They were sold for their father’s debts.

Tarborough Southerner, 13 March 1852.


There are levels of terribleness to this report of the sale of nine enslaved people at a Wayne County, N.C., auction.

The nine people sold were the grown or nearly grown children of an enslaved woman and a free man of color, plus four grandchildren of that couple. They were purchased by enslavers in three different counties, including Dr. Lewis J. Dortch, who lived in Stantonsburg, in what is now Wilson County but was then Edgecombe. I have not been able to discover the names of the woman and children Dr. Dortch bought.

Adam Winn was born about 1805 into a large free family of color, most likely in Duplin County, North Carolina. He was a prosperous farmer who was also a slaveowner — with devastating consequences. Wynn, who never legally married, took two white women and an enslaved African-American woman as common-law wives. His children by the former were free, but his children by the latter were, like their mother, enslaved. He lived openly with his children and, in the 1850 census of North Division, Duplin County, Adam Winn, 45, is listed with William, 13, Marshal, 11, John, 9, Woodard, 7, and Woodley Winn, 5, as well as Moses Simmons, 18. The Winn boys were his sons and, despite their census appearance, were not free.

Adam Winn was land-rich, but cash-poor, and mortgaged his property heavily. In April 1849, for example, he borrowed money from a neighbor named Benjamin Oliver and put up enslaved people Bethana, Martha, and Oliver as security, along with 133 acres of land. In the early 1850s, his financial affairs crashed down around his head, and he lost not only the nine people whose sale was reported above, but several others. Winn had mortgaged six enslaved people to secure debt to Furnifold Jernigan (who purchased a 22 year-old man at the sale above) and, after Jernigan’s death, Winn’s fight to regain them reached the North Carolina Supreme Court in William K. Lane v. Jane Bennett et al., 56 N.C. 371 (1858).

By valid will, Furnifold Jernigan had made several provisions for the disposal of his slaves.  To his wife Jane Jernigan (who later married Thomas Bennett), he left 13 people, including Bill Winn, John Winn, Simpson, and Anne. To his daughter Mary Anne Kelly, he left eight people, including Olive. He also provided for the liberation of “negroes, Dave, Tom, Morris, Lila and Mary” and their transport to a free state and directed that ten additional enslaved people be sold. John A. Green and William K. Lane were named executors.

Before Jernigan’s legacies were distributed, Adam Winn filed suit to recover John Winn, Bill Winn, Simpson, Anne, Olive, and Dave, claiming that (1) he had mortgaged the slaves to Jernigan to secure payment of money Jernigan loaned him, and (2) he had a judgment attesting that he had repaid the money, and the slaves had been reconveyed to him.

The executors filed a “bill” with the court seeking guidance on the will’s provisions.  Jane Bennett and Mary Anne Kelly claimed the full value of the slaves bequeathed to them or, in the alternative, the amount paid by Winn to redeem them.  The court found that each was entitled to the amount of the redemption. (And Dave, having been redeemed by Winn and returned to slavery, lost the freedom Jernigan  intended for him.)

[Do not mistake Jernigan for a benevolent man. In 1834, Furnifold Jernigan and David Cole were charged in Wayne County Superior Court with taking Kilby O’Quinn, a free boy of color, from Wayne to Bladen County for “their own use.” In 1837, Jernigan was indicted for selling Betsy Dinkins, the free “colored” daughter of a white woman. In the three years between, Jernigan and at least four co-defendants appeared on the Wayne County docket ten times on charges of selling free negroes, but never vent to trial. Despite Jernigan’s notoriety (he had fourteen other unrelated court appearances in the same period,) the state’s solicitor in the Dinkins case was compelled to complain to the judge that “the defendant by the influence of several men of standing … has … so many of the Court yard, in his favor, that it would be a mere mockery to enter upon this trial in Wayne.” The case was ordered removed to Greene County, but never appeared on the docket there. In 1850, Jernigan, still living in Wayne County, owned $5000 in farmland and 43 slaves.]


In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County, N.C.: Dr. L.J. Dortch, 32, physician, and L.H. Moye, 32.

In the 1850 slave schedule of Edgecombe County, L.J. Dortch is listed with 8 enslaved people — women and girls aged 35, 32, 29, 11, and 1 month, and boys aged 11, 6, and 4.

Lewis Jackson Dortch died 28 October 1854 in Stantonsburg. More about him later.

Deed Book 21, page 215, Duplin County Register of Deeds; Minutes of the Superior Court of Wayne County, Spring Term, 1834, and Minutes of the Superior Court of Wayne County, Spring Term, 1837, Records of Wayne County, North Carolina State Archives; State Docket, Superior Court of Wayne County, vol. 1, 1834-1843, Records of Wayne County, NCSA;Petition from Edward Banly to Superior Court, April 6, 1837, Box 4, Records Concerning Slaves and Free Persons of Color, Records of Wayne County, NCSA.


  1. Literally, black lives were used as ” pawns in the play” like in a chess game….but still, we rise in their precious names.

    Their stories ( both my people and their perpetrators) are hence here recorded .

    My refuge is that an ultimate authority rendered judgement … of which, on this side of life, we have no knowledge … but it was surely rendered.

  2. “Complicated” is right! It looks like Adam Winn mortgaged his children at least twice before he lost some of them to a forced sale. Most of them remained around Wayne. Marshall lived with Adam post-sale in 1860. Free?

    And William Winn named a son ‘Dortch’ after the man who purchased him after his father mortgaged and lost him.

    Judgement is one of my favorite hobbies [LOL] but I have learned to withhold it, lest it cloud my search for data. Our folks often just don’t fit a pattern.

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