Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Greene County Artises.

By the early antebellum period, dozens of Artis families had drifted down from southern Virginia to form a large node in Wayne County. The 1840 census lists more than 40 Artis heads of household in that county. By contrast, there were never more than a handful of Artises recorded in neighboring Greene County in the antebellum era, and none at all before 1850. (This, of course, does not mean they were not there. Only that they did not qualify as heads of household.) Were the Greene County Artises an off-shoot of one of the many Wayne County Artis lines? Are they a single extended family? Were they all free prior to the Civil War? Or were some of them freedmen who adopted the surname of their free-born kin?

I’ve begun to pull together all sources of information about antebellum Artises in Greene County to try to find answers.


In 1850, clustered:

  • at #429, Vicy Artess, 40, and her children Zilpha, 22, Louis, 8, Jonah, 7, Jethro, 5, and Richard, 1.  Vicey Artis with her oldest daughter and youngest children.
  • at #431, Sylvany Artess, 36, and children Daniel, 7, Mitchel, 5, Meriah, 4, Gui, 2, and Penny, 3 months.  As detailed here, I believe Vicey and Sylvania Artis were sisters. White farmer John Lane, who likely apprenticed Sylvania’s children and enslaved their father Guy, was listed at #430.

In 1860, in Bull Head district:

  • at #25, James, 16, and Jetherroe Artis, 14, farmhands, with Silas Bryant.  These boys appear to be Vicey’s sons Jonah and Jethro and have followed their siblings into service as Bryant’s. Vicey herself is listed a few miles over the line in Wayne County with daughter Charity and Charity’s children, an unnamed one year-old “infant” and 8 year-old son Jethro.
  • at #26, Dannel, 17, Mike, 13, Penney, 12, Dyner, 9, Juley, 7, and Washington Artis, 5, with John Lane. These children, of course, are Sylvania’s younger children. Sylvania (“Silvano”) herself is living next door to her sister Vicey in Wayne County with a one year-old boy named Hiram Artis.
  • at #36, Mary Artis, 27, servant in the household of Richard Baker. Who is Mary Artis, and where was she in 1850?

And in Tyson’s Marsh district:

  • Nancy, 17, Aron, 13, Richard, 11, Calvin, 9, and Rebecker Artes, 5, in the household of G.S. Peacock. Where had the oldest children been in 1850? In 1870, Calvin Artis, 20, is a farmhand in the household of Sarah Wooten, Snow Hill township, Green County. In 1880 Snow Hill township: Richard Artis, 29, Charlotte, 24, Hattie, 3, and Jessee Artis, 1. On 9 March 1876, Calvin Artis applied for a marriage license for Richard Artis, 24, son of Isom Heath and Matilda Artis, and Charlotte Ellis, 21. Matilda was said to be living at that time. Where was she in 1850 and 1860 then?
  • at #161, servant Percy Artes, 25, and her children Henry C., 1, and Thomas, 5, in the household of Murrhyer Best. In 1850, Persey Artice and Rufus Artice, both 17, were listed in the household of Martin Sauls in North Side of the Neuse, Wayne County. In 1870, Snow Hill, Greene County, Prissy Artice, 35, and son Thomas, 14.


Margaret Artis. Died 4 March 1920, Carrs township, Greene County, North Carolina. Age 70. Widow of Ed Artis. Born Greene County to Penny Speight. Buried Carr’s Farm. Informant, Tom Speight. Not found in census or other records.

Thomas Artis. Died 30 July 1941, Bullhead township, Greene County, North Carolina. Widower of Mary Artis. Born 21 December 1853 in Wayne County to John and Leathy Artis. Buried family cemetery, by C.E. Artis. Informant, F[illegible] Exum. In the 1860 census of Davis district, Wayne County: John Artis, 39, wife Lethy, 40, and children Sarah J., 13, Zachary, 11, Millie, 9, Wm. T., 7, and Betsey Artis, 4. He was the grandson of Celia Artis.

Fillis Artis. Died 28 October 1916, Ormondsville township, Greene County, North Carolina. Married. Born 1853 in Greene County to Charity Edwards. Informant, W.H. Phillips. Phyllis Artis was not free-born, but married a man whose parents were. Phyllis Lee, age 35, daughter of Jerry Edwards and Charity Coward, married Rom Artis, 27, son of Jordan Artis and Arley [Olive] Artis, in Greene County on 11 January 1897. (Romilus was born about 1868, perhaps in Lenoir County. Census records show that his father lived in Wayne.) In the 1900 census of Contentnea township, Pitt County: Rom Artis (born 1868); wife Filliss (born 1860); four sons-in-law [stepsons?] John (1885), Allen (1886), Milton (1889) and Charley Leary (1891); son-in-law(?) William Artis (1893); daughter-in-law(?) Mande Artis (1895); and mother Ollie Artis (1840.)

Henry Artis. Died 10 January 1935 in Paris, Edgar County, Illinois. Barber. Resided 437 East Court. Born 21 March 1835, Snow Hill [Greene County], North Carolina to Louis Artis and Elizabeth Bass. Widower of Gabreil Artis. In the 1870 census of Otter Creek, Vigo County, Indiana: Lewis Artis, 39, Elizabeth, 38, Lucy A., 33, Elie, 20, Peggy, 14, Thomas, 8, John, 5, and William Artis, 4 months; the first three born in North Carolina. In the 1880 census of Charleston, Coles County, Indiana: North Carolina-born Henry Artis, 41, Ohio-born Ellen Artis, 43, and others.


Olive Artis. 1832-22 May 1904, Artis cemetery, Artis Cemetery Road, Greene County.

Phillis Artis. Wife of Rom Artis. 12 March 1861-28 October 1916, Artis cemetery, Artis Cemetery Road, Greene County. See Fillis Artis, above.


Agriculture, North Carolina, Other Documents

Where we worked: tobacco manufacturing.

I am maybe 12 or 13. It’s late summer, eastern North Carolina broiling summer, and I am whining to be allowed to hop on a truck at dawn and spend my days “cropping” tobacco. Some of my friends are going to do it, and it sounds like fun? My father laughs this away. No. My friends lasted a day, two days, then toppled from sun or nicotine poisoning or monstrous tobacco worms. I am still thanking him.


East to west, the tobacco industry dominated North Carolina’s economic life for much of the 20th century. Though I honor their memory, there is no way to list everyone in my family who raised tobacco or labored in its fields. They number in the thousands. However, here are some who worked to prepare the Golden Weed for market or manufacture, mostly in the cavernous brick warehouses and factory buildings that stretched for blocks across southeast Wilson:

Eugene Stockton, Statesville NC – husband of Ida Colvert Stockton Stockton; tobacco roller at tobacco factory, circa 1910.

Mary Barnes Jones, Wilson NC – stemmer, tobacco factory, 1910s.

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, Wilson NC – occasional tobacco factory worker, 1910s-1920s.

William I. Barnes, Wilson NC – husband of Madie Taylor Barnes; laborer, Export Leaf Tobacco Company, circa 1918.

Watt Kilpatrick, Winston-Salem NC – husband of Lizzie McNeely Kilpatrick Long; shape puller, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, circa 1918.

Sylvester Watson, Wilson NC – tobacco worker, circa 1920.

Elnora Artis, Norfolk VA – stemmer, tobacco factory, circa 1920.

Hattie Artis Johnson, Norfolk VA – stemmer, tobacco factory, circa 1920.

Sylvester Barnes, Wilson NC – tobacco factory worker, circa 1936.

Eliza Taylor Taylor, Wilson NC – tobacco factory worker.

Jordan T. Taylor, Wilson NC – husband of Eliza T. Taylor; tobacco warehouse worker.

James Beasley, Greensboro NC — husband of Doris Holt Beasley; P.J. Lorillard employee, 1950s-1980s.

James W. Cooper, Wilson NC – husband of A. Alberta Artis Cooper; fireman, Jas.I. Miller tobacco company, 1960s.


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From the 1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of Wilson, North Carolina.

Agriculture, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Swamps and sandy loams.

This is what dirt looks like where I’m from. It is not the plush black alluvial loam of the Mississippi Delta or the thin, rock-bedeviled soil of New England. It looks, mostly, like sand. Like in this graveyard, just south of Stantonsburg, Wilson County, where some of my Hall collateral kin lie. IMG_2195 The landscape of my childhood was level. Pine trees and flatness. Devoid, I thought, of any markers of geographical history. No boulder-strewn outcroppings, no foreboding hills, no deep-cut canyons. However, to the contrary, the most obvious relic of deep time was right under my feet.

I grew up on the western edge of North Carolina’s Coastal Plain, which was once the ocean floor. What looked like sand thrown up into the heels of my sneakers in fact was. The story wasn’t quite that simple though. I recall that patches of dirt in some places — like my parents’ back yard — are a pale gray, while others are the soft yellow of the Hall graveyard or, in veins here and there, the rusty-red of clay.

A few days ago, I found a soil survey map of Wayne County, North Carolina, dated 1916. Wayne, where my father’s mother’s people have lived since beyond memory, is just south of my home county. Seldom do I visit my parents that I don’t hop in the car for a quick dip down there. It’s a mere ten miles to the northern corner where my Artises and Haganses and Seaberrys lived, and just another 30 to get down to Dudley, where my Hendersons and Aldridges took root. What could this map, with its colorful camouflagey swirls of color, tell me about their land? The soil from which they pulled sweet potatoes and collards and the cotton and tobacco that put money in their pockets?

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Here’s Nahunta, with Fremont at far left and Eureka at right. The road crossing from edge to edge is now known as Highway 222, and I have cousins that still live on it. That brownish sickle under N A H is marked S, which the key tells us is “Swamp.” Specifically, this is Aycock Swamp, upon whose banks Napoleon Hagans built his house. Another bit of S juts between U and N — that’s the tail end of Turner Swamp. And reaching in from Greene County is the swamp that envelops Watery Branch. Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 9.49.48 PM Just below Eureka is a blob of Nv, “Norfolk very fine sandy loam.” The greenish Nf that dominates the frame is “Norfolk fine sandy loam.” This is Adam Artis territory. The pale lavender-gray that washes across the middle is plain “Norfolk sandy loam,” Nl. The only color left in the areas in which my family lived is the sliver of peach that hugs the south side of Aycock Swamp — Ps or “Portsmouth sandy loam.” What is all this?

From a very helpful PDF linked to the website: “The Norfolk series consists of well-drained, nearly level and gently sloping soils on uplands. These soils formed in Coastal Plain sediment. A seasonal high water table is below a depth of 5 feet. In a typical profile, the surface layer is dark grayish-brown and light yellowish-brown sandy loam about 10 inches thick. The subsoil is olive yellow and brownish yellow to a depth of about 84 inches. In the upper part, the subsoil is friable sandy clay loam mottled with red. In the lower part, it is friable sandy loam mottled with red and gray. Natural fertility and the content of organic matter are low, and available water capacity is medium. Permeability is moderate, and shrink-swell potential is low. In areas that have not received lime, reaction is strongly acid or very strongly acid. The Norfolk soils of Pitt County are important for farming. Slope is the major limitation to their use. Most of the acreage is cultivated or in pasture. The rest is chiefly in forest and in housing developments or other nonfarm uses. Where crops are grown, response is good to recommended applications of fertilizer and lime.” (Pitt County is on the other side of Greene from Wayne County.)

From the same source:  “The Portsmouth series consists of very poorly drained, nearly level soils on stream terraces. These soils formed in alluvial sediment. A seasonal high water table is at or near the surface. In a typical profile, the surface layer is very dark gray and very dark grayish-brown loam about 15 inches thick. The subsoil is about 24 inches thick. The upper part is grayish-brown, friable sandy loam mottled with grayish brown. The lower part is grayish-brown, friable, sandy clay loam mottled with yellowish brown. Below the subsoil and extending to a depth of about 68 inches is grayish-brown and light brownish-gray sand and coarse sand. Natural fertility is low, and the content of organic matter and available water capacity are medium. Permeability is moderate, and shrink-swell potential is low. In areas that have not received lime, reaction is strongly acid or very strongly acid. The Portsmouth soils in Pitt County are of only minor importance for farming. Major limitations to their use are the seasonal high water table and frequent flooding for brief periods. Most of the acreage is in forest, and the rest is chiefly in cultivated crops or pasture. Where crops are grown they respond well to recommended applications of fertilizer and lime.”

These flat acres of mostly Norfolk series soil, then, with liberal amendment, were much better quality farmland than I would have supposed.

The same was true in Brogden township, at the other end of the county. Today’s major roads, two-lane 117 Alternate and four-lane 117, which roughly parallel the railroad to the west, did not exist in 1916. (In fact, what is now Highway 117 was cut through well into my adulthood.) The railroad is still there, though, as is the road (now called O’Berry/Sleepy Creek Road) that crossed the tracks at Dudley’s little heart. Some of the little black specks you can barely see marked my people’s houses. I know, for example, that Aldridges lived along the railroad among the little dots marked opposite COAST. And the Congregational Church cemetery was just below Yellow Swamp, the shallow branch in which my people were baptized.

Soil_survey_of_Wayne_County_North_Carolina copyThe Hendersons and Aldridges and their related families, Simmonses, Wynns, Manuels, and Jacobses among them, lived within a few miles’ radius of Dudley. The soils they wrestled with included Norfolk sand (N), Norfolk sandy loam (Nl), Portsmouth sandy loam (Ps), and Ruston sandy loam (Rs). The same basic dirt as in the north of the county, with the addition of the Ruston, defined here: “The Ruston series consists of very deep, well drained, moderately permeable soils that formed in loamy marine or stream deposits. These soils are low in fertility and within the root zone have moderately high levels of exchangeable aluminum that are potentially toxic to some agricultural crops but are ideal for the production of loblolly, slash, and longleaf pine. The soils have slight limitations for woodland use and management.”


Old heads.

The earliest family members to pledge the Divine Nine:

Joseph H. Ward — Kappa Alpha Psi (Kappa Alpha Nu), graduate chapter, Indianapolis, 1913.

Oscar Randall — Alpha Phi Alpha, Tau chapter, University of Illinois, circa 1919.

Arnetta Randall — Zeta Phi Beta, Alpha chapter, Howard University, circa 1923.

Charles C. Coley — Kappa Alpha Psi, Beta chapter, Howard University, circa 1928.

William N. Hagans — Omega Psi Phi, Alpha chapter, Howard University, Spring 1930.

Mable Williams — Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha chapter, Howard University, circa 1931.

Irvin L. McCaine — Alpha Phi Alpha, Beta chapter, Howard University, circa 1932.

J. Thomas Aldridge — Phi Beta Sigma.

Births Deaths Marriages

The Goldsboro Smiths.

As mentioned, Nancy Henderson Smith was my great-great-great-grandfather Lewis Henderson‘s half-sister, but she was closer in age to his children. She and her sisters Mollie Henderson Hall Holt and Louella Henderson King Wilson Best Laws were particularly close to Lewis’ daughter Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, who reared my grandmother (her sister Loudie‘s grandchild) after she was effectively orphaned.

In 1881, Nancy married Isham Smith. They settled in the Harrell Town section of Goldsboro, where Isham worked as a wagon driver, occasional blacksmith, and then an undertaker. Their children were: Annie Smith Guess (1883-1953), Oscar Smith (1884), Furney Smith (1886), Ernest Smith (1888-1918), Elouise Marie Smith (1890), Johnnie Smith (1891), Mary E. Smith Southerland (1894), James Smith (1896), Willie Smith (1899-1912), Effie May Smith Stanfield (1904), and possibly Bessie Lee Smith (1911). (Was Bessie really a daughter? Nancy was born about 1864! A granddaughter maybe?) Isham died in 1914, and Nancy married Patrick Diggs four years later. After Patrick’s death, Nancy restored her first husband’s surname. She died in Goldsboro in 1944.

Here’s what marriage licenses reveal about this family:


  • Another example of official laziness — though both Annie’s parents were living, only one is named.
  • What Methodist church in Goldsboro? A Google doesn’t turn up much, but revealed that a Rev. J.J. McIntire was an African Methodist Episcopal minister in the South Wilmington (North Carolina) circuit in 1916.
  • James Guess was a multi-faceted businessman, to say the least, with interests in barber shops, pool halls, real estate and a flourishing undertaking operation. He died in 1957 at a hospital in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  • Annie and James had two children, Elma (1905) and James Jr. (1923-1950). (That is interesting spacing, definitely.)
  • Annie Smith Guess died of heart disease 8 August 1953 at her home in Goldsboro.


  • This was a short-lived marriage. In 1910, the census of Goldsboro showed Carrie Smith living at home with her parents, Furney and Clara Wooten, her siblings, and her not quite two-year-old daughter Pauline Smith.  In the 1920 census, Carrie Smith is described as a widow, and she and Pauline remain in Clara Wooten’s home.


  • And again, Isham is named, Nancy is not, though both were living.
  • This time, the Methodist Episcopal church. A search for John H. Isham doesn’t yield anything.
  • Alberta Paschall was soon to be the wife of Johnnie’s brother Ernest Smith, see below.
  • Elma Guess was the 12-year-old daughter of James and Annie Smith Guess. (Or was there another Elma Guess? Twelve seems awfully young to be an official witness.)
  • Five months after he married, Johnnie registered for the World War I draft. His draft card stated that he resided at 100 Smith Street in Goldsboro (his parents’ house); was 22 years old; worked as a laborer for Isaac Cohnes of Goldsboro; was married; and was of short height and medium build with brown eyes and black hair.
  • Sylvia Kornegay Smith gave birth to a stillborn son in 1920, then to a son Herbert in September 1922 who died at age six moths.  Son Russell Smith was born in 1925 and appears to have been Johnnie’s only living child. The family appears together in the 1930 census of Goldsboro, at which time Johnnie worked as a carpenter and Sylvia as a laundress. They split before long, however, as the 1940 census of Goldsboro showed Johnnie and his siblings Bessie and Jimmy living with their mother Nancy Smith. I have not found Johnnie’s death certificate.
  • As late as 1959, Johnny Smith is listed in the Goldsboro city directory living at the Smith “home house,” 309 Smith Street. However, I have not found his death certificate.


  • Nancy, as here, was sometimes called “Nannie.”
  • A Missionary Baptist minister performed this ceremony. Alberta’s church, perhaps?
  • Ernest’s sisters Effie Mae and Annie were witnesses.
  • Ernest and Alberta had had a child together, a stillborn girl, born 1914 in Goldsboro, Wayne County. They had no others.
  • Ernest, a barber, died 5 October 1918 of lobar pneumonia in Goldsboro — five months after he married.


  • Nancy’s second marriage, which ended with Patrick Diggs’s death before 1930.
  • The family appears in the 1920 census, Goldsboro, Wayne County: on Smith Street, Patrick Diggs, tinned at W.A. Works; wife Nancy; stepdaughter Bessie Lee Smith; and widowed “stepdaughter-in-law” Alberta Smith, a cook.


  • Surprise, surprise. My great-aunt Mamie was not the only relative to follow Mollie Henderson Holt to Greensboro.
  • Nancy is listed with her second husband’s name.
  • This is my last sighting of Effie Mae. I have not found death certificates for her or her husband, but neither seems to appear in subsequent census records. And in the 1930 census, their seven-year-old daughter Vivian Stanfield was living with her grandmother “Nannie” in Goldsboro.

nannie smith 1930

And what of Nancy’s remaining children?

  • Furney Smith is elusive. He appears in exactly one census record with his parents (1900) and seemingly none on his own. Perhaps because:

F SMith

Goldsboro News Argus, 27 January 1906.


Goldsboro News Argus, 23 February 1907.

  • Elouise Marie Smith is listed as “Alerwese” Smith in the 1900 census in her parents’ household. I have no trace of her after. A “Mrs. E. Hall” of the home, 309 Smith Street, was the informant on Nancy Smith’s death certificate. Was that Elouise? (Or maybe Effie?)
  • Mary E. Smith Southerland is listed as an informant on the delayed birth certificate of her sister Effie Mae Smith. I have not found a record of her marriage to a Southerland.
  • James “Jimmy” Smith was born 18 April 1896. When he registered for the World War I draft in 1917, he reported that he resided at 100 Smith Street in Goldsboro NC; that he was born in Goldsboro; that he worked as a bottler as a bottling company; that was single; that he was of medium height and weight; and that he had black eyes and hair. He likely was not the James Smith that married Lou Pearl Moses on 15 November 1916 in Goldsboro. He is last seen in his mother’s household in the 1940 census of Goldsboro.
  • Twelve year-old Willie Smith died of kidney disease (“nephritis”) on 29 June 1912.
  • Bessie Lee was born about 1911. If Nancy were her mother, she’d have been in her late 40s when Bessie was born. Not impossible, but perhaps unlikely. Still, she is consistently referred to as daughter, rather than granddaughter, so I’ll leave it there for now. I have no record of any marriage for her, and she and two brothers appear in their mother’s household in the 1940 census.

Where we worked: hostlers.

A hostler was a groom or stableman employed to care for horses in a stable, often at an inn or hotel. 

Fletcher Reeves, Charlotte NC – husband of Angeline McConnaughey Reeves; hostler, J.W. Wadsworth and others, circa 1880-1912.

Robert Wooten, Goldsboro NC – husband of Mary J. Henderson Wooten; hostler, circa 1910.

Ned Barnes, Raleigh NC – hostler and coachman, circa 1910.

Jack Henderson, Wilson NC – hostler, J.W. Farrior Stables, circa 1910.

Education, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Cousin Mable meets Marian Anderson.


I found this image in the digital Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection of the University of North Carolina-Asheville’s Ramsey Library. Taken in 1945, the photograph is entitled “Marian Anderson visits Stephens-Lee,” a high school in Asheville. Anderson was in town to give a recital at the City Auditorium. She is, of course, standing at middle, facing the camera squarely. Others on the front row, left to right, were Mable McCaine, teacher (in light-colored dress); an unidentified woman; Vernon Cowan, teacher; Frank Toliver, principal; J.D. Carr, editor of Carolina Times; and Isabell Jones, a music teacher at Allen High School.

Mable Williams McCaine was born 23 November 1912 in Goldsboro, North Carolina, to Clarence J. Williams and Daisy Aldridge Williams. Her maternal grandparents were Matthew W. and Fannie Kennedy Aldridge. The Williamses relocated to Asheville before 1920. Mable married Irvin L. McCaine, and the couple lived in Asheville with their two young sons in the 1940s.