Ira Berlin died this week. His Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (1974) helped me make sense of the lives of my Henderson, Aldridge, Artis, Hagans and Seaberry ancestors, whose free status I had never suspected — or perhaps even heard of — when I began genealogical research. When I veered toward a Ph.D. in American History after law school, Professor Berlin tried to convince me to come to the University of Maryland. I chose Columbia University instead, though it pained me to miss an opportunity to study under him.
One of the earliest of the many sweet surprises my genealogical research has uncovered is that I am distant cousin to a close college friend, Lorna Dove. Lorna is descended from Durant Dove, alias Durant Henderson, whose mother, Nancy Henderson, I believe to have been the sister of my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Patsy Henderson.
I met Lorna’s father Milton Dove in the days leading up to our graduation from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. I knew of his tremendous work as a community activist in Kinston and was proud to claim a bit of kinship with him.
Today, I learned that Mr. Dove passed away last week at the age of 93. My deepest condolences go to the Dove family, who shared their father with so many for such good. Rest in peace, Milton Dove!
“KINSTON – On December 12, 1923, Milton Bickett Dove Sr. was born to Hosea and Rosella Dove on the family farm in the Woodington area of Lenoir County, North Carolina. He was a lifelong resident of Lenoir County having attended the public school system and graduating as valedictorian from Adkin High School in 1941. He passed away peacefully at his home on October 26, 2017. He met and married Mary Frances Mills on March 29, 1942 after which they moved to Kinston staying first in the Mitchell Wooten Courts Housing Projects, then in Lincoln City, and finally on Beech Avenue. Together they raised five children, Velma, Milton Jr., Kaye, Timber, and Lorna. Milton opened Dove’s Auto Service in 1946 and made many real estate investments. With the support of his wife Frances, he was able to pursue his life’s passion, community service. He worked with the Boy Scouts of America serving as scout master for many years, participated in Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Black Artist Guild, and the Greater Kinston Credit Union. The family frequently joked about the fact that he served as president of the elementary school PTA long after his children had left the school. In 1976 when the Lenoir County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established, he was elected as the branch president. He was an NAACP Golden Heritage Lifetime Member and encouraged everyone to join as a lifetime member. While branch president, school desegregation was a primary initiative, however they also fought to eliminate discriminatory employment practices and spearheaded a voter registration drive. The NAACP presented him with many awards as he worked on the county, conference, and state levels. Throughout his life, he worked against Jim Crow Laws and upon discerning that they understood and accepted the risks associated with public protests, he encouraged his children to stand up for social justice. He successfully sued the Kinston School District for conducting a separate but unequal education system. The lawsuit resulted in a court-ordered integration plan resulting in his daughter Lorna’s enrollment in the previously “whites only” Northwest Elementary School. Prior to that, his daughter Kaye was one of the first black student enrollees in Grainger High School under the Freedom of Choice Plan. Attending the March on Washington in 1963 along with a bus load of other community activists was one of his fondest memories. Also being an ardent supporter and admirer of Nelson Mandela, in 1997 he visited South Africa and toured Mandela’s home in Soweto and the place of his 27-year imprisonment, Robbins Island. The trip to South Africa was truly a high light of his life. He was predeceased by his wife, Mary Frances; brothers, Wiley, Jarrell, King David; and sister, Ella Gray. He is survived by his sister, Eva Mae and brother, Alvin (Crystal) as well as five children, Velma Dove (Brian), Milton Jr., Kaye Jackson (James), Timber Washington (Lester), and Lorna Mills Dove (Daniel) along with a host of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. The funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, November 1 at the United American Free Will Baptist Tabernacle, 1011 Dr. J.E. Reddick Circle, Kinston, NC. Burial will follow in Mills Memorial Gardens. A wake will be held from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, October 31, at Mills Funeral Home. Viewing will be held one hour prior to the service Wednesday at the church. Arrangements are by Mills Funeral Home, Inc. Sign the guest book at kinston.com.”
In which my great-great-grandfather John W. Aldridge and African-American lawyer George T. Wassom split the tiny Republican voter turnout in a race for a seat in the state House of Representatives.
Wilmington Morning Star, 16 November 1894.
Remarks at a mass meeting of the “straight out” Republicans, including those of my great-great-grandfather John W. Aldridge:
Goldsboro Daily Argus, 26 September 1894.
Napoleon Octavius “Doc” Artis was the oldest son of Adam T. Artis and Frances Seaberry Artis.
In the 1870 census of Holden, Wayne County: Adam Artices, black farmer, wife Francis and children Kerney, Noah, Mary J., Idar, Octavia, Elizer, Vicey, George A., and Adam. Adam reported owning $200 personal property and $300 real property. In Nahunta township, there was a duplicate listing: farmer Adam Artis, wife Francis, and children Kenney, Noah, Mary J., Jaden, Tavious, Elizar, Vicy, George A., and Adam. In Nahunta, the family appears next door to Adam’s brother-in-law and sister John and Zilpha Artis Wilson.
In the 1880 census of Nahunta township, Wayne County: farmer Adam Artis, 48, and children Eliza, 15, Dock, 17, George Anna, 13, Adam, 12, Haywood, 10, Emma, 8, Walter, 6, William, 4, and Jesse, 2, and grandson Frank, 4 months. (Frances died shortly after Jesse’s death.)
On 10 January 1887, Napoleon Artis married Sallie Taylor in Wayne County.
In the 1900 census of Saulston, Wayne County: farmer Napolion Artis, 37, wife Salie, 29, and children Humphrey, 12, Lesley, 8, and Odel, 6, plus his grandfather Aaron Sebery, 85 [father of Frances Seaberry Artis, often called Frances Hagans], and his brother Jesse, 23.
Tragedy struck soon after. As reported in the Goldsboro Headlight on 3 January 1903:
On Christmas day, Humphrey Artist, the 18 year-old son of Dock Artis, colored, was shot and killed by William Smith, also colored, in Saulston township. The latter claims the shooting accidental but the coroner’s jury pronounces it criminal neglect. Smith was promptly arrested and brought here to be jailed.
In the 1910 census of Saulston, Wayne County: on Goldsboro & Snow Hill Road, Napoleon Artist, 46, with wife Sallie J., 35, and children Leslie, 18, and Odel, 15. Next door: Celepus Thompson, 23, wife Lillie, 20, and daughter Jenettie, 5 months. [Lillie was Napoleon’s half-sister. Two doors away: six year-old Lula Shadding, see below.]
On 21 January 1914, Lesly Artis, 22, son of Napoleon and Sallie Artis, married Minnie Diggs, 19, in Nahunta, Wayne County. Odell Artis of Saulston was a witness to the ceremony.
On 5 June 1917, both of Napoleon’s surviving sons registered for the World War I draft registration: Odell Artis, born 14 August 1893 in Wayne County; resided at RFD 1, Saulston, Wayne County; worked in farming; nearest relative, Napeon [sic] Artis, Saulston; single; medium height and weight; brown eyes, black hair. Leslie Artis, born 5 Feb 1892 in Wayne County; resided in Goldsboro; had a wife and two children; tall and slender; black hair, black eyes.
In the 1920 census of Saulston, Wayne County: Napoleon Artis, 57, wife Sallie, 45, and son Odell, 24. Napoleon reported owning his farm. Also in Saulston: Leslie Artis, 28, wife Minnie, 25, and daughters Gertie, 5, Alberta, 4, and Malave, 2.
On 4 December 1920, Lula Shadding, 19, of Saulston married Ed Fowler, 20, of Saulston at a Freewill Baptist church in Pikeville. Their license names Dock Artis and Minnie Shadding as Lula’s parents.
On 20 January 1921, Odell Artis, son of Napoleon and Sally Artis, married Olivia Diggs, daughter of Suler Diggs, in Wilson. Edgar Diggs applied for the license and served as one of the witnesses. (The marriage record mistakenly lists Napoleon as the groom.) By 1929, the couple had moved to Washington, D.C., and appear in city directories thereafter. Odell worked as a Pullman porter. [Lizzie Olivia Diggs Artis was a first cousin to Minnie Diggs Artis.]
Napoleon seems to have been skipped in the 1930 census. In Saulston township, Wayne County: farmer Lesley Artis, 37, wife Minnie, 35, and children Gurtie, 15, Alberta, 14, Mallie V., 13, Katheleen, 8, Sallie, 6, Russel, 4, and Marvin Artis, 2.
In the 1940 census of Saulston township, Wayne County: on Saulston and Snow Hill Road, Leslie Artis, 48, wife Minnie, 48, and children Mallie V., 21, Sally May, 15, Russell, 13, and Marvin, 12, and father Napoleon, 77.
On 16 April 1942, Napoleon Artis died in Saulston township. His death certificate reports that he was the widowed spouse of Sallie Artis, that he was born 28 Feb 1863 to Adam Artis and Frances Hagans of Wayne County, and that he was buried 18 April 1942 in Shadden Cemetery, Wayne County. Son Leslie Artis was the informant.
Napoleon’s will entered probate in September 1942. Written 17 years earlier, its terms bequeathed one 22-acre parcel in Wayne County [adjacent to Wheeler Thompson, father-in-law of his sister Lillie Beatrice Artis Thompson Whitley Pridgen] to son Odell and his remaining property in Wayne and Greene Counties to son Leslie. The explanation: Odell “has not lived with me, and has not assisted me in the payment of my indebtedness.”
Leslie Artis died 10 March 1974 at Wayne Memorial Hospital in Goldsboro. His death certificate notes that he was a retired farmer born 5 February 1892 to Napoleon Artis and Sallie Taylor. He was buried 13 March 1974 in Diggs cemetery, Wayne County. Informant was his daughter Gertie M. Best.
[The Francis Diggs Cemetery is located at 168 Watery Branch Road, Stantonsburg (but in Wayne County.) This was originally the family cemetery of Leslie’s wife Minnie Diggs Artis, who was descended from Celia Artis. Leslie’s family members buried there include wife Minnie D. Artis (1894-1970), daughter Alberta Artis Suggs (1916-2000), daughter Mallie V. Artis Hobbs (1918-2014), son-in-law Alonzo Shackleford (1921-1996), son Russell Lee Artis (1926-1963), and son Marvin “Doc” Artis (1927-1998).]
Minnie Diggs Artis
Ten A.M. After some nervous indecision, I’d parked in the driveway of a nearby farmhouse and was hustling up the road toward a tiny cemetery. The odor of cow dung was large. The crack of thunder at the horizon was larger. I arrived in Kokomo three days after catastrophic F3 tornadoes had ripped through, and I was not anxious to get caught out in the new storms racing across central Indiana. But I’d come 600 miles for this, and I wasn’t leaving before I got what I came for.
With his wife dead and nothing to hold them in Onslow County, North Carolina, James Henderson gathered up his children and pushed 60 miles northwest to Sampson County. There, James married Eliza Armwood and, about 1852, their first child was born. It does not take a great leap of imagination to picture my great-great-great-grandfather Lewis, oldest of James’ first bunch, cradling his baby sister Anna Jane in his arms or hoisting her to his shoulders in the years before his own children were born. Nor is it hard to conjecture his sense of loss when Anna left with her new husband Montraville Simmons to join his family in impossibly faraway Canada. She was the only one of James’ children to leave North Carolina, and she did so in a big way. The Simmonses eventually quit Ontario for Indiana, but, practically speaking, the Midwest was no closer to home. It’s not clear when Anna last saw any of her people, but it’s a sure bet that none ever visited Cass County, and not a one has ever visited her grave.
Thus, I found myself navigating the grid of backroads between Logansport and Kokomo, one eye on the western sky as bands of rain lashed my windshield. Properly speaking, I was not headed to Anna’s actual grave, for it is unmarked. But to stand in Bassett cemetery would be close enough.
I was reminded of this cohabitation:
In the 1850 census of South Side of Neuse, Wayne County, North Carolina: farmer Calvin Simmons, 42, wife Hepsey, 46, and children Harriet, 13, Susan, 11, Montrival, 9, Jno. R., 7, Margaret, 5, Dixon, 3, and Geo. W., 1, plus Robt. Aldridge, 26, who worked as a hireling. Calvin was born in Sampson County, Robert in Duplin; the others in Wayne.
This, of course, is the family of Montraville Simmons, recorded in the last census before they emigrated to Kent County, Ontario. Who was my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Aldridge to John Calvin Simmons and his wife Hepsie Dixon Simmons? A farmhand? A boarder? A poor relative? At this point, I know nothing of Robert’s parents, so I am intrigued.