At the heart of Wayne County Superior Court proceedings stemming from the suit in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis (1908) was a dispute over 30 acres of land. Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from W.J. Exum. In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold it to Napoleon “Pole” Hagans. In 1896, after Napoleon’s death, the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans, and in 1899 Henry sold his interest to his brother. In 1908, William S. Hagans sold the 30 acres to J.F. Coley. Coley filed suit when Tom Artis laid claim to it, arguing that Napoleon had sold it to him. Tom claimed that the 800 lbs. of cotton he tendered to Napoleon Hagans (and later, his son William) was interest on a mortgage, but William Hagans and other witnesses maintained that the payment was rent.
The trial transcript is replete with testimony revealing the personal relationships among witnesses. Tom Artis testified that he rented the “Adam Artis place.” William Hagans testified that his father was in feeble health in 1896 when he called him and Henry together “under the cart shelter” to tell them he would not live long and did not know to whom the land would fall. William testified that Pole asked them to let “Pig” stay on as long as he paid rent, and they promised to do so. Tom Franks testified that “Pole was a first-rate business man.” Jonah Williams, Adam Artis’ brother, testified that he borrowed money from Napoleon to open a brickyard in the spring of 1893 and had preached his funeral. He also noted that “Tom married my sister [Loumiza Williams Artis, who was deceased by time of this trial]. He is not a member of my church. I turned him out. He is a Primitive Baptist. I preached Napoleon Hagans’ funeral.” Jesse Artis, another of Adam Artis’ brothers, testified that he had worked on Hagans’ property as a carpenter for 18 years and noted, “I don’t know that Tom and I are any kin, just by marriage.” John Rountree testified that he was a tenant renting from Hagans on thirds. Simon Exum, Delilah Artis‘ husband, testified: “I am no kin to Tom [Artis] as far as I know, except by Adam. His first wife was my wife’s sister.” H.S. Reid testified that he was Tom Artis’ son-in-law.
The court found for Coley and against Artis.
Thomas Artis was a son of a free woman of color, Celia Artis, and her enslaved husband, Simon Pig. Though, ultimately, nearly all free colored Artises are descended from a common ancestor in southside Virginia, by the late 1800s knowledge of these remote links had faded. There were dozens of Artis families in Wayne County during the antebellum period, and the relationships between them are unknown. Celia Artis was a close neighbor of Adam Artis, but the families apparently did not regards themselves as kin. Still, they were inextricably intertwined. The Artises, Haganses and Reids had been neighbors in the Eureka area for generations. Celia Artis and Henry S. Reid’s grandmother Rhoda Reid were the wealthiest free women of color in the county. Adam Artis married Napoleon Hagans’ half-sister Frances Seaberry. Adam’s sister Loumiza married Tom Artis, as noted above. Henry S. Reid, son of Washington and Penninah Reid, married Tom Artis’ daughter. Henry’s first cousin Henry Reid, son of John and Mozana Hall Reid, married Adam Artis’ daughter Georgianna Artis. Adam Artis’ son William Marshall Artis and grandson Leslie Artis married Tom Artis’ nieces, Etta and Minnie Diggs. And on and on.
Documents found in file of the Estate of Thomas Artis (1911), Wayne County, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, familysearch.org