In August 1920, James Dempsey Bullock penned a letter to the newspaper urging the city to establish burial plots for World War I soldiers who had died at war in France and whose remains were just then being repatriated. “… [S]ome one should see to it that a beautiful plat in Maplewood cemetery should be set aside for the interment of those whose parents wish them buried there and one in Oakwood for the colored.”
Oakwood, also known as Oakdale and Oaklawn, was Wilson’s first (or maybe second) public cemetery for African-Americans. If the city established a plat for returning soldiers, it is lost. Oakwood had already fallen out of favor as a burial ground by 1920, as families opted for private cemeteries like Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Masonic, or for the city’s newer public cemetery, now known as Vick. Oakwood was essentially abandoned just a few years later, though the city did not move its graves until 1941.
Six African-American Wilson County men — Henry T. Ellis, Benjamin Horne, Luther Harris, Pharaoh Coleman, Frank Barnes, and Vert Vick — were recorded as having died or been killed in service during World War I. It is not clear to which soldier’s body Bullock was referring as expected to arrive in New York.
None of these veterans’ headstones have yet been found in Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Vick Cemeteries, the cemeteries collectively known as “Rountree.”
Dave McPhail registered for the World War I draft in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born April 1896 in Wade, N.C.; lived in Darden’s Alley; worked as an auto mechanic for S.H. Vick; and was single.
David McPhail died 6 March 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 31 December 1899 in Cumberland County to Raford and Laura McPhail; lived at 208 South Vick; was married to Juanita McPhail; and worked as a mechanic.
Jessie Oliver registered for the World War I draft in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 24 December 1890 in Waynesboro, Georgia; lived in Black Creek; worked as a laborer for M.B. Aycock; and was single.
Jessie Oliver died 12 February 1938 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 48 years old; was born in Georgia; was divorced; and worked as a laborer. Mary Jones was informant.
Robert Reaves died 7 December 1932 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 37 years old; was born in Orangeburg, S.C., to Robert and Luella Reaves; was married to Daisy Reaves; lived at 510 Smith Street; and worked as a mechanic for a cement finisher.
Doc Richardson registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born in 1887 in Johnston County, N.C.; lived at 523 Lodge Street, Wilson; and worked as a railroad section hand for J.B. Hooks.
Doc Richardson died 5 March 1937 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 March 1889 to David and Vicey Ann Richardson; was single; worked as a laborer; and lived at 713 Viola Street. Lee Richardson was informant.
Dock Royall died 31 March 1938 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 14 September 1898 in Sampson County, N.C., to Samuel and Rachel Royall; was married to Ossie Mae Royall; lived at 310 Hackney Street; worked as a mechanic for Hackney Body Company. George W. Royall of Clinton was informant.
Plummer Williams registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born in 1896 in Pitt County, N.C.; lived at Route 6, Wilson; worked as a farm hand for W.F. Williams, Wilson; and was single.
Plummer Williams died 11 December 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 44 years old; was married to Annie Williams; worked as a common laborer; and was born in Falkland [Pitt County], N.C., to Haywood Williams and Francis Barnes.
It stands at the entrance to the Wilson County Fairgrounds (and, formerly, stockcar race track) on 301 South. A June 27 Daily Times article announcing the Fourth of July 1935 unveiling of the monument describes the base as: “a shaft or pyramid of stone 20 by twelve feet, sixteen feet high, containing 86 tons of Wilson county granite surmounted by thirty-four foot flag staff ….” No mention of Freeman.
I don’t know stone masonry technique, but this knife-edge crease, rendered in igneous rock, is pretty amazing.
On 3 June 1919, the Daily Times published a list of Wilson County soldiers who died during World War I. The list is segregated. First in the Colored List is Henry Ellis, who was killed 6 October 1918 and in whose honor Wilson County’s African-American post of the American Legion was named.
Wilson Daily Times, 3 June 1919.
The Daily Times had commemorated Ellis’ death when it received word in December 1918:
“Private Henry Ellis Son of Mrs. Mary J. Howard, Route 1, Wilson, N.C. Died of wounds received in action while fighting for his country and oppressed humanity.” Wilson Daily Times, 4 December 1918.
In the 1870 census of Chesterfield township, Nash County, N.C.: farmer Martin Lucus, 52; wife Eliza, 42; and children Irvin, 19, Neverson, 16, Sidney, 13, Eliza, 7, Westray, 6, Anne, 4, and Mary, 2.
In the 1880 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Nelson Eatmon, 66, wife Eliza Eatmon, 50, daughters AmandaLocus, 18, and Mary J. Locus, 14, “son-in-law” Asa Locus, 10, and “daughter-in-law” Lougene Locus, 4, Margaret Howard, 21, and Harriet Howard, 2. [Nelson Eatmon married Eliza Locust on 28 January 1880 in Wilson County. The Locuses’ relationship designations are obviously erroneous; they were Nelson Eatmon’s stepchildren.]
On 6 February 1887, Warren Ellis, 19, of Wilson County, married Mary Jane Locust, 19, of Wilson County, in Wilson County. Phillis Ellis was one of the witnesses.
In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary J. Ellis, 34, widow, and children Willis, 12, Walter, 9, William, 8, Henry, 5, and Lou, 4.
In the 1910 census of Jackson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Mary Jane Ellis, 44, and children Henry, 16, Louise, 13, and Charles, 6; and brother Neverson Lucas, 56.
Henry Ellis registered for the World War I draft in Nash County, N.C, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 10 November 1895 in Wilson County; lived at Route 2, Bailey; was a tenant farmer for Elijah Griffin; and was single. He signed his card in a neat, well-practiced hand: “Henry T. Ellis.”
In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Mary Howard, 52, widow; son Charlie Ellis, 17; and sister Luginer Colman, 45, widow.
Mary J. Howard died 20 June 1936 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was the widow of Manuel Howard; was 65 years old; and was born in Wilson County to Martin Locus and Louisa Brantley. Gray Ellis was informant.
Henry T. Ellis, then, was the son of Warren Ellis and Mary Jane Locus Ellis and stepson of Manuel Howard. He was descended (or connected) on his mother’s side from several free families of color with deep roots in the area of western Wilson County — Locuses, Brantleys, Eatmons, Howards — and on his father’s from Hilliard and Faribee Ellis, a formerly enslaved couple who established a prosperous farm in the New Hope area shortly after the Civil War.
I have seen no evidence that Ellis’ body was returned to Wilson County for burial. His parents, grandparents, and siblings are buried in Hilliard Ellis cemetery, but there is no marked grave for him there.
Poppy Day — per the American Legion’s website, “On September 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of The American Legion family to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died during the war. In 1924, the distribution of poppies became a national program of The American Legion.”
As here, the applications below were made for military headstones to be installed in “Rountree Cemetery,” i.e. Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Vick Cemeteries. Of these, only James F. Scott’s grave marker has been found. (Another is now in Rest Haven, presumably the result of an exhumation and reburial.) The number of missing military headstones provides scale to the total loss of monuments in these cemeteries.
James Franklin Scott
The gravestones of James F. Scott and his father, the Rev. John H. Scott, have been located in Odd Fellows Cemetery. (Rev. Scott applied for his son’s gravestone.) However, they were found piled and stacked with more than a dozen other markers, and the location of the actual graves is not known.
Frank Scott’s headstone. Interestingly, the marker is engraved with after-market text — a birthdate and an epitaph, “Who is now with the Lord.”
Howard M. Fitts applied for the marker on Barnes’ behalf, as he did for many veterans.
Marcellus Lassiter died 4 July 1947 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 12 April 1897 in Wilson County to John Lassiter and Isabell Gear; worked as a laborer; was a World War I veteran; was the widower of Mamie Lassiter; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Informant was Hardy Lassiter of Baltimore, Maryland.
Hubert Romaine Mitchener
Hubert Mitchener’s gravestone now stands in Rest Haven cemetery.
Sam Nash registered for the World War I draft in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 20 February 1890 in Wilson, N.C.; lived at 1069 West Lexington Street, Baltimore; and worked as a laborer for B. & O. Railroad.
Minnie Nash of Baltimore submitted the application and requested that the headstone be shipped to Rosa Battle, 913 Washington Street, Wilson.
John W. Pitts
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 904 East Vance Street, John W. Pitts, carpenter, 53, born in South Carolina; wife Penina, 52, hotel maid; and son Junius, 20, farm laborer.
Nathan Austin died 22 July 1948 at a Veterans Hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born in 1893 in Wilson County to Marshall Ingram and Louise Ingram Austin; was a widower; lived at 610 Taylor Street, Wilson; and was unemployed.
Robert E. Ashford
[This is not the Robert Edward Ashford born 23 November 1918 in Wilson, who was white.]
Robert Edward Ashford registered for the World War II draft in 1942 in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 23 July 1923 in Wilson; lived at 614 East Green Street, Wilson; his contact was mother Rosa Ashford; and he worked at the Marine Base in Jacksonville, N.C.
Rosa L. Ashford submitted the application.
Fred Hyman registered for the World War I draft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 15 September 1887 in Tarboro, North Carolina; lived at 1323 South Markoe Street, Philadelphia; was a farmer for “Dougherty” in Haddonfield, New Jersey; and was married.
Fred Hyman died 23 August 1947 at a Veterans Hospital in Kecoughtan, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 September 1888 in Tarboro; was separated from Magnolia Hyman; lived at 1233 South 47th Street, Philadelphia. His body was shipped to Wilson, N.C., to the care of C.H. Darden & Sons Undertakers.
Sam Hyman, 816 Mercy [Mercer] Street, Wilson, submitted the application.
John Henry Jackson
John H. Jackson died 7 April 1946 at the Veterans Hospital in Asheville, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was born 27 September 1872 in Surry County, N.C., to Tom Jackson; was married to Ida Mae Jackson; worked as a laborer; lived at 1201 East Washington Street; and was a veteran of the Spanish American War.
Henry Hines died 11 March 1937 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 October 1892 in Wilson County to Mary Hines; was married to Lela Hines; lived at 808 Suggs Street; and was a day laborer for Farmers Oil Mill.
Will Dixon registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born in 1896 in Farmville, North Carolina; lived on Stantonsburg Street, Wilson; was a laborer for W.L. Russell Box Company, Wilson; and was single.