Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Artis Town, at last.

I checked first at the Court House. I had a hazy memory of a dusty, yellowed pull-down map hanging on a wall in the Register of Deeds office depicting Greene County townships in, perhaps, the 1950s. Most county roads were then unpaved, and the map bore witness to many now-abandoned crossroads and hamlets, including “Artis Town.” But the map was gone, cast aside in a reshuffling of office space that relegated Register of Deeds to the basement. The two ladies on duty — blue-permed and powder-fresh — interrupted their gossip (“He’s good as gold, but when he’s mad, he’ll … he’ll CATCH”) to help, gamely pulling two or three crumbling maps from storage, but none was what I sought. “Try EMS!,” one finally suggested, “They know all the roads.”

In the dim front office of a low brick building on the northern edge of Snow Hill, I explained myself: “I’m looking for a place in the road called Artis Town. There used to be a sign. Like, a green one with white letters. And it was somewhere off Speights Bridge Road, or maybe Lane Road, but I hunted up and down this morning and couldn’t find it.” The good old boys were puzzled. “Artis Town … Artis Town …” “Well, naw, I never heard of … Mike! You know where Artis Town is?” “Artis Town. Artis Town ….” An older man walked through the door and was put to the test. “Well, I think … hmmm. Hey. Call Donald. If he don’t know, don’t nobody.” … “Hey, Pam, is Donald — wait, you’re from out that way. Do you know where Artis Town is? … Okay … okay … okay. Donald? Yeah, Artis Town. … Okay … mm-hmm … that’s what Pam said. Okay, thankee.” And sure enough, it was in a bend of Lane Road, off Speights Bridge, and there had been a sign, and it was gone.

But I asked my mother about it, too, because she taught in Greene County for two years when she first came to North Carolina, and I thought maybe she’d heard of it. Her school had been in Walstonburg and probably drew students from Speights Bridge, and … “Let me look at my gazetteer.” She has the old version from the 1980s, which, of course, I pitched once I bought the shiny new one. And I’m regretting that surely, for Artis Town is marked quite clearly on her map, and I could have saved myself some gas and tire rubber had I consulted it. (Though I would have missed out on the helpful hospitality of the fine people of Snow Hill.)

I dug my old laptop out of storage today. It took a bit of searching, but finally: photos I took in December 2004 when I was wandering the roads of Greene County with no real purpose other than a penchant for what Least Heat-Moon calls “blue highways.” Almost ten years would pass before I’d connect Artis Town with my own Artises. The ancestors, though, are patient.



Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, 23 December 2004.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Family cemeteries, nos. 11 & 12: Rountree & Rest Haven.

The wooden church was still standing then, on a sandy bank that rose from a curve in the highway at Lane Street.  In my father’s time, Rountree church was well beyond city limits, but our subdivision leapfrogged it in the early 1960s, and a grocery store popped up across the road, and it was no longer an outpost.  Still, when we were children, Lane Street was raw and unpaved and, for us, a gateway to adventure.  A hundred yards in, the road crossed over a sluggish branch, the pines began to crowd down to its ragged edge … and tombstones began to poke through the snarl of catbrier and cane choking the forest floor.  Here was the remnant of Wilson’s first colored cemetery*, abandoned at mid-century and, by the mid-1970s, when we prowled these woods, completely overgrown with bamboo and sweetgum and loblolly pine.  Burials by then had moved around the corner to Rest Haven cemetery, which is city-owned and maintained.  Perhaps 20 years ago, after several half-hearted clean-up efforts, a small, ragged section of Rountree was cleared and its remaining stones propped up.  A hundred yards down the road, in an open field, a memorial was erected to Rountree’s many hundreds of lost graves. A set of my great-grandparents were probably buried there, as well as my father’s stillborn brother, Uncle Jack’s sickly boys, and other kin unknown and maybe unknowable.


 The sad remnants of Rountree cemetery, February 2014.

My grandmother was buried at Rest Haven in 2001 and my uncle in 2005, but only recently did I begin to regard that cemetery’s conventional, lettered rows as as interesting as wild Rountree. My grandmother’s headstone, like all from the last 30 years or so, is machine-cut, its lettering precise and even. Older markers, however, reveal an artist’s hand, quickly recognizable in a squarish font with flared serifs and, especially, the long, pointed tails of the 9’s. Marble cutter Clarence Benjamin Best carved headstones for more than 50 years, chiseling lambs, stars, flowers, and Masonic emblems, as well as pithy, grammatically idiosyncratic epitaphs, into slabs of gray granite. I have found his work in rural Wilson County cemeteries and as far afield as Wayne and Greene County, but Rest Haven is ground zero for his oeuvre.


 An early example of Clarence Best’s marble-carving in Rountree — before he developed his signature long-tailed 9’s. (Foster was an early investor in Commercial Bank.)


A late example — with 9’s and a bit of a extra verbiage, Rest Haven.


 Rifle, fish, peaches — a Best creation for husband and wife, Rest Haven.

In addition to my father’s mother and brother, my paternal grandfather is buried in Rest Haven, as are my aunt’s husband; Uncle Jack and his family; Josephine A. Sherrod and countless other Artises; and, somewhere, Aunt Nina.

Jesse A Henderson headstone

My uncle, Jesse A. Henderson.

Jack Henderson headstone

Cousin Jesse “Jack” Henderson and wife, Pauline “Polly” Artis Henderson.

*I have since learned that it was not, in fact, the first. That distinction may belong to a small cemetery just off Pender Street, memorialized in today’s Cemetery Street. All traces of it have disappeared.

Births Deaths Marriages


The 1918 influenza flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly outbreak. It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—3 to 5 percent of the world’s population—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. For an in-depth analysis of this pandemic, check out:

great influenza

A running tally of members of my family lost to this fearsome disease:

Ernest Smith, age 30. Goldsboro NC, 5 October 1918.

Joseph H. Ward Jr., age 9. Indianapolis IN, 1918.

Amanda Aldridge Newsome, age 26. Great Swamp township, Wayne County NC, 10 November 1918.

Births Deaths Marriages, Education, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Lincoln University, Class of ’95.


Mack Daniel Coley was born in 1866 in northern Wayne County. He graduated from Hampton Institute’s preparatory division in 1890, then received a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln in 1895. He returned to North Carolina shortly after and, in November 1896, married fellow Hampton graduate Hattie B. Wynn, daughter of Charles W. and Frances Aldridge Winn.

M.D. Coley’s remarkable career as educator — and lawyer — was chronicled in Arthur Bunyan Caldwell’s History of the American Negro and His Institutions (1921):





[Sidenote: Mack Coley appears in the 1870 census of Wayne Coley in a household headed by Winney Coley. At age 61, she is too old to have been his mother (never mind the bad information posted on a dozen family trees on Grandmother, perhaps? If so, how do the Yelvertons mentioned above fit? Winnie Coley is not kin, but she was the mother of children by Napoleon Hagans and Adam T. Artis. Stay tuned.]

Land, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics, Rights

Poll holder — in Fremont???


Wilmington Messenger, 3 April 1889.

John W. Aldridge was born in northern Sampson County and grew up near Dudley in southern Wayne County. In the late 1870s, he and his brother George taught at a school near Fremont, in northern Wayne County, where John met and married his wife Louvicey Artis in 1879. I had always assumed that the couple immediately returned to Dudley to raise their family and establish a farm and later a general store. However, this announcement clearly shows that John Aldridge was a firmly entrenched resident of the Fremont district as late as 1889. (In hindsight, this would explain why the Aldridges do not appear in Congregational Church records in the 1880s and 1890s.) When did the family return to Dudley? John and his brothers George and Matthew purchased land together in the 1870s. I’ve never looked at these deeds in detail, but clearly need to do so. Are there other traces of John Aldridge’s tenure in north Wayne?