As Hugh B. Johnston put it, “John Farmer lost his mind in 1824 and had spells of irrationality until the end of his life.” “It is said,” he wrote, “that John Farmer was rather violent sometimes, and his family was then forced to chain him in the log corn crib near the public road a short distance east of Wilson on the present highway 42.” Until his death in 1852, Farmer’s affairs were managed by a series of legal guardians, the last of whom was Joshua Barnes. Despite allegation that an early guardian was a wastrel, by all appearances the estate was well cared-for, and Farmer’s healthy assets included twenty enslaved people.
On 3 January 1853, a committee met at James D. Barnes’ house in Wilson to divide Farmer’s enslaved people among his ten heirs — nine adult children and his widow. The value of each share was $1057.50, and getting as close as possible to that amount was the driving factor in determining who was paired with whom. Not kinship. Surely some of the people named in this list were children, perhaps quite small, separated from their immediate families. (Overs and unders, by the way, were fixed with cash exchanges.)
- Lot No. 1 — Henry and Fanny, $1450, to Arthur Bardin for wife Lency Farmer Bardin
- Lot No. 2 — Dick and Minters, $1350, to Blunt Bulluck for wife Polly Farmer Bulluck
- Lot No. 3 — Sarah and Amos, $1075, to Thomas Yelverton for wife Nancy Farmer Yelverton
- Lot No. 4 — Peter and Caesar, $1025, to John W. Wilkins and wife Delphia Farmer Wilkins
- Lot No. 5 — Joe and Ned, $975, to George T. Yelverton and wife Edith Farmer Yelverton
- Lot No. 6 — Jim and Dorcas, $925, to Jesse Farmer
- Lot No. 7 — Grace and Elvin, $1000, to John Farmer
- Lot No. 8 — Julia and Penny, $900, to William D. Farmer
- Lot No. 9 — Will and Cherry, $900, to Isaac B. Farmer
- Lot No. 10 — Abram and Treasy, $975, to Nancy Farmer, John Farmer’s widow
Shortly after the distribution, Isaac Farmer, John’s son and administrator, paid Daniel Hocott ten dollars for “keeping Negro woman Julian while lying in with her child Penny.” Julia and Penny then, who went to William D. Farmer, were a mother and infant.
To date, I have no evidence of family ties among the other distributed pairs, but we have met Henry before. He secured his own freedom by leaving Arthur and Lency Bardin’s farm, making his way to the coast, and enlisting in the United States Colored Troops.
Thomas and Nancy Yelverton and George and Edith Yelverton lived in the Pikeville area of northern Wayne County, North Carolina. Amos Yelverton married Martha Coley on 12 January 1867 in Wayne County. He and his family are found in the 1870 census of Pikeville township. Ned Yelverton enlisted with the United States Colored Troops in Goldsboro in April 1865. He married Gustin Faison; they are found in Wayne County census records.
Peter may have been Peter Wilkins, who married Julia Wilkins in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, on 12 August 1866. They are found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses of Sparta township, Edgecombe County.
Caesar Wilkins, son of Samuel Horn and Sarah Farmer, married Bina Barnes, daughter of Benjamin Barnes and Violet Barnes, in 26 January 1871 in Wilson County. (Caesar’s mother, perhaps, was the Sarah who went to Thomas and Nancy Yelverton with Amos.)
Abram, who remained with Nancy Farmer, was Abram Farmer, whom we met here and here. Abram Farmer was baptized at Toisnot Primitive Baptist Church in 1842 and joined the church about 1870. Abram Farmer and Cherry Bridges registered their 11-year cohabitation with a Wilson County justice of the peace in 1866. In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Abraham Farmer, 57; wife Cherry Farmer, 54; Jane Farmer, 16; Caroline Armstrong, 30, and her children Gray, 6, Thadeus, 4, and John, 2 months; and farm laborer York Gill, 35. (Was Cherry Bridges the Cherry who went to Isaac B. Farmer? Perhaps.)
John Farmer Estate (1852), Edgecombe County, North Carolina Estate Files 1663-1979, http://www.familysearch.org; Johnston, Hugh, “Looking Backward,” Wilson Daily Times, 2 January 1960.