Mercy Hospital: Medical Care for African Americans in East Wilson

Medical care in eastern North Carolina was conspicuously absent for African Americans until Dr. Frank S. Hargrave, a black physician,  conveyed property on 504 East Greene Street, where he had been treating black patients since 1905,  to Samuel H. Vick and J.D. Reid for the creation of the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home. Money troubles dogged the new hospital for next 17 years, but it still provided care for a growing African American population streaming into Wilson to work in the tobacco, cotton and mercantile industry. In 1929 the hospital was forced to close due to lack of funds. This did not last long however, and in 1930 it was newly incorporated as Mercy Hospital.

Until 1938 the hospital was supported through private donations from local tobacconists, the city of Wilson, and the Duke endowment. In 1938 the trustees sold the hospital to the city of Wilson to obtain a federal grant for $16,000, which allowed the hospital to expand from 25 to 40 beds. Mercy was then sold back to the trustees to obtain a $19,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. This increased its size to fifty beds and enabled the hiring of eight full-time employees.  With the end of segregation and the building of the new Wilson Memorial Hospital, Mercy Hospital closed its doors permanently in 1964 (1).

Dr. Frank S. Hargrave in the center with nurse Henrietta Colvert on the far left and Dr. William A. Mitchener in the 1910’s.

Many black physicians and nurses went through the doors of the historic medical facility, including the Dr. J. F. Cowan and his wife Annie Mae Cowan who came to work there in 1927.  Dr. J. F. Cowan was a graduate of Howard University and was brought to Wilson by hospital trustee, J.D. Reid. It was at the hospital that Dr. Cowan met his future wife, Annie Mae Cowan, who was the first African American woman in Wilson to take the state nursing exam

“Old man Reid, the banker, supervised the hospital,” recalled Annie Mae. “And his wife kept the books.”

When Dr. Cowan arrived, he was n’t very encouraged by the sight of the facilities after being used to the modern medical facilities at Howard Medical School. But they enjoyed their time at the hospital, which was then still called the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home.

Annie Mae recalled them having good relations with visiting physicians from Moore-Herring Hospital, which was the white hospital in Wilson, but where African American patients went for surgical procedures. She also remembered a screened in porch installed for tuberculosis patients, but she only remembered one patient suffering from that infectious, bacterial lung disease (2).

The Mercy Hospital Historical Marker will be dedicated at 3:00 PM on Tuesday, May 4.

References

1.Lewis, Necole. “Mercy Hospital: Emergence of the First Black Hospital in Eastern North Carolina.” Unpublished thesis, North Carolina Central University, 1998, pp. 1–47.

2.Railey, Mimi. “Mercy Hospital: Health Care in East Wilson.” Wilson Daily Times, 16 July 1983, p. 1C.

Stagecoach Mary: the Black Cowgirl

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America’s Old West was undoubtedly a Wild West before an ex-slave named Mary Fields arrived in 1885 at a small railroad town in present-day Montana. Yet she certainly made things more interesting. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”

Source: Stagecoach Mary: the Black Cowgirl

London’s Primitive Baptist Church in Ruins

london-church-1 london-church-2 london-church-3Last week, a patron showed me some photographs that she took of a crumbling London’s Primitive Baptist Church on London Church Road.  The Church, built in about 1895, was moved to this site from Herring Avenue in 1992 to preserve the structure. All has not gone as planned and after a tree fell through the church sometime after 2013, it has been left as a ruin.  The patron that brought me the photos had been trying to get Preservation Wilson to renovate the structure, but they said that it was the landowner’s responsibility.  The church was deeded to the owners of American Museum of Music but after one of them died, the other was unable to take care of the important historic building.  For more on the church, see this post in Black Wide-Awake.

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London’s Primitive Baptist Church in better days.

Say Their Names: Reclaiming Wilson’s Slave Past

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Join us next month 2/7/2017 @ 7 pm in the WCPL assembly room for Lisa Henderson’s presentation: Say Their Names: Reclaiming Wilson’s Slave Past. If it is anything like her past presentations, it will be stellar.

New Marker for African Americans who fought at the Battle of King’s Mountain

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Last weekend, I went camping at King’s Mountain National Park with my son and lots of cousins.  It was a beautiful two days and we hiked on the gorgeous trail around the Revolutionary War battlefield.  While hiking, I noticed a new marker, placed there just a few days before, memorializing three African Americans who fought at the battle: Esaias Bowman, John Broddy and Andrew Ferguson.  When I got home I looked into these three soldiers and found some interesting information, but I found the most interesting one was Andrew Ferguson (1765-1855).

There are two applications that I examined on Fold3, one for a pension and one for bounty land.From his pension/ bounty applications Ferguson  acknowledges that he is colored and born of a free father and free mother.  Andrew states that he and his father, Andrew Perley, were from Dinwiddie County, Virginia and were captured by the British who whipped them with a “cat o’ nine tails”.  They both escaped and joined Nathanael Greene’s regiment, who were in the county at the time. Father and son participated in a good portion of the battles of the southern theater.  Andrew Ferguson relates that he was wounded at Camden in the leg but was able to fight at Ninety-Six, Kings Mountain, Pacolet River, Musgrove’s Mill, Eutaw Springs, Cowpens and  Guilford Courthouse.  It was at Guilford Courthouse where he was seriously wounded in the head and Doctor John Sidney placed a silver plate in the fracture.  Andrew was discharged shortly after Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown.

The bounty letter also mentions that he was in the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania and in the pension application there is a reference to the notorious Tory, Bill Cunningham, also known as bloody Bill Cunningham (for  the massacres of patriot militia he perpetrated in South Carolina).  He shot and killed an American near Andrew, then escaped.

Andrew Ferguson was given a small pension and would move to Monroe County, Indiana sometime after 1820. Both he and his wife were very poor and the first pension letter was in 1838 when he was 73.  The bounty letter was in 1851.  Then he wrote another one in 1855 when he was supposedly 90 years old!  He finally received his bounty for 160 acres in 1856, but by then he and his wife had already died without heirs.

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Andrew Ferguson’s pension letter in 1838.

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Andrew Ferguson’s first bounty letter in 1851

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Andrew received 20 dollars a year.

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Unfortunately his land bounty of 160 acres came too late.