We first met Cora Moore when we read of her daring escape from the Wilson city jail. Here’s what put her there to begin with.
It started with the arrest of Mamie Ricks for possession of cocaine and “knock-out drops” after she tried to poison Ada McNeal. When Ricks was arrested at her Railroad Street home, police found “a number of pieces of fine clothing.” Efird’s Department Store quickly identified two silk dresses as goods stolen from them. The remaining items were a mystery, but Joe and Ada McNeal were also charged with larceny.
Wilson Daily Times, 27 November 1923.
Less than two months later, the police cracked the case.
In short, a New York coat and suit manufacturer shipped goods south via Norfolk Southern freight. About three miles outside Wilson, someone (a co-conspirator?) threw the boxes of clothing off the train. Joe McNeal witnessed “two negroes in a large seven passenger car” stash the clothes at a spot in Grabneck. As the goods were already hot, he tipped off two friends, Cora Moore and Aaron McKeithan, and three retrieved some of them and hid them in a trunk in Moore’s house. When they realized they were under suspicion, they sold as much of the loot as they could.
Wilson Daily Times, 15 January 1924.
Neither Cora Moore, Mamie Ricks, Ada McNeal, Joe McNeal, nor Aaron McKeithan are readily identifiable in Wilson County records. The surnames of the McNeals and McKeithan suggests they came from the Cumberland County, N.C., area, and they may not have remained long in Wilson.
On 5 March 1879, Patrick Baily, 21, of Wilson County, married Atsey Sanders, 19, of Nash County, in Wilson County.
In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: laborer Patrick Bailey, 19; wife Atsey, 20; and son Arthur M., 6 months.
In the 1900 census of Bailey township, Nash County, North Carolina: farmer Patrick Bailey, 39; wife Atsie, 45; and children Liew I., 18, Mary E., 16, [illegible], 14, Jodie, 10, Oda, 8, Fatie, 6, Alice, 4, and Shellie A., 1.
On 3 January 1907, Mae Ella Bailey married Jonah L. Ricks.
In the 1910 census of Dry Wells township, Nash County: on Raleigh and Wilson Road, farmer Jonah Ricks, 25; wife Mae Ella, 26; and children Eula Mae, 2, and Jonah C., 1. Next door: Patrick Bailey, 49; wife Gatsey, 52; and children Arthur M., 29, Oda, 18, Fatima, 16, Alice, 13, Shelly, 10, and Frank M., 8.
In 1918, Jonah Lewis Ricks registered for the World War I draft in Nash County. Per his registration card, he was born 24 March 1882; lived in Bailey, Nash County; was a farmer for V.J. Perry; and his nearest relative was wife May Ella Ricks.
In the 1930 census of Bailey township, Nash County: farmer Jonah Ricks, 45; wife May E., 45; and children Eula M., 22, James, 18, Lena, 17, Anna, 15, Wayland, 14, Leonard, 12, Felton, 10, and Pauline, 2.
In the 1940 census of Dunn township, Franklin County, North Carolina: on U.S. Highway 64 farmer Jonah Ricks, 55; wife May Ella, 55; and sons Rudolph, 21, and Fleton, 19, and granddaughter Pauline, 13.
In the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Ricks John [Jonah] C (c; Ella) h 307 N Reid
Ella Mae [sic] Ricks died 4 February 1956 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 February 1885 in Nash County to Patrick Henry Bailey and Gatsey Finch; lived at 307 North Reid; and was widowed. Informant was Jonah Ricks, 307 North Reid.
In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Millie Ricks, 40, widow, with sons William, 12, and Wiley, 1.
In the 1910 census
On 27 July 1918, Wiley Ricks, 21, of Toisnot, married Fannie Fort, 21, of Toisnot, in Elm City. Presbyterian minister A.E. Sephas performed the ceremony in the presence of John Gaston, Samuel T. Ford and T.H. Nicholson.
Fannie Ford Ricks died 9 March 1924 in Elm City, Toisnot township. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 January 1899 in Wilson County to Sam Ford of Halifax County and Mattie Williams of Wilson County and was married to Wiley Ricks.
In the 1930 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: Wiley Ricks, 30, barber; wife Carrie, 29; and children Miriam, 2, and Maggie, 9 months.
In the 1940 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Branch Street, barber Wiley Ricks, 41; wife Cary P., 39; and children Miriam, 12, Maggie R., 10, Lois, 8, and Malinda, 1.
Wylie Ricks died 28 March 1985 in Hollister, Halifax County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 4 December 1898 in Wilson County to Wiley Sharpe and Millie Sharpe; was a barber; resided in Elm City; and was married to Carrie Parker Ricks.
A 1947 photo taken outside Wiley Ricks’ barbershop. Courtesy of Thomas Griffin via Wilson Daily Times, 15 January 2002.
Haircut photo courtesy of article re Ricks in History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).
Lurean Barnes— Lurean Barnes Zachary died 30 April 1963 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 28 February 1899 in Wilson to Sam Barnes and Ida Hinton; was married to Joe K. Zachary; and worked as a teacher.
Mary E. Isler — Mary Isler was the stepdaughter of Owen L.W. Smith. In the 1900 census of Swift Creek township, Pitt County, North Carolina, she is listed as a one month-old in the household of her parents Turney and Cynthia Isler. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County, minister Owen W. Smith, 58, wife Lucy A., 45, son Jessy A. Smith, 27, daughter Carry E. Smith, 10, and step-children John H. Isler, 12, and Mary A. Isler, 10. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 129 Pender Street, Owen L. Smith, 68; wife Cynthia, 55; stepchild Mary E. Isler, 20, a teacher; roomer John H. Isler, 21; Claud L. Burgen, 29, wife Annie L., 24, and son Claud L., Jr., 1; and five roomers, all tobacco factory workers, John Davis, 33, MajorLewis, 25, Edgar Jones, 25, Walter Walker, 25, and Paul Barnes, 21. On 2 June 1922, Mary E. Isler, 22, foster daughter of O.L.W. and Anna A. Smith, married Clarence L. King, 24, of Wayne County, son of James and Sarah King, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of J.D. Reid, C.S. Thomas, and W.T. Darden. By 1940, the Kings were living in the Bronx with daughter Grace, born about 1923. Mary E. King died in New York in April 1981.
Fannie F. Ricks — in the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: railroad track laborer Samuel Ford, 25, wife Mattie, 21, and daughter Fannie, 1. In the 1910 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: on Wilson Street, railroad foreman Samuel T. Ford, 34; wife Mattie, 30; and children Fannie, 11, Maurice, 9, Willie, 4, and Thomas, 1. On 27 July 1919, Fannie Fort, 21, of Toisnot township, married Wiley Ricks, 21, of Toisnot township. Presbyterian minister A.E. Sephas performed the ceremony in the presence of John Gaston, Saml. T. Ford, and T.H. Nicholson. Fannie Ford Ricks died 9 March 1924 in Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 January 1899 in Wilson County to Sam Ford of Halifax County and Mattie Williams of Wilson County. She was married to Wiley Ricks.
Jonah Lewis Ricks was born near Bailey, Nash County, in 1885. His mother, Nancy Jones Ricks, was born about 1865 in western Wilson County to Jacob and Milly Powell Jones, both born into free families of color. (Jacob was a grandson of Bethana Jones.) Jonah’s father was Joseph Ricks.
Several of Joseph Ricks’ descendants, including Jonah, migrated to Wilson and Elm City and beyond beginning in the 1930s. Joseph’s death certificate, filed in Nash County in 1949, asserts that he was born about 1876 in Nash County to Square [sic] and Nicey Ricks. However, the censuses of 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 consistently list 1860 as his birth year.
What follows is a summary of research I conducted to pierce the veil of slavery and shed light on Joseph Ricks’ family just before and after Emancipation.
Initially, I was unable to find either Joseph Ricks or his parents in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. However, I had found a Kinchen R. Ricks (1858-1915) whose Nash County death certificate listed his parents as Squire Ricks and Nicie Braswell, so I looked for him instead. In the 1880 census of Jackson township, Nash County, 22 year-old Kenchin Ricks appears as a servant in the household of Marmaduke Ricks. Next door is this household: Sqare Perry, wife Nicy, and their children, including 18 year-old Joseph. I went back ten years to 1870 to find, in Chesterfield township, Nash County: Esqire Perry, 52, wife Nicey, 47, and children Primus, 22, Willie, 18, Mary J., 16, Rebecca, 13, Kinchen, 11, Joseph, 9, Robert, 8, and Matilda, 6. Also sharing the household were Judy Finch, 19, and her 7 month-old Nancy, and Sham Freeman, 63, Silva, 58, Mary, 25, and Rosa Freeman, 18. Thus I determined that Joseph Ricks was known as Joseph Perry as a child. His parents were known as Squire and Nicey Perry and, I later learned, all of his siblings except brother Kinchen retained the surname Perry.
Squire Perry was born circa 1815, according to census records. His wife Nicey was born circa 1824. As neither appears in censuses earlier than 1870, I assumed that both were born slaves. I consulted Timothy Rackley’s volumes on Nash County estate divisions and slave cohabitations and discovered records of the division of the estate of Clabourn Finch, which was conducted 18 December 1849. Finch’s property, which included slaves Jacob, Benjamin, Squire, Sam, Henry, Gilbert, Adam, Primus, and Nicy and her child, was divided among his heirs. Squire, valued at $550, went to Finch’s daughter Betsy and her husband Jacob Strickland. Nicy and child, valued at $700, went to Finch’s daughter Nicy and her husband Marmaduke Ricks. Thus, the family was divided during the last decade and a half of slavery.
Page from the estate of Clabourn Finch, Nash County, 1849. The enslaved people distributed to his heirs at November Term of court differ slightly from those listed in this inventory.
The 1850 slave census of Nash County shows Jacob Strickland as the owner of four slaves and Marmaduke Ricks as the owner of ten. The 1860 slave census of Sullivants township, Nash County, lists him as the owner of 18 slaves.
Among post-Emancipation Nash County cohabitation records, I discovered that, on 19 August 1866, Esquire Strickland and Nicey Ricks registered their 22-year marriage with a Nash County Justice of the Peace. At the time they reunited, each was using the surname of his or her most recent former owner. By the 1870 census, however, as noted above, Squire had settled upon Perry.
It is probably not coincidence that another of Clabourn Finch’s daughters, Ann C., was married to a Perry. Clabourn Finch’s slaves were divided among his children at his death and may have been further sold or traded within the family. At present, Squire’s reason for choosing Perry rather than Ricks or Strickland is not clear, nor is the basis for Joseph Ricks’ report on his brother Kinchen’s death certificate that their mother’s maiden was Braswell. Similarly, the reason that two of their sons, Kinchen and Joseph, reverted to Ricks is unclear.
Original photograph and funeral program in my possession. Federal population schedules; North Carolina Certificates of Death filed in Nash and Wilson Counties; Timothy W. Rackley, Nash County North Carolina Division of Estate Slaves & Cohabitation Record 1862-1866; Rackley, Nash County North Carolina Division of Estate Slaves 1829-1861; North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.