retailing liquor

State vs. Gertrude Atkinson.

In February 1912, Gertrude Atkinson was charged with retailing spiritous liquor. Three people, including my cousin Jesse “Jack” Henderson, testified that they had seen Atkinson sell liquor.

  • Gertrude Atkinson — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Gertrude Atkinson, 19, wash woman.
  • Jack Henderson
  • Hattie “Babe” Hales — Hattie Stone died 5 August 1928 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 38 years old; was born in Wayne County, N.C., to Jesse Hales of Halifax County, N.C., and Laura Proctor of Edgecombe County, N.C.; was married to Percy Stone; lived at 412 Suggs Street; and worked as a tobacco factory day laborer.
  • Rachel Johnson — on 1 March 1925, Rachel Johnson, 45, of Wilson, married William Dixon, 50, of Wilson, in Wilson. Andrew Townsend applied for the license, and Baptist minister B.F. Jordan performed the ceremony in the presence of A.N. Neal, Maggie Oates, and Henry Lucas.

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

Hotel proprietors busted running whiskey and numbers.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 March 1936.

Wilson’s Green Book-listed Biltmore Hotel offered more than a place to stay.

——

  • Walcott Darden — Charles Walcott Darden, a native of Nash County, North Carolina. In the 1940 census of Washington, District of Columbia: at 2130 – 11th Street N.W., whiskey wholesale truck driver Walcott Darden, 30, and wife Annabelle, 33. Both had been living in Wilson, North Carolina, in 1935.
  • Floyd Fisher — Floyd Fisher also moved on after this misadventure. The son of Edwin W. and Nanny D. Fisher, Floyd Fisher had been born in New Haven, Connecticut, and arrived in Wilson in the 1920s. In the 1940 census of New York, New York: at 582 Saint Nicholas Avenue, paying $65/month rent for an apartment, Ann Snipes, 35, born in Connecticut; her daughter Robnette Smipes, 18, born in Virginia; her brother Floyd Fisher, hotel bellhop, born in Connecticut; and lodger Louise Evans, 28, artists’ studio maid, born in North Carolina. Five years prior, Fisher had been living in Wilson, and Evans was in Wilberforce, Ohio (presumably as a student.) The Snipes women each reported two years of college; Fisher and Evans, four.

Smooth Jim Watson.

This article is fascinating both for its details of Jim Watson‘s medical condition and the sophisticated operation of his “blind tiger,” or illegal bar. A search of digitized newspapers found a little more about Watson’s exploits in Wilson, but nothing about how he wound up in a Richmond jail.

Wilson Times, 14 November 1911.

Watson first appears in available newspaper records on 24 May 1910, when the Times reported his acquittal on retailing (i.e. unlawfully selling liquor) charges.

Two weeks later, on June 7, the paper reported that Watson had again been charged with retailing.

On 13 September 1910, the Times reported that a hung jury had resulted in a mistrial on Watson’s retailing charges. He was again a free man.

On 30 June 1911, per the paper, Watson was fined $9.50 on a reckless driving charge.

In September 1911, a man (presumably, an informant) entered Watson’s store and asked to buy whiskey. Watson pulled a pistol and said, “This is the strongest thing in the house.” The man reported Watson to the police, who charged him with carrying a concealed weapon. His defense: he was in his own place of business, and the gun was not concealed. Verdict: not guilty.

On October 23, William Anderson, allegedly a trusted friend, went into Watson’s place and put down two quarters for a pint of whiskey. Watson purportedly sold him a half-pint, which Anderson took outside to share with his pals. A police officer swooped in and, after some pressure, Anderson admitted he’d bought the liquor from Watson. 

The Daily Times‘ coverage led with a reference to Jim Watson’s physical condition. While locked up in the Richmond (Virginia, presumably) jail, Watson allegedly had slit his own throat. As a result, he now breathed through a tube inserted in his windpipe, an astonishing example of an effective, long-term tracheotomy in an era in which surgery was still relatively crude, and antibiotics were nonexistent. It was also, apparently, Watson’s super-power.

Then, a description of Jim Watson’s set-up. In Watson’s otherwise legitimate restaurant, he raised a curtain in a corner. A customer would lay down his (maybe occasionally her) money, and a trusted accomplice would disappear behind the curtain and return with the liquor. No one other than Watson’s confederates saw Watson handle the goods, and they were allowed entry only one at a time. 

As Jim Watson’s trial neared, things got busy for him and his “systematic coterie of dispensers of the ardent.” Watson’s wife Cyndia Watson was arrested after slashing at Coot Robbins with a knife. Notwithstanding, Robbins joined Junius Peacock and Mark Sharpe on a visit to the police station to seek her release, unsuccessfully. Later, a mysterious hack appeared at the chief of police’s home, and an unseen man yelled threats and imprecations if his wife were not released. Robbins admitted to the police that he driven a man to the house, but claimed he did not know him and the man had only politely inquired after Chief Glover. 

This incident seems to have exhausted the paper’s patience (and even admiration) for this “touch character.”

Wilson Times, 12 December 1911.

Watson’s day in court came on December 21, and he was finally convicted. The principal witness against him was his former friend Will Anderson, “a notorious negro of Georgia and a murdered who served then years on the chain gang of that state.” For his efforts, Anderson, too, was convicted of retailing. The paper noted with satisfaction that there were several more charges pending against Watson, and his attorney was expected to advise him to throw himself at the mercy of the court.

Wilson Times, 22 December 1911.

However, as the same edition sourly noted, court had adjourned unexpectedly due the judge’s family emergency. “… Jim Watson, … convicted but unsentenced, remains out on bond, and will probably have a good time during the holidays supplying his friends with blind tiger booze.”

Drive to curb holiday liquor sales.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 December 1948.

  • Sylvester Barnes
  • Pete Randolph 

Pete Randolph registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 22 June 1914 in Edgecombe County; lived on R.F.D. #1, Elm City; his contact was wife Easter Esther Randolph; and he worked “farming with Mrs. C. Parker” near Elm City.

In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm operator Pete Randolph, 25; wife Easter, 21; and sons Eddie Morris, 5, Pete Jr., 4, and James E., 1. Pete, Easter and Eddie Randolph had lived in Pitt County in 1935.

Thirteenth violation.

201812122017531702

Wilson Daily Times, 21 April 1939.

Like many who operated “cabarets” — Negro or not — Herbert Woodard supplied adult beverages to clients who sought them. Wilson was a dry county, however, and “liquor by the drink” was unlawful.

[Illegal or not, corrupt police “allowed” liquor sales by a handful of bootleggers who were expected to pay for the privilege. Herbert Woodard’s repeated arrests suggest that he was either unwilling to make payoffs or was not among the chosen few.]

 

“Standing by your old ni**er, are you?”

b Woodard 1 31 1908

News & Observer (Raleigh), 31 January 1908.

This nasty bit of “news” is a sample of the gratuitous racism that permeated Josephus DanielsNews & Observer in the Jim Crow era. Daniels had grown up in and gotten his journalistic start in Wilson and undoubtedly knew all the involved parties well.

Benjamin Woodard, a notorious folk doctor in Wilson County, had been arrested on unclear charges (probably involving bootlegging liquor) and hauled into federal court in Raleigh. Several notable white Wilsonians showed up to serve as counsel and character witnesses, including brothers and law partners Frederick A. Woodard (a former United States Congressman) and Sidney A. Woodard (a state congressman). The Woodards were described as Ben Woodard’s former owners, though F.A. had been a child and S.A. an infant at war’s end. Ben’s owner, then, had been their father, Dr. Stephen Woodard of Black Creek, Wilson County. F.A. requested a nolle prosequi (“nol. pros.”), which is odd, as this is generally a motion made by a prosecutor who wishes to drop charges. The District Attorney here politely indicated his unwillingness to make such a request, but the judge cheerfully entered it anyway. Thus Dr. Ben benefitted from ties forged in slavery and earned an insulting article in the state’s newspaper of record.

A systemic coterie of dispensers of the ardent; or, his dive is a tough place.

Another blind tiger makes the news:

wdt-12-12-1911

Wilson Daily Times, 12 December 1911.

  • Jim Watson
  • Cyndia Watson
  • Coot Robbins — on 18 March 1912, Coot Robbins, 29, married Hennie Harris, 27, in Wilson.
  • Junius Peacock — in the 1912 Wilson city directory: Peacock Junius cook h[ome] Chestnut
  • Mark Sharpe — likely, in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Road, tobacco factory laborer Mack Sharpe, 43, wife Katie, 29, and children Harvey, 12, Willard C., 10, Earnest, 8, Samson, 6, Nellie B., 3, and Elexander, 1. In the 1912 Wilson city directory: Savage Mack butler h[ome w Nash ne Lucas av

 

Bottles and jugs.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-4-57-57-pm

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-4-58-17-pm

6-6-1911

Wilson Daily Times, 6 June 1911.

Spearman, again:

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-9-36-06-pm

Wilson Daily Times, 3 October 1911.

And (with Tobe Barnes) again:

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-8-57-40-pm

Wilson Daily Times, 24 October 1911.

A blind tiger is a place in which liquor is sold illegally. “Retailing,” specifically, was selling liquor illegally.

Sis Spearman does not appear in Wilson city directories or census records.