Births Deaths Marriages, Civil War, Enslaved People, Military, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

They would not have taken them in church.

Part II of Bailham and Hannah Sauls Speight’s pension application file arrived today, and here are some extracts from witnesses deposed 4 June 1904:

  • Hannah Speight – “I claim pension as the widow of Bailham Speight but who served during the Civil War in the U.S. Army under the name of Bailham Edwards.” His brother Lafayette Edwards “lives at Bull Head which is eight miles from Goldsboro.” “I was born on Appletree Swamp near the town of Stauntonberg, Greene County. N.C. and was a slave; was owned by Lawrence Brown. I am the daughter of Rosetta Sauls. My father was Sheppard Sauls. I was known as Hannah Sauls prior to my marriage to Bailham Speight. … [A]fter our marriage we lived as husband and wife till he died December the 21st 1902.” “My husband was born and raised in Greene County. He was about six years older than I was still I knew him before he was grown….” “After his discharge he went to Georgia and was there just twelve months I do not know in what part of Georgia he was. No, I guess it was South Carolina where he went for he went away with Capt. Bill Taylor to work turpentine. … I married my husband about four years after the close of the war and we were married in the month of November in Snow Hill….” Married at Rebecca Bess’ house. She is deceased, as are witnesses Martha Sheppard, Luke Sheppard, and Charles Moseley. Maria Lofton did not witness, but could testify to marriage. She lives on Dr. Parrott’s plantation near Falling Creek. Amos Ellis, Lafayette Edwards, and Violet Edwards would have heard of the marriage, as would Isaac Lynch. … “My husband was raised five miles from Snow Hill on the Betsey Edwards place.” “My husband had a woman before the war. She might be called a slave wife and her name was Jennie. My husband told me she died in Newbern about the close of the war.” “At date of death of my husband I had one child under 16, viz., George Speight and he was fourteen on the 26th of last September. I never had George’s age set down by I remembered it all the same and I have always celebrated the twenty sixth of September as being his birthday and I am absolutely sure that he is now fourteen going on fifteen.” Midwife Mariah Moore lived one mile from Kinston in Harveytown. “After my marriage I lived for twelve months on the place of Dr. John Harvey and then I moved down here; moved here in the Fall of 1870 and have been here ever since. Everybody both white and black know me around here.” Deposition A.
  • Hannah Speight — Sixty-one years of age and lives four miles from Kinston. “I have had eleven children – ten by Bailham Speight and one by Loderick Artist. I never lived with Loderick Artist for during the time he came to see me I was living in the house with my mother and father. We were engaged to be married but after he got me in trouble he went and married another woman. He married her before I married Bailham Speight. He married a woman named Mandy and lived with her till he died ten years ago. He died in the neighborhood of Speights Bridge. No, I never went under the name of Artist nor was I ever known as his wife and never lived with him a day. Our relations were all of a secret nature.” Deposition B.
  • Rosetta Sauls – “I think I am 85; I can do no work and live with my grandson.” “Hannah Speight is my daughter.” … “I did not see her married because she married in Snow Hill and I was living in the country but Bailham come and got her from her my house and took her to Snow Hill where they were married and then they came right back to my house where they lived some three or four months and then they moved in a house to themselves.” “No, my daughter was never married to Loderick Artist and they never did live together but he was the father of her oldest child. He deceived my daughter and got a child by her and then went and married Mandy. All the time he was keeping company with my daughter she was living with me. My daughter never went under the name of Artist nor did she ever go under any name except Sauls and Speight. …” “Bailham Speight and Hannah were both members of the Baptist Church and had they been living improperly and not regularly married they would not have taken them in church.”
  • Lemon Speight – “On the 27th of last April I was 37 years of age.” Farmer four miles from Kinston. “Hannah Speight is my mother. I am the son of Loderick Artist who died ten years go. He never married my mother and I am the only child she ever had except those belonging to Bailham Speight. My father had a wife and her name was Mandy.” “I was married December the 12th 1889 and my brother George was born September the 26th 1889.”

And a letter dictated by Bailham Speight himself:

February 11th 1896, Kinston N.C.

Mr. I.S. Kurtz       Dear Sir, Relative to my age and the way that my name has been spelled. Now I wished to informs you that I used to belong to the old man names Edwards before the war (white) Therefore I enlisted in the Military Services of the United states. I enlisted by the name of Bailham Edwards and I answered at roll call. Bailham Edwards. But the Yankees, they called the name some what like this. Balum Edwards. But however you is speaking to the same man after all. …” [The letter is written in a very florid hand, and the signature does not show his “X.” However, other documents reveal that Bailham Speight could not, in fact, read or write.]

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Remembering Uncle Jesse.

My grandmother’s second boy. Smooth. Dapper. Slick. Artistic. A chef. A painter. A hustler. A beloved uncle.

Happy birthday, Jesse Adam Henderson (17 April 1929-5 August 2005)!

ImageLucian and Jesse Henderson, circa 1932, Wilson NC.


 Jesse, circa 1938, Wilson NC.


 Circa 1944, Wilson NC.


 With wife Jean and my grandmother, probably in the late 1950s, perhaps at the Jersey Shore.


Always “clean,” posted at the bar, 1960s.


One of my favorite photos of my uncle, with my niece, who adored him. Philadelphia, 2001.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

In memoriam: Joseph F. Barfield (1933-2014).


Joseph Franklin Barfield, son of Walter and Katie Kornegay Barfield, died 12 April 2014 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Cousin Joseph was born in 1933 near Mount Olive, Wayne County, North Carolina, and served honorably in the United States Army. He is survived by his wife and loving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as a sister and brother.

joseph & alton

Joseph F. Barfield and Alton H. Barfield, who passed almost exactly one year before his older brother.


Top photo courtesy of Richard J. Barfield; bottom photo courtesy of Jerilyn James Lee, with thanks to Alicia Barfield.

Births Deaths Marriages, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Misinformation Monday, no. 7.

The seventh in a series of posts revealing the fallability of records, even “official” ones.


How does this even happen?

This is Minnie Simmons Budd‘s death certificate:

SIMMONS -- Minnie Budd Death Cert

Difficult to read, but here are the pertinent details: Born 7 May 1892 (actually, some years before, but okay); in Dudley NC (check!); to Hillary Simmons (check!); and Ludie Henderson — SCREEEEEECH!


My grandmother spent considerable time with Minnie, who wanted to adopt her after her mother Bessie died. (Minnie’s two children, boys, did not survive childhood.) Bessie‘s mother was Loudie (or Ludie) Henderson. Minnie’s mother, on the other hand, was Loudie’s much older sister Ann Elizabeth Henderson.

Could I be mistaken? (“I” really meaning my grandmother.) Was Minnie some sort of secret love child of Loudie Henderson and her sister’s husband Hillary? And, if so, why would Minnie’s husband Jesse Budd blow up this fallacy in her death certificate? (Jesse was also from Dudley and presumably not only knew his mother-in-law’s name, but knew her personally in his youth.)

The answer, with as much certainty as I can muster absent DNA tests, is no. The biggest stumbling block to Loudie-as-Minnie’s mother is Minnie’s birth year. As noted above, Minnie was not actually born in 1892. The 1900 and 1910 censuses would be most helpful for pinpointing her age, but I can’t find her in either. Still, she married Jesse Budd in 1904 and most certainly was not a 12 year-old bride. In fact, their license lists her age as 17 (and her mother as Annie Simmons.) That would push her birth year back to 1887. The 1920 census yields 1884. Whether 1884 or 1887 or between, Loudie is unlikely to have been Minnie’s mother as Loudie was not born until 1874.

As ever with misinformation enshrined in vital records, there is no ready explanation for Jesse’s provision of Loudie’s name as Minnie’s mother. The confusion occasioned by grief is as good a guess as any. Moreover, Jesse was an elderly man himself and would live just six more years after his wife’s death.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Other Documents

Cousin Red McNeely … or Smith.

So, was he James Garfield Smith or James Garfield McNeely?

Addie Lucinda McNeely married Daniel Smith in Statesville NC on 2 October 1902. Their daughter Ardeanur Smith was born the following February and son James Garfield Smith on 11 April 1906. I have never found the family in the 1910 census and do not know how long Addie and Daniel remained together. When her uncle Julius McNeely’s estate opened, Addie Smith with her siblings was listed as one of the heirs. Unlike her married sisters, however, her husband’s name does not appear alongside hers. In 1917, mid-proceedings, Addie died — I’ve never found her death certificate either — and her name was struck through and was replaced by that of her children, “Ardenia” and James Smith.

I have not located James again with any certainty before 1942. (There’s a “James McNeelly” of the right age listed in the 1930 census of High Point NC, but he had a wife, which my James allegedly never had.) When he registered for the World War II draft, James gave his name as “James Garfield McNeely.” Why the shift from “Smith,” which he apparently never used as an adult? Though his birth year appears to be off by one year, this is clearly our man. He was born in Statesville, and Janie McNeely, his mother’s youngest sister, is named as his contact. (The neighborhood in which he lived and worked is now part of the Washington Street Historic District, and Club Carolina merited a brief mention in the application for historic status.)

James G McNeely

Cousin James disappears from the record again until his death certificate was filed. He was working at a pool room and living at the Kilby Hotel when he died. Ardeanur Hart of Jersey City NJ was informant and gave her brother’s name as James Garfield McNeely.

James G McNeely Death Cert

Here’s his obituary:

James G McNeely 21 October 1960 HP Enterprise

High Point Enterprise, 21 October 1960.

And a note of acknowledgment from his family. (Who in the world were the Martins and Griffins?):

JG McNeely HP Enterprise 11 13 1960

High Point Enterprise, 13 November 1960.

[Sidenote: The physician who signed James’ death certificate? Dr. O.E. Tillman? His son and I met in high school and became good friends in college. He married A.B., my roommate and closest college friend, and I was in their wedding. Dr. Tillman is now retired, but remains active in High Point civic affairs.]



Agriculture, Business, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

It is better to get something than nothing.



Goldsboro Messenger, 30 March 1885.

Apparently, Napoleon Hagans was a big believer in insurance. The Insurance Press compiled life insurance claims paid out on a weekly basis, state by state. In the 9 September 1896 issue, the sole listing for North Carolina was: Fremont, Napoleon Hagans, $5000 — the payment he received after his wife Appie Ward Hagans’ death.

Maternal Kin, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Where we worked: healers and helpers.

Margaret Balkcum Henderson, Dudley NC – midwife, 1870s?-1900s?

Louvicey Artis Aldridge, Dudley NC – midwife, 1890s?-1920s?

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, Dudley NC – midwife, 1890s.

Joseph H. Ward, Indianapolis IN – doctor, 1897-1950s.

Vera L. Baker Holt, Goldsboro NC — registered nurse, 1900s.

Diana A. Adams Artis, Wilson NC — wife of Columbus E. Artis, registered nurse, 1910s-1950.

Henrietta Colvert, Wilson NC, Asheboro NC, Roanoke VA – registered nurse, 1910s-1960s?

J. Thomas Aldrich [Aldridge], Saint Louis MO – doctor, circa 1930-1968.

Worth A. Williams, Charlotte NC — dentist, 1920s-1960s

Nita Allen Meyers Wilkerson, Washington DC — registered nurse, 1930s-1970s.

J. Maxwell Allen, Lynchburg VA, Charles City VA — dentist, 1930s-1959.

Leon M. Braswell, Lynchburg VA — doctor, 1930s-1950s.

Henry C. Best, Wilson NC – husband of Annie Artis Best; hospital orderly, circa 1930.

Irvin L. McCaine Sr., Asheville NC, Oakland CA, Mount Vernon NY — husband of Mable Williams McCaine; dentist, circa 1940-circa 1980.

John W. Stockton, Statesville NC — orderly, Davis Hospital, 1940s-?

Hattie Henderson Ricks, Wilson NC –- nurse’s aide, 1940s-1958.

Leroy T. Barnes, Queens NY, Los Angeles CA — husband of Jeanne Davis Barnes and Wanda Davis Moseley Barnes, radiologist, 1940s-1987.

Jarvis E. Sherrod, Wilson NC – hospital orderly, 1940s-1950s.

Frederick R. Randall, New York NY — physician, 1940s-ca. 2000.

R. Stewart Randall, Washington DC — physician, 1940s-1992.

The fourteenth in an occasional series exploring the ways in which my kinfolk made their livings in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Agriculture, Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

He never said he had any claims on the land.

The first in an occasional series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. Paragraph breaks inserted for better readability.

The Plaintiff introduces W.S. Hagans, who being duly sworn testifies as follows:

I sold this land, the 30 acre, 24 acre, and the 9 1/3 acre pieces to Mr. Coley. Mr. Cook had been negotiating with me for the purchase of the 30 acre tract and the 24 acre tract. He did not want the 9 1/3 acre tract. I met Mr. Cook on several different occasions, until finally we met at Eureka one afternoon, he was considering it, and we finally decided on the deal. Mr. Cook was to give me $40.00 per acre for the the 30 acre tract, and the 24 acre tract. Before Mr. Cook did this however, he informed me that there was a missing link in the title, that he had found after investigating it. I told him that that was perfectly alright, as there had never been any question about it.

After our conference at Eureka, the day was set for me to meet him in Goldsboro, where he was to pay me the consideration, the price of the land, and I in turn to give him a deed for the land. He did not come on that day, but ‘phoned me at Fremont that he did not succeed in raising the money, but to please hold it open until tomorrow.

Early tomorrow morning, before sunrise, a bitter cold morning, the Defendant [Tom Artis] came to my house in Goldsboro. I asked him what brought him to town on such a cold morning, he said he came to bring a message from Mr. J.F. Coley, that Mr. Coley said that he wanted to buy that land, and would take all three of the tracts instead of two, said the Defendant to me, “that will be to your advantage.” The Defendant stated to me that Mr. Cook’s time was out yesterday. I expressed surprise that the Defendant should be familiar with those circumstances. Afterwards I said to the Defendant, that while Mr. Cook’s time was out yesterday, that Mr. Cook had phoned me yesterday & said he had a great effort to reach me, and finally did so asking me to hold the matter open until tomorrow. I told him that I would feel honor bound if Mr. Cook should come to me with the purchase price for the two tracts of land, to let him have it, although I would prefer selling the three tracts together. The Defendant said to me that if Mr. Cook got possession of this place that he the Defendant would not be able to stay there as Mr. Cook was a very disagreeable man to get along with. I told the Defendant that I would not deed this property to Mr. Cook, or to any one else until they made the same promise to me in reference to the Defendant’s staying where he has, that I made to my father in the presence of the Defendant.

The Defendant remained in shooting distance of me all of the day, waiting for me to see Mr. Cook that he might get from me a final message to take back to Mr. Coley. I saw Mr. Cook, and he informed me that the reason he couldn’t take it was that he had experienced great difficulty in raising that money. That money was hard. I was really glad of this, and so informed the Defendant, for I wanted to sell the three tracts if possible, together. Then I asked the Defendant to say to Mr. Coley on his return home, that I would meet him at the Defendant’s house on Friday, I think it was, but having business out there, I drove past, and got the Defendant and took him out to the Plaintiff’s place of business that was on Thursday, I went the day before the time set, and stated to the Defendant the object of my going down there, and asked him to go with me.

We went down there and Mr. Coley and I had a talk aside from the Defendant, and finally wound up in the Defendan’t presence. The conversation we had in the presence of Tom was Mr. Coley might have the three pieces of land, in consideration of $3250, and I take his paper. This was said in the Defendant’s immediate presence, he sitting on the buggy beside me. We left, the Defendant expressing himself as highly pleased that Mr. Coley had bought the three pieces of land, said he thought I had made a fine trade. He made no objection at any time to the sale of the land. He encouraged it all the while. He never intimated to me that he had any claims on this land of any kind. None whatever.

I got the land about 1899, deed of partition between my brother [Henry E. Hagans] and myself. After I got the land I rented that to the Defendant. The first year I think, I charged him 850 lb. of lint cotton, thinking all the while that my brother having acted for us both got 850 lb. for the two places, the 30 and the 24 acre lot.The Defendant informed me that my brother had been charging only 800 lb., and I agree to the 800 lb. He did not at any time when delivering this cotton say that he was paying it as interest and taxes. (Defendant objects.) He has never said anything about paying it as any way than rent. He has never mentioned taxes to me on that property. I listed that land and paid the taxes.

I had some work done on that house since I came in possession. The Defendant patched the roof and also built a porch. I do not wish to state that I had it built. I paid for the lumber. The Defendant did the work himself.

The Defendant came to my place in front of the gin house last fall, and said to me that he had understood that I was going to sell those three pieces of land down there, we called it the Tom Pig place, the Calv Pig place and the Adam [Artis] place. He said he wanted to buy the Tom Pig place or the 30 acre. He asked me if I would prefer selling it all together. I asked him what he would want to give me for the 30 acre tract piece, and he said he would give me $800.00 for it. I told him I couldn’t take that, as I had already been offered $40.00 an acre, or $2160 for the two places. He asked me to give him time that he might hear from his boys in Norfolk, that he was confident that he could raise the purchase price for the 30 acre tract, if not for it all. The Defendant and Durden Fort were present at the time. Durden Fort has since died. In payment of this land, Mr. Coley’s notes were security fort this property. Mr. Coley’s home place I think. 60 some odd acres in addition to what I sold was given as security. One note is due in January.


Tom said to me, “I think you sold those three pieces of land well.” He said that on the buggy. Mr. Coley and I behind the barn talked about this land. He wanted to get the land for $3000. I had an idea that Mr. Coley was a pretty good trader, and wanted to get it as cheap as possible, and I told him behind the barn what three pieces I wanted to sell him them for. I didn’t have to go through any particular form, we didn’t close the thing out, we continued the conversation until we separated. The pieces of land were all understood. He said in the presence of Tom, “For the three pieces of land I will give you $3250.00.” I thought it was necessary to innumerate the three pieces so he would see what he was getting.

Tom has lived on that place ever since I had it. I don’t know to my personal knowledge if he lived off of it. I was in school at the time, or at any rate away from home. Durden Fort was present at the conversation we had. He died in the summer. I had him as a witness. I did not rent my land at the same price every year to every body, not necessarily, to some I did, some I didn’t. The reason I charged him 800 lb. was because my brother rented it to him for 800, and I thought it was all he was able to pay, and there were other considerations. There were other considerations that induced me to charge only 800 lb. of lint cotton for the land. (Plaintiff objects.) It arose out of a conversation I had with my father [Napoleon Hagans] and Tom. My father was in feeble health in 1896. He called my brother and myself under the cart shelter at the home place and said to us that he was not going to live long, and he did not know to which one of us, that is his two sons, would fall heir to that property. Tom was present. That was the land in controversy. (Plaintiff objects), but as long as the Defendant, whom he called “Pig” paid his rent, let him remain. We promised. He did not say how much rent. I did not know as far as I remember that Tom paid to my father 800 lb. of lint cotton. I don’t know. I would rather believe he did. (Plaintiff objects.)

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Photographs

Miss Speight & Mister Kenny.

My earliest memory: I am wrapped in a red blanket, slightly faded, edged in satin. The air is chilly. The light, low and pink-gold. It is morning, and I am being carried across the street to Miss Speight and Mr. Kenny’s house. They lived at 1400, and we lived at 1401, and I cannot be more than two years old.

My mother says that I cannot remember this. It must be an implanted recollection. I don’t think so, but perhaps. There is no question, though, that I retain other vignettes from the brief time that Nina Speight kept me: a canister of Morton salt on a kitchen table; a bag of wooden blocks on a shelf; a Maxwell House can brimming with snuff juice; a thin chenille spread over a four-poster bed; the dimness of the back room shared by the Speights’ teenaged grandsons. We left Carolina Street when I was nine, but my memories of my years at the edge of East Wilson are warm and tinged with gold.  Miss Speight and Mister Kenny loved and nurtured me early and rooted me firmly in the traditions of a Southern community in transition. They passed away within months of each other in 1982 — ironically, the year that I, too, left Wilson, for college.


Nina and Kenneth Speight.


Nina Darden Speight was born in 1901 in Black Creek township, Wilson County, to Crawford F. and Mattie Woodard Darden. Her family names indicate deep roots in southeastern Wilson County, which was part of Edgecombe before 1855. Her father, born about 1869, was the youngest of several children born to Howell Darden and Esther (or Easter) Bass, and the only child born free. (Esther’s maiden name also appears as “Jordan” on the marriage license of one of her children.)  On 11 August 1866, Howell and Easter registered their cohabitation with a county justice of the peace and thereby legalized their 18-year marriage. Their older children included Warren (born circa 1849, married Louisa Dew), Eliza (born circa 1852, married Henry Dortch), Martin (born circa 1853, married Jane Dew) and Toby Darden (born circa 1858.) Esther Darden died 1870-1880, and Howell Darden between 1880 and 1900.

Evidence that Howell Darden and Esther Bass were both owned by James A. Barnes may be found in the abstract of his will, dated October 14, 1848 and probated at February Court, 1849 in Edgecombe County. Among other property real and personal, Barnes’ wife Sarah received a life interest in several slaves — Mary, Esther and Charles — whose ownership would revert to nephew Theophilus Bass upon her death. To McKinley Darden, Barnes bequeathed “Negro Howell.” [Other enslaved people mentioned in Barnes’ will included Tom, Amos, Babe, Silvia, Ransom, Rose, Dinah, Jack, Jordan, Randy, Abraham, Rody, Alexander, Bob and Gatsey (the only slave to be sold.) Their relationships to Esther and Howell may never be known.]

Nina Speight’s mother Mattie Woodard Darden was born about 1873 in Wayne County to William and Vicey Woodard. She died 7 May 1935 in Wilson County. Crawford Darden died 3 August 1934.

Kenneth Speight was born about 1891 in Speight Bridge township, Greene County, North Carolina, to Callie and Holland Speight. (Some records show a 1899 or 1900 birth year, but he appears in the 1900 census as an 8 year-old.) His father Callie was born about 1855; his mother Holland, about 1860. Callie was the son of Callie (1825) and Allie Speight (1827). In the 1870 census of Greene County, the Callie and Allie Speight’s family is listed next to a wealthy white farmer named Abner Speight, who may have been their former owner.

In 1902, the Charlotte Observer ran an article by C.S. Wooten of LaGrange, North Carolina, “Old Southern Families: Farmers of Wayne and Greene,” a reminiscence about the “old plantations” and “typical Southern gentlemen” of those parts, including Abner Speight:

James Speight, a nephew of Jesse Speight, was Senator for Lenoir and Greene counties for ten years before the war. He married a niece of my father, Maj. Wooten. He was a splendid stump speaker, and I have seen him debate with lawyers on the stump and get the best of the discussion, indeed in those days the best politicians were farmers. His house was a nice place to visit. He always had a special brand of apple brandy made by Col. C.W. Stanton who could make as good brandy as was ever made. Edwin G. Speight, his cousin, was also Senator from Greene and Lenoir counties from 1842-1852. I was a small boy when he was a public man, but I have heard my father say he was a fine speaker and was a natural orator. His second wife was a daughter of Hon. Jake H. Bryan, of Raleigh, and he removed to Alabama where he died a few years ago. Abner Speight, a cousin of the above, was a large farmer, was a noble man and as good a citizen as the State ever had. He had two boys killed in the army, both bright, gallant young men. I have sometimes thought, suppose the South had not been checked in her onward march of prosperity and greatness what would we have been today. I have also thought that the gallant men, the flower of Southern chivalry that were sacrificed in that unhappy struggle were in vain, but I reckon not, for they by their gallantry and valor, have shed unfading justice upon Southern arms and have given her a name that will never be surpassed in the annals of mankind.

Callie and Holland Speight married about 1878, but little else is known of her. After Holland’s death just after 1900, Callie married Minnie Speight (1894-1947), daughter of Stephen and Dillie Woodard Speight, also of Greene County. In addition to Kenneth, Callie Speight’s children included Martha, Mary, Clara, Irwin, Charlie, Callie, Addie, Claud, Mary, Nancy, Flossie, Lewis, Clarence, Effie, Bessie, Pauline, George, Adell, Joe, James and Junius. Callie died after 1940.


Postscript: After I posted this piece, the Speights’ grandson, whom I played with on his childhood visits from New York City, sent me another photograph. Nina Darden is standing at top left, holding a flower. Thanks, Tyrone, for both images!

Nina Darden

Maternal Kin, Other Documents, Virginia, Vocation

Man of a thousand hustles.

My great-grandfather, the longshoreman, rose from the docks to become a union officer and civic leader in Newport News, Virginia. The arc of that narrative seemed long and interesting enough, but we now know that it does not quite do this hard-working man justice. In fact, in just the first decade-and-a-half of the twentieth century, John C. Allen worked a half-dozen jobs to keep his growing family comfortably fed, clothed and sheltered. The 1900 census records John’s occupation as shipyard laborer, which is more or less consistent with received wisdom. Newport News city directories, however, capture the full range of John’s hustles over the years:

1902 — Allen Jno, eating house, Ivy Ave nr 18th. John’s church, Zion Baptist, was at 20th and Ivy, at the heart of Newport News’ East End. Presumably, John owned this small and apparently short-lived restaurant and probably lived on premises. (Fifteen years later, John’s nephew Junius Allen lived at 1752 Ivy, which is at the corner of 18th Street.)

1903 — Allen Jno C, lab h 748 21st   John was probably laboring at the shipyard. 748 21st Street is the house in which my grandfather and his siblings spent their early childhood years. I need to check deeds to find out if John Sr. bought it 1902-03. My grandparents also lived here during the first five or so years of their marriage.

1910 — Allen Jno C, painter h 748 21st  John is described as a shipyard painter in the 1910 census, and he seems to have worked this job at least two years.

1911 — Allen Jno C, painter h 748 21st  

1912 — Allen Jno C, agt Am Ben Ins Co h 748 21st  Insurance agent??? John had come an impressively long way for a man who’d been illiterate when he arrived in Newport News a dozen years earlier. American Beneficial Insurance Company was a black-owned business founded in 1902 in Richmond, Virginia, by Rev. Wesley F. Graham, a Baptist minister.

1913-14 — Allen Jno C, grocer 2206 Madison av h 2107 Marshall av  Around 1913, John bought the house on Marshall Avenue in which he and his wife lived out their years, at which my parents married, and in which his daughter Julia lived and operated a beauty parlor when I was a child. The Madison Avenue grocery is a complete mystery. [Postscript, 13 April 2014: A mystery only to me, apparently. You just have to ask the right questions. After my mother read this post, she sent me a text identifying “Mama Taylor” and her husband as folks who operated a grocery that may have been her grandfather’s. Post-postscript, 19 April 2014: my Uncle C. told me that (1) Mama Taylor and her husband Johnnie lived above a grocery they operated in the 1900 block of Madison Avenue; (2) Mama Taylor was close to “her Johnnie,” my grandfather; (3) Mama Taylor was about his grandparents’ age; (4) he wondered if Mr. Taylor and John C. Allen Sr. were related, as they had similar builds and full heads of white hair; (5) at least during my uncle’s childhood, John and Agnes Allen ordered their groceries from a white-owned business in the 2100 block of Madison, not from the Taylors.]

1914-15 — Allen Jno C, clk h 2107 Marshall av  Clerk? What kind of clerk?

The 1916 and 1917 city directories revert to the 1913-14 grocer entry, but when John Allen registered for the World War I draft in 1918, he reported that he worked as a laborer for Hampton Roads Stevedoring Company. The 1918 and 1919 city directories also show him as a laborer. (Had the grocery store closed? Why? Was there better money on the docks?)

UPDATE: On 31 May 1917, J.C. Allen ran a small ad in the Newport News Daily Press announcing the liquidation via auction of his grocery store at 2206 Madison Avenue:

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The 1920 census finally recorded John’s occupation as “longshoreman on piers.” (John was 45 years old in 1920, well into middle age. Unloading ships in this era was brutal work even for young men.) Subsequent city directories label him “longshoreman” (1923), “mgr International Longshoreman’s Union” (1925), “mgr Intl Longshoreman’s Locals 844 & 946 gro” (back in the grocery business, 1927).

In the 1930 census, John worked as a longshoreman for a steamship company, but is reported as a laborer in the 1931 and 1932 directories. In 1933, he’s again a manager with the union, but the 1940 censustaker described him as a longshoreman in “frt. transport.” (Incidentally, sometime in the late 1930s, he helped found Whittaker Memorial Hospital and joined its and Crown Savings Bank’s boards of directors.)

A 1953 obituary laconically notes that John C. Allen “worked for the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. for about 10 years and then became a stevedore.” Ah, but he did so much more.

John Allen ca1950

John C. Allen at his son-in-law’s in yet another role — farmer. Near Jetersville, Virginia, 1940s.