A dispute over the estate of James Scarborough.

We revisited James Scarborough’s early nineteenth-century house outside Saratoga last week, and we examined the contents of his will here. Scarborough died shortly after executing his will in 1835, and his estate entered a lengthy and contentious probate.

To wife Martha and daughter Zilly Scarborough, along with his home and other property, Scarborough left “A Parcel of Negros that is to say Nan Aggy Sen’r Silvey Lemon Washington Sumter and Young Aggy and Haywood these Eight negros with the in Creas I lend them Jointly to Geather to my wife & daughter Zilly but by no means to be Hired out but to Remane on the Plantation to labour for them …”

To his son John R. Scarborough: “I also gave him three Likely negros when he went a way and now I give him four more after my death there names is as follows Luke Guilford Orange and Willis the above negros is not to be carryed away without a Lawful authority or Either by himself or his Heirs or Executors….” (In fact, John Scarborough took the men to Alabama even before the estate was opened, claiming that they were a gift to him rather than part of the estate.)

Scarborough died 1 March 1836. Nan, an enslaved woman, barely outlived her master:

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Rec’d the 28th Oct 1836 of Richard T. Eagles one of the Executors to James Scarboroughs will the sum of three Dollars & fifty Cents in full for making Coffin for Negro Nann.  William J. Lewis

The estate paid for the care of Silvey and four children for the year 1837.

Rec’d the 9th Decr 1837 the Sum of forty Dollar of Stephen Wooten and Richard T. Eagles Exer to the Estate of James Scarborgh decst for keeping Silvy and 4 children for the year 1837.  R.T. Eagles for Martha Scarbrough    Witness [illegible] Edwards

Despite James Scarborough’s express directive that “by no means” should his enslaved people be hired out, they were. Immediately.

On behalf of herself and her daughter Zilly, Martha Scarborough repeatedly challenged the terms of the will and the handling of the estate. In March 1839, pursuant to court order, a committee prepared an inventory of the enslaved people in Scarborough’s estate. They were: Aggy, age 55 ($100); Silva, age 37, and her two-month-old child Bunny ($650); Milly, age 3 ($250); Haywood, age 5 ($350); Aggy, age 7 ($400); Sumpter, age 9 ($550); Washington, age 14 ($725); and Lemon, age 16 ($850). Sumpter was “set apart” for widow Martha Scarborough.

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Martha Scarborough immediately sold Sumter to her son Jonathan T. Eason. Or did she? See below.

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Rec’d of Jonathan T. Eason five hundred and fifty Dollars in full for negro Sumter whitch was aloted to me in the Devishion of the negroes of the Decst James Scarborough my Late husbun this the 3th of April 1839  Martha (X) Scarborough      J.B. Eason

On 5 March 1840, Jonathan T. Eason received sixty dollars from the estate for caring for Silvey and three of her children during the previous year. Silva’s children appear to have been Bunny, Milly, Haywood, and Aggy. As a seven or eight year-old, Aggy would have been considered old enough to hire out separate from her mother.

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In 1843, Martha Scarborough filed petition charging her son Jonathan T. Eason with having taken advantage of her by convincing that the boy Sumpter, also known as Tom Sumpter, who was eight or ten years old in January 1840, was “badly grown for his age,” and the land she’d received as dower was “poor & much exhausted by cultivation.” She claimed she had eventually given way to Eason’s solicitations to manage her property — “he had acquired in a little time a complete ascendancy over her will” —  and he had sold it away in bits and pieces. “When he obtained consent to  sell the slave Tom Sumpter which was the only one she possessed he promised that she should have another to wait and attend upon her during her life ….” In a deposition of William W. Edwards taken pursuant to Scarborough’s litigation, Edwards testified that “I was well acquainted with the negro Sumpter. He was sold by Jonathan T. Eason to John Harrell Sr. at Eagles’ store for the sum of $560.00.” (This was probably Richard T. Eagles’ store in Edgecombe County.)

The outcome of Martha Scarborough’s suit is not clear.

The James Scarborough house.

James Scarborough Estate Records, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records 1665-1998, ancestry.com; photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.

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