Free People of Color

Wilson County’s free families of color.

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I’m honored that Wilson County Public Library has invited me to speak again during Black History Month.

I’ll be talking about Wilson County’s free families of color.  Are you an Artis, a Hagans, a Jones, a Lassiter, a Locus or Lucas, a Reid?  The history of these and other free families is little known, though their many descendants can still be found across the county.

My talk is scheduled for Saturday afternoon this year, so I hope you’ll be able to make it.

Wilson County Public Library — Main Branch, 249 Nash Street W., Wilson, N.C.

 

A marriage in 1848.

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Ed. Powell and Thomas Mercer gave bond for a marriage license for Ed. Powell and Mary Jones on 14 August 1848 in Nash County. The couple likely lived in a section of Nash that would be incorporated into Wilson County in 1855.

Nineteen years later, on 10 October 1867, John Allen Jones, son of Edwin Powell and Mary Jones, married Susan Simpson, daughter of Sallie Simpson, at Margarett Simpson‘s house in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farm laborer Jno. A. Jones, 22; wife Susan, 19;  children Thomas, 2, and Jesse B., 7 months; and Rosett Boykin, 10.

In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Dempsy Powell, 52, farmer; wife Sallie, 46; daughter Susan A. Jones, 27, and her husband John A. Jones, 34; their children Thomas A., 13, Jessee B., 11, James A., 7, Celia C., 5, Sallie C., 4, and John A., 1; and W.D. Lucus, 21, laborer. [Sallie Simpson married Dempsey Powell in Wilson County in 1855. The family appears in the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: turpentine worker Dempsey Powell, 30; wife Sallie, 28; and Susan Simpson, 9.]

Many thanks to Edith Garnett Jones for this copy of the Powell-Jones marriage license.

The estate of Nathan Blackwell.

We examined the will of free man of color Nathan Blackwell here, in which he left his estate to sons Nathan, Exum, and Josiah Blackwell and named Asberry Blackwell as his executor. Nathan directed Asberry, who was probably his brother, to “take Andrew and see to his labor for my children to the best advantage also take my children and take care of them.”

Andrew was an enslaved man.

Nathan Blackwell died sometime in 1846 in a section of eastern Nash County that is now Wilson County. His personal assets were sold on 16 August 1846, and buyers included his relatives Peter Blackwell and Drucilla Blackwell, as well as Stephen and Josiah Powell, who were likely relatives of his deceased wife Jincey Powell Blackwell. Willis Jones was listed among debtors to the estate.

Nathan Blackwell’s orphaned sons were minors. Ordinarily, they would have been placed with a white family via involuntary apprenticeship. However, their father’s estate had assets, and a couple of white men, Jarman Eatman and Mabry H. Hinnant, took turns as their guardian. Exum seems to have died not long after his father

As requested, “negro Andrew” was hired out and his lease fee applied to Blackwell’s estate for the benefit of his boys. Jesse Simpson, for example, hired him for about 54 dollars on credit in the year 1848.

Nathan Blackwell Estate Records (1846), Nash County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Arch Artis, a free man of color.

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In the 30 August 1952 edition of his Daily Times column “Looking Backward,” Hugh B. Johnston transcribed a will executed in 1849 by Arch Artice, a free man of color. The will is not included in Ancestry.com or Familysearch.org databases, and I have found no evidence that it ever entered probate. Artis (the more common spelling) is not to be confused with Archibald Artis Sr. (or Jr.) of Johnston County, who was his rough contemporary, and here’s what we know of him:

In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County, Arch Artis is listed as a 55 year-old “mulatto free” and described as blind. Elisha Vick, a 48 year-old white laborer, and Elizabeth Woodard, 46, who witnessed his will, were Artis’ close neighbors.

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1850 federal census of Edgecombe County, N.C.

In the 1860 census of Gardners township, Wilson County, Arch Artis, 65, blind, is listed in the household of white farmer Calvin Woodard, a 32 year-old white farmer who reported owning $17,225 in personal property (which would have been mostly in the form of enslaved people. Calvin Woodard was the son of Elizabeth Simms Woodard, above, and William Woodard Sr., who died about 1850.)

On 31 October 1869, Puss Artice, daughter of Arch and Rosa Artice, married George Bynum, son of Thos. Drake and Eliza Bynum, at Arch Artice’s. [“Puss” was the nickname of Tamar Artis Bynum.]

On 6 January 1870, Jessie Woodard, son of Arch and Rosa Artice, married Pennie Bess, daughter of Harry Ellis and Selvey Bess, in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Archabald Artis, 70; wife Rosa, 34; Tamer Bynum, 23, and [her husband] George, 25. Though they did not register their cohabitation, the record strongly suggests that Arch Artis had a relationship spanning several decades with a woman named Rosa, who was enslaved. She, with her and Arch’s children, had belonged to members of  William Woodard Sr.’s family. (Details to come in a later post.)

Arch Artis seems to have died between 1870 and 1880.

John Artist, son of Arch and Rosa Artis, married Hannah Ellis, daughter of Jack and Margaret Ellis, on 29 February 1872 in Wilson County. (This was his second marriage. On 9 April 1867, John Artice married Pricilla Woodard in Wilson County.)

Ned Artis died 21 October 1917 in Falkland township, Pitt County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 1831 in Wilson County to Arch Artis and Rose Artis; was single; was buried in Wilson County; undertaker was Jesse Artis; and informant was Joe Artis, Falkland, N.C.

Gray Artis, 72, of Chicod township, Pitt County, son of Arch and Rosa Artis, married Caroline Howard, 66, of Chicod township, daughter of Emily Nobles, on 22 April 1918 in Chicod township, Pitt County.

Tamar Bynum died 25 February 1923 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 77 years old; was born in Wilson County to Arch and Rosa Artis; was the widow of George Bynum; and had farmed. Rosa Bynum was informant.

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.

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.

The Benjamin and Tinner Howard Ellis family.

Benjamin Ellis, Mollie Brantley Howard Brown and Tinner Howard Ellis. Mollie Brown’s first husband, Kenyon Howard, son of Deal and Nancy Blackwell Howard, was Tinner Ellis’ uncle.

“As far back as my husband, Benjamin Ellis, and I can trace our family, it leads us to Wilson County. My great-grandfather Nelson Eatman was born issue-free about the year 1800. Fortunately, from that point on there was no slavery on my side of the family. He had a daughter named Roady who married Deal Howard. From that marriage was born a son, also named Deal Howard who married my mother, Nancy Blackwell. My grandmother on my mother’s side was named Nancy Blackwell. During the early part of the 19th century there were still many Indians in and around the eastern North Carolina region. One tribe known as the Cherokees still have a reservation in western North Carolina. It is through that tribe that I trace my mother’s heritage.

“My husband’s grandfather Hillard Ellis was born here in 1825, on the Roundtree Plantation. His mother and father were Africans who had been brought to America and sold in the slave market to the Roundtree family. Hillard Ellis had a brother named Warren Roundtree who took the slave name, and as a result, many Ellis’ and Roundtree’s are related. Hillard Ellis married Fairiby Roundtree who was also a slave on the Roundtree farm. To that union were born fourteen children — one of which was my husband’s father named Hillard who was born in 1865. Around the turn of the century and for many years thereafter he was one of only two blacksmiths in the Town of Wilson. Hillard married Cora Williams. Cora’s parents were Nellie Locust and Austin Williams. Austin was a slave on the McWilliams farm and Nellie was issue-free. My husband’s Uncle Warren’s son, Henry Ellis was the first black in Wilson County killed while serving his country in the first world war. His name is found in the Wilson County courthouse among those honored for serving their country.

“Both my husband and I are from very large families. I had four sisters and nine brothers and my husband had several brothers and one sister. We were raised as children in Wilson County and went to Howard elementary school. My husband also attended “graded” school in Wilson. We were married in 1921 and from our union were born seven children: Raleigh, Ezamae, Emma Lee, Tiner Mae, Mabel, Beulah and Benjamin. We have twenty-one grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. We still maintain the Ellis cemetery on a piece of land formerly owned by Hillard Ellis, Sr. Also the Ellis Chapel Church off Route 58 was named after Hillard Ellis, Sr., who donated the land to the church around the turn of the century.”

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  • For more on the Hilliard Ellis family, see here and here.
  • For more on the Nelson Eatmon family, see here.
  • For more on the Zealous “Deal” Howard family, see here.
  • Re the Blackwells:

Asberry Blackwell married Nancy Taylor on 2 October 1845 in Nash County.

In the 1850 census of Nash County: Asberry Blackwell, 25 [listed alone.]

In the 1860 census of Kirby’s district, Wilson County: Asberry Blackwell, 45, turpentine laborer, Nancy, 30, farm laborer, Charity, 14, Drucilla, 9, Albert, 7, Appy, 7, Zilpha, 4, Obedience, 3, and Asberry, 2 months.

On 10 April 1882, Deal Howard, 21, married Nancy Blackwell, 24, in Taylors township, Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Deal Howard, 38; wife Nancy, 39; and children John, 16, Christian, 14, Oscar, 11, Ettie, 10, Albert, 7, Thomas, 5, Alvin, 3, Herman, 1, and Tiner, 0.

In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: on Horne’s Road, farmer Zelius Howard Jr., 49; wife Nancy, 49; and children Albert, 17, Thomas, 15, Alvin, 13, Herman, 11, Tina, 9, Florence, 7, and Ella, 5.

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Deal Howard, 58; wife Nancy, 60; and Albert, 28, Herman, 22, Tiner, 19, and Florence, 17.

In the 1930 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Albert Howard, 35, farmer; mother Nancy, 75; and James, 11, and Tommie Howard, 9.

Nancy Howard died 30 June 1931 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 61 years old; was born in Wilson County to Nancy Blackwell and a father unknown to the informant; was married to Deal Howard; lived at Route 2, Wilson; and worked as a laundress. Informant was Thomas Howard, 318 Finch Street, Wilson.

  • Re the Williamses:

Austin Williams, son of Ben and Merica Williams, married Cornelia Taylor, daughter of Isaac Taylor and Lena Locus, on 10 May 1868 in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Austen Williams, 34, farm laborer; wife Cornelius, 24; and daughter Cora Lee, 1.

In the 1880 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: Austin Williams, 41, farmer; wife Nobly, 30; and children Cora L., 11, Charley A., 8, Benjamin and Isaac, 4, and Minnie, 8 months.

  • Re Warren Rountree:

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Warren Rountree, 40, farm laborer; wife Sarah, 32; and children Florence, 18, Rhebecca, 17, Mary, 11, Howell, 7, Sallie, 5, Lou, 2, and Warren Jr., 20.

Warren Rountree died in late fall 1871. In November of that year, R.J. Taylor was appointed administrator of his estate.

Text and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).

Hagans did not have a license to carry a pistol.

At October term of the Wilson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a grand jury indicted free man of color David Hagans for carrying a pistol without a license. Stephen Powell was among the witnesses called to testify.

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  • David Hagans — in the 1850 census of North Side of the Neuse, Wayne County: Eli Hagins, 47, day laborer, and sons Sherrard, 13, David, 11, Mary, 9, and Ezekiel, 5, all described as mulatto.
  • Stephen Powell — in the 1850 census of Nash County: 47 year-old turpentine laborer Stephen Powell; wife Synthia, 36; and children Gray, 9, Queen Anne, 8, Dolly, 7, Crockett, 3, and Moab, 1. In the 1860 census of Winsteads township, Nash County: 50 year-old Stephen Powell; wife Cyntha, 45; and children Gray, 21, Dollerson, 17, Queenanah, 13, Crocket, 12, Matchum, 10, and Frances, 8. In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: 60 year-old farmer Stephen Powell; wife Cinthia, 53; and children Dolison, 27, and Washington, 20; plus Julia Amerson, 15; Mary Taylor, 21; Louisa Powell, 5; and Charles Powell, 1. In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Stephen Powell, 80; wife Cynthia, 60; sons Dollison, 37, Washington, 26, and [grandson?] Charles T., 10,; plus boarder Wilson Hagans, 65.

Carrying Gun 1856, Criminal Action Papers, Records of Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.

State v. Martin Locust and Bede Wells.

At April Term 1856 of Wilson County’s Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a grand jury charged Martin Locust and Bede Wells, both of Wilson County, “being lewd and vicious persons not united together in the bonds of marriage” before and after 1 April 1856 “unlawfully lewdly and lasciviously associate bed and cohabit together … to the evil example of all others.”  William Wells and Josiah Boyett were subpoenaed as witnesses, and jury foreman Jacob Taylor returned a true bill to the clerk of court.

This is the bond Locus and Wells pledged for their appearance in court. Curiously, the names of two co-pledgers were crossed out — Kingsberry Wells and William Wells. Both were likely relatives of Bedie Wells, and William was a witness before the grand jury.

Martin Locus was of African, European and Native American descent. Obedience Wells was white. Their prosecution and, presumably, conviction did not much alter their lives, as they are found living together four years later in the 1860 census. (The third column after their names was used to indicate race or color. Wells’ was left blank; white was the default. Locus’ M stood for mulatto.)

1860 census of Kirbys district, Wilson County.

The 1850 census of Nash County shows the household of Kingsberry Wells and his next-door neighbors, Beedy and Martin Wells, who was actually Martin Locus. (The age disparity is likely a recording error. In fact, Martin Locus and Obedience Wells, listed as “Pheby Wells,” were married in Nash County on 22 November 1822, during a period in which laws forbidding interracial marriage were only loosely enforced. Per descendant and family historian Europe Ahmad Farmer, after about 1830, when North Carolina began to strip away rights from free people of color, the couple made an effort to appear to live separately.)

Martin Locus and Obedience Wells’ son Martin Locus Jr. was the father of Martin John Locus.

1822 Nash County marriage license of Martin Locust and Pheby Wells.

Adultery Records-1856, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

State v. Reddick Joyner and Wilmoth Eatman.

At October Term 1855 of Wilson County’s Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, a grand jury charged Reddick Joyner and Wilmoth Eatman “being lewd and vicious persons, and not united together in Marriage” who did “adulterously bed and cohabit together … and commit fornication and adultery …” contrary to law. However, after a hearing, the foreman returned the presentiment to the clerk of court as “not a true bill.” As a result, charges would have been dropped against both.

Per Eatmon’s descendants, the father of her first three children, William Joseph, Robert, Margaret was Alexander Watson Wells, a white man who died in 1862 of wounds suffered as a Confederate soldier. The father of her youngest two, Kinion and Annie, was Hackney High. The father of two others, Crawford and Missouri, is unknown.

Adultery Records – 1855, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.