Court Actions

The estate of Moses Hagans.

Moses Hagans died early in the spring of 1873. His wife Theresa Lassiter Hagans, unlettered and unfamiliar with the workings of probate, signed over her rights to administer her late husband’s estate to Larry D. Farmer, a public administrator.

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Farmer filed in Probate Court for letters of administration, estimating the value of Hagans’ estate at $200 and naming his heirs as widow Theresa Hagans and Lucinda Hagans Brantley, who was Hagans’ daughter.

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On 12 April 1873, Farmer filed an inventory of Hagans’ personal estate, which consisted of meat and lard; household kitchen furniture; “old plunder in & around the houses”; a small amount of lint cotton; corn and peas; a cart and a crosscut saw; fodder; poultry and dogs; a horse and farming implements; sows and pigs; and a garden of greens. All of it was allotted to “Trecy” Hagans for her support while the estate was in probate.

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It was a meager showing, insufficient to meet the $300 minimum required for a year’s support.

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In the 1830 census of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Moses Hagans was head of a household of four free people of color.

In the 1840 census of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Moses Hagans was head of a household of nine free people of color.

On 10 February 1846, Moses Hagans, “now of Edgecombe,” paid Thomas Hadly of Wayne County $328.50 for 164 1/4 acres on Little Swamp in Nash County. The transaction is recorded in Deed Book 18, page 331. (A mortgage for the purchase is recorded at book 18, page 325.) Little Swamp is now in Wilson County. It rises near Old Raleigh Road; flows south between Radio Tower and Flowers Roads; crosses under Interstate 95 near its junction with N.C. Highway 42; then flows east to join Contentnea Creek.

In the 1850 census of Nash County, North Carolina: Moses Hagans, 48, farmer; wife Pitty, 38; and son Gray B., 19, farmer. Also: Thomas Brantley, 28, turpentine worker, and wife Lucinda, 23.

On 25 October 1857, Moses Hagans applied for a license to marry Trecy Laciter in Wilson County.

In the 1860 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Moses Heggins, 60, farmer, and wife Theresa, 48. Moses claimed $125 in real property and $115 in personal property. [Hagans’ estate records do not mention real property.] Also, Thomas Brantley, 52, farmer; wife Lucinda, 35; and children William, 9, and James W., 6. Thomas claimed $800 in real property, $200 in personal property.

In the 1870 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: farmer Moses Hegans, 70; wife Trecy, 50; and James R. Locust, 12, farm laborer. Also: farm laborer Thomas Brantly, 57; wife Lucinda, 39; and son Willie, 15, farm laborer.

Estate Records of Moses Hagans, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

The last will and testament of Thomas Williamson.

On 26 August 1852, Thomas Williamson of Nash County (brother of Hardy Williamson) penned a will whose provisions disposed of these 16 enslaved men, women and children:

  • to wife Kesiah Williamson a life estate in “three negro slaves namely Turner Patrick and Dennis,” with Turner to revert to daughter Tempy Fulghum, Patrick to son Dempsey Williamson, and Dennis to son Garry Williamson
  • to daughter Tempy Fulghum, negro girl Mary (and her increase) already in her possession and negro girl Bethany
  • to daughter Mourning Peele, four negroes Cherry, Merica, Charity and Washington
  • to daughter Rhoda Williamson, Ally, Arnold and Randal
  • to daughter Sidney Boyett, Julien, Issabel and Daneil
  • to son Garry Williamson, “negro man named Jack and one set of Blacksmith tools”

Kesiah Williamson died shortly after Thomas Williamson wrote out his will, and he died in October 1856 in the newly formed Wilson County.  Executors Dempsey Williamson and Jesse Fulghum filed suit to resolve “certain doubts and difficulties” that arose concerning the distribution of Thomas Williamson’s slaves.

In the meantime, the estate hired out Patrick and prepared an inventory that credited Thomas Williamson with 375 acres and 33 enslaved men and women: Patrick, Denick, Jack, Tamar, Mary, Spice, Tony, Thany, Amos, Catherine, Judy, Isbell, Daniel, Randel, Harret, Dilly, Nathan, Denis, Disey, Allen, Charity, Ben, Hester, Ally, Craroline, America, Arnold, Cherry, Bitha, Chaney, Renar, Lydia and Jo.

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After the Supreme Court rendered its decision, Thomas Williamson’s executors filed an “Account of Sale of the Negros belonging to the Estate of Thomas Williamson Dec’d Sold agreable to the desision of the Supreme Court on the construction of the last Will and Testament of said Dec’d for a divission among the heirs therein named Six months credit given the purcher by given Note with two approved Securites before the Rite of property is changed Sold the 16th of May A.D. 1850 By Garry Williamson and Jesse Fulghum Extrs.” Note that all sold were children. Nine men paid top dollar for 16 children, investments that would be as ash in their hands in six years.

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John T. Barnes purchased Nathan, age 8, for $927.50; Denick, age 7, for $855.00, Dillicy, age 10, for $508.00; and Carolina, age 7, for $871.00.

W. Swift purchased Ben, age 7, for $800.00, and Harriet, age 9, for $950.00.

Garry Fulghum purchased Amos, age 5, for $552.00, and Catherine, age 3, for $400.00.

Wright Blow purchased Joe, age 5, for $580.00.

James Boyette purchased Allen, 3, for $381.00.

John Wilkins purchased Bethea, 8, for $807.00.

Joshua Barnes purchased Chaney, 7, for $661.00.

William Ricks purchased Renner, age 5, for $600.00.

Ransom Hinnant purchased Dizey, age 5, for $575.00.

And A.J. Taylor purchased Lyddey, age 2, for $416.00.

There’s quite enough to ponder in this post. More later on some of the individual men, women and children whose lives were upended by Thomas Williamson’s death. Estate File of Thomas Williamson, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, http://www.familysearch.org. 

He complained of having suffered excessive cold.

The case reached the North Carolina Supreme Court in late December 1860. The core legal question was misleadingly simplistic — was there a breach of contract? After all, two men had died, and two others had suffered serious injury. They were enslaved though, and what was at issue was not their welfare, but the financial injury to their owner as a result of their mistreatment.

In a nutshell, a man named Raiford, acting as the agent of William K. Lane, rented out four enslaved men — Jack, George, Wright and Abram —  to work on a railroad project. (Lane lived in far northeast Wayne County but, presumably, the contract was entered into in Wilson County. It is not clear where the four men ordinarily lived.) When the contractors sought to work the men as far away as Jones County, Raiford agreed on the condition that they be safely housed. The contractors agreed. Instead, in the teeth of a heavy snowstorm, they penned the men in drafty shanties and left them to ride it out.

The testimony is all about the condition of the shelters in which the men were housed, but the suffering of Jack, George, Wright and Abram — and the banal brutality of slavery — emerges unbidden.

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William K. Lane v. John C. Washington & J.D. Burdick, December Term 1860.

Where a plaintiff declared upon a special contract to provide slaves, hired to work upon a railroad, with good accommodations, also on the implied contract of bailment to provide them with ordinary accommodations, it was held that the lodging of the slaves, in the dead of winter, in huts built of poles and railroad sills, without door shutters, and without chinking in the cracks, which were large, and which huts were proved to be inferior to others ordinarily used for such purposes on railroads, was a breach of the contract as alleged in both counts, and entitled plaintiff to recover.

“THIS was an action on the CASE, tried before SAUNDERS, J., at Fall Term, 1860, of Wilson Superior Court.

“The plaintiff declared in five counts, as follows:

“1st. For a breach of contract in taking the slaves Jack, George, Wright, and Abram, below Bear Creek.

“2d. For a breach of contract in not taking good care of said slaves, and furnishing them with good accommodations.

“3d. For breach of the implied contract, arising on the bailment, to take ordinary care of the said slaves.

“4th. For the hire of said slaves, Wright, Jack, and George, nine days each, at eighty cents per day, and for the hire of Abram, six days, at eighty cents per day.

“5th. For the hires of said slaves, for the times mentioned in the 4th count, for what they were worth.

“The title of the plaintiff, to the slaves in question, was admitted. The plaintiff introduced one Raiford, who testified, that prior to the heavy snow storm of January, 1857, as the agent of the plaintiff, he hired said slaves to the defendants, who were partners in a contract for making the Atlantic Rail Road, at the rate of eighty cents per day; that they were not to be carried below Bear creek, a point on the line of said railroad; that the above contract was made with the defendant Burdick; that on the next day, Burdick told him that he wished to take the said slaves below Bear Creek, into the edge of Dover swamp, below Kinston; that he (witness) told him that if they were well taken care of, he would as soon they should work there as any where; that Burdick replied that they should be well taken care of, as defendants had good accommodations there for a hundred hands; that he (witness) replied that on those terms they might go; that the slaves were carried off by Burdick, on that or the next day; that they were gone some eight or ten days, when Wright, George and Jack came home frost bitten; that Wright died of phneumonia, about ten days thereafter, and the other two were laid up about two months; that he never saw Abram after the hiring, but learned that he died in Kinston; that this was about the 29th of January, 1857, a short time after the heavy snow storm which occured in that month. The witness further testified that during the week succeeding the return of the slaves, he went down to the place where the slaves had been at work, in the edge of Dover swamp; that he examined the shanties erected by the defendants for the accommodation of the hands; that there was one at the Heritage place, where the overseer stayed, near where the country road crossed the railroad, and on the right hand side of the country road going to New Berne; that this was a square pen, made of pine poles, with large cracks, through which one might thrust his double fists, and scarcely seven feet high; that there was no shutter to the door; that the top was flat and covered with plank, and that it would not shed water; that there was no chimney and no floor, no bed clothing and no cooking utensils, and that the fire was made in the middle of the house. The witness further swore that there was another shanty, above the Heritage place, at Tracey swamp; that this one was some thirty or forty feet long, and from sixteen to eighteen feet wide, built of pine poles; that there were large cracks between the poles not half stopped, and loose planks laid down for flooring; that along the centre of this cabin, and at the distance of a few feet from each other, logs were placed on the ground, and earth placed between them as a place for building fires; that it had no chimney, but instead thereof, there was an aperture, three feet wide, at the top of the roof, for the escape of smoke, but that this shanty had a door to which there was a shutter. Witness further stated that there were other shanties for the accommodation of the hands, just below the Heritage place, at the distance of a mile or a mile and a half; that these latter were made of cross ties or sills of pine timber, eight feet long, and from eight to ten inches square, used in the construction of the railroad track; that these ties were placed on top of one another, to the height of some six feet, on three sides, thus leaving one end or side entirely open, that the covering was also composed of these ties, placed near together, and he saw no other shanties for the accommodation of hands; that those above described were nothing like as good as are ordinarily used on works of the kind, and were nothing like as good as an ordinary horse stable. Witness further stated, that he saw, during this visit, at the Heritage place, one Parrott, an overseer of the defendants on this work; that Parrott told him that if he had been well, the slaves in question would have been better attended to, “that it was a bad chance there any how;” that Parrott also told him that the slaves stayed “just below there,” pointing in the direction of the shanties last described. The witness further stated that he had seen other shanties on the Wilmington & Weldon railroad.

“Dr. C. F. Dewey testified that he was called to see the boys George, Wright and Jack, on the 21st of January, 1857; that they were frost bitten — George badly — Wright not so badly, and Jack slightly; that Wright died in about two weeks, of typhoid pneumonia, and that he complained of having suffered from excessive cold for two weeks. He further stated that the other two would be more liable to be frost bitten after this. Wright had no cold that he could see, at his first visit.

“One Robertson testified that he had been travelling through there some time previous to the snow aforesaid; that he had seen the cross tie shanties, and one, which he supposed to be the Tracey swamp shanty, which was at the Heritage place, on the right hand side of the stage road, leading to New Berne; that none of the chinks were shut; that it had no chimney, and had a flat roof; and that it lacked a great deal of being as good as ordinary, and would be a very poor horse stable; that these shanties were about ten steps from the road, and that he had never been nearer than this to them; that the only other shanties he had ever seen, for such purposes, were on the N. C. Rail Road.

“John C. Slocumb stated the conversation between Raiford and Burdick to have been as follows: Burdick said he would like to take the slaves below Kinston, into the edge of Dover swamp. Raiford asked if they had good accommodations. Burdick replied, yes, for a hundred hands. Raiford replied if the accommodations were good, and the hands would be well taken care of, he would let them go.

“Another witness testified to the same conversation, giving as Raiford’s last reply, that he did not wish the hands so far from home, but would not object to their going down for two or three weeks, provided the accommodations were good.

“William C. Loftin testified that he lived in Dover, about four miles below the Heritage place, and had seen these shanties; that he had never seen any as poor, (sorry) any where else, and that they were not as good as an ordinary stable; that the Tracey swamp shanty, on the west side of the swamp, had a roof with an opening along the top, some three feet wide, that it had large cracks, was made of pine logs, and was twenty five or thirty feet long, and fifteen or eighteen feet wide; that the cross tie shanties were about a mile and half below the one just described; that he had four negroes in the defendants’ employment, who stayed at these shanties, and that two of them were frost bitten, though he had heard that one of them had fallen into a ditch, and remained there some time; that at the time of the snow storm, the hands of defendants were at work on the road, a quarter of a mile below the Heritage place, in the edge of Dover swamp. On cross examination he stated that these shanties did not deserve the name. He further stated, that the only other buildings of a like nature he had ever seen was as he passed along the line of railroads after their completion, and, also, that he did not examine these shanties till after this suit began. He further stated, that the defendants had no other accommodations for hands, at, or near the edge of the swamp. He also stated that the Tracey swamp shanty could not be seen from the stage road, so as to be examined, and that he did not go near enough to it, to see how the logs were laid for building the fire, or how the planks were laid for sleeping.

“None of the witnesses knew whether the slaves in question had remained at the shanties during the snow, nor when they had left the employment of the defendants, nor which of the shanties they occupied, except from the conversation between Raiford and Parrott.

“The defendants’ counsel was proceeding to state the defence, when his Honor announced that he should instruct the jury, that, upon the plaintiff’s own evidence, there was no breach of the contract declared on in the 1st, 2d and 3rd counts, and no want of ordinary care. That on the 4th count, there was a special contract of hiring, and the plaintiff was entitled to recover, at the rate of eighty cents per day, for each slave while in the defendants employment, if the witnesses were to be believed. The case was then put to the jury, when his Honor charged them as above set forth. Plaintiff excepted to this charge. The jury found for the defendants on the 1st, 2d and 3d counts, as also on the 5th, and for the plaintiff on the 4th, ($25). There was a judgment for the plaintiff for $25.00, from which he appealed to this Court.”

Justice J. Battle wrote the opinion reversing the Wilson County Superior Court judge. After highlighting details of the witnesses’ testimony, Battle held: “The result of our examination of the testimony is, that the lodging of the plaintiff’s slaves in any of the shanties, described by the witnesses, was not the taking such care of them as a man of ordinary prudence would take of his own slaves employed in similar business, much less, was it the taking good care of them and furnishing them with good accommodations. For the error committed by his Honor, in his instructions, in relation to the second and third counts, there must be a reversal of the judgment, and the grant of a venire de novo, and this renders it unnecessary for us to notice, particularly, the other points made in the case. The reversal of the judgment in the plaintiff’s favor, on the fourth count, follows, necessarily, from the grant of a new trial to him on the second and third.”

American Advocate (Kinston, N.C.), 22 January 1857.

State v. Hilliard Barnes and Nancy Baker.

In 1880, Hilliard Barnes and Nancy Baker were charged in Wilson County Superior Court with fornication and adultery. Edwin Barnes agreed to post bond with Hilliard Barnes, and Wright Newsome and Gray White were called as witnesses to the relationship.

Hilliard Barnes, 30, married Nancy Baker, 25, on 16 February 1880 [within weeks of their summons into court.] In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Hilliard Barnes, 30; wife Nancy, 28; and Edmund Taborne, 3.

  • Hilliard Barnes — Hilliard Barnes died 6 January 1944 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was about 100 years old; was born in Wilson County to Gray Barnes and Bernie Barnes; lived at 705 Woodard Line; and was married to Fannie Barnes, age, 70.
  • Nancy Baker
  • Gray White — in the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County, Gray White is listed as a 32 year-old white laborer in the household of Edwin Barnes, below.
  • Wright Newsome — in the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County, Wright Newsome, 26, farm laborer; wife Mary, 25; children Walter, 3, Willie, 2, and Puss, 8 months; plus Mary Ellis, 13, farm laborer. [The Newsomes were next-door neighbors of Edwin Barnes and White.]
  • Edwin Barnes — white farmer Edwin Barnes, 62, listed in the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County.

Adultery Records-1880, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Severe whippings for trifling faults.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County }

In the Probate Court Before A. Barnes, Probate Judge, May 8th, A.D. 1871.

George Morris an apprentice by indenture to Thomas White, colored, complaining says:

1st That he was bound by articles of indenture to Thomas White, colored, on the ___ day of _____ 18 ___ by

2nd That the said Thomas White has treated with great cruelty, inflicting upon him severe whippings for trifling faults, especially on the evening of Friday May 5th A.D. 1871 , when he was beaten by the said Thomas White in a most cruel and inhumane manner

Wherefore petitioner humbly asks your Honor that you will by order command the said Thomas White to appear before you at some early day to be named by your Honor to show cause why the articles of indenture above specified should not be cancelled.

George Morris, by Kenan & Durham, his Attorneys

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  • George Morris — in the 1870 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County, George Morriss, 10, is listed in the household of his mother Eliza Morriss. The family is described as white. [Eliza Morris was the widow of Warren Morris, with whom she appears in the 1850 Johnston County census.] The absence of a color designation behind Morris’ name in this petition can be interpreted as as an indication that he was white, which accords with this census entry.
  • Thomas White — in the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Thomas White, 56; wife Charlotte, 56; and Lucy, 14, Reuben, 15, George, 10, and Lucy White, 3. [The apprenticeship of white children by African-American masters was exceedingly rare, and White was surely taking his life in his hands abusing one.]
  • Kenan & Durham — Col. Thomas S. Kenan (1838-1911) settled in Wilson in 1869 and opened a law practice that flourished and lead to a long and influential legal career.

Apprentice Records-1871, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

State v. Nathan Locus.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County }

The examination of Georgiana Simpson (Colored), in the said county, single woman, taken on oath before me, Wm.G. Jordan a justice of the peace in and for said county, this 18th day of May, in the year of our Lord 1866, who saith that she is the mother of a child now fifteen months old, and that the said child was born a bastard and likely to become chargeable to the county aforesaid and that Nathan Locus a free man of color , is a father of the said child    Georgiana (X) Simpson

Taken before me and signed the day and year above before written   Wm.G. Jordan J.P.

Both of the above parties were free born

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In the 1850 census, Nash County, North Carolina: Delany Locust, 28; Lucy, 25; and Nathan, 12, Henry, 8, Goodson, 6, Nelly, 4, and Mary A., 3.

In the 1860 census of Winstead township, Nash County: housekeeper Delany Locus, 43, and Nathan, 22.

In the 1870 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Ellic Taylor, 34, farm laborer, and wife Lainy, 45; Nathanel Locust, 33, and children Malvina, 11, and Duncan Locust, 4. [Delaney Locus married Alexander Taylor between 1860 and 1870. Duncan Locust may be the son of Georgiana Simpson and Nathan Locus. Simpson does not appear in Wilson or Nash County census record.]

In the 1880 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Nathan Locust, 40, hireling “working about.”

On 13 February 1883, Nathan Lucus, 40, married Sarah Williams, 40, at the Wilson Court House.

Branch Flowers died 27 August 1938 in Jackson township, Nash County. Per his death certificate, he was 65; was born in Wilson County to Nathan Locus and Delsa [Delphia] Flowers, both of Wilson County; was a farmer; and was married to Mary Flowers.

Bastardy Records-1866, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Common justice requires that they work for family.

Here is the original complaint from Violet Blount to the Freedmen’s Bureau about her grandsons’ unlawful apprenticeship, chronicled here. Blount was also the maternal grandmother of Samuel H. Vick.

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Wilson N.C., May 31, 67

Freedmens Bureau Goldsboro N.C.

I respectfully wish to inform you that my grandsons Oscar & Marcus Blount (16 & 17 years of age) have been without my or their knowledge or consent bound to Mr. B.H. Blount, their former owner, while myself and their younger brother age seven years have to be supported by my son in law Daniel Vick. I am seventy years old and do think that common justice requires these boys to work at least in part for me & their younger brother as their mother is dead and their father does not claim to work for him. Mr. B.H. Blount once agreed to give the boys up to me but still holds on to them saying that his son G.W. Blount Esq. had arranged it for them to stay where they are till they are free.

Most Respectfully, Violet Blount

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Letters Received Jan 1867-Feb 1868.

They are my grandchildren.

In response to John J. Pender’s claim to three African-American children, Jenny Robbins sent a sworn statement to the Freedmen’s Bureau. Reading between the lines suggests that Pender’s bald claim that Toney Robbins was not the children’s grandfather split hairs. They were, it seems, Jenny Robbins’ grandchildren by blood and Toney Robbins’ by marriage. Note that Robbins gives their surname as Turner, not Pender as set forth in the 1870 census and in J.J. Pender’s claim.

I Jenny Robbins wife of Toney Robbins do certify on oath that Dellah Ann Sylva Ann and Jacob Turner three infant children now in the possession of J.J. Pender of the county of Wilson state of North Carolina are my grand children and do further swear that my daughter Amy the mother of the said three children is and was dead when they were set free that I am the nearest kin now living to the said infants and wish to have the management control and raising of the same which he the said J.J. Pender haves and will not allow me to take or have anything to do with them     Jenny (X) Robbins

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 21st day of August 1867 James Wiggins J.P.

Witness D.W. Weaver, Moses (X) Morris Col., Haywood (X) Batts

Plece let me hear from you soon

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Former policeman James Wiggins also weighed in in support of Ginny Pender/Jenny Robbins’ claim for custody of her children. (The date of his letter is puzzling, as it more than a year and a half before Robbins’ above. It gives a sense, however, of the protracted fight Toney and Jenny Robbins waged for her grandchildren.)

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Letters Received Jan 1867-Feb 1868; North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Unregistered Letters Received Aug 1865-Feb 1868, http://www.familysearch.org 

 

Toney Robbins’ side: “Please send me a paper so as I can get them.”

In August 1867, John J. Pender complained to the Freedmen’s Bureau that Toney Robbins was harassing him about Pender’s apprenticeship of three children who Robbins claimed were his grandchildren. Pender asserted that Robbins had no children, much less grandchildren. The Bureau apparently sided with Pender, as the children were with him in 1870 when the census taker passed through.

Here is one of Robbins’ letters pleading for the Bureau to intercede on his behalf.

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Joyners Depot Wilison Co NC   August 5th 1867

Freedmen Bureau

I ha [written] 2 or 3 letter to Maj Crompto a Bout 3 of my grand Children nor [illegible] Eny Anser then wrote to General Every at Raleigh he said go to the Freedmen Bureau at Rockey Mount in Edgecone County the children is in Wilison County he told me to write to you it was out of his Power as it was in Wilison County

Thy or not Bound By law, So Plese Send me a Paper So as I can get them thy ar living With John J. Pender of Wilison Co

I wait an Anser [illegible] with Respets Tony Robins

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (assistant subassistant commissioner), Roll 17, Letters received, Jul-Sep 1867, http://www.familysearch.org