Bunyan Barnes’ apprentices.

Under laws authorizing the involuntary apprenticeship of poor orphans and the children of unmarried parents, county courts in antebellum North Carolina removed thousands of children from the homes to be bound to serve their neighbors. Hundreds of indentures dot the pages of Wayne County court minute books, and free children of color were disproportionately pulled into the system. Apprenticeship created an inexpensive, long-term and tractable labor supply for white yeoman farmers, many of whom could not (or could not yet) afford to purchase enslaved people.

Wayne County lost its northern tip to the newly created Wilson County in 1855. By pinpointing the locations of the farms of the men (and rare women) to whom they were indentured, we are able to identify the following free children of color as residents of the area that would become Wilson County’s Black Creek township and parts of Crossroads township.

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Bunyan Barnes was born about 1809 and died before 1870. Per Wilson County Founding Families, S. Powell and H. Powell, editors, Barnes was the first postmaster of Bardin’s Depot (now Black Creek) and owned property along the Wilson and Goldsboro Road (now Frank Price Church Road) between Canal Branch and Dickerson Mill Branch in Black Creek township.

  • Stephen Mitchell, 8, and Warren Mitchell, 7, were bound to Bunyon Barnes in 1833.
  • John Hagans, 15, was bound to Bunyan Barnes in 1844.

Apprentice Records, Wayne County Records, North Carolina State Archives; federal censuses.

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