free people of color

The estate of William L. Farmer.

William L. Farmer’s hefty estate file contains multiple references to both enslaved people and free people of color.

From an inventory of assets, a list of enslaved people hired out in 1857 and 1858 — Samson, Blunt, Joshua, Jane and Clarkey.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11.34.43 AM.png

A 25 November 1856 inventory of the debts owed to William L. Farmer highlights the web of financial relationships that characterized the largely bankless antebellum South. For many, after land and slaves, their greatest assets consisted of I.O.U.’s.

Green Lassiter (and his sister Rachel Lassiter?) seems to have been one of the largest debtors.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11.35.23 AM.png

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11.36.34 AM.png

Terrell Parker‘s $11.32 debt to Farmer was declared “bad,” i.e. uncollectible.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11.55.48 AM.png

As were those of many others, including Gray Boseman …

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11.56.06 AM.png

… another of Green Lassiter’s …

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11.58.59 AM.png

… the $1.25 Silas Lassiter owed …

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11.59.17 AM.png

… the $7.50 John R. Locus owed …

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11.59.25 AM.png

…  the $3.25 Warren Artis owed …

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.29.12 PM.png

… debts by Timothy Howard, Lawrence Hagans, Zealous Howard, and James Howard …

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.30.21 PM.png

… and another $5.57 owed by Warren Artis.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.30.38 PM.png

Benjamin Thorn hired out Joshua for a year. Jane went to Archibald Roes, and Sampson to Henry Armstrong. The estate paid Evins Baker five dollars to care for Clarky.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.33.22 PM.png

“They are to have 3 soots of Cloths & three pair of shoes one of woolen one hat & one Blanket” Henry Crumpley hired out Daniel for the year, and W.G. Sharp hired Ben. Though both were described as “boys,” their hire prices suggest they were young men in their prime.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.34.04 PM.png

On 6 April 1860, “negro Ben” required a visit to Dr. James G. Armstrong.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.35.59 PM.png

This remarkable document, the only one of its kind I’ve seen, is a receipt for the late fall purchase of goods for Farmer’s slaves — seven blankets, seven pairs of shoes, five wool hats, 18 and-a-half yards of osnaburg, five yards of linsey, one pair of coarse boots, and 29 years of kersey. Osnaburg was a coarse, stiff fabric woven from flax or jute and commonly used to make garments for enslaved people. Linsey (or linsey-woolsey) was another coarse cotton and wool fabric. Kersey was a dense woolen fabric.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.37.06 PM.png

In 27 August 1856, shortly before he died, Farmer gave Rachel Lassiter a note for $15.59, which could have represented money borrowed or more likely services rendered or goods sold.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.38.04 PM.png

On 14 July 1857, Farmer’s administrator, Augustin Farmer, paid Green Lassiter $16.42 to settle a debt.

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 1.38.39 PM.png

William L. Farmer Estate File (1856), Wilson County, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, http://www.familysearch.org.

Tell them I want to see them.

Camp Near Orange Court House VA., November the 16, 1863

Mrs. Mary J. Edwards, Wilson P.O., Wilson County, N.C.

Dear Sister,

I take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well at this time and hoping you the same.  Bunyan, I want to hear from you. Let me hear from you, and let me know how you are getting along. Bunyan, I want you to let me know how everything is getting along, and write me all the news. I heard that you have been having chills. I want to know whether it was you who shot your thumb, or not.  Tell Mary Gray to write to me every time she can. Tell Sister Betty to write to me, for I want to hear from her. Tell Nanney also to write to me.  Tell Aunt Penny I want to see her. Tell Uncle London I want to  see him very badly. I have nothing to write, only very hard times here.  We are expecting to have to march every minute. I must come to a close by saying I remain your dear brother until death.  Excuse my bad writing.       George Woodard

——

George Washington Woodard, son of James Bullock Woodard and wife Sallie Peele, enlisted in April 1862 as a private in Company A, 55th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. Debilitated by chronic diarrhea, Woodard died 23 March 1864, at a military hospital in Gordonsville, Virginia. On 2 September 1950, in the column “Looking Backward,” the Wilson Daily Times published Hugh B. Johnston’s transcription and notes about letters George W. Woodard sent home from war, including the one above.

“Aunt Penny” and “Uncle London” were, of course, Penny Lassiter Woodard, a free woman of color, and London Woodard, her enslaved husband. Penny Lassiter had reared George W. Woodard after his mother’s death. George’s father J.B Woodard had purchased London Woodard from another Woodard family member and sold him to Penny Lassiter in 1856.

Hardy Tabourn seeks a Revolutionary War pension.

State of North Carolina, Nash County  }   On this thirteenth day of August Eighteen hundred and Forty four Personally appeared in open Court Hardiman Tabourn a resident of the County of Nash and maketh the following declaration in order to obtain a pension under the act of Congress passed on the seventh day of June Eighteen hundred and thirty two and after being duly sworn according to law doth declare on his oath that he is the son of Burrell Tabourn who Enlisted in the war of the revolution in the year Seventeen hundred and eighty-one For the term of Twelve months under Capt Lytle and after he had served out that time he was drafted for a twelve month tour in the year of Seventeen hundred and eighty two as he has always heard his said father say who will more fully appear by two certificates which he has procured from the Secretary of the State of North Carolina, which he submits as evidence in Connection with his own of his Said Fathers services.

And further declares that his said Father Burrell Tabourn died leaving no widow and that his said father Burrell Tabourn died on the Ninth day of January Eighteen hundred and fortytwo and that he was Eighty one years old when he died and that he himself is forty nine years old and that he has three Brothers and two Sisters Namely Larkin Tabourn forty seven years old, Caleb Tabourn Thirtyfive years old, Boling Tabourn twentyeight years old, Beady Tabourn who intermarried with one Berry Locust Thirtytwo years old and Elizabeth Tabourn Thirty years old and he Further declares that his said Father was at the time he entered the Service a resident of the County of Nash and remained as Such up to this death and that he himself and all his brothers and sisters are Residents of the County of Nash and State aforesaid

And he Further declares that he has always heard his Father Say that he served the last Tower under the same Capt as he did the first two and he said Hardiman Further declares that he hims [sic] and he in behalf of his Brother and Sisters do hereby relinquish all Right to a pension whatever Except this

Sworn and subscribed to the day and date before written Before me  Francis M. Taylor  Hardiman X Tabourn

——

In the 1850 census of Nash County: Caleb Tayborne, 51, wife Susan, 50, and children Quilly, 20, Jane, 15, Owen, 15, Martha, 12, Larkin, 12, and Sallie, 10.  Also, Larkin Tayborne, 57, wife Rebecca, 68, Ricks, 24, and Levenia, 15.  Also, Berry Locust, 50, wife Beedy, 45, and children Arthur, 25, Eliza, 19, Hepsy A., 16, Ivah, 15, Alsey, 12, Henry, 10, and Leymon, 8.

In the 1860 census of Old Fields, Wilson County: Hardy Tabourn, 70, farm laborer, living alone.

From the file of Burrell Tabourn, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives and Records Administration.

Williamson v. Williamson.

Isaac and Sarah Williamson lived in Old Fields township, Wilson (formerly Nash) County. In 1853, Sarah Williamson filed for divorce from her husband, citing, among other things, serious physical and emotional abuse. The Williamsons lived in a part of Wilson County that was then in Nash County. Their divorce file is replete with accusations and counter-accusations of violence, alcohol abuse, infidelity and general profligacy. It also contains several references to the Williamsons’ enslaved laborers and free colored neighbors.

The court required Isaac Williamson to sequester $2500 pending a decree in the case and was given the choice to post a bond or to hand over to the sheriff “negroes Harry, Lewis, Viney, Reuben, Ben & Margarett.” [Isaac Williamson died in 1854 or 1855, ending the proceedings.]

In her deposition, Nancy Williamson, Isaac and Sarah’s 20 year-old daughter, swore that “at another night he run mother and me out of the house and then called in a Negro fellow made him get the gun, powder and shot — the gun was loaded and he, my father took it and said if he found my mother he would drop her wherever he found her. …” “At another time my father asked a negro fellow who had a wife there, to come into the house and he did so, cursed and abused my mother — and my father would not allow my mother to say any thing to the negro but told him to say what he pleased to her.”

Neighbor Jethro Harrison testified that “I am well acquainted with Isaac Williamson the Defendant, He is a man who drinks hard — when he has not liquor at home he goes off and drinks he does not attend to his business like a man ought to. I have seen the Defendant on my bed and one morning about an hour per sun I saw him on a bed at Elijah Powell‘s a free negroe who had living with him a daughter grown and a wife & other children. …” On cross examination, Harrison stated: “… the Defendant was lying across the bed at the free negroes house with his shoes off and a quilt over him I think his clothes were not off. He was drunk or quite drinkey.”

Son-in-law Robertson Baker testified: “Some five or six years ago the Defendant and myself were riding in the night along together he had a coloured woman supposed to be a Negro riding on his horse behind him, he stopped in the path I went back and found him on the woman — I rode off and in a short time he came on with the woman behind him I saw the woman put up behind him as we started from a sale or hireing at A[illegible] At the Defendant’s request there being two Negro girls at our horses where we went to start I took one of them behind me for the purpose of getting him off home.”

Daughter Kesiah Williamson, 17, testified that Isaac Williamson told her “if I stuck up to him that I would get a negro or two but if I stuck to mother I never should have any of his property.”

Dempsey Powell was subpoenaed to testify in a deposition, but the file does not contain a record of any such statement.

——

  • Harry, Lewis, Viney, Reuben, Ben & Margarett — A document in the Williamson divorce notes that Isaac Williamson owned about 12 enslaved people. In 1864, Williamson’s youngest sons received their inheritance from their father.  Isaac Jr. took possession of Harry, Jacob, Priscilla and Wesley, and son Eli Williamson, Reuben, Margaret and child Riney, Hittie and Elias.
  • Elijah Powell — in the 1850 census of Nash County, listed next door to Isaac and Sarah Williamson: Robert Simpson, 36, farmer; Elijah Powell, 50, cooper; wife Selah [Celia Taylor], 48; and children Denis T., 22, Henry, 21, Elijah, 19, Mary, 18, Stephen, 10, Jane, 6, Jabe, 2, and Sally, 18. [Presumably, the girl on the bed was either Sally or Mary Powell.]
  • Dempsey Powell — in the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: turpentine worker Dempsey Powell, 30, who claimed $130 personal estate; Sallie Simpson, 28; and Sallie Simpson, 9.

Many thanks to Traci Thompson for sharing these documents, which are housed in Nash County Records at the North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.

Free people of color, 1860: Wilson district.

Free people of color enumerated in Wilson County’s first federal census, taken in 1860.

Wilson district (outside town limits)

#430. Silas Lassiter, 38, farmer; wife Orpie, 34; children Sallie, 12, Mary, 11, James, 9, John, 7, Elizabeth, 5, Penina, 4, Hardy, 3, Silas, 1, and George, 2 months; and Delphia Simpson, 14. Silas reported $490 in real estate and $155 in personal property.

#436. Susan Mitchel, 26, washing, and children James, 10, Annie, 7, and George, 2. Susan claimed $257 in real estate and $60 in personal property.

#442. Henry Booth, 15, in the household of white farmer James Tomlinson.

#443. Green Lassiter, 36, farmer; Mary Lassiter, 24; Matthew Lassiter, 37; and Rachel Lassiter, 30, farm laborer. Green reported $750 in real estate.

#450. Louisa Artis, 17, in the household of white farmer William T. Taylor.

#501. Elijah Powell, 23, and Josiah Blackwell, 21, laborers in steam mill, both black, in the household of white engineer John Valentine.

#544. Lucinda Jones, 8, black, in the household of white brickmason Joseph E. Beamon.

#546. John T. Farmer, mulatto, 4, in the household of white farmer John Farmer.

#592. Mahaly Artis, 30, washing, black, and daughter Sarah, 8, mulatto.

#596. Jonas Barnes, 14, mulatto, in the household of white farmer Joseph S. Barnes.

#599. Turpentine laborer Joseph Jones, 40, black; wife Zillah, 34; and children Milly, 17, Jesse, 10, Nathan, 8, and twins Frances and Lenora, 6, all mulatto.

Wilson County’s free families of color.

Screen Shot 2020-01-19 at 8.43.06 AM.png

I’m honored that Wilson County Public Library has invited me to speak again during Black History Month.

I’ll be talking about Wilson County’s free families of color.  Are you an Artis, a Hagans, a Jones, a Lassiter, a Locus or Lucas, a Reid?  The history of these and other free families is little known, though their many descendants can still be found across the county.

My talk is scheduled for Saturday afternoon this year, so I hope you’ll be able to make it.

Wilson County Public Library — Main Branch, 249 Nash Street W., Wilson, N.C.

 

A marriage in 1848.

Screen Shot 2020-01-19 at 1.26.22 PM.png

Ed. Powell and Thomas Mercer gave bond for a marriage license for Ed. Powell and Mary Jones on 14 August 1848 in Nash County. The couple likely lived in a section of Nash that would be incorporated into Wilson County in 1855.

Nineteen years later, on 10 October 1867, John Allen Jones, son of Edwin Powell and Mary Jones, married Susan Simpson, daughter of Sallie Simpson, at Margarett Simpson‘s house in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: farm laborer Jno. A. Jones, 22; wife Susan, 19;  children Thomas, 2, and Jesse B., 7 months; and Rosett Boykin, 10.

In the 1880 census of Old Fields township, Wilson County: Dempsy Powell, 52, farmer; wife Sallie, 46; daughter Susan A. Jones, 27, and her husband John A. Jones, 34; their children Thomas A., 13, Jessee B., 11, James A., 7, Celia C., 5, Sallie C., 4, and John A., 1; and W.D. Lucus, 21, laborer. [Sallie Simpson married Dempsey Powell in Wilson County in 1855. The family appears in the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: turpentine worker Dempsey Powell, 30; wife Sallie, 28; and Susan Simpson, 9.]

Many thanks to Edith Garnett Jones for this copy of the Powell-Jones marriage license.

The estate of Nathan Blackwell.

We examined the will of free man of color Nathan Blackwell here, in which he left his estate to sons Nathan, Exum, and Josiah Blackwell and named Asberry Blackwell as his executor. Nathan directed Asberry, who was probably his brother, to “take Andrew and see to his labor for my children to the best advantage also take my children and take care of them.”

Andrew was an enslaved man.

Nathan Blackwell died sometime in 1846 in a section of eastern Nash County that is now Wilson County. His personal assets were sold on 16 August 1846, and buyers included his relatives Peter Blackwell and Drucilla Blackwell, as well as Stephen and Josiah Powell, who were likely relatives of his deceased wife Jincey Powell Blackwell. Willis Jones was listed among debtors to the estate.

Nathan Blackwell’s orphaned sons were minors. Ordinarily, they would have been placed with a white family via involuntary apprenticeship. However, their father’s estate had assets, and a couple of white men, Jarman Eatman and Mabry H. Hinnant, took turns as their guardian. Exum seems to have died not long after his father

As requested, “negro Andrew” was hired out and his lease fee applied to Blackwell’s estate for the benefit of his boys. Jesse Simpson, for example, hired him for about 54 dollars on credit in the year 1848.

Nathan Blackwell Estate Records (1846), Nash County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Arch Artis, a free man of color.

8301952.png

In the 30 August 1952 edition of his Daily Times column “Looking Backward,” Hugh B. Johnston transcribed a will executed in 1849 by Arch Artice, a free man of color. The will is not included in Ancestry.com or Familysearch.org databases, and I have found no evidence that it ever entered probate. Artis (the more common spelling) is not to be confused with Archibald Artis Sr. (or Jr.) of Johnston County, who was his rough contemporary, and here’s what we know of him:

In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County, Arch Artis is listed as a 55 year-old “mulatto free” and described as blind. Elisha Vick, a 48 year-old white laborer, and Elizabeth Woodard, 46, who witnessed his will, were Artis’ close neighbors.

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 7.19.31 PM.png

1850 federal census of Edgecombe County, N.C.

In the 1860 census of Gardners township, Wilson County, Arch Artis, 65, blind, is listed in the household of white farmer Calvin Woodard, a 32 year-old white farmer who reported owning $17,225 in personal property (which would have been mostly in the form of enslaved people. Calvin Woodard was the son of Elizabeth Simms Woodard, above, and William Woodard Sr., who died about 1850.)

On 31 October 1869, Puss Artice, daughter of Arch and Rosa Artice, married George Bynum, son of Thos. Drake and Eliza Bynum, at Arch Artice’s. [“Puss” was the nickname of Tamar Artis Bynum.]

On 6 January 1870, Jessie Woodard, son of Arch and Rosa Artice, married Pennie Bess, daughter of Harry Ellis and Selvey Bess, in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Archabald Artis, 70; wife Rosa, 34; Tamer Bynum, 23, and [her husband] George, 25. Though they did not register their cohabitation, this record strongly suggests that Arch Artis had a relationship spanning several decades with a woman named Rosa, who was enslaved. She, with her and Arch’s children, had belonged to members of  William Woodard Sr.’s family. (Details to come in a later post.)

Arch Artis seems to have died between 1870 and 1880.

John Artist, son of Arch and Rosa Artis, married Hannah Ellis, daughter of Jack and Margaret Ellis, on 29 February 1872 in Wilson County. (This was his second marriage. On 9 April 1867, John Artice married Pricilla Woodard in Wilson County.)

Ned Artis died 21 October 1917 in Falkland township, Pitt County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was born 1831 in Wilson County to Arch Artis and Rose Artis; was single; was buried in Wilson County; undertaker was Jesse Artis; and informant was Joe Artis, Falkland, N.C.

Gray Artis, 72, of Chicod township, Pitt County, son of Arch and Rosa Artis, married Caroline Howard, 66, of Chicod township, daughter of Emily Nobles, on 22 April 1918 in Chicod township, Pitt County.

Tamar Bynum died 25 February 1923 in Wilson township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 77 years old; was born in Wilson County to Arch and Rosa Artis; was the widow of George Bynum; and had farmed. Rosa Bynum was informant.

Barbara Jones’ daughter Bethany Jones.

In January 1828, Barbara Jones of Wayne County “in consideration of the natural love and affection which I do bear towards my daughter” transferred to Bethany Jones 100 acres in Nash County bounded by the lands of Jethro Harrison on the north and east, Cuzzy [Keziah] Williamson on the south, and John Grice on the west (minus two acres sold to Mary Hobbs).

Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 1.55.25 PM.png

Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 1.55.42 PM.png

Deed book 12, page 190, Nash County Register of Deeds Office, Nashville, N.C.

——

I have long identified Bethana Jones as a the matriarch of a large free family of color rooted in what is now southwestern Wilson County. However, if this is the same Bethana Jones, this astounding document advances the Jones family genealogy back a generation to Bethana Jones’ mother, Barbara Jones.

The evidence is limited, but suggestive. The time period is correct. Most critically, the named neighbors place Barbara and Bethana Jones’ land in Old Field township in the neighborhood in which Bethana Jones was known to live. Jethro Harrison’s son and grandson were among the men and women who purchased items from Bethana Jones’ 1852 estate sale. Keziah Williamson was the mother of Isaac Williamson, who showed up at Jones’ estate sale. (It seems less likely that this was a reference to Kesiah Williamson, wife of Thomas Williamson, as ownership of property in a married woman’s own name during her husband’s lifetime would have been unusual.)

Barbary Jones appears in a 1782 tax list of Nash County, but no census records, which was not unusual for free women of color. The earliest certain reference to Bethany Jones (other than this deed) is in the 1830 census of Eatmon’s district, Nash County, North Carolina, in which Bethany Jones is head of a household of free people of color that included three males under age 10; one aged 10-23; and one aged 24-35; one female under 10; one aged 10-23; and two aged 36-54. (Were the latter two Bethana and her mother Barbara Jones?)