Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Nothing could swerve him.

I felt sure that Napoleon Hagans‘ death had merited more than the brief mention I’d seen in the Goldsboro Headlight, and last night I found it:


Goldsboro Daily Argus, 1 September 1896.

This shining eulogy was penned by Ezekiel Ezra “E.E.” Smith (1852-1933), college president, recent United States Ambassador to Liberia, and arguably the most accomplished of Wayne County’s 19th-century African American citizens. (Smith was born free in Duplin County, just to the south, but moved to Goldsboro as a young man, married a cousin of Napoleon’s daughter-in-law Lizzie Burnett Hagans, and was principal for a time of Goldsboro’s colored school.)  Side-stepping the indelicate issue of Napoleon’s parentage, E.E. painted a glowing portrait of his friend’s virtues — his hard work, his astuteness, his self-built wealth, his determination to give his children what he lacked. Napoleon’s business acumen and successes won relationships across color lines and among North Carolina’s colored elite, and E.E. listed those who took part in the funeral or had taken the time to reach out to pay respects:

  • Rev. Jonah Williams, Eureka. Jonah Williams was the elder of a Baptist church a few miles from Napoleon’s home (and a central figure in the establishment of Primitive Baptist congregations in the area) and had, like Napoleon, been involved in Republican politics. Jonah’s brother, Adam T. Artis, married Napoleon’s half-sister, Frances Seaberry.
  • Rev. Clarence Dillard, Goldsboro. Clarence Dillard, Howard University Theology ’83, came to Goldsboro as a Presbyterian minister and was principal of the colored graded school at Napoleon’s death. (It is said that he traded a teaching position at Agricultural & Mechanical College for the Colored Race [now North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University] to Napoleon’s son Henry E. Hagans for this job.) Dillard was active in Republican politics and was co-editor of a short-lived African-American newspaper in Goldsboro, The Voice.
  • J.L. Nixon, Goldsboro. John Louis Nixon (1855-1919) was co-editor and manager of The Voice and, later, secretary of the Goldsboro-based United Church Benevolent Society and a mail clerk for the United States Postal Service. He was a native of Wilmington.
  • C.D. Crooms, Goldsboro. Charles D. Crooms was a teacher and merchant.
  • Henry Williams.
  • William Chapman, Goldsboro. William Chapman (or Chatman) married Susan Burnett, mother-in-law of Napoleon’s son William S. Hagans.
  • B.H. Hogans, Goldsboro. Benjamin Harrison Hogans (1865-1926) was a teacher, a trustee of Saint James AME Zion Church and, later, a mail carrier. He was born in Orange County and came to Goldsboro as a child with his parents Haywood and Zilpha Latta Hogans.
  • E.E. Smith.
  • Mrs. W.J. Exum, Fremont. Mary Burt Alston Exum, white, was the widow of William J. Exum (1825-1885), a prominent farmer and former slaveowner in northern Wayne County. Napoleon bought land from William (and Mary, after William’s death).
  • Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Bardin, Fremont. John J. Bardin, white, was a druggist in Fremont.
  • Miss Clarisa Williams, Wilson. Clarissa Williams, Jonah Williams’ daughter, was a teacher in Wilson.
  • Mrs. E.E. Smith, Goldsboro. Willie Ann Burnett Smith, daughter of Dolly Burnett, was a cousin of Napoleon’s son William’s wife Lizzie E. Burnett. William Chapman was Willie Burnett Smith’s step-father.
  • W.H. Borden, Goldsboro. William H. Borden (1841-1905), white, was president of Goldsboro Furniture Company.
  • A.W. Curtis, Raleigh. Rev. A.W. Curtis, white, lead the Congregational Church mission in Raleigh.
  • C.D. Sauls, Snow Hill. Cain D. Sauls (1864-1938) of Greene County wore many hats — farmer, merchant, newspaper columnist, banker, justice of the peace, and all-around businessman. He was the grandson of Daniel Artis, who was a first cousin of Adam T. Artis.
  • W.H. McNeil, Greensboro. William H. McNeill was president of Suburban Investment Company of Greensboro and Piedmont Mutual Life Insurance Company. (The 18 July 1903 edition of Washington DC’s The Colored American reported that Mrs. W.H. McNeill had visited Mrs. F. Douglass at 1720 Fourteenth Street, NW.)
  • Mrs. F.A. Garrett, Greensboro.
  • J.E. Dellinger, Greensboro. J. Elmer Dellinger (1862-1920) was active in Republican politics and the development of Baptist Sunday Schools, was a physician, and taught chemistry at Agricultural & Mechanical College in Greensboro. He was also a manager of Suburban Investment Company. He was born in Lincoln County, North Carolina.
  • H.H. Faulkner, Greensboro. Henry H. Faulkner was a school principal in Greensboro.
  • Charles H. Moore, Greensboro. Moore was principal of the first graded school for African-American children in Greensboro.
Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Migration, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Mother Ward.

None of us knows the details of the arrangements, or the impact on their willing and unwilling participants, but it is clear that Napoleon Hagans had a messy personal life. His oldest child, William Coley, was born about 1860 to Winnie Coley, an enslaved woman who lived on the nearby farm of John Coley. Winnie had several additional children, fathered by Coley himself and by Napoleon’s brother-in-law Adam T. Artis. Around 1867 — no license has been found — Napoleon married Apsilla “Appie” Ward, born in 1849 to Sarah Ward, an enslaved woman, and her owner, David G. W. Ward, a wealthy physician living in northwest Greene County. Napoleon poured his ambition and wealth into his and Appie’s sons, Henry Edward (born 1868) and William Scarlett (born 1869). Both attended Howard University and settled into comfortable, distinguished livelihoods in farming, education and real estate.

Though Napoleon’s youngest was denied these advantages, he was arguably the most successful of all the sons.  Joseph Henry Ward was born 4 August 1870 in Wilson, North Carolina. (Or Wilson County, in any case.) His mother, Mittie Roena Ward, was Appie Ward Hagans’ twin. (Identical, it is said.) And Napoleon Hagans’ sister-in-law. I know nothing at all of her early years. In 1879, Mitty Finch (Finch? why?) married Virginia native Algernon Vaughn in Wilson. In 1880, the family’s household included Mittie’s mother, Sarah Darden; her husband Algie, a farm laborer; Mittie, a cook; and children Joseph, 8, Sarah, 6, and Macinda, 5 months.

By 1890, Joseph had struck out on his own and for reasons unknown landed in Indianapolis, Indiana. There, he went to work for a physician who would set him on his own path to a medical degree. Joseph’s half-sister Sarah married William Moody in Wilson in 1892 and, by the dawn of the new century, the Moodys and Mittie Vaughn were living in Washington DC. Soon after Mittie joined Joe Ward in Indianapolis, reverted to her maiden name (though keeping the title “Mrs.”), and began a peripatetic life that saw her in and out of the households of her children.

The Indianapolis Recorder, an African-American news weekly, kept close tabs on the mother of one of the city’s most illustrious residents:

Mrs. Mittie Ward, mother of Dr. J.H. Ward will leave today for Washington, D.C., to spend the winter with her daughter, Mrs. Sarah Moody. Her youngest daughter will remain in the city with her brother Dr. Ward.  [12 December 1903]

Ward-Artis.  On Wednesday June 22, at high noon the wedding of Miss Minerva Ward, the daughter of Mrs. Mittie Ward and sister of one of our prominent physicians Dr. Joseph H. Ward, and Mr. Dillard Artis, of Marion, will be celebrated in the presence of the immediate family and a few intimate friends. Rev. Morris Lewis assisted by Rev. T.A. Smythe will perform the ceremony. They will leave at 5 p.m. for Marion, where a wedding reception will be given from 8 to 11 p.m., at 920 S. Boot street, the home of the groom. The bride is well and favorably known in our city’s best circles and is a favorite in the younger social set. The groom is a prominent cement contractor of Marion and a highly respected citizen, owning a great deal of property, which he has accumulated by his industry and business tact. They will be at home at 920 S. Boot street, Marion.  [18 June 1910]

Mrs. Minerva Ward Artis of Marion, spent the holidays with her mother, Mrs. Mittie Ward, of the city.  [31 December 1910]

Mrs. Dillard Artis of Marion, was in the city a few days this week. Mrs. Artis is visiting her brother, Dr. J.H. Ward and her mother, Mrs. Mittie Ward.  [18 February 1911]

Dr. J. Ward of Indianapolis and Master Joseph were guests of his mother Mrs. Mittie Ward and sister Mrs. S.D. Artis of S. Boots street Wednesday.  [19 August 1911]

Mrs. Mittie Ward of Indianapolis, who has been the guest of her daughter for the past week Mrs. S.D. Artis returned home Saturday and on December 5, will leave for Washington, D.C. to spend the winter with her daughter.   [2 December 1911]

Dr. J.H. Ward of Indianapolis was called to this city [Marion, Indiana] the first part of this week to attend the bedside of his mother, Mrs. Mittie Ward, who is ill at the home of her daughter, Mrs. S.D. Artis, in South Boots street.  [25 November 1916]

Mittie Ward died of stroke in Washington, DC, in 1924. She was visiting her elder daughter Sarah Ward Moody and planning to travel to see the younger.


Pittsburgh Courier, 19 April 1924.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, Virginia

Remembering John C. Allen Sr. on the 60th anniversary of his death.

They sat rather stiffly side by side, each with hands clasped in lap. The occasion was their 50th anniversary, and granddaughter Marion captured the moment in the only photograph I have seen of them together.

50th Anniversary

Three years later, family gathered again on the day after Christmas to pay respects to John and Mary Agnes Holmes Allen.  Papa Allen retired to bed after dinner and never woke again.

ALLEN -- JC Allen Obit Cropped

Norfolk Journal and Guide, 2 January 1954.

He was buried in Pleasant Shade cemetery in Hampton, Virginia, near the graves of his son John Jr. and daughter Marion. IMG_1275

Top photo taken by Marion Allen Christian, 1953, copy in possession of Lisa Y. Henderson; bottom photo taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2011.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Oral History, Photographs

Remembering Grandma Carrie.

McNEELY -- Carrie M Colvert with corsage

Me: In her pictures she always looked stern.

My mother: Grandma? 

Me: Carrie.

Ma: Grandma Carrie?  I know it.  But she was funny.  She was funny to me.  She could say some of the, she could say some funny stuff.  I know that’s where Mama gets it from.  The little sayings. 


Statesville Landmark, 20 December 1957.

My grandmother didn’t think much of Charles V. Taylor:

Course she met this guy and married him that she had known him when she was a child.  Taylor.  And went to New Jersey.  She came back home, and Mama had high blood pressure, you know.  But she kept, her doctors kept it in check.  But he hadn’t let her go to the doctor for two times, and she had a stroke and died.  Oooo.  I could have killed that man.  I was so mad with that man I didn’t know what to do.  And when we went down there, Mama just got worse and worse.  She went to the hospital, and they did everything they could at the hospital, and then they let her come home.  And I went down there to see her one time, while she was at home, you know, and she couldn’t talk.  She couldn’t talk, I mean.  And she would try her best to tell me something.  And I just cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. And I didn’t know what she was trying to tell me.  So my sister lived not far from her.  And she was a cafeteria manager, but she would come to see Mama between the meals.  You know, in the morning breakfast and lunch, and then after dinner she’d come.  She really did take care of Mama when she was living with that Thing.  And she went to the hospital and stayed awhile, and he wouldn’t pay the hospital bill.  And I took a note out at the bank, and Louise paid her doctor’s bill and everything, and when she died, he tried to make us pay all the burial expenses.  And his brother came over there and told us, said, “Don’t you pay a penny.  ‘Cause he’s got money, and he’s supposed to use it for that.”  And said, “Don’t you do it.  Don’t you give it to him.”  And that man and the undertaker got together and planned all that stuff against us, you know.  The three of us.  It was terrible.  And Mama had a lot of beautiful clothes, you know, because this man bought her things.  And they were all in there looking at them.  I said, “I don’t want a thing.  I don’t want not one thing.”  I think I got a coat.  It was just like a spring coat.  It was lined.  And I think Louise insisted that I take it, but that was the only thing that I took.


McNEELY -- Carrie Colvert thoughtful

Remembering Caroline Martha Mary Fisher Valentine McNeely Colvert Taylor, who died 56 years ago today.


Interviews of my mother and Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Migration, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Photographs

Sarah McNeely Green.


There were three uncles, and some male cousins, but the McNeelys were basically a family of women.  My grandmother was the middle daughter of her mother’s three and grew up among six aunts who had many girls.

Janie McNeely, called “Dot,” was the youngest of Henry and Martha McNeely’s daughters.  Born in 1894, she worked as a laundress and reared her children in Statesville’s Rabbit Town section before migrating to Columbus, Ohio, in the 1940s.  Janie’s oldest child was Sarah Mae McNeely, born in 1911. She was followed by Frances V. McNeely (1913), Willa Louise McNeely (1918), Carl Graham Taylor (1923) and William Maurice McNeely (1925).

Sarah worked with her mother and sister at Statesville Laundry in the early 1930s. Soon after, she joined her grandmother, uncle John, aunt Emma and cousins in Bayonne, New Jersey, where she married a Mr. Green. (No one, including her obituary writer, seems to know his first name.)


Statesville Landmark, 3 May 1937.

A few days later, in the Statesville Record‘s “News of Our Colored People”:

Image Statesville Record, 7 May 1937.

[Was Sarah survived by Mr. Green or not? Who was her father? And who were the extra aunt and all those uncles?]


Photographs in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

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

Lon W. Colvert.


Lon W. Colvert was born 10 June 1875 to Harriet Nicholson and John W. Colvert. He possibly was their second child and certainly was the only one to reach adulthood. My grandmother emphatically stated that his middle name was Walter, but her sister Launie Mae thought “Walker” – after his grandfather – and that’s the name that appears on certain records. Lon’s paternal grandparents reared him, but he was extremely close to his mother as an adult.

Lon was probably in his late teens when he arrived in Statesville from his family’s farm in the northern reaches of Iredell County. He was an ambitious young man with an eye on the main chance and a penchant for the shady that followed him even into his respectable years. By time he was 30, he was well-established downtown as a first-class barber, and the local paper obliged him with recognition:

Image Statesville Landmark, 7 May 1907

Lon and his first wife, Josephine Dalton, had three children, Mattie (1895), Golar Augusta (1897) and John Walker II (1898). Soon after Josephine’s death, he married Caroline M.M.F.V. McNeely and fathered three more daughters, Mary Louise (1906), Margaret Beulah (1908) and Launie Mae (1910).

In the mid-1920s, Lon’s business successes were short-circuited when his health began to fail. He passed away 23 October 1930, 83 years ago today.

Lon Walker Colvert Dies in Wallacetown.

Lon Walker Colvert, colored, 55 years old, died this morning at 1 o’clock at the home of his daughter, Gola Bradshaw, in Wallacetown.  He was an old resident of Statesville, and for a number of years had a barbershop on South Center street, near the Southern station.

The funeral service will be Friday at 2:30, at Center Street A.M.E. Zion church, with interment in the local cemetery.

Surviving are his wife and six children; also one brother and one sister.

— Statesville Landmark, 23 Oct 1930.

Births Deaths Marriages, Migration, Newspaper Articles, Paternal Kin

Anna’s children succumb.


Kokomo Tribune, 13 April 1936.ImageKokomo Tribune, 13 September 1937. 


Kokomo Tribune, 7 August 1942.

Edward Simmons, Susan Simmons Bassett and Muncie Simmons Bassett Palmer were children of Montreville and Anna J. Henderson Simmons.  Susan’s age was seriously overstated. (She was about 60.)  And Muncie’s obit completely elides the years the family spent in Ontario.

[By the way, Second Missionary Baptist Church in Kokomo remains active.]