The fourth in a series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. The dispute centered on 30 acres of land. Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from William J. Exum, a wealthy white farmer. In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold the land to Napoleon Hagans. Hagans died in 1896, and the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans. In 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother William, who sold the 30 acres in 1908 to J. Frank Coley, a young white farmer. Tom Artis laid claim to the property, arguing that Napoleon Hagans had sold it to him. Coley filed suit and, after hearing the testimony of more than a dozen witnesses, the court decided in his favor. (Paragraph breaks and some punctuation have been inserted for better readability.)
Plaintiff introduces John Rountree who being duly sworn, testifies as follows:
I know Tom Artis. I heard him say that the cotton was for rents. I heard that for the last 14 years. I collected the rent for W.S. Hagans for several years. I heard Tom allude to it as rents. I heard last September after the land was sold, that it was interest. I never heard anything but rents to that time. I had a conversation with Tom, and carried a message to Hagans for Tom. This last Fall Tom came over to the gin house where I was ginning, and said to me that he understood that Hagans was going to sell the 30 acres piece of land, and said to me to tell Hagans if he pleased not to sell till he gave him notice, because he wanted to buy it. I delivered that message to Hagans. Hagans said alright he would sell it to him as soon as anybody, but he didn’t want to sell one piece at the time. We didn’t talk about the sale to Coley.
I have lived at W.S. Hagans’ for about 18 years. I farm at Hagans’. I rent land. I pay him 1/3. I collected Tom’s rent along in the Fall. Hagans has asked me to go to Tom and ask him to send his rents. Uncle Tom sometime would bring the rent and Hagans wasn’t there, and he would give it to me to keep for Hagans. Tom called it rent when Pole Hagans was living. (Plaintiff objects.) I wasn’t there when he sent it to W.J. Exum. While Mr. Exum was living, I didn’t see Tom taking his cotton there. I didn’t tell Hagans that I would swear the old man always called it rent. I had no right to, I didn’t tell the lawyers I would swear to that. I stated the fact that he always called it rent. I told Tom that Hagans had sent me for the rent two or three times. I knew it was rent. I told Hagans that I had his rent from Tom. I told Coley that the old man called it rent last summer. They had me subpoenad before then. I told him Tom always called it rent. I told Mr. Coley’s lawyers that last summer. I never told Hagans, he knew it.
This would have been a wearyingly familiar vista to John Rountree, Tom Artis, William Hagans, and the other farmers involved in this litigation.
John Rountree, born about 1859, was the son of Fannie Rountree and lived in Nahunta township, Wayne County, all his life. However, by 1880 his widowed sister Rhoda Daniel Harris and her sons Benjamin, Edwin [Edward], and Carroll Harris had moved ten miles or so into Wilson, where she found employment as a cook for the family of Willie [Wiley] and Eliza Rountree Daniel. Eliza Daniel was a daughter of Lewis and Elizabeth Daniel Rountree, and John Rountree and Rhoda Daniel Harris may have been linked to her family during slavery. John Rountree’s great-nephew, brickmason Benjamin A. Harris, son of Edward Harris, is featured here and here and here.