In January 1974, to make way for a road project — likely the construction of Firestone Parkway — the North Carolina State Highway Commission contracted with a private company to move an unnamed African-American cemetery from Rosebud Church Road to Rest Haven Cemetery.
The cemetery contained one anonymous grave.
That grave was relocated to a plot adjacent to Bertha T. Pope (1908-1952).
Documents from Grave Removal volume, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.
Joseph Batts‘ grave marker is unique in Rest Haven Cemetery. A small metal plaque etched with his name in Gothic script is affixed to a slab of concrete and flanked by his hand-engraved initials. Beneath, a worn inscription notes his birth and death dates, but they are illegible. Without this information, I am unable to identify him specifically.
The Clarence Best-carved double headstone of Benjamin and Annie F. Jackson stands over their graves in Rest Haven Cemetery.
In the 1900 census of New Bern, Craven County, N.C.: baker Edward Jackson, 58; wife Sophia, 46; sons Benjamin, 10, and George, 7; and nephew Hallie Taylor, 20.
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: wagon driver John W. Farmer, 37; wife Edmonia, 33; and children George, 13, Paul, 12, Annie, 9, Mary, 7, and Fannie, 5.
In the 1910 census of New Bern, Craven County, N.C.: baker Edward Jackson, 56; wife Sophia, 54; and children Ida J., 37, seamstress — dressmaking; Benjamin, 21, butcher at meat market; George, 19, delivery boy for retail dry goods store; and Garfield, 22.
In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: express wagon driver John Farmer, 48; wife Edmonia, 41, a laundress; and children George, 23, factory laborer; Paul, 19, hotel servant; Annie, 18; Mary, 16; Fannie, 14; Arthur, 8; Melton, 6; and William, 4.
On 21 August 1917, Ben H. Jackson, 28, of Wilson, son of Ed and Sophia Jackson of New Bern, married Annie Lee Farmer, 26, of Wilson, daughter of John Wash and Edmonia Farmer, at the residence of the bride’s father. Walter Maynor applied for the license, and Presbyterian minister H.B. Taylor performed the ceremony in the presence of Emily M. Daniels, Cornelia E. Maynor, and S.B. Thomas. [Note that the officiant, Halley B. Taylor, was Benjamin Jackson’s first cousin and had lived with the Jackson family in New Bern at the time of the 1900 census.]
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Vick Street, barber Ben Jackson, 30, and wife Annie, 28.
In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jackson Benjamin H barber W M Hines h 721 e Green
In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jackson Benj H (c) barber h 721 e Green
In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jackson Annie (c) cook h 721 e Green
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jackson Benj H (c; Annie) barber Wm Hines h 1212 Washington
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1212 Washington Street, owned and valued at $1500, barber Benjiman Jackson, 39; wife Annie, 38; and daughter Devaria, 4.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1212 Washington Street, paying $10/month in rent, Robert Shaw, 30, presser at Moore’s Cleaners; wife Bertha, 25; and roomer Ben Jackson, 50, barber. [What happened here? Where was Annie Jackson? If Ben Jackson was a roomer, who actually owned the house at 1212? I suspect this is an enumerator error.]
Benjamin Harrison Jackson died 24 October 1951 in Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 9 November 1890 in New Bern, N.C., to Edward Jackson and Sophie [maiden name unknown]; lived at 1212 E. Washington Street; and worked as a barber.
Annie Farmer Jackson died 8 February 1983 in New York.
This grave marker, which appears to be a foot stone, stands in Odd Fellows Cemetery. Research reveals only one Augustus “Gus” Hilliard in early 20th-century Wilson County.
But he died in 1971.
And is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery.
Why, then, is his marker in Odd Fellows?
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Black Creek Road, dredge boat laborer Dock Hilliard, 31; wife Mary Ella, 29; and children Agustus, 8, Isic, 7, Mattie F., 6, Eddie, 3, and Mary, 4 months.
In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Moyton and Wilson Road, Dock Hillard, 46; wife Mary, 28; and children Gustus, 17, Mattie, 14, Eddie, 12, Mellar, 11, Isabella, 10, Channie, 8, Tommie, 4, and Willie, 3 months.
On 17 January 1925, Augustus Hilliard, 23, of Stantonsburg, son of Dock and Mary E. Hilliard, married Nancy McCoy, 21, of Stantonsburg, daughter of Will and LeesieMcCoy.
In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Gustie Hillard, 29; wife Nancy, 23; and children Henry, 5, and Daissey L., 2.
In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Old Wilson Road, farm laborer Gus Hilliard, 39; wife Nancy, 40; and children Henry, 14, Daisy Lee, 12, Eddie, 9, Isaac, 6, Nathaniel, 3, and Johnnie A., 9 months.
In 1942, Gus Hilliard registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 31 March 1901 in Wilson County; lived at “Box 87 – Rt. #3 – Wilson – Stantonsburg – Wilson”; his contact was Thurman Phillips; and he worked for Ashley Horton, Greensboro, N.C.
In 1943, Henry Hilliard registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 25 November 1925 in Wilson County; lived at Route 3, Box 87, Wilson; his contact was Gus Hilliard; and he worked at J.A. Wharton Farm, Wilson.
Augustus Hilliard died 22 February 1971 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 3March 1904 to Doc Hilliard and Mary Ella Ellis; was married to Nancy McCoy; was a farmer; and was buried in Rest Haven. Informant was Daisy Peoples, Wilson.
Ed and Daisy Hagans purchased a plot at Rest Haven cemetery for twenty-five dollars on 26 July 1948. Such a sale constitutes a real estate transaction, and the Haganses’ transaction was recorded in Deed Book 357, page 413, at the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.
Edward Hagans died 20 July 1948, eight days after the purchase of this lot. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 April 1913 in Wilson County to Isaac Hagans and Essie Mae Farmer; was married to Daisy Hagans; lived at 555 East Nash Street; worked as a laborer; and was buried in Rest Haven on 22 July 1948.
Edward and Daisy Hagans’ daughter Gloria Devetta Hagans died at home on 28 July 1948 of pulmonary tuberculosis (as had her father.) Per her death certificate, she was born 25 November 1934 in Wilson to Edward Hagans and Daisy Melton; was a student; lived at 536 East Nash; and was buried at Rest Haven.
Per Joan Howell’s Cemetery, Volume 5, Edward, Daisy and Gloria Hagans, plus Albert Hagans, are buried in Section 3 between rows L and M.
Heather Goff, Wilson Cemetery Commission Leader, has gone above and beyond to educate herself about the city’s historic black cemeteries and to search for documents concerning these little-known properties. She recently unearthed these Cemetery Commission records shedding light on Rest Haven Cemetery’s early days.
A document labeled Agreement: Town of Wilson vs. Colored Cemetery Commission:
The text of the document does not make reference to a lawsuit or the Colored Cemetery Commission. The passive voice construction in the first independent clause conceals a critical fact: who conveyed 38 acres known as the Jesse Barnes land to the Cemetery Trustees of the Town of Wilson on 24 October 1933? The Town of Wilson actually put up the money for the property and held it in trust until the Trustees paid the Town $3500, plus interest. This amount was to be realized, after deducting operating expenses, from sums raised from the sales of burial lots. The document is signed by the white Cemetery Trustees of Wilson, and I have not been able to identify any “colored” ones. The notes on the reverse show six payments totaling $2000 made between 1939 and 1945.
And thus we get an establishment date for Rest Haven cemetery — 1933 — and the provenance of its earliest section.
So, who was Jesse Barnes?
This 12 June 1975 letter proclaims that “the lots adjacent to the Rest Haven Cemetery are have been, and in the future will be set aside for the heirs of the said, Jessie R. and Sarah L. Barnes. These lots are located at the back of Section No. 2 on row beside the ditch in the cluster of trees.” Frank Barnes signed the letter.
Jesse Reese Barnes (1873-1949) and Sarah Eliza Barnes Barnes (1872-1936) were married in 1893. Frank Washington Barnes was their son. Without access to deeds, I cannot determine at this time when the Barneses purchased their 38 acres. However, presumably, Jesse and Sarah sold it to the Cemetery Commission.
And “the back of Section No. 2 on row beside the ditch in the cluster of trees”? It’s here:
Less than a month after the note above, Frank W. Barnes sold four grave plots to John E. Dixon. This note is on file with the Cemetery Commission: “This is to certify that I, Frank W. Barnes of 308 Ward Boulevard, Wilson, North Carolina acting on behalf of myself and with the full consent of other concerned members of the Barnes family do hereby for the sum of Ten Dollars ($10.00) and other value received do convey to said John E. Dixon and family of 411 N. Vick Street of Wilson, North Carolina space for four (4) grave plots in the Barnes Family Cemetery which is a part of REST HAVEN CEMETERY of Wilson, North Carolina. These grave plots are located near the south-east corner of the Barnes Cemetery between two (2) big Cedar trees. These plots are theirs to have and hold from this day hence-forth.” Joan Howell’s Cemeteries, Volume V, lists the burials of Jesse Barnes, Jesse J. Barnes, John E. Dixon, Mabel B. Dixon and Levi C. Dixon in the Barnes section of Rest Haven.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Lemon Barnes, 32, farmer; wife Nancey, 26; and children Morrison, 8, Jessee R., 7, Ida, 6, Eddie, 3, Lemon Jr., 2, and General, 3 months.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Ned Barnes, 34; wife Margaret, 35; and children Luvenia, 9, Franklin, 8, Walter, 10, and Sarah Eliza, 7.
Jesse Barnes, 19, married Sarah Barnes, 21, daughter of Ned Barnes and Margarett Artis, on 2 December 1893 at the bride’s home in Wilson County. Per their marriage license, Presbyterian minister L.J. Melton performed the ceremony in the presence of L.A. Moore, John Hardy and Davis Barnes.
In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Jesse R. Barnes, 27; wife Sarah, 28; and children Lucretia, 5, Ned, 4, Nancy, 2, and Lemon, 11 months.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Saratoga Road, Jesse Barnes, 37, farmer; wife Sarah, 31, public school teacher; and children Lucresia, 16, Ned, 14, Nancy, 12, Lemon, 11, Jessie Bell, 10, Maggie May, 7, and Ardenia, 5.
Lucrettia Barnes died 11 March 1915 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 October 1894 to Jesse Barnes and Sarah Barnes.
In 1919, Margaret Edmundson Barnes Artis, signed her mark to a will leaving her real property to daughter Sarah Barnes Barnes. The land was described as a tract “adjoining the lands of Martin Barnes, Harry Clark, Daniel Vick‘s heirs, Dollison Powell and the Singletary Place, containing forty-four acres more or less.” (Margaret had jointly owned or inherited this property from her second husband Cain Artis.]
In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Saratoga Road, farmer Jesse Barnes, 46; wife Sarah, 47; and children Ned, 23, Nancy, 22, Lemon, 20, Jessie Belle, 18, Maggie, 15, Ardenia, 13, Frank, 11, James, 6, and Mildred, 3.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Powell Street, farmer Jessie R. Barnes, 55; wife Sarah, 56; and children Mildred, 16, James, 13, and Frank, 18; granddaughter Alma, 10; daughter Nancey Farmer, 30, and son-in-law Andrew Farmer, 29, truck driver for Wilson Sales Grocery.
Sarah Eliza Barnes died 29 August 1936 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 52 years old; was born in Wilson County to Ned Barnes and Margarette Edmundson; lived on East Nash Road; and was married to Jesse R. Barnes.
Jessie Reese Barnes died 20 April 1949 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 3 April 1873 in Wilson County to Lemuel Barnes and Nancy Woodard; was a widower; was a farmer. Frank Barnes, 513 East Nash, was informant.
Many thanks to Heather Goff for her diligent search for these records.
Here’s my most recent request for public records, made 25 February 2020 to the Wilson Cemetery Commission:
Under the North Carolina Public Records Law, G.S. §132-1, I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of the following public records related to the Old Negro Cemetery (also known as the colored cemetery, Oakdale or Oaklawn Cemetery) and Rest Haven Cemetery:
Any and all documents showing the identity of persons buried in the Old Negro Cemetery during the period of its active existence
Any and all documents related to the Old Negro Cemetery
Any and documents showing the identity of persons whose graves were moved from the Old Negro Cemetery to Rest Haven Cemetery in or before 1941
Any and all documents, including but not limited to maps, plats, surveys and photographs, showing the location of graves and grave markers in the Old Negro Cemetery at the time the City of Wilson or the Cemetery Commission moved graves from the Old Negro Cemetery to Rest Haven Cemetery in 1941
Any and all documents, including but not limited to maps, plats, surveys and photographs, showing the relocation of graves and grave markers to Rest Haven Cemetery from the Old Negro Cemetery in 1941
Oakdale was the cemetery located near present-day Cemetery Street. The request was spurred by this article.
The reply? The Cemetery Commission has no documents responsive to this request.
Between 1865 and 1975, African-Americans in the town of Wilson buried their dead in at least eight cemeteries — two in the area of present-day Cemetery Street and six along what is now Lane Street. From 1895 to about 1925, five of the cemeteries operated simultaneously. They often were referred to collectively and interchangeably as “the colored cemetery.” Similarly, the three cemeteries on the eastern end of Lane Street are colloquially known collectively as “Rountree cemetery,” though Rountree is but one of the three. I’ve created this timeline to better understand the arcs of their usage, which, at this point, are baffling.
1870 — Washington Suggs purchased a lot adjacent to “the grave yard lot” and the African church. Suggs’ land was south of downtown between the railroad and what is now Pender Street. [Was this an African-American cemetery? If so, when was it established? If not, where were mid-nineteenth century black folk buried? It seems to have been located in the same general area as the later Oakdale cemetery.]
1895 — Per the 4 July Wilson Daily Times, the county commissioners took up the question of a “suitable burying ground for the colored people.” [Was there none? Or was it that the old one had been “unsuitable”?]
1897-1899 — The Funeral Register of Wootten and Stevens, Undertakers of Wilson, North Carolina, November 18, 1896-June 27, included burials of African-Americans, dozens of whom were interred in Oakdale (in one instance, called Oakwood) and generically labeled “colored” cemeteries, as well many rural graveyards.
1897 — Trustees of Rountree Missionary Baptist Church bought one acre of land “beginning at a stake on the path leading from the Plank road to the Stantonsburg road where a small branch crosses said path.” [This appears to be the half of Rountree cemetery that lies on the northwest-side of present-day Lane Street. The widening of the street for paving in the 1990s reduced the size of this lot.]
1896 — Rev. Owen L.W. Smith purchased from the Town of Wilson, in the person of Mayor John F. Bruton, lot 7, F Street, Section North, of Oakdale Cemetery (col’d). [This is the only evidence I have found of a formal layout for Oakdale.]
1897 — As reported in the 1 October 1897 issue of Wilson Daily Times, the Town of Wilson “paid on the account of Oakdale Cemetery 49.20.”
1910 — On July 15, the Daily Times reported Henry Hagans‘ escape through the colored cemetery [Oakdale/Oaklawn] after shooting a woman.
1911 — On December 12, the Daily Times reported two commissioners had been appointed to investigate complaints about drainage problems at the colored cemetery. [This would have been Oakdale/Oaklawn.]
1912 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway, Blount Moore, keeper.
1913 — The town of Wilson purchased 7.84 acres from Samuel and Annie Vick adjacent to the “colored Odd Fellows cemetery track.” [Presumably, after less than 20 years, Oakdale/Oaklawn was not only experiencing serious drainage issues, it also was crowded and becoming hemmed in by residential expansion.]
1916 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway.
1922 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway.
1925 — The Wilson city directory listed Oaklawn cemetery (colored) on Cemetery Road near the Atlantic Coast Line Railway. The Business Directory section lists only Maplewood under the “Cemeteries” heading.
1925 — A soil survey of Wilson County shows the Masonic cemetery and a combined Odd Fellows/Vick cemetery, but not Oakdale.
1925 — Per an article published in the Daily Times on February 10, Samuel H. Vick requested that city board of aldermen provide an awning for the colored cemetery [likely, Vick] and repair roads leading to it. An alderman noted that the “old cemetery” [Oakdale] was on valuable land.
1925 — Per notice published in the Daily Times on December 2, a trustee offered for sale a lot owned by Nathan Hines south of Suggs Street “beginning at a corner near a ditch on the South East corner of the colored cemetery on Sugg Street.” [Suggs Street runs parallel to and a block north of Cemetery Street.]
1927 — Per notice published in the Daily Times on July 16, a trustee offered for sale six acres owned by D.C. Suggs and wife, north of Contentnea Street [Cemetery Street, see below] and adjoining the Calvin Blount land on the west, John Ratley and S.H. Vick on the east, and the colored cemetery and A.S. Woodard on the north.
1928 — Oaklawn is no longer listed in the Wilson city directory, and no “colored” cemetery is listed under the heading in the Business Directory section.
1930 — Oaklawn is not listed in the Wilson city directory, and no “colored” cemetery is listed under the heading in the Business Directory section.
1932 — In a notice of sale published on March 31 in the Daily Times, a lot is described as beginning at the corner of S.H. Vick and Dollison Powell‘s land on “the colored Masonic Cemetery road.”
1937 — Per letter and article published on September 24 and 30 by the Daily Times, Camillus L. Darden and others requested paving of the road leading to the “negro cemetery.” [This is most likely a reference to Vick cemetery.]
1940 — On August 30, the city manager published in the Daily Times a notice of removal of graves from the abandoned cemetery on Cemetery Street, in which there had been no burials in 16 years, to “the new cemetery for the colored race, situated near the Town of Wilson, N.C., and known as Resthaven cemetery.”
1941 — Cemetery Street had been called Contentnea Street as far back as 1922 (see above), but the change apparently was not made official until graves were moved from Oakdale to Rest Haven. The change did not take; Cemetery Street was so-called in both the 1941 and 1947 city directories and still is today.
Wilson Daily Times, 7 November 1941.
1949 — On November 7, the Daily Times reported a dispute between Harry Howell and Carl Ward, who each purchased the same plot in the colored cemetery in 1934. Howell had recently requested that the cemetery commission remove Ward’s wife from the lot and place her body in another. [This dispute likely involved Vick cemetery, but maybe Rest Haven.]
1953 — On January 8, the Daily Times reported that farmer J.J. Skinner found a stolen safe “at the old colored cemetery just outside Wilson.” Skinner, who lived nearby, had cut through the cemetery on the way to his fields. [This was likely Rountree/Odd Fellows/Vick cemeteries.]
1989 — On 18 February, the Daily Times ran a full-length feature article on Ben Mincey‘s attempts to maintain Odd Fellows cemetery.
1990-1991 — The city cleared Vick cemetery with a bush hog and began public discussions about clean-up and maintenance.
1994-1996 — As detailed here and here, the city cleared Vick cemetery of gravemarkers, graded and seeded the site, and erected a single monument commemorating all buried there.
2015 — Wilson County Genealogical Society published Wilson County Cemeteries, Vol. V: The Two City-Owned African-American Cemeteries, containing alphabetical listings of 11,472 burials in Rest Haven cemetery and 650 burials in “Rountree-Vick” cemetery. The latter were largely derived from death certificates issued in the 1940s to 1960s. Though an admirable and worthwhile effort, the Rountree-Vick list is a vast undercount and does not accurately reflect actual burial locations, as individuals may have been buried in Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Vick.
2020 — In response to Public Records Law request, the city of Wilson confirms that it cannot produce any record of the identities of those whose grave markers it removed from Vick cemetery or provide any documentation of the decision to destroy those markers.
The city’s response to my request for documents about Vick cemetery yielded an unexpected bit of information. One of the plat maps revealed a property across Lane Street from Vick that the city’s Cemetery Trustees purchased from Augustus S. Clark of Cordele, Georgia, in 1953 for $4400. Partially visible next to it is a parcel marked “Bethel.”
The deed for the Augustus Clark parcel describes it as:
“The public road leading from Ward’s Boulevard pass [sic] Rest Haven Cemetery” is the western leg of what is now called Lane Street. “The road leading to Highway #264” is the eastern leg. Harry Clark was Augustus S. Clark’s father, and a 1921 plat map of his farm is annotated here:
In short, the southeastern half of Rest Haven cemetery was once the northeastern half of Harry Clark’s farm. ￼In 1953, the Cemetery Commission purchased three tracts from the Clark family for the cemetery’s expansion.
On 23 January 1923, the same day A.S. Clark sold his share of his father’s estate, his niece Flora Clark Bethel and her husband Wilton Bethel sold Tract No. 6 to the Cemetery Trustees. (Flora C. Bethel had inherited the tract from her father, John H. Clark.)
On 5 June 1953, pursuant to a suit filed by the Cemetery Trustees against William H. Clark‘s heirs (widow Mary Clark, Thomas Clarkand wife Sarah, A.S. Clark, Flora Clark Bethel and husband Wilton, A.S. Gaston, Theodore Gaston, Ralph Gaston and wife Dora, Cicero Gaston, George Gaston and unnamed wife, Russell Golding and unnamed wife, Flora Golding Parks and unnamed husband, and Harry Jenkins and wife Bertha), Tract No. 5 of the Clark farm was condemned. The heirs were awarded $3600, split according to their interests.
The road separating Tracts 1, 2, 3, and 4 from 5, 6, and 7 is now Lane Street, as is the road extending toward Martin Luther King Parkway from the dead-end of the first road. Tract No. 4 belonged to the heirs of Ella Clark Gaston Hinton, who died in 1947. The small black square in this tract shows the location of the Clark “home-house” (as the house recognized as the family seat is called in Wilson-speak.)
Here’s this area now:
The old path of Lane Street is clearly visible running alongside the softball field toward Stantonsburg Road. The electrical substation that the city lopped off A.S. Clark’s tract is the square of cleared land off Lane Street mid-frame. Vick cemetery is the field below Lane Street closest to the right edge of the frame. My best estimate is that the southwest half of Harry Clark’s farm stretched roughly from today’s Snowden Drive to the former path of Lane Street. The northeast half encompassed the portion of Rest Haven in which the sections widen over to Lane Street.
Plat Book 1, page 220; Deed Book 489, page 439, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson; Deed Book 489, page 437;Deed Book 499, page 353,Register of Deeds Office, Wilson. Aerial view courtesy of Bing Maps.