The examination of Pharo Saunders, Col, Wm Howell, Col, and Lear Rice (Col) taken before the undersigned, Coroner of said County, this the 4th day of Dec. 1900 in the town of Toisnot upon the dead body of Willie Bell Saunders (Col), then and there lying dead, to wit:
Pharo Sanders duly sworn says: I was at my mother’s house Willie Bell Saunders about 8 1/2 o’clock last night Dec 3rd. John Taylor came in and said to mother “Willie I have come” and shot her with a pistol in the head. She fell and died in a few minutes. He only shot one time. Soon after shooting he ran out of house. John has been Living with my Mother several years as his wife. Knew of no difficulty between them before. I guess at time when I say 8 1/2 o’clock. Pharo /s/ Saunders
William Howell sworn says: John Taylor was at my house last Saturday and said he was in trouble, that Willie Saunders was giving him so much trouble he intended going away soon and that he was going to kill Willie before he left. Willie Saunders and John Taylor have been living together about 6 years and I never knew of trouble between them before nor do I know what this trouble was about. William (X) Howell
Lear Rice Col Sworn says: John Taylor & Willie Bell Saunders have been living together as man & wife several years. I heard of no trouble between them until recently. Sunday morning she told me he was jealous of her and said he intended to kill her. Sunday I heard him say if she didnt do him any good he be damned if she should do any body else any. He be damned if he didn’t kill her. I live in about 20 yards of her. Lear (X) Rice
State of North Carolina, Wilson County }
Be it remembered that on this the 4th day of Dec. 1900, I, John K. Ruffin, Coroner of the County of Wilson, attended by a jury of good and lawful men Viz W.H. Pridgen, Eli Felton, Jerome Bowen, P.H. Braswell, W.J.T. Beland, J.R. Winstead, by me summoned for that purpose according to law, after being by me duly sworn & empaneled at the Town of Toisnot in the County aforesaid, did hold and inquest over the dead body of Willie Bell Saunders: and after examination of the facts and circumstances of the death of the deceased form a view of the corpse, and all the testimony to be procured, the said jury find as follows, that is to say,
That the deceased, Willie Bell Saunders (col), came to her death by a pistol shot wound feloniously inflicted by the hands of John Taylor (Col) on the night of Dec 3rd 1900, and we advise that he be bound over to the next Court and imprisoned without bail. /s/ Eli Felton, P.H. Braswell, W.H. Pridgen. W.J.T. Beland, J.R. Winstead, Jerome Bowen.
Inquest had, and signed & sealed in the presence of John K. Ruffin, Coroner of Wilson County.
In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson & Thompson, cook Leaher Rice, 43, and her children John, 18, a railroad laborer, Frank, 16, a brickyard worker, Bettie, 14, a “nurse” [nursemaid], and Annie, 12.
Despite Leah’s testimony about the proximity of her house to Willie Bell and John’s, they do not appear in the 1900 census.
Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.
Established in 1870, Rocky Branch United Church of Christ is one of the oldest African-American congregations in Wilson County. The older section of its cemetery sits literally in its front yard. The newer section is on a plain just above the church, reached by crossing a footbridge over a tannin-stained branch. A small placard mounted at the bridge reveals that it was built by church members and dedicated to Seth Thomas Shaw Jr. (1895-1981) and Eugene Spells (1924-1988).
In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Celia Thompson, 40, and children Courtney, 17, Chany, 14, and Columbus, 7.
On 16 December 1880, Aaron Barnes, 23, and Chany Thompson, 23, both residents of Wilson County, were married at the residence of Ruffin Rose. Witnesses were Simon Barnes, Willis Hooks, and Grey Newsome.
In the 1900 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Aaron Barnes, 42, wife Chanie, 37, and sister-in-law[?] Tempie Peacock, 15.
In the 1910 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Aaron Barnes, 54, wife Chainie, 45, and mother-in-law Celia Thompson, 86.
In the 1920 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Aaron Barnes, 63, and wife Chanie, 62.
In the 1930 census of Crossroads township, Wilson County: Aron Barnes, 72, and wife Chanie, 72.
Arron Barnes died 6 October 1930 in Lucama. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1852 in Wilson County to Arron Barnes Sr. and Elvie Barnes of Wilson County, was married to Kannie Barnes, and worked as a farmer. He was buried in Pollie Watson graveyard. Chanie Barnes died 26 March 1936 in Lucama. Per her death certificate, she was born 1856 in Nash County to George Thompson and Celia Thompson of Nash County, was the widow of Aaron Barnes, and had resided on Main Street, Lucama.
George Cooper and Estella Smith Cooper
On 24 February 1877, George Cooper, 21, married Estella Smith, 19, in Wayne County.
In the 1880 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: George Cooper, 23, wife Estella, 21, sister Mary, 17, brother Mose, 13, and children Philipp, 4, Ritta, 3, and Marchal, 2.
In the 1900 census of Fremont township, Wayne County: George Cooper, 46, wife Stellar, 40, and children Aretter, 22, George B., 16, Juley, 14, James, 12, Mary, 10, Maggie, 7, Bessie, 4, and Royal, 3. Next door, Philipp Cooper, 23, wife Florence, 26, and Earl, 3 months.
In the 1920 census of Springhill district, Wilson County: Tack House and Moores School Road, George Cooper, 65, Stella, 55, and children [or grandchildren] Maggie, 25, Stella, 13, and Irene, 9.
Estella Cooper died 17 July 1931 in Springhill township. Per her death certificate, she was 74 years old and born in Wayne County to Jacob Smith and Littie Whitley, both of Wayne County. She was married to George Cooper Sr. and worked in farming. James Cooper was the informant.
George Cooper died 25 October 1940 at his home at 910 Mercer Street in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old and born in Duplin County to Warch and Warshell Cooper. He was buried at Rocky Branch. Informant was James W. Cooper, Wilson.
James William Cooper died 12 February 1967 at his home at 110 Fourth Street in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 24 July 1887 in Wayne County to George Cooper and Estelle Smith; worked as a fireman for James I. Miller Company; was a World War I veteran; and was married to Alberta A. Cooper.
Thomas Rice and Julia Watson Rice
In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Alfred Rice, 40, wife Amy, 30, and son Thomas, 13, and Gray Bailey, 24, all farm laborers.
In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Alfred Rice, about 52, wife Amy, about 35, and son Thomas, 22, a laborer, plus Thomas Pettiford, 2.
Thomas Rice and Julia Watson were married on 24 November 1881 in Johnston County.
In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Thomas Rice, 43, wife Julia, 43, children Siddie, 19, Annanias, 16, Savanah, 14, John, 12, and mother Amy, 60.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: hired man Thomas Rice, 53, in the household of white farmer Charles O. Hinnant. He reported having been married 27 years, but his wife is not listed with him.
In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Springfield and Red Hill Road, Tom Rice, 56, and wife Julia, 50.
Julia Rice died 25 July 1925 near Kenly in Springhill township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 July 1859 in Johnston County, was married to Tom Rice, and was buried in Rocky Branch graveyard. Tom Rice died 3 February 1927.
Louvenia Williamson Devine Bizzle
In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Elic Williamson, 44, wife Gracy, 29, and children John, 14, Lugen, 11, Joseph, 9, Jennie, 7, Mary, 6, Clem, 4, Sarah J., 2, and Poll, 1, all of whom had whooping cough.
On 22 November 1893, Alex Devine, 49, of Springhill township, married Louvenia Williamson, 24, of Springhill township.
Gracy Williamson died 14 September 1916 in Springhill township of pulmonary tuberculosis. Per her death certificate, she was born 28 May 1903 to Louvenia Williamson and Alex Vines.
On 23 October 1923, Washington Bizzle, 40, of Wrightsville, Georgia, married Louvenia Williamson, 42, of Crossroads township, at the courthouse in Wilson.
Louvenia Williamson Bizzle applied for a social security number in January 1938. Her application listed her birthdate as 5 May 1869 and her parents as Alec Williamson and Gracie Shaw.
On the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Lewis Freeman, about 55, wife Katy, about 25, and Violet Eatman, about 70.
On 16 December 1891, William R. Robinson, 20, of Old Fields, son of Katie Freeman, married Sallie W. Earp, 19, of Old Fields, daughter of Sidney and Nancy Earp at Sidney Earp’s residence.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson and Raleigh Road, widow Rachael Robinson, 71, and her daughter Katie Freeman, 52.
In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Old Raleigh Road, widow Rachael Robertson, 80, and her daughter Katie Freeman, 61, also a widow.
Katie Freeman died 29 November 1931 in Springhill township. Per her death certificate, she was a 78 year-old widow born in Wilson County to Virgen Deans and Rachel Robinson. Informant was Wm. Ruffin Robinson, Rock Ridge, North Carolina.
On 12 February 1893, Harriett Boykin, 20, daughter of Henry and Sylva Boykin, married Samuel Taylor, 26, son of Peter and Zilla Taylor, at Henry Boykin’s residence.
On 17 December 1897, James Boykin, 21, son of Henry and Silvy Boykin, married Mary Jane Kent, daughter of Ned and Liddie Kent.
In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Foster Boykin, 22, wife Ella, 18, and children James R., 2, and Alma, 1; sister-in-law Lily Whitley, 22; mother Silva Boykin, 81; and niece Eula M. Whitley, 3.
Sylvia Boykin died 12 January 1939 at her home at 507 Warren Street in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 90 years old, born in Wilson County, and her father [sic, probably meant to indicate husband] was Henry Boykin. She was a widow who had worked as a tenant farmer.
Spencer “Fox” Shaw and Tabitha Shaw
In the 1870 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Thomas Shaw, 36, wife Katy, 37, and children Frances, 16, Eliza, 14, Fox, 12, David, 11, Martha, 4, and Mary, 2.
In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Fox Shaw, 21, wife Bithal, 18, and daughter Mary, 2 months.
In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Spencer Shaw, 40, wife Tabitha, 41, and children George A., 17, James R., 11, Hattie, 9, Joeseph G., 6, Seth T., 5, and Albert S., 2.
In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Wilson and Raleigh Branch Road, Spencer Shaw, 51, wife Bitha, 49, and children James R., 21, Joseph T., 16, Seth T.,14, Albert S., 11, Merlin S., 9, Willie H., 7, and Alice M., 5.
In the 1920 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Shaw Avenue on Springhill Road, farmer Spencer S. Shaw, 60, wife Bitha, 60, and children Albert, 22, Marlie, 19, Willie, 16, and Alice, 14. Next door: Grocil Shaw, 26, wife Nettie, 16, and children Rosa, 2, and Grover C., 1
In the 1930 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Buckhorn [illegible] Road, Spencer S. Shaw, 70, wife Bytha J., 70, sons William H., 24, and Seth T., 34, daughter-in-law Georgeanna, 24, and grandchildren Alice M., 4, Seth T., 2, and Franklin S., 6 months.
In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Seth T. Shaw, 44, wife Georgiana, 34, mother Bitha, 79, and children Alice M., 14, Seth T., 12, Franklin G., 10, George C., 7, Daisy May, 5, and James C., 3.
Bitha Shaw died 25 August 1957 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 30 June 1877 [actually, circa 1860] in Wake County, North Carolina. She was buried at Rocky Branch. Informant was Hattie Boykins.
In November 1909, James Lamm sued Wilson’s Black Creek school district, claiming his children had been barred from admission “without just cause.” They were listed on pupil censuses as white children, said Lamm, and were entitled to attend white schools as they always had.
The suit prompted a detailed examination of the ancestry of Lamm’s wife, Jane Carter (also known as Jane Locus.) In due course, Wilson County Superior Court issued a short decision finding that Lamm was a “pure blooded white man” with six children; that the children’s maternal great-grandmother was 5/8 white and had a white father; that the great-grandmother had a daughter (the children’s grandmother) who had a white father; and that the children’s mother also had a white father. The children being white enough, judgment for the plaintiff. The children must be enrolled.
The case file in the matter still includes notes from the testimony of two witnesses concerning the children’s lineage. Their grandmother was Equit Locus, whose father was believed to be white. (Her surname places her as a member of one of the largest free families of color in antebellum eastern North Carolina, the Locus/Locusts.) With Dallas Taylor, a white man, Ezrit had Wealthy Locus, who was described as “practically white.” Wealthy, in turn, gave birth to Jane — James Lamm’s wife — whose father was “said to be Van B. Carter,” a white man.
Records related to “bastardy” actions in Wilson County support Joe Horne’s identification of Jane’s father. In September 1870, Wealthy Locus was summoned to court to answer charges that she “is with child whitch child when Bornd will Be a Basterd.” Wealthy named Van Carter as the father of the child, but he could not be found within county limits. It is not clear whether he ever posted a bond or otherwise supported the child. (Van Buren Carter, born about 1850, was a Nash County native. He died in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1933.)
In the 1860 census of Bailey township, Nash County: John Locus, 60, wife Nancy, 51, and children and grandchildren Thomas, 30, Equitta, 28, Jno., 21, Neverson, 19, Cytha, 15, Sparling, 13, Nancy E., 12, Wealtha, 9, James S., 4, Polly, 2, and Eliza Locus, 2 months. All were classified as mulatto. (If John and Nancy Locus were Equitta’s parents, witnesses were incorrect in their testimony that Wealthy’s mother, too, had a white father.)
In the 1870 census of Springfield township, Nash County: John Locus, 65, with Sparling, 20 and James Locus, 17, plus Equit, 35, Murnivia, 10, Elizia, 12, Wethia, 20, Malinda, 2 months, and Dotsey, 14; all mulatto.
Wealthy Locust, 23 [she was actually closer to 30], appeared in the 1880 census of Black Creek, Wilson County, in the household of farmer J.C. Rice. She had five children — Jane, 9, Mary, 5, James G., 3, and Bryant, 7 months — and her mother Equit lived with them. All are described as mulatto. Wealthy worked as a cook, and the relationship to her of each of her family members is oddly phrased in this context — “daughter of cook,” “mother of cook,” etc. (As we will see below, this is not an entirely accurate description of the familial ties within this household.)
The 1880 census was the last time Wealthy’s family as a whole is classified as mulatto. (And the last time but one that her older children bear the name Locus.) Though they remained in the community in which everyone knew them and their mother, all of Wealthy’s children transitioned to white identities as they entered adulthood.
On 15 December 1889, James Lamm, 27, married Jane Carter, 20, at Amos Hays’ in Black Creek township. Both were described as white.
Daughter Mary Locus, 18, married Robert Barnes, 23, in Black Creek on 27 July 1893. Robert is described as white; the space for Mary’s race was left blank.
Wealthy’s daughter Bettie married James Bass in 1897, and her marriage license sheds new light on that census entry. Bettie’s last name was Rice and, at 16, she was a minor. “J.C. Rice & Weltha Locas the Father & Mother” of Bettie Rice had to give written permission for her to marry. Bettie was described as white, and her sister Jane Lamm was an official witness to the ceremony.
The 1900 census of Black Creek, however, shows that the family’s social identity remained fluid, at least in the eyes of the community. At household #106, [Wealthy’s son] James G. Rice, 23, wife Lou, 21, and son Lee, 1, all white. At #108, Wealthy Locus, 50, son Zacariah, 13, and daughter Fannie, 10, all black. At #109, Pennsylvania-born James C. Rice, 55, white [father of Wealthy’s younger children.] At #113, James Lamm, 42, wife Jane, 30, and children Robert L., 9, James C., 7, Mamie, 4, and Leona, 2, all white.
In December 1909, just after he filed suit against the school board, James Lamm filed for a marriage license on behalf of Lester Lucas, 21, and his sister-in-law Fannie Rice, 19. Fannie, now white, gave her parents as J.C. Rice and Wealthy Joyner.
James C. Rice died about 1917. Under the terms of his will, executed 23 October 1915, James left (1) Welthy Joyner six five-hundred dollar promissory notes in trust, with her to have use of the interest at her discretion and to be distributed after her death to J.G. Rice, Zack Rice, Mary Barnes, Bettie Bass and Fannie Lucas, and (2) a $1000 note to be divided among the same five. (The will does not refer to them as his children.)
In the 1920 census of Black Creek: James G. Rice, 43, wife Louetta, 42, sons Lee, 21, Henry, 19, and Frank, 11, widowed mother Welthy Joyner, 70, and his in-laws. All were white.
Wealthy Locus died 18 June 1922. Her surname was recorded as “Joyner,” and her son James provided information about her life. She was again described as a widow (no marriage license has been found), William Joyner was listed as her father (James Rice supposedly had no information about his grandmother, Ezrit Locus), and she was white. (That Thomas Yelverton & Company handled her burial signals community acceptance of that identity. Undertakers were segregated in that era.)
Zack Rice, Wealthy’s youngest son, died 8 March 1934 in Black Creek. His death certificate lists his parents as Jim Rice and Wilthy Rice. James Gaston Rice died 25 February 1940. His death certificate lists his parents as James C. Rice, born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Welthy Joyner. Jane Carter Lamm died 21 February 1945 in Wilson, Wilson County. Her death certificate lists her parents as Van Carter and Wealthy Joyner, and she is classified as white.
School Records (1909), Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives; Bastardy Bonds, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.