In May 1935, three year-old Roland Ruffin, son of Moses and Pennie Bynum Ruffin, died of an intestinal obstruction after swallowing a plum pit.
Wilson Daily Times, 25 August 1944.
Once again, Henrietta Ruffin was recognized for her canning prowess, here crowned Wilson County champion canner by the Farm Security Administration. Using a pressure cooker obtained via an FSA loan, Ruffin planned to can 800 quarts of fruit, meat, and vegetables in 1944, topping her 550-quart total the year before.
The 13 September 2018 edition of the Wilson Daily Times featured Jerry Harris‘ contribution of this photograph of his grandparents Jesse “Jack” Harris and Delphia Ruffin Harris, most likely taken in the 1950s or early 1960s.
In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Gray Ruffin, 24; wife Mariah, 22; and children Hurbert, 3, William, 2, and Delphia, 10 months; plus brother Walter, 19.
In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Arch Harris, 53; wife Rosa, 45; and children James, 22, Arch, 20, Mary Jane, 18, Nancy, 16, Lucy, 12, Minnie, 11, Maggie, 8, Jessie, 6, and Annie, 3.
In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: on Wilson Road, farmer Gray Ruffin, age unknown; wife Maria, 45; and children Hubbard, 13, William, 12, Delphia, 11, Lizzie, 9, Mary, 8, Pattie, 7, Franklin, 6, London, 4, and Bessie, 11 months.
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: James Harris, 28, Dora, 22, and Rosa, 1, with grandmother Cherady Harris, 80. Next door: Arch Harris, 56, Rosa, 51, and children Jessie, 15, Annie, 12, and James, 12.
In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Barnes Crossing Road, farmer H. Gray Ruffin, 38; wife Mariah, 35; and children G. Hurbert Jr., 22, H. William, 21, Delphia, 20, Lizzie, 18, Mary, 16, Pattie, 15, B. Frank, 14, London, 13, Bessie, 11, [illegible], 10, and W. George, 9.
Jesse Harris, 32, of Wilson, married Delphia Ruffin, 27, of Gardners, on 17 January 1927 in Wilson.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Highway 91, Jessie Harris, 34, farmer; wife Delphia, 36; children Rosetta, 12, Alberta, 9, James, 2, and Jesse Jr., 1; and mother Rosa, 66, widow.
In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: on Wilson Road, Jack Harris, 43, farm laborer; wife Delphia, 40; children Rosetta, 22, Odell, 20, Annie M., 15, James Oscar, 13, Jesse, 12, Thelma, 10, Amos, 8, Archie, 7, and Chaney Mae, 5; and grandsons Ned, 5, and Leroy, 1.
Willie Gray Ruffin died 24 September 1969 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 2 July 1921 to Delphia Ruffin; lived at 801 Moore Street; was married to Mildred Ruffin; worked as a laborer. Channie M. Horton, 609 Stephenson Street, was informant.
Jesse Harris died 4 June 1975 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 5 November 1893 to Art Harris Jr. and Rosetta Woodard; was married to Delphia Harris; lived at 919 Poplar Street; and was a farmer.
Delphia Harris died 10 May 1984 in Raleigh, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was born 5 May 1899 in Wilson to Gray and Mariah Ruffin; was a widow; and had worked in farm labor.
Wilson Daily Times, 27 December 1941.
Negro Home Agent Jane Amos Boyd highlighted the efforts of homemaker Henrietta Ruffin to insure an ample food supply for her family and community. Ruffin canned 674 quarts of fruits, vegetables, and meats; bought 460 baby chicks; and sold more than eighty dollars worth of surplus eggs and chickens at a curb market.
Though Ruffin had a Pitt County address, she lived between Saratoga and the Wilson-Pitt County line.
In the 1910 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: on Howards Path, farmer Jesse Ward, 26; wife Arey, 32; and children William, 14, Walton, 10, Henrietta, 10, Susan, 6, Kizie, 5, and Juanita, 1 month.
Charlie Ruffin, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ida Ruffin, married Henretta Moore, 18, of Saratoga, daughter of Ara Moore, on 25 January 1920 in Saratoga township. Washington Littles, a Disciples minister, performed the ceremony in the presence of William Dupree, Henry Stewart, and Arluster McNair, all of Saratoga.
In the 1920 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: on Fountain Road, farmer Charles Ruffin, 19; wife Henrietta, 19; mother Ida, 50, widow; sister Daisy, 13; and niece Mary, 12.
In the 1930 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farm laborer Charles Ruffin, 30; wife Henritta, 28; and children Bertha, 9, Charles Jr., 8, James R., 6, Juntia, 2, and Gladis L., 10 months.
In the 1940 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer Charles Ruffin, 39; wife Henretta, 38; and children Bertha, 19, Charles, 17, James R., 16, Juanita, 12, Gladys Lee, 10, Christine, 8, Bruce, 7, Bertie Mae, 4, and Curtis, 10 months.
Henrietta Moore Ruffin died 29 November 2004.
Some Black Families of Wilson County, North Carolina, a compilation of The Hugh B. Johnston Jr. Working Papers published in 1997 by Wilson County Genealogical Society, contains several typed worksheets that Johnston asked his subjects to complete (or filled in while interviewing them.)
Johnny Thomas‘ undated questionnaire is reproduced in the volume. It appears to have been completed by Thomas in his own handwriting. Hugh Johnston did not shy away from the public identification of the white fathers of African-American children, and Thomas was forthcoming.
In summary, Johnny Thomas wrote:
- His father Alfred Thomas was born in 1863 in Wilson [County].
- His mother Lula Ruffin Thomas was born in 1877 in Wilson [County].
- He did not know for whom Alfred Thomas was named.
- Was Alfred Thomas’ father Alfred Thomas or Hilliard Thomas? Hilliard Thomas [Most likely, Hilliard Thomas (1824-1884), son of Eason and Mary Eure Thomas and a maternal relative of Hugh Johnston.]
- “What do you remember your father, Alfred Thomas, saying about his father or his father’s white family connections?” “I can rember my father having his farther picture, he was trully white.”
- Was Lula Ruffin’s father “Little Jimmy” Woodard or “Coon” Farmer? Coon Farmer [William Thomas “Coon” Farmer (1858-1912), son of Isaac B. and Nancy Yelverton Farmer.]
- “What do you remember your mother, Lula Ruffin Thomas, saying about her father or her father’s white family connections?” “She said that her farther also was white.”
- “Your grandmother Adline Thomas was born in 1842 and died on March 20, 1926. Where did she die?” “On Tarboro Highway [now N.C. Highway 42].” Where buried? Rountree cemetery. “What do you remember about her appearance, personality, or unusual qualities?” “Well she was very fair long straight hair.”
In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County; farmer Jordan Thomas, 52, who reported owning $175 in real property and $100 in personal. Next door: Eliza Thomas, 52, Henriet, 35, Hariet, 30, Alfred, 9, Jordan, 7, John, 11, Charity, 10, and Henry, 6.
In the 1880 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Jordan Thomas, 68; daughters Henyeter, 42, and Harty [Adeline], 40; and grandchildren John, 21, Charity, 18, Henry, 15, Jordan, 17, and Alfread, 18.
On 2 January 1890, Alfred Thomas, 26, of Gardners township, son of Adaline Thomas, married Cornelia Whitehead, 31, daughter of Richard Hagans and Alley Hagans, in Wilson County in the presence of Jordan Thomas, Lawrence Hagans and James Kelley.
On 1 March 1899, Alfred Thomas, 39, of Wilson County, son of Adline Thomas, married Lou Ruffin, 21, of Wilson County, daughter of Liza Ruffin. Primitive Baptist minister James S. Woodard performed the ceremony in the presence of Peter Thomas, Charles Hagans and Joseph Hagans.
In the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Alford Thomas, 36; wife Lou, 18; and children Sallie, 12, Florra, 9, and Mary T., 6 months; and servant Cora White, 17.
In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: on the Plank Road, farmer Alford Thomas, 42; wife Lula, 26; children Mary, 9, Martha, 8, Sudie, 6, Lula, 4, and Jordan, 3; and mother Adline Thomas, 57.
Wilson Daily Times, 18 March 1919. The runaways were likely Johnny Thomas’ sisters Sudie and Lula Thomas.
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on “Stantion Burg Road,” Alford Thomas, 75; wife Lula, 50; children Lula, 26, Jordon, 22, Johnnie, 20, and Pattie, 16; and grandson James, 2.
On 26 July 1930, Johnnie Thomas, 21, of Wilson, son of Alf Thomas and Lula [no last name listed], married Thelma Ward, 20, daughter of Frank and Winnie Ward, in Wilson.
On 21 May 1931, Lula Thomas died in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 44 years old; was born in Wilson County to Coon Farmer and Eliza Ruffin; and was engaged in farming. Sudie Plant of Rocky Mount, N.C., was informant.
Alfred Thomas died 16 January 1933 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was 70 years old; was born in Wilson County to Adline Thomas and “father unknown”; was a farmer; and was married to Lula Thomas. Jordan Thomas was informant.
In the 1940 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer John Thomas, 30; wife Thelma, 30; children Walter H., 11, James, 8, Rosa Lee, 13, and Willie F., 5; grandmother Rosa Harris, 86; and lodger Zebedee Ford, 19.
Johnny Thomas died 22 March 1986 in Wilson.
From the reproduction of the program for Johnny Thomas’ funeral service printed in Johnston’s Some Black Families.
Jessie Beatrice Ruffin Hill (1908-1990).
In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1007 East Nash Street, transfer man Garfield Ruffin, 39; wife Thennie, 28; and children Jessie, 12, Emma, 8, Mary, 7, Cora, 5, Naomi, 3, Kernice, 1, and Thennie, 7 months.
On 23 May 1929, William Hill, 21, of Durham, married Jessie Hill, 23, of Durham, daughter of Pres Binn (dead) and Thenie Ruffin of Washington, D.C., in Durham, North Carolina.
In the 1930 census of Durham, Durham County: at 504 Fowler Avenue, rented for $8/month, and shared with another family, factory worker William Hill, 24, wife Jessie, 22, and son William Jr., 2 months.
[In the 1930 census of Washington, D.C.: at 728 – 12th Street, barber James G. Ruffin, 45; wife Parthenia, 36; and children Emma, 19, Mary E., 18, Cora, 16, Naomi, 15, Kernice, 12, Parthenia, 11, James B., 9, Linwood, 7, Izah, 6, Calvin C., 4, and Canlice, 2.]
William Hill registered for the World War II draft in Durham, N.C., in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 8 April 1906 in Roxobel, Bertie County; lived at 704 Pickett Street, Durham; worked for Liggett & Meyers Tobacco Company; and his contact was wife Jessie Beatrice Hill.
Jessie R. Hill died 29 July 1990 in Durham. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 March 1908 in Wilson to Henry G. Ruffin and an unnamed mother; was a widow; and had been a tobacco worker. George Hill of Albany, Georgia, was informant.
Photograph courtesy of Ancestry.com user jfount6081.
Lemon Ruffin executed his will shortly before leaving for war as a Confederate soldier. He did not return. He died as a prisoner of war in Illinois in 1864, age 32. (His brothers Etheldred, George W. and Thomas Ruffin also died in the war.) As set forth in more detail below, Ruffin received the bulk of his enslaved property as an inheritance from his exceedingly wealthy father Henry J.G. Ruffin, who died in 1854. An inventory of the elder Ruffin’s estate listed 138 enslaved people held on plantations in Franklin, Greene, Wayne and Edgecombe Counties.
I Lemon Ruffin of the county of Wilson, State of North Carolina, being of sound mind and memory, but considering the uncertainly of my existence, do make and declare this my last will and testament in manner and form following, that is to say:
First: That my executors shall pay my debts out of the money that may first come into their hands on part or parcel of my estate.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister S.B. Ruffin my tract of land situated in Wilson Co NC adjoining the lands of Warner Woodard & others on Tosnot — to have and to hold to her and her heirs in fee simple forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister M.H. Fugitt the proceeds of the sale of the Negro slaves Amos, Sallie and Henderson. Amos to be sold in Alabama. My will and desire is that Sallie and Henderson be brought to N.C. and sold in Wilson County.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister, Nina W. Ruffin, the Negro slaves Crockett and Harriet to her and her personal representatives forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Dr. W. Haywood Ruffin of Misourah the Negro Slaves Isse(?) the first and her three children and grandchildren, viz; Eliza, Esther, Elizabeth and Haywood.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Thomas Ruffin, the Negro slaves Patience and her children named Isaac, Lettuce & Jerre and the youngest child to him and his personal representative forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Etheldred Ruffin, Beck and all her children named Ned, Elving(?), Arabella and Thom to him and his personal representatives forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew, Samuel Ruffin, Jr. of Mississippi, the Negro slaves Isse(?) the 2nd commonly called Son[illegible] to him and his personal representative forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my niece Mary L. Ruffin the negro slave Creasy to her and her personal representative forever.
I do whereof I the said Lemon Ruffin do hereunto set my hand and seal this 24th day of June 1862.
In the 1860 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Lemon Ruffin is listed as a 28 year-old farmer living alone, with $5000 in real property and $21,600 in personal property.
These are the relatives listed in his will:
- sister S.B. Ruffin — Sarah Blount Ruffin.
- sister M.H. Fugitt — Mary Haywood Ruffin Williams Fugett.
- sister Nina W. Ruffin — Penina Watson Ruffin Ruffin of Franklin County.
- brother Dr. W. Haywood Ruffin — William Haywood Ruffin, who migrated to Lexington, Missouri (and later Choctaw County, Alabama.)
- brother Thomas Ruffin
- brother Etheldred Ruffin — Etheldred F. Ruffin, Greene County.
- nephew Samuel Ruffin Jr. — son of W. Haywood Ruffin, but migrated to Pushmataha, Choctaw County, Alabama, to join his uncle Samuel R. Ruffin. Samuel R. Ruffin was the largest slaveholder in that county at Emancipation, and a list of his slaves reveals a number of first names common among Henry’s slaves. See below.
- niece Mary L. Ruffin
Henry John Gray Ruffin, father of the above and husband of Mary Tartt Ruffin, died in 1854 in Franklin County, North Carolina. He had accumulated immense wealth and prudently executed a precise will, which entered probate in Franklin County. Among the provisions to son Lemon Ruffin were one-half interest in a plantation on Toisnot Swamp in Edgecombe [now Wilson] County (son George W. Ruffin received the other half) and “twenty negro slaves of average value.” (In addition, Mary Tartt Ruffin was to receive “my old negro man servant Bryant now living at my Tossnot plantation.”) The inventory of Ruffin’s property listed 51 people enslaved on his Franklin County plantation, 50 enslaved on a plantation in Greene and Wayne Counties, and 37 in Edgecombe. (Other enslaved people were distributed among his children prior to his death.)
When distribution was made in September 1854, Lemon Ruffin received Beck, age 23, and her children Wyatt, 3, and Ned, 1; Patience, 32, and her children Isaac, 5, Lettuce, 3, and Jerry, 1; Maria, 45, and her children Eliza, 7, Hester, 5, and Elizabeth, 1; Isaac, 44; Reuben, 43; Crockett, 21; Isaac, 9; Arthur, 9; Sally, 19; Charlotte, 50; Harriet, 12; and Henry, 13. Per the inventories of Ruffin’s plantations, most had been enslaved on the Greene/Wayne County farm previously.
In the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson township, Wilson County, Lemon Taylor is listed with 21 slaves living in three dwellings. He enslaved eight males aged 6, 11, 15, 20, 25, 25, 51 and 52, and 13 females aged 1, 5, 7, 7, 9, 9, 11, 18, 18, 20, 25, 40 and 50. (Above him on the list was his brother G.W. Ruffin and his 22 slaves, aged 3 to 43.)
Two years later, Lemon Ruffin’s will showed that he retained ownership of 14 of the 20 enslaved people he had inherited from his father. Beck’s son Wyatt was likely dead, but she had had three more children, Elvin, Arabella and Tom, in the interim. Maria was dead or sold away; her children Eliza, Hester/Esther and Elizabeth were listed with their grandmother Isse (who seems to have been the “old” Isaac of the inventory, though Isaac is generally a masculine name). Reuben, Charlotte, Arthur and Henry do not appear in Lemon Ruffin’s will, but Crockett, young Isaac, Sallie and Harriet do. Lemon had also purchased or otherwise come into possession of Amos, Henderson and Creasy. (There are an Amos and Creasy listed in the “residue” of Henry Ruffin’s slaves after distribution. Perhaps Lemon had purchased them from the estate.) Per Lemon Ruffin’s will, Amos, Henderson and Sallie were in Alabama (on lease? on loan?) Sallie and Henderson were to be brought back to Wilson for sale, but Amos was to be put on the block In Alabama. None of it came to pass, as Ruffin’s estate did not enter probate until 1866, when his formerly enslaved property was beyond reach.
A North Carolina-born Amos Ruffin, age 35, appears in the 1870 census of Township 13, Choctaw County, Alabama, with his wife and children. Was this the Amos who was targeted for sale in Lemon Ruffin’s will?
In 1866, Patience Ruffin and Michel Ward appeared before a Wilson County justice of the peace to register their 16-year cohabitation. In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmworker Patience Ward, 50, and daughter Lettuce, 20, with Mitchell Ward listed next door.
None of other men, women and children Lemon Ruffin possessed at his death are clearly identifiable in post-Emancipation records.
- Children up to about age 7 were usually grouped with their mothers for purposes of sale or distribution. It is almost certain that the children listed with Patience and Maria in Henry Ruffin’s distribution were merely their youngest and that their older children were separated from them.
- Though enslaved people sometimes married men or women with whom they shared an owner, more often they married outside the farm or plantation on which they lived. Patience Ruffin and Mitchell Ward are an example.
- Wealthy planters often owned multiple plantations and moved enslaved people among them at will. Henry Ruffin divided his Edgecombe (Wilson) County plantation into halves. However, the people who had lived on that plantation during his lifetime did not necessarily remain in place after his death. In fact, it appears that the 20 people with whom Lemon Ruffin stocked his half of Toisnot plantation came primarily from his father’s Greene/Wayne plantation. The former Toisnot slaves were shifted to plantations elsewhere. This kind of movement resulted in the further splintering of families as parents owned by neighboring enslavers were left behind.
- White eastern North Carolina slaveowners were among the earliest settlers of Alabama in the early 1800s, taking North Carolina-born enslaved people with them. Slaveowners who did not leave North Carolina often sold their “excess” enslaved property to meet the ravenous labor needs of Alabama’s booming cotton economy.
- Herbert G. Gutman argued in his exhaustively researched The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1825 that enslaved African-Americans strove to maintain and transmit ties of kinship by repeating first names among generations of a family. Though we do not know the relationships among all the Ruffin slaves, this pattern can be observed among them. More on this later.
Images of estate documents available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.
Pittsburgh Courier, 16 September 1933.
I have not been able to identify Frank Ruffin or find more about this horrific incident.
Last Monday in Taylors township, this county, Jesse Howard, a Negro Republican registrar for the coming election, assaulted his father-in-law Green Ruffin, a respectable inoffensive old man of ninety years of age. It seems that Green’s hog had got out into Jesse’s field and although the crop had been gathered and Green had kept his hog out a long time, yet Jesse became so enraged as to pick up the hog and throw him over the fence, breaking its back. Greene who was cutting cane near by, seeing the hog fall, ran to the fence, still having his cane knife in his hand. When he saw Jesse he expostulated with him when the latter jerked a rail from the fence and struck Greene breaking his right arm. Greene said, “you have broken my arm.” Jesse answered “yes and G__D__ you, I will break the other.” And changing the rail he struck Greene again and broke his left arm.
Jesse was up before M.M. Matthews, J.P. but we have not heard the result. Such outrages as this should not go unpunished.
— Wilson Daily Times, 9 October 1896.
In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Green Ruffin, 36, wife Tamer, 30, and children Ora, 3, and Martha, 2, plus Nicey Watson, 58. In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Green Ruffin, 57, wife Tamer, 47, and children Orah, 14, Martha, 11, and Stephen, 3. [In 1896, then, Green was probably closer to 60 to 70 years of age than 90. Not that that excuses anything.]
On 17 August 1889, Jesse Howard, 22, son of Deal and Rhoda Howard, married Martha Ruffin, 21, daughter of Green and Tamer Ruffin, all of Taylors township.
The couple is not found in the 1900 census. Did Martha leave after Jesse thrashed her father? Was Jesse prosecuted? Did Martha die?
On 5 June 1901, Jesse Howard, 33, son of Delius and Rhoda Howard, married Zillah Woodard, 32, daughter of Alfred and Sarah Woodard.