1850s

The great black section.

The Local History Room of Wilson County Public Library’s Main Branch holds a copy of Daisy Hendley Gold’s typewritten manuscript, “A Town Named Wilson,” published in 1949. It doesn’t have anything to say about African-Americans except this:

“Evidence of prosperity and the possession of cash money was found in the large number of slave owners in Wilson town and county. This was the period when this area was one of the great ‘black’ sections of the state.

“In 1855 William Daniel was prosperous enough to pay Amos Horne the following substantial sums for slaves: $875 for slave Harry, 19 years; $875 for Alfred, 18; $800 for Oney, 17; $675 for Gray, 14.

“In the same year John Harper who lived near Wilson left three slaves, Jason, Lettice and Martha, in trust with General Joshua Barnes for the ‘sole and separate use and benefit of Mary Harper.'”

The estate of William L. Farmer.

William L. Farmer’s hefty estate file contains multiple references to both enslaved people and free people of color.

From an inventory of assets, a list of enslaved people hired out in 1857 and 1858 — Samson, Blunt, Joshua, Jane and Clarkey.

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A 25 November 1856 inventory of the debts owed to William L. Farmer highlights the web of financial relationships that characterized the largely bankless antebellum South. For many, after land and slaves, their greatest assets consisted of I.O.U.’s.

Green Lassiter (and his sister Rachel Lassiter?) seems to have been one of the largest debtors.

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Terrell Parker‘s $11.32 debt to Farmer was declared “bad,” i.e. uncollectible.

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As were those of many others, including Gray Boseman …

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… another of Green Lassiter’s …

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… the $1.25 Silas Lassiter owed …

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… the $7.50 John R. Locus owed …

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…  the $3.25 Warren Artis owed …

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… debts by Timothy Howard, Lawrence Hagans, Zealous Howard, and James Howard …

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… and another $5.57 owed by Warren Artis.

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Benjamin Thorn hired out Joshua for a year. Jane went to Archibald Roes, and Sampson to Henry Armstrong. The estate paid Evins Baker five dollars to care for Clarky.

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“They are to have 3 soots of Cloths & three pair of shoes one of woolen one hat & one Blanket” Henry Crumpley hired out Daniel for the year, and W.G. Sharp hired Ben. Though both were described as “boys,” their hire prices suggest they were young men in their prime.

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On 6 April 1860, “negro Ben” required a visit to Dr. James G. Armstrong.

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This remarkable document, the only one of its kind I’ve seen, is a receipt for the late fall purchase of goods for Farmer’s slaves — seven blankets, seven pairs of shoes, five wool hats, 18 and-a-half yards of osnaburg, five yards of linsey, one pair of coarse boots, and 29 years of kersey. Osnaburg was a coarse, stiff fabric woven from flax or jute and commonly used to make garments for enslaved people. Linsey (or linsey-woolsey) was another coarse cotton and wool fabric. Kersey was a dense woolen fabric.

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In 27 August 1856, shortly before he died, Farmer gave Rachel Lassiter a note for $15.59, which could have represented money borrowed or more likely services rendered or goods sold.

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On 14 July 1857, Farmer’s administrator, Augustin Farmer, paid Green Lassiter $16.42 to settle a debt.

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William L. Farmer Estate File (1856), Wilson County, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, http://www.familysearch.org.

William J. Armstrong house.

Per Kate Ohno, Wilson County’s Architectural Heritage (1981):

“Captain William James Armstrong, the original owner of this house, was born in 1810, and was the son of Gray Armstrong. Armstrong was appointed constable of Edgecombe County in 1828, and by 1834 he had punched a mercantile business near Upper Town Creek Church. Armstrong’s military rank was acquired through his service in the Edgecombe County militia. He was prominent in both the religious and political activities if Edgecombe County, serving as justice of the peace as early as 1845 and as clerk of the Falls of the Tar Primitive Baptist Church (in Rocky Mount) between 1854 and 1856. Armstrong married Elizabeth Braswell in 1832 and after her death he was married to Catherine Williams. By the time of his death in 1856 Armstrong was the principal in a mercantile firm, consisting of Willie Gray Barnes and Baker B. Armstrong, which operated a store at Joyner’s Depot. … The house probably dates circa 1830, about the time of Armstrongs first marriage and consists of a one-story Greek Revival cottage with a hipped roof and two interior chimneys. The board-and-batten siding, possibly dating from the mid-nineteenth century is an unusual survival in Wilson County. Although the fenestration and floor plan have been altered and one chimney removed, the original trabeated door remains intact, as do some of the mantels. The carport was added by the present owner. A charming early twentieth-century latticed well house is located to the east of the house.”

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For more on the more than two dozen men and women William J. Armstrong enslaved, see here.

One Negro Man Ben.

On 26 January 1864, administrator J.T. Dew filed in Wilson County court his inventory of the personal estate of Isaac Farmer. After a list of debts owed to the estate, he added a short list of personal property, including an enslaved man named Ben.

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Dew later filed with the court a receipt for the hire of Ben to Theresa Farmer in 1865.

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Isaac Farmer Estate (1863), Wilson County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

 

The estate of Theophilus T. Simms.

On 13 January 1855, William Bardin, John G. Barnes, and William W. Barnes agreed to pay Amos Horn, guardian of the minor heirs of T.T. Simms, $225 for the hire of Reddick and Willie, enslaved men. Bardin and the Barneses also agreed to provide each man three suits of clothes (one woolen), two pairs of shoes, one pair of stockings [socks], a hat, and a blanket.

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At October Term 1863, the Wilson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions heard the petition of Simms’ daughter Diana A. Simms for partition of her father’s slaves, identified as Gray, Willey, Dick, Austin, Watey, Jane, Lucy, Molly, Stella and Anna. Diana Sims and her minor siblings owned in common.

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I’ve only identified one of the enslaved people from T.T. Simms’ estate — Waity Simms Barnes.

In 1866, Waity Simms and Gaston Barnes registered their 6-year cohabitation with a Wilson County justice of the peace.

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farm laborer Casten Barnes, 28; wife Waity, 24; and children Austin, 6, Benjamin, 5, Etheldred, 4, and Aaron Simms, 1.

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Gaston Barnes, 42; wife Waity, 35; and children Benjamin, 16, Aaron, 10, Nellie, 7, Willie, 5, and infant boy, 17 days.

T.T. Simms Estate Files, Wilson County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

The estate of David Jordan.

James D. Barnes reported the results of the sale of David Jordan’s personal property in January 1856.

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An enslaved “boy” (who may actually have been a grown man) named Harry was not sold with Jordan’s gold watch, walking cane, cigars, chamberpots, “champaign,” and poultry. Rather, he was leased to Robert Simpson for twelve months for $100.00.

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Jordan may have purchased Harry from the estate of his mother Sally Jordan, who had died in 1827. The inventory of her possessions included this notation of enslaved men Turner and Harry.

David Jordan Estate File (1856), Wilson County; Sally Jordan Estate File (1827), Nash County; North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com

Auction place.

“For hundreds of years, enslaved people were bought and sold in America. Today most of the sites of this trade are forgotten.” Thus began the 12 February 2020 installation of The 1619 Project, the New York Times‘ initiative that aims to reframe American history by centering African-Americans in the narrative. Wrote Dr. Anne C. Bailey, author of The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History, “Auctions and the sales of enslaved people could be found near or along the major ports where enslaved Africans landed, including Richmond, Va.; New Orleans; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C. But the enslaved were also sold in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and at New York City’s 18th-century open-air Meal Market on Wall Street. The sales took place all over the growing nation — in taverns, town squares and train stations, on riverbanks and by the side of the road. Before being sold, the enslaved were often kept in pens or private jails, sometimes for days or weeks. Then they were sold directly from the pens or marched to a nearby auction. Thousands of sales took place each year, right in the hearts of American cities and towns, on the steps of courthouses and city halls.”

In order to create “a more equitable map of American history,” an afterword to Bailey’s piece asks us to help fill in the record by reporting known sites at which enslaved African-Americans were auctioned. I have done so.

One of the earliest posts at Black Wide-Awake displays the 1856 report of Benjamin Bynum to a Wilson County court of the proceeds of the sale of Cate and Sherard at the White Oak tollhouse on the Plank Road. James R. Barnes had bought them for $450.20. I don’t know the exact location of the tollhouse, but it is reasonable to believe that it stood near the spot where the Plank Road between Wilson and Greenville crossed the Buck Branch of White Oak Swamp just west of Saratoga.

Highway 264-Alternate now follows the path of the Plank Road. Here was White Oak Swamp from the Highway 264-Alternate bridge yesterday.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2020.

The last will and testament of Lewis Rountree.

On 20 September 1849, Lewis Rountree of Edgecombe County penned a will that included these provisions:

  • to wife Elizabeth Rountree, a life interest in “one negro man George and one negro woman by the name of Fanney aged 31 years.” After Elizabeth’s death, their six daughters were to inherit George and  Fanney equally.
  • to Sarah Jordan, wife of Thomas Jordan,”one negro boy by the name of Sam and one negro girl by the name of Phillis
  • to daughters Eliza Daniel, wife of Willie Daniel; Harriet Ellis, wife of I.G. Ellis; Penelope Rountree; Elizabeth Rountree; Treasia Rountree; and Margaret Rountree “the following negroes to wit — Stephen, Braswell, Hillard, Joe, Dave, Warren, Henry, Joiner, Amos, Rafe, Levi, John, Little Gorge, Fed, Gray, Bob, Love, Rebecca, July, Cherry, Milley, Ester, Deborah, Rhoda, Ann and Louisa,” share and share alike.
  • daughters Eliza and Harriet to receive their shares of community property immediately, and the remaining daughters to receive theirs as they reached age 21

After Lewis Rountree’s death, daughters Eliza Daniel and Harriet Ellis (through their husbands) petitioned for the division of their share of their father’s enslaved property. Eliza Daniel received Brass, Amos, Love, George, Rhody and Ann, valued at $2375. Harriet Ellis received Hilliard, Pheriba, Louisa, Adaline, Levi and Julia, valued at $2400.

Hilliard and Pheriba Ellis were a newly married couple at the time of the division. Hilliard Ellis’ brother Warren remained part of the common property and adopted the surname Rountree after emancipation.

Lewis Rountree Will, Edgecombe County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

 

Williamson v. Williamson.

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.

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  • 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.

An account of the sale of Negroes.

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On 3 January 1859, administratrix Mahala Barnes sold two families belonging to her deceased husband Elias Barnesestate. Elias’ brother Joshua Barnes purchased Axey and her two children for $1321 and Rachel and her child for $1105 on behalf of the estate of Jesse Barnes Sr., who was Elias and Joshua’s late father.

Estate of Elias Barnes (1856), North Carolina Wills and Estates 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.