None of us knows the details of the arrangements, or the impact on their willing and unwilling participants, but it is clear that Napoleon Hagans had a messy personal life. His oldest child, William Coley, was born about 1860 to Winnie Coley, an enslaved woman who lived on the nearby farm of John Coley. Winnie had several additional children, fathered by Coley himself and by Napoleon’s brother-in-law Adam T. Artis. Around 1867 — no license has been found — Napoleon married Apsilla “Appie” Ward, born in 1849 to Sarah Ward, an enslaved woman, and her owner, David G. W. Ward, a wealthy physician living in northwest Greene County. Napoleon poured his ambition and wealth into his and Appie’s sons, Henry Edward (born 1868) and William Scarlett (born 1869). Both attended Howard University and settled into comfortable, distinguished livelihoods in farming, education and real estate.
Though Napoleon’s youngest was denied these advantages, he was arguably the most successful of all the sons. Joseph Henry Ward was born 4 August 1870 in Wilson, North Carolina. (Or Wilson County, in any case.) His mother, Mittie Roena Ward, was Appie Ward Hagans’ twin. (Identical, it is said.) And Napoleon Hagans’ sister-in-law. Mittie was born about 1852 in Greene County to Sarah Ward and D.G.W. Ward. I know nothing at all of her early years. In 1879, Mitty Finch (Finch? why?) married Virginia native Algernon Vaughn in Wilson. In 1880, the family’s household included Mittie’s mother, Sarah Darden; her husband Algie, a farm laborer; Mittie, a cook; and children Joseph, 8, Sarah, 6, and Macinda, 5 months.
By 1890, Joseph had struck out on his own and for reasons unknown landed in Indianapolis, Indiana. There, he went to work for a physician who would set him on his own path to a medical degree. Joseph’s half-sister Sarah married William Moody in Wilson in 1892 and, by the dawn of the new century, the Moodys and Mittie Vaughn were living in Washington DC. Soon after Mittie joined Joe Ward in Indianapolis, reverted to her maiden name (though keeping the title “Mrs.”), and began a peripatetic life that saw her in and out of the households of her children.
The Indianapolis Recorder, an African-American news weekly, kept close tabs on the mother of one of the city’s most illustrious residents:
Mrs. Mittie Ward, mother of Dr. J.H. Ward will leave today for Washington, D.C., to spend the winter with her daughter, Mrs. Sarah Moody. Her youngest daughter will remain in the city with her brother Dr. Ward. [12 December 1903]
Ward-Artis. On Wednesday June 22, at high noon the wedding of Miss Minerva Ward, the daughter of Mrs. Mittie Ward and sister of one of our prominent physicians Dr. Joseph H. Ward, and Mr. Dillard Artis, of Marion, will be celebrated in the presence of the immediate family and a few intimate friends. Rev. Morris Lewis assisted by Rev. T.A. Smythe will perform the ceremony. They will leave at 5 p.m. for Marion, where a wedding reception will be given from 8 to 11 p.m., at 920 S. Boot street, the home of the groom. The bride is well and favorably known in our city’s best circles and is a favorite in the younger social set. The groom is a prominent cement contractor of Marion and a highly respected citizen, owning a great deal of property, which he has accumulated by his industry and business tact. They will be at home at 920 S. Boot street, Marion. [18 June 1910]
Mrs. Minerva Ward Artis of Marion, spent the holidays with her mother, Mrs. Mittie Ward, of the city. [31 December 1910]
Mrs. Dillard Artis of Marion, was in the city a few days this week. Mrs. Artis is visiting her brother, Dr. J.H. Ward and her mother, Mrs. Mittie Ward. [18 February 1911]
Dr. J. Ward of Indianapolis and Master Joseph were guests of his mother Mrs. Mittie Ward and sister Mrs. S.D. Artis of S. Boots street Wednesday. [19 August 1911]
Mrs. Mittie Ward of Indianapolis, who has been the guest of her daughter for the past week Mrs. S.D. Artis returned home Saturday and on December 5, will leave for Washington, D.C. to spend the winter with her daughter. [2 December 1911]
Dr. J.H. Ward of Indianapolis was called to this city [Marion, Indiana] the first part of this week to attend the bedside of his mother, Mrs. Mittie Ward, who is ill at the home of her daughter, Mrs. S.D. Artis, in South Boots street. [25 November 1916]
Mittie Ward died of stroke in Washington, DC, in 1924. She was visiting her elder daughter Sarah Ward Moody and planning to travel to see the younger.
Pittsburgh Courier, 19 April 1924.