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.

Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

He was rejoicing at the opportunity.

The sixth 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 JONAH WILLIAMS:

I have had a conversation about this land. All I know is what Hagans and Tom told me. The first talk was with Napoleon Hagans. (Defendant objects.) Best I remember I went to him to borrow some money to open my brick yard in the Spring. He referred to this deal and some other deal. Tom wanted to take up some papers, and had done so, and I remarked to Hagans how much better off than he was before. He said he was rejoicing at the opportunity. He promised to give 800 lb. of cotton until he could work a advance to him. He said if Tom did that he would never disturb him his life time. I asked Hagans to have it in a written contract, that his heirs might dissent from it. He replied that 800 lb. was a good interest on his money, and his heirs would probably be satisfied. I had a conversation with Tom. I saw him two or three weeks after that. (Plaintiff objects.) I spoke to him about Hagans taking up the Exum paper. He told me Hagans had ***** to take that up. Hagans had given him a chance to pay the debt off. Whenever he paid anything on the principle, he would not have to pay the 800 lb., but simply a lawful interest on the money. I advised Tom to do his best and pay some in on his principal.


He said that he had taken up the mortgage; had it transferred. He said Claim, I might have said mortgage. I don’t say ‘Pole Hagans told me all his business, but I knew about as much as anybody. Said he was going to let him, (Tom) pay 800 lb. of cotton until he could pay the principle. Mortgage given in 1881 to Mrs. Exum. This conversation about 12 or maybe 14 years ago. Don’t know whether it was as late as 1890. Began brick business in 1893. I can’t tell whether it was in 1880 or ’90. ‘Pole Hagans died about two or three years before this took place.  Tom married my sister. He is not a member of my church. I turned him out. He is a Primitive Baptist. I preached Napoleon Hagans’ funeral.


Elder Jonah Williams was a brother of my great-great-great-grandfather, Adam T. Artis. Adam Artis married Napoleon Hagans‘ half-sister Frances Seaberry. Tom Artis married Jonah and Adam’s sister Loumiza Artis.

Agriculture, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

A burned barn, an old well, and Officer Smith.


Goldsboro Daily Argus, 11 June 1904.

Beyond the story of Officer Smith’s swift comeuppance, there is “Will Hagans’ barn, in the northern part of the city.” William S. Hagans and his family lived in Goldsboro at this point, and his landholdings were 15 miles north in the area of Fremont and Eureka, near the Wilson County line. For what, then, did he use a barn in town?

Agriculture, Business, Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

I stated the fact.

The fourth 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 John Rountree who being duly sworn, testifies as follows:

I know Tom Artis. I heard him say that the cotton was for rents. I heard that for the last 14 years. I collected the rent for W.S. Hagans for several years. I heard Tom alude to it as rents. I heard last September after the land was sold, that it was interest. I never heard anything but rents to that time. I had a conversation with Tom, and carried a message to Hagans for Tom. This last Fall Tom came over to the gin house where I was ginning, and said to me that he understood that Hagans was going to sell the 30 acres piece of land, and said to me to tell Hagans if he pleased not to sell till he gave him notice, because he wanted to buy it. I delivered that mesage to Hagans. Hagans said alright he would sell it to him as soon as anybody, but he didn’t want to sell one piece at the time. We didn’t talk about the sale to Coley.


I have lived at W.S. Hagans’ for about 18 years. I farm at Hagans’. I rent land. I pay him 1/3. I collected Tom’s rent along in the Fall. Hagans has asked me to go to Tom and ask him to send his rents. Uncle Tom sometime would bring the rent and Hagans wasn’t there, and he would give it to me to keep for Hagans. Tom called it rent when Pole Hagans was living. (Plaintiff objects.) I wasn’t there when he sent it to W.J. Exum. While Mr. Exum was living, I didn’t see Tom taking his cotton there. I didn’t tell Hgans that I would swear the old man always called it rent. I had no right to, I didn’t tell the lawyers I would swear to that. I stated the fact that he always called it rent. I told Tom that Hagans had sent me for the rent two or three times. I knew it was rent. I told Hagans that I had his rent from Tom. I told Coley that the old man called it rent last summer. They had me subpoenad before then. I told him Tom always called it rent. I told Mr. Coley’s lawyers that last summer. I never told Hagans, he knew it.

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.

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



Wilson Daily Times, 26 October 1899.

The whole sorry story appeared in the 27 October 1899 edition of the paper. William Coley was Napoleon Hagans‘ oldest (perhaps) son, born about 1867 in Wayne County to Winnie Coley, and I originally thought that he was the one bamboozled. With closer reading, though, I noticed that this William Coley was still living in Wayne County in 1899 and was described as an “old negro.” Napoleon’s son was in his early 30s and living in Wilson at the time, so I’ve revised my opinion.

While I’m at it, though, here’s what I know about “my” William Coley:

I can’t find him in the 1870 census, but in the 1880 census of Nahunta, Wayne County, Winnie Coley is listed with sons Nathan, 19, and Willie, 12.

On 25 Feb 1891, Cain Artis applied for a marriage license in Wilson County for William Coley, son of Napoleon Hagans and Winney Coley, both living, and Minnie Woodard, daughter of Alfred and Sarah Woodard.  The marriage was performed on 26 Feb 1891 by Presbyterian minister George Carson, with Cain Artis and Hilliard Ellis as witnesses.  Cain was William’s half-brother; his mother was also Winnie Coley.  Further, Cain’s father, Adam Artis, married Napoleon Hagans’ half-sister, Frances Seaberry.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County, Willie Coley, 30, is listed with wife Minnie, 30, children Effie M., 8, and James M., 6, mother Winnie Coley, 65, and sister Zilley Coley, 38.

William seems to have been missed again in the 1910 census. Sometime between 1900 and 1920, his wife Minnie died, and he married a woman named Mary. It also seems likely that son James died during this period, as there is no World War I draft registration for him. Daughter Effie Mae married Arthur McCarter on 27 February 1910 in Wilson.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County, living on Roberson Street: Will Coley, 50, wife Mary, 47, and granddaughters Ruth and Nannie Coley. Will worked as a public house mover. Minnie Ruth and Nannie Mae were actually McCarters, daughters of William’s daughter Effie (also known as Ethel) Coley McCarter. As I have not found Effie or her husband in the 1920 census, they may have died early as well.

Cain Artis died 23 March 1917 in Wilson County of pulmonary tuberculosis.  His death certificate, for which William “W.M.” Coley provided information, noted that Cain was colored, was born March 1851 to Adam T. Artis and Winnie Coley, was married, and was a farmer.

William Coley himself died 26 Jan 1928 at the age 61 of the same dread disease that killed his brother Cain. His wife Mary Coley informed the registrar that he was the son of Pole Hagans and Winnie Coley, was a farmer, and resided at Route 3, Wilson.

Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Timeline of Napoleon Hagans’ land transactions.

1860 – 18 January. Eliza Seaberry [Levisa Hagans Seaberry] purchased 3.5 acres in Wayne County from Bryan Minshew for the odd sum of $109.37. How (and why) did she make this purchase instead of her husband Aaron?

1860 – In the federal census of Wayne County, Aaron Seaberry reports owning $100 real estate. This is likely his wife’s purchase above.

1862 – The deed for Minshew-Seaberry sale was recorded in Wayne County.

186713 February. Aaron Seaberry filed a mortgage deed conveying to his stepson Napoleon Hagins a “tract of land lately conveyed by Bryant Minshew to Louisa Seabery, wife of Aaron, all interest therein, also one grey mare, four head of cattle, nine head of hogs, all household and kitchen furniture … and 12 barrels of corn, about one thousand two hundred pounds of fodder & about nine hundred pounds of pork, one wagon & cart, and all the farming implements of every description of the said Aaron Seaberry” for $500.  “The condition of this deed is such that whereas, the said Aaron Seaberry is justly endebted to the said Napoleon Hagins in the sum of one hundred & seventy dollars with interest from the first of February 1866, money paid by the said Hagins to William J. Exum for the said Seaberry and at his request and also the sum of two hundred dollars, loaned by the said Hagins to the said Seaberry, the precise date whereof is not remembered, but which the said Seaberry thinks was about eighteen months prior to the date hereof, and whereas the said Seaberry is justly indebted to the said William J. Exum as agent for J.M. Caho in the sum of thirty six dollars & twenty some cents, with interest from 1st January 1861 due by open account & also in the sum of sixty one dollars and thirty eight cents, due by note, the date of whereof is not now remembered by the said Seaberry, but supposed to have been given about two years ago…”  The deed carried a condition that Hagans sell the conveyed property to pay off Seaberry’s debts, with the balance to be paid to Seaberry.

1870 – Napoleon Hagans appears in the federal population census of Nahunta, Wayne County, with $3000 personal property, but no reported real property. Is this accurate? What personal property could Hagans have owned of such value?

18711 January. Hagans purchased two tracts, totaling 221 acres, in Wayne County for $3500 from William Bryant and wife Sarah. The first was on the east side of Aycock Swamp and bounded by Hooker, Fort, Caho and Rodgers; it contained 48 acres and had been conveyed by Ruffin Hooks to J.P. Rodgers in 1861. The second was on Aycock Swamp, contained 173 acres and had been conveyed by John V. Sherard, administrator of the estate of Jesse Coleman, in August 1859. Both tracts were conveyed by William J. Exum to William Bryant and wife Sarah in 1867.

18714 January. Aaron Seaberry purchased 91 ¼ acres for $700 from Eliza Sauls. The deed notes that Seaberry and Napoleon Hagans would pay the $700 on 1 January 1872.

1874 – 25 July. Adam and Frances Seaberry Artis purchased three tracts of land totaling about 109 acres from her half-brother, Napoleon Hagans. All three are on or near Watery Branch, an east-flowing tributary of Contentnea Creek. The first two documents are a mortgage deed and deed of sale for two tracts on the creek. The third is a deed of sale for an additional nine acres nearby. Notably, this last is land upon which Adam had lived in prior years, as it contained the graves of his first wife, Lucinda Jones Artis, and a child. Hagans purchased 9 ¼ acres for $275 from Adam Artis and wife Frances, who was Hagans’ half-sister.

1874 21 April. A justice of peace examined Celia Bailey, wife of William Bailey, to determine her consent to her husband’s sale of land to Hagans. Hagans’ records do not show a copy of the deed for the sale, and it does not appear in Wayne County deed books. Apparently, it was not filed.

1878 – No date. Hagans purchased 3 acres for $45 from William J. Exum and wife. The deed was not recorded until 3 Nov 1885.

1880 – The federal agricultural census of Wayne County shows N. Hagans with 75 improved acres and 200 unimproved, valued at $2000.

1880 – Hagans testified to a Senate Committee that he owned 485 acres purchased for $5500 and a town lot purchased for $500. All his property was acquired after the war. “I rented a farm and started on two government horses. I went to the tightest man I knew and got him to help me.  I rented from Mr. Exum out there.” [Why the discrepancy in acreage and value with what he reported to census takers? If his testimony was accurate, there were several deeds that went unfiled, including that for the town lot.]

18822 January. Hagans purchased 6 acres for $1 from W.J. Carr and wife Lizzie. The tract was situated at Sauls X Roads, beginning in “center of the road leading to Bul-head [in Greene County] near where the Wm Durden old hors stall stood,” along the road to a ditch, then to Fremont road, then to the cross roads, then back to Bullhead road. Sauls Crossroads was later known as the town of Eureka. “Bullhead road” is S. Church Street leading from Eureka, which becomes Faro Road and then Bullhead Road when it crosses the Greene County line. “Fremont road” is present-day Highway 222. This tract, then, was at the very heart of present-day Eureka (which remains, frankly, little more than a crossroads.)

188529 October. Hagans purchased 307.74 acres for $5075 from Thomas Edmundson and wife.

1885 31 October. Hagans purchased 4 acres from Burden West and wife Martha and Freeman West and wife Elizabeth. The tract adjoined “Napoleon Hagins formerly William Bryant W.B. Fort.”

1886 — Hagans bought land in Greene County from G.A. Jones and others.

18882 February. Hagans purchased 71.23 acres for $1500 from Mary Exum. The tract was on the Spring-Bank road bounded by Thomas Edmundson, Hagans, Jack Yelverton, Beaver Dam Branch and Spring Branch.

188822 July. Hagans and wife Absala sold 24 acres to Essex Farmer for $650. The tract adjoined Thomas Artis, “the Jack Wilson land” and Zilphy Artis, bounded by road leading from Sauls X Roads to Stantonsburg, being lot #3 in division of lands of Celia Artis and containing 34 acres. “Absala” signed her name “Appie Hagans,” and Hagans signed with an X. This is the land purchased in 1879 from Celia Artis’ son Calvin. Zilpha Artis was Calvin’s sister. John “Jack” Wilson married another Zilpha Artis, the sister of Hagans’ brother-in-law Adam Artis. Farmer apparently never paid off his mortgage as tract included in 1899 partition of Hagans’ estate.

1889 — Hagans bought land in Greene County from T.F. Jones and others.

18933 March. Hagans purchased 25 acres for $270 from J.W. Aycock and wife.

18944 January. Hagans purchased a lot on Pine Street, measuring 26′ x 220′, in Goldsboro for $700 from A.A. Williams.

189624 August. Napoleon Hagans died, almost a year to the day after his wife. They are buried just west of their house near Fremont.

189921 March. Partition of Napoleon Hagans’ lands, consisting of two tracts in Nahunta township containing 173 and 48 acres, described in deed from William Bryant to Napoleon Hagans; a tract containing 3 acres described in deed from W.J. Exum to Hagans; two tracts containing 75 ¾ and 6 acres, described in deed from Patsey Hall et al. to Napoleon Hagans; three tracts containing 39 ¼, 30 and 8 1/3 acres, described in deed from O.L. Yelverton et al. to Hagans; a tract containing 4 1/8 acres, described in deed from [omitted] to Hagans; a tract containing 25 acres, described in deed from J.W. Aycock to Hagans; a tract containing 9 ¼ acres, described in deed from Adam Artis to Hagans; a tract containing 24 acres, described in deed from Calvin Artis to Hagans; and a tract containing 30 acres, described in deed from Mary A. Exum to Hagans. Total acreage, approximately 475 2/3.

Free People of Color, Land, Paternal Kin

Lisa Henderson Collection

Thanks to Will Robinson for his good work and to my cousin Bill Hagans for entrusting me with the preservation of these documents!

Wilson County Public Library Local History and Genealogy Blog

lisa_henderson _collection_16 William and Sarah Bryant are selling land to the renowned (and maybe a little infamous) Napoleon Hagans in 1871.

lisa_henderson _collection_14 Plat of Edmundson land being sold to Napoleon Hagans.  Did you know I used to be a land surveyor?

Last week when Lisa Henderson was in town to give her presentation, she also brought by a collection of family deeds for me to digitize.  My focus at graduate school was in the digitization of historic, archival records so anytime someone brings me musty old documents, I am very happy. These deeds are records that may not be in the state archives and if they are they are not easy to access. Very few of North Carolina’s historical records have been digitized so anyone that wants access has to plop down at the archives and sort through them.  Hopefully, in the not too distant future, all of their holdings will be digitized…

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