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

Artis Town, at last.

I checked first at the Court House. I had a hazy memory of a dusty, yellowed pull-down map hanging on a wall in the Register of Deeds office depicting Greene County townships in, perhaps, the 1950s. Most county roads were then unpaved, and the map bore witness to many now-abandoned crossroads and hamlets, including “Artis Town.” But the map was gone, cast aside in a reshuffling of office space that relegated Register of Deeds to the basement. The two ladies on duty — blue-permed and powder-fresh — interrupted their gossip (“He’s good as gold, but when he’s mad, he’ll … he’ll CATCH”) to help, gamely pulling two or three crumbling maps from storage, but none was what I sought. “Try EMS!,” one finally suggested, “They know all the roads.”

In the dim front office of a low brick building on the northern edge of Snow Hill, I explained myself: “I’m looking for a place in the road called Artis Town. There used to be a sign. Like, a green one with white letters. And it was somewhere off Speights Bridge Road, or maybe Lane Road, but I hunted up and down this morning and couldn’t find it.” The good old boys were puzzled. “Artis Town … Artis Town …” “Well, naw, I never heard of … Mike! You know where Artis Town is?” “Artis Town. Artis Town ….” An older man walked through the door and was put to the test. “Well, I think … hmmm. Hey. Call Donald. If he don’t know, don’t nobody.” … “Hey, Pam, is Donald — wait, you’re from out that way. Do you know where Artis Town is? … Okay … okay … okay. Donald? Yeah, Artis Town. … Okay … mm-hmm … that’s what Pam said. Okay, thankee.” And sure enough, it was in a bend of Lane Road, off Speights Bridge, and there had been a sign, and it was gone.

But I asked my mother about it, too, because she taught in Greene County for two years when she first came to North Carolina, and I thought maybe she’d heard of it. Her school had been in Walstonburg and probably drew students from Speights Bridge, and … “Let me look at my gazetteer.” She has the old version from the 1980s, which, of course, I pitched once I bought the shiny new one. And I’m regretting that surely, for Artis Town is marked quite clearly on her map, and I could have saved myself some gas and tire rubber had I consulted it. (Though I would have missed out on the helpful hospitality of the fine people of Snow Hill.)

I dug my old laptop out of storage today. It took a bit of searching, but finally: photos I took in December 2004 when I was wandering the roads of Greene County with no real purpose other than a penchant for what Least Heat-Moon calls “blue highways.” Almost ten years would pass before I’d connect Artis Town with my own Artises. The ancestors, though, are patient.

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Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, 23 December 2004.

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Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History, Photographs

A bird’s eye view.

The bird’s-eye view map of Statesville, North Carolina, drawn in 1907, reveals a number of features in Lon W. Colvert‘s landscape (click for a closer look):

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At #1: near the intersection of Centre Street, 109 East Broad Street, early site of Colvert’s barbershop. At #2: Center Street AME Zion Church. At #3: Southern Railway station, built in 1906. Colvert had an earlier shop in the Depot Hill area near the depot.  At #4: the railroad.  The Colverts’ house was adjacent to the railroad in Wallacetown, southeast of the station, as was that of his in-laws, Henry and Martha McNeely.

Below, the current tenant at 109 East Broad:

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Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2013.

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Enslaved People, Land, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Where we lived: north of Wilson, near the railroad.

Thanks to Marion “Monk” Moore and Joan Howell Waddell, I’ve been able to identify the approximate locations of several of the white farmer-landowners listed near Willis and Cherry Battle Barnes in the 1870 census.  If the family remained in the general area in which they had been enslaved, Hugh B. Johnston’s speculation is correct.

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Toisnot Reservoir, a dammed stretch of Toisnot Swamp, today lies on the northern edge of the city of Wilson.  Joshua Barnes, Alpheus Branch, Ceborn Farmer, Isaac Farmer and Jesse Farmer’s farms all lay north of the swamp and south of present-day Elm City in a corridor now defined by London Church Road, the CSX Railroad (then the Wilmington & Weldon) and US Highway 301. The Barneses lived somewhere in this area. In the photo above, the diagonal running top to bottom is the railroad, London Church Road bows to the left, and numbers mark the approximate locations of farms and modern landmarks: (1) Isaac Farmer land; (2) Seborn Farmer land; (3) Alpheus Branch land; (4) Joshua Barnes land; (5) Toisnot Reservoir; and (6) the Bridgestone-Firestone tire plant.

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In a letter dated 11 January 2007, Waddell included a map of Wilson County with the above properties marked. Many thanks to her and Monk Moore.

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Update, 23 June 2015: Joshua Barnes’ house is not only still standing, it’s been continuously occupied since the 1840s and was on the market just a few years ago. It’s located at 3415 London Church Road.

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