Memorial Day

A Memorial Day parade to the cemetery.

Memorial Day services at “the cemetery” — which might have been Rest Haven, but was probably what we now know as Vick and Odd Fellows Cemeteries — were a regular event in the early 20th century.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 May 1940.

This Memorial Day: who was Henry T. Ellis?

On 3 June 1919, the Daily Times published a list of Wilson County soldiers who died during World War I. The list is segregated. First in the Colored List is Henry Ellis, who was killed 6 October 1918 and in whose honor Wilson County’s African-American post of the American Legion was named.

Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 1919.

The Daily Times had commemorated Ellis’ death when it received word in December 1918:

“Private Henry Ellis Son of Mrs. Mary J. Howard, Route 1, Wilson, N.C. Died of wounds received in action while fighting for his country and oppressed humanity.” Wilson Daily Times, 4 December 1918.

——

In the 1870 census of Chesterfield township, Nash County, N.C.: farmer Martin Lucus, 52; wife Eliza, 42; and children Irvin, 19, Neverson, 16, Sidney, 13, Eliza, 7, Westray, 6, Anne, 4, and Mary, 2.

In the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Eatmon, 66, wife Eliza Eatmon, 50, daughters Amanda Locus, 18, and Mary J. Locus, 14, “son-in-law” Asa Locus, 10, and “daughter-in-law” Lougene Locus, 4, Margaret Howard, 21, and Harriet Howard, 2. [Nelson Eatmon married Eliza Locust on 28 January 1880 in Wilson County. The Locuses’ relationship designations are obviously erroneous; they were Nelson Eatmon’s stepchildren.]

On 6 February 1887, Warren Ellis, 19, of Wilson County, married Mary Jane Locust, 19, of Wilson County, in Wilson County. Phillis Ellis was one of the witnesses.

In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary J. Ellis, 34, widow, and children Willis, 12, Walter, 9, William, 8, Henry, 5, and Lou, 4.

In the 1910 census of Jackson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Mary Jane Ellis, 44, and children Henry, 16, Louise, 13, and Charles, 6; and brother Neverson Lucas, 56.

Henry Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Nash County, N.C, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 10 November 1895 in Wilson County; lived at Route 2, Bailey; was a tenant farmer for Elijah Griffin; and was single. He signed his card in a neat, well-practiced hand: “Henry T. Ellis.”

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary Howard, 52, widow; son Charlie Ellis, 17; and sister Luginer Colman, 45, widow.

Mary J. Howard died 20 June 1936 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Manuel Howard; was 65 years old; and was born in Wilson County to Martin Locus and Louisa Brantley. Gray Ellis was informant.

Henry T. Ellis, then, was the son of Warren Ellis and Mary Jane Locus Ellis and stepson of Manuel Howard. He was descended (or connected) on his mother’s side from several free families of color with deep roots in the area of western Wilson County — Locuses, Brantleys, Eatmons, Howards — and on his father’s from Hilliard and Faribee Ellis, a formerly enslaved couple who established a prosperous farm in the New Hope area shortly after the Civil War.

I have seen no evidence that Ellis’ body was returned to Wilson County for burial. His parents, grandparents, and siblings are buried in Hilliard Ellis cemetery, but there is no marked grave for him there.

Memorial Day celebration at Rountree Cemetery.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1932.

On Memorial Day 1932, Henry Ellis Post #17 of the American Legion led a group in a march from post headquarters to Rountree Cemetery [which was probably actually Odd Fellows or Vick Cemetery.] There, they held a program that “includes song services and public speaking at which special tribute will be paid to the soldiers of all wars who sleep in Roundtree’s cemetery.

[Note: Via Lane Street Project, I had hoped to be able to arrange a ceremony with Post #17 for this Memorial Day. Perhaps in 2022.]

American Legion Post 17’s memorial services.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1921.

Memorial Day salute in Stantonsburg.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Jose A. Rivera Jr., a police officer in Stantonsburg. Officer Rivera is a relative newcomer to Wilson County and his patrols led him past a small cemetery on the edge of town. He is a veteran and was particularly interested in the military headstones he found. He also saw a marker for William H. Hall. The cemetery is badly overgrown in areas, and Officer Rivera and his chief of police wished to clean it up and place flags on the graves of these veterans that are laid to rest there.

Officer Rivera came across Black Wide-Awake while searching for more information about the cemetery and learned that it is owned by Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church. My cousins’ family, descended from William Hall, have been members for generations, and I was able to provide him a contact information for a church member.

This morning, Officer Rivera emailed me again: “In observance of Memorial Day, our Police Department placed a flag at each of the military headstones that we found at the Bethel AME Zion Church Cemetery.” And he attached photos. (Where available, I’ve added the applications for these markers.)

  • Pvt. Oscar Isler, World War I

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  • M. Sgt. James B. Newsome, World War II and Korea

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  • Milton Winstead, World War II

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  • Robert Farmer, World War I

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  • Sgt. Booker Tarrant, World War I

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  • Leroy Ellis

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  • PFC James F. Ward, World War II

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  • Pvt. Council T. Reid, World War I

  • SFC Willie L. Speight, World War II

I look forward to seeing the results of Stantonsburg Police Department’s collaboration with Bethel A.M.E. Zion to clear this historic cemetery.

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Officer Rivera pays his respects.

Photos courtesy of Jose A. Rivera Jr.; Headstone Applications for Military Veterans 1925-1963, ancestry.com.