All week, I was pressed. Wave after wave of thunderstorms had been crashing over eastern North Carolina, tornadoes swirling in their wake. The rain didn’t stop until the night before I flew in, and I knew that Contentnea Creek floods early and often. Friday dawned bright and blue though. I headed down Highway 58, excitement brimming like the sheets of water standing in fields on both sides of the pavement. Though several roads around Stantonsburg were still closed, my path was clear, and I pulled into the Saulses’ driveway at the stroke of 10 A.M.
Cousin Andrew Sauls is a reserved man, but welcoming and friendly, and he and his wife, Cousin Jannettie, put me quickly at ease. They were curious about my connection to Daniel Artis and the Saulses, and as I began to explain about Vicey and Sylvania and Adam T., we realized that he had known many of “my” Artises as a young man. In addition to farming hundreds of acres northwest of Snow Hill, his father, Isaac Sauls Jr., bought, rehabbed and sold farms, was a skilled carpenter, and operated several businesses. In 1947, after a short-lived stint operating a funeral home in Snow Hill, Isaac bought a saw mill, refurbished it, and began cutting lumber the following year. Cousin Andrew started working there as a ten year-old and recalled that the factory made good money for more than 20 years because there was a high demand for raw lumber. In those days, he said, “I didn’t know nair black person had a brick house in Greene County. Nor hardly any white ones.” People needed lumber for home repairs and to build tobacco barns and other out buildings. Though most of the Saulses’ customers were white, they also sold to many black farmers in Greene and surrounding counties, including Les, William and Walter Artis in Wayne County. Brothers William and Walter were sons of Adam T. and Frances Seaberry Artis, and Leslie, son of Napoleon Artis, was their nephew. (William, Walter and Napoleon were brothers of my great-great-grandmother, Louvicey Artis Aldridge. All were grandchildren of Vicey Artis Williams, who was Daniel Artis’ sister.) Cousin Isaac recalled Les as one of the richest black men in Wayne County, and the first he knew of to own a Cadillac. He laughed as he recounted hauling a load of lumber to Walter Artis as a 17 year-old and being offered some liquor. Isaac Sauls Jr. also operated a “stick mill” that cut tobacco sticks for farmers during the summer months.
After a while, Cousin Andrew’s only surviving sibling, sister Hattie, who lives nearby in the “home house,” joined us and chimed in as Andrew talked about their father’s and grandfather’s achievements. He has an astounding memory and reeled off the dates and details of land purchases dating back ninety years to his father’s first acquisition of 57 acres for $400 in 1924. Today the family owns about 440 acres, which it leases to another farmer. When I mentioned his great-uncle Cain “C.D.” Sauls‘ involvement with an African-American bank in Wilson, he astonished me by exclaiming, “I remember my daddy talking about that! It went under. I think he said it was Stanback and Reid.” [And sure enough, J.D. Reid and H.S. Stanback were the bank officers convicted of the fraud that led to the bank’s failure.]
According to Cousin Andrew, in 1929, Isaac Sauls Jr. leased land to the state for the erection of a Rosenwald school. That school served African-American students in the area from 1930 until 1959. When it closed, Cousin Isaac bought the building and converted it into a house in which his son William lived until his death. The structure now stands a few hundred feet north of Cousin Andrew’s house. [Here for National Register of Historic Places nomination form for another Rosenwald school in Greene County.]
Cousin Hattie spoke of C.D. Sauls’ ownership of several businesses in Snow Hill, including a hotel and a funeral home. She was not sure if he was a formally educated man, but he appeared to be. He was on personal terms with Booker T. Washington and traveled to Tuskegee Institute to speak on occasion. He also owned shares in a cotton mill in Concord, North Carolina. (This would have been the ill-fated Coleman Manufacturing Company.) He apparently occasionally contibuted a column to a newspaper in Kinston, and she promised to send me a copy of an article. Later, when I mentioned that my mother had taught at North Greene Elementary School for a few years when she first came to North Carolina, Cousin Hattie asked if she knew Annie Edwards Moye, who’d taught there for 45 years. (Annie Moye was a descendant of Clara Artis Edwards, daughter of Daniel Artis.) I didn’t know the answer at the time, but soon learned that my mother in fact had commuted to Greene County with Mrs. Moye and other teachers who lived in Wilson!
Neither his father nor his grandfather had much education, said Cousin Andrew, but they were smart and shrewd and skilled and able to form strong business relationships on the strength of their word. Isaac Sr., born at the start of the Civil War to the enslaved daughter of a free-born, land-owning man and his enslaved wife, was a master carpenter who began to accumulate land at an early age and passed his drive and determination on to his children. One hundred and fifty years later, his gift shines in his grandson Andrew.
Cousin Andrew and me at Artis Town cemetery, 2 May 2014.