Court Actions

The murder of Willie Black.

When the registrar filed 48 year-old Willie Black‘s death certificate on 6 February 1933, she recorded his cause of death as “gun shot wounds inflicted by parties or party unknown to the Coroner Jurry.”

However, on 27 January 1933, the Wilson Daily Times reported Willie Black’s widow Sarah Black and her “paramour” Robert Collins had confessed to the crime. On 7 February 1933, the paper reported that a grand jury had returned an indictment against Sarah Black for first degree murder in the slaying of her husband. Collins was also charged.

Sarah Black went on trial in May. 

Elijah King testified that he heard two gunshots in the direction of the railroad. He went to the police station, then returned with officers to the Norfolk and Southern railroad, where they found a dead man lying about 150 yards from Rountree Bridge road. [Rountree Bridge road was most likely the continuation beyond city limits of what was then Stantonsburg Street and is now Black Creek Road. Rountree Bridge crossed Contentnea Creek three miles southeast of Wilson.]

Acting Coroner Ashe Hines testified that the body bore two gunshots wounds, one at close range behind the right ear and the other in the back. 

Willie Black’s son, also named Willie Black, testified next. He was Sarah Black’s stepson. His father and stepmother had been married about two years before, and they quarreled frequently. On the night of the murder, Black Jr. saw Sarah talking with a preacher who lived nearby. His father was not at home, and Black Jr. thought he was at work.

Willie Black Jr. got home about 7:30 PM and found a lamp burning in his parents’ bedroom. He went to James Stancil’s store and stayed until about 9:00 PM, then went home and went to bed. Sarah Black came home about 10:00 PM, and ten minutes later the police arrived. Willie Jr. asked, “Where’s Papa?,” and the police took him and his stepmother to view the body where it lay. Sarah Black cried a little. The police questioned them about a single gauge shotgun.

The night before the shooting, Willie and Sarah Black had argued about the pigtails he brought home for dinner. Sarah Black: “I do not like them.” Willie Black: “If you don’t like them, you can thrown them out.” Sarah Black: I don’t even know why I married you. Willie Black Jr. admitted he and his stepmother had argued, too, but denied ever pulling a knife on her or threatening her.

Officer Lloyd Lucas testified that he had questioned Sarah Black, and she told him that she was a burial society meeting and then a prayer meeting during the time WIllie Black was supposed to have been killed. Lucas denied trying to intimidate Sarah Black or “wring a confession out of her,” but allowed he might have said “damn.”

Robert Collins, who was alleged to be Sarah Black’s lover, was charged with the actual killing and was to be tried after Black’s trial.

Wilson Daily Times, 24 May 1933.

Which happened immediately. The next day’s edition announced that Collins turned state’s evidence and testified to this sorry chain of events:

Robert Collins lived in Happy Hill and had known Sarah Black three to four years. About a week before the murder, at Sarah Black’s sister’s house, Sarah had told him she was tired of Willie Black and wanted him out of the way. She would furnish him with Willie Black’s own gun and would pay him with money and clothing. (Williams Lumber employees testified that they saw Sarah come to talk to Collins at work.) On the night of the shooting, Sarah hid Willie’s shotgun in a ditch. She and Collins followed Willie as he walked down the railroad, and Collins shot him in the back. Black kept walking. Sarah Black asked if Collins was going to shoot him again, and Collins said he could not. She then took the gun and shot her husband down. Collins and Sarah Black went to the Black home, then separated. When confronted by the police, Collins confessed and took all the blame for himself.

The jury deliberated about two-and-a-half hours before delivering its decision. Guilty. As to both. Collins was immediately sentenced to 29 years and Sarah Black to the electric chair. 

[But stay tuned.]

——

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Street, day laborer Chas. Hines, 38, and wife Isabella, 38; step-daughter Mary Jane Bryant, 18; cook Jane Black, 35, widow, and her children William, 14, Clara, 4, Lucy, 1, plus day laborer Ed Black, 21, all boarders; and day laborer William York, 75, boarder.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Wiggins Street, widow Jane Black, 45, house servant, and children Willie, 24, Caria, 14, Lucy, 11, Samuel, 7, and Gertrude, 3. 

In 1918, Will Black registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born in February 1883; lived on Goldsboro Street, Wilson; was a laborer for Imperial Tobacco Company; and his contact was wife Matilda Black.

On 27 August 1928, Matilda Black died in Castalia township, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was about 36 years old; married to Will Black; lived in Wilson; was born in Nash County to Richard Taylor and Dianah Hill; and was buried in a family cemetery. Will Black was informant.

Will Black, 40, of Wilson, son of Fred and Jane Black, married Sarah Kittrell, 25, of Wilson, daughter of Ed and Rosa Kittrell, on 11 August 1930 in Wilson. Disciples minister Fred Williams performed the ceremony in Wilson in the presence of Mae H. Young, Jas. H. Knight and Clara Ward.

Pop-bottle blow.

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News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 August 1944.

Robert Evans was arrested and charged with murder after flipping a glass bottle back at Walter T. Woodard.

Two weeks later, Evans was free. Judge J.J. Burney had directed a verdict of acquittal — meaning the prosecution has not proved its case under any reasonable interpretation of the facts.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 September 1944.

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“Blow on head with Bottle Instant death”

Trustee’s sale of Suggs’ land.

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Wilson Daily Times, 12 October 1928.

Trustee J.S. Duncan posted a notice of the sale of three lots on which Daniel C. Suggs and wife Mary A. Suggs defaulted payment.

The first lot was one and a half acres between Railroad Street and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, adjacent to Contentnea Fertilizer Factory.

The second lot was six acres north of Contentnea [Cemetery] Street adjoining Calvin Blount, John RatleySamuel H. Vick, and “the colored cemetery.”

The third lot was at the intersection of Railroad and Suggs Streets.

Statement of disbursements.

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  • Charles Darden

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Charles H. Darden, a blacksmith turned undertaker, was Wilson’s leading African-American businessman in turn-of-the-century Wilson.

  • Sylvester Seabury

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  • Mike Taylor

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Mike Taylor was the son of Abi Taylor, above.

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  • James Artist

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  • George Artice

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  • Fred Davis

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Fred M. Davis was a Missionary Baptist minister.

  • Daniel Battle
  • Henry Newsom
  • Ben Bell
  • Austin Linsey

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  • Charles Darden

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  • Patrick Williamson

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  • Small Blount

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  • Caesar Wooten

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Caesar Wooten murdered Mittie Strickland during an argument on Vance Street near the railroad track, launching a four-year manhunt.

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  • Charles Bynum
  • Bettie Privett
  • Alice Privett

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In November 1888, Charles Bynum was tried and convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of Henry Privett, brother of his girlfriend Bettie Privett.

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Mack Bynum was the father of Charles Bynum, above.

Wilson Mirror, 26 December 1888.

Was Edith Jordan under the control of her negroes?

Edith Jordan, widow of Joshua Jordan, lived north of present-day Wilson in what was then Edgecombe County. Her 1835 estate file contains a remarkable set of depositions attesting to Jordan’s state of mind at the time she wrote her will. Specifically, had enslaved people influenced her decisions?

The file does not reflect the determination in Bartley Deans Executor of Edith Jordan vs. Joshua Jordan et al. Nor does an examination of Jordan’s will reveal any obvious cause for alarm. To grandson Josiah Jordan, she left Rachel and her two children Milley and Offey, plus Daniel; to grandson David Jordan, Sarah, Joseph and Morning; to grandson Jesse Jordan, Isaac and Mary; and to great-granddaughter Sarah Deans, Mary Ann and Julia.

  • The deposition of Harris Horn

Persuant to the annexed commission at the House of John Horn in Sumter County Ala. We caused Harris Horn to come before us on the 7th of October 1835, to give evidence agreable to said Commision after being Sworn on the Holy Evangelist of Almighty God Deposeth and Saith as followeth

Interogatories

Q. 1st Do you know the parties in this case

Ans. I know Bartlet Deans & Joshua Jorden

2nd Did you Ever know the Said Edith Jorden in her Life time and if you did Where Did She Lived and what was her Situation and property and how many negroes She posses’d.

Ans. I knew Edith Jorden She lived in Edgecombe County She had negroes but I don’t know how many

3rd Whether She was a person of able or firm mind to protect hersef or property or Whether She was not entirely at the Disposal of or under the controle of Some person for Ten or twelve years before her Death

Ans. I think She hardly was able to protect herself or property and could be controlled by her neighbors

4th Was it not your opinion that the Said Edith Jorden should have had a Guardian Several years before She Died.

Ans. I think She would have done better if She had of had a guardian

5th Did you ever know the Said Edith Jorden to Do any business in ten years prior to her Death Without Some person telling her What to Do or how to conduct the Same

Ans. What ever Trading She had Done of my knowledge was Don by Some Other person

6th Did not you think the Said Edith Jorden was under the controle of her negroes

Ans. I think She was.

Q. 7th State all you know about the contested will

Ans. I Did not know She had made a will               /s/ Harris Horn

  • The deposition of John Grice

Persuant to the annexed commission at the House of John Horn in Sumter County Ala. We cause John Grice to come before us on the 7th of October 1835 to give evidence agreable to said commission after being Sworn on the holy Evangelist of  Almity God Deposeth and Saith as followeth

Interogatories

Q. 1st by Pltff.

Were you ever cal’d on to witness a will of Edith Jorden if So State by Whome and all the circumstances attending it

Ans. I was and I think it was by the said Edith Jorden

2nd Whoo was present and Whoo was the Other Subscribing Witness

Ans. Myself Bartlet Deans and William Haynes the other witness

3rd Whoo Wrote the Will

Ans. Bartlet Deans

4th Was the Will red over in the presents of the Old Lady your Self and Haynes before assignd

Ans. It was

5th Did you and the other Witness assign in the presents of the Old Lady

Ans. We did

6th Did She assign in your presents

Ans. She Did

7th Whoo Did She Desire to keep the Will till her death and What reason Did She assign for it

Ans. Bartlet Deans asked her what he should do with the Will and She told him to carriet home and take care of it and She Said She Wanted us to keep it a Secret for She had a will before and She could See no peace until it was Destroyed and that She thought She ought to have a right to Do as She pleased with her property

8th how Long have you been acquainted with her and how fare did you live from her

Ans. I have known the Old Lady for fifteen or Sixteen Years and Lived Within about half mile of her nine or ten years

9th Did the Old Lady appear to be in her Sound Mind and Disposible memory at the time She assigned the Will

Ans. I think She was as much So as ever I Saw her

10th Did She have reason Enough to know what She was about and to express her wishes in giving her property away or not

Ans. She appeared at that time to have it I thought

11th Did you ever witness any other will for the Old Lady Except the one you witnessed with William Haynes

Ans. I Did not

12th if you recollect State how She Directed the Legacies Given in the will that you witnessed and whome to

Ans. I think She gave Josiah Jorden one negroe man by the name of Daniel one negro woman named Rachel and Two negro children and to David Jorden & Jesse Jorden She gave one of them three negroes and the other Two and to Bartlet Deans Jun’r child she gave Two Negroes

Interogatories

Q. 1st by Deft.

If you do not know at the time of the Subscribing of this Will by the Said Decd. That it was entirely by persuasion that it was made and that in reality that it was not her will but the wish of those that She could be controled by

Ans. I Do not.

2nd you can State beyond contradiction in your mind this Will is or was the Will of Some of her negroes

Ans. I Do not know that it was the will of her negroes

3rd Do you not believe that at the time of makeing this Will and long before that She was not competent to make a will

Ans. I think She was capable of makeing a will and ought to give her property to Whome She please

4th Did you not think She ought to have had a guardian years before her Death

Ans. I Did not

  • The deposition of Isaac F. Wood

State of Indiana, Randolph County  }  Suit pending before the honorable Court in Tarborough, Edgecombe County North Carolina, on the fourth Monday of November AD 1835 – Wharein Bartley Deans Executor of Edith Jordan dec’d is plaintiff and Joshua Jordan & others defendants

Deposition of Isaac F. Wood of Greenford Township, County of Randolph above said, sworn and examined on this the 12th day of October in the year of Our Lord One thousand eight hundred and thirty five, between the hours of Ten oclock in the morning and four in the afternoon and taken at the office of and before James C. Bowen a Justice of the peace of Greenfork Township, in the County of Randolph and State of Indiana, pursuant to the inclosed notice to be read as evidence in the above cause on the part and the half of the defendants, Joshua Jordan & others as follows to wit:  Isaac F. Wood of the Township of Greenfork, in the County of Randolph and State of Indiana of Lawful age being duly sworn to testify the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and being diligently examined, doth depose and say, that he has been acquainted with the said Edith Jordan for about fifteen years before he left Carolina, which was in date AD 1832, and that he wrote a deed of Gift, which the said Edith Jordan executed to her granddaughter Orpha Jordan which included all or nearly all the negroes she possessed at that time. He further states he does not recollect the date, but it was a year or two before the death of the said Orpah Jordan. He further states that he was the subscribing witness to said deed and believes that the said Mrs. Edith Jordan requested him the said Wood to take said Deed and have it recorded and he the said neglected to do it, because he thought the said Edith acted under the influence of her negroes. He further states the said Edith said the reason for giving nearly all her blacks to the one grand child was because the negroes wished it so and she did not want to part them. He further states he has written several other instruments wharin she conveyed her property, but does not recollect the dates or particulars relative therto. He further states that he does not believe the said Edith Jordan was capable of conveying her property, and that he thinks her negroes influenced her as they wished. He further states that he thinks she should have had a guardian many years before he left Carolina; And further this deponent sayeth not       /s/ Isaac F. Wood

Edith Jordan Will (1833), Edith Jordan Estate File (1835), Edgecombe County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

State v. Dave.

Asael Farmer’s estate file contains a cluster of documents related to the prosecution of State vs. Dave. The outcome of the case is not clear.

In February 1863, a Wilson County justice of the peace issued a warrant for Dave’s arrest for breaking into Martha Ann Edwards’ home and stealing her clothes.

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… This day complained on oath one Marthaan Edwards of [Wilson County] that a Slave by the Name of Dave Belonging to the estate of Asahel Farmer Dec’d on the Night of 24th December 1862 Broke into Hur dwelling House and Stoled therefrom & carried of one Spotted Blanket two dresses ready made & two dresses not made 3 yards pant cloth & some shoes [illegible] the said Martha An is fully convinced threw every Circumstance connected that the said slave Dave stold the things or was accessory there too These are therefore in the Name of the State commanding you to apprehend the said slave  & him have before me or some other Justice of sd. County to be Delt With as the law directs Given under my hands & seal in said County the 15 February 1863 M.G. Williams J.P.

Summons for the state Martha An Edwards, Dilly Ellis, W.B. Batts, John B. Batts, Hines a slave of Thomas Taylor, for the Boy Langleys man Farmers Belfor & Haywood Stricklands Abram

Asael Farmer’s administratorJohn Farmer filed an apologetic statement with the court explaining his failure to produce Haywood, an enslaved man and critical witness, in court.

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State vs. Dave slave of John Farmer Admr of Asahel Farmer

John Farmer the owner of the defendant maketh oath that Haywood slave Jessee Mercer and Jere Batts, are material witnesses for the defendant, without the benefit of whose testimony he cannot safely come to trial, that the subpoena for the said slave Haywood was served upon one W.W. Batts in whose possession the slave was supposed to be but that said slave had without the knowledge of this affiant passed into the possession of the said Jesse Mercer, that a subpoena has been issued for the said Jere Batts but has not been served on account of his absence from this County that he expects to have said witnesses present at the next term of this Court, that this affidavit is not made for delay but truly for the cause here in set forth           John Farmer 

The clerk of court issued a subpoena for W.W. Batts; William Winstead; Elijah Williams; William Crumpler; Belford and Abram, slaves of the E. Strickland estate; Haywood, slave of William W. Batts; “Mose works at Harris Winstead’s”; and Jerry Batts, son of W.B. Batts, to appear in court on the fourth Monday in September, 1863.

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Another subpoena called for the appearance of Martha Edwards, Dilly Ellis, W.B. Batts, John B. Batts, and Horace, a slave of Thomas Taylor, to appear the same day.

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——

  • Dave
  • Haywood

In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Haywood Batts, 34; wife Rodah, 27; and children Lucy, 17, and Alice, 4.

  • Belford

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Belford Farmer, 46, farm laborer; wife Rebeca, 36; and children Morning, 17, Benj’m, 10, Alice, 13, Moses, 8, Anna, 5, and Ida, 1; and Allen Battle, 21.

On 22 September 1870, Belford Farmer, son of Ben and Ellen Farmer, married Peggy Flowers, daughter of Henry and Annie Flowers, in Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed laundress Peggy Farmer, 43, and children Mourning, 23, Alice, 21, Annie, 13, Moses, 16, Ida, 10, Belford, 7, and Mary, 5, and grandsons Willie, 3, and Henry, 1.

  • Abram

Perhaps, in the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Abram Strickland, 66, and wife Julia, 50, both farm laborers.

  • Mose
  • Horace

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

Larceny by negresses?

As usual, the 15 January 1924 Wilson Times mined the police blotter to publish titillating filler stories of alleged criminal activity by African-Americans. Here, two black women were arrested and charged with robbing “a Greek” of seventeen dollars. The women had proclaimed innocence, but a search netted $4.30 “concealed in the hair of Naoma.”

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Just below this clip, in the same column, another article — whose title and subtitle consumed as many column inches as the body of the piece — detailed the heavy penalty Mayor Silas R. Lucas imposed upon Norman Roberson for nearly running over a police officer and then cursing the officer out. And then, bizarrely, a paragraph setting out the follow-up to the charge above: “Mamie Roberson and Naomi Bryant, two negro women, charged with robbing Mike Greek were found not guilty and dismissed.”

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Wilson Times, 15 January 1924.

  • Mamie Roberson — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 506 Smith Street, widow Grace Roberson, 32; her cousin Mamie Roberson, 16; and roomer Annie M. Barnes, 16, tobacco factory laborer; all born in South Carolina.
  • Naomi Bryant
  • Norman Roberson — possibly the Norman Robertson, 24, son of Edward and Cherry Robertson of Suffolk, Virginia, who married Dora Hines, 20, daughter of James and Mary Hines, on 10 August 1914. Free Will Baptist minister Robert Dickins performed the ceremony at a Green Street location in the presence of Dock Barnes, Martin Cofield, and John Williams.

The mayor explains.

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Wilson Daily Times, 19 February 1924.

Well into the 20th century, mayors presided over cases involving low-level crimes, much as a magistrate does today. In early 1924, Mayor Silas R. Lucas wrote a letter to the Times protesting its criticism of a $150 fine he levied upon an African-American woman accused of selling two Coca-Cola bottles filled with whiskey.

The facts, more or less per Lucas: the previous summer, a married white man and a (presumably unmarried) black woman were caught in a car at 11:30 P.M. Though the evidence (including a photograph of the man in the trunk of the woman’s car) established that the two were in a long-term relationship, both plead guilty to prostitution violations. Lucas sentenced each to 90 days in county jail. A week later, he saw the woman on the street, well-dressed, and learned that she was working at the county home (a “poorhouse”) by day and consorting with “her white lover” at night. As a result, Lucas now levied stiff fines on any woman who could pay them rather than sentence them to the leniency of a jail stint.

I have not been able to identify the woman who sold whiskey or the couple.

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.