Land, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Photographs

This deed.

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This is the deed for Jesse Jacobs‘ purchase of 303 Elba Street. He bought the house (in which he was already living) and lot for $725 from E.L. and Ietta R.M. Reid on 4 May 1908. (Elijah Reid, a veterinarian, was born into a free family of color from the opposite end of Wayne County than Jesse and Sarah Jacobs.) The same day, Jacobs gave George W. Connor, Trustee, a mortgage on the property, perhaps to secure a $400 loan he used to buy it.  Jacobs was to repay Connor at the rate of $2.50 per week. 

On 10 April 1917, the Jacobses arranged another mortgage on their Elba Street home, this time promising to repay W.A. Finch, Trustee, $395 at 6% interest. Circumstances intervened. By about 1922 or ’23, Jesse Jacobs was too ill to work. He died in 1926. Sarah and Hattie Jacobs, her great-niece (and my grandmother) paid what they could from their meager earnings as laundresses. When Sarah Jacobs died in early 1938, the house remained encumbered. Finch’s loan was not repaid until September of that year, most likely from the sale of the property.

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North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin

Papa’s sons.

Jesse Jacobs Jr.’s first wife, Sarah “Sally” Bridgers, died shortly after the birth of their youngest child, Annie Bell in 1895.  A year later, he married Sarah Daisy Henderson, who reared Sally’s children alongside her own daughter and her sister’s two children. Jesse’s sons, James Daniel Jacobs (1881-1952), Dock Davis Jacobs (circa1888-1944), and Reddick Jacobs (1889-1921), were grown by time my grandmother came to live with Jesse and Sarah.  They were not her blood kin, but were family nonetheless.

Jim Daniel.  Jim Daniel Jacobs.  He and Roxie lived down in Clinton down there, and he come to Wilson when they got married, before they had a family.  I remember that.  They talked about me coming to visit, but he used to come up to bring tobacco.  I remember, “Why in the world he had to come all the way to Wilson …?” I just do remember him, by him – lots of times they would come by the house, see Papa, wanted to know how he was doing, and whatever.  They didn’t stay no time, had to get back and see what time they was gon sell tobacco.  So, I don’t know whatever became of him.  Now, Mamie went down when Jim Daniel got married.  He married Roxie, a girl named Roxie, and they was still down there in Clinton, wherever, somewhere down …  anyway, I know it wasn’t Mount Olive, and so when Roxie got pregnant, then Jim Daniel wanted Mamie to come down there and stay with his wife.  He said, “I’ll pay for her to look after her, stay with her in the house,” ‘cause he was working down in the field and needed some one to look after her.  So Mamie went down there to stay.  Didn’t stay, but …  I never did go down there.  I never did see ‘em, after Jim Daniel brought up some corn one time to see Papa ‘cause he was sick.

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James D. and Roxie Simmons Jacobs.

Dock, now he married a lady named Nettie.  I met her.  She was brown-skinned, small, brown-skinned lady, and they had about six, seven children.  He met her, they got married up there in New York and had all these children, and I think, I think they had a falling out, and he went to stay with somebody else.  I don’t know.  Yeah.  I went to their house.  Nettie, I saw her one time.  And her hair was ‘bout like that, I reckon.  ‘Cause it looked like it was plaited.  She tucked it under.  But she was very pretty and nice….  Well, she wont pretty to me.  But I remember where she was a very sweet and nice person.

Dock, like his siblings Carrie and Reddick, migrated to New York City. In 1923, Jesse and Sarah H. Jacobs deeded their house at 303 Elba Street, Wilson, to Jesse’s surviving children Carrie, Jim Daniel, Dock and Annie Bell.  On 15 Apr 1938, Dock filed a deed for the sale for $20 of his undivided interest in the house to my grandmother (then called Hattie Jacobs). He used the money to buy a train ticket back to New York, and my grandmother used the deed to claim a share in the sale of the only home she’d ever known.

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Dock Jacobs.

The other brother, the younger one.  Reddick.  He was one that got shot in the café.  He was getting ready to leave, and say him and another fellow got to arguing, and the man shot him.  Well, they brought him home.  Papa was living then.  They brought him home, and they had to bring the body up to the house.  And me and Mamie had to go examine it, you know.  But I didn’t put my hands on him.  I went in there and looked at him, and I said, “Well, where did he get shot?”  After he was all dressed up, laying out there in the casket.  And so Mamie said, she said, “Girl, don’t you see?  They shot him right in his face.  Right there.”  And I said, “I don’t see nothing.”  And then she had to put her finger right in his eye.  And it was in his left eye.  It went right in through there and come out the back of his head.  He was sitting at the restaurant, and a fellow shot him.

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Congregational Church cemetery, Dudley NC

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Photograph of James and Roxie Jacobs courtesy of Carla Carter Jacobs. Original photograph of Dock Jacobs in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson. Photograph of gravestone taken by Lisa Y. Henderson in March 2013. Interviews of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

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Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin

Her story.

Bessie Henderson has died, and her children remain.

Mamie Lee was the first child, and my grandmother was the second. And the second Hattie Mae.  The first was Sarah Henderson Jacobs’ daughter.

That’s who they named me after.  I asked them why they named me Hattie after a dead person.  “What?  You don’t like Hattie?  Well, I just thought ’twas nice.”  And after I looked at her picture, I said, “Well, she was pretty.”  Since Jack knew her, and he wanted her picture, when I come up to Philadelphia, I give him the picture.  ‘Cause they grew up together.  And his children thought she was white, wanted to know what old white girl was that.  Mama never talked about her.  But A’nt Nina, she would tell everything.  Mama got mad with her, said, “You always bringing up something.  You don’t know what you talking ’bout.”  And she never did say – well, if she said, I wouldn’t have known him, but I never did ask her – who Hattie’s daddy was.  I figured he was white.  Because she looked — her hair and features, you know, white.

Jack Henderson told my grandmother that he remembered “when she was got,” that he was nearby when it was happening, that Tom had Bessie over a barrel, literally.  Bookish and soft, James Thomas Aldridge tended his mother and younger sisters and his ailing father’s dry goods store while dreaming of a bigger and better world faraway.  He would have been a nerd if they’d had them then.  Bessie’s pregnancy changed his life:

‘Cause his mama didn’t want her son to get married.  ‘Cause he wanted to be a doctor, and so she was gon help him be one.  And if he got married and started having children, he couldn’t be a doctor.  And down there in a little town like Dudley, you had to go away from there ‘cause it wont no more than ‘bout sixth, seventh grade.  And you had to go to a larger place if you wanted to go to school. 

So the pregnancy stirred him, thrust him out toward his reveries, away from Dudley and the grey-eyed baby whose mother was soon to die.  Tom, already 24 years old but claiming to be much younger, fled to Raleigh, where he entered Shaw University’s preparatory division and exited its college eight years later on his way to Meharry Medical School.  He would become a doctor, indeed, a big-time, money-making, Cadillac-driving Saint Louis doctor, elected president of the National Medical Association in 1961.  But it’s his daughter’s story we’re telling right now, the daughter who never got past sixth grade, who never met her father ‘til she was good and grown.

Let me back up.  Sometime around 1905, Mama Sarah and her husband, a good man named Jesse A. Jacobs Jr., moved 40 miles north of Dudley to Wilson, a tobacco market bursting with new golden-leaf millionaires.  Colored folks from all over coastal Carolina, drawn to the town’s bustling opportunity, built a vibrant community on the southeast side of the railroad that cleaved the town in two. Sarah took in washing and ironing, did seasonal work at tobacco factories, and reared Jesse’s brood, who turned out largely ungrateful.  Her own daughter died in 1908, aged 14, and nobody knows why.

Meanwhile, down in Dudley, Lewis and Mag Henderson faded in their iron bedstead with only their teenaged granddaughter Bessie to manage the household.  Lucian Henderson likely farmed his parents’ reduced acreage with his own, but it was left to Bessie to cook and clean and sew and launder and do all the other relentless drudgery that needed doing.  Her mother was long dead, and there were no other close relatives nearby upon whom to rely.  Did she resent her responsibilities?   Did she chafe under the grind of pot-stirring and water-fetching and skillet-scouring and jar-slopping?  What did she want?  She was a chancey girl, a risk-taker, one who took her pleasure where she found it, even when it clamped the lid tighter on her trap.  She was a beautiful girl, but nearly unmarriageable, as she dragged her heavy belly through the spring of 1910.

Bessie gave birth to my Hattie Mae on June 6, very likely attended by the child’s grandmother, a midwife named Louvicey Artis Aldridge.  Though Vicey had forbidden a marriage between this girl and her special boy Tom, she was not altogether unmoved by her grandbaby, who looked much more Aldridge than Henderson. Vicey and her daughters played small intermittent roles in my grandmother’s early life, but there is no doubt: Sarah Henderson Jacobs was the family’s matriarch and matrix, though no children of her own lived even to adulthood. She reared Bessie’s children and kept them clothed and fed and sheltered, if not exactly loved.

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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.

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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.

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North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

She raised 13.

My father’s mother said:

Every day she needed, had to eat some fish.  ‘Cause she couldn’t eat pork.  Good as she loved ham and stuff, and Papa always raised a pig every year.  She had a bad heart.  And so she wasn’t supposed to eat no pork.  And so that’s what she had, fish.  Fish and beef.  Fish and beef. … Well, she raised chickens.  But she got to put the chicken in a coop.  Even if it was running ‘round out there in a bigger pen.  She put it one of them little coop places where was built up like that, and let it stay a week, cleaning it out.  That’s what she said to do.  I reckon you let ‘em run ‘round in the yard eating dirt, so she was gon clean ‘em out. She would get her about five or six biddies out the bunch, and she just put them in that coop, and by them being out there in the back yard fenced in that part, picking up all the gravel and everything else they want … Put ‘em in that coop, let ‘em stay a week, clean ‘em out.  So, I said to Mama, “Why you got to take ‘em out the yard and put ‘em in a pen?  And then feed ‘em nothing but corn in there?”  She said that cleans ‘em out.  At the time, when she was telling me, I didn’t know what cleaning ‘em out was.  Wonder, “Why she talking ‘bout cleaning ‘em out?”  I wanted to ask her again, but she would scold at you.  She done called herself telling you what to do.  But she didn’t tell you the whole thing.  So I’d just hush.  And then go and try to get it out of somebody else.

She weighed 200 pounds.  She was fat.  But she wore dresses longer than what they’re wearing now.  Just like, that one up there, that skirt she had on, she made that.  And she, it was blue silk.  And then she made a ruffle, that ruffle that was ‘round that skirt, she took and sewed all ‘round it…. Her hair was shoulder-length, but she always rolled it, always turned it up and pinned it back there and had this part that come around.  She didn’t never cut it real short.  And it didn’t, I don’t never remember seeing it when it was real long.  But she was always tucking it in and trying to make a ball back there.

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She didn’t have but one child.  But she raised 13.  Papa’s children, and then my mama Bessie and Jack, and me and Mamie.  Her own child was named Hattie Mae, too.

Sarah Daisy Henderson Jacobs Silver was my great-great-grandmother’s sister.

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Photo of Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson. Interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

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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. 

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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.

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