juvenile crime

Drowned boy shows up?

What in the world happened here?

These articles appear back-to-back in the same issue of the Daily Times, and I have not yet found further information to clear up the confusion.

An eight year-old boy named James Applewhite had been missing a week when 13 year-old Raymond Sheppard confessed to police that he had pushed the younger boy into Toisnot Creek, where he had drowned. The very next day, James Applewhite showed up the police department claiming that he had gotten lost on his way home from school — a doubtful claim in 1940s Wilson — and wound up on a farm between Lucama and the Dixie Inn. Police had begun to drain “the lake in Maplewood cemetery” [what lake? Toisnot reservoir? It’s a half-mile north of Maplewood]* when Wiley Barnes‘ wife brought him into town, having just heard about a missing boy. He had appeared at her family’s farm, she said, and had asked for work. To compound the confusion, Raymond Sheppard and other boys claimed this was not the boy who had drowned, though that boy was also named Applewhite.

An article by John G. Thomas, often the Times‘ local-color writer, but here somewhere between straight reporter and editorialist, immediately followed the one above. The focus of the piece leaps from place to place, but these asserted facts emerge: Raymond Sheppard threw rocks at two boys trying to save Applewhite, hindering their efforts; the police rounded up eight boys and parked them in jail while investigating; the year before, Sheppard and two other boys had been charged with beating a white man, who later died of his injuries, for thirty cents’ gain; two of the boys, John Sowers, 15, and Andrew Jackson, 13, had admitted to burning down a Black man’s store and throwing a railroad spike through a truck windshield; Sheppard, Sowers, and Jackson were free because there was no place to hold them (a situation remedied on the spot); Jesse Lee Barnes, 9, Paul Mitchell, 12, Mitchell Hargrove, 13, Roy Lee Barnes, 14, and James Hall, 15, were also arrested; William Roberts, apparently owner of the burned store, pleaded with county commissioners for more police protection in East Wilson; they punted him to the Board of Aldermen.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 April 1945.

*Update: Toisnot Reservoir didn’t exist in 1945, but there was a small pond in Maplewood Cemetery that has since been filled in. Thanks, Matthew Langston!

McGowan punished — “a move in the right direction.”

Wilson Advance, 26 August 1881.

It’s not clear what crime Nathan McGowan committed by “hurting a white boy,” but he was both fined and “severely flogged” for it.

McGowan, son of Tilghman and Charity McGowan, migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana, in the 1890s.

Wheeler family tragedy.

Misfortune dogged the Wheeler family for decades.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 March 1896.

Sidney Wheeler was a man, not a boy, and married nine months after this mishap. On 23 December 1896, Sidney Wheeler, 24, married Lou Armstrong, 20, in Wilson. W.T.H. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of Richard Renfrow, S.A. Smith and Janie Booth.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: day laborer Sidney Wheelus, 27; wife Lula, 23; and son Sidney, 8 months.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Sidney Wheeler, 40, barber; wife Lou, 40, private cook; and children Sidney, 9, Dave, 7, Floyd, 4, and Emma, 2.

In March 1910, Sidney Wheeler Jr. accidentally shot his sister in the head while playing with a gun. She died instantly. Their mother was away from home cooking supper for Frederick Woodard’s family; their father presumably was also at work. The Wheeler girl’s name is unknown. The 1900 census lists only one child; the 1910, only one daughter, Emma, who lived to adulthood. Though described as eight years old, Sidney Jr. was more likely about ten.

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 17 March 1910.

Fourteen months later, Sidney Wheeler Jr. (still described as eight years old) was charged with assault with a deadly weapon against General Tyler, “another colored boy.”

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Wilson Daily Times, 19 May 1911.

The Daily Times published two articles about the incident. The second doubled down on the sensationalist editorializing, but there seems little question that Sidney Jr. engaged in unusually violent behavior.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 May 1911.

Six months later, a Raleigh paper picked up a local-interest bit from Wilson and printed it using the exaggerated dialect and descriptions saved for negro anecdotes. In a nutshell: Anderson Dew visited Sidney Wheeler’s barber shop. With half his face shaved, Dew attempted to spit. Wheeler warned there was no spitting while he was shaving. Further, there was the matter of Dew having ¬†testified against Wheeler on a liquor charge. Dew distracted Wheeler’s attention, then jumped from the chair and ran off to tell this tale.

The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh, N.C.), 7 November 1911.

Sidney Wheeler died 8 March 1912 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 35 years old; was born in Nash County to Richard and Annie Wheeler; worked as a barber; was married; and resided at 710 Vance Street. Lula Wheeler was informant.

Six and-a-half years after their father died, Sidney Wheeler Jr.’s younger brother Dabbie fetched up in court on a breaking and entering charge. As he had already done time on a county road gang, the judge sentenced him to five-to-ten in the state penitentiary.

News & Observer, 7 September 1918.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Hackney Street, college cook Lula Wheeler, 49, widow, and children Richard, 12, Emma, 10, John, 8, and Sammie, 6.

Dabbie Wheeler died four years into his prison term of tuberculosis of the shoulder joint and bowels. He was 17.

Dabbie Wheeler died 21 June 1922 at the State Penitentiary in Raleigh, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 27 August 1904 in Wilson to Sidney Wheeler and Lula Armstrong and worked as a laborer. He was buried in Chapel Hill.

Ten months later, Sidney Wheeler Jr. escaped from a prison camp near the Rocky Face Mountain quarry in Alexander County, North Carolina. I have found nothing further about him.

Alamance Gleaner, 5 April 1923.

Lulu Wheeler died 5 May 1925 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 August 1878 in Elm City to Emma Armstrong; she was the widow of Sid Wheeler; she resided at 523 Church Street; and she did housework for Atlantic Christian College. Emma Wheeler was informant.

Boy runs amuck, cuts principal.

News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 18 January 1920.

  • Carl Lucas
  • Walter Washington — Probably this man: Walter T. Washington died 9 November 1968 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 September 1896; resided at 811 East Edenton Street, Raleigh; was married to Verdie Parrish Washington; was the son of Hillary Washington and Georgianna Sasser; and was a retired schoolteacher. He was buried in National Cemetery, Raleigh.