Former glory?

Today’s Wilson Times touted the renovation of the James Scarborough plantation house near Saratoga, and its new use as an event venue, as a return to its “former glory.” Though the reporter’s editor was unfazed by her nostalgic waxing, some readers on Facebook immediately homed in on the problem.

I added to the Facebook thread a link to Black Wide-Awake‘s post on this 200 year-old house. The Times article speaks of parties and weddings and family reunions, and the desire of the new owners to share “this home and its history with the community,” but there is no mention, even in passing, of the largest set of actors in that history. Nan, Aggy Sr., Silvey, Lemon, Washington, Sumter, Young Aggy, Haywood, Luke, Gilford, Orange, and Willis, among others, were enslaved by James and Martha Scarborough, and their labor created and sustained the family’s wealth. Enslaved men and women built this house, labored in its fields, cooked in its kitchen, cared for its children. Glory came only with freedom.

After some hours, The Times modified its article and offered this statement — an acknowledgment that stops well short of an apology and seems still to miss the point.

My thanks to all who spoke truth and demanded accountability today.

Photo courtesy of Wilson Times.

Wiley Simms house, part 2.

We first saw the Wiley Simms house here. Built about 1840 for either his uncle James or Benjamin Simms, the house still stands, empty but in decent shape, on Old Stantonsburg Road.

Exterior modifications include the closure of the right front door and two narrow windows spaced close together in the center bay of the second floor.

The northern elevation, showing one of the large stepped chimneys, now broken.

A glimpse through the left front window into one of the front rooms, showing a large plaster medallion and cornices.

In the same room, the original woodwork of the fireplace surround is intact, if terribly painted. (To say that the house is “empty” is an oversimplification. Rather, it is uninhabited. Otherwise, it appears to be used for storage.)

Paneled wainscoting in the right front room.

Generations of enslaved African-Americans served inside this house and in the Simms family’s surrounding fields.

Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2020.

Edwin Barnes house.

Per Kate Ohno’s Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

“Edwin Barnes was born in 1816 and received training as a doctor. He married Elizabeth Simms, daughter of James Simms. Dr. Barnes’ practice extended from Stantonsburg too Wilson. Josephus Daniels described Dr. Barnes in the first volume of his autobiography, Tar Heel Editor. ‘He was the leading physician in Wilson, universally beloved. He never had an office. There were no telephones to call him when his services were needed. If he could not be found at home, he was usually at his favorite drugstore — favorite because interesting people gathered there to swap experiences and tell stories … Dr. Barnes never sent a bill to a patient of failed to respond to a professional call from those he know could not pay him. He was the model country-town doctor, responding to any calls, day or night, to distant country homes over bad roads.’ Dr. Barnes’ commodious house is situated in a grove of old trees between Wilson and Stantonsburg. The house was designed in the Greek Revival style and is one of the most outstanding examples of this style in Wilson County. Built circa 1840, the house stands two stories high and boasts two front doors, a common feature of Wilson residential architecture before the Civil War. Molded window and door surrounds with square cornerbacks are used throughout and the full-width shed porch is supported by graceful, flared, fluted columns. On the interior, the house has been minimally altered. The woodwork is original throughout, as is the floor plan. The two front doors lead to two front rooms joined by a connecting door. An enclosed stair with flat panel wainscot leads to the second floor. Both double-panel and eight-panel doors are used in the house and flat panel wainscoting with a molded chair rail enhances the main rooms. The vernacular mantels feature the use of narrow reeded boards.”


In the 1840 census of District 4, Edgecombe County: Edwin Barnes is listed as the head of a household that included one white male aged 20-29; one white female aged 15-19; one white female under five; and one white female aged 60-69. He also reported 14 slaves — two males under ten; one aged 10-23; one male aged 36-45; one male aged 55-99; one female under ten; four females aged 10-23; one female 24-35; and one female aged 36-54.

In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County: farmer Edwin Barnes, 32; wife Elizeth, 24; and children Louisa, 9, and Franklin, 6. Barnes reported $6500 in assets.

In the 1850 slave schedule of Edgecombe County, Edwin Barnes reported owning 32 enslaved people.

In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Edwin Barnes, 43; wife Elizabeth, 36; and children Lou, 20, Franklin, 15, Edwin, 9, and Dora, 4. Barnes reported $14,000 in real property and $56,780 in personal property (most in the form of enslaved people.)

In the 1860 slave schedule of Saratoga district, Wilson County, Edwin Barnes reported holding 48 enslaved people (who lived in only five houses). He also reported holding another 15 enslaved people “in trust for four minor heirs.”

William J. Armstrong house.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

“Captain William James Armstrong, the original owner of this house, was born in 1810, and was the son of Gray Armstrong. Armstrong was appointed constable of Edgecombe County in 1828, and by 1834 he had purchased a mercantile business near Upper Town Creek Church. Armstrong’s military rank was acquired through his service in the Edgecombe County militia. He was prominent in both the religious and political activities if Edgecombe County, serving as justice of the peace as early as 1845 and as clerk of the Falls of the Tar Primitive Baptist Church (in Rocky Mount) between 1854 and 1856. Armstrong married Elizabeth Braswell in 1832 and after her death he was married to Catherine Williams. By the time of his death in 1856 Armstrong was the principal in a mercantile firm, consisting of Willie Gray Barnes and Baker B. Armstrong, which operated a store at Joyner’s Depot. … The house probably dates circa 1830, about the time of Armstrongs first marriage and consists of a one-story Greek Revival cottage with a hipped roof and two interior chimneys. The board-and-batten siding, possibly dating from the mid-nineteenth century is an unusual survival in Wilson County. Although the fenestration and floor plan have been altered and one chimney removed, the original trabeated door remains intact, as do some of the mantels. The carport was added by the present owner. A charming early twentieth-century latticed well house is located to the east of the house.”


For more on the more than two dozen men and women William J. Armstrong enslaved, see here.

Coffield Ellis house.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

The house as photographed for Ohno’s book.

“Cofield Ellis was the son of William Ellis and Unity Dixon. He was born in 1797 and married Pennina Bartee before 1821. In 1813 William Ellis and Cofield inherited a grist mill and land on Toisnot Swamp. It may be that it was on this property that he built his house in 1839. Ellis died in 1854, and the plantation house passed to his son, William Cofield Ellis, William C. Ellis was born in 1821 and in 1853 married Sallie M. Peacock. Sallie Peacock Ellis died in 1865 and Ellis married Rebecca Frances Bridgers. … [T]he Ellis family has maintained continuous ownership of the plantation to date. The house is a substantial two-story structure with a gable roof, engaged porch and rear ell. Double should chimneys with tumbling [sic] are located in the gable ends. The interior has been altered.”

In 1817, Cofield Ellis inherited an enslaved man named Belfour, valued at $712, from the estate of his father William Ellis.

In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County, North Carolina: farmer Coffield Ellis, 53, and wife Penelope, 52, with daughter Unity Ellis, 16; Cintha Ellis, 30; Muroe Cobb, 14; Thos. Evans, 16; Penny Johnson, 16; and Jno. Pittman, 16.

In the 1850 slave schedule of Edgecombe County, Coffield Ellis reported owning 20 enslaved people — 12 men and boys aged 2 to 29, and 8 women and girls aged 2 to 60.

In the 1860 census of Saratoga district, Wilson County: farmer William C. Ellis, 38, and wife Sallie, 25. William reported owning $20,900 in personal property, which would have consisted primarily of enslaved people. [Note: Dempsey Ethridge, 47, and family were listed next door. Ethridge’s occupation was “manager of farm.” Was he William C. Ellis’ overseer?]

In the 1860 slave schedule of Saratoga district, Wilson County, William C. Ellis reported owning 13 enslaved people — six men and boys aged 4 to 29, and seven women and girls aged 9 to 38.

In the 1870 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: William Ellis, 48, farmer; wife Rebecca F., 33; and three young children; plus farmer’s apprentice John Ellis, 14.

The extended Ellis family were prolific slaveowners whose holdings will be examined in detail elsewhere in this blog.

Garry Williamson house.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

The house as photographed for Ohno’s book.

“Garry Williamson was born in 1817, the son of Thomas and Kasiah Williamson. Williamson inherited part of the land between Contentnea Creek and Marsh Swamp granted to his grandfather, Joseph Williamson, in 1779 by Governor Richard Caswell. Family tradition has it that an earlier plantation house was incorporated into the present house, which Williamson inherited from his father in 1857 and which he is said to have remodelled in the same year. Williamson married Gillie Flowers in 1840. The couple’s daughter Sallie married prominent local physician, Dr. H.F. Freeman, in 1878. Howard Franklin Freeman was born in Franklin County in 1848 and he was educated at Wake Forest University and the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore. Upon graduation from college, Freeman began his medical in the Rock Ridge area. After his marriage to Sallie Freeman the couple resided wit Garry Williamson and his family at the family homeplace. … The Freeman heirs owned the property until 1976. The house shows little indication of its pre-1857 origins, and the bulk of the fabric of the building appears to date from Garry Williamson’s occupancy. The oldest section of the house consists of a two-and-one-half story gable roofed structure with robust exterior end chimneys. These chimneys are notable because of the use of native stone mixed with brick which was stuccoed and gauged to resemble blocks of dressed stone. The mixed stone and brick chimneys are typical of Old Fields township and seldom found in the easten part of the county, but the gauged stucco work is extremely rare. At the rear of the house stands a one-story ell with porches, which was probably added by Dr. Freeman circa 1880 when he build his office on the northwest corner of the house. In recent years Freeman’s office was moved to the Country Doctor Museum in Bailey. Although little remains of Dr. Freeman’s famous garden, the old turn-of-the-century kitchen stands to one side of the main house. Family tradition asserts that the kitchen was moved to its present location so that Garry Williamson and a daughter could occupy the structure. The interior of the main house exhibits a hall-and-parlor plan with an enclosed stair ascending from the rear of the house. The rear ell appears to have consisted of two rooms.”

It is difficult to reconcile this image from Ohno’s book with that above, but this is said to be the Garry Williamson house in 1903, with members of daughter Sallie Williamson Freeman’s family.


In the 1850 census of Nash County, North Carolina: farmer Garry Williamson, 33; wife Gilly, 26; and children Hinnant, 10, Nancy 7, and Lucinda, 3.

In the 1850 slave schedule of Nash County, North Carolina, Garry Williamson with two enslaved people, a 20 year-old male and a 17 year-old female, both described as mulatto.

In the 1860 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farmer Garry Williamson, 44; wife Gilly, 35; and children Lucinda, 13, Nancy, 11, Sidney, 5, and Sarah A., 2.

In the 1860 slave schedule of Old Fields township, Wilson County, having inherited from his father’s estate, Garry Williamson is listed with eight enslaved people, three men aged 23, 28 and 55, and five girls, aged 8 months, 4, 7, 8, 10 and 11.

I have blogged extensively about the extended Williamson family’s slaveholdings (including Garry Williamson’s father, grandparents and brother) and about the lives of African-American Williamsons.

Wiley Simms house.

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Wilson Daily Times, 22 March 1975.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981): “Local tradition maintains that this house was built circa 1840 for James or Benjamin Simms, who were twins. The Simms brothers were born in 1787. Wiley Simms is said to have occupied the house after his marriage to Sarah E. Wilkins in 1862. Wiley Simms died in 1876 and the Simms family still owns the property. The house was built in the Greek Revival style and is similar to the Edwin Barnes House. The main section of the house is two stories high with a one-story shed extension at the rear and a one-story kitchen wing. Large, single-shoulder stepped chimneys are on the exterior ends. The attached porch is elegantly designed and is supported by tapered, reeded columns with a Greek key design below the capital. The two front windows and two front doors have typical reeded surrounds with square corner blocks. On the interior a hall-and-parlor plan is followed with a long narrow rear shed room giving access to an enclosed stair. The original woodwork has remained intact as have the unique floromorphic plaster medallions and cornices. Panelled wainscot is found in the two front rooms.”

For more on the 1922 tornado that struck the Evansdale community, see here.


In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County: Willie Simms, 29, farmer. He reported $5178 real property. [“Willie” was the usual spelling of “Wiley” in 19th century eastern North Carolina.]

In the 1850 slave schedule of Edgecombe County, Willie Simms is reported with 11 slaves, four women aged 23 to 60 and seven boys and men aged 1 to 45.

In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: Willie Simms, 38, farmer. Simms, a bachelor, reported $25,070 in real property and $39,140 in personal property.

In the 1860 slave schedule of Saratoga township, Wilson County, Willie Simms is reported with 30 slaves, 13 girls and women aged 3 to 50, and 17 men and boys, aged 1 to 52.

The 1870 census of Wilson County lists many African-Americans with the surname Simms in Wilson County, especially in the southeast section. These include Rose Simms, 37, with her children Milly, 10, Susan, 7, and Lucy Simms, 8 months (plus Mary Hall, 23), listed next-door to Willie Simms.

Elias Barnes plantation.

As photographed here, Elias Barnes’ “big house” survived long enough to be catalogued in Kate Ohno’s Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

“Elias Barnes was the son of Jesse Barnes and Edith Jordan. He was born in 1809 in the section of Edgecombe County which later became Wilson County. In 1830 he married Mahala Emma Sharpe. Barnes was the brother of General Joshua Barnes, who is often cited as the founder of Wilson County. William Barnes of Stantonsburg Township, another prominent planter, was also his brother. (See the William Barnes House, Stantonsburg Township). Elias Barnes, like his brothers, was a farmer of substance, and he served as a trustee of Hopewell Academy when it was incorporated in 1841 by the state legislature. Elias and Mahala Barnes’ family was a large and prominent one. Their son, Jesse Sharpe Barnes, was a lawyer who became a local hero during the Civil War. The Wilson United Confederate Veterans Camp was named in his honor. Another son, Joshua Barnes, became a distinguished local doctor. Elias Barnes died in 1856 when he was struck by lightning while squirrel hunting. His widow Mahala continued to occupy the property until her death circa 1876. In 1860 Mahala was listed in the census as a farmer with the staggering sums of $13,700 worth of real property and $10,500 worth of personal property [including enslaved people.] After Mahala’s death her son, William S. Barnes, sold her property to Henry Harriss. Like the General Joshua Barnes House and the William Barnes house, this house was probably built between 1845 and 1860. The Elias Barnes House is very similar stylistically to his two brothers’ houses. It is a large, square, Greek Revival style structure with a shallow hipped roof, interior chimneys and a three-bay facade. The wide trabeated door was probably once surmounted by a door or window with sidelights. On the interior, like the William Barnes, Ward-Applewhite-Thompson, and Edmundson-Lane-Thompson houses, a central-hall plan is followed. A broad stair ascends from the front of the building, and there are two main rooms off each side of the hall. The interior finish is also similar to the Ward-Applewhite-Thompson and Edmundson-Lane-Thompson houses in the robust turned newel posts, handsome Greek Revival door surrounds and simple mantels.”

For more about the enslaved men and women who worked Elias Barnes’ home and fields, see here.

Arthur Bass house.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

“This house is said to have been the property of Arthur Bass. According to the Wayne County census of 1850 Arthur Bass was born in 1816. Little is known of Bass’ life. … The Bass House appears to date from the 1830s and it consists of a two-story dwelling with an attached shed porch and three-bay façade. Under the porch the façade is sheathed in flush boards instead of the unusual weatherboards, the main house is linked with the kitchen by an open breezeway on the eastern elevation and this breezeway shelters an unusual enclosed exterior stair. On the first floor of the main house there are two main rooms, while the second floor appears to have been one large room.”


In the 1850 census of the North Side of the Neuse River, Wayne County, North Carolina [in an area which became part of Black Creek township, Wilson County, in 1855]: farmer Arthur Bass, 34; wife Martha, 19; and daughter Zilla, 8 months. Per the 1850 slave schedule of the same district, Arthur Bass enslaved a 25 year-old woman, a three year-old boy and a two year-old girl.

In the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Arthur Bass, 46; wife Pattie, 28; and children Zillah, 11, Louisa, 8, Perry, 6, and William, 2 months. He listed $4000 in real property and $7000 in personal property. His personal property, per the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County, included five enslaved girls and women ranging from 8 months to 32 years old and two enslaved boys. aged 12 and five.

Arthur Bass was just one of several white Basses who enslaved people in Wilson County. The 1870 census of Wilson County lists 134 African-Americans with the surname Bass living in households across eastern Wilson County in Black Creek, Stantonsburg, Gardners, Wilson, Joyners and Cross Roads townships.