The stabbing death of Archie McLean.

The initial reporting of Archie McLean‘s terrible death, in addition to being breathlessly gory, tries and convicts his assailant, “a negro from South Carolina” named Bennett Bethea or Bennett McCarroll or Bennett McNeal. Also, note the third paragraph, in which Officer John Walston fired at a man he “thought” was Bethea/McCarroll/McNeal and instead shot a white woman bystander in the thigh. The reporter laconically noted the target “happened to be the wrong negro,” and Mrs. Davis was all right.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 September 1919.

Benny McNeal (as his name turned out to be) remained on the lam for more than two months before surrendering. He claimed self-defense, and witnesses at the inquest backed him up. After fleeing the scene, McNeal had stopped at his mother’s house, then headed south, finding work on a Hoke County farm.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 December 1919.

The grand jury agreed that McNeal had acted in self-defense and refused to indict him. Witnesses testified that McLean had come at McNeal with a piece of scantling (a small section of sawn timber) studded with twenty-penny (four-inch) nails, and McNeal had lashed out with a trench knife that penetrated McLean’s heart.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 December 1919.


In 1917, Arch McLean registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born March 1895 in Raleigh, N.C.; lived at 509 Stantonsburg Street; worked as a laborer at W.L. Russell Box Company; and was single. He signed his card with an X.

Archie McClain died 28 September 1919 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was  born in February 1894 in Wake County, N.C., to John Beckwith and Vicy Jones; was single; lived on Stantonsburg Street; and worked as a wagon driver for a  L.&M. [Liggett & Meyers] tobacco factory. Bessie McClain was informant.

“Stabed to Death by a man”


What happened when white perverts threatened to slap colored school teachers.

4 2 1921

New York Age, 2 April 1921.

In local lore, this incident has been conflated with the Charles Coon slapping incident of 1918. The teachers “Burns” and “Izell” were probably Georgia M. Burke and Mary C. Euell. Euell had been at the center of the Coon matter. Capable, courageous Mr. Bowser, “very much of a man,” was likely Burt L. Bowser, who owned a small restaurant. The Gay Brothers, Charles and Allen T., operated a dry goods store at 216-220 East Nash Street.

You better get out. I don’t want to hurt you.

Collier Gray being duly sworn says:

Albert Battle was on wagon with me come to his house he open up the gate I drove in yard he shut gate behind me I drove to wood pile he stopped behind wagon I look back & saw deceased getting over fence Albert’s wife told deceased not to get in yard dog would bite him deceased said what dog if you get over you will find out what dog he continued to come & came to front door he tried to open door from front door he went to back door & left to back door & went to wagon where Albert Battle & myself were at & stood there about 2 or 3 minutes & never said anything Albert said what do you want deceased said I don’t want anything I ask him did he have good sense he said you need not care he did not say anything more for about 2 or 3 minutes then he turned & went back to back door & left back door & went to front door walked up on steps & tried to open front door again Albert came around from wood pile & said you get out of my yard the deceased said I am not going no where Albert went in house & got his gun & told deceased to get out of my yard deceased said he was not going Albert said to deceased my wife is scared of you get out of my yard deceased said I am not going anywhere Albert said go out I don’t want to hurt you deceased I am not going no damn where I am not scared of you & nobody else I am not going nowhere Deceased said you can shoot me if you want to I am not going no where Albert said you better get out I don’t want to hurt you Albert turned off & went to gate & opened gate & started back to house to put his gun up & the deceased turned from corner of house & made toward Albert & said I am not scared of you & I will let you know it & deceased made towards Albert & got in about 7 or 8 steps of Albert & put his hands in his pocket & continued towards Albert Albert said stop & still deceased continued toward Albert & deceased got in about 2 steps of Albert & started to take hold of Albert & Albert knocked deceased down with his gun then Albert put his gun in this house & then went to out in the road & called Mr Warren Woodard & Mr Woodard went to where Albert was & went in Alberts yard & looked at deceased Mr Woodard told me to get some of the boys to help me to carry deceased down to the Gin house Alberts brother in law helped me    /s/ Collier Gray

Dorsey Ann Battle being duly sworn says:

The man came to my gate & did not know him I told him not to come in that the dog twill bite you deceased says what dog I said you come over & you will see then the deceased came in front then I went to back door & fastened that then I stepped to the window & let down the curtain he left the front door went to the front window then he went around to the end window & then he went around to the back door & stood there some little time then deceased went to where the men folks were throwing out the wood at and began talking with the men then be came back to the front window then my husband came around to where the deceased was standing and ask deceased to go out of the yard & dec’d said he was not going any where then my old man came in the house & got his gun & went out the back door around the house to where the man was I was standing looking through the window at him my husband said to decd you go out of my yard I don’t want to hurt you decd said I am not going no where what in the hell do I care about you hunting then my husband took his gun in his hand & went to the gate & opened it & stood there with his hand on the gate & his other hand on the gun my husband hollered to the man & told him to come out of the yard & then my husband left gate seeing the man would not come out the decd was standing near the wagon when my husband left the gate decd left wagon and came meeting my husband my husband was going backwards & the decd was advancing on him then decd put his hand behind him & mu husband said go on back man says I don’t want to hurt you he got so close to my husband I thought he was going to hurt my husband then I turned back into the house & I did not see any more in a few minutes I came back to the door & saw the decd lying on the ground & my husband was standing near him     Dorsey Ann (X) Battle


  • Collier Gray — in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Collie Gray, 29, wife Penny, 29, and children Lulu, 6, Carry, 7, Rosa, 5, Robert, 4, and Mary, 2. In the 1910 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Colier Gray, 39, wife Penny, 39, and children Lula, 18, Cary, 16, Robert, 12, Annie, 19, Walter, 7, Willie, 5, Matty, 7 months, and Henry, 3. Collier Gray died 8 March 1925 in Wilson township, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 September 1870 in Wilson County to Cary Gray and Philis Pender; was married to Mary Gray; was a farmer; and was buried on the Whitehead farm in Wilson County. Walter Gray was informant.
  • Albert Battle — in the 1900 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Albert Battle, 41, wife Dorseyana, 42, and children Joe, 17, Millie, 15, Albert, 13, Sudie, 9, Bettie, 8, Mary, 5, Jacob, 4, and Lenora, 1.
  • Dorsey Ann Battle — Dorsey Ann Battle died 24 February 1922 in Great Swamp township, Wayne County. Per her death certificate: she was born in Edgecombe County to Tom Drake and Francis Battle; was a widow; and was buried at Rountree Chapel, Wilson. Albert Battle of Fremont was informant.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Now I will fix you.

Mittie Webb.

I was at home (at Place the deceased was killed) abut 12 oclock and Will McNiel came to the house and said he was coming in and did come in and broke the key which was in the lock. My sister Octavia went out the back door after a Policeman. He came in and hit me on the hand and head, and I truck him on hand and across head with iron poker. About an hour he returned and entered the house by forcing the door. I was sitting on bed with my baby when he struck at me with a hatchet, saying you tried to have me arrested, and now I will fix you. Before he came in the last time, the man in house with us shot at him once and on his coming in the second time he shot at McNiel twice more, after the 3rd shot was fired, McNeill grabbed at him and they went in the kitchen to gether and I run out the front door in the yard. After McNiel went out the house the first time, Octavia was trying to get away from him he caught her and threw her to the ground and beat her in the street. The pistol that the shooting was done with was one I borrowed from Nan Garrett. He cut Octavia with a pocket knife in 2 or 3 places.  Mittie (X) Webb

Charles Taylor.

I met this woman Octavia at about 9 30 oclock at Dr. Harriss store, it was rainy and she asked me to go home with her. I went with her and during my stay in the house, a man came to the door and demanded to be admited which the woman declined to open the door and he swore loud oaths to the effect  he was going to come in. This was about 12 oclock and I went up town after an Officer. Left the man inside house fussing and fighting this woman. When I came back with the Officer he was gone and the women of the house being very much frightened asked me to remain for there protection about an 1 1/2 hour or more he returned still demanding admittance which was denied him and with threats and curses he forced the door open by pushing, which was fastened by a chair. The second attempt to gain admittance was when I shot the first time, ball going through the door facing. He then left and returned the 3rd time when he busted the door open and came in at this time. I fire two more shots. He entered with a hatchet in his hand and struck at one of the women and seeing me in the corner made at me with hatchet and grabbed at my head. I went out the front door. I did not go in back room at all only with Office[r] when they searched him.    Charlie (X) Taylor

Octavia Smith.

I was up the street about 9 30 oclock it was rainy and hearing that it was against the law to be out after 9 oclock, I asked this man Charlie Taylor to go home with me which he did. After being there some time Will McNeil came there and demanded admittance by loud cursing and threats, saying he was going to kill the last d-mn one of us to night. We woud not let him come in and he forced the door open and this man who accompanied me home ran out and went after an Officer. Left McNiel in house fighting my sister. At this time I went out the back door to get help, when he followed me in the street and knocked me down and tried to cut my throat. I was in my room when he returned the 2nd time and forced the door open which was fastened with a chain.   Octavia (X) Smith

Miss Nan Garrett

This woman Octavia Smit came to my house and asked me to go up there and help Mittie Weelb, that McNiel was beating her. I went but McNiel was gone. Mittie Weelb asked me to loan her my pistol, which I did. About two hours after  I saw from my porch firing of pistols in front of this womans hous where this McNiel was killed.     /s/ Nanie Garrett

Wilson, N.C., March 2, 1902.

We the Jury for our verdict, after viewing the corpse, and hearing the evidence, find that William McNiel (col) came to his death from a wound from a pistol shot fired by Charlie Taylor (col); and we furthermore find that the killing was justifiable.  /s/ E.F. Nadal, T.M. Pace, Henry Humphrey, R.S. Bryan, W.P. Lancaster


  • Mittie Webb — in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Mittie Webb, 19, and daughter Viver, 4. In the 1910 census of Wilmington, New Hanover County: at 1006 Smith Street, laundress Mittie Webb, 29, children Vivere Webb, 14, Annie Wilmore, 10, and Richard Wilmore, 7, and John McLaughlin, 35. On 15 February 1911, in Wilmington, North Carolina, John McGlaughlin, 30, son of John and Janie McLaughlin, married Mittie Webb, 25, daughter of Joseph and Mary Smith of Magnolia, North Carolina. Mittie McLaughlin died 10 December 1947 at her home at 915 Queen Street in Wilmington. Per her death certificate, she was born 10 March 1884 in Duplin County to Joseph Smith. Informant was Annie Brown.
  • William McNeil
  • Charles Taylor
  • Octavia Smith
  • Dr. Harriss — This, once again, is William “Salt Lake” Harris.
  • Nannie Garrett — in the 1908 city directory of Wilson: Miss Nan A. Garrett, 512 South Spring Street.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.