Isaac and Sarah Williamson lived in Old Fields township, Wilson (formerly Nash) County. In 1853, Sarah Williamson filed for divorce from her husband, citing, among other things, serious physical and emotional abuse. The Williamsons lived in a part of Wilson County that was then in Nash County. Their divorce file is replete with accusations and counter-accusations of violence, alcohol abuse, infidelity and general profligacy. It also contains several references to the Williamsons’ enslaved laborers and free colored neighbors.
The court required Isaac Williamson to sequester $2500 pending a decree in the case and was given the choice to post a bond or to hand over to the sheriff “negroes Harry, Lewis, Viney, Reuben, Ben & Margarett.” [Isaac Williamson died in 1854 or 1855, ending the proceedings.]
In her deposition, Nancy Williamson, Isaac and Sarah’s 20 year-old daughter, swore that “at another night he run mother and me out of the house and then called in a Negro fellow made him get the gun, powder and shot — the gun was loaded and he, my father took it and said if he found my mother he would drop her wherever he found her. …” “At another time my father asked a negro fellow who had a wife there, to come into the house and he did so, cursed and abused my mother — and my father would not allow my mother to say any thing to the negro but told him to say what he pleased to her.”
Neighbor Jethro Harrison testified that “I am well acquainted with Isaac Williamson the Defendant, He is a man who drinks hard — when he has not liquor at home he goes off and drinks he does not attend to his business like a man ought to. I have seen the Defendant on my bed and one morning about an hour per sun I saw him on a bed at Elijah Powell‘s a free negroe who had living with him a daughter grown and a wife & other children. …” On cross examination, Harrison stated: “… the Defendant was lying across the bed at the free negroes house with his shoes off and a quilt over him I think his clothes were not off. He was drunk or quite drinkey.”
Son-in-law Robertson Baker testified: “Some five or six years ago the Defendant and myself were riding in the night along together he had a coloured woman supposed to be a Negro riding on his horse behind him, he stopped in the path I went back and found him on the woman — I rode off and in a short time he came on with the woman behind him I saw the woman put up behind him as we started from a sale or hireing at A[illegible] At the Defendant’s request there being two Negro girls at our horses where we went to start I took one of them behind me for the purpose of getting him off home.”
Daughter Kesiah Williamson, 17, testified that Isaac Williamson told her “if I stuck up to him that I would get a negro or two but if I stuck to mother I never should have any of his property.”
Dempsey Powell was subpoenaed to testify in a deposition, but the file does not contain a record of any such statement.
- Harry, Lewis, Viney, Reuben, Ben & Margarett — A document in the Williamson divorce notes that Isaac Williamson owned about 12 enslaved people. In 1864, Williamson’s youngest sons received their inheritance from their father. Isaac Jr. took possession of Harry, Jacob, Priscilla and Wesley, and son Eli Williamson, Reuben, Margaret and child Riney, Hittie and Elias.
- Elijah Powell — in the 1850 census of Nash County, listed next door to Isaac and Sarah Williamson: Robert Simpson, 36, farmer; Elijah Powell, 50, cooper; wife Selah [Celia Taylor], 48; and children Denis T., 22, Henry, 21, Elijah, 19, Mary, 18, Stephen, 10, Jane, 6, Jabe, 2, and Sally, 18. [Presumably, the girl on the bed was either Sally or Mary Powell.]
- Dempsey Powell — in the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: turpentine worker Dempsey Powell, 30, who claimed $130 personal estate; Sallie Simpson, 28; and Sallie Simpson, 9.
Many thanks to Traci Thompson for sharing these documents, which are housed in Nash County Records at the North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.