free people of color

Studio shots, no. 197: Sylvania Simmons Sutton.

Sylvania Simmons Sutton (1853-1916).

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In the 1860 census of Indian Springs district, Wayne County: cooper George Simmons, 40; wife Axey J., 38; and children Riley B., 19, Simon, 15, Susan A., 17, Zach, 10, Silvania, 9, Bryant, 7, H.B., 5, and Gen. Washington, 2.

In the 1870 census of Brogden township, Wayne County: farmer Geo. Simmons, 52; wife Annie, 47; and children George, 24, shoemaking shoes, Zachariah, 22, Silavant, 20, Bryant C., 18, Hillary B., 16, and Washington, 12.

On 23 December 1875, Calvin Sutton, 21, married Sylvania Simmons, 22, in Wayne County.

In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Calvin Sutton, 25; wife Silvania, 26; children Hattie, 3, and twins Joel B. and Josephin, 1; mother Dolly, 55; brothers Dallow, 18, and Henry, 16; and sister Mary, 12.

In the 1900 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Calvin Sutton, 45; wife Silvania, 49; and children George, 18, Walter, 16, Mary, 13, and Roscoe, 10.

In the 1910 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: on Upper Black Creek Road, farmer Calvin Sutton, 54; wife Sylvania, 58; daughter Hattie Taylor, 33; and grandchildren Olivia, 9, Viola, 7, Lillie M., 5, Georgiana, 4, and Mittie, 2; plus adopted grandson Frank McNeal, 16.

Sylvania Sutton died 4 August 1916 in Springhill township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was about 65 years old; was married; her father was George Simmons; and she was buried in Watson graveyard.

Detail of portrait, courtesy of Ancestry user cjjsinc.

Rachel Lassiter provides for her daughter.

Deed Book 1, page 657. Wilson County Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

This Indenture made this the 27th day of decr 1860 one thousand eight hundred & sixty between Rachel Lassiter of the county of Wilson & State of North Carolina of the first part & Matthew Lassiter of the county & state aforesaid of second part witnessed: That the said party of the first part for & in consideration of the sum of ten Dollars to her in hand paid by the said Matthew Lassiter for the [illegible] & [illegible] the trust, hereinafter mentioned at & before the sealing & delivery hereof the receipt whereof he does hereby acknowledge have given, granted, bargained & sold & by these presents doth grant, bargain sell & convey unto the said Matthew Lassiter his heirs & assigns forever all my personal property including her whole estate say 3 head of Cattle one bed & furniture household & Kitchen furniture & about eighty dollars in bonds or notes to have & to hold unto the said Matthew Lassiter his heirs & assigns & for the following & none other that is to say for the sole & separate use of my child Zelphia Lassiter & any other heirs I may hereafter have & the issues & profits thereof shall be for their use & benefit. In testimony whereof I hereunto set my hand & seal this 27th day of Dcr 1860    Rachel X Lassiter  Matthew X Lassiter

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In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County: Hardy Laster, 73, wife Beady, 54, and children Mathew, 26, Silas, 26, Green, 25, Hardy, 21, and Rachel, 20; all described as mulatto. Hardy reported owning $650 of real property.

In the 1860 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Green Lassiter, 36; [his wife] Mary, 24; [and his siblings] Matthew, 37; and Rachel Lassiter, 30. [Where was Zilpha?]

On 29 December 1860, Rachael Lassiter married Daniell [actually, David] Read in Wilson County.

This marriage surely precipitated the transfer of Rachel Lassiter’s assets to her brother Matthew Lassiter three days prior. David Reid was a widower with children. When Rachel Lassiter married, her personal property would in effect become her husband’s property. In order to preserve her assets for her own daughter’s benefit, Rachel Lassiter sold everything she had to Matthew Lassiter in trust for Zelphia Lassiter. 

In the 1870 census of Otter Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: farm laborer David Reid, 58; wife Rachel, 40; and children Gustin E., 18, Nancy A., 16, and Zylpha, 17.

I have not found anything further about Rachel Lassiter Reid or Zelphia Lassiter, alias Reid, but note that David Reid’s 1910 estate papers do not list either of them.

[Update, 16 March 2022: Bernard Patterson, a descendant of Rachel Lassiter’s sister Penelope Lassiter Woodard, immediately went looking for Zilphia Lassiter and found this: on 23 March 1876, Amandiburt Mills, 30, married Sylphy Lassiter, 22, in No. 9 township, Edgecombe County. 

With that information, I found: in the 1880 census of Roxabel township, Bertie County, N.C.: Mandaburt Mills, 35; wife Zilpha A., 25; and son Thadius, 12; plus servant Francis Clark, 18.

in the Death Register of Greensville County, Virginia: Zilphia Mills died 15 March 1892 of dropsy She was reported as 25 years of age; was born in Wilson, N.C., to Rachel Lussiter; and was married to M.B. Mills. In the 1900 census of Belfield township, Greensville County: Mandyburt Mills, 53, widower, farmer.] 

Wilson County, North Carolina County Marriages 1762-1979, http://www.familysearch.org.

Hardy Lassiter’s estate sale.

Hardy Lassiter died in Wilson County in the spring of 1853. On 16 August 1855, as the settlement of his estate wound down, administrator William L. Farmer sold off Lassiter’s personal property to two of his children Rachel Lassiter and Green Lassiter. The sale account offers a singular look at a free Black man’s most intimate effects — his clothing.

The sale netted $17.44 for one lot of old clothes; twelve other old clothes; five pairs of pants; a lot of clothes; two coats; a lot of stockings; four handkerchiefs; an overcoat; five more coats; a cravat; two brushes; a knife and razor; a razor strop; two hats; one pair of shoes; one umbrella(?); a satchel; one “pocket & pas”; a watch; and a stick.

Hardy Lassiter, North Carolina, U.S. Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998, http://www.ancestry.com.

Coley v. Artis: an introduction.

Though Coley v. Artis arose just over the county line in Wayne County’s Nahunta township, many of the men and women caught up in its scope had close links to Wilson County. The transcript of the trial proceeding is fascinating not only for its glimpses into their lives, but for the portrait it paints of a rural farming community that would have been immediately recognizable by anyone living just north of the line in Wilson County.

Detail, 1904 topographic map of Wilson Quadrangle, which includes northern Wayne County.

At the heart of Wayne County Superior Court proceedings stemming from the suit in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis (1908) was a dispute over 30 acres of land. Thomas “Tom Pig” Artis began renting the property in 1881 from William J. Exum, a wealthy white farmer. In 1892, Exum’s widow Mary sold the land to Napoleon Hagans. In 1896, after Napoleon’s death, the land passed to his sons Henry and William S. Hagans and, in 1899, Henry sold his interest to his brother. In 1908, William S. Hagans sold the 30 acres to J. Frank Coley, a young white farmer. Tom Artis laid claim to the property, arguing that Napoleon Hagans had sold it to him. Tom claimed that the 800 pounds of cotton he yearly tendered to Napoleon Hagans (and later, his son William) was interest on a mortgage, but William Hagans and other witnesses maintained that the payment was rent. J.F. Coley filed suit and, after hearing the testimony of more than a dozen witnesses, the court decided in his favor.

The trial transcript is replete with testimony revealing the social and familial relationships among witnesses. Tom Artis testified that he rented the “Adam Artis place.” William Hagans testified that his father was in feeble health in 1896 when he called him and Henry together “under the cart shelter” to tell them he would not live long and did not know to whom the land would fall. William testified that Pole asked them to let “Pig” stay on as long as he paid rent, and they promised to do so. Tom Franks testified that “Pole was a first-rate business man.” Jonah Williams, Adam Artis’ brother, testified that he borrowed money from Napoleon to open a brickyard in the spring of 1893 and had preached his funeral. He also noted that “Tom married my sister [Loumiza Williams Artis].  He is not a member of my church. I turned him out. He is a Primitive Baptist. I preached Napoleon Hagans’ funeral.” Jesse Artis, another of Adam Artis’ brothers, testified that he had worked on Hagans’ property as a carpenter for 18 years and noted, “I don’t know that Tom and I are any kin, just by marriage.”  John Rountree testified that he was a tenant renting from Hagans on thirds. Simon Exum testified: “I am no kin to Tom [Artis] as far as I know, except by Adam.  His first wife was my wife [Delilah Artis Exum]’s sister.”  H.S. Reid testified that he was Tom Artis’ son-in-law.

Thomas Artis was a son of a free woman of color, Celia Artis, and her enslaved husband, Simon Pig. Though nearly all free colored Artises were descended from a common ancestor in southside Virginia, by the late 1800s clear understanding of their remote kinship links had faded. There were dozens of Artis families in Wayne County during the antebellum period, and the relationships between them are unknown. Celia Artis was a close neighbor of Adam Artis, but the families apparently did not regard themselves as kin. Still, they were inextricably intertwined. The Artises were also closely linked to other free families of color, including the Haganses and Reids, who had been neighbors in the Eureka area for generations. Celia Artis and Rhoda Reid — grandmother of Elijah L. Reid, J.D. Reid, and other Wilson residents — were the wealthiest free women of color in Wayne County. Adam Artis married Napoleon Hagans’ half-sister Frances Seaberry, whose father hailed from another free family of color. Another of Rhoda Reid’s grandsons, Henry S. Reid, married Tom Artis’ daughter. Henry’s first cousin Henry Reid married Adam Artis’ daughter Georgianna Artis. Adam Artis’ son William Marshall Artis and grandson Leslie Artis married Tom Artis’ nieces, Etta and Minnie Diggs. And on and on.

Documents found in file of the Estate of Thomas Artis (1911), Wayne County, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, familysearch.org

 

“Nothing could swerve him”: The extraordinary life of Napoleon Hagans.

Please join me February 10 to hear about the extraordinary life of Napoleon Hagans of Wayne County, North Carolina, who went from involuntary apprenticeship as a free child of color to testifying before the United States Senate to Honorary Commissioner of the 1884 World Industrial and Cotton Centennial in New Orleans.

To register for this virtual event: https://forms.gle/jwhzzpCCakVpRVaGA

Green Lassiter buys land in 1855.

Green Lassiter, a free man of color, bought just over fifty acres from William L. Farmer in December 1855 and registered the deed for his purchase about six weeks later. Wilson County formed in 1855, and this is the first registered purchase of real property by a free person of color in the county. (The land Lassiter bought just north of the town of Wilson had been in Edgecombe County before Wilson County was established, and certainly free people of color had owned land — though they did not often register their deeds — in the parts of Edgecombe, Nash, Wayne, and Johnston Counties that later formed Wilson County.)

Lassiter had a close business relationship with William L. Farmer (who had been the administrator of Green’s father Hardy Lassiter‘s estate), and Farmer’s 1856 estate records show that he had extended Lassiter a number of small loans. 

Deed book 1, page 123, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

This Indenture made the 22nd day of December A.D. 1855 between Wm. L. Farmer of the first part & Green Lassiter of the second part all the county of Wilson State of North Carolina witnesseth that for and in consideration of the sum of Four Hundred Dollars the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged that said Wm. L. Farmer has given granted bargained sold & conveyed & by these presents does give grant bargain sell & convey unto the said Green Lassiter his heirs & assigns a certain tract or parcel of land lying in the County of Wilson adjoining the lands of Watson Rountree Washington Ruffin & others containing fifty & a half acres more or less to have & to hold the said Land with the said Green Lassiter his heirs & assigns and the said Wm. L. Farmer does hereby covenant & agree to for himself & his heirs executors & administrators to forever covenant & defend the title hereby conveyed to the said Green Lassiter his heirs & assigns forever In testimony whereof we hereunto set our hands & seals this the day & date above written       W.L. Farmer {seal}

Witness  Isaiah Farmer

Wilson County Feb 5th 1856 The Execution of the foregoing Deed is duly proven by the oat of Isaiah Farmer before me W. Barnes Clerk let it be Registered   W. Barnes Clerk

Received for registration this foregoing Deed the 6th day of Feb 1856  L.T. Sauls Registrar

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In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County: Hardy Laster, 73, wife Beady, 54, and children Mathew, 26, Silas, 26, Green, 25, Hardy, 21, and Rachel, 20; all described as mulatto. Hardy reported owning $650 of real property.

In the 1860 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Green Lassiter, 36, farmer, and his siblings Mary Lassiter, 24, Matthew Lassiter, 37, and Rachel Lassiter, 30, farm laborers. Green reported $750 in real estate.

Green Lassiter married Mary Ann Powell on 19 January 1860 in Wilson County at Dempsey Powell‘s residence. 

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Green Lassiter, 46; wife Mary, 31; and children Henry, 10, Sallie, 8, Hardy, 6, and John G., 1 month. Lassiter reported owning $500 in real property and $125 in personal property.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Green Lassiter, 55; wife Mary Ann, 42; and children Henry, 19, Sally Ann, 17, Hardy, 15, John Green, 10, Dempsey S., 5, and Mary C., 2.

Mary Mercer died 27 February 1912 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 31 years old; was born in Wilson County to Green Lester and Mary Powell; was married; and engaged in domestic work. Beadie Blackwell was informant.

Hardy Lassiter died 24 June 1928 in Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, Arkansas. Per his death certificate, he was 55 years old; was born in Wilson, N.C., to Green Lassiter; lived at 1601 Texas, Pine Bluff; was a laborer at a heading factory; and was married. Julius Lassiter was informant.

Dempsey Lassiter died 17 July 1946 at his home at 106 South East Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 68 years old; was born in Wilson County to Green Lassiter and Mary Ann Powell; was engaged in farming; was married to Mary J. Lassiter; and was buried in Rountree [actually Odd Fellows] Cemetery.

An interesting heritage.

We have read here of Kingsberry and Charity Jones Taylor, who migrated to Indiana in the 1840s. The pages below are excerpted from “My Grandmother, Sarah Ann Taylor Maxwell,” a transcribed memoir by the Taylors’ great-granddaughter Bessie Chandler Van Dyke (1907-1994). As with many such recorded recollections, some of the details are off, but others provide incredibly rich insight into the lives of two free people of color with roots in what is now Wilson County.

Per Europe Ahmad Farmer, the principal historian and genealogist of the Locus/Lucas family and related free families of color of Nash and Wilson Counties, Kingsberry Taylor’s mother was Zelphia Taylor Brantley, who was white, and his father was a free man of color who was a Locus. Kingsberry was not enslaved, though he likely was indentured as an apprentice until he was 21. He did not live in Randolph County, but in Nash County, and he married Charity Jones (who lived in what is now Wilson County) prior to their migration to Indiana.

The Taylor family in the 1850 census of Madison County, Indiana.

Transcript courtesy of Ancestry.com user samjoyatk.

The apprenticeship of the Hagans siblings.

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.

Order for publication for non-resident defendants, heirs of Willis Jones.

A notice in the matter of P.B. Deans vs. Shade Jones et al. ran for a month in the summer of 1883. The matter was an action for the partition of land, land that apparently was part of the estate of Willis Jones. Willis and Sarah K. Jones‘ children included Josiah Jones, Charity Jones Taylor (ca. 1827-1891), Jacob Jones (ca. 1828), Shade Jones (ca. 1832), Henry Jones (ca. 1840), Alexander Jones (ca. 1841), Noel Jones (1843), Willis Kingsberry Jones (ca. 1847), Payton A. Jones (ca. 1849), and Bethany Jones Barnes (ca. 1852). Two of Willis Jones’ children resided out of state, and the court ordered the notice commanding them to answer the complaint in the case. Charity Jones Taylor and her husband, Kingsberry Taylor, were believed to be in Indiana; Josiah Jones, in South Carolina.

Wilson Advance, 13 July 1883.

In fact, by 1883, Charity Taylor had been living in western Michigan for decades.

Kingsberry Taylor married Charity Jones on 4 July 1846 in Nash County, North Carolina. Both were free people of color. Jones for certain and Taylor likely lived in a section of Nash County that became Wilson County in 1855.

The couple immediately migrated to Indiana. In the 1850 census of Madison township, Jefferson County, Indiana: laborer Kingsberry Taylor, 29, owner of $100 real estate, born in N.C.; wife Charity, 20, born in N.C.; and daughter Sarah A., 3, born in Indiana. All were classified as mulatto.

They did not stay long. Mid-decade, the family moved more than 300 miles due north in Allegan County, Michigan. Per the History of Allegan and Berry Counties, Michigan, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Their Men and Pioneers (1880), Kingsbury Taylor was one of ten men who bought land in Section 28 of Cheshire township between 1852 and 1858. “A considerable proportion of the population are of the colored race, who merit notice in a history of Cheshire [township]. As a class they stand well for both sobriety, and industry. Many of them have farms upon which comfortable houses are built, and the land of which is improved and well maintained. They also have two church organizations, to which a liberal support is accorded, and of which mention is made farther on. They are by no means the least influential of the citizens of the township, and have won much credit for the ambition they display in their farming pursuits and the good reputation they have established in all their social relations. The first colored men to settle in the township were C. Tomison and K. Taylor, who located on the southwest quarter of section 28. The land owned by the colored people was mostly bought of the Indians when they departed.”

In the 1860 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan: Kingsbury Taylor, 35, farmer, owned $400/real property, $250/personal property, born in N.C.; wife Charity, 30, born in N.C.; and daughter Sarah A., 13, born in Indiana.

In the 1870 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan: Kingsbury Taylor, 52, farmer, owned $2500/real estate, born in N.C.; wife Charity, 42, born in N.C.; and daughter Sarah A., 22, born in Indiana.

In the 1880 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan: Kingsbury Taylor, 61, farmer, born in N.C.; wife Charrita, 48, born in N.C.; and daughter Sarah A. Brown, 33, divorced, born in Indiana.

On 17 September 1880, Foster H. Maxwell, 42, mason, of Manger, Michigan, born in Ross County, Ohio, married Sarah A.J. Taylor, 33, divorced, of Cheshire, Michigan, born in Jefferson County, Indiana, in Bloomingdale, Michigan. The marriage entry noted that they were black. [Maxwell was a Civil War veteran, having served in Co. D, 102nd United States Colored Infantry.]

Charity Taylor died 16 April 1891 in Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan. Per her death certificate, she was 63 years old; was born in N.C. to Wilis Jones and Sarah Jones; and was a farmer.

Illustrated Atlas of Allegan County, Michigan (1895). (Would that these types of plat maps existed everywhere.)

In the 1900 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan: widower Kinbury Taylor, 82, farmer, and granddaughter Nina Maxwell, 19.

In the 1900 census of Springfield, Clark County, Ohio: Sarah Maxwell, 52, and daughters Dayette, 18, and Christina, 14. All were classified as white. Sarah was married, and three of her five children were living. 

On 5 June 1900, in Allegan County Circuit Court, Foster H. Maxwell, 59, was granted a divorce from Sarah A. Maxwell, 45, on the grounds of desertion.

Kingsbury Taylor died 3 November 1906 in Cheshire township, Allegan County, Michigan. Per his death certificate, 

The Hartford Day Spring (Hartford, Michigan), 14 November 1906.

In the 1910 census of Cheshire township, Allegan County: Sarah A. Maxwell, 62, “own income,” and daughter Dayetta, 27.

In the 1920 census of Allegan, Allegan County: at 634 Academy, widow Sarah A. Maxwell, 72.

In the 1930 census of Allegan, Allegan County: at 634 Academy, owned and valued at $1000, widow Sarah A. Maxwell, 82, and granddaughter Betty A., 6.

Sarah Ann Maxwell died 11 September 1938 in Allegan, Michigan. Per her death certificate, she was born 29 August 1847 in Madison, Indiana, to Kingsburg Taylor and Charity Jones, both of Wilson, N.C.; was the widow of Foster Maxwell; lived at 634 Academy Street; and was buried in Lindsley Cemetery, Allegan. Dayette Maxwell was informant.

Kingsberry and Charity Jones Taylor were also buried in Lindsley Cemetery. 

Christine Charity Maxwell Chandler (1885-1937), daughter of Foster H. and Sarah A. Taylor Maxwell.

Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com user PatriciaPhillips212.