Wilmington Messenger, 28 July 1900.
George White’s secretary was cousin William S. Hagans.
Wilmington Messenger, 28 July 1900.
George White’s secretary was cousin William S. Hagans.
I stumbled upon this catalog last night as I was researching for afamwilsonnc.com. As I scanned the list of students, I was stunned to see W.S. Hagans of Fremont, Wayne County. This is William S. Hagans, son of Napoleon and Appie Ward Hagans, and first cousin to my great-great-grandmother Louvicey Artis Aldridge (1865-1927.) William graduated from Howard University’s preparatory division in 1889 and went on to obtain bachelor’s and a law degree from Howard. Apparently, however, he spent at least a year of high school in Fayetteville, a little closer to home. A few months ago, I would have immediately picked up the phone to share this new information with my cousin Bill, William’s grandson. Bill is gone though, so I’ll just have to imagine his warm laugh and exclamations of surprise.
Catalogue found here.
Goldsboro Daily Argus, 31 December 1905.
For decades, on January 1, African-American communities formally celebrated the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1905, under the leadership, in part, of William S. Hagans and Mack D. Coley, the “Educational, Agricultural and Industrial mass meeting” of Wayne County’s “colored citizens” issued an eight-point pledge:
(1) to be respectable;
(2) to endorse state policy to give all children, regardless of color, an education;
(3) to urge school attendance;
(4) to encourage teachers not only to teach, but to pay home visits and preach every manner of virtue and home improvement;
(5) to disapprove of shiftlessness;
(6) to condemn crime and encourage law-abiding conduct;
(7) to suggest that farmers carry insurance and to educate them; and
(8) to become more united as a race, to organize to buy land, and to help one another retire mortgages.
A “pre-election fracas”? What happened? And why did eight of black Goldsboro’s leading lights — including my great-great-great-uncle Matthew W. Aldridge and cousin William S. Hagans — feel compelled to take to the newspaper, hat in hand?
Goldsboro Daily Argus, 18 November 1896.
I didn’t find anything in the Goldsboro papers to which I have access, but two weeks before this letter was published, newspapers across the country ran a sensational story about Negroes “taking control” of Goldsboro after a “clash with whites.” The alleged cause? “An incendiary speech” made by none other than John Frank Baker, “a colored Republican of Dudley,” and husband of Mary Ann Aldridge Baker.
Independence Daily Reporter (Kansas), 4 November 1896.
Four months later, Frank Baker was assassinated, shot dead as he went about his work in a Dudley grocery.
Were Matthew Aldridge and William Hagans and their peers moved to pour oil on the waters because they feared the fallout from Baker’s outspokenness? (I have yet to find anything that touches on what he actually said.) Their letter is frustratingly vague about the events that gave rise to a “race riot” in Goldsboro, speaking only of the aftermath of a recent election. The message is difficult to digest, greased as it is with deferential supplications to the “better class of our white citizens” and anxious apologies for the “slight ripple upon the formally [sic] smooth surface” of race relations in Wayne County. Reading from a 21st century vantage point, it is easy to dismiss this letter as Uncle Tommery. There is an undoubted and substantial element of self-preservation and middle-class conservatism at work here, but their fear was surely real and well-placed.
Howard University Record, volume 1, number 4, November 1907.
In which William S. Hagans delivers a short speech upon the occasion of alumni gathering for Howard University’s 40th anniversary and is elected vice-president of the newly formed alumni organization.
And with that introductory email began my fruitful and thoroughly enjoyable correspondence with B.H., my third cousin, twice removed. Our common ancestor was Levisa (or Eliza) Hagans Seaberry, mother of Napoleon Hagans (B.H.’s great-grandfather) and Frances Seaberry Artis (my great-great-great-grandmother). In the spring of 2010, B.H. and I entered into a mutually beneficial exchange of information about our shared family. I had little information about Napoleon beyond what I’d found in census records and deeds, I’d lost track of his sons Henry and William, and I was completely unaware of his son, the accomplished Dr. Joseph H. Ward. He cued me into William S. Hagans‘ post-migration life in Philadelphia, shared amazing photographs and documents, and lead me to “discover” Joseph Ward’s early years. In turn, I introduced B.H. to Wayne and Wilson Counties and the lives of the Haganses, Wards and Burnetts before they recreated themselves up North.
This past weekend, I traveled to Detroit for — astonishingly — the first time ever. Our primary purpose was to take in the city’s rich street art culture, but I added an item to the top of the agenda — meeting B.H. Friday night, he and his wife treated us to dinner at an old and storied restaurant near the city’s Eastern Market, and Levisa’s children came full circle.
Napoleon Hagans, self-made man, could neither read nor write. His wife, Appie Ward Hagans, born into slavery, picked up the rudiments of an education at some point in her life and was able to scratch out a shaky signature, as shown in this 1888 deed. By time his sons were born, Napoleon had begun his ascent into Wayne County’s African-American elite, recognized by both blacks and whites as a savvy and successful cotton farmer. Thanks to his wealth, the children he reared, Henry and William Hagans, would lead lives very different from their father’s, starting with their educations at local schools and then Howard and Shaw Universities.Henry E. Hagans spent much of his life as a teacher and principal, and his small, firm hand reflects his pedagogical life. He likely met his wife, Julia B. Morton of Danville, Virginia, at Howard. This sample of their signatures is on a deed dated 1899.
William Hagans’ signature was bolder and more architectural than his brother’s, as shown on the 1916 deed below. Though not a teacher, his early career as secretary (read: assistant or even chief of staff, if there was additional staff) to United States Congressman George H. White and as businessman/farmer provided ample opportunity for him to display his conjoined signature. (William M. Artis, son of Adam T. and Frances Seaberry Artis, was William Hagans’ first cousin, and Hannah E. Forte Artis was the wife of William Artis’ brother, Walter S. Artis. William likely did not attend school beyond eighth grade, but his penmanship is lovely. Hannah, too, clearly benefitted from several years of schooling. I wish I knew more about late 19th century rural African-American schools in Wayne County.)
The tenth 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.
W.S. HAGANS recalled by Referee.
I testified that I told Tom that I wouldn’t sell this land to anybody who wouldn’t make the same agreement on which he had been living on the land, that is the promise I made to my father in his presence. I requested Mr. Coley to carry out this agreement. Mr. Coley said he would let the Defendant stay as long as the Defendant could let him. I considered it the same promise I made my father. I told him what rent the old man was paying. He didn’t agree to let him stay for the same rent. Said he would raise it. Said he would let him stay as long as he would protect him, and give him good crops.
The conversation was before the delivery of the deed to Coley. I remember the occasion when Henry Reid and I were together, we talked with Tom about the land. Reid was on my buggy one day, and we met the Defendant. The Defendant wanted me to sell him this 30 acres of land, and I told him that I would prefer selling it all together. He wanted to purchase the property from me in the presence of H.S. Reid. That tract that Coley gave mortgage on was additional security, was worth 4 or $5000. That was the 60 acre tract. (Coley mortgaged.) He gave me notes due for January of next year, and the January following. I have traded those notes. (Plaintiff objects.) Artis stated to me when he came to my house that it would be to my advantage to sell to Mr. Coley, in preference to Mr. Cook, on account of Mr. Coley would not only take the two pieces, the 30 and the 24 acre lot, but would also take the 9 3/4 acre lot, and that he wanted me to let him have it, on the grounds stated yesterday, Mr. Cook being disagreeable etc.
I think I told all these reasons yesterday; I am repeating this because my lawyer asked me. I just didn’t think about the Henry Reid statement. I told my lawyer. I said I would not let anyone have the property, until they had made me the same promise I made my father in presence of Defendant. Mr. Coley also agreed to it. I didn’t say it because I wasn’t asked. I told Mr. Cook that he must let the old man stay there. Mr. Cook said that he had no desire whatever of removing the Defendant. I told Mr. Cook that I heard that he wanted to move his son-in-law up there, and I feared that on that account he would interfere with the Defendant. Mr. Cook said his son-in-law was very well situated on another place, belonging to him, Cook.
What did it take to call a white man “disagreeable” in open court in 1909?
The eighth 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.
Defendant introduces TOM ARTIS, who being duly sworn, testifies:
My name is Tom Artis. They call me Tom Pig. I own some land, 30 acres. (Plaintiff objects.) I have been living on the 30 acre tract of land 25 years, except one year. I mortgaged this land to Mr. Exum. (Plaintiff objects.) I don’t know about how long it was. About 25 or 30 years. (Plaintiff objects.) I don’t know what became of that mortgage. I got Hagans to take it up. (Plaintiff objects.) I don’t know who was present when I got Hagans to take it up. When Hagans agreed to take it up, Mrs. Exum, Hagans and myself were present. I own the 30 acre tract and lived on the the tract adjoining. After Hagans took up the papers, he told me that I could build on that place, or on the 24 acre piece. He said he thought it best for me to build on mine, he might die sometime, and there might be some trouble about me holding the house. I did so. He furnished the lumber, and I did the work. I decided to build on his side. After I built there I had been paying the 800 lb. of lint cotton year in and year out. (Plaintiff objects to each and every statement of the foregoing evidence.) The 800 lb. of cotton was to keep up the taxes and the interest of the money. (Plaintiff objects.) I have been paying this 800 lb. of cotton all the time. (Plaintiff objects.) I left that place one year. I left because my house got in such a bad fix, and I couldn’t stay there, and run my business like I wanted to, and I went over to Mr. Jones’. I rented the land. I rented it to Simon Exum. He gave me 950 lb. for the 30 acre place. I rented the Calv Place and the Adam Artis place. I moved back after one year at Mr. Jones’ place. I built on the Hagans place. Since then I built the piaza and shed room, to my own expense. Borrowed money from Hagans. I paid him back. He didn’t pay for the repairing of it. He furnished some shingles. Got 1/4 covered. I never asked W.S. Hagans to sell the 30 acre tract of land. I never said to Hagans in the presence of Reid or anybody else that I wanted im to sell it. I never asked anybody to buy the 30 acre tract of Hagans. Not the 30 acre tract. I had a conversation with Mr. Coley with reference to buying that land. I was talking about the Calv place. My land wasn’t brought in. The Calv place is the place I rented and lived on. That’s the land I spoke to Mr. Coley about buying from Hagans. He said if Mr. Cook and Hagans didn’t trade to send him a note. I told Hagans, he said tell him Coley, if his hands were not tied. I remember going over to Mr. Coley’s mill with Hagans. I didn’t hear any conversation bwteen Hagans and Coley with reference to buying this tract of land. They were off from me. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I heard them say when they came back to the buggy, Hagans said that he would see him again shortly. I don’t know if he said what day. Next I heard after that was that Hagans had sold it all to Mr. Coley, mine and all. I never rented the 30 acre tract of land. I know Jno. Rountree. I never asked him to go to Will Hagans and ask him to give me an opportunity of buying the 30 acre piece of land. I never said to Will Hgans, Jno. Rountree or Henry Reid, or anybody that I wanted Hagans to give me the opportunity of seeing my boys in Norfolk, so I could buy the 30 acrea piece. I asked Hagans what he would take for the acre back of my huose, of the Calv place. I told him I would buy that. His answer was, “Can you find a buyer for the other part of the Calv place.” I told him I didn’t know. He walked about his buggy house door. He said, “Uncle Tom” I can’t take what that mortgage calls for for your land, land is so much more valuable now than it was when yours was given. It passed off at that. Next I heard he had sold it to Coley.
To be continued.
N.B. Calvin “Calv Pig” Artis was Tom Pig Artis’ brother. He sold the Calv Pig place to Napoleon Hagans in 1879. (Tom and Calvin apparently derived their nicknames from their father Simon Pig Artis, who had been an enslaved man.)
The seventh 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.
Defendant introduces JESSE ARTIS who being duly sworn, testified:
I had a conversation with Tom Artis and Hagans about this land. I was working there for Hagans (Plaintiff objects) as carpenter. Tom Artis was working with me. The Old man Hagans was talking to Tom about claim which Mrs. Exum had on his land, and was telling him that he had some money at that time, and was would take it up if he wanted to, and give him a home for his lifetime. He left us, and Tom talked to me. I told him he did not know whether he would have a home all his life or not. I advised Tom to let Hagans take up the papers, and Tom did so. Hagans told me next day that if Tom should pay him 800 lb. of cotton he should stay there his life time. When he paid him his money back, the place was his. I don’t know that Tom and I are any kin. Just by marriage. We are not a member of the same Church.
When I was a carpenter ‘Pole told me all about this on his place. He took me into his confidence. I don’t know whether he told me all. He told me a good deal.
Jesse Artis (circa 1847-circa 1910) was a brother of my great-great-great-grandfather Adam Artis and his brother Jonah Williams, the latter of whom also testified in this trial.