receiving stolen goods

State vs. Nep Lee.

In November 1912, clerk of court Thomas A. Hinnant recorded evidence in State vs. Nep Lee, a case alleging receiving and concealing stolen goods. 

Jim Pearce was on trial for stealing a watch. Neptune Lee, his accomplice, attended his trial as “an interested spectator — or apparently so.” Seemingly to Lee’s surprise, the prosecutor called him to the stand to ask if he had seen Pearce with the watch. Lee said he had not, but had bought a watch the day before from a man he did not know. Prosecutor Dickinson asked Lee to show the watch and, incredibly, he did. Mary Henderson and others quickly identified the watch as her stolen property. What happened next is not clear. Was Lee convicted and sentenced to 13 months on the county roads on the spot? 


  • Nep Lee

In the 1880 census of Woodville township, Bertie County, N.C.: Bob Lee, 62; wife Betsy, 38; and children David, 18, Winnie, 14, John H., 13, Harrisson, 8; Neptun, 6; and Annie, 4.

On 16 December 1900, Nep Lee, 21,  of Wilson, son of Robert and Bettie Lee, married Laurena Williams, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Susan Gray, in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Crocket Best performed the ceremony.

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Lee Neptune plstr h 411 s Spring

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: painter Marion Watson, 51; wife Annie, 33, laundress; and brickmason Neptune Lee, 36, lodger.

On 21 June 1911, Nep Lee, 30, married Lizzie Myers, 21, at the home of Mary Myers in Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony.

Neptune Lee died 24 January 1949 at the County Home, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 June 1881 in Bertie County, N.C., to Robert Lee of Florida and Mary E. Thompson of Bertie County; was the widower of Lizzie Lee; worked as a brick layer; lived at 506 East Walnut Street; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Annie Watson was informant.

[Note, a different Nep Lee died 18 October 1953 in Wilson at the Eastern North Carolina Sanatorium. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 November 1876; was married to Bertha Lee;  was a farmer; and lived near Robersonville, Martin County, N.C.] 

  • Jim Pearce

Criminal Action Papers, 1912, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

His twin brother’s testimony acquitted her.

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.


  • Mattie Hamm
  • Bernice Winstead

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.]

  • Ernest Winstead

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.