Robert Artis — in the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Robert Artis, 46; wife Malindy, 31; children Adam, 17, James, 28, Edgar L., 13, Luciea, 13, Christirene, 12, Georgia, 10, and Noah, 9; step-sons Hesicar, 8, and Eugenia, 6; children Lizzie, 4, Richard, 2, and Minnie B., 9 months; and mother-in-law Henrietta [Artis?], age illegible.
Richard C. Artis and father Robert E. Artis, circa 1950s. Photo courtesy of Melissa Mack.
In 1895, Richmond Maury Tobacco Company of Danville, Virginia, purchased a site at the south corner of South Railroad and Stemmery (then Taylor) Streets and erected a five-story frame building. (The original building burned in 1920 and was replaced by a three-story building in 1922.) Richmond Maury operated a tobacco stemmery here, a facility in which the stem of a cured tobacco leaf was stripped prior to processing for packing and shipping. In 1896, Maury sold the plant to Tobacco Warehousing Trading Company of Virginia, which retained the Richmond Maury name. The stemmery employed scores of African-Americans, and a 9 January 1896 article in the Wilson Advance asserted that three or four hundred people had shown up at a labor call. The factory needed experienced hands, however, and brought in workers from Virginia to fill its needs. This influx of laborers had to be housed, and in June 1896 the Wilson Daily Times reported approvingly on Richmond Maury’s plans for a mill village called “Little Richmond.”
Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1896.
Sanborn map, Wilson, North Carolina, December 1897.
Over the next four months, the company brought in more than one hundred factory hands by train.
Wilson Daily Times, 14 August 1896.
Wilson Daily Times, 16 October 1896.
The boosterish mood quickly faded, however. Just two weeks after “a car load of 50 negroes” from Lynchburg arrived, the editor of the Times complained that Little Richmond was already a “young hell” well on its way to ruining Wilson’s reputation: “We stand and wonder at each outrage and think, well perhaps this is the climax — but instead it gets worse.” He attributed a swelling crime rate to the influx of African-Americans drawn by Wilson’s tobacco boom and urged immediate intervention.
Wilson Daily Times, 30 October 1896.
Richmond Maury got the hint. Blaming the problem on “outsiders” raising ruckuses, it hired a personal prosecutor to make sure that all Little Richmond residents charged with crimes felt the heavy hand of justice.
Wilson Advance, 11 March 1897.
Here’s Colonel Bruton in action:
Wilson Advance, 11 March 1897.
Seven months later, the cutting and shooting continued unchecked.
Wilson Daily Times, 15 October 1897.
A month later, the Wilson Advance described “the Little Richmond Negroes” as workers bought from Danville, Lynchburg and other old tobacco centers to work in Wilson’s new stemmeries. The paper had no suggestions for dealing with this “source of annoyance.”
Wilson Advance, 11 November 1897.
Thirteen years later, Little Richmond (and Grabneck, a black neighborhood north of downtown) remained a disagreeable locale to many, as indicated by concerns raised over the possible placement of passenger rail station in the neighborhood.
Wilson Daily Times, 24 June 1910.
So just where was Little Richmond? (Editor’s note: I’d never heard of it.) Though the landscape is much changed, the basic street grid is not, and the section is not hard to find.
What’s there now? Not much. The houses of Little Richmond were clustered along Railroad and Stemmery Streets and across the tracks on Layton and Wayne Streets. Few remain, and none on Railroad or Stemmery. (The sole set of cottages left on Stemmery date from a later period.) On-line aerial maps show the factory that replaced Richmond Maury, but they are outdated. The buildings were demolished in 2013.