industrial accident

The death of Tom Bunch Simms.

Industrial work was especially dangerous in the early twentieth century. In November 1936, Tom Bunch Simms caught his hand in a machine at work, tearing off the end of his thumb. Simms underwent surgery, but the wound became seriously infected, and Simms died of septicemia two weeks after his injury.

“Wound of hands & thumb Prurient infection”

I have not found anything further about Simms’ injury.

The death of Junius Woodard, another victim of the Contentnea Guano collapse.

We’ve read of the death of Rev. Basil B. Tyler, crushed under a cascade of fallen timber. Two other men, Junius Woodard and Tobe Bellamy, were seriously injured.  Bellamy recovered and lived to see 104 years. Junius Woodard, on the other hand, was dead within weeks from septicemia arising from a compound fracture of his lower leg.


In the 1880 census of Speights Bridge township, Greene County: laborer Jesse Woodard, 36; wife Pennie, 28; and children Caroline, 14, Junius, 6, Margarett, 4, Mary, 3, Willie, 2, and Minnie, 11 months.

On 24 April 1901, Junius Woodard, 26, married Ella Barnes, 20, in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of G.H. Holden, W.M. Foster, and J.S. Jackson.

This version of the accident offers slightly different details, but is not entirely accurate. Woodard, not “Woodward,” was not white. The Times-Mercury (Hickory, N.C.), 24 November 1909.

The death of Rev. B.B. Tyler, killed by falling timbers.

Death certificates were newly required in 1909, and undertakers sometimes struggled to complete the personal information section accurately. The basic facts are clear though. Fifty-two-year-old Basil B. Tyler, a minister and native of Piscataway, Maryland, was “killed suddenly by falling timbers.”

What was Rev. Basil Benjamin Tyler, an Episcopal priest, doing in Wilson, and how did he come to his death under a pile of logs?

The News and Observer answered the second question. B.B. Tyler was part of a construction crew building a new Contentnea Guano factory. A truss gave way, sending twenty-three more trusses cascading into one another and destroying the building. Carpenter Junius Woodard and laborer Tobe Bellamy were badly injured. White workers Frank Batts, Speight McKeel, and George Farmer suffered bruises. Basil B. Tyler was killed.

News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 24 November 1909.

The horrible circumstance of Rev. Tyler’s death is clear here, but the reasons he was in Wilson stirring cement at a guano factory are still confounding. He was ordained a deacon in 1883 in the Diocese of Albany, New York, and in 1888 transferred to the Diocese of Virginia, where he headed a mission in Hampton.

On 1 November 1888, in Manhattan, New York, New York, Basil Benjamin Tyler, 29, minister, born in Prince George’s County, Maryland, married Alice F. Davis, 22, born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, daughter of Thomas Davis.

By 1892, Rev. Tyler was deacon in charge of Saint Philip’s Chapel in Charlestown, West Virginia.

Baltimore Church Advocate, 6 February 1892.

By 1900, the family had returned to Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they appear in the 1900 census of Aquasco District: clergyman Basil B. Tyler, 40; wife Alice F., 38; children Basil B., 10, John J., 8, and James E., 5 months; and boarder Wade W. Butler, 13. Rev. Tyler and his son James were born in Maryland; Alice Tyler and son Basil were born in Virginia; and son John was born in West Virginia.

Baltimore Sun, 29 October 1900.

The published text of Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire’s address to the Episcopal convention, delivered in 1903, lands Rev. Tyler in Wilson as deacon of Saint Mark’s Church.

Consulting Patrick Valentine’s The Episcopalians of Wilson County: A History of St. Timothy’s and St. Mark’s Churches of Wilson, North Carolina, 1856-1995, I found this:

“… [Rev. John Henry Mingo] Pollard was in charge for two years, then was succeeded by Basil B. Tyler who stayed two years.

“Tyler had been admitted as a candidate for holy orders in Washington, D.C. He then transferred to Virginia, and came to Wilson in 1902. That very year the bishop had to omit St. Mark’s on his Visitation because of the ‘prevalence of small pox among the Negroes’ but visited the next two years. ‘The congregations of late have been generally good,’ Tyler reported in 1903, by which we assume he meant generally ‘good’ in size.

“According to his successor, Tyler ‘was a man of scholarly attainments, an interesting speaker, and most eloquent preacher.’ There were rumors, however, that Tyler’s wife was leading a scandalous life and had the minister ‘completely under her thumb.’ In any case, he ‘failed to arouse any interest in the people scarcely and was forced to with draw [sic].’ He left in 1904 for South Carolina.”

Valentine adds in a footnote: “Tyler later returned to Wilson, was baptized ‘by immersion in the creek hard by,’ and became a Baptist before he ‘crossed the river,'” i.e. died in the wreckage of a collapsing building.

What happened to Tyler between 1904, when he left Wilson to assume a new pastorate in South Carolina, and 1909 when he returned, disillusioned with the Episcopal Church and constrained to manual labor that would kill him?

Lucas killed by falling lumber.

Ed Lucas was killed when falling timber struck his head while he worked. His employer W.D. Hackney was the informant for his death certificate, but knew little of Lucas, and the document notes: “Deceased was an unknown laborer at Wagon Factory.”

Update, 16 July 2022:

Evening Chronicle (Charlotte, N.C.), 2 May 1910.

Thanks to Carol Ten Hoopen for locating this article.

Where we worked: Farmers Cotton Oil Company.

Farmers Cotton Oil Company had been in operation only six years when an artist sketched it for the border of T.M. Fowler’s 1908 bird’s-eye map of Wilson. At the time, the tobacco town was also one of the larger cotton markets in eastern North Carolina, and Farmers not only ginned cotton and pressed cotton seed oil, it manufactured fertilizer.

It was also a dangerous place to work. In November 1922, doctors amputated Will Scott’s left hand after it was mangled in machinery at the mill.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 November 1922.

Seven years later, Wade Vick was whirled to death after being caught in a revolving wheel at the compound.

As shown in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Farmers Cotton Oil Company filled almost the whole block bounded by East Barnes, Grace, Stemmery, and South Railroad Streets. The church at lower right was Wilson Chapel Free Will Baptist

  • Will Scott

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Bailey dies in fall from scaffold.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 June 1932.


John D. Bailey, 24, of Oldfields township, married Genevia Jones, 18, of Oldfields township, on 20 December 1893 at Richard Jones‘ in Oldfields township.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer John D. Bailey, 31; wife Jeneva, 23; daughters Rhoda, 4, Pearl, 1, and Mary L., 1 month; and servant Lillie Bagley, 35. 

In the 1910 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer John D. Bailey, 42; wife Jeneva, 33; and children Rhoda, 13, Pearlie, 12, Mary L., 9, Lonnie, 8, Ora, 6, John T., 5, William H., 4, Melton P., 2, and Richard E., 1.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 516 Church Street, owned and valued at $2000, oil mill laborer John Bailey, 60; wife Jeneva, 52; children Johnny, 16, James, 14, Perry, 21, railroad laborer, and Jerry, 24, railroad laborer; and lodgers Mack Miller, 35, divorced, born in S.C., auto garage mechanic, and Mary P. Williams, 74, widow, private family nurse.

John Bailey died 24 June 1932 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1876 in Nash County to Hill Bailey and Mary Bailey of Nash County, N.C.; was married Geneva Bailey; lived at 516 Church Street, Wilson; and worked as a day laborer for Southern Oil Mill. His cause of death: “hemorrhage of brain at base & of spinal cord” as a result of “scaffold fell on which he was working.”

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

The death of Dock Royall.

Wilson Daily Times, 1 April 1938.

Dock Royall was a member of the Red Hots, an all-Black volunteer fire company. A World War I veteran, he worked as a mechanic for Hackney Body Company and died after being severely burned while trying to prime a truck motor.


On August 10, 1928, Dockery Royall, 28, of Wilson, married Ossie Mae Jenkins, 25, of Wilson in Wilson. Baptist minister B.F. Jordan performed the ceremony in the presence of Lossie Jenkins, Flonnie Farmer, and Maggie Jordan. Walter M. Foster applied for the license.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 321 Hackney Street, rented at $12/month, Doc Royall, 34, body plant laborer, and wife Ossie May, 26, cook.

He fell from the trestle and drowned.

The body of Ed Howell, who stoked the firebox and tended the boiler on an Atlantic Coast Line passenger train, was not recovered until eleven days after he fell into Contentnea Creek south of Wilson. The strap of his overalls snagged on a tree limb or root, holding him under several feet of water. The coroner noted that the eighty-five dollars Howell had on his person was missing, but opined that it might have fallen from his pocket as he fell. (Or was he robbed and murdered?)

Wilson Daily Times, 6 February 1935.

Per his death certificate, Howell died 25 January 1935. He was a native of Pitt County, but a resident of Rocky Mount, N.C., 18 miles north of Wilson. Cause of death was described as: “accidental drowning stepping off cab steps while train on tressel over Contentna Creek near Wilson NC Train #83.”

The tragic death of Wade Vick.

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 13 October 1929.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 October 1929.


In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Wade Vick, 15, boarder, in the household of white farmer James M. Morgan.

Wade Vick, 20, of Wilson township, son of Payton Vick and Ellen Vick, married William Ann “Willie” Plummer, 19, of Wilson township, daughter of William Plummer and Etta Plummer, on 8 January 1903 in Black Creek. Smith Mercer applied for the license.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Wade Vick, 28; wife William Ann, 25, farm laborer; and widowed mother Martha, 60, farm laborer.

In 1918, Wade Vick registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 2 April 1881; lived at 819 Robeson Street, Wilson; was a laborer for Farmers Cotton Oil Company; and his nearest relative was wife Willie Vick.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 818 Robeson, Austin Branch, 59, oil mill laborer, and wife Cindy, 48, tobacco factory worker, and Wade Vick, 35, oil mill laborer, and wife Anne, 32, tobacco factory worker. 

Wade Vick died 12 October 1929 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 46 years old; was married to Willie Vick; lived at 1018 Robeson Street; was a day laborer at Farmers Cotton Oil Mill; and was born in Wilson County to Patten Vick. He died of a “fractured scull, sudden; caught in belt at cotton oil mill — killed instantly.”