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William Scarlett Hagans.

William Scarlett Hagans, born about 1869, was the second of Napoleon and Appie Ward Hagans‘ sons. He is first found as “Snowbee” in the 1870 census of Nahunta, Wayne County, North Carolina, in a household headed by “Poland Hagans” with wife Apcilla.  (Next door was Jonah Williams, brother of Adam Artis.  Artis married Napoleon’s half-sister Frances Seaberry; they were my great-great-great-grandparents.) Two years later the censustaker reported Napoleon’s stepfather, Aaron Seaberry, with the family.

William and older brother Henry E. Hagans attended primary  school in Goldsboro. William then departed for Howard University in Washington, DC, where he completed the preparatory division in 1889, the college department in 1893 (when he was one of six graduates), and the Law Department in 1898 (from whence he received a Bachelor of Arts degree.)

In a glimpse at young William’s social life, here’s a brief from the 20 October 1888 edition of the Washington Bee: “A company of young ladies and gentlemen, composed of Misses Mamie Jones, Ella Perry, Mary Dabney, Emma Ingrim, Louise Chapman, Mamie Dorster and Messrs. St. Clairlind, E. Williston, W.S. Hagans, Benjamin Henderson, J.W. Whiteman, James Usher, H.L. Hyman, L.A. Leftwich, spent an evening of pleasure at Miss E. Alley Thornton’s residence with her uncle, Rev. W.H. Howard, No. 77 Defrees street northwest.”

On 27 September 1894, the Goldsboro Daily Argus printed an article about the confused state of affairs among Wayne County’s Republicans, noting that “old-line leaders” like Napoleon Hagans, Rev. C. Dillard and E.E. Smith opposed “fusion” with Populists. The piece also noted that Will S. Hagans had been nominated to “legislature.”

The 1895-96 Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction included a report from A.L. Sumner, principal of the State Normal School at Goldsboro, who noted that the school enrolled 172 students from 13 counties. “The Dorr Lyceum [a mandatory Friday evening lecture] was placed under the supervision of Prof. W.S. Hagans. In this association the students were taught to appreciate, write and speak the masterpieces of our literature, to write essays and debate, and were made acquainted with the meanderings of parliamentary usage.” The school’s catalogue for that year listed as faculty Sumner, Miss L.S. Dorr, and W.S. Hagans, who taught Classical Latin, Natural Philosophy, Theory and Practice of Teaching, Arithmetic, North Carolina History, etc. [Sumner was also editor of the Headlight, a Baptist-affiliated newspaper that published wherever Sumner moved for work.]

Per the 21 May 1896 issue of the Mecklenburg Times, at the state Republican convention, W.S. Hagans was elected alternate delegate to the national convention.

On 20 March 1897, the Raleigh Gazette, in an article about a reception in Goldsboro for African-American state senator W. Lee Person of Hickory, noted that Professor W.S. Hagans “spoke in high terms of commendation and praise of the Senator and his colleagues, and assured them that the colored people of Goldsboro were wedded to them, and would ever honor them for the record made for their race in the General Assembly of the State.”

On 5 June 1897, the Raleigh Gazette commented: “We certainly regret to hear that our friend, Prof. W.S. Hagans of Goldsboro, was not endorsed for the postmastership there. He certainly is worthy of the place. We hope to see him appointed to some good salaried place in Washington yet.”

On 27 June 1898, William S. Hagans, 27, married Lizzie E. Burnett, 23, in Nahunta, probably at the Hagans house. Presbyterian minister Clarence Dillard officiated and neighbor J.D. Reid, brother H.E. Hagans, and sister-in-law J.B. Hagans witnessed. Burnett was a member of the large and locally prominent Burnett family, but her parentage is not clear.

BURNETT -- Lizzie Burnett Hagans

Lizzie E. Burnett Hagans

Lizzie Burnett Hagans gave birth to a daughter Daisy in about 1898. She died in infancy.

The 19 January 1899 edition of the Washington Evening Star ran a breathless review of the season’s judicial reception at the Taft White House. The lengthy recitation of invited guests included Mr. W.S. Hagans.

On 21 March 1899, Henry Hagans and William S. Hagans received proceeds from the partition of about 476 acres in Nahunta township, Wayne County, belonging to the estate of the late Napoleon Hagans.

William and Lizzie Hagans welcomed a daughter, Susan A., in September 1899. The child was named for Lizzie’s mother. (And the A perhaps was for “Apsilla,” William’s mother.)

On 11 October 1899, William purchased from Minnie and Effie Morgan a lot on Oak Street in Goldsboro adjoining that of Lizzie E. Hagans.

On 28 October 1899, the Colored American noted that William S. Hagans “has returned from Goldsboro, where he attended the funeral of a relative. Mrs. Hagans accompanied her husband here, and apartments have been taken at No. 1524 O street northwest.” (Whose funeral?!?!)

On 9 December 1899, in a short article titled “Mr. White as Host,” The Colored American informed all that “Thanksgiving tide was made more joyous by the genial and whole-souled hospitality dispensed on Thursday evening of last week by Congressman George H. White at his handsome home, 1418 18th street northwest. … Those who sat at the festal board were Register [of U.S. Treasury] J.W. Lyons, Recorder H.P. Cheatham, Ex-Senator John P. Green, Major Charles R. Douglass, Messrs. John H. Hannon, Henry Y. Arnett [clerk to Cheatham], S.E. Lacy, W.S. Hagans, Lewis H. Douglass and R.W. Thompson.”

A month later, on 13 January 1900, the Colored American announced that “Mr. W.S. Hagans has returned from a holiday visit to his home at Goldsboro NC.  The great prominence of Congressman White and the voluminous mail occasioned by it, is keeping Mr. Secretary quite busy these days.”

On 24 February 1900, the Washington Bee ran “A Pen and Pencil Club: Washington’s Literati Form an Organization for Mutual Improvement and Promotion of Good Fellowship” a “brilliant coterie of journalists and writers” met at the Southern Hotel and organized the nucleus of  the Pen and Pencil Club. Editor T. Thomas Fortune was placed on the honorary roll, reserved for “prominent out-of-town scholars and penman.” Active members L.H. Douglass [Lewis Henry Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass and Civil War Union officer], J.W. Cromwell [John Welsey Cromwell, educator, lawyer, journalist], C.R. Douglass [Charles Remond Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass], C.A. Fleetwood [Christian A. Fleetwood, major, U.S. Colored Troops], E.L. Thornton, T.J. Calloway [Thomas J. Calloway, journalist], E.E. Cooper [Edward E. Cooper, editor, Colored American], W. Calvin Chase [William Calvin Chase, lawyer, editor of the Washington Bee], A.L. Manly, Paul H. Bray, S.E. Lacy, F.G. Manly, J.N. Goins [journalist], J.G. Clayton, J.H. Wills, W.L. Pollard, John T. Haskins, W.M. Wilson, W.O. Lee, A.O. Stafford [Alphonso O. Stafford, folklorist, teacher], W. Bruce Evans [physician and educator], W.L. Houston [William L. Houston, attorney], Lucien H. White [music critic, editor], H.P. Slaughter, Kelly Miller [mathematician, “The Bard of the Potomac”], C.W. Williams, J.H. Paynter [John H. Paynter, journalist/author], W.C. Payne [vice-presidential candidate, National Liberty Party, 1904], W.S. Hagans, R.H. Terrell [Robert Herberton Terrell, lawyer, teacher and later judge] and others.

In the 1900 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County, the censustaker recorded William B. Hagins (November 1872), wife Lizzie E. (April 1874), and daughter Susan (August 1898).  William is listed as white; his wife and daughter as black.

On 3 May 1900,  in an article titled “Hagan’s Win Out,” the Goldsboro Weekly Argus noted that Will S. Hagans had been elected to the Republican district executive committee and his brother Henry E. Hagans as a delegate to the national convention.

In 1902, W.S. Hagans, age 34, registered to vote in Wayne County under the state’s grandfather clause. He named “Dr. Ward” as his qualifying ancestor. David G.W. Ward, a physician in Wilson County, was William’s maternal grandfather. William could have named his father Napoleon (as did his brother Henry), and I am certain the choice was deliberate.

On 7 October 1902, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that “leading negroes have issued a call for a negro convention to be held on October 16 in Raleigh to put out a ticket against the Republicans. The call expresses indignation at the treatment negroes are receiving at the hands of Republicans and heaps abuse on Senator [Jeter C.] Pritchard, who, they declare, must be defeated at all hazards. The following negroes sign the call: Jas. E. O’Hara, Scotland Harris, H.P. Cheatham, W. Lee Pearson, R.W.H. Leak, W.S. Hagans, S.G. Newsom, W.F. Young.”

Daughter Eva Mae Hagans was born 1 January 1903 in Goldsboro.

On 31 January 1903, the Colored American shone a spotlight on Goldsboro, “a progressive little town of 8000 inhabitants. It is historic,” it claimed, “for the peaceful relations existing between the races. The chief occupation of its people is trucking. Yet we have negroes who are rapidly forging their way to the front along all industrial lines. Our people own thousands of acres of forming land, as well as excellent city property…. Prof. H.E. Hagans, the principal of our State Normal School and also a farmer, is worth $20,000. Mr. W.S. Hagans, who is one of the most successful agriculturalists, is worth $20,000. …”

On 9 May 1903, The Colored American reported “Mr. W.S. Hagans, who has made a host of friends among Washingtonians by his genial bearing and sterling qualities, will indulge in an extensive hunting expedition in and about his North Carolina home during the Xmas holidays.  He will have as his guests Congressman White and Recorder Cheatham.”

Wm S Hagans in Goldsboro with dogs

William S. Hagans, perhaps with hunting dogs, Goldsboro.

On 13 January 1904, William S. Hagans purchased 38 acres in Wayne County from J.D. Reed [sic] and wife. Reid grew up with William near Fremont, had been a witness at his wedding, and was principal of the Colored Graded School in the nearby town of Wilson.

On 20 January 1904, W.S. Hagans and wife Lizzie deeded 25 acres to J.W. Johnson. This land had been purchased by Napoleon Hagans in 1883 from J.W. Aycock and wife Emma, B.F. Aycock and wife Sallie, and O.L. Yelverton and wife Susan G. for $270. The property was located on the “public road leading from Sauls Crossroads to Bull Head.”

On 9 June 1904, West Virginia’s Charleston Advocate ran an editorial by R.H. Thompson titled “In the National Field/ The Lily-White Situation in The South as Viewed through Northern Glasses.” In it, he decried the state of the Republican Party.  “… The action of the North Carolina republican convention was a crime. The summary turning-down administered to such war-horses as John C. Dancy, Henry P. Cheatham, James E. Shepard, Samuel H. Vick, J.E. Taylor, Isaac Smith, W.S. Hagans and others has been an outrage that requires an emphatic prefix to fittingly characterize it. Not a solitary colored man of all of North Carolina’s able gallery of political lights was chosen as a delegate to the national convention. Time was when the race’s political sun set in the piney woods and moonshining camps in the Blue Ridge mountains, but the ill-fated ascendancy of Jeter C. Pritchard and his coterie of lily-whites has gradually dimmed the luster of the Tar Heel Negro constellation, now there are few so poor to do it reverence. George H. White was wise in moving his lares and penates to the hospitable shores of New Jersey, and it is a mercy that the tired frame of John Hannon went over to its lasting place ere his failing eyes witnessed the downfall of the house of cards he and his faithful allies had created as so ruinous a cost. …”

Daughter Flora Irene Hagans was born in 1904, and Rosalie Lorene Hagans in 1907.

On 16 May 1907, William S. Hagans contributed a lengthy column to the Washington Post entitled (and subtitled): “At Issue with Adams/ Goldsboro Man Reviews Politics in North Carolina/ Hopeless for Republicans/ ‘Lily White’ Faction Arraigned for Treatment of Colored Vote – Conventions Held on Trains to Trick the Negroes – Ingratitude Alleged – 20,000 Colored Votes Will Not Submit.” Which pretty much sums up the article, which is aimed at rebutting comments made in an interview with Judge Spencer B. Adams of North Carolina. “Where you find the negro voting at all, he is doing as he has always done — voting the Republican ticket or the ticket that goes by that name. He is just as much a Republican in this State to-day as every, but that he is not so enthusiastic cannot be denied. This can be easily explained. It has been the custom in this State ever since the enfranchisement of the negro for him to follow the lead of a few white men calling themselves Republicans. He expected and got this leadership before the adoption of the Constitutional amendment in 1900, which disfranchised a large majority of colored citizens. Those who happened to be spared from the operations of this new law still looked for this same leadership but found it not — a clear case of being left in outer darkness.”

At the heart of Wayne County Superior Court proceedings stemming from the suit in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis (1908) was a dispute over 30 acres of land.  Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from W.J. Exum.  In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold it to Napoleon “Pole” Hagans.  In 1896, after Napoleon’s death, the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans.  In 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother.  In 1908, William S. Hagans sold the 30 acres to J.F. Coley.  Coley filed suit when Tom Artis laid claim to it, arguing that Napoleon had sold it to him.  Tom claimed the 800 lbs. of cotton he tendered to Napoleon (and later, son William S. Hagans) was interest on a mortgage, but William Hagans and other witnesses maintained the payment was rent.  William Hagans testified that his father was in feeble health in 1896 when he called his sons together “under the cart shelter” to tell them he would not live long and did not know to whom the land would fall.  William testified that Pole asked them to let “Pig” stay on as long as he paid rent, and they promised to do so.  The court found for Coley and against Artis.

On 4 February 1909, the Goldsboro Weekly Argus announced that Will S. Hagans, “one of our best-known and most reputable colored citizens and who owns one of the best farms in the county, has been invited by the inaugural authorities at Washington to officiate as a marshal at the inauguration of President-elect Taft.” The article noted that the selection was particularly significant as Hagans had been “squelched” the local Republican chairman who selected “lily-white” delegates to the convention.

On 17 April 1909, the Indianapolis Freeman printed a nice, but erroneous, article lauding well-educated negro farmers and citing as prime example William S. Hagans, a Harvard graduate. William, of course, was no such thing. He was a proud graduate of Howard University. [Might his half-brother, Indianapolis physician Joseph H. Ward, have commented upon this mistake?]

On 19 May 1909, the Charleston (West Virginia) Evening Chronicle announced that Prof. William S. Hagans of Goldsboro would address the exercises of the Agricultural Literary Society during the tenth annual commencement at North Carolina Agricultural & Mechanical College for colored youth in Greensboro May 23-27.

On 3 June 1909, the New York Age reported that W.S. Hagans of Goldsboro had delivered the principal address at the exercises of the Agricultural Literary Society. Hagans was “one of the most successful and prosperous farmers” in North Carolina.

In the 1910 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County: W.S. Higgins [sic], 38, wife Mrs. W.S., 36, and children Sussie A., 11, Eva, 9, Flora, 6, and Loraine, 3.  All are listed as white.

Son William Napoleon Hagans was born 16 May 1910.

On 14 December 1911, the Greensboro Daily News covered a meeting of 750 members of the Grand Lodge of F. & A. A.M. “Prominent negroes” attending included Archdeacon H.B. Delaney, Prof. W.S. Hagans, C.C. Spaulding and ex-Congressman H.P. Cheatham.

On 7 August 1912, Will S. Hagans was listed on page 9 of the “List of Coloed [sic] Pole Tax paid by May the first for Nahunta Township,” which is now found in Wayne County Voting Records at the North Carolina State Archives.

Sometime during 1913, William Hagans moved his family from Goldsboro to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They settled in a rowhouse at 650 North 35th Street, and William entered the real estate business. Lizzie was probably already pregnant with their seventh child, but neither she nor the boy would live to know their new city. On January 11, 1914, Lizzie gave birth to a stillborn son, whom she and William named Henry Edward, after William’s brother. Eleven days later, Lizzie died of double pneumonia and nephritis, conditions brought on or exacerbated by her having carried a dead fetus for five weeks. She and little Henry were buried in the same grave in Eden Cemetery, just outside Philadelphia.

On 25 November 1914, the Weekly Argus ran a lengthy letter to the editor from “one of Wayne County’s best known colored citizens and properous land owners, as was his father before him” — none other than Will S. Hagans. After a self-effacing reference to “looking after his little affairs,” William gave a number of flattering nods to prominent citizens and to “the magnificent new court house.” He proclaimed his fondness for Goldsboro and asserted that only a desire to give his children the “very best school advantages” had compelled his move North. (One suspects, however, that much more in the state’s tense political climate was at play.)

Gboro_Weekly_Argus_11_25_1914 WS Hagans Good Citizen

On 26 January 1916, William Hagans sold his first cousin William M. Artis and wife Hannah two tracts on Turner Swamp in Nahunta township totaling 68 acres.

In the 1920 census of Philadephia, Pennsylvania, at 643 North 34th [sic, should read 33rd] Street, 49 year-old widowed real estate broker William S. Hagans and his children Eva M., 17, Flora I., 15, Rosalie L., 12, and William N., 9, all described as mulatto and born in NC.  Hagans owned this home, a three-story rowhouse in the Mantua neighborhood that is still standing.

William Hagans' children after 1913

William’s children Rosalie, Eva, Susan, Flora and William, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, circa 1916.

The 10 November 1921 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Court of Common Pleas awarded $750 to Lillian Wolfersberger, who sued William S. Hagans for injuries received at 36th and Powelton. Wolfersberger, who was blind, was being led across the street when she was struck by Hagans’ vehicle.

In its 29 December 1925 issue, the Pittsburgh Courier announced that William S. Hagans was elected president of the Citizens’ Republican Club with no opposition. “Mr. Hagans is popular and competent and a banner year is anticipated by the Citizens.” He was reelected to the office several times.

On 16 March 1929, according to the Pittsburgh Courier, the Citizens’ Republican Club president William S. Hagans appointed a committee to discuss ways to form a “Big Brother movement” in Philadelphia. “The need for such an organization is apparent because the white society have no provision for handling Negro cases.”

In the 1930 census of Philadelphia, at 643 N. 33rd Street, widowed real estate broker William S. Hagans, 59, and children Flora I., 26, public school teacher; Lorena,23, real estate stenographer; and William N., 19, all described as white.  All born in NC, but children’s mother’s birthplace listed as NY.  The house was valued at $8000.  The Haganses were the only “white” family on the block.  All others were Negro.

On 18 January 1930, the Pittsburgh Courier ran an article lauding the Citizens’ Republican Club’s hosting a “fanfest and fed” for “varsity football players of color” from Philadelphia high schools. Dr. Charles Lewis, “father of the Howard-Lincoln classic … for the first time

In 1930, Alfred Gordon, M.D. published an essay titled “Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School” in a slender volume called Philadelphia: World’s Medical Centre. After setting forth the history of the hospital, Gordon named W.S. Hagans as a member of its Board of Managers.

The Scranton Republican on 15 October 1931 reported that Governor Pinchot had announced the termination of 43 employees in an reorganization of the department of labor and industry. Among them: William S. Hagans, special investigator, Philadelphia, whose salary was $1000.

On 18 January 1932, the Delaware County Daily Times reported that a special committee of the Pennsylvania State Negro Council had presented to the state superintendent of public schools a resolution calling for the establishment of a vocational school in Philadelphia. William S. Hagans, president of the Citizens Republican Club was a committee member.

On 27 September 1932, the Harrisburg Telegraph reported that the Republican state chairman had appointed a Colored Voters Advisory Committee for the current campaign. Members included William S. Hagans of Philadelphia.

In 1933 in Philadelphia, William married Emma L. Titus. The Great Depression dealt the couple crippling blows, and William lost his home and other holdings. In the 1940 census of Philadelphia, at 650 – 57th Street, realtor William Hagans, 65, was renting an apartment for $40/week with wife Emma, 40, a public school teacher, and mother-in-law Ellen Titus, 70. (Assuming this address is North 57th, William’s final home was a flat in a three-story rowhouse just two blocks from the house my grandmother later owned at Wyalusing and North 56th.)

William Scarlett Hagans died in 1946 in Philadelphia.

Wm Scarlett Hagans portrait

William S. Hagans.

Personal photographs courtesy of W.E. Hagans and W.M. Moseley. Other sources as cited.

Births Deaths Marriages, Paternal Kin

Where we lived: 5549 Wyalusing Avenue, Philadelphia.

From old journals, notes from my last two visits to my grandmother’s house in June 2000 and April 20-22, 2001.  Both are tinged with the sadness that overwhelmed me in her final year. Though they do not reflect the warmth and happiness of my years of wonderful visits to 5549 Wyalusing Avenue, they do capture place in a way that has helped me hold on to those memories.


One old exhausting voyage. My grandmother’s health is failing. My uncle is not equipped to take care of her. My father is exasperated by his inability to get either to do what they need to do.

I had a premonitory 15-minute massage in terminal D. Dreamy. Painful. …

What is the story with the landscaping at Philadelphia International? Where is the mulch? The poor young trees stand bare-ankled, save weeds. I am hardly prepared for the 50-some degree weather I encounter. The SEPTA train runs through wetlands on its trek to 30th Street Station. I can barely make them out through the window’s grime. I spot wildflowers in profusion, but cannot identify them readily. Still, behind Franklin Field, I spy spiderwort.

Mother Dear and Uncle Jesse have adopted two kittens, born to a stray they kept for a while. They appear to be perhaps seven or eight weeks old. One is white with a gray face and a few gray patches. The other — larger, bolder — is white with black ears and a black tail. They are shot out with fleas. My grandmother calls them both “Becky.” An older kitten, Beckys’ broke-down half-sibling, lurks on the front porch. Though it is a lovely black and white, it has a large head and crooked legs.

In a vacant lot near the old Super Fresh, a viney thing with purple-tinged leaves and a small, purple flower. What? It is chilly. I don’t recall Wyalusing Avenue being so desolate. And the crackheads! I had forgotten how pervasive ….

The Wyalusing Inn has a new name. After all these notorious years. Club 421 is still the same, though rode hard.

I find a photo from the 1940s that shows the shotgun house at 1109 Queen Street that my father grew up in. Out front, there is a profusion of what appear to be white petunias.

The patience of the poor. Ooo. I would not call this place — District Health Center No. 4 — chaotic, but it is as far removed from my private healthcare experience as night from day. I am joined on a row of chairs by a jittery piper who, when I come out of the conference with the nurse, demands, “What she say? What she say?,” as if we were all sitting here joning for methadone. Or whatever. The epidemic has not slowed in Philadelphia. I am so fucked up — I don’t want to sit next to anyone.

My grandmother lives in a two-story rowhouse, three-over-three. 5549 Wyalusing Avenue. At 56th Street. Girard Avenue runs a few blocks north, Haverford Avenue slants a block south. Downstairs, there is a living rom, dining room and kitchen. Upstairs, three bedrooms and a bathroom. Once, a short passage jutted into the living room behind the front door. It was gone long before I was born, but on the ceiling you can see the faint ridges left when it was torn out. Whan I was a child, Miss Sarah’s house next door still had its vestibule, which Mother Dear pronounced with an “f.” I faintly recall it lined with narrow white tile laid subway-style.

The walls and ceiling of the living room are plaster; they join in a seamless curve. The floors are hardwood, but have been painted light brown as long as I can remember. They are covered with rugs. The room’s highlight is the fireplace, which probably originally contained gas jets. All my life, the “opening” has been a solid surface, scored faintly in imitation of tile, with an ornate register cover lodged in its bottom edge. The mantel is elaborately carved.

There are two couches in this room, both much older than I. In fact, my father slept on one as a child.  My grandmother has cushioned its shot-out springs with several layers of old blankets. Above the mantel hangs a yellowed reproduction of some idyllic Rhine Valley vista. It is flanked by a pair of vaguely Art Deco lamps, probably ’50s-era. On the wall: two circular plaques, their backgrounds silver glitter, featuring black silhouettes of a fairy bathing in a blossom and a swimming swan. In the corner, a floor-to-ceiling pole hung with cone-shaped adjustable lamps. (We had one of those on Carolina Street. I think my aunt still does.) The front door is original. Its top two-thirds has eight lights. There’s a mailslot below. Hanging nearby, a round mirror with roses etched at its border. One large window overlooks the porch and, beyond, the street. There are photographs of us on the wall above one couch, as well as some sort of mirrored, gilted shelf thing.

Upstairs I hear murmurs. My father is attempting to prise from my grandmother’s porous memory the whereabouts of her medicine and the money she has stashed.

The garden is a forlorn rectangle, perhaps twelve feet by seven, overrun with weeds. A hollyhock struggles to glory in one corner. A hydrangea is smothered under large clumps of something that looks mightily like miniature chrysanthemums. A clothesline depends from side to side. The bag holding clothespins is shaped like a tiny dress.

There are nine open porches going east from the bar at the corner, and then the first enclosed one. This has been the case all my life. I vaguely remember the two old white women, sisters, who lived at 5551 when I was very young. They were the last of the European immigrants, mostly Jewish, that used to dominate West Philadelphia. The rail between my grandmother’s porch and 5547 is the last of the original wooden balustrades. The rest have been replaced by rickety black wrought iron. Mother Dear’s house is faced in a fine-textured, dark reddish-brown brick. The mortar also is oxblood. There are cement steps – two, then a sort of mini-stoop, then another. The cellar window is barred. The porch floor is plywood over damaged tongue-and-groove. She has three green metal lawn chairs and one small white table. The chairs have been painted repeatedly.  5549 is painted in gold numerals on a transom above the front door. Beside the door is a small, tarnished plaque: “J.C. RICKS.” The street was once lined with mature sycamores. Perhaps 15 years ago, some sort of blight began to wipe them out, one by one. I can see a few standing down toward 55th street, but the loss here is stunning. In summer, the light and heat are unbearable.   [June 6, 2000]


April 20-22. Philadelphia. The Last Time.

I love that: the demarcation between land and water. [As we fly over the Chesapeake Bay.]

Fingers, tufts of land, cut by water. Tiny patches of woodland. A river breaks free, asserts itself. [Is this Maryland?]

What appear to be solid woods, then sun reflects from water glinting beneath the trees.

A marsh, like crackled glaze.

First glimpse of Center City. Of Camden. Could I have remained here? Above the Walt Whitman Bridge, block after indistinguishable block of South Philly. Below, the drydocks of the Naval Yard, where Uncle Lucian left his lungs.

Being in Mother Dear’s house was not as overwhelming as I’d expected. Her spirit was already so far gone from the place. It was sad and shabby, but not in the grief-filled way I was expecting. I just had to let the loss of the Hoosier cabinet go [a picker had tricked my ailing uncle into selling everything of real value] and focus on the things we were able to save — letters, pictures, Bibles, bills, knick-knacks. The barber scissors, her Sweet 16 ring, the gourd. I found a letter from Mother Dear to her children, never mailed, in which she describes how she met their father. And a letter from Uncle Caswell to Aunt Sarah. [20-22 April 2001]



Births Deaths Marriages, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Misinformation Monday, no. 7.

The seventh in a series of posts revealing the fallability of records, even “official” ones.


How does this even happen?

This is Minnie Simmons Budd‘s death certificate:

SIMMONS -- Minnie Budd Death Cert

Difficult to read, but here are the pertinent details: Born 7 May 1892 (actually, some years before, but okay); in Dudley NC (check!); to Hillary Simmons (check!); and Ludie Henderson — SCREEEEEECH!


My grandmother spent considerable time with Minnie, who wanted to adopt her after her mother Bessie died. (Minnie’s two children, boys, did not survive childhood.) Bessie‘s mother was Loudie (or Ludie) Henderson. Minnie’s mother, on the other hand, was Loudie’s much older sister Ann Elizabeth Henderson.

Could I be mistaken? (“I” really meaning my grandmother.) Was Minnie some sort of secret love child of Loudie Henderson and her sister’s husband Hillary? And, if so, why would Minnie’s husband Jesse Budd blow up this fallacy in her death certificate? (Jesse was also from Dudley and presumably not only knew his mother-in-law’s name, but knew her personally in his youth.)

The answer, with as much certainty as I can muster absent DNA tests, is no. The biggest stumbling block to Loudie-as-Minnie’s mother is Minnie’s birth year. As noted above, Minnie was not actually born in 1892. The 1900 and 1910 censuses would be most helpful for pinpointing her age, but I can’t find her in either. Still, she married Jesse Budd in 1904 and most certainly was not a 12 year-old bride. In fact, their license lists her age as 17 (and her mother as Annie Simmons.) That would push her birth year back to 1887. The 1920 census yields 1884. Whether 1884 or 1887 or between, Loudie is unlikely to have been Minnie’s mother as Loudie was not born until 1874.

As ever with misinformation enshrined in vital records, there is no ready explanation for Jesse’s provision of Loudie’s name as Minnie’s mother. The confusion occasioned by grief is as good a guess as any. Moreover, Jesse was an elderly man himself and would live just six more years after his wife’s death.

Births Deaths Marriages, Migration, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Funeral Program Friday: Fannie Aldridge Randolph.

FP Fannie Randolph Phila PA 1_Page_1

FP Fannie Randolph Phila PA 1_Page_2

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, the Aldridges that my grandmother was closest to in her adult life were two of her father’s first cousins, daughters of  Matthew W. Aldridge, Fannie Aldridge Randolph and Mamie Aldridge Abrams Rochelle. They grew up in Goldsboro, not Dudley, and both migrated North before 1930, so I am guessing that she met them after she moved to Philadelphia in 1958.

I wish I’d probed these relationships more. Mother Dear and Cousin Fannie lived a short bus ride apart in West Philadelphia and saw each often enough that I recall visiting her house on Filbert Street and seeing her at my grandmother’s on Wyalusing during our short summer stays. I never met Cousin Mamie, but know that my grandmother visited her in Union, South Carolina, and took at least one sightseeing trip (“excursion,” as she called them) with her.

Fannie B. Aldridge left Goldsboro for Philadelphia shortly after the 1910 census was recorded. In 1913, she married Virginia-born Elisha Randolph (1875-1940) and, by 1917, when he registered for the draft, had settled into the rowhouse in the 5800 block of Filbert Street in which she would remain the rest of her life.

Here is a bad partial copy of a photograph of Matthew Aldridge’s daughters. Fannie is at right, standing behind one of her nieces.  The boy in the middle, I believe, was Elijah Randolph, her only child. Her sisters Daisy Aldridge Williams and Mamie are left and center.

Daisy Mamie Fannie Aldridge & children

And here’s Cousin Fannie as I vaguely remember her. This Polaroid dates from about 1973 and was taken in my grandmother’s kitchen. (That’s Mother Dear at right.)

Fannie Aldridge Randolph & Hattie Ricks

North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Going through the pea vines.

And David John, I don’t know what happened to him.  And his wife.  Well, now, David John come to Wilson and used to stay with us, and he worked in the factory.  So I don’t know whatever become of them folks down there.  And the girls that was all down there.  ‘Cause we went down there — me and Mamie went down there — and stayed with David John’s sister Estelle and worked in green tobacco.  And that’s where a mosquito bit me on my foot, and I scratched it, and, going through the pea vines, and the dew on ‘em, my foot swelled up so big I couldn’t walk on it.  And so Uncle ‘Lias, their daddy, brought me back home to Wilson.  Mamie stayed on down there, but I didn’t want to go back down there no more.


My grandmother’s reminiscences about Uncle ‘Lias (pronounced something like “LAH-iss”) were one of my early clues about the breadth of the Henderson family. I knew he was not her mother’s brother, or even her grandmother’s brother, and I was determined to find out exactly what the connection was. In fact, Elias Lewis Henderson was not an uncle at all, but a cousin. Born about 1880 in southern Wayne County, he was the oldest son of James Henry Henderson, who was the brother of my great-great-great-grandfather Lewis Henderson. (James Henry also named his youngest son Lewis Henderson after his brother.)Elias L Henderson

Elias married first Ella Moore. Their children were: David John (1901, married Amelia Artis), Mary Estelle (1903, married Theodore Rowe), twins Anna Bell (married Willie Johnson) and Mae Bell (1905), James Henry (1906, married Bessie Hagans), Myrtie Mae (1907), Olivia (1909, married James Raynor and [unknown] Whitaker), and Ira Junior (1911, married May Bell Bryant and Betty Ellis).  With his second wife, Sarah Edmundson, he had a son, Jazell Westly (1924, married Nancy).

Though my grandmother lost contact with David John and Mary Estelle, when she moved to Philadelphia in the late 1950s, she was reunited with their sister Anna Bell’s daughter Eunice Johnson Smith. Here, in the early ’60s, are Eunice’s daughter Wilma Smith, Eunice and my grandmother at a dinner at a Sheraton hotel in Philadelphia:


Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved; photographs in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.