On 4 February 1871, a Wilson County probate judge indentured William “Bill” Artis, age 5 years, six months, and his brother Joshua Artis, age 4 years, one month, to Jacob H. Barnes. The boys were to serve Barnes until age 21 and learn farming skills.
In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: George Barnes, 22, farm laborer; Temperance Barnes, 19; Joseph Barnes, 12, laborer’s apprentice; Nancy Artis, 36, farm laborer; William, 7, and Joshua Artis, 3; George Barnes, 20, works on railroad; Robert Barnes, 18, farm laborer; and Isaac Taylor, 19, works on farm.
In the 1880 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County, the Artises were still in Barnes’ household, described as “apprentices to farmer.”
United States Indenture and Manumission Records, 1780-1939, database at https://familysearch.org.
On 25 October 1895, a Wilson County Superior Court clerk issued an indenture binding Cindary Taylor, age 10 years and 8 days, described as an orphan, to serve Jackson Hayes until she was 21 years of age.
A year later, however, the same clerk rescinded the indenture after Jackson Hayes came into court asking to be released. His wife had died, leaving him with “seven children of his own” that were apparently all he could handle.
United States Indenture and Manumission Records, 1780-1939, database at https://familysearch.org.
On 4 December 1869, a Wilson County Probate Court judge ordered 15 year-old Joseph Hagans, described as an orphan, to serve James S. Barnes until he was 21 years of age. Joseph’s siblings Penny, 13, Edwin, 11, George, and Sarah Hagans, 6, were placed under Barnes’ control the same day.
The Haganses were the children of Robert and Sarah Hagans. In the 1860 census of Fields district, Greene County: day laborer Robert Hagans, 31; wife Sarah, 30; and children Mary, 12, Joseph, 8, Penelope, 5, and Edwin, 1. Robert and Sarah Hagans apparently died between 1864 and 1869.
In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: siblings Joseph, 15, Penelope, 12, Edwin, 11, Sarah, 8, and George Hagans, 6, all described as “farmer’s apprentices.” Their household is listed next to James R. Barnes, a wealthy farmer who reported owning $18,000 in real property. (This is a different James Barnes from the one who apprenticed the Hagans children. James S. Barnes died in 1871. With the exception of Penny — see link above — I have not found the Hagans siblings after 1870.)
United States, Indenture and Manumission Records, 1780-1939, database at https://familysearch.org.
No. 55 Bureau of Ref. Freedman & Abd. Lands, Office Asst. Supt. Goldsboro, N.C. March 27 1867
Mr. Organ, Stantonsburg N.C.
Complaint has been made, that you keep Betsey Homes, aged 15 years & daughter of Julia Homes, without the consent of said Julia & after you promised the mother to bring the girl to Petersburg, Va. — You will please report to this office without delay, if Betsey is bound to you by any offices of the Bureau or if any other objection exists, why the girl should not be returned to her mother.
Very Respectfully, Your obd servant,
Hannibal D. Norton, [illegible], Asst. Supt. Bur. of R.F.& A. Lds.
“Mr. Organ” was almost surely John Organ, 38, the Virginia-born bookkeeper who appears with wife Anna and children in the 1870 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County. Only the youngest child, four-month-old Ellen, had been born in North Carolina, indicating that the Organs were recent transplants to Wilson County — apparently having dragged Betsey Holmes with them. Incredibly, her mother Julia had managed to track her across state lines and demand that the Freedmen’s Bureau intervene to secure her return to her family.
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.
Don’t let anyone tell you that slavery destroyed the black family. African-Americans struggled against terrible odds to unite sundered families, often standing up to authority in the process.
In June 1866, George W. Blount wrote a letter to the Freedmen’s Bureau on behalf of Josiah D. Jenkins of Edgecombe County. Just months after being forced to free them, Jenkins had indentured eight siblings whose mother had died. Within six months, the children’s family had come for them, and the five oldest had left for more agreeable situations. Sallie, 14, Sookie, 12, and Isabella, 10, were in Wilson County with their elder sister and her husband Willie Bullock. Arden, 16, was working for what appears to be a commercial partnership in Tarboro, and Bethania, 14, was with her and Arden’s father Jonas Jenkins (paternity that Blount pooh-poohed.) Jonas Jenkins had sought custody of his children before their indenture, but his claims had been trumped by a “suitable” white man who “ought” to have them because he had “raised them from infancy” [i.e., held them in slavery since birth] and their mother “died in his own house.”
Wilson No.Ca. June 29 1866
Col. Brady Col.
Mr. Jo. D. Jenkins of Edgecombe County has been here expecting to see you; but as he did not find you here he requested me to write to you and state his case, asking you to furnish him the remedy if any he is entitled to, and such he believes he has. In Dec 1865, Capt Richards Asst Sup F.B. for the dist of Tarboro, Apprenticed to him Eight (8) Orphan Colored children. The indentures he has, five, and the only ones large enough to render any service have been enticed away from him, leaving him with three who are hardly able to care for the own wants every thing furnished. Three of them are in the custody of Willie Bullock F.M. [freedman] whose wife is the older sister of the three. The others – Arden is in the employment of Messrs. Haskell & Knap near Tarboro. Bethania is in the custody of Jonas Jenkins F.M., who claims to be the father of both of her & Arden. The three first mentioned are in Wilson County the others in Edgecombe.
Mr. Jenkins desires me to say to you that if he cannot be secured in the possession of them he desires the indentures cancelled; for according to law he would be liable for Doctors bills – and to take care of them in case of an accident rendering them unable to take care of themselves.
This man Jonas set up claim to Arden and Bethania before they were apprenticed. The matter was referred to Col Whittlesey who decided that as they were bastard children he Jonas could not intervene preventing apprenticeship to a suitable person.
Mr. J is a suitable man to have charge of them and ought to have their services now. He raised them from infancy, and after the mother died in his own house
I am Col, Very Respectfully &c, G.W. Blount
An early reply desired.
A note from the file listing the Jenkins children to which Josiah D. Jenkins laid claim.
Entry for Josiah D. Jenkins in the 1850 slave schedule of Edgecombe County. By 1860, Jenkins claimed ownership of 36 people, evenly divided between men and women.
G.W. Blount — A year later, George W. Blount was embroiled in his own battle for control over formerly enslaved children. He lost.
Jo. D. Jenkins — Joseph [Josiah] D. Jenkins appears in the 1870 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County, as a 59 year-old farmer who reported $25,000 in real property and $15,000 in personal property — remarkable wealth so soon after the Civil War. John Jenkins, 10, domestic servant, is the only black child living in his household and presumably of the one of the children at issue here.
Bethania Jenkins — on 7 April 1874, Turner Bullock, 23, married Bethany Jenkins, 21, in Edgecombe County.
Isabella Jenkins — Isabella Jenkins, 22, married Franklin Stancil, 30, on 16 April 1878 at Jackson Jenkins’ in Edgecombe County. Isabelle Stancill died 19 November 1927 in Township No. 2, Edgecombe County,. Per her death certificate, she was about 80 years old; was born in Edgecombe County; was the widow of Frank Stancill; and was buried in Jenkins cemetery. Elliott Stancill was informant,
Jonas Jenkins — in the 1870 census of Cokey township, Edgecombe County, Jonas Jenkins, 45, farm laborer. No children are listed in the household he shared with white farmer John E. Baker.
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
In the Probate Court Before A. Barnes, Probate Judge, May 8th, A.D. 1871.
George Morris an apprentice by indenture to Thomas White, colored, complaining says:
1st That he was bound by articles of indenture to Thomas White, colored, on the ___ day of _____ 18 ___ by
2nd That the said Thomas White has treated with great cruelty, inflicting upon him severe whippings for trifling faults, especially on the evening of Friday May 5th A.D. 1871 , when he was beaten by the said Thomas White in a most cruel and inhumane manner
Wherefore petitioner humbly asks your Honor that you will by order command the said Thomas White to appear before you at some early day to be named by your Honor to show cause why the articles of indenture above specified should not be cancelled.
George Morris, by Kenan & Durham, his Attorneys
George Morris — in the 1870 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County, George Morriss, 10, is listed in the household of his mother Eliza Morriss. The family is described as white. [Eliza Morris was the widow of Warren Morris, with whom she appears in the 1850 Johnston County census.] The absence of a color designation behind Morris’ name in this petition can be interpreted as as an indication that he was white, which accords with this census entry.
Thomas White — in the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Thomas White, 56; wife Charlotte, 56; and Lucy, 14, Reuben, 15, George, 10, and Lucy White, 3. [The apprenticeship of white children by African-American masters was exceedingly rare, and White was surely taking his life in his hands abusing one.]
Kenan & Durham — Col. Thomas S. Kenan (1838-1911) settled in Wilson in 1869 and opened a law practice that flourished and lead to a long and influential legal career.
Apprentice Records-1871, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.
In August 1867, John J. Pender complained to the Freedmen’s Bureau that Toney Robbins was harassing him about Pender’s apprenticeship of three children who Robbins claimed were his grandchildren. Pender asserted that Robbins had no children, much less grandchildren. The Bureau apparently sided with Pender, as the children were with him in 1870 when the census taker passed through.
Here is one of Robbins’ letters pleading for the Bureau to intercede on his behalf.
Joyners Depot Wilison Co NC August 5th 1867
I ha [written] 2 or 3 letter to Maj Crompto a Bout 3 of my grand Children nor [illegible] Eny Anser then wrote to General Every at Raleigh he said go to the Freedmen Bureau at Rockey Mount in Edgecone County the children is in Wilison County he told me to write to you it was out of his Power as it was in Wilison County
Thy or not Bound By law, So Plese Send me a Paper So as I can get them thy ar living With John J. Pender of Wilison Co
I wait an Anser [illegible] with Respets Tony Robins
North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (assistant subassistant commissioner), Roll 17, Letters received, Jul-Sep 1867, http://www.familysearch.org
Under laws authorizing the involuntary apprenticeship of poor orphans and the children of unmarried parents, county courts in antebellum North Carolina removed thousands of children from the homes to be bound to serve their neighbors. Hundreds of indentures dot the pages of Wayne County court minute books, and free children of color were disproportionately pulled into the system. Apprenticeship created an inexpensive, long-term and tractable labor supply for white yeoman farmers, many of whom could not (or could not yet) afford to purchase enslaved people.
Wayne County lost its northern tip to the newly created Wilson County in 1855. By pinpointing the locations of the farms of the men (and rare women) to whom they were indentured, we are able to identify the following free children of color as residents of the area that would become Wilson County’s Black Creek township and parts of Crossroads township.
William Ayers, 13, was (re-)bound to Enos Rose in 1843.
In the 1860 census of Black Creek district, Wilson County: William Ayres, 30, farm laborer, in the household of Stephen Privett, farmer. In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer William Ayers, 46.
Betsey Morris, 9, was bound to Thomas Horn in 1842.
In the 1850 census of North Side of Neuse, Wayne County: Elizabeth Morris, 17, is listed in the household of Thomas Horn, farmer.
In the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Martha Morris, 60; probable daughter Elizabeth, 25, and granddaughter Martha, 2. Next door, in the household of farmer John Saunders: Zillah Morris, 4, likely a second-generation apprentice. (Martha was white; Elizabeth and her daughters, mulatto.)
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: domestic servant Elizabeth Morris, 33, and children Zilla A., 17, Martha, 13, Henry, 7, and Elizabeth, 1; all mulatto.
Possibly, in the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer William Morris, 47; wife Martha, 42; children Mattie, 16, Buddie, 6, and Frank, 1; and mother Elizab. Morris, 70; all white. (Elizabeth Morris and Martha Morris are approximately the right age to be Elizabeth and daughter above, but death certificates show Martha Morris’ maiden name to be Peele.)
Apprentice Records, Wayne County Records, North Carolina State Archives; federal censuses.
In 1877, Abram Farmer petitioned Probate Court to apprentice his grandson to him, charging that the boy was being neglected by his stepfather:
Before H.C. Moss, Judge of Probate for Wilson County
The Petition of Abraham Farmer of Wilson County North Carolina, respectfully shows with your Honor that his grandson, Gray Pender a boy of color, aged about Sixteen years, is an orphan, his father Richmond Pender having died about six years ago, and his mother, Sarah Pender died about two years ago. That the said orphan has been living with this step father, Stephen Battle since the death of his mother, & by him hired out for wages, & has received less care & attention than his tender years demanded &c &c
Your petitioner respectfully makes application before your Honorable Court that the said orphan may be summoned to appear before the [illegible] & show cause why he may not be apprenticed to him or to some other good master who will educate & provide for said orphan as the law directs
Jan’y 22nd 1877 J.S. Woodard Atty for Petitioner
The said orphan is now at the house of your petitioner on the premises of Isaac B. Farmer.
In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Rich’d Pender, 28, farm laborer; wife Sarah, 25; and sons Gray, 9, and George, 1.
On 7 June 1871, at Anthony Barnes’, Stephen Battle, son of Hundy and Lucinda Battle, married Sarah Pender.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, farmer Abram Farmer, 63; wife Rhoda, 45; step-children Charlotte, 16, Kenneth, 15, Fannie, 11, and Martha, 10; and grandchildren Gray Pender, 17, Gray Farmer, 19; and Thad, 13, and John Armstrong, 10.
In the 1910 census to Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Gray Pender, 47; wife Lillie, 35; and Eliza, 18 months, and Aniky, 4 months.
In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Grey Pender, 58; wife Lily, 44; and children Elijah, 11, Annie, 10, Herman, 8, Rosetta, 9, Furney, 6, Dennis, 4, and Victoria, 2.
Grey Pender died 22 August 1928 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 67 years old; was born in Wilson County to Richmond and Sarah Pender; was married to Lillie Pender; and was a tenant farmer for Mrs. Mattie Williams.
Apprentice Records 1877, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.