In September 1867, Major William A. Cutler passed a report up the chain to his superior in the Freedmen’s Bureau.”… J.E. Totten at Joyners N.C. [Elm City] has been defrauding Freedmen by obtaining from them their “Discharges” from the U.S. Army by false representations …”
Bureau R.F.&A.L., Office Asst.Sub.Asst.Com., Rocky Mount, N.C., Sept. 6th, 1867.
Maj. C.E. Compton, Sub. Asst. Com., Goldsboro, N.C.
Howell Vine (colored) gave me the enclosed receipt, & I feel it my duty to send it to you, as he is anxious to obtain his discharge papers again.
From his statement it seems that he was deceived at the time he gave them into the hands of J.E. Totten and thought that Totten was sent by the Bureau to look after the interest of the freed people.
You will learn by the note written by Cd. Frank H. Bennett (register) that this not the only case of the kind.
I sent a note to the county clerk of Wilson county to find whether Totten had obtained the county seal to the certificate on the back of the claim.
I enclose the letter which I received in reply to the note.
I have the honor to be, Very Respectfully Your Obdt. svt, Wm. A. Cutler, Maj. & A.S.A.C.
Though his encounter with J.E. Totten apparently took place in Wilson County, and the Bureau made inquiries with the Wilson County clerk, it is not clear whether Howell Vines ever actually lived in the county. Joseph Totten, 29, is listed as a store clerk in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County, living in the household of Joseph Conte, 52, “g & gd march retl” [grocery and dry goods merchant retail].
Per muster records, Howell Vine (or Vines) enlisted in Company B, 14th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, on 21 March 1864 in Washington, North Carolina. He was described as 32 years of age; five feet nine inches tall; with black complexion, black eyes and wooly hair. He reported being born in Edgecombe County.
In the 1870 census of Sparta township, Edgecombe County: farmer Howell Vines, 36; wife Priscilla, 35; and children James and Jenny, 14, Lucy, 12, Sarah, 2, and Charlie, 1.
In the 1880 census of Sparta township, Edgecombe County: farmer Howell Vines, 52; wife Cillar, 42; and children James and Jennie, 24, Lucy, 21, Sarah, 13, and Charlie, 10.
Lucilla Vines applied for a widow’s pension on 20 July 1891.
North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Letters sent, vols. 1-2, February 1867-February 1868, http://www.familysearch.org; U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.