migration to Pennsylvania

Other suns: Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia was the site of my closest personal connections to the Great Migration. In the 1940s and ’50s, my father’s brothers and then his mother left Wilson for Philly, and every summer we hit the highway for a week or so at my grandmother’s house on Wyalusing Avenue. Her block was filled with migrants from Georgia and North Carolina and Virginia, and her broader social circle included relatives who had settled in other parts of the city. 

(I lived in Philadelphia for a few years in the 1990s, in both West Philly and Germantown. By then, many of the first generation of Southern migrants had passed on, but their legacy is firm. The fourth generation of my eldest uncle’s offspring is growing up in North Philadelphia right now.)

Pennsylvania’s plethora of on-line records makes for easy documentation of a long list of Wilson County natives who sought new lives in the Keystone State. Not surprisingly, almost all landed in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh or their suburbs.

Hattie Henderson Ricks and husband Jonah C. Ricks, a Nash County, N.C., native, on the porch of their home at 5549 Wyalusing Avenue in West Philadelphia, late 1950s.

Confession.

In February 1938, glorified gossip columnist John G. Thomas penned a column about the guilt-soaked confession of William Mercer, who had killed Wade Farmer in the summer of 1921, then fled the state. Mercer had joined a church in his adopted home of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and his conscience preyed on him as he stood in the choir stand.

Wilson Daily Times, 25 February 1938.

The details are difficult to pin down. When the Daily Times article broke the story of William Mercer, alias Green, on 21 February 1938, it quoted B.E. Howard, the sheriff at the time of the murder, who admitted he could barely recall the details of the incident — had the victim had been shot or stabbed? — though he thought it occurred after a “negro dance or frolic.” On the other hand, the 27 February Raleigh News and Observer reported that an argument had broken out at a church gathering, and Farmer “got in the road” of a bullet fired from Mercer’s gun.

Wade Farmer’s death certificate does not shed much light:

Per the document, Wade Farmer of Macclesfield died in Gardners township near Wilbanks in May 1922.  He was 22 years old, married to Minnie Farmer, and farmed for Essex Webb, who could provide no information about his parents. The medical certification section is so faded as to be almost unreadable, except for “198,” which was the code for “homicide by cutting or piercing instrument.” The place and date of burial and undertaker fields are similarly washed out, and the registrar did not sign it until 3 January 1923.

On 5 March 1938, the Daily Times reported that Mercer had pled guilty to Farmer’s murder, and a judge had sentenced the 42 year-old to one and-a-half to three years, saying he had been merciful because Mercer had given himself up voluntarily.

But had he really?

Wilson Times, 7 September 1934.

Just four years before Mercer’s “confession,” around the time he claimed he had gotten religion, the Times reported that he had been indicted for Wade Farmer’s May 1922 murder and was to be extradited from New Jersey. Mercer had been arrested in Bridgeton, New Jersey, forty miles south of Philadelphia.

Why, then, the framing of Mercer’s come-to-Jesus moment as the astonishing re-appearance after 17 years of a man who’d gone underground for a crime barely remembered? 

Well, in part, because the man arrested in New Jersey in 1934 and hauled back to Wilson was not William Mercer. Rather, he was Ben Faison, originally of Faison, North Carolina. Though an informant positively identified the man as Mercer, several others who “looked him over” said he was not. On 21 September, the Daily Times informed its readers that Wilson police nonetheless would hold Faison until they were satisfied of his identity. 

So, while law enforcement had never forgotten Farmer’s murder, Mercer’s apprehension was entirely the result of his own doing. He had made an apparently upstanding life for himself in Pennsylvania and had completely cut ties with Wilson in order to do so. When his mother Fannie Mercer visited him at the Wilson County jail, it was the first time she had seen her son in 17 years.

News and Observer, 27 February 1938.

Studio shots, no. 151: Matilda Roberts Battle.

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Matilda Roberts Battle (1902-1954).

In the 1910 census of Suffolk, Virginia: furniture salesman W.M. Roberts, 37; wife Sally, 32; and children Leroy, 12, Matilda, 7, Sally A., 4, and Bessie May, 2, all born in North Carolina.

In the 1920 census of Suffolk, Virginia: William Roberts, 46, furniture salesman; wife Sallie, 40; and children Sallie Jr., 15, Leroy, 21, Matilda, 17, Bessie M., 12, Elizabeth, 9, Annie L., 4, and Rebecca F., 1. All the children after Matilda were born in Virginia.

In the 1930 census of Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania: at 222 Plum, rented for $25/month, sewer pitman Wesley C. Battle, 27, restaurant porter; wife Matilda, 27; and four lodgers.

In the 1940 census of Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania: sewer pitman Wesley Battle, 37; wife Matilda, 37; and children Alice, 10, James, 8, Evelyn, 7, Bessie, 3, and Sarah F., 1; and lodger John Majet, 43, roadwork laborer.

Matilda Battle died 28 April 1954 in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 29 August 1902 in Wilson, N.C., to William Roberts and Sallie Kaytes; was married; lived at 362 Tulpehocken Street, Reading; and Bessie James was informant.

Photo courtesy of Beverly Hines-Wright.

Mother Mary P. Wright.

“Trust in God to meet again.” (A Clarence B. Best production.)

Mary P. Wright‘s family was among hundreds who migrated North from Wilson County in the first half of the 20th century. However, her links to home remained strong enough that her children chose to bury her there, in Rest Haven cemetery.

Wright died 28 October 1962 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 October 1886 (not 22 May 1860 as her headstone states) in North Carolina; was the widow of Emit Wright; and lived at 621 Dudley Street, Philadelphia. Informant was Henretta Farmer, 621 Dudley Street.

On 13 November 1921, Jessie Farmer, 28, married Henrietta Wright, 20, in Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1112 Carolina Street, rented for $16/month, Jessey Farmer, 34, tobacco factory laborer; wife Henerator, 26, laundress; and children Jessey Jr., 8, Ervin, 4, and Trumiller, 3.

On 30 December 1930, Raleigh Rae Farmer died in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 22 August 1930 to Jessie Farmer of Wilson, N.C., and Henrietta Wright of Zeblin [Zebulon], N.C. in Wilson. The infant died of bronchitis.

Jesse Farmer Sr. died 26 September 1931 in Asheville, North Carolina, at the Veterans Hospital at Oteen. Per his death certificate, he was born 1 October 1937 in Wilson to Jeff Farmer and Blanche Gay; was married to Henrietta Farmer; his regular residence was in Wilson; and he did factory work.

Though it is not clear when the Wright-Farmer family moved to Philadelphia, the Farmers, at least, were there by 1942, when Jesse Farmer Jr. registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 22 July 1922 in Wilson, North Carolina; his contact was Mrs. Henrietta Farmer, 621 Dudley Street; and he worked for Benjamin Cohen, 1140 North American Street, Philadelphia.

Jesse Farmer Jr., son of Jesse and Henrietta Farmer, married Virginia Atherine Darden, 24, daughter of William Sr. and Florence Darden, on 29 March 1947 at Crucifixion Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

In the 1950 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, city directory: Farmer Henrietta 621 Dudley HOwrd5-8655.

Wright’s daughter Henretta Farmer died just four years after her mother, on 5 June 1966. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 July 1909 in North Carolina to Emmett Wright and Mary Pullet; was a widow; and lived at 621 Dudley Street. Jesse Farmer was informant.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2019.

Walter Artis Sr. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Walter Artis migrated from Wilson County to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the first decade of the 20th century. He adopted a variant spelling of his surname — “Arties.” He was the brother of Adeline Artis Rountree.

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In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Ned Artis, 44; wife Jane, 42; and children Polian, 14, Mary J., 13, Dora, 12, Walter, 9, Joseph, 7, Corinna, 6, James, 4, and Charles, 6 months.

In the 1900 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Ned Artis, 65; wife Jane, 60; and children Dora, 31, Walter, 28, Joe, 26, Jimmie, 21, Charley, 20, Effie, 18, Fred, 15, and Jim, 14.

Pittsburgh Gazette, 6 May 1909.

Oscar Arties died 20 February 1913 in Pittsburgh. Per his death certificate, he was born 5 June 1911 in Pittsburgh to Walter Arties of North Carolina and Lottie Coles of Virginia, and lived at 2203 Bedford Avenue.

Xenia Evening Gazette, 9 September 1913.

Elsie L. Arties died 3 January 1914 in Pittsburgh. Per her death certificate, she was born 6 December 1904 in Pittsburgh to Walter Arties of North Carolina and Lottie C. Coles of Lexington County, Virginia; lived at 2203 Bedford Avenue; and was a school girl.

In the 1920 census of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: at 604 Francis Street, steel mill laborer Walter Artis, 48; wife Lottie, 38; nephew Vernon Burke, 22; niece Janie Burke, 19; son Walter Artis, 6; mother-in-law Sarah Cole, 60; and niece Hazel L. Burke, 11 months.

In the 1930 census of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: at 911 Moore Way, rented at $23/month, Walter Artis, 52, odd jobs laborer, born in North Carolina; wife Lottie, 48, born in Virginia; children Walter Jr., 16, and Hazel, 11, both born in Pennsylvania; and lodgers James, 28, and Nellie Terry, 25.

Lottie Artis died 12 May 1930 in Pittsburgh. Per her death certificate, she was born 13 March 1881 in Lexington County, Virginia, to William H. Coles of Hanover County and Sarah Andrews of Richmond; was married to Walter Artis; resided at 911 Kirkpatrick; and was buried in Lincoln cemetery. Lucy Perry, 2218 Arcena, was informant.

Walter Arties applied for a Social Security number in 1937. Per his application, he was born in Wilson County, North Carolina, on 18 October 1872 to Ned Artis and Jane Bynam.

In the 1940 census of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: at 2232 Bedford Avenue, Walter Artis, 67, and wife Lena, 58.

Walter Arties Sr. died 5 November 1952 in Pittsburgh. Per his death certificate, he was about 75 years old; was born in North Carolina to Ned Artis and an unknown mother; lived at 2232 Bedford Avenue; worked as a bank janitor. Walter Arties of New York was informant.

 

Studio shots, no. 104: Winnie Locus Rankin.

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Winnie Locus Rankin (1915-1961).

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Edward Locus, 37; wife Cora, 27; and children Linwood, 10, Maggie, 9, Beulah, 8, Winnie, 6, Chicken, 4, Delphy, 3, John Ed., 1, and Quinton, 6 months.

In the 1930 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Ed Locus, 47; wife Cora, 35; and children Linward, 20, Maggie, 19, Ula, 18, Winnie, 17, Alma, 16, Redelpha, 13, John E., 11, Clinton, 10, Kenny, 9, Josephine, 7, Easter, 5, Louise, 4, Frank, 3, and Nancy, an infant.

In the 1944 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, city directory: Rankin Herman (Winnie) lab h 319 Calliope

In the 1953 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, city directory: Rankin Herman (c; Winnie) h 319 Calliope

Winnie Lucas Rankin died 19 October 1961 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user samjoyatk.

 

Pennsylvania prisoners.

  • Bud Wright

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Bud Wright was convicted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of “assault and battery to kill” in February 1921 and sentenced to five to seven years. Per his prison record, he was born in Wilson on 26 February 1892; worked as a laborer; was illiterate, having dropped out of third grade at age 12; left home at age 12; occasionally drank to excess; was married with no children; had 26 cents in cash, one pocketbook, and four keys; and his wife Rosie Wright lived at 732 Siegel Street, Philadelphia.

  • William Hall

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William Hall was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced 25 June 1924 in Philadelphia to six to twelve years. Per his prison record, he was born 4 September 1894 in Wilson; had a patch of white hair (a birthmark) above his left eyebrow; worked as a bell boy; left home at age 14; was Baptist; was unmarried; had two shirts and two sleeve buttons; and his sister Ella Wilcher lived at 2424 Oxford Street, Philadelphia.

Hall’s record included a card recording his Bertillon measurements, an early system of criminal identification.

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  • James Foreman

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James Former, alias James Henry Forman, was convicted of larceny and sentenced 11 October 1919 in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, to one to three years. Per his prison record, he was born 8 May 1895 in Wilson; occasionally drank too much; worked as a bell boy; left school at age 12 and left home at age 18; was married with no children; had one money belt; and his mother Anna Forman lived at 205 Spruce Street, Wilson.

  • Samuel Ennis

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Samuel Ennis was convicted of assault and battery and aggravated assault and battery and sentenced 2 October 1928 in Philadelphia to two to four years. Per his prison record, he was born 10 March 1890 in Wilson; worked as a laborer; completed the fourth grade; left home at age 15; was Baptist; was unmarried; had 15 cents, one carfare carrier and one key on a ring; and his sister Gertrude Brodie lived at 802 Green Street, Wilson.

——

Gertrude Ennis, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Tom and Mariah Ennis, married George Broddie, 21, son of Thornton and Lizzie Brodie, on 15 February 1903 in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at Ed McCullers‘ residence in the presence of Ellen Brodie, Ione Holden and Eddie McCullers.

Pennsylvania, Prison, Reformatory, and Workhouse Records, 1829-1971, http://www.ancestry.com.

Snaps, no. 34: Charles William Hagans.

Charles Hagans 2

Charles Hagans

Charles William Hagans (1883-1949), son of Lawrence and Mary Etta Pender Hagans.

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In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Larnce Haggan, 49, wife Etha, 44, and children Joe, 21, Augustus, 19, Oscar, 18, Charlie, 16, Annie, 13, Connie, 10, Lena, 8, Mollie, 7, William L., 4, Minnie, 3, and Pattie, 1, and Lawrence’s widowed mother Alice Hagans, 70.

In the 1920 census of Beaver Falls, Beaver County, Pennsylvania: at 1315 Seventh Avenue, Charles Hagen, 35, self-employed barber; wife Gertrude, 36; lodger London Broady, 32, barber; and nephew Raymond Hartzell, 30, garage mechanic. Charles was born in North Carolina; Gertrude and Raymond in Ohio; and London in Virginia.

Report to the 1920 census notwithstanding, C. William Hagans and Amanda G. Nichols were not married until 25 January 1921, when they wed in Summit County. Ohio. Per their marriage license, Hagans was born 9 April 1884 in Wilson County, N.C., to Lawrence Hagans and Mary Gray; worked as a barber; and lived at 28 Arch Street, Barberton, Ohio. Amanda G. Nichols was born 23 November 1883 in Chillicothe, Ohio, to Robert R. Hackley and Julia Adams, and had been married once before.

In 1921, Gertrude Hagans purchased an ad in The Tiger, the Beaver Falls High School yearbook:

On 1 July 1927, Charles W. Hagans was sentenced to serve one year in the Allegheny County Workhouse on a conviction for unspecified liquor law violations. A register shows that he reported 7 July 1927; was 43 years old; was born in North Carolina; was of medium complexion with black hair and brown eyes; was 5’8″, weighed 160 pounds at entry at 174 at release; was a barber (and worked as same while incarcerated); and was a Methodist. He was released early — on 30 April 1928.

In the 1930 census of Battle Creek, Calhoun County, Michigan: at 148 Roseneath, rented for $35/month, barber Charles W. Hagans, 45, born in North Carolina; wife Gertrude M., 46, born in Ohio; and lodgers John Young, 30, drugstore porter, born in Pennsylvania; and Harry Godbolt, 46, barber, born in South Carolina.

In the 1940 census of Battle Creek, Calhoun County, Michigan:  at 101 Glenurban Avenue, barber Charles W. Hagans, 56, born in North Carolina; wife Gertrude, 56, born in Ohio; and lodgers Taswell Buckner, 50, insect and rodent exterminator, born in Alabama, and Harry Godbolt, 55, laborer on city streets, born in South Carolina.

In 1942, Charles William Hagans registered for the World War II draft in Calhoun County, Michigan. Per his registration card, he was born 9 April 1884 in Wilson County, North Carolina; resided at 36 North Wood, Battle Creek, Calhoun County; and his contact and employer was George Anderson, 56 1/2 Capital S.W., Battle Creek.

Charles W. Hagans died 11 November 1943 in Battle Creek, Calhoun County, Michigan. Per his death certificate, he was born 9 April 1884 in Wilson, North Carolina, to Lawrence W. Hagans.

Gertrude Marie Hagans died 5 October 1948 in Battle Creek. Per her death certificate, she was born 1891 in Chillicithe, Ohio, to James Hockley.

Charles and Gertrude Hagans are buried in Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson.

Photos courtesy of Ancestry.com user TeiaHarper1; U.S. School Yearbooks, 1900-1990, database on-line at Ancestry.com; Allegheny County Workhouse, Pennsylvania Prison, Reformatory and Workhouse Records, 1829-1971, database on-line at Ancestry.com.

Where did they go?: Pennsylvania death certificates, no. 7.

The seventh in a series — Pennsylvania death certificates for Wilson County natives:

  • Minnie McCowan Brown

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In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Anna McGown, 35, washerwoman; and children William, 16, Emma, 15, Bettie, 13, Margaret, 8, Charles, 6, and Samuel, 2.

  • Matilda Roberts Battle

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In the 1910 census of Suffolk, Virginia: furniture salesman W.M. Roberts, 37; wife Sally, 32; and children Leroy, 12, Matilda, 7, Sally A., 4, and Bessie May, 2, all born in North Carolina.

  • Emma Ellis Bunn

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In the 1870 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Hilliard Ellis, 43, farmer; wife Feribee, 40; and children Caroline, 16, William, 14, George, 11, Emily, 9, Hilliard, 6, Mary A., 4, and Warren, 8 months.

  • Benjamin Edward Earle

  • Harvey Chesterfield Dasher

Per an index of delayed birth certificates, Harvey Chesterfield Dasher was born in 1902 in Wilson County to Charles Dasher and Carrie Pitts.

In the 1920 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: at 2403 East 39th Street, pullman porter Harvey C. Dasher, 36, born in New York; wife Carrie, 34, born in North Carolina; son Harvey Jr., 17, department store elevator operator, born in North Carolina; and lodger Hattie Johnson, 42, born in North Carolina.

In the 1930 census of Manhattan, New York County, New York: dining car waiter Harry Newsome, 39; wife Carrie, 43; and son Harvey Dasher, 25, barber; all born in Virginia.

In the 1940 census of Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts: in the state prison, Harvey Dasher, 38, born in North Carolina.