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 bound to Fred Hollomon in 1843.
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.