1860s

Two charges of theft.

On 24 March 1866, two white men appeared before justice of the peace A.G. Brooks to swear that Asa Exum had stolen a coat, a pair of pants, and a pistol from them.

As his surname suggests, Asa Exum apparently lived in neighboring Wayne County, North Carolina, but was familiar across southeastern Wilson County. Dr. L.A. Stith lived in Wilson, and Seth Hawkins Tyson near Stantonsburg. Someone investigated the charges and scrawled a brief note under the first entry: “Says he bought it from [illegible] or Guest.”

Roll 17 Miscellaneous Records, Goldsboro Subassistant Commissioner’s Office, North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records 1863-1872, http://www.familysearch.org.

The mystery of Julia Boyette Bailey’s grave.

Julia wife of Moses Bailey Born July 25, 1832 Died May 23, 1869 A tender mother and faithful friend

Brian Grawburg shared this astonishing photograph recently — the headstone of Julia Bailey, who was born enslaved in 1832 and died in 1869, just four years after the Civil War ended. Her grave marker, beautifully and professionally engraved, may mark the earliest African-American burial I have seen in Wilson County, and its discovery was serendipitous. While kayaking on Buckhorn Reservoir, Al Letchworth spotted a broken headstone in the water. Getting out to explore further, he found Julia Bailey’s marker. Letchworth mentioned his discovery to his friend Guy Pittman, who knew of Grawburg’s project documenting obscure and forgotten Wilson County cemeteries. Julia Bailey was almost certainly buried in a family cemetery, and it seems tragically likely that at least part of that cemetery was lost in 1974, when Contentnea Creek was dammed to create the reservoir, or in 1999, when a new dam was constructed downstream.

What do we know about Julia Bailey and her family?

A 1921 Wilson Daily Times piece about the death of her son Nathan Boyette offers another fortuitous glimpse of her life:

Nathan Boyette “was born on September 18th, 1850 and was a slave belonging to Jimmy Boyette living about twelve miles from Wilson in the Old Field Township. At the close of the Civil War Uncle Nathan was a husky boy just fifteen years of age. He had seven brothers and three sisters, one sister being older, Nathan being the next oldest child. His mother was name[d] Julie, and evidently had a very strong character. She could read and write, and she taught Nathan and the other children to read and write. …”

The 1860 slave schedule of Oldfields township, Wilson County, lists James Boyett as the owner of eight enslaved people: a 28 year-old woman, who was likely Julia; six boys aged 19, 12, 9, 7, 4 and 2; and a girl aged 8. The nine year-old boy was probably Nathan. (Or perhaps the 7 year-old, with the 8 year-old girl his older sister.) [Like most people enslaved in small units, Julia’s husband Moses Bailey had a different owner and lived apart from his family.]

On 15 August 1866, Moses Bailey and Julia Boyett registered their 15-year cohabitation with a Wilson County justice of the peace.

Per her headstone (which was probably placed long after her death, see Lula Wooten’s similar marker), Julia Bailey died in 1869.

In the 1870 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farm laborer Moses Baily, 51, and children Allen, 15, John, 13, Patrick, 10, Yamah, 5, and William, 8. [Next door: white farmer Neeham Bailey, 67, and wife Peninah, 38. The 1860 slave schedule lists Needham Bailey with four slaves, but none of an age to be Moses. However, in 1860 Levi Bailey, Needham’s close neighbor, owned a 40 year-old man among his eleven slaves.]

In the 1870 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Alfred Rice, 40; wife Amy, 30; and son Thomas, 13, with Gray Baily, 24, all farm laborers. Next door: Violet Baily, 45, and Isabel Baily, 12. [“Emma” Bailey and Alfred Rice also registered a cohabitation in 1866. Gray Bailey was born to Moses Bailey’s earlier relationship with Isabel Bailey, and it is likely that Amy was his sister. Mary Bailey, daughter of Moses Bailey and Hannah Bailey, who married Hilliard Bailey in 1868, may have been their half-sister.]

On 21 April 1870, John Boykin, son of Rose Boykin, married Dicy Baily, daughter of Moses and Julia Baily, in Wilson County.

On 5 January 1871, Moses Bailly, son of Benja Bryant and Juda Jones, married Isabella Renfrow, daughter of Mingo Hinnant and Patsy Deans, at Moses Bailey’s in Wilson County.

On 24 December 1875, Allen Baily, 20, married Harriet Taylor, 16, in Oldfields township. Minister Elisha Horton [early pastor of Rocky Branch Church of Christ] preformed the ceremony in the presence of H. Powell, R. Jones, and Gray Bailey.

On 5 March 1879, Patrick Baily, 21, married Atsey Sanders, 19, of Nash County, in Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer Moses Bailey, about 60; wife Isabel, about 45; and son William, 15.

Also, in the 1880 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Allen Baily, 22; wife Harriett, 21; and children Cora A., 4, Lucy A., 4, and Dortch, 1, sharing a household with Randall Hinnant, 33; wife Angeline, 26; and children J. Thomas, 10, James H., 8, Lilly Ann, 6, Roscoe F., 4, and Hugh N., 7 months.

Also, in the 1880 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: laborer Patrick Bailey, 19; wife Atsy, 20; and son Arthur M., 6 months.

Also, in the 1880 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer John Boykin, 26; wife Dicey, 25; and children Julian, 8, Rear Ann, 7; John C., 5; W. Brogan, 3; and Sallie A., 9 months.

On 23 February 1882, Nathan Boyett, 31, of Wayne County, son of Moses Bayley and Julia Bayley of Wilson County, married Charity Crow, 27, of Wayne County, daughter of Jorden and Jane Crow of Wayne County, in Mount Olive, Brogden township, Wayne County, North Carolina.

Gray Bailey died 7 July 1914 in Oldfields township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 March 1845 to Moses Bailey and Vilet Bailey; and was buried at New Vester.

Dicy Boykin died 6 October 1929 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to William Bailey and Julia [last name unknown]; was married to John Boykin; and worked as a housewife. Daughter Sudie Woodard, Smithfield, was informant.

Nathan Boyett died 2 June 1937 in Wilson, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 February 1850 in Wilson County to Moses Bailey and Julia Boyett; was married to Emma Boyett; lived at 115 West Walnut Street, Wilson; and worked as a laborer.

——

While researching the lives of Julia Boyette Bailey, her husband, and children, I came across this Notice of Intention to Disinter, Remove and Reinter Graves published several times in the spring of 1998 by R. Ward Sutton, a Rocky Mount, N.C., funeral director:

Wilson Daily Times, 15 April 1998.

This notice raises more questions than it answers.

What it tells us:

  • the cemetery was located on property then owned by Sudie Bailey Sullivan, who inherited said property from Levi T. Bailey. (Note, per the referenced deed, in 1974 this property was subject to a condemnation action and is shown on the Buckhorn Reservoir Land Acquisition Map filed in Plat Book 13 at pages 73-76);
  • Levi T. Bailey (1873-1931) was the grandson of the Levi Bailey whom I identified above as the likely owner of Moses Bailey;
  • of approximately 18-20 graves in the cemetery, only two were marked — those of Julia Bailey and Andrew W. Tarell;
  • Andrew W. Terrell was a son of Alonzo and Jane Cooke Terrell, who were both born in Wake County, N.C., and settled in what is now the Buckhorn area before 1880;
  • all of the graves in this cemetery were to be removed and reinterred in Bailey Cemetery, Bailey, Nash County, N.C. (about 5 miles north);
  • a record of the reburials was to be filed in the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

What it doesn’t:

  • did this cemetery start as a burial ground for enslaved people that was turned over to the Bailey family as a family cemetery?
  • why was Andrew Terrell buried there in 1905, rather than in New Vester Missionary Baptist Church’s cemetery, where his father Alonzo was buried in 1918 and several other Terrells later? (Though New Vester’s roots date to the slavery era, perhaps it did not establish its cemetery until much later. The earliest markers bear 1911 as a death date.)
  • is Andrew Terrell’s marker the broken stone that first drew Al Letchworth’s attention?
  • digital records for Bailey Cemetery show graves for neither Bailey nor Terrell/Tarell, and why was Bailey cemetery chosen at all (rather than, say, New Vester)? Bailey Cemetery was white-only for nearly all of its existence and is in Nash County.
  • the cemetery is on land condemned in 1974 for the first Buckhorn Dam, and disinterment was necessitated by the expansion of Buckhorn Reservoir in 1999, but if Julia Boyette and Andrew Terrell’s graves were removed, why are their headstones still in the woods?

A great day in Charlotte Court House.

This event didn’t happen in Wilson County, but it has everything to do with the mission of Black Wide-Awake, and I want to share it.

The freshly unveiled marker.

The program:

My remarks:
 
“First, I’d like to recognize my family, Joseph R. Holmes’ family, here today — including three of his brother Jasper’s great-granddaughters. Some here may remember their uncle, Dr. J. Maxwell Allen, who practiced dentistry in Charlotte Court House. His sister, my great-aunt Julia, first told me of Joseph Holmes when I was an inquisitive teenager digging for my roots. She did not know the details — only that her grandfather’s brother Joseph, born enslaved, had been killed because of his political activity. That was enough, though, to set this journey in motion.
 
“On behalf of the Holmes-Allen family, I extend thanks to all who made this day possible. So many in Charlotte County gave in so many ways — time, money, influence, prayer (look at God!) — and we are profoundly grateful for your embrace and support of this project.
 
“We are also grateful to Kathy Liston. When I reached out to Kathy nearly ten years ago, seeking help to find the truth of Joseph Holmes’ life, I did not even dream of this day. I first visited Charlotte Court House in 2012 at Kathy’s invitation. She took me to Joseph Holmes’ homestead; to Roxabel, the plantation on which he may have been enslaved; to the school at Keysville whose establishment he championed; and finally to this courthouse, to the very steps on which he bled and died. The historical marker we reveal today stands as a testament to Kathy’s persistence and insistence, her values and vision, her energy and expertise, and we cannot thank her enough.
 
“The beautiful story of Joseph R. Holmes’ life, and the terrible story of his death, were all but forgotten in Charlotte County — suppressed by some, repressed by others. This is an all too common phenomenon of American history. Though Africans arrived in this very state in 1619, the contributions of African Americans to the building of this country — both literally and metaphorically — are seldom recalled, much less memorialized. Black communities dealt with their trauma by hiding it away, refusing to speak of their loss and pain. It is never too late, however, to reclaim our heroes.
 
“For hundreds of years, the Akan people of Ghana have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and proverbs. The word Sankofa, often depicted as a bird looking toward its tail, means ‘go back and get it.’ The broader concept of Sankofa urges us to know our pasts as we move forward.
Today, we have gone back for Joseph R. Holmes. In the shadow of Confederate monuments, we shine a light on his works; we affirm his life; we reclaim his legacy. As long as we speak his name, he lives forever. Will you say it with me?
 
“Joseph R. Holmes. Joseph R. Holmes. Joseph R. Holmes.
 
“Your family remembers. Your community remembers. We honor your life and sacrifice.
 
“Thank you.”
 
For press coverage, please see articles in the Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Cardinal News.

The apprenticeship of the Hagans siblings.

On 4 December 1869, a Wilson County Probate Court judge ordered 15 year-old Joseph Hagans, described as an orphan, to serve James S. Barnes until he was 21 years of age. Joseph’s siblings Penny, 13, Edwin, 11, George, and Sarah Hagans, 6, were placed under Barnes’ control the same day.

The Haganses were the children of Robert and Sarah Hagans. In the 1860 census of Fields district, Greene County: day laborer Robert Hagans, 31; wife Sarah, 30; and children Mary, 12, Joseph, 8, Penelope, 5, and Edwin, 1. Robert and Sarah Hagans apparently died between 1864 and 1869.

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: siblings Joseph, 15, Penelope, 12, Edwin, 11, Sarah, 8, and George Hagans, 6, all described as “farmer’s apprentices.” Their household is listed next to James R. Barnes, a wealthy farmer who reported owning $18,000 in real property. (This is a different James Barnes from the one who apprenticed the Hagans children. James S. Barnes died in 1871. With the exception of Penny — see link above — I have not found the Hagans siblings after 1870.)

United States, Indenture and Manumission Records, 1780-1939, database at https://familysearch.org.

Daniel Shellington’s military history.

“This description, or extract from the official records, is to be considered strictly confidential, and is furnished to the disbursing officer to enable him to detect frauds. He should question each claimant fully as to military history, and, in cases of deceased soldiers, the heirs should be questioned as to the military history of husband, father, brother, or son, as the case may be.

“Before making disbursements the disbursing officer should be fully satisfied that the parties claiming the money are the persons they represent themselves to be. In case of doubt as to the identity of the soldier, payment will be refused, and the disbursing officer will reduce to writing the questions and answers, and at once transmit the same to the Adjutant General of the Army, with a full report.”

“Daniel Shellington, Private, Co. I 35th Reg’t. U.S.C. Troops was born in Wilson, N.C., was enlisted the 25th day of May 1863, at Newbern, N.C., by Capt. Crofts, and was mustered in the 30th day of June, 1863, at Newbern, N.C., by Major Bennett, for 3 years.

“At the time of enlistment he was 25 years old, and 5 feet 7 inches high, Black complexion, Black eyes, Black hair, and by occupation a Farmer. He was discharged 1st day of June, 1864, at Charleston, S.C. Capt. Jaalam Gates was commanding officer, and Luke Maddic first sergeant at time of soldier’s discharge.

“Remarks.

“Joined at original organization. From Oct 31/63 to June 30/64 he is reported “Absent sick in Genl Hosp at Beaufort S.C.” From Oct 31/64 to [illegible] 28/65 “Absent sick in Genl Hosp at Beaufort S.C.” [illegible] Dec 1st 64 from wound rec’d in Action”; No record of free or slave status; Present & mustered out with company; Sgt. Moses Lee mustered out with company; Prvt. Major Leavy discharged for disability July 17/64 by reason of wounds received in action”; Prvt. George Bell died of small pox at Summerville S.C. March 16/64; Reuben Orinan deserted while on detached service at Portsmouth Va. no date given; Albert Crutis & William Ross company musicians; No record of principal musicians”

——

In the 1870 census of New Bern, Craven County, N.C.: grist mill worker Daniel Shalington, 36; wife Maria, 32; children Cora, 9, and Isabella, 6 months; and domestic servant Sabria Carter.

Pvt. Daniel Shallington died 1 September 1878 and is buried in Wilson’s Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia.

Record of burial of Daniel Shallington.

Confidential Lists for the Identification of Claimants, U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau Records of Field Offices 1863-1878, http://www.ancestry.com; U.S. Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans 1861-1894, http://www.ancestry.com.

Distribution of the slave population of the U.S. South.

In about 1861, the United States Coastal Survey issued a map showing the distribution of enslaved people throughout the South. As Susan Schulten noted in a 9 December 2010 piece called “Visualizing Slavery,” “[t]hough many Americans knew that dependence on slave labor varied throughout the South, these maps uniquely captured the complexity of the institution and struck a chord with a public hungry for information about the rebellion.”

Map Showing the Distribution of the Slave Population of the Southern States of the United States Compiled from the Census of 1860 — Sold for the Benefit of the Sick and Wounded Soldiers of the U. S. Army.

A close-up of eastern North Carolina shows that Wilson County, with a population 37% enslaved, lay at the western edge of the state’s heaviest band of slave-holding counties.

Update: identifying the Hines-Sharpe-Batts family.

One of the great benefits of blogging is the insight and information contributed by readers. In October 2019, I wrote of an 1866 custody dispute referred to the Freedmen’s Bureau by John B. Batts, former owner of a woman named Penny and her children. (The 1860 slave schedule of Gardners township, Wilson County, lists John B. Batts with seven slaves — a 55 year-old man; a 21 year-old woman; boys aged 9, 8, 7, and 6; and a 2 year-old girl.) The children’s father, Abram, was seeking to take them, and Batts and Penny contested his claim. Batts did not name the children in his petition, nor did he give surnames for Penny and Abram.

Isabelle Martin cracked the mystery on the basis of information provided in Nash County marriage license applications filed in the 1870s. Penny Hines was the mother, Abram Sharpe was the father, and the children were Alexander, Adline, Amanda, Gandy, Joshua, and Peter Batts (and maybe others.) That the children adopted J.B. Batts’ surname, rather than that of their mother or father suggests (but does not prove) that they remained with him well after slavery, and demonstrates the folly of making assumptions about relationships among freedmen on the basis of their last names.

Here’s what I now know about the family:

  • Abram Sharpe

We’ve already met Abram Sharpe here. He was enslaved by Benjamin W. Sharpe and named in Sharpe’s will. Abram Sharpe, son of Church Bynum and Thana Sharp, married Caroline Hines, daughter of Allen Hines and Harriet Hines, on 12 January 1869 in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Abram Sharp, 30, wife Caroline, 19, and son John, 9 months.

In the 1900 census of No. 13 Cokey township, Edgecombe County: farmer Abram Sharp, 64; wife Caroline, 62; children Willie, 15, Mamy, 14, and Richard, 8; grandchildren Fred, 7, Nathan, 4, and Liza, 2; and widowed mother-in-law Harriett Hines, 77.  But also, in the 1900 census of No. 10 township, Edgecombe County: farmer Abrom Sharp, 55; wife Caline, 50; and children Mamie, 8, Willie, 7, and Hattie, 30.

  • Penny Hines

In the 1880 census of Cooper township, Nash County: Penny Hines, 40, hireling. [On either side, son Red Batts and daughter Amanda Batts Hargrove. All appear to have been working for white farmer Wiilis Eason.]

On 31 December 1883, Alice Batts, 19, daughter of Penny Hines, married Daniel Parker, 21, at Redman Hines’ in Nash County. [Is this another of Abram and Penny’s children? Or just Penny’s?]

[Was Penny a Hines because she remarried? Was her next husband Redman (or Reddin) Hines, called “Red”? Red Hines hosted or witnessed the marriages of three of the Batts children. In the 1880 census of Stony Creek township, Wilson County: ditcher Reddin Hines, 40; wife Penny, 40; and children Alice Ann, 15, Margaret, 12, Jno., 7, Calford O., 6, Charles B., 4, and Joe and Ida, 1.]

  • Alexander Batts

On 20 December 1874, Alex Batts, 19, married Mariah Daniel, 24, at Red Hines’ house in Nash County.

In the 1880 census of Stony Creek township, Nash County: ox driver Alex’r Batts, 23; wife Mariah, 26; and children Bettie, 4, Jno. Rich’d, 1, and Mary, 3 months.

In the 1900 census of Rocky Mount township, Nash County: farmer Alex Batts, 46; wife Maria, 45; and children Johnnie, 22, Joseph, 14, Laurence, 12, Mancy, 11, Lula B., 9, Rosco, 8, and Roy, 4.

  • Adline Batts

On 26 December 1871, Adline Batts, daughter of Abram Sharp and Penny Batts, married Jerry Davis, son of Doctor O. Bunn and Harriet Davis, at Red Hines’ in Nash County.

  • Amanda Batts

On 4 November 1875, Charles Hargroves, 35, of Nash County, married Amanda Batts, 18, of Nash County, daughter of Abram Sharpe and Penny Hines, in Cooper township, Nash County.

In the 1880 census of Cooper township, Nash County: next to Red Batts, 23, hireling, and Penny Hines, 40, hireling, hireling Charles Hardgrove, 46, and wife Amanda, 18, hireling.

In the 1900 census of Township No. 14 Upper Town Creek, Edgecombe County: farmer Charles Hargroves, 63; wife Amanda, 38; and children John C., 16, Mance H., 13, Maggie, 11, Cora, 10, Bessie, 8, Ether, 5, and Ella, 1.

Manda Lane died 10 June 1914 in Township #12, Edgecombe County. Per her death certificate, she was about 53 years old; was married; and was the daughter of Abram Sharp and Pennie Forehand. Mance Hargrove was informant.

Ether Bryan died 11 June 1916 in Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County. Per her death certificate, she was born August 1894 to Charles Hargrove and Amanda Hines; and was married. Flora Hargrove was informant.

Mance Hargrove died 5 May 1945 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Per his death certificate, he was born 22 June 1886 in Nash County to Charles Hargrove and Manda Batts; was married to Florida Hargrove; lived in Rocky Mount, Edgecombe County; was a merchant in a grocery store; and was buried in Unity cemetery, Rocky Mount.

Lillie Williams died 26 December 1947 in Sharpsburg, Rocky Mount township, Edgecombe County. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 March 1907 in Nash County to Charles Hargrove and Mandy Lewis; was married to Mandonia Williams; and was buried in Unity cemetery, Rocky Mount.

  • Gandy Batts

On 23 May 1878, Gandy Batts, 24, of Nash County, son of Abram Sharp and Penny Hinds, married Emily Whitley, 18, daughter of John and Crensy Whitley, in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Red Hines was a witness.

In the 1880 census of Stony Creek township, Nash County: farm laborer Gandy Batts, 26; wife Emily, 21, and son Balaam, 1.

In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer Gandy Batts, 48; wife Emma, 40; sons Bailey [Balaam], 21, and Allen, 15; and cousin Charley Hines, 24.

Gandy Batts is buried in Elm City Colored Cemetery. His broken headstone, made in the anchor-and-ivy style, states: Gandy Batts died Sept. 22, 1908 Age 53 Yrs. Gone to a brighter home Where grief can not [come.]

Ballam Batts died 25 March 1952 at his home at 1000 Roberson Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 October 1886 to Gandy Batts and Emily Whitley; was married to Clara Batts; worked as a farmer; and was buried in Elm City [Colored] Cemetery.

  • Joshua Batts

On 10 May 1873, Joshua Batts, 20, of Nash County, son of Abram Sharp and Penny Hines, married Silvia Whitaker, 25, of Nash County, daughter of Gray Whitley, at John Joyner’s plantation in Coopers township, Nash County. Peter R. Batts applied for the license and was a witness.

In the 1880 census of Stony Creek township, Nash County: farmer Joshua Batts, 26, farm laborer; wife Sylvia, 28; and children William, 15, Fountain, 10, Ella, 6, Helen, 5, Ella, 2, and Mindy Ann, 1 week.

In the 1900 census of Morehouse Parish, Louisana: farmer Josh Batts, 54; wife Silvie, 52; and daughter Elvie, 15.

  • Peter Reddick “Red” Batts

On 27 July 1878, Peter Reddick Batts, 22, of Nash County, son of Abram Sharp and Penny Hines, both of Wilson County, married Harriet Whitaker, 20, of Nash County, daughter of Jacob Whitaker, at Charlie Hargro’s in Cooper township, Nash County. Joshua Batts was a witness.

In the 1880 census of Cooper township, Nash County: Red Batts, 23, hireling, and Penny Hines, 40, hireling.

Peter R. Batts died between 1880 and 1885. On 5 January 1885, his widow Harriett Batts married Charles Farmer at the Wilson County Courthouse. Farmer adopted her and Red Batts’ infant son, Edward, and the family migrated to Arkansas.

In the 1900 census of Ellis township, Pulaski County, Arkansas: farmer Charles Farmer, 53; wife Harriett, 48; and son Claudis, 13, all born in North Carolina.

Edward Berry Farmer died 13 July 1938 in Brodie County, Arkansas. Per his death certificate, he was 62 years old; was born in North Carolina to Red Bats and Hattie Whitaker; and lived near Little Rock. Ida Taylor was informant.

Ida Taylor Parker died 17 January 1962 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 March 1880 in North Carolina to Red Bats and Harriette [maiden name not given]; was a widow; and was buried in Mount Zion cemetery. Bernice Joyner, Oakland, California, was informant. [Taylor and Parker were married names. Presumably, Ida’s maiden name was Batts.]

Iredell County Chronicles, no. 3.

Just months after Eugene B. Drake bought her in 1863, 23 year-old Rebecca was gone. Desperate to recoup his investment, Drake posted this remarkably detailed reward notice in newspapers well beyond Statesville. After precisely noting her physical features, Drake noted that Rebecca was “an excellent spinner” and “believed to be a good weaver, and said she was a good field hand.” (He had not had the chance to see for himself.) Rebecca may have helped herself to the products of her own labor, carrying away several dresses, as well as “new shoes.” Drake had purchased her from one of Richmond’s notorious slave dealers, but she was from Milton, in Caswell County, North Carolina, just below the Virginia line and southeast of Danville. There, Rebecca had been torn from her child and other relatives. Drake believed she was following the path of the newly opened North Carolina Railroad, which arced from Charlotte to Goldsboro, perhaps to seek shelter with acquaintances near Raleigh. He offered a $150 reward for her arrest and confinement.

Daily Progress (Raleigh, N.C.), 23 November 1863.

A year later, Drake was again paying for newspaper notices, this time for the return of his “slave man” Milledge, also called John, who had also absconded in new clothes and shoes. Drake again provided precise a physical description of the man, down to his slow, “parrot-toed” walk. Milledge/John had procured counterfeit free papers and a travel pass, and Drake believed he was aiming 200 miles south to Augusta, Georgia, probably on trains. 

Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, N.C.), 28 December 1864.

I don’t know whether Drake recaptured either Rebecca or Milledge/John. If he did, the rewards he paid were money wasted. The Confederacy surrendered in April 1865, and thereafter he owned no one.

Privett is perfectly willing to take them.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County }

This is to certify that Stephen Privet of above named county and state has on his premises three children of color — whose mother is dead — and have no known father — name and ages as follows viz — Mary aged about ten years, Amy aged about five years, William aged three years — I have no hesitancy in commending the above named Stephen Privett as a suitable person to have said children of color bound to him — as he is perfectly willing to take them — Said children have no visible means of support. Given under my signature, this 5th day of Dec: 1865   Wm. G. Jordan J.P.

——

In the 1860 slave schedule of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Stephen Privett, who claimed ownership of one 18 year-old black man, one 20 year-old mulatto woman, and two mulatto girls, aged 3 and 1. [The girls may have been Mary and Amy, and the woman their mother.]

In the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Stephen Privett, 59; wife Isabella, 55; children Cornelia, 21, and Robert, 18; farm laborer Joseph High, 20; and “apprentiss” William Privett, 8 [an African-American boy].

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Rocky Mount (Assistant Superintendent), Roll 56 Labor contracts, Dec 1865-Jul 1867. Hat tip to Debby Gammon for the lead on this document.

Confusion and trouble.

Here we examined the messy machinations of the administration of Weeks Parker’s estate, which entered probate in Edgecombe County in 1844. One of his legatees was daughter Margaret H. Battle, wife of Rev. Amos J. Battle and a Wilson resident by the mid-1850s.

Hugh B. Johnston transcribed this May 1861 letter to Rev. Battle from James Davis of Wilson, the court-appointed trustees of Margaret Battle’s share of estate. (The original letter does not appear to have preserved among the Battle papers.) The letter is difficult to decipher out of context but to seems to suggest that Davis felt significant pressure to bring in quick money by selling slaves rather than hiring them out and was protesting the interference in his management of Mrs. Battle’s affairs. Recall that Weeks Parker had purposefully drafted the terms of his will to hold in trust slaves Lucindy, Stephen, Turner, Lewis, George, Marina, Tony, Matilda, Caroline, William, Holly, Big Hardy, Ben, Cena, Moses, Syphax, Little Hardy, Jim, Lucy and Little Jim “for the sole and separate use and benefit of daughter Margaret H. Battle wife of Amos J. Battle during her natural life free from the management and control of her present or any future husband.”

Mr. Battle

My Dear Sir, I have striven in vain in the management as Trustee of Mrs. Battle’s affairs to act in such a way as would conduce to the interest of all concerned and at the same time to avoid giving occasion to those dissensions & wranglings in the family which I know are so harassing to you all. I have not in any arrangement which I have attempted to make been actuated by an motive of self interest of for my own security — but having been fully satisfied by the last years management of the farm & negroes that there could not upon any just ground be expected an adequate support for the family for the ensuing year from the farm, I advised the hireing out of the negroes & I was of the opinion & still am that it would have been best to have hired out every single man — According to an understanding had some 2 or 3 months ago I gave to Dr. Bullock the choice and the refusal of all the hands to be hired out; in pursuance of this arrangement I went to see Mrs. Battle & knew of her which of the negroes she had determined to keep & told her at the time that Dr. B. was to have such of the rest as he wanted, & this arrangement I shall most certainly adhere to as long I have any say-so in the matter, because I have made the promise to Dr. B. & I see no just reason why I should violate it.

In regard to the sale of the Women and Children and the appropriation of the proceeds of the sale to any other purpose than the buying of such other property as the Court may be satisfied is of equivalent value, I am satisfied upon an examination the will can not be done. I am however perfectly willing to appropriate every dollar of the hire of the negroes to the purchase of provisions & I will take the notes and advance the money (Provided the sureties to that notes agree to this arrangement) & I can not see why they should not in view of the condition in which you find yourself as to provisions.

If Mrs. Battle wishes the girl at Dr Harrel’s Exchanged, I will try and effect the Exchange as soon as I can conveniently do so, but I can not and will not do that with regard to this property which I am not authorized to do by the will. If I could have the absolute and undisturbed control of the negroes, I have not the shadow of a doubt I could realize from them a handsome support for your family, but as long as their whims and caprices are to consulted & there is no settled plan as to their management, there will inevitably be confusion and trouble.

I am writing plainly, not out of any feeling of vexation or resentment, but simply because you have written thus to me, and because the circumstances of the case demand plain and prompt action. I am now as I ever have been very willing to render through motives of friendship such service to your family as I may be able, & it is only by the exercise of the strictest economy that in the present arrangement of your force that you can get through this year, & instead of hireing either for the farm or for other purposes, it most certainly is the true policy to get clear of every one that can possibly be dispensed with.

I was from home from Tuesday last to Saturday evening or you would have heard from me sooner. You must be content as I and as many others have to, tho, to trust the future somewhat. I have not got corn enough on hand to last 2 months & but few have a year’s supply of corn or meat & if the Sureties to that note will as I have no doubt they will if the matter is properly represented to them consent to the appropriation of the negro hire to the purchase of provisions, it will place some 1200$ at your disposal & as soon as the notes are placed in my hands you can buy corn or meat & draw on me for the full amount of the notes & I will pay the orders.

This amt will surely relieve you till the next term of our Sup’r Court, when we can obtain (if necessary) in a legal manner such a decree as will enable us to get along for the bal. of the year, but as I have already said, I will not without proper authority violate the plain letter of that will — and I can but think that your threat to sell those negroes is made without due consideration. It is but too evident that there is a feeling of restlessness in regard to those negroes, a continual disposition to sell or exchange, which must result if persisted in to the detriment of the estate, & while I am always willing to do that which will promote the comfort or interest of Mrs. Battle or her family, I must see a good reason why a sale or exchange should be made before I proceed to make it. You need not send the Woman & children to me, but if you wish to dispose of her for the year, please come & let me know what kind of a negro she is, what incumbrance to her &c I will Endeavor to get her off your hands.

P.S. I have just seen Dr B. he gives up Hardy & keeps Stephen, Hilliard, & Turner — says further that he is willing to the appropriation of the negro hire Except his own to be applied as above proposed & I have no doubt will willingly agree to his own hire going in the same way if I solicit it, which I will if Mrs. Battle signifies her assent to the arrangement. It may be proper for me here to say in order to give Mrs. Battle time to select another that I shall be compelled upon the first opportunity (which will be at the June Court) to resign my Trusteeship because I see probability of my being able to so manage her affairs as to secure her best interest & retain the good will of others concerned

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Turner, Hilliard, Hardy, and Stephen were among the group of enslaved people Margaret P. Battle inherited from her father.

Letter transcribed in The Past Speaks from Old Letters, “a copy of the working papers found in the files of Hugh B. Johnston, Jr., acquired in the course of his lifelong avocation as a professional genealogist and local historian,”republished by Wilson County Genealogical Society, March 2003.