Business, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Vocation

The leading colored funeral director.


Goldsboro Daily Argus, 27 July 1920.

 The esteemed James N. Guess was married to Annie Smith, daughter of Isham and Nancy Henderson Smith. [Small world moment: His nephew Kennon Guess married Esther Edwards of Greene County. I knew Mrs. Guess (later, Askew) as a first grade teacher at elementary school and as a neighbor in Wilson.]

Education, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Bright lady teacher.

For the better part of a year, the doings of Jonah Williams‘ daughter Clarissa regularly made the society columns of the African-American Raleigh Gazette:


Raleigh Gazette, 30 January 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 19 June 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 26 June 1897.


Raleigh Gazette, 18 September 1897.

And then the paper folded.

More than 20 years passed before Clarissa next appeared in print. The “bright lady teacher” had fulfilled her promise and was elected principal of the Colored Graded School. Her tenure was not long, however. Clarissa Williams died of kidney disease on 26 October 1922, at the age of 51.


Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1918.


Maternal Kin, Migration, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Vocation

Ardeanur, elocutionist.


Pittsburgh Courier, 2 June 1928.

This brief blurb intrigues me any number of ways:

(1) Ardeanur R. Smith? This is the first I’ve seen of a middle initial for Cousin Ardeanur.

(2) Smith? My grandmother said Ardeanur married somebody she ran off with when she was a teenager. However, every mention of her I’ve found dating before 1947 — and she is elusive in official records — names her as Smith, her maiden name. In her uncle John McNeely’s 1947 obituary, she’s a Hart for the first time. I have no idea what Mr. Hart’s first name was, where they married, or how long they stayed that way.

(3) Elocution? This may absolutely be a function of me failing to ask the right questions, but, as much as I heard about Wardenur playing the organ on the radio, I never heard my grandmother speak of Ardeanur’s singing or speaking career.

(4) And who was Ardeanur’s publicist that he or she managed to get her name and photo in the Pittsburgh Courier? And not for the last time.

(5) Staten Island?

(6) “Where a balcony fell at the closing session”?!?!?

Education, Maternal Kin, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Registered nurses.

Many thanks to Renate Yarborough Sanders for bringing to my attention to “Early African American Registered Nurses in NC,” The page lists all known African-American nurses in the state, including my grandmother’s paternal aunt Henrietta Colvert and three other relatives.

The number presumably refers to the nurse’s license and the date to the date she was certified or registered. Henrietta Colvert was from Statesville, not Wilson, but moved to that eastern town by the early 1920s. I knew she trained at Saint Agnes, but was not aware that she also trained at Good Samaritan, a large African-American hospital in Charlotte.

#7794. Diana Ada Adams Artis. Wilson NC. October 13. Saint Agnes Hospital. 1926.

Diana Adams Artis was born in 1891 in Brooks County, Georgia. She married Columbus E. Artis, son of Adam T. and Amanda Aldridge Artis in 1914 in Washington DC, but later settled in Wilson. I assume that she worked at Mercy Hospital.

#7123. Henrietta Colvert. Wilson NC. April 15. Good Samaritan. 1925.

#11,104. Gwendolyn Sykes. Goldsboro NC. October 26. Lincoln Hospital. 1931.

Gwendolyn Sykes Carney, born 1909 in Goldsboro, North Carolina, was the daughter of William O’Berry Sykes and step-daughter of Gertrude Wynn Sykes.

Vera L. Baker. Graduate 1902, Freedmen’s Hospital, Washington DC. State Hospital, Goldsboro.

Vera L. Baker Holt, born 1879 in Dudley, North Carolina, was the daughter of John F. and Mary Ann Aldridge Baker.



Maternal Kin, Migration, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Punching the clock: factory workers and machine operators.

Hattie Artis Johnson, Norfolk VA — stemmer, tobacco factory, circa 1920; “bag maker,” circa 1930.

June Scott Artis, Stantonsburg NC – worked at box factory, circa 1910.

Henry J.B. Artis, Stantonsburg NC – worked at box factory, circa 1910.

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

Madie Taylor Barnes, New York NY – presser, dress factory, circa 1930.

Dorothy Barnes, New York NY – presser, dress factory, circa 1930.

Rachel Barnes, New York NY – presser, dress factory, circa 1930.

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

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

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

William Bradshaw, Statesville NC – Statesville Furniture Factory worker, 1910s-1940s.

Aggie Colvert, Statesville NC — Statesville Furniture Factory worker, circa 1917; janitor, Statesville Flour Mills, 1920s-1930s.

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

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

Hattie Henderson Ricks, Wilson NC – tent factory, World War II.

Theodore Henderson, Goldsboro NC – laborer, Wayne Red Brick Company, circa 1917.

John Henderson, Goldsboro NC – factory hand, circa 1923.

William Henderson, Goldsboro NC – factory hand, circa 1923.

William H. Henderson, Mount Olive NC – Calypso Veneering Co., Calypso NC, 1940s.

James H. Henderson, Goldsboro NC – Kemp Specialty Furniture Ltd., 1940s.

Irving Houser, Bayonne NJ – husband of Emma McNeely Houser; oilworks fireman, circa 1920; machine operator, oil refinery, circa 1930.

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

Luther McNeely, Alexandria VA – laborer at Virginia Ship Building Corp, circa 1917.

John McNeely, Bayonne NJ – laborer at furniture factory, circa 1930.

Edward McNeely, Statesville NC – laborer, Statesville Furniture Factory, circa 1910.

Charles McNeely, New York NY – machine operator, mayonnaise factory, circa 1930.

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

Eliza T. Taylor, Wilson NC – tobacco factory worker.

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

The fifteenth in an occasional series exploring the ways in which my kinfolk made their livings in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Photographs, Vocation

Saint Agnes Hospital.


This only looks like a Civil War ruin. In reality, Saint Agnes Hospital closed in the early 1960’s, after Raleigh’s Wake Medical Center integrated. Saint Agnes trained generations of African-American nurses, including my great-great-aunt, Henrietta Colvert.

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 7.29.28 AM

From the Annual Catalogue of St. Augustine’s School, Raleigh, N.C., A Normal School and Collegiate Institute For Colored Students of Both Sexes, Thirty-Third Session, 1911-12.

Maternal Kin, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Where we worked: healers and helpers.

Margaret Balkcum Henderson, Dudley NC – midwife, 1870s?-1900s?

Louvicey Artis Aldridge, Dudley NC – midwife, 1890s?-1920s?

Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, Dudley NC – midwife, 1890s.

Joseph H. Ward, Indianapolis IN – doctor, 1897-1950s.

Vera L. Baker Holt, Goldsboro NC — registered nurse, 1900s.

Diana A. Adams Artis, Wilson NC — wife of Columbus E. Artis, registered nurse, 1910s-1950.

Henrietta Colvert, Wilson NC, Asheboro NC, Roanoke VA – registered nurse, 1910s-1960s?

J. Thomas Aldrich [Aldridge], Saint Louis MO – doctor, circa 1930-1968.

Worth A. Williams, Charlotte NC — dentist, 1920s-1960s

Nita Allen Meyers Wilkerson, Washington DC — registered nurse, 1930s-1970s.

J. Maxwell Allen, Lynchburg VA, Charles City VA — dentist, 1930s-1959.

Leon M. Braswell, Lynchburg VA — doctor, 1930s-1950s.

Henry C. Best, Wilson NC – husband of Annie Artis Best; hospital orderly, circa 1930.

Irvin L. McCaine Sr., Asheville NC, Oakland CA, Mount Vernon NY — husband of Mable Williams McCaine; dentist, circa 1940-circa 1980.

John W. Stockton, Statesville NC — orderly, Davis Hospital, 1940s-?

Hattie Henderson Ricks, Wilson NC –- nurse’s aide, 1940s-1958.

Leroy T. Barnes, Queens NY, Los Angeles CA — husband of Jeanne Davis Barnes and Wanda Davis Moseley Barnes, radiologist, 1940s-1987.

Jarvis E. Sherrod, Wilson NC – hospital orderly, 1940s-1950s.

Frederick R. Randall, New York NY — physician, 1940s-ca. 2000.

R. Stewart Randall, Washington DC — physician, 1940s-1992.

The fourteenth in an occasional series exploring the ways in which my kinfolk made their livings in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Maternal Kin, Other Documents, Virginia, Vocation

Man of a thousand hustles.

My great-grandfather, the longshoreman, rose from the docks to become a union officer and civic leader in Newport News, Virginia. The arc of that narrative seemed long and interesting enough, but we now know that it does not quite do this hard-working man justice. In fact, in just the first decade-and-a-half of the twentieth century, John C. Allen worked a half-dozen jobs to keep his growing family comfortably fed, clothed and sheltered. The 1900 census records John’s occupation as shipyard laborer, which is more or less consistent with received wisdom. Newport News city directories, however, capture the full range of John’s hustles over the years:

1902 — Allen Jno, eating house, Ivy Ave nr 18th. John’s church, Zion Baptist, was at 20th and Ivy, at the heart of Newport News’ East End. Presumably, John owned this small and apparently short-lived restaurant and probably lived on premises. (Fifteen years later, John’s nephew Junius Allen lived at 1752 Ivy, which is at the corner of 18th Street.)

1903 — Allen Jno C, lab h 748 21st   John was probably laboring at the shipyard. 748 21st Street is the house in which my grandfather and his siblings spent their early childhood years. I need to check deeds to find out if John Sr. bought it 1902-03. My grandparents also lived here during the first five or so years of their marriage.

1910 — Allen Jno C, painter h 748 21st  John is described as a shipyard painter in the 1910 census, and he seems to have worked this job at least two years.

1911 — Allen Jno C, painter h 748 21st  

1912 — Allen Jno C, agt Am Ben Ins Co h 748 21st  Insurance agent??? John had come an impressively long way for a man who’d been illiterate when he arrived in Newport News a dozen years earlier. American Beneficial Insurance Company was a black-owned business founded in 1902 in Richmond, Virginia, by Rev. Wesley F. Graham, a Baptist minister.

1913-14 — Allen Jno C, grocer 2206 Madison av h 2107 Marshall av  Around 1913, John bought the house on Marshall Avenue in which he and his wife lived out their years, at which my parents married, and in which his daughter Julia lived and operated a beauty parlor when I was a child. The Madison Avenue grocery is a complete mystery. [Postscript, 13 April 2014: A mystery only to me, apparently. You just have to ask the right questions. After my mother read this post, she sent me a text identifying “Mama Taylor” and her husband as folks who operated a grocery that may have been her grandfather’s. Post-postscript, 19 April 2014: my Uncle C. told me that (1) Mama Taylor and her husband Johnnie lived above a grocery they operated in the 1900 block of Madison Avenue; (2) Mama Taylor was close to “her Johnnie,” my grandfather; (3) Mama Taylor was about his grandparents’ age; (4) he wondered if Mr. Taylor and John C. Allen Sr. were related, as they had similar builds and full heads of white hair; (5) at least during my uncle’s childhood, John and Agnes Allen ordered their groceries from a white-owned business in the 2100 block of Madison, not from the Taylors.]

1914-15 — Allen Jno C, clk h 2107 Marshall av  Clerk? What kind of clerk?

The 1916 and 1917 city directories revert to the 1913-14 grocer entry, but when John Allen registered for the World War I draft in 1918, he reported that he worked as a laborer for Hampton Roads Stevedoring Company. The 1918 and 1919 city directories also show him as a laborer. (Had the grocery store closed? Why? Was there better money on the docks?)

UPDATE: On 31 May 1917, J.C. Allen ran a small ad in the Newport News Daily Press announcing the liquidation via auction of his grocery store at 2206 Madison Avenue:

img (3).jpg

The 1920 census finally recorded John’s occupation as “longshoreman on piers.” (John was 45 years old in 1920, well into middle age. Unloading ships in this era was brutal work even for young men.) Subsequent city directories label him “longshoreman” (1923), “mgr International Longshoreman’s Union” (1925), “mgr Intl Longshoreman’s Locals 844 & 946 gro” (back in the grocery business, 1927).

In the 1930 census, John worked as a longshoreman for a steamship company, but is reported as a laborer in the 1931 and 1932 directories. In 1933, he’s again a manager with the union, but the 1940 censustaker described him as a longshoreman in “frt. transport.” (Incidentally, sometime in the late 1930s, he helped found Whittaker Memorial Hospital and joined its and Crown Savings Bank’s boards of directors.)

A 1953 obituary laconically notes that John C. Allen “worked for the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. for about 10 years and then became a stevedore.” Ah, but he did so much more.

John Allen ca1950

John C. Allen at his son-in-law’s in yet another role — farmer. Near Jetersville, Virginia, 1940s.