Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, North Carolina, Oral History, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

He was gon make something off the crop.

And Papa was sick, and somebody had to watch him.  He wasn’t down in the bed, but his mind was kind of off.  Now he’d listen to you, you’d talk to him, and anything he wanted, had to tell you about it.  “Naw, you can’t go there.  I got to go home.  I got to go home.”  Said he had to go home.  I said, “We are home.”  Said, “Naw, we’re not.”  That’s the way his mind worked.  Like that. 

So after Mamie got married in Greensboro, I come on back to Wilson, and then, after I come back, I hated I’d come back ‘cause I had to – Papa’s mind was bad, and I had to stay home.  To keep him.  He’d go ‘way from the house and couldn’t find his way back. And he was ruptured from the time I can remember. And so at that time Mama was working in the factory, and school wasn’t open, but when school opened, I had to stay home and look out for him.  And then, so finally, when he died.  He was supposed to have an operation.  He was ruptured, and Carrie, she claimed she didn’t know it.  And I said, now, I was the youngest child was there, and I knowed that all that stuff that was down ‘tween his legs was something wrong with him.  He went up to Mercy Hospital for something, probably his rupture – I know he had to go to the hospital for treatments or something.  Anyway, the last time, Carrie came down and she was fussing about if she’d known Papa had to have an operation, she’d have come down and he’d have had it.  Instead of waiting until it was too late.  Now the last week they wasn’t expecting him to live.  But, no bigger than I was, I knew he had it.  And she was grown, old enough for my mother, and then she talking ‘bout she didn’t know he was ruptured?  Well, all his tubes was, ah –  And he always had to wear a truss to hold hisself up.  And when he’d be down, I’d be down there sweeping at the school, and he’d be out there plowing a field he rented out there, and he’d come up, lay down on the floor and take a chair and he’d put his legs up over the chair like that, and I’d wet the cloths from the bowl where was in the hall, some of the old dust cloths, and hand them to him, and he’d put them down on his side, and you could hear it ‘bluckup’ and that thing would go back there.  But see it had got, his intestines, that tissue between there had bursted, and the doctor told him he needed an operation.  So he was gon get it, but he didn’t have money enough to get it.  Didn’t save up money enough to have the operation.  So none of the children – all of them know, as large as his – but leastways he couldn’t hide himself, ‘cause even from a little child, I could see that for years, and I wondered what it was.  ‘Cause I know everybody didn’t have it, at least didn’t have all that in their britches ….  And Carrie come down there, and she fuss Mama out about him not having the operation and this kind of stuff.  And she said, “Well, we never had the money to get the operation.”  We tried to go and get it, and we’d pay on it by time.  But, naw, he wanted, he was gon make something off the crop, and he’d pay.  Pay it and have it then.  But he never got the chance.  So when they put him in the hospital and operated on him, say when they cut him, he had over a quart of pus in him.  I think it was on a Thursday, and he lived ‘til that Tuesday.


Oh, this breaks my heart. (And she was absolutely right. July 6, 1926, was a Tuesday.)

Excerpts from interviews of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Papa Jesse.

Bessie died when I was eight months old.  And Mama Sarah took me as a baby and brought me to Wilson.  And her husband was the only papa I knew.  His daughters all disliked me being there, but I loved him and he loved me.  But they all just said he loved me better than he did them, and I wont nothing no kin to him.  But when you take a child that’s with you all the time, and every Sunday you send to the store to get you some oil to wash your feet … just nobody but me there.  Nobody but Mama, Papa, and me.  Mamie wasn’t even there then.  She was down in Dudley with Grandma Mag.  And so, I guess he just learned to love me.  And he told me, if I wanted to stay with him, I could stay, and if he didn’t have but one biscuit, he’d divide it and give me one half and he’d have the other half.  And that way I wanted to go with him ‘cause Mama’d fuss all the time.  She was always talking, got to be doing something.  And so I wanted to follow him.  And so I went with him everywhere. 

In late 1895, the freshly widowed Jesse Adams Jacobs Jr. married Sarah Daisy Henderson in Dudley, Wayne County. He brought children as young as a year old to the marriage, and she brought a daughter, a niece and a nephew. Around 1905, Jesse, Sarah, his youngest children and her nephew Jesse Henderson joined the flow of farm dwellers to Wilson, then entering into its golden era as the World’s Largest Tobacco Market. A couple of years later, when Sarah’s niece, Bessie Henderson, died, Jesse and Sarah took in her small children, the younger of which was my grandmother.

Jesse&Sarah Jacobs

Jesse was born in 1856 in Sampson County to Jesse Jacobs Sr., a prosperous free colored farmer, and his wife Abigail. Many of Jesse and Abigail’s modern descendants are members of the Coharie Native American tribe. Others, like Jesse Jr.’s descendants, identify as African-American.

Jesse A. Jacobs bought a small house at 303 Elba Street in 1908. Over the years, he worked as a hostler and a janitor and for extra cash farmed small plots of land he rented on the edge of town. My grandmother was his constant companion.

And so I wanted to follow him.  And so I went with him.  Up there to First Baptist Church, help him dust the seats, and he’d run the sweeper and all that kind of stuff.  And when he was over to another school up there, the college.  He used to be janitor to the college.  And then he had the school out there at Five Points.  Winstead School out there at Five Points.  And I would be the one at all those places.  Go cut Professor Coon’s grass, I’d be right with him. And then, out to Five Points. I went out there – I was in school ‘cause I run all the way from up the school, came by the house, get me a bite to eat and run from there to clean to Five Points School where was out there – white folks.  And sweep up that whole building by myself.  Papa’s down there in the field, up there by – uh, what is the people be putting them … they had chains on their legs and had the white stripes – convicts.  It was a place up there.  And I’d go ‘round there and sweep that whole building up by myself.  Papa was gon get me a bicycle so I could ride over there.  ‘Cause, see, he had the horse and wagon, and so he was already over there, and he had been there by where the pigpen was down by that little stream, that little ditch.  And I’d come back on the wagon at night with him.  But while he was plowing, ‘cross the street over there where he had a acre of cotton.  And while he was working, plowing that garden where was on the side, Professor Coon let him have whatever he put in it.  He would buy all the stuff to go in the ground, if Papa would just work it.  So he’d plant that, and then me and Mamie had to get up two o’clock in the morning, go down there and pick up potatoes.  Light night.  It’d be so bright you could see ‘em. He’d plow it up, turn that ground over, and all them old potatoes down there, put ’em in baskets, and what we couldn’t see ‘fore it got real daylight, we had to go out there and pick ‘em up when it got day. 

My grandmother’s young life was difficult, and she carried scars of hurt and disappointment even into the years that I knew her. But her voice always softened when she spoke of her adored Papa, the single source of unconditional love in her childhood.

I used to brush Papa’s hair.  He didn’t have much. Take one of them soft brushes, hand brushes.  Two of ‘em, he brought ‘em from New York.  He brought the brushes home, and I was always messing with his hair.  And I’d get the brush and hold it on one side and part it off and brush it down.  It was real soft.  And near ‘bout all of it come off where was on top.   And I was always asking a nickel, a penny:  “What, ain’t you got some change in your pocket?  I want to go the store.”  So I was feeling his legs, feeling for pennies or nickels up there.  So I said, want to know if he’d give me a nickel, or give me a penny, or whatever it is.  So he run his hand in his pocket, a penny or a nickel or whatever, he’d give it to me.  I’d go on to the store, and he said, “Wait.  Wait a minute.”  He had to have tobacco.  So then he’d give me a dollar.  And he told me to go down to the store down, right down there from our house.  Old Man Bell’s store, the white man that run the store.  “Get me a quarter.  Don’t spend it all.”  It’s three sections or four sections on a plug of tobacco.  And they cut into it where the cracks is, and it sells for so much.  And so I’d go down there to the store and get it and come back and give it to him. 


Original photo of Jesse and Sarah H. Jacobs on their wedding day in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson. Edited excerpts from interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.