Births Deaths Marriages, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Politics, Religion, Virginia

Henry Edward Hagans.

The second oldest of Napoleon Haganssons, Henry Edward Hagans was born in 1868 near Fremont, Wayne County. (Napoleon was the half-brother of my great-great-great-grandmother, Frances Seaberry Artis.) His mother was Apsilla “Appie” Ward Hagans. He and his brother William S. Hagans (then called “Snowbee”) appear with their parents in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. Little is known about their childhood, but it would have been one of relative and increasing comfort as their father’s landholdings expanded. Henry and William attended local elementary schools, then left home to enter the preparatory division of Howard University in Washington, DC. Henry returned to North Carolina to attend college at Shaw University in Raleigh, graduating in 1890.

HAGANS -- Henry Hagans Photo

Henry in his teens, probably as a young collegian at Shaw.

Most of what we know about Henry’s life is gleaned from numerous mentions in newspaper articles resulting from his social, professional, civic and political career. To call him an active man is an understatement. While still in college, he hit the ground running and slowed only in the last few years of his life, when ill health may have dampened his passions. What follows is a narrative built largely from his public life. The portrait is incomplete, but reveals a remarkable man nonetheless.

On 11 November 1885, the Raleigh News & Observer carried a glowing review of the “Colored Fair,” an annual exhibition convened by the North Carolina Industrial Association. The fair opened with a procession of the Association’s marshals, followed by their assistants, including H.E. Hagans of Fremont, who was only about 17 years old. NCIA, founded in 1879, was an organization of African-American civic leaders, founded “to encourage and promote the development of the industrial and educational resources of the colored people of North Carolina.” Governor Starks “spoke of his great surprise at the extent and merit of this the first colored fair he ever attended. He was really amazed to see what progress the colored people had made in twenty years. In that time he said they had really become a race ….”

On 6 November 1888, the New Bern Daily Journal announced that stockholders of the Eastern North Carolina Stock and Industrial Association had elected officers, including H.E. Hagans — then 20 — as chief marshal.

On 10 May 1890, the Washington Bee, an African-American newspaper in the nation’s capitol, noted in a “Personals” column that “Mr. H.E. Hagans of Tremont [sic], N.C. is in the city on a visit.” (The two entries preceding Henry’s notice detailed the travels of former U.S. senator Blanche Kelso Bruce and Congressman John Mercer Langston.)

In about 1892, Henry married Julia B. Morton, daughter of Andrew and Mary Morton of Danville, Virginia. Andrew Morton was a prosperous barber and entrepreneur. The nomination form for historic place registration for Danville’s Mechanicsville district notes: “Another freedman, Andrew Morton, built 543 Monroe Street ca. 1882. Morton became a successful barber and prominent member of the black community, helping to establish Calvary Baptist Church in 1892.” Images of America: Danville Revisited, a photographic history of this southwest Virginia city, includes photographs and brief bios of Andrew and Mary Morton. Henry and Julia may have met through connections at Howard — she graduated from the school’s Normal Department in 1888. Henry’s listing as a teacher in North Danville in the Virginia State Superintendent’s Report for School Years 1891-2 and 1892-3 reveals that the couple lived briefly in Danville before settling permanently in Fremont, then Goldsboro.

HAGANS -- Julia Hagans

Julia B. Morton Hagans.

On 15 September 1892, the Goldsboro Weekly Argus trumpeted big news: “The State Colored Normal School opened in this city yesterday, of which Prof. H.E. Hagans, son of Napoleon Hagans, one of the most respected and prosperous colored men in the State, from the Fremont section, has recently been elected principal.  The ARGUS is glad to note his election.  He merited the preferment, and we wish the school all success under his administration.” According to an article in the Colored American, see below, Henry left this position to become Chair of English at A&M College in Greensboro (now North Carolina A&T State University).

On 31 July 1893, Julia Hagans gave birth to Henry’s only child, son Earle Morton Hagans, in Danville.

Henry’s mother Appie died in 1895, and his father almost exactly one year later. Under the terms of Napoleon Hagans’ will, Henry and his brother William divided the estate equally.

On 26 June 1897, the Raleigh Gazette noted that “Prof. H.E. Hagans of Fremont” was an attendee at the North Carolina State Teachers Association’s 16th annual session at Shaw University.

On 23 October 1897, the Raleigh Gazette reported on the closing exercises of the city school of Eureka, whose “able corps of teachers” included Prof. George W. Reid, Mrs. H.E. Hagans and Miss Elnora S. Ferrell. After devotional exercises, students were examined — revealing “an amount of familiarity with the subjects taught very seldom witnessed in the average school of this kind” — then a “sumptuous repast” was served. (In fact, “the best dinner ever given in Eureka.”)

On 20 November 1897, the short-lived Wilson (NC) Blade noted in “Fremont Items,” that “Professor Henry E. Hagans made a flying trip to Goldsboro last Saturday and returned last Sunday.  While here he visited the Sunday school and delivered an elegant address.” After closing exercises were over, several distinguished persons spoke, including “Prof. H.E. Hagans, formerly an instructor in the A.&M. College, Greensboro.”

On 30 May 1898, the Goldsboro Daily Argus announced:


This was surely 501 East Elm Street, a corner address just across the street and slightly northeast of Willow Dale, the cemetery for Goldsboro’s white residents. (The “big ditch” is still there.) There is a house on the lot today, but it dates from no earlier than the mid-20th century. Sanborn maps from the era show a large two-story dwelling.

On 25 June 1898, the Colored American, a Washington, DC, newspaper, noted that: “Mr. H.E. Hagans of Goldsboro, N.C., and a brother of Mr. W.S. Hagans, secretary to Hon. George H. White, was in the city for a few days last week. He is a splendid specimen of the superior young men of the race in North Carolina.” Henry previously had been White’s secretary.

On 27 June 1898, Henry and his wife “J.B.” were official witnesses at the marriage of his 27 year-old brother William Hagans and Lizzie E. Burnett, 23. The ceremony, conducted by Rev. Clarence Dillard, took place in the Nahunta district of Wayne County, probably at William’s home. Neighbor J.D. Reid was an additional witness.

By his late 20s, Henry was thick in the middle of local Republican politics. Coverage of African-American politicians in Goldsboro newspapers was snarky at best and crudely racist the rest of the time. A 20 September 1898 Weekly Argus article was typical, snidely mocking the elocution of black speakers and jabbing at their decorum. The point of the coverage — an agreement between black and white factions of the party concerning the nomination of a county ticket — arrives late in the piece, and there we learn that Professor Henry E. Hagans gained the chairmanship of Wayne County’s Republican executive committee.

On 9 Nov 1898, Daniel Vick and wife Fannie of Wilson NC executed to Henry E. Hagans of Goldsboro a promissory note for $400 with interest after maturity at 6% and payable 9 Feb 1899.  If Vick defaulted, Hagans would sell at public auction two lots on Church Street and Barefoot Road in Wilson.  The deed was registered and filed in Wilson County on 16 Apr 1903 in deed book 66, page 236.  A handwritten note on the entry: “The within papers transferred to S.H. Vick this the 6th day of May AD 1899 /s/ H.E. Hagans”  Another note: “This mortgage is satisfied in full by taking taking a new mortgage and is hereby cancelled 4 Dec 1903 /s/ S.H. Vick”  Samuel H. Vick, Daniel’s son, was turn-of-the-nineteenth-century black Wilson’s most prominent citizen and was active with George H. White and Henry Hagans in Republican politics.

On 21 March 1899, the nearly 476 acres comprising the bulk of Napoleon Hagans’ estate was divided between his sons. Parcels included two tracts in Nahunta township containing 173 and 48 acres; a tract containing 3 acres; two tracts containing 75 ¾ and 6 acres; three tracts containing 39 ¼, 30 and 8 1/3 acres; a tract containing 4 1/8 acres; a tract containing 25 acres; a tract containing 9 ¼ acres; a tract containing 24 acres; and a tract containing 30 acres.

On 21 July 1899, the Fayetteville Observer reported that “[t]he Summer School of Methods, which opened in this city on the 10th inst., for the benefit of colored teachers, closed its labors last night with an interesting programme.” The article noted that 183 teachers from 17 counties attended the school, and faculty included “Prof. E.E. Smith, the efficient conductor, Prof. Edward Evans, Prof. Emma J. Council, Profs. J.W. Byrd and G.W. Herring, Dr. R.S. Rives, Rev. W.M. Jackson, Supt. J.I. Foust, and Profs. H.E. Hagans and J.W. Woody.”

The following month, the Goldsboro Headlight reported that Henry Hagans had been selected for jury duty at the September term of court.

The Raleigh Morning Post carried pleasant coverage of commencement exercises at Goldsboro’s Colored State Normal School and credited Henry Hagans and his assistants, Ed. Williams and C.A. Whitehead, for an “excellent system of training.”

On 5 April 1900, the Goldsboro Weekly Argus cheerfully chronicled the “sorry plight” of the county’s Republican party, a mostly white faction of which was in open revolt against chairman Hagans. The white Republicans were “sick and sore” of Hagans and refused to attend a committee meeting he called. In their absence, delegates to the state and Congressional conventions were selected, with African-Americans gained the primo latter. Dark hints were thrown that “Czar Hagans” must have taken money for his brazen actions as, whatever the law, “public sentiment was opposed to negroes filling offices over white people.” The problem, railed a white Republican, was “educated negroes,” who wanted only to teach school, preach or engage in politics.

The same day, the Raleigh Morning Post published a letter from H.E. Hagans, coldly furious in his defense of his actions and honor:


Exactly one month later, the Colored American‘s “Political Horoscope” column ignored the kerfuffle to record Henry’s rise in party leadership: “At the convention of the second district of North Carolina held at Tarboro April 26, Congressman George H. White and H.E. Hagans were chosen to the Philadelphia convention.”

In the 1900 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County, in Ward 2, Henry E. Hagans, born September 1867, is listed with wife Julia A., born July 1869, and son Earl, born September 1892.  Henry owned his home; no occupation listed. Earl is also listed 135 miles away in Danville, living with his Morton grandparents. This is, perhaps, the first clue that the boy was not following in his father’s footsteps.

Henry’s own steps were a little shaky in 1900. At the September term of Superior Court, judge W.S. Robinson entered a judgment against him in the matter of The Bank of Wayne vs. H.E Hagans: “It appearing to the County  that the Summons herein was duly served on the defendant the 10 days before the beginning of this term, and that a verified complaint was duly filed herein on the 4th day of Sept 1900 and  that the defendant has failed to appear and answer or demur to the complaints; It is thereupon on motion of Aycock & Daniels, attorneys for plaintiff considered and adjudged by the court, that the plaintiff, The Bank of Wayne, recover of the defendant H.E. Hagans, the sum of Three Hundred and Eighteen and 45/100 ($318.45) dollars of which Three Hundred ($300) dollars is principal and Eighteen and 45/100 ($18.45) dollars is interest, together with the costs of this action to be taxed by the clerk.”

On 19 March 1901, the Wilmington Messenger ran a story about an 18 year-old Goldsboro mulatto man arrested for stealing mail. Andrew C. Alexander, “an attache of the postoffice,” turned to Henry Hagans to stand surety for Alexander’s $200 bond.

On 19 April 1901, per the Raleigh News & Observer, Henry addressed the annual meeting of the alumni association during commencement week at Shaw University.

In 1902, H.E. Hagans, age 34, registered to vote in Wayne County under the state’s grandfather clause. He named Napoleon Hagans as his qualifying ancestor. (His brother William named their maternal grandfather, a white physician named David G.W. Ward.)

On 3 April 1902, the Charlotte Observer printed the following letter:


The News & Observer covered the “negro mass meeting,” attended by about 150 men from 18 counties, on 16 April. The purpose of the gathering, headed by elected president Henry Hagans was “to discuss the status of the negro as an officeholder in the Republican party and to devise plans to make his power felt by the white Republicans his votes had elevated to power.” Senator J.C. Pritchard came in for especially harsh criticism. An appointed committee, which included Henry’s brother William, devised an address to the colored people of North Carolina that encouraged sober respectability, self-respect, home ownership, support of “race enterprises,” payment of poll taxes, country living, loyalty and thrift, while pointedly remarking upon pressing issues such as jury discrimination, Jim Crow laws, and the need for accountability from elected officials.

On 31 January 1903, the Colored American shone a spotlight on Goldsboro, “a progressive little town of 8000 inhabitants. It is historic,” it claimed, “for the peaceful relations existing between the races. The chief occupation of its people is trucking. Yet we have negroes who are rapidly forging their way to the front along all industrial lines. Our people own thousands of acres of forming land, as well as excellent city property….  Prof. H.E. Hagans, the principal of our State Normal School and also a farmer, is worth $20,000. Mr. W.S. Hagans, who is one of the most successful agriculturalists, is worth $20,000. …”

On 9 May 1903, the Colored American, “Mr. H.E. Hagans, formerly an attaché of the office of the Recorder of Deeds, and later private secretary to Congressman George H. White, is now principal of the Colored State Normal School of Goldsboro NC.  This office is in receipt of a unique invitation to attend the Commencement Exercises of this school Friday, the eighth, instant.” This is the only mention I have found of Henry’s service under Tarboro’s John C. Dancy, see below.

On 19 September 1903, the Colored American, “Prof. H.E. Hagans, of Goldsboro NC, who is principal of the public schools of that city and an extensive farmer and real estate owner, spent a few hours in the city last week, the guest of Hon. John C. Dancey [sic], recorder of deeds.  Mr. Hagans is a prominent Pythian and attended the conclave held in Baltimore last week.  He is one of the coming men of his State.”

On 24 September 1904, as Henry’s political career perhaps reached its crest, the Colored American paid him homage with a full front-page feature:

HE_Hagans_Colored_American_9_24_1904 (1)

“Educator, orator and scholar.”

On 10 July 1907, the Charlotte Observer‘s coverage of recent state legislative activity noted that the body approved a charter for the Southern Fidelity Life Insurance Company “to do also a health industrial and sick benefit business” and named J.E. Shepard, John C. Dancy and H.E. Hagans among the shareholders. Three days later, Greensboro’s Daily Industrial News announced the close of the Negro State Inter-Denominational Sunday School Convention. Henry E. Hagans had been elected secretary of the organization.

Henry played no direct role in the Wayne County Superior Court proceedings in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis (1908), a dispute over 30 acres of land.  Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from W.J. Exum.  In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold it to Napoleon Hagans.  In 1896, after his death, the land passed to Napoleon’s sons Henry and William.  William S. Hagans gained the 30 acres in partition and, in 1908, sold it to J.F. Coley.  Coley filed suit when Tom Artis laid claim to it, arguing that Napoleon had sold it to him.  At trial, William testified that his father was in feeble health in 1896 when he called him and his brother Henry together “under the cart shelter” to tell them he would not live long and did not know to whom the land would fall.  William testified that Pole asked them to let “Pig” stay on as long as he paid rent, and they promised to do so.

In the fall of 1908, the Haganses attempted a new tack with Earle, sending him to Indianapolis to live with his uncle/cousin Dr. Joseph H. Ward. The Indianapolis Freeman informed all that Earl was to  attend school in the city and that he was “the son of Prof. H.E. Hagans of Goldsboro, N.C., who is the head of one of the oldest and most substantial families in North Carolina. The Hagans [sic] are relatives of Dr. J.H. Ward …” [Italics added; mythmaking at work….]

The 1910 census of Goldsboro lists Henry L. Higgins [sic], 38, public school teacher, wife Julie, 34, and son Earl, 14.  (The ages of everyone in the household were off by about 4 years.)  Henry and Julia had been married 18 years, and she reported one of two children living. Earl left home within a few years of this census. When he registered for the World War I draft in June 1917, he was living in Norfolk, Virginia, working as a hotel waiter and had a wife and child. He was described as a chauffeur in the 1920 census and was dead by 1930. His wife Sarah and son Earle Jr. survived him.

On 21 July 1910, the Greensboro Daily News reported that the negro Knights of Pythias had met in Wilmington and among “those prominent in public affairs attending the grand lodge” was Professor H.E. Hagans of Goldsboro.

The 1911-1912 Goldsboro City Directory lists “Hagans Henry E tchr h 501 Elm e” and “Hagans Julia B mgr Beneficial Millinery Co h 501 Elm e.” I have not been able to find any additional information on the millinery company.

On 18 July 1913, the New Berne Weekly Journal reported on the annual session of the North Carolina Grand Lodge of Colored Knights of Pythians at which H.E. Hagans was elected Grand Lecturer.

On 21 May 1915, the Williamston (NC) Enterprise reported on commencement exercises at the Higgs Roanoke Institute at Parmele. The several-day event included a speech by Henry E. Hagans to the Invincible Literary Society.

In July and August 1916, large advertisements ran in the Washington Bee recruiting members to the Royal Knights of King David, Old North State Fraternal Insurance Organization, touting its “unblemished record of 33 years” and warning that “the usual life of a negro organization is 20 years, and usually it is 20 years of internal strife and mismanagement — then the inevitable failure.” Not so with R.K.K.D., whose financial policy was “safe, sound and sane.” A week or so before the ads, a small article announced the arrival of  H.E. Hagans and R.E. Owens, staying at the home of the “well-known” Mr. and Mrs. John Doster of 1205 Tea Street northwest. As for Hagans and Owens, “these two well known representatives of North Carolina are not only well known to the editor of The Bee, but they are known to every North Carolinian as being men of the highest business integrity.”

Henry was not the only one to move about. The 15 June 1918 New York Age reported that Mrs. Henry E. Hagans had stopped in D.C. a few days after visiting her sister, Mrs. M.A. Galloway, and niece, Mrs. William Solomon, in New York City and her youngest sister, Mrs. Charles Reid, in Danville.

It’s not clear whether Earle Hagans served in the war. However, on 6 July 1918, the Washington Bee trumpeted the establishment by the Colored Auxiliary of the War Community Service Commission of the District of a “finely equipped recreation center” for colored soldiers, “filling a long-felt want.” “Temporarily the club room is in the charge of Mr. Henry E. Hagans.” The 13 July edition of the New York Age provided additional details about the center’s “dedicatory services.”

In the 1920 census of Goldsboro, still living in the Elm Street house: H.E. Hagans and wife J.B., both teachers.

On 2 August 1920, Henry contributed to the Bee a long feature article entitled “James E. Shepard, President of National Training School, A Great Benefactor/ Manual Training Center / My Visit to the Summer School of the National Training School, Durham, N.C., and Some of My Observations.” In the typically ornate language of the day, Henry penned a paean to “that indomitable leader Dr. Jas. E. Shepard.” “To tell the story of the rapid growth of this institution would be too long; it is full of romance, and its development has, indeed, been so wonderful that it is almost beyond mental conception.” Nonetheless, despite this challenge, Henry managed to wring out several dozen column inches of praise for this institution and its founder, “the most constructive genius of the Negro race today.” The National Training School is today North Carolina Central University.


This is the only photograph I have seen of Henry in late maturity. He is probably not many years away from death here, but the boy that was is still visible in his thick eyebrows and the abundance of curly black hair swept back from his brow. Henry wears his prosperity in the fullness of his smooth-shaved face and his pinstriped suit; my best guess is that the picture was taken in Goldsboro.

Henry Hagans Brother of Wm S Hagans

Henry Edward Hagans died 17 Mar 1926 in Goldsboro of myocarditis and an enlarged liver.  He was 58 years old. He was buried 19 March 1926 at Elmwood cemetery. Before she returned to Danville to live out her years, his wife erected this headstone in his memory:

HAGANS -- HE Hagans headstone

Family photos courtesy of W.E. Hagans and W.M. Moseley; photo of grave marker by Lisa Y. Henderson, 2013.

Sources: Federal census records; deeds, birth, marriage and death records, Wayne County Register of Deeds office; deeds, Wilson County Register of Deeds office; North Carolina State Archives; others as cited.

Civil War, Free People of Color, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics

He would be murdered if he did not cease.


Weekly Standard Raleigh 5 6 1868 Jacob Ing

Raleigh Weekly Standard, 6 May 1868.

Jacob Ing’s radical ideas surfaced well before Reconstruction. As made clear in his last will and testament, he had a long relationship with a free woman of color named Chaney Jones (also known as Hester or Easter Jones) and fathered several children for whom he provided. One, daughter Lucinda, was the first legal wife of my great-great-great-grandfather Adam T. Artis.

[Small world: Jacob Ing witnessed the last will and testament of Reubin Taylor of Nash and Edgecombe Counties and served as executor of the estate of Reubin’s sons Dempsey and Kinchen Taylor, who owned my great-great-grandparents.]

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Politics, Virginia

Misinformation Monday, no. 8.

The eighth in a series of posts revealing the fallability of records (or, in this case, secondary sources.)

My great-aunt Julia Allen Maclin told me that her grandfather Jasper Holmes‘ brother, Joseph R. Holmes, a politician, was shot and killed at Charlotte Court House, Virginia. Before I found contemporaneous newspaper articles detailing the murder, I had only a couple of brief mentions in scholarly works to establish his death date. The accounts varied so widely as to be completely irreconcilable.

First, in Luther P. Jackson’s Negro Office-Holders in Virginia 1865-1895, published in 1945:

Joseph R. Holmes, Constitutional Convention, 1867-68, Charlotte and Halifax. SHOEMAKER. Born a slave in Charlotte County. Was hired out by his master to engage in shoemaking by traveling from plantation to plantation. Joseph R. Holmes’ brother Watt was likewise a shoemaker. Joseph learned to read and write and was very intelligent. After the war he received some training in law from his former master. About 1870 he met a tragic death by a gun shot on the grounds of the Charlotte County court house. According to one report his former owner shot him because of an offensive political speech; according to another report he was killed by mistake. During the period of his activity in politics, Holmes bought a farm home consisting of 8 1/2 acres.

Then, in Virginius Dabney’s Virginia: The New Dominion, published in 1971:

… In 1892, Joseph R. Holmes of Charlotte County, a black who had served in the Underwood convention more than two decades before, decided to run for the legislature. He was shot dead by a white man in the audience he was addressing.

Dabney’s account is so far off the mark as to boggle the mind. By 1892, Joseph Holmes had been dead more than 20 years. He never ran for any legislative seat and, while his murderer was certainly a white man, he was not giving a stump speech when he was shot.

Jackson’s version is much closer to the truth, though some the details of Holmes’ life cannot be confirmed and neither of the motives for his assassination are correct.

Here are newspaper accounts of the murder, which themselves vary a bit on the facts. However, based on comparisons with other sources, to be detailed soon, the New York Times‘ 8 May 1869 version of events (reprinted from the Richmond Dispatch, set forth below, seems closest to the truth:

The Recent Homicide at Charlotte Court-House, Virginia

From the Richmond Dispatch, May 5. From persons who were present at Charlotte Court-House on Monday we gather the following particulars of a most lamentable homicide which occurred there on that day, resulting in the death of JOE HOLMES, a colored man, well known to our readers as a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention. Early in the morning, Mr. JOHN MARSHALL JR. met a colored man named MINNIL, who was formerly a slave of Captain GILLIAM, and asked him if he was the man who attempted his life some time ago. The negro, without making any reply to the question, immediately raised his bludgeon as if to strike MARSHALL, who drew his pistol. The negro then took to his heels, and was pursued by MARSHALL and some of his friends, and it was rumored during the day that he had been killed by them. Such, however, was not the fact, for he was alive and well and his work yesterday. About 2:30 o’clock on Monday, while the rumor was rife, the question of arresting MARSHALL was agitated, and HOLMES made himself very officious in regard to it. MARSHALL spoke to him about it, and he made some insulting reply, when Mr. BOYD, a friend of young MARSHALL, struck him with a stick. HOLMES then drew, or attempted to draw, his pistol, when he was fired at by some unknown party. HOLMES immediately retreated, and, when near the Court-house door, turned and fired at the young man, when several shots were fired at him, only one, however, taking effect. HOLMES had strength enough left to walk to the Court-house, and fell dead. The deceased was a prominent member of the late Constitutional Convention, prominent rather from the merriment he created on rising to speak rather than from any participation in the serious work of the body. He was good-natured, polite, and a great favourite with the reporters, to whom he was specially courteous, and whose daily appearance he always greeted with a broad laugh. The nearest we ever knew of him to come to a quarrel was a laughable row with Dr. BAYNE over the disputed ownership of a law book. JOE’s death will be regretted by all who knew him in the Convention, and by those who have laughed over him in the Humors of Reconstructions, where he figured as the “great fire-eater.”

To celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 2013, Virginia’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission created a roll call of the African-American men who were elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868 and to the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate during Reconstruction. Unfortunately, it picked up Virginius Dabney’s wildly inaccurate date:

Joseph R. Holmes, a native of Virginia, was a shoemaker and farmer who represented Charlotte and Halifax Counties at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868. He ran for a seat in the Senate of Virginia, but was killed in 1892.


Agriculture, Free People of Color, Land, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics

Our colored friend has grown richer.


ImageGoldsboro Messenger, 21 October 1880.

These propaganda pieces are part of a single article published to demonstrate that the rising tide of Democratic rule had floated all boats as land values increased while taxes fell. (In other words, the end of Republican rule meant more money in the pocket, as well as a foot on the neck of African-Americans.)

Two of the “colored friends” noted were my kin — my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Aldridge and Napoleon Hagans, the brother of my great-great-great-grandmother Frances Seaberry Artis. (And Washington Reid’s nephews William and Henry Reid, sons of John Reid, married Adam Artis’ niece Elizabeth Wilson and daughter Cora Artis, respectively.) Aldridge, Hagans and Reid (as well as Artis, Frances’ father Aaron Seaberry and Betty’s father John Wilson) were all prosperous free-born farmers.

Births Deaths Marriages, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics, Rights

Remembering J. Frank Baker.

The myth goes something like this: John Frank Baker was the first black man elected to Congress from Wayne County. He never made it to Washington, assassinated as he attempted to board a train north for his swearing-in.

Something about this didn’t sit right with me.

Wayne County was part of the so-called Black Second, the Congressional district that encompassed most of northeast North Carolina’s majority-black counties during Reconstruction and into the early 20th century. The history of African-American political activity in the district is extensive and well-documented, and I couldn’t recall having read of Baker. A Google search quickly refreshed my recollection. North Carolina voters sent four black Congressmen to Washington in the nineteenth century: John Adams Hyman of Warren County (1875-1877), James Edward O’Hara of Enfield (1883-1887), Henry Plummer Cheatham of Littleton (1889-1893), and George Henry White of Tarboro (1897-1901). No Baker.

As his headstone reveals, J. Frank Baker died 20 March 1897, the same month that George H. White was sworn into the 55th Congress, having defeated white Democratic incumbent Frederick A. Woodard of Wilson. [Sidenote: My junior high school was named for Woodard.] Clearly, Frank Baker was never elected to Congress. Why, then, was he killed?

To call newspapers of the era racist is to say “the sky is blue.” Articles about African-Americans were condescending and mocking at best, derogatory and vicious most times. Objectivity was not a hallmark of journalism in the late 19th century in general, but if their names appeared in the local paper, African-Americans could generally expect the worst. Notwithstanding this general bleak picture, when consumed with a grain of salt, early newspapers can be an invaluable source of otherwise unrecorded information about black Americans.

Frank Baker’s murder was covered in detail in the Goldsboro Headlight and the Weekly Argus, the rival newspapers operating in Wayne County at the time. Even before his death, however, his fiery advocacy seized the attention of the white community. This story was picked up by papers across the country:


Goldsboro Headlight, 5 November 1896.

I don’t know what Baker was speaking about or why his words touched off such a response — if, in fact, “150 negroes” actually took the streets like this. It is clear, though, that he was a powerful and polarizing figure in Wayne County. And four months later he was dead. A Raleigh newspaper broke the story:


Raleigh Daily Tribune, 24 March 1897.

The tone set, the Goldsboro papers picked up the report:

Gboro_Weekly_Argus_3_25_1897_Frank_BakerGoldsboro Weekly Argus, 25 March 1897.

Assuming that the basic description of the murder is correct, we learn that Baker was not boarding a train when he was killed. Rather, he was minding customers at his grocery store, located near the railroad warehouse in Dudley. (The Headlight reported that the store belonged to Ira W. Hatch.) He was shot at fairly close range, but a room full of people saw nothing. Nonetheless, a wholly unbelievable statement attributed to his brother, W.B. Baker, placed the responsibility for Frank’s death on his own head. The reporter then emphasizes the “deadly hatred” that Baker engendered among his neighbors by insisting on legislation incorporating the town of Dudley. [Sidenote: don’t you have to love Bishop Henry McNeal Turner?]


Goldsboro Weekly Argus, 29 April 1897.

A month later, the wheels of justice were spinning uselessly, as newspapers indignantly proclaimed the innocence of two white men implicated — but not actually charged — in the crime. A week after W.B. Bowden’s good name was cleared, J. Will Grady was released when the “facts of his innocence were established.” On 27 May 1897, the Headlight tersely noted that the governor of North Carolina had offered a reward for the capture of Frank Baker’s killers. That’s the last I’ve found on the subject.

John Frank Baker was born about 1845. I don’t know much about his early life, but in 1879 he married Mary Ann Aldridge, daughter of J. Matthew and Catherine Boseman Aldridge, and likely first cousin to my great-great-grandfather John W. Aldridge. Frank Baker was not a Congressman. Nonetheless, he made his mark in Wayne County as an African-American politician capable of stirring the masses and willing to take on unpopular causes in an era in which even voicing opinions was a daring undertaking. He is not forgotten.



Photo from Baker article posted at

Land, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics, Rights

Poll holder — in Fremont???


Wilmington Messenger, 3 April 1889.

John W. Aldridge was born in northern Sampson County and grew up near Dudley in southern Wayne County. In the late 1870s, he and his brother George taught at a school near Fremont, in northern Wayne County, where John met and married his wife Louvicey Artis in 1879. I had always assumed that the couple immediately returned to Dudley to raise their family and establish a farm and later a general store. However, this announcement clearly shows that John Aldridge was a firmly entrenched resident of the Fremont district as late as 1889. (In hindsight, this would explain why the Aldridges do not appear in Congregational Church records in the 1880s and 1890s.) When did the family return to Dudley? John and his brothers George and Matthew purchased land together in the 1870s. I’ve never looked at these deeds in detail, but clearly need to do so. Are there other traces of John Aldridge’s tenure in north Wayne?

Free People of Color, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics

Alderman and poll holder.

Despite the collapse of Reconstruction, African-Americans continued to participate in Wayne County’s political life through the end of the 19th century. Mathew W. Aldridge, in particular, was active in local governance, as announced in eastern North Carolina newspapers:

Wilm Msgr 4 27 1889

Wilmington Messenger, 27 April 1889.


Goldsboro Headlight, 1 May 1889.


Goldsboro Headlight, 8 May 1889.

Wilm Msgr 5 8 1889

Wilmington Messenger, 8 May 1889.


Goldsboro Headlight, 8 October 1890.

Other notables: C[larence] Dillard (Presbyterian minister who arrived in Goldsboro in 1884, later principal of “colored school”); Bizzell Stevens (also a minister; like William S. Hagans, married into the Burnett family, a prominent free family of color in the antebellum era; later a postal clerk at Goldsboro post office); John Frank “J.F.” Baker (postmaster at the Dudley post office; married Mary Ann Aldridge, daughter of J. Matthew Aldridge; murdered); James Winn; and Henry S. “H.S.” Reid (son of Washington and Penninah Reid; member of large prominent free family of color.)