, especially how hard those wooden benches were. I wanted the center of attention so I began relating each thing as it happened. Dad momentarily looked up at me for a moment with a sheepish grin on his face. He said, ‘You know you were not forced to go.'”

The death of Alton Hagans, 13, struck by a truck while riding a bicycle.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 September 1921.


In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Viola Street, Bryant Mill laborer Isic Haggins, 23; wife Essie May 19; and son Alton, 1.

Alton Hagans died 8 September 1921 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 25 November 1910 in Saratoga, Wilson County, to Isaac Hagans and Ezziemay Farmer; lived on Hines Street; and worked as a grocery delivery boy. His cause of death: “instantly killed by auto struck while riding bicycle.”

State vs. Daniel Sharp Jr.

In August 1911, a justice of the peace charged Daniel Sharp Jr. with assault with a deadly weapon for an alleged attack upon Louis Hagans. The charge was based on eyewitness testimony by Rufus Edmundson and Charlie Dawes. Per Edmundson, Sharp shot a pistol at Hagans at New Hope Church. (This, presumably, was New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, located then as now on N.C. Highway 58 just north of Wilson.)

  • Daniel Sharp Jr.
  • Louis Hagans — there were several Louis (or Lewis) Hagans in Wilson County around this time, and it’s not clear which this was.
  • Rufus Edmundson
  • Charlie Dawes

Criminal Action Papers, 1911, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

The obituary of Edward Hagans.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 July 1948.


Edward Hagans, 23, son of Isaac and Izzy Mae Hagans, married Daisy Melton, 23, daughter of Ben and Sudie Melton, on 14 April 1937 in Wilson.

Edward Hagans died 20 July 1948 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 April 1913 in Wilson County to Isaac Hagans and Essie Mae Farmer; was married to Daisy Hagans; lived at 555 East Nash Street; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Rest Haven Cemetery on 22 July 1948.

Gloria Denetta Hagans died at home on 28 July 1948 of pulmonary tuberculosis (as had her father.) Per her death certificate, she was born 25 November 1934 in Wilson to Edward Hagans and Daisy Melton; was a student; lived at 536 East Nash; and was buried at Rest Haven.

In memory of Margaret Hagans Powell.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 2022.


In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Finch Mill Road, farmer Julius Hagans, 45; wife Matha, 32; daughters Frances, 10, and Margaret, 8; and hired man Andrew Sanders, 21.

In the 1920 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: on Boswell Road, widower Julus Haggens, 55, and children Margrett, 18, Henry, 13, and Cecil, 4.

On 9 February 1924, William Powell, 33, of Nash County, son of Ichabod and Mary Ann Powell, married Margarette Hagans, 22, of Wilson County, daughter of Julius Hagans, in Wilson County. James Powell applied for the license.

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farm laborer William Powell, 30, and Margaret, 28.

Willie B. Powell died 2 March 1938 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 7 September 1937 in Wilson to William Powell and Margret Hagans and lived at 701 West Hines Street, Wilson.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 609 Hines Street, W.P.A. laborer William Powell, 48; wife Margaret, 38; and children Odell, 8, Willie Mae, 6, Joe Louis, 3, and William T., 8 months.

In the 1950 census of Wilson, Wilson County: body factory janitor William Powell, 61; wife Margaret H., 45; and children Willie M., 16, babysitting, Joe L., 14, William T., 10, Betty J., 9, Jesse G., 7, James A., 5, Margaret A., 4, and Maud R., 2.

William “Bill” Pharaoh Powell died 23 July 1963 at his home at 404 North Reid Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 February 1891 in Wilson County to Echabud Powell and Mary Ann Lassiter; was married to Margaret H[agans] Powell; and worked as a laborer.

606 North Carroll Street.

The one hundred-fifty-sixth in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District, this building is: “ca. 1922; heavily modified, brick-veneered, hip-roofer dwelling.” [Note: the house does not appear on the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map.] The 1950 Wilson city directory reveals the original house number was 518.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Hagans Oscar (c; Bertie) lab h 518 N Carroll

In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, 518 North Carroll Street was vacant.

Willie Batts died 19 July 1939 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 58 years old; was born in Wilson County to [Thomas?] Batts and Mariah Batts; was married to Olivia Batts; lived at 518 North Carroll; and worked as a laborer.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 518 Carroll Street, rented for $12/month, widowed tobacco stemmer Olivia Batts, 61, and children Ernest, 36, farm laborer; Mary M., 21, and Rosa Lee, 20, household servants; and Henry, 16, “new worker.”

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Batts Wm (c) h 518 N Carroll

In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Little Geo Rev (c; Lessie) pastor Mt Zion  Free Will Baptist Ch h 518 N Carroll

Rev. George Washington Little died 1 April 1957 in Wilson when his car was struck by a train on the A.C.L. railroad. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 July 1910 in Wilson County to Wash Little and Louise Barnes; was married to Lessie Little; lived at 606 North Carroll; and worked in ministry and labor.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2022.

Craps game ends in deadly shooting.

In early March 1924, Tom Hagin allegedly shot Otto King to death over a cheating allegation during a game of craps. The Daily Times could not help but engage in casual racism in reporting the tragedy, referring to the dice game as “African golf.”

Wilson Daily Times, 4 March 1924.


In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Shandy King, 51; wife Nancy, 49; and children Jack, 21, Marcellus, 19, Shandey, 16, Mahala, 14, Columbus, 12, Otto, 7, and Harriett, 6. 

In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Jim Bass, 19, and lodgers James Allen, 21, and Otto King, 19, all farm laborers.

In 1918, Otto King registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 22 March 1891 in Wilson; lived at Route 4, Wilson; worked in farming for Charley Walston; and was single.

Otto King’s World War I service record.

On 11 January 1919, Otto King, 26, of Saratoga township, son of Shandy King, and Roberta Taylor, 16, of Gardners township, daughter of Moses Fent and Rena Taylor, were married in Saratoga township, Wilson County.

In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: on Plank Road Highway, farmer Otto King, 28, and wife Roberta, 17. 

“Shot through neck & lungs Homicide”

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

The life of William S. Hagans.

Back in February, I sat down (virtually) with Tyler Mink, Historic Interpreter at Wayne County, North Carolina’s Governor Charles B. Aycock Birthplace State Historic Site, to talk about William S. Hagans, an Aycock contemporary. William S. Hagans was not a Wilson County native, but his mother Apsilla Ward Hagans was, and he grew up on a farm on Aycock Swamp just below the Wayne-Wilson county line. I have published here a series of transcripts of testimony about a land dispute that directly involved Hagans and pulled in as witnesses several men with Wilson County links.

William S. Hagans, his brother Henry E. Hagans, and their free-born father Napoleon Hagans were contemporaries of Daniel Vick, William H. Vick, and Samuel H. Vick and other African-American Wilsonians in late nineteenth-century Republican politics, and I share this video to illuminate the world in which they all lived.

The Vicks take a loan from a friend.

Daniel Vick‘s prominence in local and regional Republican politics broadened the network of people upon whom he could call for favors. In 1898, he reached out to Henry E. Hagans of Goldsboro, for a loan. Hagans had been personal secretary to United States Congressman George H. White and remained active in politics even as assumed a position as principal of Goldsboro’s State Colored Normal School.

On 9 November 1898, Daniel and Fannie Vick executed to Henry E. Hagans of Goldsboro a promissory note for $400 to be paid by 9 February 1899.  If Vick defaulted, Hagans would sell at public auction two lots on Church Street and Barefoot Road in Wilson. The Vicks missed the mark, but Hagans did not call in the loan. A handwritten note on the mortgage deed states: “The within papers transferred to S.H. Vick this the 6th day of May AD 1899 /s/ H.E. Hagans”

Henry E. Hagans (1868-1926), in a portrait appearing in a feature article in the 21 September 1904 The Colored American.

Samuel H. Vick, of course, was Daniel and Fannie Vick’s wealthy son, who was also active and well-connected in Republican circles. The deed was filed in Wilson County on 16 April 1903 and recorded in Deed Book 66, page 236. Another note states: “This mortgage is satisfied in full by taking taking a new mortgage and is hereby cancelled 4 Dec 1903 /s/ S.H. Vick”

Deed Book 66, page 236.