Wilson Daily Times, 23 July 1960.
Goldsboro Daily Argus, 31 December 1905.
For decades, on January 1, African-American communities formally celebrated the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1905, under the leadership, in part, of William S. Hagans and Mack D. Coley, the “Educational, Agricultural and Industrial mass meeting” of Wayne County’s “colored citizens” issued an eight-point pledge:
(1) to be respectable;
(2) to endorse state policy to give all children, regardless of color, an education;
(3) to urge school attendance;
(4) to encourage teachers not only to teach, but to pay home visits and preach every manner of virtue and home improvement;
(5) to disapprove of shiftlessness;
(6) to condemn crime and encourage law-abiding conduct;
(7) to suggest that farmers carry insurance and to educate them; and
(8) to become more united as a race, to organize to buy land, and to help one another retire mortgages.
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.
From the 1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of Wilson, North Carolina.
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. 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?
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. 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 pittcountync.gov 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.
The 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.”
“I found your blog posts on line,” he said. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to you some more about them. Kinchen Taylor was my ancestor.”
It took a little while, but we finally caught up as I sat waiting for a flight to Philadelphia. I’ll call him “Cal.” He goes by a different nickname, but he bears — with pride, but some chagrin — the same name as his forebear. It’s been passed down generation after generation after generation and, in spite of himself, he passed it on, too.
Cal grew up within shouting distance of the Kinchen C. Taylor house that I wrote about, and his father and uncle are among the last of Kinchen Taylor’s descendants holding property passed down from him. He’s a few years younger than I am, and he thinks Kinchen Senior’s house was already in shambles during his childhood. He was aware that Kinchen had accumulated vast tracts of farm and woodland in northern Nash County, but dismayed that he had owned so many slaves. That he had owned any at all, really. Without them, of course, his great-great-great-grandfather’s thousands of acres would have been a wilderness of swamp and impenetrable forest. Cal also wondered if we were perhaps related, but I have no reason to believe that we are.
Many thanks to “Cal” for reaching out and for sharing his connection to Taylor Crossroads.
My mother: Tell Lisa about that thing you were telling me about your step-grandfather. Mr. Hart.
My grandmother: Mm-hmm.
Mother: And what he brought you.
Grandmother: He used to always bring us something, you know. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be a little something, you know. So this night, he brought me a chick. A little live chick. And told me to raise the chick, and I did. And it was a –
Mother: Where was it, Ma? Where was it when he brought it to you?
Grandmother: He had it in his pocket. [We laugh.] He had it in his pocket. And, oh, they were called game chickens. And they got great big bodies and long necks and their heads were small. You know, they’re funny-looking, but they’re very productive. You know, they lay a lot of eggs. And he had all kinds of stuff like that. He was a lawyer, really. But he did real estate, and he farmed. But anyway, he gave me this chick, and it was a hen. And she laid eggs and everything. And so Mama sat the eggs, sat her on her own eggs, and she hatched this little group of chickens, you know. And I don’t know why it was separate from any other ‘cause Mama had chickens and all. She had chickens then, but anyway this chicken was separate from the chickens, and it was ‘round on the side of our house. And the house wasn’t, you know, where you cover the bottom of the house. It wasn’t –
Me: Oh, yeah. It was up on pillars.
Grandmother: Yeah. And right there where she was there was none, and she made a little coop for her and her chicks. They would run around, but they would come back to that thing ‘cause she was in there. And one day a dog came along and was messing with the chickens, and oh, this hen was just a-jumping up and screaming and carrying on and stuck her head out the thing, and the dog bit her head off. Lisa, I nearly died. And you know, Mama wouldn’t cook her. We wouldn’t have eaten her nohow.
Me: Did she have a name?
Grandmother: I can’t think of the hen’s name. I can’t think of it, Lisa. But I’m sure she had one.
Game hen, courtesy http://www.ultimatefowl.com.
Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.
The ninth 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.
(Tom Pig Artis’ testimony continued from here.)
I have been claiming this land all the time. I have not been listing it for taxes. Before the mortgage was given I was listing it. I have not listed it ever since 1892, ’till this last year. I listed my other property, but don’t know that listed this land. I have been mortgaging the crops on this land. I mortgaged it one year in 1893. I guess I did. To Mr. Minshew. I don’t know that I described the land in the Minshew mortgage as the land belonging to Napoleon Hagans. I don’t say I didn’t. I can’t tell the date, but I have rented some land from Hagans. Two or three years. That mortgage to Minshew was intended to cover the crops to be made on the 30 acre piece. (Defendant objects to all about mortgage.) I don’t know that I made another crop lien on that same land in 1895. I don’t remember that I made one then. I made a mortgage to Mr. Peacock in Fremont on the same land. I described the land as mine. I don’t know that I said it was known as the Hagans land. I made a crop lien to Peele & Copeland in 1906. That was to cover crops on the 30 acre piece I guess. I described it as the land known as Will Hagans land. I guess, I don’t know. I might have described it as mine. I made Peele & Copeland another crop lien in 1907 on the same land. I described it as the land known as the Will Hagans land, if its there, I expect I did. I didn’t say in that mortgage that it was my land. On April 16th 1908 I made Peele & Copeland another crop lien. I don’t know that I gave them a mortgage this year. I may have. I guess I did. If it shows it, I did. I described it as my own land. First time that I ever put a statement in a paper or that made reference to crop on this 30 acre piece, that they would be grown on my own land. On March 23rd 1908, I made a real estate mortgage on this land to Peele & Copeland for $420.00. This crop lien I made this year, and also this mortgage on this land was made after the action was made to recover the land. I rented some other land from Hagans beside the 30 acre piece. I didn’t have any of the Hagans land under rent beside the 30 acre tract last year in 1907. I had land rented off, but not the Hagans land. (This action was brought March 18th 1908.) The real estate mortgage to Peele & Copeland was given Mar. 23rd, 1908. Was served Mar. 27th 1908, and the crop lien Apr. 16th 1908.) Last year I didn’t have any of W.S. Hagans’ land rented. I cultivated only the 30 acre tract, and lived in the house on the other side. (Summons introduced by Plaintiff.) At the time Mr. Cook was negotiating about buying this land from Hagans I was cultivating the 30 acre tract, and was living across the line on the 24 acre piece. I knew that Cook was trying to buy the Calv place. I didn’t know that he was trying to buy both places then. Not until I heard from other people that he was trying to buy both places. I heard that a few days before he came up here to get the papers fixed. When I heard this news, I didn’t go see Mr. Coley. I happened to see him. I was just passing and saw him. He spoke to me first about it. He said he understood Mr. Cook was about to buy all the land about there, and mine too. He said why didn’t I let him know. He said if he had known it he would have bought some. I told him I understood they were going to fix the papers the next day. I said if he is, I am going to Goldsboro, and he said if you go, and he and Cook don’t trade, tell Hagans to send me a note. I went the next day, and I told him exactly what he told me. I carried it to him. The rumor was that he Cook was buying both places. I told Coley that if anybody got it I would rather him get it, for I didn’t think that I could get along with Mr. Cook. I didn’t have any reference to my place. I didn’t tell Coley that I didn’t mean the 30 acre piece. I told him myself. I told him I understood Mr. Cook was trying to but all the land down there, trying to buy the 30 acre piece and the 24 acre piece. I told him I was coming to Goldsboro, he asked me to speak to Hagans. I told him if anybody had to have it, I had rather for him to have it than Cook. I came and saw Hagans. I didn’t ask Hagans not to sell it to Cook. I didn’t ask him to let Coley have it. I didn’t tell him I would get along better with Coley than Cook. I didn’t say that. I don’t remember that I told Hagans I could get along better with Coley than Cook. I don’t swear, but I never told him that. I told Coley. I told Hagans what Coley said, if he and Mr. Cook didn’t trade to send him a note. Hagans and Coley did trade. They went to my place. I got in the buggy with him. Rode over to Mr. Coleys. They were talking but I don’t know what they were talking about. They were around the house. I didn’t hear a word except that Hagans would see him later, maybe some other things were said, I don’t remember. I didn’t hear how much Coley was to give him for it, not until he had bought it. Mr. Coley came, but I don’t know if he came to see me. He just passed by. He didn’t say anything about renting it. He said he never knew where these lines were, and he said he wanted me to go around and show them to him. I don’t know whether he had any deed for it or not. I went all around and showed him the lines between his and mine too. There was a fence off the line a little. He told me to take the fence and put it around the pasture. He didn’t say he wanted me to. I didn’t move the rails of the fence, because Mr. Cook saw me with my cart. He said that fence was on the line of the 30 acre place, and told me not to move it. I didn’t because Cook said it was on the line. I went to move it. This fence was on the line between the 30 acre place and Cook’s line, not between the 30 and 24 acre pieces. Mr. Coley came back at another time, and talked about renting the land. Never reached any agreement. He said Uncle Tom aren’t you going to rent it. I said “No, I never rented my land.” I told him all the time it was my land, when I was showing him the corners etc. He was Now was the time to stir while it was hot. I told him I didn’t have to rent my own land. I told anybody that it was my land. I don’t know when I told Coley first it was my land. He knew I suppose that it was my land. I told him before I went to see Hagans that it was mine. I offered to buy from Hagans an acre along the 24 acre piece. He asked me if I couldn’t get somebody else to buy the rest of it. I told him I didn’t know. I never offered to buy the 30 acre piece, in presence of Reid or anybody else, nor offered to pay any on the mortgage, but I told him I could take up the mortgage. I told him that this year, and told him so last year. This last winter. I made a mortgage to H.J. Harrell in 1895. It was intended to cover crop on the 30 acre tract. I described it as the Hagans & Ward land. I tended some land on the Ward place, the other was on the 30 acre piece. That was on the 11th of May, 1908. (Book 18, Page 180) Reason I didn’t move the fence was because Cook stopped me. I didn’t go to see Coley and tell him what Cook said. I told him about about it. I don’t remember where I told him, but I told him. I said Mr. Coley Mr. Cook said you gave him these rails, and he said no he didn’t. Cook had done moved the rails. I was aiming to have the line run. I went to have the lines turned out. I knew the fence was off the line for maybe 25 years. I never have had it run. I didn’t advise Mr. Coley to have it run. I showed Mr. Coley lines and corners, because he asked me to go around with him. I told him at the time it was my land. I didn’t tell Coley he would get Cook’s tobacco barn. I told him the line would strike the tobacco barn. It was on my side. There had been a division since then. He had alreday told me that Hagans had sold him the land, he wanted to know the land between me and him. He said, “Let’s go all around and we went with two more men. I told him it was my land. He asked me why didn’t I stir it while it was hot. He said not to let it get cold, do it now. I gave Peele & Copeland a lien on this land for $420. for supplies etc. I owed for supplies last year and for now. I have a statement of how much I owed him. He had crop lien as security last year. I paid him some. I owed him about $300 together with the mule claim and cow, they amounted to about $200 or $300. I gave him a note for $420. I bought the mule from Mr. Pat Coley. He stood for me. That was put in the Peele & Copeland mortgage. They took up my claim for Mr. Pat Coley. I gave them a mortgage for $420.
To be continued.