Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Nothing could swerve him.

I felt sure that Napoleon Hagans‘ death had merited more than the brief mention I’d seen in the Goldsboro Headlight, and last night I found it:


Goldsboro Daily Argus, 1 September 1896.

This shining eulogy was penned by Ezekiel Ezra “E.E.” Smith (1852-1933), college president, recent United States Ambassador to Liberia, and arguably the most accomplished of Wayne County’s 19th-century African American citizens. (Smith was born free in Duplin County, just to the south, but moved to Goldsboro as a young man, married a cousin of Napoleon’s daughter-in-law Lizzie Burnett Hagans, and was principal for a time of Goldsboro’s colored school.)  Side-stepping the indelicate issue of Napoleon’s parentage, E.E. painted a glowing portrait of his friend’s virtues — his hard work, his astuteness, his self-built wealth, his determination to give his children what he lacked. Napoleon’s business acumen and successes won relationships across color lines and among North Carolina’s colored elite, and E.E. listed those who took part in the funeral or had taken the time to reach out to pay respects:

  • Rev. Jonah Williams, Eureka. Jonah Williams was the elder of a Baptist church a few miles from Napoleon’s home (and a central figure in the establishment of Primitive Baptist congregations in the area) and had, like Napoleon, been involved in Republican politics. Jonah’s brother, Adam T. Artis, married Napoleon’s half-sister, Frances Seaberry.
  • Rev. Clarence Dillard, Goldsboro. Clarence Dillard, Howard University Theology ’83, came to Goldsboro as a Presbyterian minister and was principal of the colored graded school at Napoleon’s death. (It is said that he traded a teaching position at Agricultural & Mechanical College for the Colored Race [now North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University] to Napoleon’s son Henry E. Hagans for this job.) Dillard was active in Republican politics and was co-editor of a short-lived African-American newspaper in Goldsboro, The Voice.
  • J.L. Nixon, Goldsboro. John Louis Nixon (1855-1919) was co-editor and manager of The Voice and, later, secretary of the Goldsboro-based United Church Benevolent Society and a mail clerk for the United States Postal Service. He was a native of Wilmington.
  • C.D. Crooms, Goldsboro. Charles D. Crooms was a teacher and merchant.
  • Henry Williams.
  • William Chapman, Goldsboro. William Chapman (or Chatman) married Susan Burnett, mother-in-law of Napoleon’s son William S. Hagans.
  • B.H. Hogans, Goldsboro. Benjamin Harrison Hogans (1865-1926) was a teacher, a trustee of Saint James AME Zion Church and, later, a mail carrier. He was born in Orange County and came to Goldsboro as a child with his parents Haywood and Zilpha Latta Hogans.
  • E.E. Smith.
  • Mrs. W.J. Exum, Fremont. Mary Burt Alston Exum, white, was the widow of William J. Exum (1825-1885), a prominent farmer and former slaveowner in northern Wayne County. Napoleon bought land from William (and Mary, after William’s death).
  • Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Bardin, Fremont. John J. Bardin, white, was a druggist in Fremont.
  • Miss Clarisa Williams, Wilson. Clarissa Williams, Jonah Williams’ daughter, was a teacher in Wilson.
  • Mrs. E.E. Smith, Goldsboro. Willie Ann Burnett Smith, daughter of Dolly Burnett, was a cousin of Napoleon’s son William’s wife Lizzie E. Burnett. William Chapman was Willie Burnett Smith’s step-father.
  • W.H. Borden, Goldsboro. William H. Borden (1841-1905), white, was president of Goldsboro Furniture Company.
  • A.W. Curtis, Raleigh. Rev. A.W. Curtis, white, lead the Congregational Church mission in Raleigh.
  • C.D. Sauls, Snow Hill. Cain D. Sauls (1864-1938) of Greene County wore many hats — farmer, merchant, newspaper columnist, banker, justice of the peace, and all-around businessman. He was the grandson of Daniel Artis, who was a first cousin of Adam T. Artis.
  • W.H. McNeil, Greensboro. William H. McNeill was president of Suburban Investment Company of Greensboro and Piedmont Mutual Life Insurance Company. (The 18 July 1903 edition of Washington DC’s The Colored American reported that Mrs. W.H. McNeill had visited Mrs. F. Douglass at 1720 Fourteenth Street, NW.)
  • Mrs. F.A. Garrett, Greensboro.
  • J.E. Dellinger, Greensboro. J. Elmer Dellinger (1862-1920) was active in Republican politics and the development of Baptist Sunday Schools, was a physician, and taught chemistry at Agricultural & Mechanical College in Greensboro. He was also a manager of Suburban Investment Company. He was born in Lincoln County, North Carolina.
  • H.H. Faulkner, Greensboro. Henry H. Faulkner was a school principal in Greensboro.
  • Charles H. Moore, Greensboro. Moore was principal of the first graded school for African-American children in Greensboro.

5 thoughts on “Nothing could swerve him.

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