I was a child plagued by respiratory illness and nearly every winter endured a tough bout with bronchitis. When the worst was over, and I was in a recuperating stage, my mother returned to her teaching job, and I sometimes spent a few days at my Aunt Mildred’s house one street over.
Mildred Henderson Hall was not really my aunt. She was my grandmother’s first cousin, daughter of her uncle Jesse “Jack” Henderson. During my grandmother and father’s childhoods, Uncle Jack and his children were the only nearby Henderson relatives. By time I came along, Mildred, her youngest sister Doris Henderson Ward and some of their children were the only other Hendersons left in Wilson. Mildred’s youngest daughters were still at home when I was child, and I grew to know them and the younger of their two brothers best.
I loved my brief stays at Aunt Mildred’s, wrapped in blankets and installed on the couch in her wood-paneled den, drowsing before the television while she handled calls related to the family business. Occasionally, I got a glimpse of the teenaged Patricia, impossibly glamorous in my eyes, leaving for school. More often, Aunt Mildred’s husband, Louis Hall, would stop at home between jobs. He was not a tall man, but he seemed to me a big one. In later years he had a belly, but I think my impression came more from his persona than his actual size. He had a warm smile and a ready laugh, and I, who had no living grandfathers, was drawn to him.
Louis and Mildred Henderson Hall at home, probably mid-1960s.
Years later, as I researched a thesis examining the involuntary apprenticeship of free children of color, I grew familiar with all the free families of color in Wilson and Wayne Counties. I came upon a set of Halls from the Stantonsburg area and, curious, traced them forward. I was delighted to find that Uncle Louis was descended from this very family. Years after that, I was even happier to be able to provide my Hall cousins with rare documentation of their antebellum forebears’ births.
The family’s earliest known ancestor was Eliza Hall, a free woman of color born about 1820, probably in what was then the heel of southwest Edgecombe County. How she met James Bullock Woodard, a prosperous white farmer and slaveowner, is unknown, but by Eliza’s early 20s they had begun a relationship that would last at least a decade. A sympathetic relative of Woodard’s, perhaps feeling that blood is blood, recorded the births of James and Eliza’s children in her family’s Bible:
Ages of The children of Eliza Hall
William Henry Hall was born Feb the 11th 1844 Patrick Hall was born October the 6th 1845 Margaret ann Hall was born Feb the 12th 1847 Louiser Hall was born April the 9th 1849 Balam Hall was born Feb 7th 1851
William H. Hall lived and farmed near Stantonsburg, Wilson County, most of his life. He married three times — to Lucy Barnes, Annie E. Smith and Mamie Artis — and had at least nine children. His fifth, more or less, was Robert Hall, born 18 July 1886. When Robert was about 4 years old, his father sold to trustees the quarter-acre of land upon which Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was founded. William H. Hall spent his last years living in his son Robert’s household and died 23 June 1925.
On 7 January 1908 in Wilson County, Robert Hall married Katie Farmer, daughter of Robert and Marenda Bynum Farmer. (And Katie’s sister Ida married Robert’s brother Thomas Hall.) Robert supported his large family as his father had done, by farming. Uncle Louis, born in 1920, was Robert and Katie Hall’s fifth child. He and Aunt Mildred reared six children on Queen Street in Wilson as they built East Carolina Vault Company, a family-owned business that now employs third-generation Halls.
Wilson County is a small world of criss-crossing family lines, and Uncle Louis was not the only descendant of Eliza Hall that I knew. Once, I saw my cousin (his daughter) hugging my geometry teacher at the mall. They, in fact, are first cousins. Another of their first cousins was the assistant principal at my high school. And as I prepared this blogpost, I ran across a marriage license for a daughter of William H. Hall’s brother Balam and one of my cousins, Snow B. Sauls.
William H. Hall is buried in the cemetery of the church he helped establish.
Photographs from collection of Lisa Y. Henderson; excerpt from Lewis Ellis Bible courtesy of Henry Powell; sources include birth and death certificates, World War I draft registration, deeds.