Agriculture, Land, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

No need for exodusting.

Napoleon Haganstestimony before a Senate committee was not his last word on the migration of African-American farmers out of North Carolina. Nine months later, he — or someone for him, in any case, as he was unlettered — penned a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, recounting his agricultural success and exhorting his “race” to cast down their buckets where they were. His sentiments were echoed by Jonah Williams, his friend, neighbor, pastor and brother-in-law’s brother. (Jonah, too, was illiterate. Both men, however, were strong believers in the value of education and saw that their children received the best they could afford. See here, here and here.)


Goldsboro Messenger, 30 December 1880.

Agriculture, Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

I never heard anything but “rent.”

The third in an occasional series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. Paragraph breaks inserted for better readability.

Plaintiff introduces Jonah Reid who being duly sworn, testifies as follows:

I have heard Tom Artis say that he was going soon to pay his rent with cotton to [William S.] Hagans. I don’t know how often I have heard him speak of that, I have heard him say something about it several times when rent was due. I didn’t hear him say what lands. Some times he was cultivating the three pieces, sometimes the 30 acre piece. I am his son-in-law. I never lived with him. Live back of his house. Never heard him call it anything but rent cotton, not interest cotton. (Defendant objects.)


I told Hagans that I heard the old man say he was going to pay his rent, that was along in September, I think this past September. The only reason I told him was he asked me. He came by where I was working on the road. He asked me how long I had been in the family. I told him 16 years. He asked if I had ever heard anything but rent. I told him no. That’s why I told him. That’s all he asked me. Tom worked the three pieces, then afterwards the 30 acre piece. That’s all I remember Hagans said. I didn’t know there had been a suit about the land. Hadn’t had the suit yet. I said I didn’t like to say anything about my father-in-law. Hagans didn’t tell me that he Artis was claiming that he was paying interest. I just answered what he asked me. I told him I had never heard any thing but “Rents”.


Jonah Reid was married to Magnolia Artis (1871-1939), daughter of Thomas and Loumiza Artis Artis. Loumiza Artis was a sister of my great-great-great-grandfather Adam T. Artis. One of Adam Artis’ wives, Frances Seaberry, was William Hagans’ paternal aunt.


Agriculture, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

I would be glad if you would wait a few days.

The second in an occasional series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. Paragraph breaks inserted for better readability.

Plaintiff introduces H.S. REID who being duly sworn testifies as follows:

I know the Defendant Tom Artis. I had a conversation with him in reference to payment of cotton to [William S.] Hagans. This last fall I was on the road with Hagans and met Tom Artis carrying a bale of cotton. Heard conversation between Artis and Hagans. When we met in the road Tom said, “You are leaving home, and I have started to your house with a bale of lint cotton.” Hagans told Tom to carry it on as quick as he could, for he needed it about as bad as he ever saw anyone. He said that in a joking way. Hagans started off, and he said, “Hold on Captain!” He told him that he understood that he was going to sell the land down there. Hagans said yes, that it was for sale. Tom said, “I would be glad if you would wait a few days Captain, I think I can raise the money for that place, didn’t say what place just then. Hagans said he had rather sell it altogether. Tom said if he would give him a few days until he could see his boys, he thought he could raise the money for it all. Hagans said alright, it was all for sale. That was about the end of the conversation and we parted. Later then that one day, at Eureka, Artis asked me if I knew when Hagans would be out at his place. I told him about the day Hagans told me he would be out there. Artis said I wish I would deliver a message to Hagans for him, “ask him not to sell that place to Mr. Wright Cook. Said if he did, he would be out of house and home. He said he would rather Hagans sell it to Coley, for he thought he could get along better with Mr. Coley. I delivered the message to Hagans when he came out home. I think this is about the substance. That last conversation was a short while before the sale I think. Am not real sure when it was.


I told this conversation about Tom wanting Hagans to wait before he sold the land. I told several people, I don’t remember all. I am not able to tell. I think Hagans and I talked about Tom Wanting to buy the land. I am not positive. I heard Hagans say that the old man wanted to buy the land from him, as I remember. I think I told the lawyer about the first conversation.

HENRY S. REID recalled by Defendant.

I don’t know that on the occasion I met Tom Artis, that he forbid Hagans selling his land. It wasn’t mentioned that day. I have never admitted to Tom that he forbid Hagans selling that land.

Agriculture, Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Rights

But for marl.

I don’t know if I’m an Armwood or not, but (1) my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Henderson’s second wife, Louisa, was Henry Armwood’s cousin, (2) I’ve got a DNA match with one of Henry Armwood’s descendants, and (3) Inez Armwood Watson always said we were kin. Either way, I claim him just on the strength of the moxie he displayed when he, a tenant farmer, fought back against the landowner who sought to cheat him of his cotton.

Herring v. Armwood, 130 NC 177 (1902).

B.W. Herring filed this suit in Duplin County, North Carolina, to recover from William Henry Armwood two bales of cotton worth $81 that he alleged belonged to him. Armwood responded that the cotton was worth much more than $81 and that it was not Herring’s. Further, countered Armwood, he rented the farm on which the cotton was raised under this contract: “I, B.W. Herring, do hereby agree to rent my farm to Henry Armwood for the year of 1899 for five bales of cotton of the first picking, weighing five hundred pounds, or the equivalent in money. I do also agree to dig marl to the amount of two thousand bushels, more or less, and Henry Armwood agrees to haul the same and scatter on the land.” Armwood was to use the marl in lieu of commercial fertilizers to improve the land and increase crop yield. However, Herring refused to dig the marl, and Armwood’s crops suffered.

At trial, Herring testified that Armwood paid only three of five bales of cotton he owed in rent. Armwood took two more bales raised on the rented land to Ruffin Cameron’s to be ginned and those bales were seized. Herring’s testimony is somewhat confusingly recounted in the opinion, but he seems to assert that he did not agree to dig any marl for the 1899 crop, but that he used it as an experiment in 1898 on about 16 of the 40 acres he rented to Armwood.  Armwood countered: “It was agreed that the two thousand bushels of marl shoul dbe hauled on the crop for 1899. I lived on the plaintiff’s land in 1898, and hauled marl for 15 or 16 acres. The crops were increased by the use of the marl 50 to 75 per cent. I hauled the marl from Mr. Dan Lee Flowers. He had the bed, and furnished Mr. Faison Hicks, Mr. Ab Herring, Andrew Barfield, and others in the neighborhood. My crop was decreased by the failure to use the marl at least 50 per cent.” Herring objected to this testimony on the grounds that it was too remote, and the trial judge sustained the objection. Though Dan Lee Flowers testified in support of Armwood, the judge rendered a verdict and judgment for Herring. Armwood appealed.

The North Carolina Supreme Court neatly framed the issue: “The sole question involved in this appeal, when stripped of its technical paraphernalia, is whether an action for damages will lie for a breach of contract in failing to furnish fertilizers, whereby the yield of the crop was decreased, because such damage or failure in the yield will be too remote.” And decided: “… the conclusion is irresistible that a lessening in the yield would be the natural result of a failure to use the marl, if marl be beneficial to the growth and development of the crops, and that the lessened yield would be incidental to such breach, and therefore plaintiff would be liable.” Further, everybody knows that fertilizers increase yield and marl can greatly increase production. “… [i]f damages be recoverable for a breach of contract which decreased the yield, they can also be recovered for a breach of contract whereby the yield was not increased.” Armwood had a right to present his proof to the jury. Error in the lower court, and a new trial awarded.

Agriculture, Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

He never said he had any claims on the land.

The first in an occasional series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. Paragraph breaks inserted for better readability.

The Plaintiff introduces W.S. Hagans, who being duly sworn testifies as follows:

I sold this land, the 30 acre, 24 acre, and the 9 1/3 acre pieces to Mr. Coley. Mr. Cook had been negotiating with me for the purchase of the 30 acre tract and the 24 acre tract. He did not want the 9 1/3 acre tract. I met Mr. Cook on several different occasions, until finally we met at Eureka one afternoon, he was considering it, and we finally decided on the deal. Mr. Cook was to give me $40.00 per acre for the the 30 acre tract, and the 24 acre tract. Before Mr. Cook did this however, he informed me that there was a missing link in the title, that he had found after investigating it. I told him that that was perfectly alright, as there had never been any question about it.

After our conference at Eureka, the day was set for me to meet him in Goldsboro, where he was to pay me the consideration, the price of the land, and I in turn to give him a deed for the land. He did not come on that day, but ‘phoned me at Fremont that he did not succeed in raising the money, but to please hold it open until tomorrow.

Early tomorrow morning, before sunrise, a bitter cold morning, the Defendant [Tom Artis] came to my house in Goldsboro. I asked him what brought him to town on such a cold morning, he said he came to bring a message from Mr. J.F. Coley, that Mr. Coley said that he wanted to buy that land, and would take all three of the tracts instead of two, said the Defendant to me, “that will be to your advantage.” The Defendant stated to me that Mr. Cook’s time was out yesterday. I expressed surprise that the Defendant should be familiar with those circumstances. Afterwards I said to the Defendant, that while Mr. Cook’s time was out yesterday, that Mr. Cook had phoned me yesterday & said he had a great effort to reach me, and finally did so asking me to hold the matter open until tomorrow. I told him that I would feel honor bound if Mr. Cook should come to me with the purchase price for the two tracts of land, to let him have it, although I would prefer selling the three tracts together. The Defendant said to me that if Mr. Cook got possession of this place that he the Defendant would not be able to stay there as Mr. Cook was a very disagreeable man to get along with. I told the Defendant that I would not deed this property to Mr. Cook, or to any one else until they made the same promise to me in reference to the Defendant’s staying where he has, that I made to my father in the presence of the Defendant.

The Defendant remained in shooting distance of me all of the day, waiting for me to see Mr. Cook that he might get from me a final message to take back to Mr. Coley. I saw Mr. Cook, and he informed me that the reason he couldn’t take it was that he had experienced great difficulty in raising that money. That money was hard. I was really glad of this, and so informed the Defendant, for I wanted to sell the three tracts if possible, together. Then I asked the Defendant to say to Mr. Coley on his return home, that I would meet him at the Defendant’s house on Friday, I think it was, but having business out there, I drove past, and got the Defendant and took him out to the Plaintiff’s place of business that was on Thursday, I went the day before the time set, and stated to the Defendant the object of my going down there, and asked him to go with me.

We went down there and Mr. Coley and I had a talk aside from the Defendant, and finally wound up in the Defendan’t presence. The conversation we had in the presence of Tom was Mr. Coley might have the three pieces of land, in consideration of $3250, and I take his paper. This was said in the Defendant’s immediate presence, he sitting on the buggy beside me. We left, the Defendant expressing himself as highly pleased that Mr. Coley had bought the three pieces of land, said he thought I had made a fine trade. He made no objection at any time to the sale of the land. He encouraged it all the while. He never intimated to me that he had any claims on this land of any kind. None whatever.

I got the land about 1899, deed of partition between my brother [Henry E. Hagans] and myself. After I got the land I rented that to the Defendant. The first year I think, I charged him 850 lb. of lint cotton, thinking all the while that my brother having acted for us both got 850 lb. for the two places, the 30 and the 24 acre lot.The Defendant informed me that my brother had been charging only 800 lb., and I agree to the 800 lb. He did not at any time when delivering this cotton say that he was paying it as interest and taxes. (Defendant objects.) He has never said anything about paying it as any way than rent. He has never mentioned taxes to me on that property. I listed that land and paid the taxes.

I had some work done on that house since I came in possession. The Defendant patched the roof and also built a porch. I do not wish to state that I had it built. I paid for the lumber. The Defendant did the work himself.

The Defendant came to my place in front of the gin house last fall, and said to me that he had understood that I was going to sell those three pieces of land down there, we called it the Tom Pig place, the Calv Pig place and the Adam [Artis] place. He said he wanted to buy the Tom Pig place or the 30 acre. He asked me if I would prefer selling it all together. I asked him what he would want to give me for the 30 acre tract piece, and he said he would give me $800.00 for it. I told him I couldn’t take that, as I had already been offered $40.00 an acre, or $2160 for the two places. He asked me to give him time that he might hear from his boys in Norfolk, that he was confident that he could raise the purchase price for the 30 acre tract, if not for it all. The Defendant and Durden Fort were present at the time. Durden Fort has since died. In payment of this land, Mr. Coley’s notes were security fort this property. Mr. Coley’s home place I think. 60 some odd acres in addition to what I sold was given as security. One note is due in January.


Tom said to me, “I think you sold those three pieces of land well.” He said that on the buggy. Mr. Coley and I behind the barn talked about this land. He wanted to get the land for $3000. I had an idea that Mr. Coley was a pretty good trader, and wanted to get it as cheap as possible, and I told him behind the barn what three pieces I wanted to sell him them for. I didn’t have to go through any particular form, we didn’t close the thing out, we continued the conversation until we separated. The pieces of land were all understood. He said in the presence of Tom, “For the three pieces of land I will give you $3250.00.” I thought it was necessary to innumerate the three pieces so he would see what he was getting.

Tom has lived on that place ever since I had it. I don’t know to my personal knowledge if he lived off of it. I was in school at the time, or at any rate away from home. Durden Fort was present at the conversation we had. He died in the summer. I had him as a witness. I did not rent my land at the same price every year to every body, not necessarily, to some I did, some I didn’t. The reason I charged him 800 lb. was because my brother rented it to him for 800, and I thought it was all he was able to pay, and there were other considerations. There were other considerations that induced me to charge only 800 lb. of lint cotton for the land. (Plaintiff objects.) It arose out of a conversation I had with my father [Napoleon Hagans] and Tom. My father was in feeble health in 1896. He called my brother and myself under the cart shelter at the home place and said to us that he was not going to live long, and he did not know to which one of us, that is his two sons, would fall heir to that property. Tom was present. That was the land in controversy. (Plaintiff objects), but as long as the Defendant, whom he called “Pig” paid his rent, let him remain. We promised. He did not say how much rent. I did not know as far as I remember that Tom paid to my father 800 lb. of lint cotton. I don’t know. I would rather believe he did. (Plaintiff objects.)

Births Deaths Marriages, Land, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Coley v. Artis.

At the heart of Wayne County Superior Court proceedings stemming from the suit in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis (1908) was 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 “Pole” Hagans.  In 1896, after Napoleon’s death, the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans, and in 1899 Henry sold his interest to his brother.  In 1908, William S. Hagans sold the 30 acres to J.F. Coley.  Coley filed suit when Tom Artis laid claim to it, arguing that Napoleon had sold it to him.  Tom claimed that the 800 lbs. of cotton he tendered to Napoleon Hagans (and later, his son William) was interest on a mortgage, but William Hagans and other witnesses maintained that the payment was rent.

The trial transcript is replete with testimony revealing the personal relationships among witnesses. Tom Artis testified that he rented the “Adam Artis place.” William Hagans testified that his father was in feeble health in 1896 when he called him and 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.  Tom Franks testified that “Pole was a first-rate business man.” Jonah Williams, Adam Artis’ brother, testified that he borrowed money from Napoleon to open a brickyard in the spring of 1893 and had preached his funeral.  He also noted that “Tom married my sister [Loumiza Williams Artis, who was deceased by time of this trial].  He is not a member of my church.  I turned him out.  He is a Primitive Baptist.  I preached Napoleon Hagans’ funeral.”  Jesse Artis, another of Adam Artis’ brothers, testified that he had worked on Hagans’ property as a carpenter for 18 years and noted, “I don’t know that Tom and I are any kin, just by marriage.”   John Rountree testified that he was a tenant renting from Hagans on thirds.  Simon Exum, Delilah Artis‘ husband, testified: “I am no kin to Tom [Artis] as far as I know, except by Adam.  His first wife was my wife’s sister.”  H.S. Reid testified that he was Tom Artis’ son-in-law.

The court found for Coley and against Artis.


Thomas Artis was a son of a free woman of color, Celia Artis, and her enslaved husband, Simon Pig. Though, ultimately, nearly all free colored Artises are descended from a common ancestor in southside Virginia, by the late 1800s knowledge of these remote links had faded. There were dozens of Artis families in Wayne County during the antebellum period, and the relationships between them are unknown. Celia Artis was a close neighbor of Adam Artis, but the families apparently did not regards themselves as kin.  Still, they were inextricably intertwined.  The Artises, Haganses and Reids had been neighbors in the Eureka area for generations. Celia Artis and Henry S. Reid’s grandmother Rhoda Reid were the wealthiest free women of color in the county. Adam Artis married Napoleon Hagans’ half-sister Frances Seaberry. Adam’s sister Loumiza married Tom Artis, as noted above. Henry S. Reid, son of Washington and Penninah Reid, married Tom Artis’ daughter. Henry’s first cousin Henry Reid, son of John and Mozana Hall Reid, married Adam Artis’ daughter Georgianna Artis. Adam Artis’ son William Marshall Artis and grandson Leslie Artis married Tom Artis’ nieces, Etta and Minnie Diggs. And on and on.

Documents found in file of the Estate of Thomas Artis (1911), Wayne County, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979,