Education, Enslaved People, Land, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Meeting the Saulses.

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.

me and AS

Cousin Andrew and me at Artis Town cemetery, 2 May 2014.

Enslaved People, Free People of Color, Land, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Black carpenter makes name for himself.

I’ve been pulling together a descendant chart for Daniel Artis. In part, I want to keep the names straight and, in part, I’m trying to see if I’m related to any of the other Edwardses, Saulses or Artises I grew up with. Tonight I Googled some random names from this family and up popped this, published just three days ago in, the on-line version of the Kinston Free Press. Andrew Sauls’ father was Isaac Sauls, son of Isaac Sauls, son of Prior Ann Artis Sauls Thompson, daughter of Daniel Artis, brother of my great-great-great-great-grandmother Vicey Artis Williams.

[Update, 7 March 2014: I emailed the Free Press journalist and two days later — yesterday — got a call from Andrew Sauls himself! He lives on land his grandfather bought in 1920 (plus 400 more); confirmed that the Artis Town sign is gone; knew M.’s grandfather, “Cousin Booker T.,” well; and promised to show me around Sauls-Edwards-Artis territory next time I’m home!  — LYH]

Maternal Kin, Paternal Kin, Vocation

Where we worked: hewers and builders.

Adam T. Artis, near Eureka NC – carpenter, 1850s-circa 1900.

Adam T. Artis Jr., Washington DC – hod carrier, circa 1910.

Isham Smith, Goldsboro NC – husband of Nancy Henderson Smith, blacksmith, 1880s?-1914.

Junius Allen, Newport News VA – carpenter, circa 1917.

Prince A. Aldridge, Wilson NC – plasterer, circa 1940.

Van Smith – husband of Mattie Taylor Smith; bricklayer, Pool & Whitehead, Smithfield NC, 1917; Wilson NC, circa 1920.

Jesse Artis, Norfolk VA – laborer, house builder, circa 1920.

Dock Simmons, Logansport IN – owned and operated hauling and excavating company, circa 1924.

John C. Allen Jr., Newport News VA – carpenter, construction contractor, 1920s-1948.

Benjamin A. Harris, Wilson NC – husband of Pauline Artis Harris; brickmason, 1930s-1950s.

Daniel Simmons, Philadelphia PA – construction laborer, circa 1930.

Johnnie Smith, Goldsboro NC – carpenter, circa 1930.

Eugene Stockton, Statesville NC – husband of Ida Colvert Stockton; brickmason, circa 1930.

Ira Henderson, Mount Olive NC – carpenter, circa 1940.

Ned Barnes, Wilson NC — building carpenter, circa 1930.

Richard G. Wynn, Wilmington NC – brickmason, 1950s.

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

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Oral History, Photographs, Virginia, Vocation

He designed every house he built.

About ten years ago, when we were all in Newport News for a family reunion, I asked my uncle to take us on a tour of houses our grandfather built.


He designed every house he built. And there were a couple he designed that he didn’t build. I’ll show you those, too. One of them, he really hated to lose. That was a, Dr. Woodard was a dentist. I mean, a pharmacist. And so, he – that was one of the lots that Daddy had sold, and so I think Daddy was a little ticked with the guy. He sold him the lot and designed the house, then the man went to another contractor. But you know what was interesting at that time? There were about five or six good general contractors around, you know, that did small buildings. And Daddy was one of those, but these guys were pretty competitive. They had a decent market. Daddy built an average of about a house a year, I guess. The war cut him off, you know. He had to get reestablished after the war. But he had a friend named Buster Reynolds. And Buster Reynolds was reputed to have made his money in the numbers, and so when the numbers were getting real hot and heavy, when it was reputed that the Mafia was trying to take the numbers over, Buster got out. And he built this service station, and he had a Texaco franchise, and he had Daddy to build the station. And Texaco liked the work so much that Daddy built two more stations for Texaco. And both of the stations that were built in the black community are still up. They’re not gas stations anymore, but the buildings are still up. And the one that was built Overtown is gone. But even the station that was in the white community Texaco had him to build that one, too. And with the money Daddy bought – I’ll never forget – he bought an International truck, great big truck, to carry his materials around.

Texaco 2


… the churches that he used to do expansions and modernizations on all the time, but I know one of ‘em is gone, and I don’t know where the other one is. I know the one – he used to take me down to that one from time to time. But I don’t know where they are now. The thing he did throughout all of these communities – he had a strong maintenance clientele, but Daddy was a – you see these cabinet shops now? Well, Daddy used to make, put in new cabinet work in people’s kitchens for them. And, so, that’s what carried him through the winter. ‘Cause he would also do designs and drawings for other contractors. Like Jimmy’s daddy. Mr. Scott. He used to do most of their design work, he’d sit there and draw those drawings for them. But that’s what got him through the winter. That and he used to do a lot of maintenance. Put in new windows, cabinet work, doors. Put little small additions to houses. But that was generally for a white clientele. He used to do a lot of work for the shipyard management people up in North Huntington Heights.


This house Daddy was building when he died. He was building it for a family named Kramer. A white family. See the one with the little entrance and the white wrought iron?

House 1

1316 – 22nd Street


The 800 block of Hampton Avenue, this is where Daddy owned those lots. Slow down … this house right here. This tan house. 855. This house was built at that time for the Tynes family, which owned a very nice house and property up in the next block.

Hampton Avenue 1

855 Hampton Avenue

But the Tynes family ran into some – I guess it was financial difficulty. Anyway, that house was sold to Wendell Walker, who was a lawyer and a part of the Walker family. You know his father was a lawyer, who was William. And his son William jr. is Howard Walker’s father, who was my classmate. And then there were, like, four sons and a daughter, I believe it was. Three of ‘em were lawyers, and then Wendell and Phillip were lawyers. The son William was an engineer, but when he came back home, he was manager of Aberdeen. He went into real estate and insurance. Daddy sold him the lot, designed and built the house.


Hampton Avenue 3.1

819 Hampton Avenue

Let me tell you about this house right here. This house was the undoing. This house was built for his friend Leroy Ridley. And there were, I think, four lots – four or three lots. Leroy Ridley was the son of John Ridley, who founded Crown Savings Bank with Pa Pa Allen. Okay? But he became – one of the Ridley sons, he became the one who took over the bank. And the man turned out to be not the most moral and forthright businessman. He talked into Daddy into $5000 worth of extras in this house, which was almost the same size as the house. And then when it came time to close the deal, he refused to pay Daddy because he said Daddy had not duly executed the extensions in the contract to do that. And not only that – Daddy had borrowed money from his bank. The long and short of the story is the last of that was paid when Pa Pa’s estate was executed [in 1961, 13 years after John Allen’s death.] We told Mother to pay that loan off ‘cause she still owed a thousand dollars. But this house turned out to be what kept Daddy from building Mama her house. ‘Cause he was gon build it on another lot. See? But when he got caught in that deal, then he couldn’t. So then he had to sell off all the lots that he had for houses, okay? So that’s when he sold this lot – the Woodard lot. And designed that house for Dr. Woodard.

Me: This incredible – this house right here?

My uncle: Yes. That’s Daddy’s design.

My cousin, J: Wow!

Me: Sheeze. Oh, my God.

He did not do it. He designed it. Okay. See, this was an extra lot. This is another one of the large lots he had. You see what I’m saying? And this house was across the street, that was his pride and joy. That was a Cape Cod. But I’m saying, the Ridley house was a fantastic house. I mean, you know, the design was great, but anyway, so this was done for his buddy Picott. Mr. Picott. He was president — well, he wasn’t president – yes, well, he was, of Virginia Education Association, which was the black unit of the National Education Association. He was one of the guys who lost their jobs over the equal rights fight with Mr. Palmer for black teachers to have equal pay. And he left and moved to Richmond, and that’s when he sold his house. But that was a beautiful home. Solid oak floors, cabinetry that Daddy built. All of that, that house. But that’s the thing that – she won’t talk about it too much – but that’s the thing that really embittered Mother, was when she lost the opportunity to build her house because of that deal.

Hampton Avenue 2

816 Hampton Avenue


2107 Marshall Ave

2107 Marshall Avenue, my great-grandparents’ house.

You know, he did all that for his father. He put the addition – designed that addition to go on the back. Right behind the bathroom window. Okay, that’s where the bathroom was. And then Daddy designed and started that addition for the house. And that’s when he went to the Army. And they put that addition up there so – so the bottom addition was the barbershop, remember? You remember the beauty shop? Yeah, the bottom addition was the beauty shop, and the upper addition was the bedroom for Aunt Nita for the war. Pa Pa did that for his children.


House 3

3105 [I didn’t note the street name]

On the corner here, similar to the Kramer house. Designed it and built it. That was done for Dr. Fultz, who was a dentist. Actually, he was the school dentist. He built 3015. This at that time was a predominantly white neighborhood. Yeah, that’s the house. See that little carpentry he did? Those little arched doorways? That’s the original wood. That’s Daddy’s work.


Remembering John Christopher Allen, Jr., carpenter, draftsman, builder, contractor, father of five, grandfather of eight, great-grandfather of six, born 107 years ago today.


Interview by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved. Photos taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, 2002.

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Free People of Color, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Vocation

These Artises.

“It comes from Fremont, Wayne county, that Adam Artis, colored, 75 years old, who lives near there, is the father of 47 legitimate children and that in addition there are 80 or 90 grandchildren.”   — Statesville Landmark, 9 Jan 1906.

Try as I might, I can only account for 32 children.  My great-great-grandmother, by Adam’s third wife Frances Seaberry, was one of them.  Adam was born in 1831 in Greene County, North Carolina, to a freeborn mother and an enslaved father.  They gave him the middle name Toussaint, and I’d love to know that story.  He was apprenticed as a carpenter and purchased his first acreage in 1855 from his brother-in-law, John Wilson.  Over the years, he bought and sold a few hundred acres in northern Wayne County, and descendants still live on land that was his.  It is said that his fifth wife, 50+ years his junior, treated him badly in his last days, and was so afraid that he would haunt her that she had his feet cut off before the burial.  No photos of him remain, but his legacy is well-secured.  As his granddaughter Beulah Williams once told me: “These Artises, they are innumerable.”


Maternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia, Vocation

Look at that.

John Allen on Aberdeen worksite

I rode through Aberdeen Gardens two or three times while I was in Newport News. “By Negroes, for Negroes” reads the historical marker near the school. Boxy, red-brick houses counterposed in neat lines along streets named for community heroes. My grandfather John C. Allen Jr. was a drywall supervisor during their construction in the late 1930s. Though he disdained the building standards, he briefly moved his family into one of the duplexes when my mother was three weeks old. Semi-furnished. A chicken coop out back. A vegetable garden. By 1940, the family was gone, into the two-story house on 35th Street that my grandmother called home until she died. There’s a rose alongside the porch that still blooms where my grandfather planted it, and he passed in 1948. This house is the most constant edifice of the whole of my life. My Gibraltar. Upstairs, my grandmother slept in the double bed that they brought with them from Aberdeen, along with a squat chest and a nightstand. Solid oak in a simple Shaker style. “Not a drawer sags to this day,” she told me, marveling. She pulled one precariously far out. “Look at that.” I gently tested its solidity. I laughed.


Above, John C. Allen (third from right) and his drywall crew at Aberdeen Gardens, circa 1937, and floor plan of Aberdeen Gardens home.