A burial ground for the enslaved?

Per unsourced notes, a slave cemetery lies adjacent to the Boykin-Lamm-Wells cemetery in Oldfields township. On an overcast November morning, I went to see what I could see. I am aware of only one verified slave cemetery in Wilson County, though there must have been many dozens. I was skeptical of this one, but also hopeful.

The cemetery, set a hundred yards or so behind a house under construction, contains 44 graves. Twenty-nine are marked with readable headstones, the earliest of which dates to 1892. Thus, there is no visible evidence that the cemetery dates to the antebellum period.

Of the remaining, several are marked with dressed fieldstone markers, such as those seen below. These graves are intermingled with those of Boykin-Lamm-Wells family members, an unlikely arrangement for the graves of enslaved people.

Stephen D. Boykin (1832-1910) was patriarch of the intermarried families buried here. He does not appear to have been a slaveowner, but his father, also named Stephen Boykin (1797-1864), was. In the 1850 federal slave schedule, the elder Boykin reported owning five enslaved people, ranging from a one month-old boy to a 35 year-old woman, and in 1860 reported 11 enslaved people, ranging from an eight-month-old girl to a 55 year-old man. If Boykin the elder is buried here, his grave is either unmarked or is marked by one of the fieldstones. If enslaved people are buried here, their graves are likely in the woods that border the cemetery on two sides.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, November 2022.

The sale of Sampson at auction.

When Wilson Simpson died in 1854, ownership of an enslaved man named Sampson passed to his heirs as tenants in common. In other words, each owned an equal share of his value. Led by Lovett Atkinson, administrator of the estate of Amanda Simpson (who died after Wilson Simpson), the heirs sought to divide their interests in a petition filed in October Term, 1857, of Wilson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions.

Clerk of court T.C. Davis issued an order “to sell said slave to the highest bidder at public auction” and appointed Hardy H. Williamson to carry out the task.

A few months later, Williamson reported that W.W. Barnes had bought “Boy Sampson” for $605.00.

Estate of Amanda Simpson (1857), Wilson County, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979,

The Spell family portrait.

Photographs of formerly enslaved people are relatively rare, and I am grateful to Roy S. Spell Jr. for sharing one that his family has cherished for well over a century. His grandfather Johnnie Spell, born about 1903, is at bottom left, leaning against his grandmother Chaney Spell, who was born into slavery about 1845. Other Spell family members surround them.

We met Chaney Spell here in the interview she gave a Works Project Administration worker in the late 1930s. (Annie Finch Artis can be heard giving voice to Chaney Spell’s words in an exhibit first staged at Wilson’s Imagination Station and now permanently housed at Freeman Round House Museum.) 


In the 1900 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widowed farmer Chaney Spells, 55, sons James S., 19, Gray, 17, Walter, 16, and Charley, 13, grandchildren Unity, 14, Fannie, 10, Irvin, 7, and Chaney Farmer, 2, and boarder Harriet Killibrew, 45.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: widow Chanie Spell, 65, farmer; son Walter, 21; and grandchildren Yearnie, 20, Chanie, 13, Thomas, 5, and Louise, 3.

The Peacock house.

An unidentified African-American woman stands with three white adults while holding a white child. Behind them, the house built in Stantonsburg about 1860 by James B. Peacock and later owned by Jonathan Applewhite, John L. Yelverton, and Yelverton’s descendants. The photo is undated, but was taken before 1914, when an enormous portico was added to the front of the house.

Though this photo was taken well after slavery, enslaved people lived and worked in this house. Peacock reported four enslaved people in the 1860 federal slave schedule — an 18 year-old woman and three girls aged 10, 3, and 1. His mother, Sarah Peacock, who lived with him, reported another eight enslaved people — men and boys aged 60, 52, 23, 4, and 2, and women and girls aged 50, 19, and one month. Per the population schedule, the Peacock household also included free people of color, Eliza Hall, 45, and her children William, 15, Patrick, 14, Margaret, 13, Lou, 12, and Balum, 11, whose father was James B. Woodard. 

Photo courtesy of Stantonsburg Historical Society’s A History of Stantonsburg Circa 1780 to 1980 (1981).

The estate of Stephen Boykin.

In January 1865, a court-appointed committee of neighbors divided “negro slaves and stock among and between” the heirs of Stephen Boykin, who died in 1864. (Various sums of money changed hands among the heirs to even the value of their inheritances.)

Boykin’s widow Sallie Davis Boykin received “Anthony valued at $400.”

Sallie Mercer received Nancy and Rose, valued at $500.

Kizziah Pope received Henry, $800.

Willie Coleman and wife Smithy received Chaney, $700.

John Barnes and wife Nicey received Thom, $700.

Willis Hanes and wife Cally received Jason, $500.

Mules and cattle were distributed next.

Four months later, these men, women, and children were freed.


In the 1870 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farm laborer Henry Boykin, 24; Nancy, 55; Jason, 15; and Rosetta, 12. [This appears to be a nuclear family — a mother, or perhaps grandmother, with her offspring. If so, the distribution of Stephen Boykin’s estate had briefly divided them among three households.] Next door: Allen Powell, 32, dipping turpentine; wife Charity, 22 [Chaney Boykin]; and children Robert, 4, and Cena, 2.

Also in the 1870 census of Oldfields: Anthony Boykin, 60, blacksmith.

And: Thomas Boykin, 27, farm laborer; wife Thana, 34; and daughter William Harriet, 6 months.

Stephen Boykin Estate File (1865), Wilson County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line],

Recommended reading, no. 3: the Second Middle Passage.

You cannot understand the men and women who emerged from slavery to appear in the 1870 census of Wilson County without understanding who was not there — the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children sold South in America’s domestic slave trade, known as the Second Middle Passage. 

I have no ancestors from Alabama or Mississippi or Louisiana or Texas, but my DNA matches scores of African-Americans who do. They are descended from the close kin of my North Carolina and Virginia ancestors, and the bits of identical chromosome we share is the only evidence of the crime that befell our common forebears.

To understand the depth and breadth of this trade, please study Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

To glimpse how this trade unfolded among our own Wilson County people, see:

To see how buying and selling men, women, and children even locally devastated families:

Remembering Mariah Clark.

When the Daily Times covered Sallie Clark Harrison’s 80th birthday, among other reminiscences it included this snippet:

“Eighty Years Old Today,” Wilson Daily Times, 17 August 1935. 

Records of ownership and sales of enslaved people are relatively rare for Wilson County, and Harrison’s recollection supplies uncommon detail. John Cherry “brought in” (perhaps to the office in which Harrison’s father Edwin Clark worked as postmaster) a 17 year-old girl. Clark paid Cherry $1200 for her and named her Mariah — what had her name been? — an extraordinary sum for that time (likely toward the end of the Civil War) and place.

The 1870 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County, shows 20 year-old Mariah Clark, described as mulatto, living in the Clark household as a domestic servant. Despite Sallie Harrison’s claims of selfless devotion, Mariah Clark is not listed in any further census records with the Clarks or Harrisons, and I have not been able to identify her otherwise.


Israel Hardy, Co. C, 14th United States Colored Heavy Artillery.

Israel Hardy enrolled in Company C, 14th United Stated Colored Heavy Artillery, on 18 May 1864 in New Bern, North Carolina. He reported that he was born in Wilson County, N.C., about 1842 and worked as a laborer. After less than five months of service, Hardy contracted yellow fever, but recovered and returned to duty in November 1864. He was discharged in December 1865.

Israel Hardy returned to New Bern after the war. Within a few years, he moved east into Pamlico County, where he remained the rest of his life.

United States Freedmen’s Bureau records show that Israel Hardy received a $200 bounty for his military service in February 1868.

In the 1870 census of Township #4, Craven County, North Carolina: farm laborer Israel Hardy, 27; wife Mahala, 23; children William, 2, and Henry, 5; and Edward Hardy, 18, farm laborer. Israel Hardy reported that he owned $300 worth of real property and $160 in personal property.

In the 1880 census of Township #2, Pamlico County, North Carolina: farmer Iserel Hardy, 40; wife Mabelle, 29; children Henry, 16, Mabelle, 8, Josie, 10, Susan, 6, Caroline, 3, and Jessy, 2; and boarders Annie, 24, and Henrietta, 10.

On 24 April 1889, Henry Hardy, 24, married Sidney Oden, 21, in Pamlico County.

On 11 August 1892, Samuel Roberts, 21, of #3 Township, Pamlico County, son of John and Tempy Roberts, married Caroline Hardy, 18, of Vandemere, daughter of Israel and Mahala Hardy, at Mahala Hardy’s residence in Pamlico County.

On 29 August 1892, Henry Jones, 24, of Vandemere, son of Simbo Jones and Margaret Washington, married Susan Hardy, 18, of Vandemere, daughter of Isreal and Mahala Hardy.

On 17 October 1894, Edward McCotter, 33, of Pamlico County, son of Barney and Joana McCotter, married Sarah F. Hardy, 22, of Vandemere, daughter of Isral and Mahala Hardy, in Pamlico County.

On 19 March 1898, Israel Hardy, 50, of Pamlico County, son of Peter and Venis Beckton, married Zenia Gibson [or Gibbs], 29, of Pamlico County, daughter of Adam and Rachel Gibson [or Gibbs].

Jessie Hardy died 27 December 1946 in New Bern, Craven County. Per his death certificate, he was born 10 February 1885 in Vandemere, Pamlico County, to Israel Hardy and Mahaliah Hardy, both of Hyde County, N.C.; was married; resided in Vandemere; and worked as a “fishman.” He was buried in Marabelle [Maribel] Cemetery, Pamlico County.

Carrie Roberts died 5 October 1948 in Collier, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 13 September 1873 in Bay River, N.C., to Israel Hardy and Mahalia (last name unknown); was the widow of Samuel Roberts; and resided at 4533 Webster Avenue, Pittsburgh.

File #1,071,351, Application of Israel Hardy for Invalid’s Pension, National Archives and Records Administration.

Lewis Bass, Co. C, 14th United States Colored Heavy Artillery.

“Birthplace, Wilson, N.C.; age, 66 years; height 5 ft. 11 in; weight 175 pounds; complexion, dark; color of eyes, Black; color of hair, Black; occupation, farmer.”

Relationships forged during slavery complicated the pension claims of Lewis Bass and his widow Frances Hassell Wiggins Bass.

Lewis Bass was born enslaved in Wilson County around 1835. Prior to the Civil War, he married a woman (who is not named in his pension file) and had a daughter named Benzona (whom I have not been able to identify in records). Bass never returned to Wilson County after the war, settling instead in Pamlico County, North Carolina. As Frances Bass told it in her pension application: “Lewis Bass told me that he had a woman in slave days. He did not tell me her name but told me he had a child by her; said his child’s name was Benzona. Lewis Bass said he never saw his slave wife after he left for the army as he never went back to that locality; said as soon as he was discharged he came right down here ….”

About 1866, Lewis Bass married Martin County, N.C., native Frances Hassel Wiggins, who had been married to Isaac Wiggins during slavery. Like Bass, Wiggins enlisted in the United States Colored Troops — Company F, 1st U.S.C.T., in his case — and never returned home. (“We were married so long before the war that we had a son who was large enough to go in the army. His name was Daniel Wiggins and he was a flag bearer in his father’s company so I heard. I have never laid eyes on either my husband or son since they left me to join the army.”) Frances assumed he was dead and went on with her life. She initially applied for Wiggins’ widow’s pension and swore — per lawyers’ advice, she said — that she had never remarried. applied for Bass’ widow’s pension, however, the question had to be settled — was she Bass’ widow or Wiggins’?

File #728893, Application of Lewis Bass for Pension, File #766477, Application of Frances Wiggins for Widow’s Pension, National Archives and Records Administration.

The death of Blount Baker, supercentenarian.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 March 1941.


In the late 1930s, Blount Baker sat for an interview with a W.P.A. worker in which he spoke of his life in slavery. Baker was one of the last people in Wilson County who had been enslaved.

In the 1940 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Lee Woodard, 31; wife Mamie, 32; children Ella M., 10, David L., 7, James T., 5, Doris, 3, and Robert N., 1 month; mother Ella, 68, widow; Ester Barnes, 40, widow; uncle Blunt Baker, 109, widower; and nephew James R. Farmer, 21.

Blunt Baker died 3 March 1941 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 107 years old; was born in Wilson County to Anyka Baker; was a widower; was a retired farmer; resided near Lucama; and was buried in Eatmon cemetery, Wilson County. Informant was Dock Eatmon, Sims.