On 24 March 1866, two white men appeared before justice of the peace A.G. Brooks to swear that Asa Exum had stolen a coat, a pair of pants, and a pistol from them.
As his surname suggests, Asa Exum apparently lived in neighboring Wayne County, North Carolina, but was familiar across southeastern Wilson County. Dr. L.A. Stith lived in Wilson, and Seth Hawkins Tyson near Stantonsburg. Someone investigated the charges and scrawled a brief note under the first entry: “Says he bought it from [illegible] or Guest.”
We first met Cora Moore when we read of her daring escape from the Wilson city jail. Here’s what put her there to begin with.
It started with the arrest of Mamie Ricks for possession of cocaine and “knock-out drops” after she tried to poison Ada McNeal. When Ricks was arrested at her Railroad Street home, police found “a number of pieces of fine clothing.” Efird’s Department Store quickly identified two silk dresses as goods stolen from them. The remaining items were a mystery, but Joe and Ada McNeal were also charged with larceny.
Wilson Daily Times, 27 November 1923.
Less than two months later, the police cracked the case.
In short, a New York coat and suit manufacturer shipped goods south via Norfolk Southern freight. About three miles outside Wilson, someone (a co-conspirator?) threw the boxes of clothing off the train. Joe McNeal witnessed “two negroes in a large seven passenger car” stash the clothes at a spot in Grabneck. As the goods were already hot, he tipped off two friends, Cora Moore and Aaron McKeithan, and three retrieved some of them and hid them in a trunk in Moore’s house. When they realized they were under suspicion, they sold as much of the loot as they could.
Wilson Daily Times, 15 January 1924.
Neither Cora Moore, Mamie Ricks, Ada McNeal, Joe McNeal, nor Aaron McKeithan are readily identifiable in Wilson County records. The surnames of the McNeals and McKeithan suggests they came from the Cumberland County, N.C., area, and they may not have remained long in Wilson.
William Lee McMillan — perhaps: William Lee McMillian died 8 May 1957 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 20 December 1884 in Robeson County, N.C., to Henry McMillian and Annie Willis; was the widower of Julia McMillan; lived at 708 Manchester Street, Wilson; and was a laborer.
On 6 May 1910, the Times separately noted (1) the arrest of Mattie Ham on a charge of stealing meat, tobacco, and other goods from George Dew and (2) the trial of Bernice Winstead, whose identical twin brother Ernest testified for him in the trial for a similar crime, committed in December 1909 against Dew.
Wilson Daily Times, 6 May 1910.
Four days later, a follow-up piece reconciles and clarifies the stories. Mattie Hamm lived in one room of a two-room house. After taking meat and flour from Dew’s smokehouse, Bernice Winstead stashed them in Hamm’s extra room, claiming they were his. Trackers later arrived at her door step. Frightened, Hamm rushed to Wilson to tell Winstead to move his stuff, then packed up all her own belongings and vacated the house. She was arrested anyway and charged with receiving stolen goods, but released after Ernest Winstead’s testimony cleared her.
Wilson Daily Times, 10 May 1910.
In the 1880 census of Jackson township, Nash County: farmer Berry Winstead, 52; wife Loucinda, 48; children Sidney, 22, Riny, 18, Melviny, 16, Margaret, 14, William, 12, Charles, 9, and Ernest and Burnett, 6; grandchildren Julius, 4, and George, 2; and boarder Charlotte Winstead, 75.
[Sidenote: Bernice, pronounced BERniss, though not common, was a name most often given to boys in this area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Eventually, female BerNEESE gained popularity. As is the case with most unisex names — think Gayle, Dana, Leslie, Ashley, Courtney — Bernice for boys soon disappeared.]
On 27 October 1897, Ernest Winstead, 24, of Nash County, son of Berry and Louinda Winstead, married Martha Wright, 18, of Nash County, daughter of David and Elizabeth Wright, in Rocky Mount township, Nash County.
On 13 September 1903, Ernest Winstead, 27, of Taylors township, son of Berry and Lou Winstead, married Dora Deans, 18, of Nash County, daughter of Peter and Manda Deans, in Taylors township.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Finch Mill Road, laundress Martha Griswold, 50, widow; nephews Jeffrey, 20, brick moulder in brick yard, and Walter Hill, 15, odd jobs laborer; and lodgers Willie Simms, 20, brick moulder in brick yard, and Earnest Winstead, 36, widower, farm laborer.
In the 1920 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: tenant farmer Ernest Winstead, 49; wife Louisa, 41; and children Roosevelt, 18, Essie May, 17, Mildred, 15, William, 12, Enman, 8, Leodell, 6, Dona May, 3, Sherrod, 2, and Jesse, 3 months.
Louise Winstead died 6 June 1925 in Edenton township, Chowan County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was 48 years old; was married to Ernest Winstead; was born in Wilson County to William Hyman and Lizzie Woodard; and was buried in Chowan County. Ernest Winstead, Edenton, was informant.
Ernest Winstead died 17 April 1952 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 74 years old; was born in Nash County to Berry and Lurenda Winstead; was married; worked as a carpenter and minister; and lived in Norfolk, Virginia. He was buried in Granite Point cemetery, Wilson County.
Fresh off serving thirty days on a chain gang for being homeless, 16 year-old Odie Williams showed up in court on larceny charges in his dandy finest — knee pants, black silk stockings, white slippers with rubber bottoms (sneakers?) — received his one-year sentence … and escaped.
Beyond his clothes, Williams’ description is poetic — “slick and neat,” white teeth, “medium dark ginger cake complexion,” and “mouth shaped like the rim of a jug” (whatever that may be.) I don’t know if he was ever caught. I sincerely hope he wasn’t.
Asael Farmer’s estate file contains a cluster of documents related to the prosecution of State vs. Dave. The outcome of the case is not clear.
In February 1863, a Wilson County justice of the peace issued a warrant for Dave’s arrest for breaking into Martha Ann Edwards’ home and stealing her clothes.
… This day complained on oath one Marthaan Edwards of [Wilson County] that a Slave by the Name of Dave Belonging to the estate of Asahel Farmer Dec’d on the Night of 24th December 1862 Broke into Hur dwelling House and Stoled therefrom & carried of one Spotted Blanket two dresses ready made & two dresses not made 3 yards pant cloth & some shoes [illegible] the said Martha An is fully convinced threw every Circumstance connected that the said slave Dave stold the things or was accessory there too These are therefore in the Name of the State commanding you to apprehend the said slave & him have before me or some other Justice of sd. County to be Delt With as the law directs Given under my hands & seal in said County the 15 February 1863 M.G. Williams J.P.
Summons for the state Martha An Edwards, Dilly Ellis, W.B. Batts, John B. Batts, Hines a slave of Thomas Taylor, for the Boy Langleys man Farmers Belfor & Haywood Stricklands Abram
Asael Farmer’s administratorJohn Farmer filed an apologetic statement with the court explaining his failure to produce Haywood, an enslaved man and critical witness, in court.
State vs. Dave slave of John Farmer Admr of Asahel Farmer
John Farmer the owner of the defendant maketh oath that Haywood slave Jessee Mercer and Jere Batts, are material witnesses for the defendant, without the benefit of whose testimony he cannot safely come to trial, that the subpoena for the said slave Haywood was served upon one W.W. Batts in whose possession the slave was supposed to be but that said slave had without the knowledge of this affiant passed into the possession of the said Jesse Mercer, that a subpoena has been issued for the said Jere Batts but has not been served on account of his absence from this County that he expects to have said witnesses present at the next term of this Court, that this affidavit is not made for delay but truly for the cause here in set forth John Farmer
The clerk of court issued a subpoena for W.W. Batts; William Winstead; Elijah Williams; William Crumpler; Belford and Abram, slaves of the E. Strickland estate; Haywood, slave of William W. Batts; “Mose works at Harris Winstead’s”; and Jerry Batts, son of W.B. Batts, to appear in court on the fourth Monday in September, 1863.
Another subpoena called for the appearance of Martha Edwards, Dilly Ellis, W.B. Batts, John B. Batts, and Horace, a slave of Thomas Taylor, to appear the same day.
In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Haywood Batts, 34; wife Rodah, 27; and children Lucy, 17, and Alice, 4.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Belford Farmer, 46, farm laborer; wife Rebeca, 36; and children Morning, 17, Benj’m, 10, Alice, 13, Moses, 8, Anna, 5, and Ida, 1; and Allen Battle, 21.
On 22 September 1870, Belford Farmer, son of Ben and Ellen Farmer, married Peggy Flowers, daughter of Henry and Annie Flowers, in Wilson County.
In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed laundress Peggy Farmer, 43, and children Mourning, 23, Alice, 21, Annie, 13, Moses, 16, Ida, 10, Belford, 7, and Mary, 5, and grandsons Willie, 3, and Henry, 1.
Perhaps, in the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Abram Strickland, 66, and wife Julia, 50, both farm laborers.
Asael Farmer Estate Records, Wilson County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
As usual, the 15 January 1924 Wilson Times mined the police blotter to publish titillating filler stories of alleged criminal activity by African-Americans. Here, two black women were arrested and charged with robbing “a Greek” of seventeen dollars. The women had proclaimed innocence, but a search netted $4.30 “concealed in the hair of Naoma.”
Just below this clip, in the same column, another article — whose title and subtitle consumed as many column inches as the body of the piece — detailed the heavy penalty Mayor Silas R. Lucas imposed upon Norman Roberson for nearly running over a police officer and then cursing the officer out. And then, bizarrely, a paragraph setting out the follow-up to the charge above: “Mamie Roberson and Naomi Bryant, two negro women, charged with robbing Mike Greek were found not guilty and dismissed.”
Wilson Times, 15 January 1924.
Mamie Roberson — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 506 Smith Street, widow Grace Roberson, 32; her cousin Mamie Roberson, 16; and roomer Annie M. Barnes, 16, tobacco factory laborer; all born in South Carolina.
Norman Roberson — possibly the Norman Robertson, 24, son of Edward and Cherry Robertson of Suffolk, Virginia, who married Dora Hines, 20, daughter of James and Mary Hines, on 10 August 1914. Free Will Baptist minister Robert Dickins performed the ceremony at a Green Street location in the presence of Dock Barnes, Martin Cofield, and John Williams.