Intimate look into a Greene and Wilson County, NC family

Luby Alexander Harper

Luby Alexander Harper (1843-1899) the patriarch of the Harper family. Enlisted as a Sergeant in Company A, North Carolina 8th Cavalry Battalion on 29 Jun 1862. Promoted to full 3rd Lieutenant on 24 Sep 1863.

Luby_Stella_Sally_Hooks_Harper

Sally Hooks Harper and Luby A. Harper (long-time Sheriff of Green County) with their daughter Stella Maria. Stella would eventually marry Elbert A. Darden and live in Wilson. Sally would  die before she was forty after having nine children and her arm amputated. Luby would remarry Alice Shepherd Carr and they would have two children together.

harper family

Luby is in the back holding his son David from his second wife Alice Carr who is to his right holding their youngest son Zan. In front of Luby is his two daughters Sally Canary and Hattie Letitia. Stella is to his left with her husband Bert Darden. The four boys in the fron from left to right are Stuart Carr, Albert Titus Harper (lived in Wilson and never married), Robert Carr and Charles Harper (later lived at 606 W. Nash Street). ca. 1890’s, Snow Hill, NC

Monday I received a package in the mail containing  a treasure trove of artifacts of the Harper family.  The package was sent to me from one of their descendants who thought that the Wilson County Public Library would be a fitting place for the collection to reside, even though she lives hundreds of miles away in upstate New York.

The Harpers were originally from Greene County, but many of them moved to Wilson near the turn of the twentieth century.

Wilson Times Harper reunion

Unfortunately I don’t have the date of this article from the Wilson Times about the Harper family reunion.  Bert Darden was a VP for BB&T.

Harper reunion

Front row from left to right. Titus Harper (son of Luby), Lillian Carr (daughter of Hattie and Henry Lawrence Carr-who was also Hattie’s stepbrother ), Alice Carr Harper (2nd wife of Luby) Ernest Brown (husband of Sally Canary) with his daughter Miriam on his back.

Lalla_canary_stella_hattie

Luby and Sally Harper’s daughters: Lalla (married Dr. William S. Anderson of Wilson and lived at 316 W. Green St.), Sally Canary (married Ernest Brown and lived in California and Texas), Stella Maria (married EA “Bert” Darden and lived on 315 W. Green Street in Wilson), Hattie (married Lawrence Carr and lived in Greenville, NC)

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bank Records, 1865-1874

freedman_bank_records

This month’s Tree’s of Wilson, Wilson County Genealogical Society’s newsletter, printed this lovely list of banking records of former slaves and free people (gleaned from Ancestry.com) that were from Wilson County and the surrounding area.

Addendum:  I was informed that Lisa Henderson did the research for this.

Black History Collection Free on Fold3 for the Month of February

black history

I just read on Genealogy Insider that Fold3 is celebrating Black History Month by lifting the pay wall on their Black History Collection which includes over a million photos and documents on the Civil War, Slavery, Reconstruction/ Jim Crow Laws, World Wars and the Civil Rights Era.

The Murder of a Notoriously Dangerous, Bad Character

mule wagon

Mule wagon from the Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards

It was the morning of September 10, 1890 and the summer was going stale as Sowell “Si” Whitley and his son Robert drove a wagon on the Wilson and Tarboro Road carrying a tub of  hog that had been cooking over a pit of white coals  all night to sell in Wilson. Not long after the sun started burning off the cool morning and the Whitleys were about three miles from town, the roadside cover revealed a posse of men, men whose names they knew, unhesitating men with  shotguns firing a  deafening fusillade of buckshot into them point blank.  Sowell fell back dead as dirt into the tub of pork and the terrified mule took off with the wagon, racing about two miles before coming to a halt, roaring foam.  Sowell still lay unliving in the tub with “at least sixteen shot pierced his body,” his blood mixing with the pig.  Robert was blasted off the wagon at the ambush and still lived, barely.  The first people on the scene took Robert to the Whitley homestead where he up and died almost immediately, his life draining out the six or seven holes violating his body,  thus ending the bad ballad of Sowell and Robert Whitley.

The September 11, 1890 edition of the Wilson Advance called the murderers cowards and thought that the the good people of Wilson should demand the assassins be found and brought to justice.  But they never were.  In one breath the paper called for justice but in the next it said:

Whitley was a notoriously dangerous, bad character, and had many enemies. At nearly every term of the court here he has appeared on the criminal side of the docket.  He was a terror to the community in which he lived…  there are no regrets expressed at his death…

Why would men risk their life and livelihood to kill a father and son minding their own business going to town with pork to sell?  It was because Sowell and his son were predators, not for ‘possum, ‘coon and coney but for the woman of their corner of the county.  You would call them serial rapists today.  I’ve been told that if Sowell saw a lone woman walking in a field, whomever she was, he would go and grab her,  take her off to the wood, and rape her. In the 1870 census he is shown living with his wife Martha and  five legitimate children and also a  servant girl, orphaned at a young age,  named Nancy.  Sowell would have eight children by Nancy while she was his hostage.  And supposedly his son Robert had started taking after his father in his sociopathy. The men who murdered Sowell and Robert probably had daughters, nieces and sisters who may have been assaulted by the Whitleys and saw that he was only getting dragged into court for minor violations.  So they slaughtered him and got away with it in a lightly populated part of the county where probably everybody knew who the trigger men were yet never told the authorities.

Supposedly Sowell’s wife Martha was the one who found the mule wagon with her husband’s mouldering body in the barbecue tub.  And according to legend she just pulled him out of his ridiculous casket and and let him drop to the ground and finished the journey into town, selling the the pork that was now marinated with Sowell’s malignant juices. No one knows where Sowell Whitley was buried, but my volunteer thinks they just threw him into a ditch with the rest of the snakes.

Sources

“A Cowardly Murder.” Wilson Advance [Wilson, NC] 11 Sept. 1890: Electronic. “The Latest News from North Carolina.” Asheville Daily Citizen [Asheville, NC] 23 Sept. 1890: Electronic.
Interview with Monk Moore.

North Carolina was Gamecock Country

north_carolina_gamecocksIt was said Sir Walter Raleigh was a well-esteemed cocker (one who fights gamecocks).  And Andrew Jackson was described by a contemporary resident of Salisbury as: The most roaring, rollicking, game cocking, cardplaying, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury (Roberts 311).  So it is no surprise that the most popular amusement in North Carolina during the 18th and 19th century was cockfighting.

The cockfighting season was from Thanksgiving day to July 4th and North Carolina was a hot spot for some of the most sought after strains (breeds) of gamecocks.  These belligerent roosters went by the names of Red Cubans (Concord), Norwood War Horses (Hillsboro), Carolina Blues and Mountain Eagles (both of Boone) and what was considered the finest strain in North Carolina, the Stonefences of Nash County, bred by Nick Arrington.

Nick Arrington was not only one of the most successful breeders of gamecocks, he was also one of the greatest cockers  in North America.  I came across a letter that the venerable historian  of Wilson and the surrounding counties, Hugh Johnston, wrote to the editor of  the Raleigh News and Observer that was published on 16 July 1986 in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek defense of cockfighting. Here is a part of the letter:

Few People remember when cockfighting was a popular sport enjoyed by both the poor and the rich.  For example about December of 1833 Nicholas William Arrington of Nash County defeated General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna in a “main of cocks” at Paso Del Norte in Mexico, and in June of 1857 he won $12,500 in a “main” at Memphis.  However, in June of 1858 a gang of greedy ruffians would have robbed him at Richmond after another successful “main” held at Richmond held there if his loyal young servant had not snatched up his pocketbook and managed to escape with it.

And supposedly that wasn’t the only “main” between Santa Anna (president of Mexico 1835-1855 and conqueror of the Alamo) and Arrington.  They met a second time in ships in the Gulf of Mexico where Arrington came out the victor once again.

However, cock-fighting is a brutal and cruel sport that is presently outlawed in North Carolina.  And in the preceding 250 years there were some half-measures to curb it,  such as the 1753 law that outlawed gambling above forty shillings.  Later on, laws would be put in place to ban cockfighting but then be quickly repealed because of their unpopularity.  In 1815, the advertising of cock mains in publications were banned.  The church also preached against cockfighting but it  didn’t have much of an effect as it became more popular than ever in the last half of the nineteenth century.  And even though laws are in place now, it still is practiced.  When I worked out in the hinterlands of South Carolina in the early 2000’s as a land surveyor, I routinely came across farms or backyards that were raising gamecocks.  The handsome birds would be secured by a leash on their leg to a triangular shelter perched at the apex of the triangle crowing continuously.  The local authorities must have turned a blind eye,  but that was South Carolina, the present day gamecock country.

Sources

Johnston, Hugh.  Letter to the editor.  The News and Observer [Raleigh, NC] 16 July 16, 1986.

Roberts, B. W. C. “Cockfighting: An Early Entertainment in North Carolina.”  The North Carolina Historical
       Review 43.1 (1965): 306-314. Electronic.

African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina

AAMTcover

We just received  two copies  of  the book,  African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina by Sarah Bryan and Beverly Patterson.   It is an essential guide-book to one of America’s most important cradles of African-American music, and the city of Wilson has had a large role in its genesis.

The book is divided into five chapters, each highlighting a different musical wellspring of Eastern NC:

1. Schooled in Jazz and Funk: Kinston Area,
2. Our Roots are Here: Goldsboro Area
3. Singing in the Church House, Dancing in the Warehouse: Wilson Area
4. “O Lord, I’m Strivin'”: Rocky Mount, Princeville, Tarboro
5. Hear the Horns Blow: Greenville area

There are some rather famous artists and bands  mentioned in the book:  Thelonious Monk is from Rocky Mount, Roberta Flack got her start in Wilson singing with the Monitors,  blues man- Guitar Shorty was from Elm City, a member of the Platters was from Princeville and several Kinston Musicians played with James Brown.  But the area also hosted some of the most important African-American musicians from around the United States and the town of Wilson received many of them with the with the always dynamic Sam Vick (one of the first African-American postmasters in the US) as the main driving force (This blog could almost be called the Sam Vick Memorial Blog he comes up so often).  Here is a couple of quotes from Sam Lathan, drummer for the Monitors:

Wilson was the nucleus for all the big bands (that came to the region).  The Count Basie Band, the Glenn Mill band, the Duke Ellington band….You had a booking agency here by the name of Sam Vick, and Sam Vick booked all of the travelling big bands that came in the eastern circle here (79).

Sam Vick booked James Brown.  So when they came to play, that’s when I auditioned for the band. I auditioned right here in Wilson (82).

But the book also lists Paul Robeson, Ray Charles, Fats Waller and Josephine Baker as performers who toured Wilson. These artists performed in tobacco warehouses,   Reid Street Center in East Wilson (which is still in use), Tom’s Place (now run by Bennie) and sometimes churches.

A prominent figure in the Wilson and the Greenville chapters is Bill Meyers (former teacher and assistant superintendent of the Wilson County Schools).  He is one of the old guard in the Eastern NC music scene and a founding member of the over 50-year-old R&B band, the Monitors.   Bill is also the director and driving force of the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House African-American Museum, where we have formed a very productive, professional relationship.

Another power house of the Wilson education and music scene in the book is Gloria Burks.  Gloria used to sing with the Monitors, sang during Gov. Jim Hunt’s inauguration and also sang for President Carter when he visited the state.  Gloria  recently came by the library to do some research on her past, while also regaling me with some great stories and funny jibes at my lack of knowledge about her career (I have remedied that).

But outside of the tobacco warehouses and in the churches is another bright spot of the African-American music scene.  Gospel music is a powerful force in the African-American community of Eastern NC and many acts such as the Five Blind Boys, the Violinaires and Slim and the Supreme Angels  performed at Fleming Stadium (Where Elvis sang), the Reid Street Center or at various churches in East Wilson, churches that have their own home-grown talent.  In fact our security guard, a former Wilson County sheriff’s deputy, was looking at a picture in the book of congregants singing, taken at Jackson’s First Missionary Baptist Church,  and said, “Hey that’s my daughter!” while pointing at one of the singers.

For further reading, I recommend this article in Our State magazine about the African-American Music Trail.