Court Actions

Hired from Franklin County.

Slaveowners needing additional labor sometimes looked beyond the borders of Wilson County for supply. In January 1857, W.H. Privett, Stephen Privett and J.D. Rountree agreed to pay Dr. P.S. Foster $375 for twelve months’ hire of enslaved men Gaswell and James. Gaswell and James were to receive the usual clothing provided to hired slaves and were to be returned to Foster in Louisburg the following 1 January.

  • Dr. P.S. Foster — Peter S. Foster is listed in the 1860 census of Franklin County as a doctor with $5500 real property and $48,555 of personal property.
  • W.H. Privett
  • Stephen Privett — in the 1860 census, Stephen Privett is a 50 year-old farmer living in Black Creek township, Wilson County.
  • J.D. Rountree — in the 1860 census, Jno. [Jonathan] D. Rountree is a 40 year-old merchant living in the Town of Wilson.

Slave Hire-1857, Records of Slaves and Free People of Color, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Hired for twelve months.

On 2 January 1857, Bassett Sikes and B.H. Bardin promised to pay Elizabeth Farmer $162 for the hire of two enslaved woman, Chaney and Merica, for twelve months.

  • Bassett Sikes — in the 1850 census of Greene County, North Carolina, Sikes is listed as a 44 year-old merchant with $4000 in personal property.
  • B.H. [Benjamin Howell] Bardin — in the 1860 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County, Bardin is a 34 year-old farmer who claimed $12,800 in real property and $42,500 in personal property. His personal property would have included the 21 slaves he reported in the 1860 slave schedule.

Slave Hire-1857, Records of Slaves and Free People of Color, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

State vs. Felix Godwin.

In January 1867, a Wilson County justice of the peace examined Linda Barnes (colored), who was unmarried, and determined that she had delivered a child whose father was Felix Godwin of Johnston County.

I have not found Linda Barnes in Wilson County records.

However, on 23 January 1867 — 11 days after this warrant issued — Phelix Godwin married Aurelia Smith in Boon Hill township, Johnston County. In the 1880 census of Boon Hill township, Johnston County: farmer Felix Godwin, 52; wife Arena, 28; and children Jane E., 11, and Preston, 8.

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

Heartbreak Day.

On 27 December 2019, Time magazine published Olivia B. Waxman’s sobering and insightful article on the hiring of slave labor, “The Dark History of New Year’s Day“:

“Americans are likely to think of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as a time to celebrate the fresh start that a new year represents, but there is also a troubling side to the holiday’s history. In the years before the Civil War, the first day of the new year was often a heartbreaking one for enslaved people in the United States.

“In the African-American community, New Year’s Day used to be widely known as “Hiring Day” — or “Heartbreak Day,” as the African-American abolitionist journalist William Cooper Nell described it — because enslaved people spent New Year’s Eve waiting, wondering if their owners were going to rent them out to someone else, thus potentially splitting up their families. The renting out of slave labor was a relatively common practice in the antebellum South, and a profitable practice for white slave owners and hirers.”

Please read the article and revisit these blog posts:

Sent to the roads.

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Wilson Times, 17 November 1911.

In this follow-up to “Teck got shot,” we get a close look at the way justice was administered (and reported upon) in 1911.

First, the Times flatly pronounced Herbert “Goldie” Horton guilty of shooting Ed Walker. The trial, however, had been on the charge of carrying a concealed weapon. The “trial for shooting … Walker will be deferred until Ed. recovers or dies.” On the basis of testimony from Jake Tucker, Annie Lewis and Elijah Saunders — testimony that sounds much more relevant to the shooting than mere concealed carry — Wilson’s mayor convicted Horton and sentenced him to four months on a road gang.

——

  • Herbert Horton
  • Edward Walker
  • Jake Tucker — Jacob Tucker was also a key witness in the inquest into the homicide of James A. Hunt and the robbery of Neverson Green‘s grocery.
  • Annie Lewis — perhaps, in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 555 Spruce Street, Ed Lewis, 49, odd jobs laborer; wife Nancy, 37, private family cook; sister Sue, 19, factory laborer; and daughter Annie, 16, private family cook.
  • Elijah Saunders

State v. Moses Bynum and Martha Snead.

In August 1870, Moses Bynum, with J.W. Smith, posted a bond to insure Bynum’s appearance in Wilson County court to face an adultery charge.

Jack Privett and Jinsey Privett were subpoenaed to appear as witnesses against Bynum and Martha Snead.

In the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: South Carolina-born farm laborer Jack Privett, 40; wife Quincy, 32 [probably Jincey]; and daughter Malvinia, 4; plus Adeler Privett, 18, and her likely children Jane, 3, and Eli, 9 months.

Laura Sneed, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of Moses Bynum and [illegible] Bynum, married Burnis Hinnant, 21, of Wilson County, son of Amos Hinnant and Lindy Hinnant, on 3 September 1888 at Henry Dudley’s residence in Cross Roads township.

Mollie Hinnant died 4 August 1954 in Kenly, Johnston County. Per her death certificate, she was born 11 September 1878 in Wilson County to Moses Bynum and Martha Snead and was a widow. Mrs. Lossie Shaw was informant. [Her marriage license and the 1910 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, suggest that Laura “Mollie” Bynum Hinnant was in fact born about 1869, which is consistent with her parents’ prosecution.]

Adultery Records, Miscellaneous Records, Records of Wilson County, North Carolina State Archives.

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.

——

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.