Reconstruction

Privett is perfectly willing to take them.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County }

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

——

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

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

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

BB&T considers its past.

These are the opening paragraphs of a statement issued a few days ago by Kelly King, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Truist Bank, acknowledging the institution’s ties to slavery. Truist was formed in December 2019 from the merger of banking giants SunTrust and BB&T. BB&T — Branch Banking and Trust — was born in Wilson in 1872.

The tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and too many others before them have caused our nation to come face-to-face with its history of systemic racism. The structural racial injustices that have been levied against African Americans were born from a terrible national legacy – slavery. We’ll never be able to adequately right the wrongs of the past, but it’s our obligation as leaders in the business community to publicly and passionately condemn these injustices with greater commitment, focus and energy.

This national discussion also has created a great deal of introspection here at Truist. As we work toward building a more equitable society, we must consider our own past and acknowledge the role our heritage companies played over 100 years ago to perpetuate the atrocity of slavery and the repression of enslaved people, leading to systemic disadvantages their descendants have endured for generations. This includes our early institutions, which had close ties to industries of that era that profited from slavery. We deeply regret and denounce these shameful aspects of our history, both known and unknown.

King’s gesture on behalf of Truist is nice one but, in focusing on the bank’s actions “over 100 years ago,” he stops short of laying bare and claiming ownership of the role BB&T played throughout the whole of the twentieth century in creating and supporting “systemic disadvantages” for African-Americans. In other words, profiting on the backs of black people and shutting them out of places and positions of power started with slavery, but did not end there.

Instead, the mea culpa moves on to back-patting:

While this acknowledgement of our early history is difficult, our organization has also demonstrated a sincere commitment through the years to affect positive change and stand for equity in the communities where we live and work. 

Cue bullet points.

King’s memo is light on what he is actually apologizing for. BB&T corporate publication “Our account: A history of BB&T” — last updated in 2012 and in desperate need of a hard, new look — offers clues to the company’s official framing of its roots: “when hostilities ended in 1865 and the South was forced to accept defeat, the farmers-turned-soldiers returned home and found their property destroyed, livestock gone, tools and equipment either ruined or lost, and their money worthless.” “The world that they had left their homes to defend existed no longer. The world to which they returned was chaotic and was to remain so for several years.” “… [T]he state faced a broken economy with corruption in government, and when help seemed to come from no quarter, North Carolinians turned to each other for aid.”  Into the breach of Radical Reconstruction, the story goes, stepped Alpheus Branch and Thomas J. Hadley, both Confederate veterans and the sons of wealthy former slaveowners.

You can read the rest of “Our Account” for yourself, but don’t expect to find anything in it about structural racism. Branch and Hadley lent money to struggling farmers and merchants in Wilson County. Able to borrow money at reasonable interest rates, farmers moved into the cash economy, planting cotton and, beginning in the 1880s, bright-leaf tobacco, a crop that would pour money into pockets across the county. An acknowledgment — beyond the performative — of the “shameful aspects” of BB&T’s history would require an admission that “farmers and merchants” did not include African-Americans, and an examination of the ways that BB&T served, or did not serve, this group embodied and perpetuated injustice. However, per the 3 July 2020 Charlotte Observer, Chairman “King said … a full inquiry of the bank’s past was unlikely.”

——

  • Alpheus P. Branch (1843-1893) — Branch’s father Samuel W. Branch listed 38 enslaved African-Americans in the 1860 slave schedule of Halifax County, North Carolina. Branch fought for the Confederacy as a member of the Scotland Neck Mounted Riflemen, 3rd N.C. Cavalry. In 1865, Branch married Nannie Barnes, daughter of Joshua Barnes (who would become a charter member of an early iteration of BB&T.) Barnes is styled the “Father of Wilson County.” He was also a committed owner of one of the largest groups of enslaved African-Americans in Wilson County.
  • Thomas J. Hadley (1838-1917) — Hadley’s father Thomas Hadley listed 37 enslaved African-Americans in the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County. Hadley rose to captain in Company A, 55th N.C. Infantry.

Many thanks to Brian D. Dalton and Linda Clark Parks for bringing Truist’s statement to my attention.

Totten defrauds veteran freedmen.

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In September 1867, Major William A. Cutler passed a report up the chain to his superior in the Freedmen’s Bureau.”… J.E. Totten at Joyners N.C. [Elm City] has been defrauding Freedmen by obtaining from them their “Discharges” from the U.S. Army by false representations …”

Bureau R.F.&A.L., Office Asst.Sub.Asst.Com., Rocky Mount, N.C., Sept. 6th, 1867.

Maj. C.E. Compton, Sub. Asst. Com., Goldsboro, N.C.

Major:

Howell Vine (colored) gave me the enclosed receipt, & I feel it my duty to send it to you, as he is anxious to obtain his discharge papers again.

From his statement it seems that he was deceived at the time he gave them into the hands of J.E. Totten and thought that Totten was sent by the Bureau to look after the interest of the freed people.

You will learn by the note written by Cd. Frank H. Bennett (register) that this not the only case of the kind.

I sent a note to the county clerk of Wilson county to find whether Totten had obtained the county seal to the certificate on the back of the claim.

I enclose the letter which I received in reply to the note.

I have the honor to be, Very Respectfully Your Obdt. svt, Wm. A. Cutler, Maj. & A.S.A.C.

——

Though his encounter with J.E. Totten apparently took place in Wilson County, and the Bureau made inquiries with the Wilson County clerk, it is not clear whether Howell Vines ever actually lived in the county. Joseph Totten, 29, is listed as a store clerk in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County, living in the household of Joseph Conte, 52, “g & gd march retl” [grocery and dry goods merchant retail].

Per muster records, Howell Vine (or Vines) enlisted in Company B, 14th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, on 21 March 1864 in Washington, North Carolina. He was described as 32 years of age; five feet nine inches tall; with black complexion, black eyes and wooly hair. He reported being born in Edgecombe County.

In the 1870 census of Sparta township, Edgecombe County: farmer Howell Vines, 36; wife Priscilla, 35; and children James and Jenny, 14, Lucy, 12, Sarah, 2, and  Charlie, 1.

In the 1880 census of Sparta township, Edgecombe County: farmer Howell Vines, 52; wife Cillar, 42; and children James and Jennie, 24, Lucy, 21, Sarah, 13, and Charlie, 10.

Lucilla Vines applied for a widow’s pension on 20 July 1891.

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Letters sent, vols. 1-2, February 1867-February 1868, http://www.familysearch.org; U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

These, and other things too tedious to mention.

In this peevish sworn statement, dated 29 January 1866, Jane C. Barnes airs grievances held over from slavery. A man named Redmond and his family have left her employ, carrying with them items she had “let him have,” presumably at the start of 1865, when slaveholders typically dispensed clothing. She also complained that Redmond had depleted stocks of food and drink she had “put in his charge.” (When and why? Had Jane Barnes and family fled the area during the Civil War?) Tellingly, Barnes griped that Redmond’s “family was an entire expense instead of being a profit” what with his sick children and a wife who had never given her all to the labors imposed upon her.

Jane Barnes’ outrage is not surprising. Her husband William had been one of Wilson County’s largest slaveholders, claiming 79 men, women and children just before the war. He estimated their value in the 1860 census as $89,000 — roughly $2.8 million in 2019 dollars. The Barneses’ sturdy plantation house still stands today.

I have not found evidence of the outcome of Jane C. Barnes’ complaint.

——

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To be sworn to that it has been given after May 1, 1866

I certify that Redmon had clothing last year to the amount of shirts and of winter pants before he left. I also let him have three gallons of molasses, twenty-five pounds of flour and some lard, also quinine and other medicines for his children. I also let him have one hundred dollars at one time to buy leather, and put in his charge twenty-six gallons of wine and returned only six gallons to me, about the same time I put in his charge fifty-three peices of bacon and when it was returned six peices were missing. His family was an entire expense instead of being a profit, for his three children had the hooping-cough from April up to the time they left, and his wife had to be in the house nearly all the time with them; I further say that his wife never done me a week’s washing in her life by herself. He has had many other things too tedious to mention.

January 29th 1866         Jane C. Barnes

Dear Captain, Above you will find a statement of Mr Wm S Barnes’ wife — I know the lady to be one of very high character & quite an estimable lady.  Yours very truly, J.J. Lutts

——

In the 1860 census of Saratoga township, Wilson County: farmer William Barnes, 48; wife Jane, 44; and others. [William Barnes was a brother of Joshua Barnes and Elias Barnes.]

In the 1860 slave schedule of Saratoga township, Wilson County, William Barnes claimed 79 enslaved people living in 12 dwellings on his property. He held an additional 26 in trust for minor heirs.

Reddin Barnes and Martha Barnes registered their seven-year cohabitation on 6 July 1866 in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farm laborer Redmond Barnes, 34; wife Martha, 29; children Adeline, 9, Mary, 3, and Laura, 1; and farm laborer Alfred Simms, 23. Next door: Toby Barnes, 56, and wife Hannah, 84, who registered their 15-year cohabitation in 1866 as well.

In the 1880 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Redmond Barnes, 45; wife Martha, 38; and children Adline, 19, Mary, 13, Laura, 11, Harriet, 9, James, 7, Margaret, 5, Joan, 4, Martha Ann, 2, and Ed, 1.

Roll 17, Miscellaneous Records, 1865-1867, Goldsboro Subassistant Commissioner’s Records, North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, National Archives and Records Administration images, www.familysearch.org

 

I never drove off any.

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Wilson N.C. Dec 22 1865.

Capt. G.O. Glavis, Capt.

I have received your communication by the hands of Mary. I of course do not know what kind of statement has been made to you; but I will make one myself. I have settled with all my employees to their satisfaction. As soon as it was announced that negroes were free I offered wages to those who could earn anything, and expressly told the others I could not give them wages, among these were Mary and Sukey. Mary had 3 children and she was not fit for steady hard work. She was worked as she saw fit. One of her children was sick one month during summer. I employed a physician to attend him, during all this time the mother did not go to work at all. I furnished their diet, houses and all their clothes until they left. The other Sukey has two children and an aged grandfather & mother the last two have not worked for a great many years, and this grand daughter spent a good deal of her time in attention upon them & her children.

I further state that I never drove off any. Who have gone did so of their own accord.

Respectfully &c., J.H. Adams

——

In the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson County, North Carolina, Jesse H. Adams is listed as the owner of 31 enslaved people living in six dwellings. In the population census, Adams is described as a farmer, but he was also proprietor of the newly opened Adams Hotel.

I am unable to identify Mary, Sukey or their families.

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 16, Unregistered Letters Received Aug 1865-Feb 1868, http://www.familysearch.org

Oust him.

Wilson, N.C., July 31st 1865

J.B. Woodard

Sir, you will oust or cause to leave Mr. L.D. Farmer’s premises one negro man by the name of Warren, also his wife. Should he refuse to leave and not return, bring him to me. Call in any person to your assistance.    W.J. Bullock, Capt. L.P.Y.

——

I have not been able to identify Warren or his wife or the reason Larry Dew Farmer wanted them off his property so soon after Emancipation.

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

Were they illegally bound?

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Bureau R.F.&A.L. Goldsboro May 18 /67

Edwards Marcellus J., Wilson N.C.

Sir

Complaint has been made at this office that the boy Freeman and the girls Amanda & Bethany now living with you were illegally bound to you You will please forward a statement of the case to this office on or before the 23rd inst and show cause if any exist why the indentures should not be cancelled.

I am Very Respectfully, Your Obedient Servt

A. Compton, Major 40th U.S.I., Sub Asst Com

——

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Marcellus Edwards, 42; his children Emma, 16, Sallie, 14, Mary, 13, William, 10, Julia, 9, Marcellus, 6, Joseph, 2, and James, 1; Virginia Edwards, 25; plus Freeman, 18, Amand, 16, and Bethena Edwards, 12, all farmer’s apprentices.

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Letters sent, vols. 1-2, February 1867-February 1868, http://www.familysearch.org.

Were the Fisher children regularly bound?

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Mr. Burnell, No. 11, Wilson, N.C.             Goldsboro N.C. March 8 1866

Sir,

You are requested to inform this office if you have in your employ two (col) boys, named Beverly & Henry Fisher, aged 12 & 14 years, formerly of Dinwiddie Va. Please state if these children are regularly bound to you, or if there exist any reason, why they should not be returned to the custody of their parents, who have made application to this Office for this return.     Very respectfully, Hannibal D. Norton

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 15, Letters sent, vols. 1-2, February 1867-February 1868, http://www.familysearch.org.

The mother does not wish him to have them.

A man named Abram sought the Freedman’s Bureau’s help in removing his children from John Bailey Batts’ indenture, and Batts wanted to set the record straight. With hubris typical of the times, Batts claimed to have raised the children (by virtue of having held them in slavery from their birth). Abram had once been married to an unnamed woman, but he had left her for Penny. Several children later, Abram left Penny, but was now claiming custody of their children. According to Batts, neither he nor Penny wanted the father to have them.

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Joyners N.C. Jany 12th 1866

Agent of Freedmen Goldsborough N.C.

Sir, I write to inform you of the condition of colored children born with and so far raised by me the man Abram that claims them had wife and she is still living but he left her and took up with Penny at my home she has several children by him but he has left her (Penny) but now claims her children the mother does not wish him to have them and those you bound to me I wish to retain. Penny can give her statement and I wish to hear from you please write to me and send by the woman Penny or by mail to Joyners Depot N.C. Your favorable consideration will much oblige

Yours verry truly, John B. Batts

——

In the 1860 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer John B. Batts, 32; wife Margaret, 23; children Mary A.F., 4, and Nancy H., 1; Eveline Morris, 21; and farm laborer Elba Lassiter, 16. [Lassiter was a free person of color who probably had been apprenticed to Batts.] Batts reported $1600 in real property and $7740 in personal property [which would mostly have been in the form of enslaved people.]

Batts is not listed in the 1870 census, though he likely remained in Wilson or Nash Counties. I have not been able to identify Abram or Penny.

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Rocky Mount (assistant superintendent), Roll 55, Letters Received Dec 1865-Aug 1868, http://www.familysearch.org

I have no men to send for them.

Though Wilson is a few miles closer to Rocky Mount, Wilson County was under the jurisdiction of the Goldsboro field office of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The people of northeastern Wilson County — the area around Elm City — were closely tied to southeastern Nash and southwestern Edgecombe Counties, and many families moved frequently across county lines for work and family.

In this letter, William Cox, the assistant superintendent at the Rocky Mount field office referred a matter to Goldsboro. In a nutshell: father and son Spencer and Churchwell Bullock signed a labor contract with James J. Taylor of Joyners Depot (now Elm City) in Wilson County. However, the Bullocks had left Taylor’s employ to work for E. Ferrell in “this county” (either Edgecombe or Nash County, Rocky Mount straddles the county line and Joyners Depot was close to both). Cox had no staff to spare to go out and round up the Bullocks and, in any case, because Taylor’s farm was in Wilson County and the contract therefore was approved by the Goldsboro F.O., the problem was not his.

Freedmen’s Bureau, Rocky Mount April 25th, 1866.

Captain Geo. O Glavis, U.S.A., Asst. Supt. Bureau of R.F. and A.L., Goldsboro, N.C.

Captain:

I have the honor to request that two freedmen, Spencer Bullock, and Church Bullock, his son, who have entered into a written contract with Mr. Jas. J. Taylor of Wilson County, and who have left him, The contract is approved by You, The freedmen are now living in this County, on the plantation of E. Ferrell Near Joiners Depot in this County, I have no men to send for them, and as the contract was drawn up in Your County, and as Mr. Taylor lives in Wilson County, I have referred the case to you,

I am, Captain,

Very respectfully, William F. Cox, 2d Lieut. and Asst. Supt.

P.S. I suppose the reason why Mr. Taylor did not go to you is that freedmen are in this county. W.F. Cox

——

In the 1870 census of Tarboro township, Wilson County: farm laborer Spencer Bullock, 56; wife Mathilda, 53; and children Georgewell [Churchwell], 17, Emeline, 9, Leda, 8, and Louisia, 3.

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Rocky Mount (assistant superintendent), Roll 55, Letters Received Dec 1865-Aug 1868, http://www.familysearch.org