cohabitation registration

Cohabitation register, part 1.

In March 1866, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an act establishing a means for formerly enslaved people to ratify their marriages.  Such persons were to appear before justices of the peace, who would collect certain details of their cohabitation during slavery and record them in the County Clerk’s office. Freedmen faced misdemeanor charges if they failed to record their marriage by September, 1866, a deadline later extended to January 1, 1868.

Wilson County’s original cohabitation register is said to be held in the Register of Deeds office, but I have not found it there. Brooke Bissette, Director of Exhibits at Wilson’s Imagination Station, recently found that East Carolina University’s Joyner Library has a copy of the cohabitation register on microfilm and is creating a print volume to be shelved in the Local History and Genealogy Room at Wilson County Public Library’s main branch.

I present the register in series, with transcription:


Cohabitations, pt. 1.

In March 1866, in order to ratify marriages and legitimate children, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act directing Justices of the Peace to collect and record in the County Clerk’s office the cohabitations of former slaves. Freedmen who did not record their marriages by September, 1866, faced misdemeanor charges.

Here is the first in a series of abstracts of Wilson County’s cohabitation records. Where found, information from the first two post-Emancipation censuses is included.

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Cohabitation Records, Wilson County Marriage Records, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County Courthouse, Wilson.

The Hinnant sisters give all.

in the name of God Amin

I, Mary Hinnant of the County of Wilson and State of North carolina being of Sound mind and memory but considering the unscertainty of my earthly existence do make and declare this my last will and testament in manor and form following that is to say

that my exutor (hereinafter named) shall provide for my Boddy a decent burial sutable to the wishes of my Relations and friends and pay all funeral expenses together with my Just debts howsoever and to whom ever owing out of the moneys that may first come into his hands as a part or parcel of my estate

Item – I lend to my sister Martha Hinnant sixty two Acres of land the plantation whereon I now liv during the turm of her natural lif also I lend her five negro slaves namly Samuel Martha Hilinda Gray & Charita also one gray Mair also all my house & property of every description during her natural life.

Item. I giv to my Sister Rhoda Atkinson sixty two Acres of land which I heretofore lent to my sister Martha to her and to her Heirs forever

Item – I giv to my Neffew James T. Atkinson one negro man Sam to him and to his Heirs forever

I giv to my neffew Alvin H. Atkinson my bed and furniture to him and to his Heirs forever

I giv to my Brother Hardy Hinnant Children fifty Dollars in money each namly William Ransom & Aby to them and there Heirs forever

I giv to my nease Polly Atkinson one pine Chest to her and to her heirs for ever

and further it is my will and desire that after my death that the ballance of my property not heretofore given away be sold and after all my Just debts is paid that the money arising from said Sale be equally divided between Rhoda Atkinson Jessey Hinnant James Hinnant & Alvin H. Atkinson to them and to their Heirs for ever

and lastly – I do hereby constitute and appoint my trusty Friends Alvin H. Atkinson and James Hinnant my lawful executors to all intents and purposes to execute this my last will and testament according to the true intent and meaning of the same and every part and Cluse thereof hereby Revoking and declareing uterly void all other wills and testaments by me heretofore made in witness whereof I the said Mary Hinnant do here unto set my hand and seal this the twenty Second day of February A.D. one thousand eight hundred and fifty five     Mary (X) Hinnant

Signed sealed published and declared by the said Mary Hinnant to be her last will and testament in the presence of us   Willie Deans Hardy H. Williamson


Inventory of Mary Hinnant’s “personable” property.


State of North Carolina, Wilson County

In the name of God amen I Martha Hinnant being weak in body but in perfect health & memory & calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowing it is appointed for all persons once to die do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner as follows

In the first place I give my body to be buried in a decent and christian like manner and my soul I commend to God that gave it

Item 1st After my death I give and bequeath to my beloved brother Jesse Hinnant one stear and cart one [illegible] Ten head of hogs Twelve Barrels of corn and two blade stacks of the crop now on hand and the first part of wheat now on hand also one hundred and fifty Dollars in money to him and his heirs forever

Item 2nd After my death I give and bequeath to nephew Jas. H. Hinnant one negro boy by the name of Amos also one Bed Bedstead & furniture and fifty Dollars in money to him & his heirs forever

Item 3rd After my death I give and Bequeath to my nephew James T. Atkinson one bed & furniture to him and his heirs forever

Item 4th The ballance of my property after my death consisting of three negroes namely Hardy Henry & Allen also my stock of all descriptions and my crop and every thing that is not given away in legacies I leave to be sold and the money arising from the sale of my property with my notes and accounts I leave to be equally divided after having my just debts and legacies between my beloved sisters Rhoda Atkinson and her six children viz, Alvin H., Martha, Patience, Polly, James T. & Mourning

I constitute and appoint my beloved nephew and worthy friend James T. Atkinson Executor to this my last will and testament

In witness whereof I hereunto to set my hand and affix my seal this 10th June 1858   Martha (X) Hinnant {seal}

Assigned sealed and acknowledged in the presence of us Jesse Fulghum, Riley Rentfrow


In fact, Martha Hinnant sold Allen to her brother Jesse Hinnant in 1861 for $800. He was 13 years old.

Hinnant BOS_Page_1

Amos, the only enslaved man not to be sold per Martha Hinnant’s will, is likely the man who is listed in the 1870 census of Spring Hill township, Wilson County: black farm laborer Amos Hinnant, 30; wife Linday, 25; and sons Haywood, 9, and Burruss, 3. (The last three are described as white, which was almost certainly an error.) Amos Hinnant, son of Thomas and Charity Hinnant, had married Malenda Barnes, parents unknown, on 5 March 1968 in Wilson County. (Amos’ mother Charity may have been the woman referred to in Mary Hinnant’s will. On 14 July 1866, Charity Hinnant and Allen Williamson registered a cohabitation that had begun only the previous Christmas. Was this the same Charity? She does not appear in later records.) In the 1880 census of Spring Hill township, servant Haywood Hinnant, 16, lived in the household of Bryant R. Hinnant next door to his parents Amos, 45, and Lendy Hinnant, 34. In 1897, Malinda Hinnant filed for a Civil War widow’s pension on the basis of her husband’s service in Company K, 14th United States Colored Heavy Artillery.

North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line],; Records of Slaves and Free People of Color, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.