Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Photographs

They know of their own certain knowledge.


In June 1923, my grandfather Roderick Taylor vouched for his first cousin Howard Willis Barnes when Barnes applied for a license to marry Elmer Pentecost Wright in Greensboro, North Carolina. Taylor was still spelling his first name with two D’s and no E at the time. His mother, Rachel Barnes Taylor, and Howard’s father, Ned Barnes, were siblings.

Handwritten on the rear: “To Jas. Battle from Roddrick Taylor.” The photo likely dates from about 1905.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

United in matrimony: Barnes.

Willis and Cherry Barnes had seven children (or six, if oldest daughter Rachel was actually Wesley’s stepchild.)   What do  their marriage licenses reveal?

  • I’ve long had a copy of this license. Jesse Barnes, born about 1868, was the second of Willis and Cherry’s sons. His elder brother Wesley married his sister-in-law, Ella Mercer.
  • Jesse and Mary Mag married in a Missionary Baptist church. (The spelling here is an accurate reflection of local pronunciation.)
  • The official witnesses were Jesse’s brothers Wesley and Ned Barnes.


  • Early in life, Edward Barnes went by his formal first name, but by 1900 he is inevitably referred to as “Ned.” He passed this name on to his son, who in turn begat three more generations of Ned Barneses, the youngest of whom is still living.
  • Louisa Gay was the daughter of Samuel and Alice Bryant Gay. Her brother Albert Gay married Jesse A. Jacobs Jr.’s daughter Annie Bell.
  • Samuel H. Vick was a heavy hitter in black Wilson.
  • Was Spencer Barnes a relative? He does not appear near these Barneses in early census records, and those records and his marriage license seem to indicate that he was orphaned.


  • Mary Barnes was Willis and Cherry’s younger daughter.  Assuming it’s accurate, her marriage license helps narrow the range of Cherry Barnes’ death from 1880-1897 (the latter is the year Willis remarried) to 1893-1897.
  • Whoa!!! Is this verification of Hugh B. Johnston’s hunch that Willis Barnes belonged to General Joshua Barnes? Did Willis’ family remain on the general’s former plantation, perhaps as tenant farmers, more than 30 years after Emancipation? If not, why marry there?
  • Small world moment: Duplin County-born barber and brickmason George Gaston, who lived north of Wilson in Elm City, was the great-grandfather of M.R.L., one of my childhood friends.


  • This marriage was reported in the Wilson Daily Times. Prior to finding the article, I had not known of Willis and Cherry’s youngest child.
  • A slight clarification for Cherry’s possible death date — 1893-1899.


  • I do not at all understand why I haven’t seen this license before. William “Willie” Barnes was the youngest of Willis and Cherry’s sons.
  • Hattie Best’s family had roots in Greene County, but were well-known in Wilson.
  • This wedding took place at Orren Best’s home, but was conducted by the pastor of the A.M.E. Zion church at which Cintha Barnes married.
  • Witness Charles B. Gay was the brother-in-law of Willie’s brother Ned Barnes.


  • At last, a mystery solved. In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, Willis Barnes’ household includes wife Cherry, step-daughter Rachel Battle, children Wesley, Jesse, Ned, Eddie, Mary and Willey, and niece Ellen Battle (whom I have not been able to identify further.) That Ned and Eddie had always confused me, as I knew that Ned’s real name was Edward. Was this a recording error? Well, no. Eddie was Edgar Barnes, whom I have never identified as a child of Willis and Cherry. (Also, note below how closely Willis Barnes and family lived to Joshua Barnes.)

1880 Barnes

  • Edgar and Mary Hill Barnes were also married at Saint John A.M.E. Zion.
  • The couple is recorded in the household of Mary’s parents in the 1910 census of the town of Wilson, Wilson County.
  • They were not married long. In 1917, Edgar registered for the World War I draft in Greenville, North Carolina. He described himself as single.
  • In 1921, he married Delia Hawkins in Greenville. They appear as a childless couple in the 1930 census of Greenville, North Carolina. Edgar reported working as a plasterer and Delia as a presser at Carolina Pressing Club.In 1940, they are in the same house at 1311 West 4th Street, owned and valued at $2000. I have not found North Carolina death certificates for them.


Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

A splendid witness.

On 21 February 1903, pedestrians bustling about the streets of downtown Raleigh on a waning Saturday afternoon gazed in horror at a bleeding body crumpled in the middle of Fayetteville Street. Ernest Haywood, son of a prominent lawyer, had shot Ludlow Skinner, son of a well-known Baptist minister and “quiet and gentle as a woman,” in cold blood. (For the messy backstory, see here.) The crime, widely reported in newspapers across the state, captivated the public. Ned Barnes (1869-1912), son of Willis and Cherry Battle Barnes and brother of my great-grandmother Rachel B. Taylor, found himself thrust into the center of the months-long criminal court proceedings as the State’s star witness.

Only recently arrived in the capital, Ned was a drayman for the State Hospital, a ground-breaking psychiatric facility located just west of the city center. His duties that afternoon took him to the post office — and the very edge of the drama. Despite his evident efforts to stay out of white men’s business, he was drawn straight into the vortex.


Sanborn Map of Raleigh, July 1903. The Post Office is the large blue building at lower right.

On 30 May 1903, the Raleigh Morning Post published Ned’s habeas corpus hearing testimony in its entirety. This serious matter required that the paper forgo the mocking dialect so often attributed to African-Americans of the era — regardless of their actual speech — and the transcript reveals an ideal witness,  straightforward, economical, willing to admit what he did not see. Ned’s language is respectful, but not obsequious. He does not take obsessive care with his “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” He answers only the question put before him and takes pains to deliver accuracy.


Evidence of Ned Barnes

“Examination of Ned Barnes by counsel for the defense:

Q: Ned, where did you live before you came to Raleigh?

A: Wilson, N.C.

Q: How long have you been in Raleigh?

A: About two years and a half.

Q: What is your business now?

A: Driving for the state hospital.

Q: Have you been in the employment of this institution since you came to Raleigh?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Where were you on the afternoon of the difficulty between Messrs. Haywood and Skinner?

A: I was in the city here.

Q: Did you see it?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Tell about it in your own way. What you saw.

A: I had been up to the market taking some ladies to the market house and about four o’clock I started down to the post office to wait for the mail before going back. I drove down below the south end of the post office and turned my horse around. I placed the robe on this side and heard some one speak. I stood my carriage just above the north side of the steps near to the curbing. I saw Mr. Skinner strike Mr. Haywood on the right side of the face.

Q: How far away were you from them, just the width of the curbing?

A: Yes sir, right by the edge of the sidewalk, about 12 or 15 steps I reckon.

Q: Do you mean steps?

A: Yes sir, steps. It is wide across there.

Q: You mean just the width of the sidewalk from the little projection?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Did you hear what was said when you turned your carriage there?

A: No sir.

Q: Just as you turned your head you saw the blow?

A: Yes sir.

Q: What became of Mr. Haywood when stricken that way?

A: He staggered back against the curb which leads out from the post office and fell on his left hand, but recovered and went for his pistol and Mr. Skinner jumped back from him and raised his right hand in this position, and stopped and Mr. Haywood raised up and fired at him and Mr. Skinner wheeled and I never saw him any more.

Q: Was Mr. Skinner’s back to you on his side after he struck Mr. Haywood?

A: He seemed sideways to me.

Q: Which side was to you?

A: His right side was to me I think.

Q: Which side was towards Mr. Haywood?

A: His left side.

Q: You saw his left hand?

A: No sir, his right hand.

Q: He struck so that Mr. Haywood fell?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Did he raise his hand?

A: Yes sir.

Q: In that position Mr. Haywood fired the first shot?

A: Yes sir.

Q: He was standing this way?

A: Yes sir.

Q: How far away was Mr. Skinner from him when he fired the first shot?

A: About half way across the sidewalk.

Q: What did Mr. Skinner do when the first shot was fired?

A: He wheeled to go.

Q: Which way?

A: He wheeled this way and turned to go.

Q: After he turned to go what did he do, continue or stop?

A: I don’t know whether he stopped or not. I did not see him until I looked on my right hand side.

Q: You stayed in the carriage?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Why did you not see him after he turned to go?

A: He got behind my carriage.

Q: Which way was your horse’s face turned?

A: North towards the capitol.

Q: You say Mr. Skinner went behind your carriage?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Did you turn the carriage?

A: Yes.

Q: Where was he then?

A: He was in front of me going to the street car track.

Q: What did he do when the second shot was fired?

A: I did not see him, I was looking at Mr. Haywood.

Q: Was he off the sidewalk when the second shot was fired?

A: I don’t know I was looking at the man that had the pistol.

Q: Was it after the first or second shot that Mr. Skinner turned to go?

A: After the second shot.

Q: How far from the curbing was he?

A: About half way distant.

Q: That was after the second shot?

A: Yes sir.

Q: What part of him was at that time presented to Mr. Haywood?

A: His back was to him.

Q: After he got into the street?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Did you look at Mr. Skinner after he got into the street until he fell?

A: Yes sir.

Q: How did he go?

A: He crossed over the track then turned to his left and got to the low edge of the track and fell face first to the pavement.

Q: What became of Mr. Haywood?

A: He walked off the corner going to the Tucker building.

Q: Did you notice whether Mr. Haywood had his hat on?

A: He had it on when he passed from the sidewalk.

Q: At the time of the shooting, did he have it on then?

A: Yes sir, he got it on then.

Q: What do you mean by that, he got it on then?

A: It was knocked pretty near off and he gathered it up.

Q: Did you tell anybody about this occurrence?

A: No sir.

Q: How long was it before you told about it?

A: I did not make any atatement till I got to the asylum. Then I told Dr. Koy.

Q: Do you remember what you told him?

A: I told him I saw Mr. Skinner strike Mr. Haywood and I saw Mr. Haywood shoot him, and he didn’t ask me anything else.

Q: Did you tell any one else in town?

A: I told some one else, I don’t know who – this feller that runs the bar room, what is his name?

Q: Which bar do you mean?

A: Hamlet’s.

Q: You have told him since?

A: Yes sir, I told him.

Q: You did not tell him all the facts?

A: And I told another man, I don’t know who it is. I have seen him here.

Q: Was it Mr. Rogers?

A: No sir, it was a white man.

Q: What white man did you tell in town?

A: I don’t know his name, McDaniels or McDonald, I think.

Q: Where does he live?

A: Here in Raleigh.

Q: What is his business?

A: I don’t know, I see him around the Tucker building.

Q: Did you tell him you saw it?

A: He asked me what did you see, and I told him I did not care to make a statement. He said, “did you see Haywood shoot,” and I told him yes. I did not tell him anything else.

Q: Which Rogers did you tell?

A: He works in the Commercial building.

Q: What sort of a carriage did you have?

A: It was not exactly a carriage but was a one horse surrey.

Q: Did it have curtains on.

A: It had black curtains on.

Q: Were the side curtains off?

A: Yes sir.

Q: It was open except the back.

A: The front curtain was off I mean.

Q: It had the back curtain on.

A: The back curtain and the two back curtains.

Q: Just the width of the seat was closed?

A: Yes sir.

Q: All the others were open?

A: Yes sir.

Cross-examined by counsel for state:

Q: Where did your carriage enter Fayetteville street?

A: I came from the market to the post office.

Q: There you turned around?

A: Yes sir.

Q: How far did you come up the street before turning around?

A: Just to the end of the post office, up near the sidewalk, near the south steps.

Q: Did you turn your surrey towards the door of the court house?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Your horse’s head was where?

A: Towards the capitol.

Q: Where did you stop your horse?

A: Right there where I was.

Q: And where were you?

A: Sitting in the carriage.

Q: And where was the carriage?

A: Standing on the street.

Q: Near what part of the sidewalk?

A: Right at the edge of the sidewalk.

Q: Where was the location? Where was the horse standing?

A: Pretty near the post office building.

Q: Pretty near the front?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Near what part of the front?

A: The lower end of the south door.

Q: Where was the head of your horse?

A: Just above the lower steps of the post office.

Q: Just above the south steps?

A: Yes sir.

Q: So you had your back to the post office?

A: Yes sir.

Q: What first attracted your attention there?

A: I heard some one speak.

Q: Whom did you hear speak?

A: I don’t know which one, one of these men, I don’t know which one.

Q: Did you know Mr. Skinner?

A: I did not know him sir.

Q: Did you see him pass out of the post office building by your carriage?

A: No sir.

The following witnesses were called to prove the character of Ned Barnes, to-wit: R.G. Briggs, a manufacturer of Wilson [Ned had worked for him as a coachman]; F.W. Barnes, of Wilson; F.A. Woodard, of Wilson, former Congressman from that district; Walter Woodard, tobacco manufacturer of Wilson; Geo. D. Green, hardware merchant of Wilson; W.R. Crawford, steward of State Hospital, Raleigh.”

Three days later, in its summary of the proceedings, the Raleigh Farmer and Mechanic opined that Ned Barnes “made a splendid witness, and is an honest looking colored man, with a good face. The impression he made was excellent.”


The trial in State vs. Haywood unfolded in early fall. The first two weeks of October, crowds thronged the courthouse, the newspapermen among them jostling for prime spots to cover the action. Ned Barnes and other reprised their roles as witnesses, and a surprising verdict was rendered: Not Guilty.

BARNES -- Ned Barnes I

Ned Barnes, circa 1900.

No doubt relieved to move out of the glare of the spotlights trained on this notorious event, Ned returned to real life — his wife Louisa Gay Barnes; young children, Mattie (1895), Alice (1897), Ned Jr. (1900) and Howard (1902), and later Blonnie (1908) and Jerrel (1909); and work as a coachman. By 1910, however, he had given up driving, and the censustaker recorded his occupation as a porter at a club. Though a relatively young man, it is likely that his health had already begun to fail him. On the first day of December 1912, Ned Barnes drew a last breath and was released from the agony of acute uremia. He was 42 years old.

Photo courtesy of Katie C. Barnes.

Enslaved People, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

My Barneses.

Last night, I happened upon a fascinating newspaper source of information about Ned Barnes, brother (half-brother?) of my paternal great-grandmother, Rachel Barnes (or Battle) Taylor. Before I lay it out, though, a deeper introduction to the Barneses is in order.*

Willis Barnes and Cherry Battle registered their six-year cohabitation in Wilson County in 1866. The 1870 census found the family in Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Willis Barnes, 30, wife Cherry, 25, and children Rachul, 7, West, 5, Jesse, 2, and Ned, 5 months. They remained in North Wilson township in the 1880 census: Willis Barnes, 42, wife Cherey, 40, “step-daughter” Rachel Battle, 17, Wesley, 15, Jesse, 13, Ned, 11, Eddie, 7, Mary, 4, and Willey Barnes, 1, plus niece Ellen Battle, 1.  [Very nearby were Hardy Battle, 58, and wife America Battle, 50. Relatives of Cherry?]

Cherry Battle Barnes died after 1880. In 1897, Willis married Fereby Barnes Artis, widow of Benjamin Artis. In the Wilson NC city directory of 1908-09, Willis is listed as a laborer living at 500 South Lodge. Two years later, he was living with his youngest daughter and her family. Willis Barnes died 15 September 1914 in Wilson, Wilson County. His death certificate notes that he was 73 years old, married and a farmer, and that he had been born in Nash County to Tony Eatman and Annie Eatman. Son Jesse Barnes was informant.

On 21 Sep 1882, H.G. Whitehead applied for a marriage license for Mike Taylor of Wilson, aged 20, colored, son of John [sic, his name was Green] Taylor and unknown mother, both living. [This makes no sense — mother is living, but unknown?] and Rachel Barnes of Wilson, age 19, colored, parents unknown, father dead, mother’s status not given. [No sense either, her parents were certainly known. The takeaway — the registrar was not very interested in the facts.]  On the same day, Louis Croom, Baptist minister, married Taylor and Barnes in Wilson before W.T. Battle and Edman Pool.  [Was W.T. Battle related to Rachel?  Is he the W. Turner Battle who married Louvina Knight in Wilson on 24 May 1875?]

Rachel and Mike Taylor had six children. Their first, and only son, Roderick, was born in 1883, followed by the improbably named Maggie (1885), Mattie (1887), and Madie (1888), then Bertha E. (1892) and Henrietta G. Taylor (1893). More about Rachel’s family elsewhere.

Wesley “West” Barnes married Ella Mercer on 4 June 1885 at her father Dempsey Mercer’s house in Wilson County. (The marriage license refers to him as “Sylvester” Barnes.) Wesley worked as a driver or drayman, and though he and Ella had at least seven children, I know the names only of five: Joseph Barnes (1885), Lucy Barnes Watson (1889-1959), Sylvester Barnes (1893-1936), Viola Barnes (1894-1943), and Charley Barnes (1896-??) West died of apoplexy in 1919.

Jesse Barnes married Ella Mercer’s sister Mary Mag Mercer on 1 April 1889. His brothers Wesley and Ned witnessed the ceremony. They had at least three children, Jesse Jr. (1890), Marnie (1892-1943), and Nettie (1895-1917). He died in 1916.

On 27 Oct 1891, J.T. Dean applied for a marriage license for Edward Barnes, 22, of Wilson, son of Willis and Cherry Barnes, and Louisa Gay, daughter of Samuel and Alice Gay.  The ceremony took place 29 Oct 1891 before J.W. Levy, AMEZ Church minister, at Samuel Gay’s.  Witnesses were S.H. Vick, Spencer Barnes, Thomas Davis. [This “Edward” is very definitely Ned Barnes, but the entry is confusing because the 1880 census shows Willis and Cherry with children Ned and Eddie (born about 1873). If there was an “Eddie,” he appears in no other records.] Ned worked as a coachman and around 1901 moved his family to Raleigh for better opportunities. Ned and Louisa Gay Barnes’ children included Mattie Radcliffe Barnes Hines (1895-1923), Alice Ida Barnes (1897-1969), Ned Barnes Jr. (1900), Howard Barnes (1902), Blonnie Barnes Zachary (1908-1932) and Jerrel Randolph Barnes (1909-1929). Ned died in Raleigh in 1912.

Mary Barnes is an enigmatic figure. She married first in Wilson County in 1893 to Pierce Barnes, son of Robert and Hannah Barnes, and then a man named Jones. She never had children of her own, but adopted her nephew, Robert Perry. She died almost 11 months to the day after her brother Wesley in 1919.

William “Willie” Barnes died of tuberculosis in 1917. It is not clear if he ever married or had children.

As detailed here, I believe Cherry Battle had one more child, daughter Lucinda “Cintha” Barnes. Cintha also died young, and her children were reared by her sisters.

 *Barnes is by far the most common surname in Wilson County. My cousin A.B. is descended from at least four separate Barnes lines, and any two given Barneses are more likely to be unrelated than not.

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, North Carolina, Other Documents, Photographs

Collateral kin: Barnes & Ellis.

My uncles migrated North. My father and his sister stayed put. (Since the late 1970s, they have lived across the street from one another and, during my childhood, within a couple of blocks.) My father graduated high school in 1952, and in his class was the man my aunt would marry, Theodore Roosevelt Ellis Jr.

3915_490944984269391_672465952_nTheodore Roosevelt Ellis, Jr., 1950s.

Uncle Roosevelt, who had startlingly hazel eyes and smooth, nut-brown skin, had deep Wilson County roots, and I have written of my bond with his family here. Today would have been his 80th birthday and, in his honor, I highlight his people.

We called Uncle Roosevelt’s mother “Miss Edie Bell.” Miss Edie Bell’s earliest known paternal ancestor was Benjamin Barnes, born about 1819, probably in southern Edgecombe County or northern Wayne County (areas that later became Wilson County.) Circumstantial evidence, largely in the form of naming patterns and proximity, suggest that Benjamin had at least two brothers, Redmond Barnes, born about 1823, and Andrew Barnes, born perhaps 1815. On 21 April 1866, Benjamin Barnes and Violet Barnes, born about 1817, registered their long cohabitation at the Wilson County Courthouse. Their only certain child was Calvin Barnes, born about 1836, though they probably had several more. In the 1870 census of Saratoga, Wilson County, Violet is described as a midwife, and three young girls, Elvy (1859), Ailcy (1862) and Spicy (1863), live with them. Given Violet’s age, it seems likely that these are granddaughters. Violet Barnes died sometime before 13 November 1879, when Benjamin was married a second time to Mary Bynum in Wilson County. [The Benjamin Barnes, son of Isaac and Judia Bynum, who married Lucy Barnes in 1872 in Wilson County is a different man.] Benjamin and Mary’s appearance in the 1880 census of Saratoga is their first and last. Benjamin listed his father’s birthplace as Virginia, but provided no additional information. He died before 1900.

Calvin Barnes and “Sealie” Barnes registered their five-year cohabitation in Wilson County on 17 July 1866. Celia’s parents are unknown. Nor do I know whether Calvin and Celia belonged to the same master prior to emancipation. In the 1870 census of Saratoga, Wilson County, Calvin and family are living next door to his parents Benjamin and Violet. Calvin and Celia’s children are Benjamin (1864), Spicy (1865), Jesse (1866), and Peter (1869). Also in the household are 20 year-old Dora Ebon (Calvin’s sister?) and her likely children Louisa (1866) and Mary E. (1869). In 1880, in Saratoga, Calvin heads a household that includes wife Celie and children Peter, Drue, Redman, Lizzie B., and William. In 1900, the family was listed in Stantonsburg township. Calvin was farming, and Celie reported 10 of 13 children living. Only four — William, Mary S., Laura and Celie, plus Mary’s daughter Dora — were at home. Son Peter was nearby with his wife Jane and children John R., General, Annie and Sallie, as was son Redmond with wife “Genett” and their first child Dora. Celia died prior to 1909, when Calvin married Cherry Brown Tart. The marriage was her third, and the 1910 census found them living in the town of Wilson on Stantonsburg Street. Ten years later, they are living at 610 Stantonsburg Street and both employed in a private home. Calvin died 21 February 1923 in Wilson.

Calvin and Celia’s son Redmond Barnes was born 3 May 1873 near Saratoga or Stantonsburg. In 1898, Redmond married Jennette Best on W.H. Applewhite’s farm, where the Barneses were either sharecroppers or tenant farmers. (Applewhite’s grandson, James, is a celebrated poet whose writing often draws on the world of his childhood in Wilson County.) Edith Barnes Ellis’ siblings included Dora Barnes Weaver Ward (1899-1994), Fred Barnes (1901), Mary Estelle Barnes (1903-1989), Minnie B. Barnes Barnes (1905-1985), Edith Bell Barnes Ellis (1907-1984), Betty Lee Barnes Bullock (1909-1992), Nora Lee Barnes (1911), Alice Jennette Barnes Smith (1913), Lula Mae Barnes Speight (1916), Redmond Barnes Jr. (1918-1989), John Harvey Barnes (1920), and Jennette Barnes, who died in infancy.

Redmond Barnes’ brother Peter Barnes (1869-??) married Jane Ruffin in 1891 in Wilson County. Their children included John Redmond (1892), General (1895), Annie (1897), Sallie (1899), and Albert (1900-1924). Redmond’s brother Andrew “Drew” Barnes (1871-1945) married Estella “Stella” Williams in 1892 in Wilson County. [Not to be confused with Andrew Barnes, son of Andrew and Amy Williford Barnes — probably Calvin Barnes’ first cousin — who married Stella Battle in 1870.] Their children included John (1890), Wade (1894), Frank (1895), James (1897), Lula (1898), and Andrew Jr. (1900). Redmond’s sister Elizabeth “Betty” Barnes (1873-??) married W.T. Sherrod Ellis, son of Reuben and Clarky Ellis. Their children: Willie (1892), Robert (1895), Mary E. (1896), Maggie D. (1899), Sallie (1900), Joseph (1904) and Mamie (1906). Redmond’s sister Mollie Barnes married Floyd Ellis. Their children included Floyd Theodore (1907-1981), Columbus (1909), John Adam (1916-1965), Mary Rebeckah (1919) and Leathie Charlotte (1922).

Jennette Best was born about 1880 near Stantonsburg. Her marriage licenses lists her parents as Sam Best and Edy Strickland. However, in the 1870 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County, “Edy Strickland” appears as Edith Winstead, age 10, in the household of Isaac Winstead, 52, and wife Jane, 35, whose other children were Robert, 7, Amanda, 3, and Aneliza, 1. Then, the 1880 census of Stantonsburg, shows “Ada Best” in a household with her stepfather Isaac Winstead, mother Jane, half-siblings Manda, Ann, Charlie, Major, Lucy and Levi, brother Rob Farmer, and likely children Sam, 3, and Mary Best, 1. Sam Best is not listed in the county and may have died or have deserted his family just before Jenette was born. I have not found him in any census or vital record. Nor have I found any other mention of Edith Best or Strickland.

BARNES - Redmond & Jenette Barnes headstone

Rest Haven cemetery, Wilson, N.C.

On 7 June, 1933, Edith Barnes married Theodore R. “Tobe” Ellis.  (We called her “Miss” Edie Bell, and him “Uncle” Tobe, which I can’t explain.) Theodore Ellis’ furthest known paternal ancestors were Isom Ellis and Patience Bynum.

Isom (or Isham) Ellis was born about 1807 in southern Edgecombe County. The will of William Ellis, proved in Edgecombe in 1813, declared in part, “I leave unto my said wife Unity Ellis, the following negroes, To wit, Arthur, Jonas, Isom, Belford, Lisle, Pat, Minnah, and Tesary & Hester.” It seems probable that this listing is a reference to Uncle Tobe’s great-grandfather.

On 24 July 1866, Isom Bynum and Patience Bynum registered their 40-year cohabitation in Wilson County. Several other men — Guilford, Robert, Jackson and Lewis — also registered as Bynums, but are listed with the surname Ellis in the 1870 census. For this and other reasons, including proximity and naming patterns, I believe these men were all sons, or close relatives, of Isom Ellis. Lewis Ellis, born circa 1834, first married Dossie Best, by whom he had one son, John (1853). He then married Millie Thompson (1832-??) — they registered their cohabitation — who gave birth to Daniel (1860-1938), Mary (1863), Adeline “Addie” (1865), Martha (1868), Cora (1870) and James Ellis (1874). Neither Lewis nor Millie appears in the 1900 census.

Lewis and Milly’s son Daniel Ellis first married Rosa Barnes, by whom he had a daughter, Lena (1890-1928). He then married Celia Lewis (1872-1912), daughter of Furney and Eliza Lewis on 29 August 1893 in Wilson County. Their children were William (1894), Maeliza (1897), Samson (1898-1918), Harry (1900-1988), Jackson (1901-1918), Robert (1904-1968), Louetta (1906), Orran (1910-1918) and Theodore Roosevelt Ellis (1912-1979). After Celia’s death in or just after childbirth, Daniel married Maggie Woodard in 1914. Their children were Mack (1916), John Henry (1919-1963), Mattie (1922) and Jem (1925). Daniel Ellis died 10 October 1938.


Celia Lewis’ family was from Wayne County. In the 1870 census of Goldsborough, Wayne County, Furney Lewis, 40, and wife Eliza, 26, shared a house with Missouri, 11, Furney, 9, Lewis, 4, and Winnie, 5 months.  Ten years later the family appears in Stoney Creek township, Wayne County: Furney Lewis, 58, wife Liza, 35, and children Lewis, 17, Winia, 9, Henry, 7, Cealy, 5, Mary, Caroline, 3, and Furney, 1, plus Furney Sr.’s sister Mary Lewis, 54. Eliza Lewis likely died before 1894, when 71 year-old Furney Lewis remarried. However, he is not found in the 1900 census.



Top, Fannie Hardy Ward, Theodore R. Ellis and Edith Barnes Ellis. Bottom, Eloise Ward and T. Roosevelt Ellis Jr., probably near Stantonsburg, Wilson County, circa 1939.

Thanks to Monica Ellis Barnes and Tracey Ellis Leon for use of family photographs. Photograph of headstone taken in March 2013.

Births Deaths Marriages, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

“That’s your wife.”; or, finding the Perrys.


Wilson News, 21 September 1899.

(Ignore the snark, which was par for the course for newspapers covering African-American social and cultural events.)

I came across this article using my great-grandfather’s name as a search term. Mike Taylor was an usher at this wedding and, look, so was his brother-in-law Edward Barnes. Mike’s daughter Maggie Taylor, my grandfather’s sister, then about 13, was a maid of honor, and his daughter Bertha Taylor, 7, was a flower girl. The bride and groom were Henry Perry and Centha Barnes. Were either of them related to the Taylors?

“Perry” rang a little bell. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County, living along the A.C.L. Railroad: 42 year-old railroad laborer Pierce Barnes, wife Mary, 34, adopted son Robert Perry, 8, and Mary’s father Willis Barnes, 72.  Mary was my great-grandmother Rachel Barnes Taylor‘s sister. In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County, at 114 Lee Street: Mike H. Taylor, cook at cafe, wife Rachel and their son Tom Perry, 12.

Then there was this death certificate:


So Tom Perry was the son of the couple that married above. But what was Tom’s relationship to Robert Perry, who was adopted by Mary Barnes Barnes and served as informant for Tom’s death certificate? And how were the Perrys related to Mike Taylor or his wife Rachel Barnes Taylor?

I found Henry and Centha Barnes Perry’s 1899 marriage license. Henry was 24; Centha, 18. Both Henry’s parents were listed, but only her father, Willis Barnes, was.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, Willis Barnes appears with his wife Cherry, six of their children (the youngest aged about 4) and a niece. By 1900, and probably long before, Cherry Battle Barnes was dead. Had she had one last child, Lucinda, called “Centha,” in 1881?

Let’s say Cherry died in or shortly after childbirth. Her oldest daughter Rachel, who married Mike Taylor in 1882, likely would have reared her baby sister with her own children. (The oldest, my grandfather, was born in 1883.) The 1890 census might have captured this family together, but those records were destroyed by fire. By 1900, Centha (“Sindie”) and her new husband Henry S. Perry were living together in Wilson, as yet childless. Ten years later, however, Henry was listed as a single man boarding at the New Briggs Hotel, where he worked as a bellboy.

What happened in those ten years? The best guess is that Cintha, having given birth to at least two sons, Robert (1903) and Thomas (1908), died. Her children went to live with her mother’s relatives, just as she had done. The family, however, never quite recovered. Henry eventually remarried, but died in 1927 when his second set of children were still young. Tom, who worked as a boot black in a barbershop (perhaps the one in which my grandfather cut hair), was shot in the leg in the spring of 1931, then seems to have died of tuberculosis less than a year later. (Cause of death: “problematically T.B. caused by gun shot wound”? Wha?) Robert Perry worked as a grocery delivery boy for a while, then as a janitor for Carolina Telephone & Telegraph Company, but in 1930 was listed as a convict living at the Wilson County Stockade. He married a woman named Pauline, but it is not clear whether they had children. In 1942, he registered for the World War II draft:

TAYLOR -- RL Perry WW2 Draft Card

The back of the card notes that Robert Lee Perry was 5’11”, 155 lbs., had a scar under his left eye, and had brown eyes, black hair and a dark brown complexion. “Mike Taylor,” the person who would always know his address, was not the Mike Taylor who had been an usher at his parents’ wedding. Rather, he was that Mike’s son, Roderick “Mike” Taylor, Robert’s first cousin and my grandfather. Robert Perry died 15 May 1977. His death certificate lists no parents.

DNA, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

DNAnigma, no. 15: Barnes?

Barnes is far and away the most common surname in Wilson County. It is the “Smith” of Wilson, so common that two Barneses who meet, without further reason, will not wonder if they are kin. It would not occur to them that they might be. My cousin has a Barnes maternal line, and a Barnes paternal line, and married a Barnes. None are connected. My Wilson County roots are neither wide nor deep, so I only have one Barnes line, and it’s a little iffy. Nonetheless, 23andme has matched my and my father’s chromosomes with W.B. and estimates that they are 3rd to 5th cousins, .58% share. (W.B. doesn’t match my cousin, despite her many Barnes lines.)

W.B.’s patrilineal line is traceable to John Barnes, born about 1860, probably in Wilson County. Shortly before 1880, John married Harriet Batts, daughter of Orange and Mary Batts. I have not found a death certificate for John, but census records indicate that he died before 1920. Is he the connection? If he is, the tie is in an earlier generation, as there is no John Barnes in my files.

W.B. also has an ancestor named Nancy Barnes Horne, daughter of Gray and Bunny Barnes and wife of Simon Horne Jr. Is she the connection? Is the connection a Barnes at all?

W.B. is a 3rd to 5th cousin to my father. I know all kinds of 3rd to 5th cousins. In real life. How can I have NO CLUE what our relationship is this one? 23andme and Ancestry DNA are wonderful tools that have been invaluable in confirming connections, but their deeper impact has been to drive home just how little I know.

Enslaved People, Land, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Where we lived: north of Wilson, near the railroad.

Thanks to Marion “Monk” Moore and Joan Howell Waddell, I’ve been able to identify the approximate locations of several of the white farmer-landowners listed near Willis and Cherry Battle Barnes in the 1870 census.  If the family remained in the general area in which they had been enslaved, Hugh B. Johnston’s speculation is correct.


Toisnot Reservoir, a dammed stretch of Toisnot Swamp, today lies on the northern edge of the city of Wilson.  Joshua Barnes, Alpheus Branch, Ceborn Farmer, Isaac Farmer and Jesse Farmer’s farms all lay north of the swamp and south of present-day Elm City in a corridor now defined by London Church Road, the CSX Railroad (then the Wilmington & Weldon) and US Highway 301. The Barneses lived somewhere in this area. In the photo above, the diagonal running top to bottom is the railroad, London Church Road bows to the left, and numbers mark the approximate locations of farms and modern landmarks: (1) Isaac Farmer land; (2) Seborn Farmer land; (3) Alpheus Branch land; (4) Joshua Barnes land; (5) Toisnot Reservoir; and (6) the Bridgestone-Firestone tire plant.


In a letter dated 11 January 2007, Waddell included a map of Wilson County with the above properties marked. Many thanks to her and Monk Moore.


Update, 23 June 2015: Joshua Barnes’ house is not only still standing, it’s been continuously occupied since the 1840s and was on the market just a few years ago. It’s located at 3415 London Church Road.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 10.17.53 PM

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Battle? Barnes?

Rachel Taylor was born about 1863 in Wilson County, most likely between the town of Wilson and what is now Elm City. Records consistently name her mother as Cherry Battle, or Barnes, but a single entry renders her father’s identity is more ambiguous.

In 1866, Willis Barnes and Cherry Battle legalized their relationship by registering their cohabitation in Wilson County. They informed the registrar that they had been married six years. In the first post-Civil War census of 1870, Rachel Barnes is the oldest child, at 6, in their household.  Three younger children follow: West, Jesse and Ned.

However, in the 1880 census, the family appears as: Willis Barnes, wife Cherey, stepdaughter Rachel Battle, children Wesley, Jesse, Ned, Eddie, and Mary Barnes, niece Ellen Battle, and son Willey Barnes.  “Stepdaughter”?  Rachel appears to have been born after her parents’ marriage in 1860, and this is the only reference I have found that assigns her the surname “Battle.” She married in 1882 as “Rachel Barnes” and is listed as Rachel Barnes on several records related to her children. When she died in 1925, a month after suffering a stroke, her son named Willis Barnes as her father.  Was the 1880 censustaker merely mistaken? Misinformed?

Enslaved People, Letters, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Some of that set.

“Dear Lisa,” he wrote. “I read with interest your letter of October 31….”


I was new at research and utterly clueless about where to start looking for information about slave forebears when I reached out to the late, great Hugh B. Johnston, Wilson County’s pre-eminent historian and genealogist. I was thrilled to receive his prompt reply. The letter was brief, but encouraging, and though I’d hoped for a complete and annotated report that left no end loose, I was confident that a breakthrough loomed just around the bend.

Unfortunately, here I am, nearly 27 years later, with the same fundamental questions burning:

  1. Was Rachel Barnes the daughter of Willis Barnes, or his step-daughter as the 1880 census indicates?  If the latter, who was her father?
  2. Did Willis Barnes belong to Joshua Barnes?
  3. Was Toney Eatman, a free man of color from Nash County, Willis’ father? Was Annie Barnes Eatman his mother?
  4. Was Cherry Battle‘s first name actually Charity?
  5. Did she belong to Amos J. Battle?