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, and 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 that the 800 lbs. of cotton he tendered to Napoleon Hagans (and later, his son William) was interest on a mortgage, but William Hagans and other witnesses maintained that the payment was rent. (Tom also testified that he rented the “Adam Artis place.”) William testified that his father was in feeble health in 1896 when he called him and his brother Henry 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. Tom Franks testified that “Pole was a first-rate business man.” Jonah Williams, Adam Artis’ brother, testified that he borrowed money from Napoleon to open a brickyard in the spring of 1893 and had preached his funeral. He also noted that “Tom married my sister [Loumiza Artis]. He is not a member of my church. I turned him out. He is a Primitive Baptist. I preached Napoleon Hagans’ funeral.”) Jesse Artis, another of Adam Artis’ brothers, testified that he had worked on Napoleon’s property as a carpenter for 18 years and noted, “I don’t know that Tom and I are any kin, just by marriage.” John Rountree testified that he was a tenant renting on thirds. Simon Exum, Delilah Artis‘ husband, testified: “I am no kin to Tom [Artis] as far as I know, except by Adam. His first wife was my wife’s sister.” H.S. Reid testified that he was Tom Artis’ son-in-law. The court found for Coley and against Artis.
[Sidenote: The Artises, Haganses and Reids were neighbors in the Eureka area of Wayne County for generations. Tom Artis’ mother Celia Artis and Henry S. Reid’s grandmother Rhoda Reid were the wealthiest free women of color in the county. Adam Artis married Napoleon Hagans’ half-sister Frances Seaberry. Adam’s sister Loumiza married Tom Artis. Henry S. Reid, son of Washington and Penninah Reid, married Tom Artis’ daughter. Henry’s first cousin Henry Reid, son of John and Mozana Hall Reid, married Adam Artis’ daughter Georgianna Artis. Adam Artis’ son William Marshall Artis and grandson Leslie Artis married Tom Artis’ neices, Etta and Minnie Diggs. And on and on. — LYH]