railroad

He complained of having suffered excessive cold.

The case reached the North Carolina Supreme Court in late December 1860. The core legal question was misleadingly simplistic — was there a breach of contract? After all, two men had died, and two others had suffered serious injury. They were enslaved though, and what was at issue was not their welfare, but the financial injury to their owner as a result of their mistreatment.

In a nutshell, a man named Raiford, acting as the agent of William K. Lane, rented out four enslaved men — Jack, George, Wright and Abram —  to work on a railroad project. (Lane lived in far northeast Wayne County but, presumably, the contract was entered into in Wilson County. It is not clear where the four men ordinarily lived.) When the contractors sought to work the men as far away as Jones County, Raiford agreed on the condition that they be safely housed. The contractors agreed. Instead, in the teeth of a heavy snowstorm, they penned the men in drafty shanties and left them to ride it out.

The testimony is all about the condition of the shelters in which the men were housed, but the suffering of Jack, George, Wright and Abram — and the banal brutality of slavery — emerges unbidden.

——

William K. Lane v. John C. Washington & J.D. Burdick, December Term 1860.

Where a plaintiff declared upon a special contract to provide slaves, hired to work upon a railroad, with good accommodations, also on the implied contract of bailment to provide them with ordinary accommodations, it was held that the lodging of the slaves, in the dead of winter, in huts built of poles and railroad sills, without door shutters, and without chinking in the cracks, which were large, and which huts were proved to be inferior to others ordinarily used for such purposes on railroads, was a breach of the contract as alleged in both counts, and entitled plaintiff to recover.

“THIS was an action on the CASE, tried before SAUNDERS, J., at Fall Term, 1860, of Wilson Superior Court.

“The plaintiff declared in five counts, as follows:

“1st. For a breach of contract in taking the slaves Jack, George, Wright, and Abram, below Bear Creek.

“2d. For a breach of contract in not taking good care of said slaves, and furnishing them with good accommodations.

“3d. For breach of the implied contract, arising on the bailment, to take ordinary care of the said slaves.

“4th. For the hire of said slaves, Wright, Jack, and George, nine days each, at eighty cents per day, and for the hire of Abram, six days, at eighty cents per day.

“5th. For the hires of said slaves, for the times mentioned in the 4th count, for what they were worth.

“The title of the plaintiff, to the slaves in question, was admitted. The plaintiff introduced one Raiford, who testified, that prior to the heavy snow storm of January, 1857, as the agent of the plaintiff, he hired said slaves to the defendants, who were partners in a contract for making the Atlantic Rail Road, at the rate of eighty cents per day; that they were not to be carried below Bear creek, a point on the line of said railroad; that the above contract was made with the defendant Burdick; that on the next day, Burdick told him that he wished to take the said slaves below Bear Creek, into the edge of Dover swamp, below Kinston; that he (witness) told him that if they were well taken care of, he would as soon they should work there as any where; that Burdick replied that they should be well taken care of, as defendants had good accommodations there for a hundred hands; that he (witness) replied that on those terms they might go; that the slaves were carried off by Burdick, on that or the next day; that they were gone some eight or ten days, when Wright, George and Jack came home frost bitten; that Wright died of phneumonia, about ten days thereafter, and the other two were laid up about two months; that he never saw Abram after the hiring, but learned that he died in Kinston; that this was about the 29th of January, 1857, a short time after the heavy snow storm which occured in that month. The witness further testified that during the week succeeding the return of the slaves, he went down to the place where the slaves had been at work, in the edge of Dover swamp; that he examined the shanties erected by the defendants for the accommodation of the hands; that there was one at the Heritage place, where the overseer stayed, near where the country road crossed the railroad, and on the right hand side of the country road going to New Berne; that this was a square pen, made of pine poles, with large cracks, through which one might thrust his double fists, and scarcely seven feet high; that there was no shutter to the door; that the top was flat and covered with plank, and that it would not shed water; that there was no chimney and no floor, no bed clothing and no cooking utensils, and that the fire was made in the middle of the house. The witness further swore that there was another shanty, above the Heritage place, at Tracey swamp; that this one was some thirty or forty feet long, and from sixteen to eighteen feet wide, built of pine poles; that there were large cracks between the poles not half stopped, and loose planks laid down for flooring; that along the centre of this cabin, and at the distance of a few feet from each other, logs were placed on the ground, and earth placed between them as a place for building fires; that it had no chimney, but instead thereof, there was an aperture, three feet wide, at the top of the roof, for the escape of smoke, but that this shanty had a door to which there was a shutter. Witness further stated that there were other shanties for the accommodation of the hands, just below the Heritage place, at the distance of a mile or a mile and a half; that these latter were made of cross ties or sills of pine timber, eight feet long, and from eight to ten inches square, used in the construction of the railroad track; that these ties were placed on top of one another, to the height of some six feet, on three sides, thus leaving one end or side entirely open, that the covering was also composed of these ties, placed near together, and he saw no other shanties for the accommodation of hands; that those above described were nothing like as good as are ordinarily used on works of the kind, and were nothing like as good as an ordinary horse stable. Witness further stated, that he saw, during this visit, at the Heritage place, one Parrott, an overseer of the defendants on this work; that Parrott told him that if he had been well, the slaves in question would have been better attended to, “that it was a bad chance there any how;” that Parrott also told him that the slaves stayed “just below there,” pointing in the direction of the shanties last described. The witness further stated that he had seen other shanties on the Wilmington & Weldon railroad.

“Dr. C. F. Dewey testified that he was called to see the boys George, Wright and Jack, on the 21st of January, 1857; that they were frost bitten — George badly — Wright not so badly, and Jack slightly; that Wright died in about two weeks, of typhoid pneumonia, and that he complained of having suffered from excessive cold for two weeks. He further stated that the other two would be more liable to be frost bitten after this. Wright had no cold that he could see, at his first visit.

“One Robertson testified that he had been travelling through there some time previous to the snow aforesaid; that he had seen the cross tie shanties, and one, which he supposed to be the Tracey swamp shanty, which was at the Heritage place, on the right hand side of the stage road, leading to New Berne; that none of the chinks were shut; that it had no chimney, and had a flat roof; and that it lacked a great deal of being as good as ordinary, and would be a very poor horse stable; that these shanties were about ten steps from the road, and that he had never been nearer than this to them; that the only other shanties he had ever seen, for such purposes, were on the N. C. Rail Road.

“John C. Slocumb stated the conversation between Raiford and Burdick to have been as follows: Burdick said he would like to take the slaves below Kinston, into the edge of Dover swamp. Raiford asked if they had good accommodations. Burdick replied, yes, for a hundred hands. Raiford replied if the accommodations were good, and the hands would be well taken care of, he would let them go.

“Another witness testified to the same conversation, giving as Raiford’s last reply, that he did not wish the hands so far from home, but would not object to their going down for two or three weeks, provided the accommodations were good.

“William C. Loftin testified that he lived in Dover, about four miles below the Heritage place, and had seen these shanties; that he had never seen any as poor, (sorry) any where else, and that they were not as good as an ordinary stable; that the Tracey swamp shanty, on the west side of the swamp, had a roof with an opening along the top, some three feet wide, that it had large cracks, was made of pine logs, and was twenty five or thirty feet long, and fifteen or eighteen feet wide; that the cross tie shanties were about a mile and half below the one just described; that he had four negroes in the defendants’ employment, who stayed at these shanties, and that two of them were frost bitten, though he had heard that one of them had fallen into a ditch, and remained there some time; that at the time of the snow storm, the hands of defendants were at work on the road, a quarter of a mile below the Heritage place, in the edge of Dover swamp. On cross examination he stated that these shanties did not deserve the name. He further stated, that the only other buildings of a like nature he had ever seen was as he passed along the line of railroads after their completion, and, also, that he did not examine these shanties till after this suit began. He further stated, that the defendants had no other accommodations for hands, at, or near the edge of the swamp. He also stated that the Tracey swamp shanty could not be seen from the stage road, so as to be examined, and that he did not go near enough to it, to see how the logs were laid for building the fire, or how the planks were laid for sleeping.

“None of the witnesses knew whether the slaves in question had remained at the shanties during the snow, nor when they had left the employment of the defendants, nor which of the shanties they occupied, except from the conversation between Raiford and Parrott.

“The defendants’ counsel was proceeding to state the defence, when his Honor announced that he should instruct the jury, that, upon the plaintiff’s own evidence, there was no breach of the contract declared on in the 1st, 2d and 3rd counts, and no want of ordinary care. That on the 4th count, there was a special contract of hiring, and the plaintiff was entitled to recover, at the rate of eighty cents per day, for each slave while in the defendants employment, if the witnesses were to be believed. The case was then put to the jury, when his Honor charged them as above set forth. Plaintiff excepted to this charge. The jury found for the defendants on the 1st, 2d and 3d counts, as also on the 5th, and for the plaintiff on the 4th, ($25). There was a judgment for the plaintiff for $25.00, from which he appealed to this Court.”

Justice J. Battle wrote the opinion reversing the Wilson County Superior Court judge. After highlighting details of the witnesses’ testimony, Battle held: “The result of our examination of the testimony is, that the lodging of the plaintiff’s slaves in any of the shanties, described by the witnesses, was not the taking such care of them as a man of ordinary prudence would take of his own slaves employed in similar business, much less, was it the taking good care of them and furnishing them with good accommodations. For the error committed by his Honor, in his instructions, in relation to the second and third counts, there must be a reversal of the judgment, and the grant of a venire de novo, and this renders it unnecessary for us to notice, particularly, the other points made in the case. The reversal of the judgment in the plaintiff’s favor, on the fourth count, follows, necessarily, from the grant of a new trial to him on the second and third.”

American Advocate (Kinston, N.C.), 22 January 1857.

The colored firemen’s convention.

The Red Hot Hose Company of Wilson hosted the 1904 convention and tournament of North Carolina Volunteer Firemen’s Association (Colored). Southern Railway ran this notice of special round-trip rates for firemen and brass bands making the trip from various points across the state.

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 6.22.04 PM.png

The Morning Post (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 July 1904.

The Shoo Fly train ran over him.

Wilson Mirror, 30 August 1893.

——

On 11 April 1878, Hilliard Hunter, 26, of Nash County, married Mary Jane Pitt, 25, of Wilson County, in Toisnot township.

In the 1880 center of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Hilliard Hunter, 25; wife Mary J., 27; and son Walter, 5 months.

In 1893, Mary Jane Hunter filed an unsuccessful suit against Wilmington and Weldon Railroad over her husband’s death.

On 6 July 1899, Turner Anderson, 21, married Lillie Hunter, 20, in Toisnot township in the presence of Annie Bryant, Martha Modica and Nancy Deans.

On 2 August 1903, Mary Jane Hunter, 40, of Elm City, daughter of Moses and Marina Pitt, married Daniel Foster, 45, of Elm City, son of Austin and Rachael Foster of Kansas at George Barnes‘ in Toisnot township. Red Batts applied for the license.

On 12 July 1905, Willie Hunter, 22, of Elm City, son of Hilliard and Mary J. Hunter, married Mary Whitehead, 20, of Wilson, daughter of Ben and Francis Whitehead, in Toisnot township. T.H. Nicholson applied for the license, and the ceremony took place at Ben Drake’s in the presence of T.H. Nicholson, William Short and W.A. Whitfield.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Elm City-Stantonsburg Road, widowed farm laborer Mary J. Hunter, 40, and daughter Alice, 20, a laundress.

On 18 January 1914, Arthur Hunter, 20, of Toisnot, son of Mary J. Hunter, married Estelle Wooten, 24, of Toisnot, daughter of Linda Wooten, in the presence of Turner Anderson, Lillie Anderson and Clarence Wiggins, all of Elm City.

On 23 March 1915, Liza Hunter, 20, of Elm City, daughter of Hilliard Hunter and Mary J. Pender, married Jim Pinkney, 21, son of Henny and Hilly Pinkney, in Johnston County.

On 14 September 1921, B.S. Jordan, 58, son of Hardy and Mary J. Jordan, married Lilly Anderson, 39, daughter of Hilliard Hunter and Mary J. Hunter, at Lilly Anderson’s in Toisnot township. Wiley Locus applied for the license, and Baptist minister Elias Lucas performed the ceremony in the presence of L.A. Johnson and Bud Simms of Wilson and Hamp Mordcia [Modica] of Elm City.

Alice Hunter died 20 April 1960 in Elm City. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 October 1901 to Hilliard Hunter and Mary Jane Pitt; and was never married. Informant was Eliza Pinkney, Elm City. [Note that Alice Hunter’s birthdate is off by at least 10 years.]

Willie Hunter died 28 April 1960 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 18 February 1884 in Wilson County to Hilliard Hunter and Mary Jane [last name not listed]; lived at 204 South East Street; and worked as a laborer. Informant was Doris H. Wilson, 204 South East Street.

Eliza Pinkney died 10 July 1969 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 12 June 1898 in North Carolina to Hilliard Hunter and Mary Jones; resided in Elm City; was married to Jim Pinkney; and was buried in Elm City cemetery. Doretha H. Farmer, 706 East Green Street, was informant.

——

White Swamp runs about 5 miles south of Elm City.

The regular daily Norfolk-to-Wilmington passenger train was known as the Shoo Fly. In 1906, the train had a cataclysmic accident near Warsaw, Duplin County. After, a ghost train legend grew in the area.

 

 

They filled up with bug juice.

wa-9-17-1891

Wilson Advance, 17 September 1891.

  • Hood Phillips — in the 1880 census of Tarboro, Edgecombe County: minister H.C. Philips, 37, wife Emma, 34, and children Louisa, 12, Hood, 9, Walton, 6, and Cornelius, 3. On 18 May 1893, Hood S. Phillips, 22, of the town of Wilson, son of H.C. and E.E. Phillips, married Phillis Gay, 24, of the town of Wilson, daughter of Wiley and Catharine Gay. Rev. H.C. Phillips performed the ceremony at the A.M.E. Zion church. Witnesses were Annie Mincy, Annie Thorn and Alex Warren. Hood Phillips is listed as a barber living at 623 Viola in the 1908 Wilson City directory. He died 22 February 1919 in Wilson.
  • James Grant Taylor — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: railroad worker Jordan Taylor, 35, wife Jane, 22, and children James Grant, 7, Manora Ann, 4, General Washington, 3, and Lilly Green, 1.
  • Alex Warren — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: laborer Pompee Warren, 54, wife Della, 26, and sons John, 12, and Alexander, 2. In 24 December 1896, Alex Warren, 23, married Ida Davis, 22, in Wilson. Baptist minister W.T.H. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of Emma Burton, Mary Davis and Isaac Thompson. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 367 Spring Street, ice factory blocker Alex Warren, 34, wife Ada, 36, and son John, 19, the latter two, factory workers. Alexander Warren died 4 January 1948 in Wilson. Per his death certificate: he was born about 1879 in Wilson County to Pompie and Della Warren; had worked as a laborer; resided at 403 E. Walnut Street; and was buried at Rountree cemetery. His neighbor John Parks of 405 E. Walnut was informant.
  • Chas. Yellock
  • Thomas Ellis

“Bug juice” was a slang term for low-quality whiskey.

Atlantic Coast Line.

They went where the train went. Clutching tickets. Piled suitcases tied with rope. To a cafe in Norfolk. A government job in Washington. A Philadelphia dock. A season of day’s work in the Bronx. A school year in Brooklyn. The Atlantic Coast Line took them. It brought them back. It took them again.

ACL Map

Atlantic Coast Line system map, circa 1900. Wilson is midway through the column of stops stacked across eastern North Carolina along the stretch of railroad that had formerly been the Wilmington & Weldon.

YKCJ7296

Standing in the railroad crossing at Nash Street, passenger train station at left, looking North. Wilson, May 2016.

Negro tenements.

There, at the lower right edge of this page of the May 1885 Sanborn map of Wilson, a cluster of “Negro tenements.” Just below them and across a short rail spur was a ticket office and freight depot, and it’s safe to assume that many of the men living here were employed as railroad laborers.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 2.35.10 PM

The site is now an empty lot, roughly across Pettigrew Street from the union hall of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, Local 270T.

Protests Jim-Crow; jailed.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 2.55.01 PM

Pittsburgh Courier, 5 February 1938.

WILSON, N.C., Feb. 3 — Sidney Ingram of this city, was named by Federal Agents Friday after writing protest letters to the Presidents of  the Norfolk, Southern and Seaboard Airline railways over Jim Crow treatment while traveling.

He told operatives he bought a ticket from Eilson to Bailey, was told to get on Greenville train, then put off mile from Wilson station. His letters signed “David Ingram.” Not threatening but asked aid in getting “just calls” from railroad. Ingram was released after investigation.

——

Two years later, Sidney Ingram was counted in the 1940 census among the “inmates” housed at the notorious Eastern North Carolina Insane Asylum for Negroes.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 5.14.22 PM

1940 census, Fork township, Wayne County, North Carolina.

He spent the remainder of his life institutionalized and died at the state hospital in 1954. His death certificate notes that he was a New Jersey native, that he was married, that his usual residence was Wilson County, and that he had been at the asylum for 15 years, three months and 16 days. He died of bladder cancer and “insanity,” and his body was sent “to Chapel Hill to be used by Anatomical Board.”

S123_399-2962

Thus passed one of Wilson’s earliest civil rights activists.

——

If you are interested in the world of the Eastern North Carolina Insane Asylum, please read Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner’s Unspeakable, the story of Junius Wilson (1908-2001), a deaf African-American man who spent 76 years there, including six in the criminal ward, though he had never been declared insane by a medical professional or found guilty of any criminal charge.