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.


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.


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)

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 women 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.


“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.