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

He was faithful in all his houses.

The Wilson Daily Times was an afternoon paper in my day. It was lying in the driveway when I arrived home from school, and I could read it first if I put it back like it was — pages squared and neatly folded. (Even today, I shudder at a sloppy newspaper, flipped inside out and pages sprawling.) The Daily Times‘ roots are in Zion’s Landmark, a semi-monthly newsletter begun in 1867 by Pleasant Daniel Gold. Elder Gold (1833-1920), pastor of Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, filled the periodical with sermons and homilies, ads for homeopathic remedies, testimonials, altar calls and, most enduringly, obituaries of Primitive Baptists throughout eastern North Carolina.

African-Americans did not often make it into the pages of the Landmark, but P.D. Gold held Jonah Williams in considerable esteem. Gold preached my great-great-great-great-uncle’s funeral and published in the Landmark a lengthy obituary by Brother Henry S. Reid, clerk at Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Church:

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And what does this piece add to what I already know about Jonah Williams?

  • A marriage date for him and Pleasant Battle — 4 January 1867.
  • Some confusion about their children. I knew Pleasant had a slew of children from a previous marriage to Blount Battle. However, I had four children for Jonah and Pleasant — Clarissa (the surviving daughter referred to in the obit), Willie F. (1872-1895), Vicey (1874-1890), and J.W., whom I know only from a stone in the Williams’ cemetery plot. I’m thinking now that this is a foot marker, rather than a headstone, and I’ll revise my notes.
  • Jonah joined Aycock Primitive Baptist Church, part of the Black Creek Association, around 1875.
  • Around 1895, he and others were permitted to leave Aycock and form Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Church, the first “organized colored” P.B. church in the area. The Black Creek Association ordained Jonah when he was called to serve at Turner Swamp.
  • Elder P.D. Gold preached Jonah Williams’ funeral.

Text found at

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

Final resting place.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to get at it. GPS coordinates and satellite views showed the cemetery way back from the road on private property, without even a path to get to it. I took a chance, though, and pulled up in the driveway of the house closest to it. A wary, middle-aged white woman was settling an elderly woman into a car as I stepped out. I introduced myself and told her what I was looking for. “Goodness,” she said. “I remember a graveyard back up in the woods when I was child. You should ask my cousin J.”

Following her directions, I knocked on the house of a door perhaps a quarter-mile down Turner Swamp Road. J.S. answered with a quizzical, but friendly, greeting, and I repeated my quest. Minutes later, I was sitting in J.’s back room, waiting for him to change shoes and look for me some gloves and find the keys to his golf cart. We bounced along a farm path for several hundred yards, then followed the edge of the woods along a fallow field. Along the way, J. told me about his family’s long history on the land, and the small house and office, still standing, in which his forebears’ had lived. As we approached the final stretch, he cautioned me about the briers that we were going to have to fight through and pulled out some hand loppers to ease our path. The cemetery, he said, was there — in that bit of woods bulging out into the plowed-under field.


When they were children, J. and his cousins roamed these woods at play. Though only a few markers were now visible, he recalled dozens of graves on this hillock. Turner Swamp runs just on the other side of the tree line nearby. Without too much difficulty, we cut our way in and angled toward the the single incongruity in this overgrown copse — a low iron fence surrounding a clutch of headstones. I made for the tallest one, a stone finger pointing heavenward through the brush. At its base:


Elder Jonah Williams, brother of my great-great-great-grandfather Adam T. Artis.


At his side, wife Pleasant Battle Williams. And his children Clarissa, J.W. and Willie nearby.


In Glimpses of Wayne County, North Carolina: An Architectural History, authors Pezzoni and Smith note that the largely forgotten graveyard was believed to hold the remains of members of the Reid family. This is quite possibly true as Reids have lived in this area from the early 1800s to the present. As I followed J. through the brush and my eye grew accustomed to the contours of the ground beneath us, I could see evidence of thirty to forty graves, and there are likely many more. Had this been a church cemetery? Was Turner Swamp Baptist Church (or its predecessor) originally here, closer to the banks of the creek for which it is named? If this were once the Reid family’s graveyard — known 19th and early 20th century burial sites for this huge extended family are notably few — how had Jonah and his family come to be buried there?


I am indebted to J.S. for the warmth and generosity shown to a stranger who showed up unannounced at his doorstep on a chilly December day, asking about graveyards. I have been at the receiving end of many acts of kindness in my genealogical sleuthings, but his offer of time and interest and knowledge — and golfcart — are unparalleled. He has invited me back anytime, and I intend to take him up on the offer.

Enslaved People, Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Confederate map tells all.

Years ago — 10? 15? — I ordered copies of two Confederate field maps from the fine folks at Wilson County Genealogical Society. (The originals are held at North Carolina State Archives.) The maps feature not only geographic markers, such as creeks and towns, but the names of landowners throughout the region. I remember intently scanning the area around modern-day Eureka, hunting for signs of my Artises and finding none. (Celia Artis is on one of the maps, but she’s not “mine.”) Disappointed, I folded them away in a box.

A couple of days ago, I stumbled across the maps while reorganizing some files. I let my eyes drift a little further afield and


jumped off the page.

Just like that, the locations of the farms on which Vicey Artis‘ children, including Adam, were apprenticed; Sylvania Artischildren were apprenticed; and Mittie Ward and Apsilla Ward Hagans were enslaved (by their father.) Not only that — with a little extrapolation from the 1860 census, I can determine approximately where my people were living during the War.

Here’s the first map (with my annotations in unfortunate grayscale, click to enlarge):

Confederate_Field_Map_2 annotated

The left edge of the map is defined by the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. (2) Nahunta, bottom left and now the town of Fremont, is exactly halfway between Wilson, seat of Wilson County, and Goldsboro, seat of Wayne County. Follow the road east out of Nahunta on what is now NC 222, and you’ll see (3) Martinsville, now Eureka. Angle southeast from Eureka on what is now Faro Road, then veer right at the fork onto what is now Lindell Road. (See “B. Mooring”? Frances Seaberry and her family are listed near his household in the 1860 census.) After crossing a north-south road, pre-Lindell takes a sharp turn north. Drag your finger straight across from the bend and you’ll touch two squared names — Silas Bryant and John Lane.

Here is Bryant’s household in the 1850 census of Greene County:

silas bryant 1850

And on the next page:

john lane 1860

As reflected on the map, Silas Bryant and John Lane lived in close proximity, and, on their land, sisters Sylvania and Vicey Artis, who owned no property. My great-great-great-grandfather Adam Artis and his sisters Charity and Jane are listed in Bryant’s household, which suggests that they served him as involuntary apprentices under North Carolina’s laws governing the labor of the children of unmarried free women of color. (Both Sylvania and Vicey were married, of course, but to enslaved men — relationships that were not recognized under the law.) The 1860 census suggests that John Lane also had apprentices, Sylvania’s younger children. Lane may also have owned their father, Guy, who adopted the surname Lane after emancipation.

[And remember this?: “On 20 Aug 1853, in Greene County NC, Silas Bryant sold Daniel Artis for $325 120 acres adjacent to the mouth of a lane at the dividing line between said Bryant and John Lane, the Bull Branch, and the mouth of Sellers Branch.” I think Daniel was Vicey and Sylvania’s brother.]

Where is this now? Just inside the Greene County line, dotted at left, Highway 58 crosses over Speights Bridge Road. The second road on the left is the same one shown on the field map and is still called Lane Road. (9) marks the approximate location of Silas Bryant’s home and (10), John Lane’s.

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Due north of Lane and Bryant, across Contentnea Creek is another boxed name, Dr. Ward. This was David George Washington Ward, physician, wealthy planter, and owner of twin daughters, Mittie and Appie, whose mother was an enslaved woman named Sarah. (More about the Wards elsewhere.)

Just inside the Greene County line, a few miles southeast of Stantonsburg in Wilson County, (11) marks the approximate location of Dr. Ward’s house today. [Update: Actually, it’s the approximate location of Dr. Ward’s name on the map. His house was, and is, in Wilson County close to Stantonsburg.]

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Back on pre-NC 222, about a third of the way between Martinsville/Eureka and Stantonsburg, a road leads off to the east toward Watery Branch Church. (It still does — and is called Watery Branch Road.) Barely legible is the name of one of the few free people of color marked on the map: Celia Artis. Though not related by blood, at least in any immediate way, Adam Artis and his family are listed next to her in the 1860 census, and their descendants intermarried. (And share a cemetery that lies next to the road about where the C is in Celia.) Here, then, is the approximate location of Adam Artis’ earliest farmland. He later accumulated property all along the highway.

Other landmarks on the field map: (4) Toisnot Swamp (marked Creek here), a tributary of the Contentnea that flows down from Wilson County; (5) Contentnea Creek itself; (6) Black Creek, another Wilson County tributary; (7) Aycock Swamp, another tributary, upon whose banks Adam Artis’ brother-in-law and Appie Ward’s husband Napoleon Hagans built his house; and (8) Turner Swamp.

Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

68 acres on Turner Swamp.

At first glance, the document raises eyebrows. Brothers Walter and William Artis, successful farmers in their own right, were sharecroppers for William S. Hagans, their first cousin?

HAGANS -- Artis Cropper Contract (2)

A second document sheds some light:


Three days before he signed the cropper agreement, William M. Artis and his brother’s wife Hannah Forte Artis signed an agreement for the purchase of the same 68 acres. (Why Hannah and not Walter??? He was very much alive.) The land was more explicitly described as: (1) a tract on Turner Swamp, known as the Jonah Reid place, that Hagans inherited from his father Napoleon Hagans; (2) a tract, known as the Daniel Reid place, that William Hagans purchased from J.D. Reid and was once part of the lands of Washington Reid, deceased; and (3) a lot of “mud land” on Spring Branch for marl (a lime-rich mud used to condition or de-acidify soil.) The purchase price? A seemingly extravagant $5000 — $300 due at signing, $700 in a year’s time, and the remaining $4000 in two notes payable at 6% interest in 1918 and 1919. (Five thousand dollars in 1916 adjusts to about $106,000 today. That’s considerable change.) It appears then that, per the cropper agreement, during the first year of the purchase agreement the Artis brothers agreed to pay $300 worth of any crops they produced on the land to Hagans. (In addition to the $300 paid him in January?)

Napoleon Hagans built his house on a tract of land straddling Aycock Swamp, the next tributary over from Turner Swamp. (Both flow into Contentnea Creek.) Washington Reid’s mother Rhoda Reid was a well-t0-do free woman of color who owned considerable farmland in extreme northwestern Wayne County, perhaps the land that William Hagans eventually bought. The entire course of Turner Swamp runs only a few miles, the last stretch beyond Wayne’s borders into Wilson County. I am beginning to consider this area ground zero for the Reids. (Future project: a dig in the deeds.)


A little hard to see, but the arrows point out the course of Turner Swamp. The green curve just below the lowest arrow marks the rise of the waterway, and the top arrow points out its approximate mouth just below Woodbridge Road in Wilson County. (And “swamp” it is. The soil of eastern North Carolina is flat and sandy or clay-ey, and the little branches off major creeks don’t so much flow as they do stand, with the barest perceptible current. Getting to their banks often requires boots — and a stout stick to beat back the cane and catbrier.)

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

Family cemeteries, no. 7: Turner Swamp Primitive Baptist Church.


Rev. Jonah Williams once led the flock at Turner Swamp, and its cemetery is full of kin.

There’s Richard Artis (whose father Richard was Jonah’s — and my great-great-great-grandfather Adam Artis — brother) and his wife, Penny Coley Artis …


… Richard’s brother John Henry Artis (1896-1963) and sister Emma Artis Reid (1877-1964) …

… and several of Richard and Penny’s children, including Alfonza Artis (1908-1948), C. Columbus Artis (1910-1985), Louis D. Artis (1916-1983), Jonah Artis (1918-1966) and Jesse L. Artis (1919-1960) …

… and Magnolia Artis Reid (1871-1939), daughter of Richard and Jonah’s sister Loumiza Artis Artis (wife of  Thomas Artis, no kin);

… and descendants of Adam, Richard, Jonah and Loumiza’s sister Zilpha Artis Wilson, wife of John Wilson, including her daughter Elizabeth Wilson Reid‘s children Milton C. Reid (1890-1961) and Iantha Reid Braswell (1893-1955) …

Nora Artis Reid (1894-1965), who was married to her cousin Milton Reid and was the daughter of Adam Artis’ son Noah Artis, and …

… even Wade Ashley Locus (1897-1945), a distant Seaberry relative of Adam’s wife Frances Seaberry Artis.

Photos taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2013.