Births Deaths Marriages, Migration, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Rest in peace, Alice Henderson Mabin (1920-2017).

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Cousin Zeke in 2013, age 93.

I happened to be in Wilson when the news came. Cousin Zeke had passed peacefully at the age of 97.

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Cousin Zeke at right, with sister Bessie and their father Jack, circa late 1920s.

Alice “Zeke” Henderson Mabin was born 22 January 1920 in Wilson to Jesse “Jack” Henderson and Pauline Artis Henderson. Despite their ten-year age gap, she and my grandmother were close pals in the years before Zeke relocated to Norfolk, Virginia — where she met husband Joseph W. Mabin — and eventually Baltimore, Maryland.

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Cousin Zeke in front of the family’s home on East Vance Street in the early 1940s, with sister Doris Henderson Ward behind.

Cousin Zeke returned to Wilson four years ago as her health began to fail. She had no children, but was well-loved by her many nieces, nephews and cousins.

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Right to left: Cousin Zeke, her husband Joe, and her sisters Bessie Henderson Smith and Mildred Henderson Hall in Mildred’s den on Queen Street in Wilson.

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Sisters Zeke and Bessie on their sister Mildred’s porch, 1986.

 

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Births Deaths Marriages, Migration, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia

Cousin Dollie.

Said my grandmother:

The house where Dollie, Cousin Min’s sister, lived, well, they had gone to Goldsboro to live.  I think.  First they were living in Mount Olive, then Dudley.  She married Yancey Musgrave. He was a brown-skinned man. And Dollie used to visit, too.  She had asthma real bad.  And she used to come home and have to sit up.   You had to take a quilt and fold it up and put it up in the bed for her to sit up on.  ‘Cause she couldn’t lay down.  She couldn’t breathe. I don’t know what become of Dollie. Her and Cousin Min’s mama was Ann Elizabeth.  Mama Sarah’s sister.  They had a brother named Daniel.  Yeah.  Daniel.  Daniel, he lived, he come to Wilson and stayed with us a while, and then went back to Goldsboro.  Got married anyway and had a whole bunch of children.  And come up to …  I believe he come up to Baltimore.  And he had a whole lot of children.

I’ve written of Daniel Simmons and Minnie Simmons Budd here. With Annie C. “Dollie” Simmons Musgrave, they were the only children of Ann Elizabeth Henderson Simmons to live to adulthood. My grandmother’s “Mama” was their aunt Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver. Her mother Bessie was their first cousin.

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Annie C. “Dollie” Simmons Musgrave, perhaps in Norfolk.

Dollie Simmons Musgrave died in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1946 after a battle with cervical cancer. (She apparently had remarried to a Green — she and Yancey divorced? — but I do not know who, where or when. Her death certificate erroneously lists her mother as Annie Green, rather than Henderson.)

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Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

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Migration, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Citizenship.

Were the Henderson-Simmonses American or Canadian?

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I have not been able to find naturalization records for any, and the evidence available points in conflicting directions. One by one:

Montraville Simmons, Sr. — Despite what the 1910 census enumerator recorded, Montraville was certainly born in the U.S. to American parents. It is also likely that he “immigrated” back into the U.S. long before 1895, and it is not clear why he would have naturalized, unless he renounced his citizenship as a young man. (Canada was a British colony until 1867.)

Anna Henderson Simmons — As the evidence consistently reflects, Anna was born in NC. She was American. Her obituary stated: “Mrs. Simmons was … born in North Carolina. For fifteen years she lived in Canada, where her five children were born.” That is likely inaccurate.

Elizabeth Simmons — This daughter only appears in the 1881 Canada census. She was born about the same time as daughter Moncy and, though the names are not the least similar, may in fact be the same person.

Moncy Simmons Bassett Palmer — Moncy is not listed in the 1881 Canada census in which Elizabeth appears. In U.S. censuses, her birth place is generally consistent, with 1910 as an exception. She provided no information about immigration or naturalization to censustakers.

Doctor T. Simmons — Dock was born in Ontario and consistently provided Canada as his birthplace in records. However, there is conflict about when he immigrated, and neither 1874 nor 1880 seems accurate. If he naturalized in 1917, where is the record?

Susan Simmons Bassett — Susie consistently is described as U.S.-born.

Montraville Simmons, Jr. — Montraville Jr. was also born in Ontario.

James R. Simmons — This son only appears in the 1900 census, was born about the same time as Edward, and was probably, in fact, Edward.

Edward R. Simmons — Edward was also born in Ontario. His World War I draft registration card notes that he gained citizenship when his father was naturalized before Ed turned 21. The 1930 census states that he immigrated in 1900, but that is surely wrong. His obituary says that he lived in Kokomo from the time he was seven years old, which implies that he arrived in the U.S. about 1890.

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Business, Migration, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Restaurateur, litigant, race man.

I was running some random Google searches when I ran across this Howard University yearbook entry. Charles C. Coley, class of 1930, was the son of Mack D. and Hattie Wynn Coley, grandson of Frances Aldridge Wynn, and great-grandson of J. Matthew Aldridge.

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In the 1910 census of Brogden township, Wayne County: school teacher and widower Mack D. Coley, 45, and children Blonnie B., 12, Blanche U., 10, Charlie C., 7, and Rosevelt, 5, and great-aunt Kattie, 74.

In the 1920 census of Mount Olive, Brodgen township, Wayne County: on Rail Road Street, teacher Mack D. Coley, 54; wife Lillie, 40, teacher; and children Blonnie, 22, teacher; Blanche, 20;  Charley, 17; Rosevelt, 15; and Harold, 2.

In the 1930 census of Washington, D.C.: at 70 Que Street, Northwest, Charles Coley, 26, and wife Harriett, 20, lodgers in the household of Oscar J. Murchison. Charles worked as a lunchroom waiter. Harriett was a native of Hawaii. They divorced before long, and Charles married Frances Elizabeth Masciana (1920-2010), the District-born daughter of an Italian immigrant father and an Italian-African American mother.

During the 1930s, Great Depression be damned, Coley began to build his entertainment and culinary empires, which eventually came together under C.C. Coley Enterprises, headquartered on U Street, D.C.’s Black Broadway. He rented jukeboxes to establishments across the city and owned several barbecue restaurants and other businesses in Northwest D.C. (More than a few Wayne County home folk newly arrived to the District got jobs working in Coley businesses.) On 16 December 1939, the Pittsburgh Courier screamed “Charge ‘Sabotage’ in Music Box Scandal” over a story whose heading was longer than its column inches.

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Coley was unfazed by this dust-up. In 1942, he was able to place an ad in Howard University’s yearbook touting several of his enterprises, the Hollywood Tavern, the Varsity Grill, the New University Pharmacy, the Pig ‘N Pit, and Northwest Amusement Company Records.

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In 1942, C.C. put his financial weight behind the Capital Classic, an early fall match-up between black college football teams that anchored black D.C.’s fall social calendar. The Washington Post, in articles published 30 October 1980 and 9 September 1994, described the Classic’s genesis this way:

“Begun in 1942 by now-retired businessmen Charles C. Coley, Jerry Coward and Jessie Dedman, who were later joined by attorney Ernest C. Dickson, the Classic was a black business community extravaganza. From their offices on then fashionable U Street, the entrepreneurs founded the Capital Classic, Ltd. company to lure the interest and dollars of D.C.’s thousands of “colored” fans away from the professional teams which wouldn’t employ or seat blacks properly, and return those dollars to the black college teams.”

“The Classic offered the community, according to one of the printed programs, ‘. . . a massive arena where the radiant beauty of Negro women, who for so long, where beauty is concerned, have been in the shadows — shaded by the accepted Nordic ideal can move proudly to stage center and radiate the bronze charm that will always be the heritage of women of color.'”

Coley was also an early civil rights activist. His financial backing enabled trailblazer Hal Jackson break into D.C. radio, and an op-ed piece in the 14 April 1943 edition of the Pittsburgh Courier gave details of more direct action. Angered by the difficulty he had catching cabs in Washington, Coley contacted the Urban League with a proposal. He would pay the salary for a man to work full-time tracking instances of discrimination by cabbies. “Mr. Coley has these taxicab drivers who pass up passengers, white or colored, at the Union Station or anywhere else in the city, fighting for their licenses.” The city’s Public Utilities Commission was shamed into putting its own spotters on the street. “Discrimination is being met a knockout blow — not by what Mr. Coley said, but what he did. … This story is … being passed along for the benefit of some Negroes who, in similar situations, never think of putting their money where their mouth is.”

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Baltimore Afro-American, 13 November 1948.

Despite the photo op above, the Classic soon met difficulties behind-scenes. Coley withdrew temporarily from active promotion in 1945, and Dr. Napoleon Rivers replaced him as guarantor. Quickly, according to a federal lawsuit, Rivers began to “usurp control” and failed to pay Coley’s partners their shares. In ’47, he even set up a rival match — the National Classic — at Griffin Stadium. (For details, see the 23 October 1948 edition of the New York Age.  The National Classic, by the way, moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1954 and morphed into the C.I.A.A. football championship game. See the Pittsburgh Courier, 23 October 1954.) The Classic recovered and prospered until fading away in the 1960s.

Charles C. Coley died 11 April 1986 in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.

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C.C. Coley’s Pig ‘N Pit Restaurant at 6th and Florida Avenue, Washington DC. This undated Scurlock Studios image is found in Box 618.04.75, Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Migration, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Family cemeteries, no. 19: Mount Hope cemetery, Logansport, Indiana.

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Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 3 November 1951.

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Logansport Press, 11 November 1951.

Fifty years after they married, Dock Simmons buried his beloved wife Fannie at Mount Hope cemetery at the northern edge of Logansport. The week after her death, her sisters joined him in publishing thanks to all who had expressed condolences for their loss. The notice is my last glimpse of Dock.

My first thought when I found the headstone above was: “How sad. There was no one left — no siblings, no children — to etch in Dock’s death date.” My second: “Wait. Is Dock even buried here?”

Curiously, I have not been able to find Dock’s death certificate. He does not appear to have died in Indiana, whose death certificates are available online through 2011. Where, then? Did he spend his last years with one of Fannie’s sisters? (The Simmonses had sheltered Fannie’s mother and brother.) Perhaps with her nieces or nephews? (He had only one, Harold.)

I sent an inquiry to Mount Hope and received an immediate response from its sexton: “I am sorry to say that there is no indication that Doc Simmons is here.”

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Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, Migration, Paternal Kin

Indiana Chronicles, no. 2: To pay respects.

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.

 

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Free People of Color, Land, Migration, Paternal Kin

Indiana Chronicles, no. 1: East half and Northwest quarter of Section 29, Township 27 North, Range 1 East.

On 10 April 1900, Montraville Simmons and Dock Simmons of Howard County, Indiana, paid $6000 to the heirs of Israel Watts for this real estate:

Beginning at the North-west corner of said Section; thence West Twenty-eight -28- chains and Eighty-two -82- links to a stone; thence South Twenty-eight -28- chains and Seventy-one -71-links to a stone on the North Bank of the Wabash and Erie Canal; thence Westwardly along the North line of the Wabash and Erie Canal Eighteen -18- chains and Sixty-three -63- links to the East line of the Public Highway; thence South eastwardly along the East line of the Public Highway to the North Bank of the Wabash River; thence Eastwardly along the North line or meanderings of said Wabash River to the East line of said Section Twenty-nine -29-; thence North along the East line of said Section to the place of beginning, containing in said tract One Hundred and thirty-eight -138- acres, more or less.

Excepting from the Warranty the Wabash and Erie Canal and the P.C.C. and St.L.R.R. Co. right-of-way.

The decade that the family held the “Old Watts Farm” was a non-stop circus of squabbling with neighbors, domestic abuse and ruinous mortgages. (More on all that later.) In the middle of it all, Anna Henderson Simmons lay her burden down. After a few years tied up in Anna’s probate, and the deaths of Montraville Sr. and Jr., the property passed out of the Simmonses’ hands.

Astonishingly, though, the parcel is largely intact. Here it is in an undated (but perhaps mid 1930s) Cass County, Indiana Plat Book and Atlas, found at the Cass County Public Library:

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And a 1951 map of Cass County prepared by Charles D. Murphy, Cass County surveyor (also found at the library):

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And an up-to-date county plat map hanging in the Cass County Recorder’s Office:

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And in a screen-capture from Google Maps:

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Highway 24 cuts across the bottom of the property running alongside the railroad (formerly owned by Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & Saint Louis Railroad.) It’s difficult to tell where the canal once ran. Presently, there’s no road off 24 leading into the Simmons farm. However, if, headed west, you hang a sharp left onto Georgetown Road, you’ll pass under the railroad trestle and, on the left as the road curves to follow the Wabash River, you’ll see a private driveway that leads into what was Montreville’s riverfront. (Now occupied by Morels on the Wabash, offering cabins and campsites.)

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Looking across Highway 24 to the trestle over Georgetown Road. The land stretching away to the left (east) was Montreville Simmons’.

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The Wabash River looking west.

Metes and bounds set forth in deed (that I copied, but neglected to write down the book and page numbers for), Cass County Recorder’s Office; photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2016.

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