free people of color

Wayne County roots.

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Wayne County Public Library has posted to YouTube video of my little talk last week in Goldsboro. I spoke specifically about Wayne County’s free people of color, but many of their descendants, such as Elijah Reid, J.D. Reid, C.E. Artis, Willie Wynn, Jonah WilliamsJosephine Artis Sherrod and others, migrated into Wilson County by the turn of the twentieth century. Others lived in parts of Wayne County, in the Black Creek area, that became Wilson County in 1855.

Please come if you can, no. 1.

Goldsboro’s not Wilson, but it’s right down the road, and many of Wilson’s African-American families have roots in antebellum Wayne County. On 6 February 2018, I’ll be giving a talk about Wayne County’s free communities of color as part of the Wayne County Public Library’s Black History Month observation. I welcome your support!

Osborne and Mariah Dunston.


The headstones of Ausborn Dunstan and wife, Maria Dunstan, are found in Row E of Rest Haven Cemetery.  Mariah Munday Dunstan died in 1896, and Osborne Dunstan in 1905. Their graves were almost certainly removed and reinterred from Rountree cemetery or the even older Oakdale cemetery.


In the 1850 census of North Side of the Neuse district, Wayne County: Moriah Munda, 9, listed as farmhand in the household of white farmer John G. Barnes, 33. Maria Mundy and her brother Stephen was first apprenticed to Barnes in 1848, under a law designed to attach the labor of orphaned or “illegitimate” free children of color to a (usually white) neighbor. Apprentice records filed in Wayne County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions name their mother as Elizabeth Mundy, a white woman. For reasons not clear, the children were rebound to Barnes in 1852.

In the 1850 census of Louisburg, Franklin County, Lemuel Dunn, 60, blacksmith; Milly Dunn, 60; Jane Fog, 19; Osborn Dunstan, 14; and John Fog, 8.  The household is listed among a cluster of Dunstan households, including: Osborn Dunstan, 57, sawyer, Barbary, 50, and Sarah Dunston, 18, and Osborn May, 6. (Also, in Timberlakes township, Franklin County: Osborn Dunston, 52, and Sally Dunstan, 16.) Osborne’s parentage and his relationship to the other Osborne Dunstans in Franklin County is not clear.

In the 1860 census of the Town of Wilson, Wilson County: Asburn Dunstan, 23, laborer, in the household of H.L. Winton, boarding house operator.

Though both were free-born, and accordingly not subject to legislation creating a path to legitimation of slave marriages, Orsborn Dunson and Mariah Monday registered their five-year marriage on 24 August 1866 in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Osborn Dunstan, 37, wife Mariah, 45, and children Dora, 4, Cora, 2, Sarah, 2 months, John, 12, and Fanny, 6. [It appears that the latter two children were Mariah’s prior to her marriage to Osborne.]

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm worker Osbourn Dunston, 44, wife Mariah, 40, and children Dorah, 12, Corah, 11, Sarah, 9, Frances, 7, Hubbard, 5, Mary, 4, and Harriet, 3. Next door, in the household of farmer Henry Miller, was John Dunston, 20.

On 4 May 1882, John Simpson, 22, son of Dick Simpson and Mariah Dunston, married Tilder Rountree, 19, daughter of Dave and Nancy Rountree. P.E. Hines performed the ceremony at Disciples Church in the presence of Daniel Bess, Robert Rountree and Tilly Rountree.

On 3 March 1890, Cora Dunston, 19, daughter of Osborn and Moriah Dunston of Wilson township, married Haywood Becton [Beckwith], son of Pheraby Becton of Wilson. Freewill Baptist minister Solomon Arrington performed the service in the presence of Mariah Dunston, Crocket Best, and Mark Barnes.

On 17 January 1897, Dora Duntson, 25, married Joe Battle, 24, in Wilson County. Rev. Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony at the bride’s home in the presence of J.R. Bullock, L.D. Johnson and Fanny Rountree.

On 22 May 1897, Mary Dunstan, 21, married Walter Thorn, 27, in Wilson County. Missionary Baptist minister M. Strickland performed the ceremony.

In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: teamster Haywood Beckwith, 40, wife Cora, 31, and daughter Delzel, 14, plus father [in-law] Osborn Dunson, 67, who still worked as a farm laborer. Also, wagon driver Joseph Battle, 28, and wife Dora, 22.

On 11 September 1901, Sarah Dunston, 23, of Wilson, North Carolina, daughter of Osborne and Mariah Dunston, married Marshall Bells in Norfolk, Virginia.

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Lodge Street, Rebecca Beckwith, 47, a widowed laundress, and daughter Dezell, 20, a teacher. On Spring Street, ice factory laborer Joe Battle, 28, and wife Dora, 32, a cook.

On 24 December 1913, Walter Whitted, 24, of Durham, married Helen Beckwith, 22, of Wilson. Rev. M.A. Talley performed the ceremony, and A.J. Townsend and Robert Haskins were witnesses. [“Helen” was Delzelle Beckwith’s first name.]

On 5 June 1917, Walter Whitted of 516 South Lodge Street, Wilson, registered with the Wilson County draft board. He reported that he was born in Durham, North Carolina, on 3 October 1889; that he was a self-employed tailor in Wilson; and that he had a wife and two children to support. He was described as medium height and weight with dark brown eyes and black hair.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 708 Spring Street, tobacco company laborer Joe Battle, 58, wife Dora, 52, and daughter Esther, 19, a private servant.

On 14 August 1920, Cora Beckwith, 45, married William G. Reeves, 37, in Wilson. Rev. Charles T. Jones performed the ceremony at J.E. Artis‘ house in the presence of Artis, Alfred Robinson and Levi H. Jones.

Cora Beckwith died 29 October 1928 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born in May 1876 in Wilson County to Osborne Duston of Louisburg, North Carolina, and Maria Moudin of Virginia, and was married to Haywood Beckwith. Dazelle Whitthead was informant.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on South Lodge Street, house carpenter Walter Whitted, 38, wife Delzle H., 35, a public school teacher, and children Walter H., 14, and Cora J. Whitted, 13.

Sarah Bell died 29 December 1930 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 54 years old, born in Wilson County to Osbourne Dunston and Mariah Monday. She was married to William Marshall Bell and resided at 710 East Vance. The informant was Hattie [Dunston] Wilkerson, 712 Blount Street, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Dora Battle died 8 January 1943 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born about 1871 in Wilson County to Arsborn Dunston of Lewisburg, North Carolina, and Mary Mandin of Richmond, Virginia. Informant was Dezelle Whitted; Dora was buried at Rountree cemetery.

Helen Delzelle Beckwith Whitted died 15 February 1976 in Wilson.


Free people of color, 1860: Joyners & Gardners district.

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

Joyners & Gardners district

#606. Elba Lassiter, 16, mulatto, farm laborer, in the household of white farmer John B. Batts, 32.

#614. Isaac Lassiter, 26, mulatto, farm laborer, in the household of white farmer Thomas H. Bridgers, 27.

#631. Margaret Rose, 28, mulatto, farm laborer, with Clara, 9, and Diana Rose, 7, both mulatto, in the household of 68 year-old white farmer Mary E. Batts.

#649. Blessen Heggins, 39, black, farm laborer, with Elizabeth, 14, and Jolly Heggins, 12, black, in the household of white farmer Elijah Winsted, 71.

#665. Kinchen Locust, 8, black, and Joseph Perry, 6, mulatto, in the household of white farmer Henry Dixon, 76.

#669. Chessie Portice, 52, black, and William Portice, 25, black, farm laborer.

#719. Farm laborer Mariah Lassiter, 20, black, and child Esset, 3, in the household of white farmer Elizabeth Barnes, 79.

#741. Farmer Penny Lassiter, 50, mulatto, with children Priscilla, 14, Theresa, 12, Hardy, 10, Haywood, 8, William, and Pennina, 2, all black. Penny reported owning $600 real property and $300 personal property.

#774. Arch Artis, 65, black, in the household of white farmer Calvin Woodard, 32.

#782. Martha Mitchel, 44, mulatto, with children William, 13, Franklin, 11, George, 10, Thomas, 9, and Martha, 6. Martha reported $20 personal property.

#802. Jordan Thomas, 50, mulatto, with daughters Henrietta, 21, Eliza, 20, and Harley, 18, and grandson John, 1. Jordan reported $100 in real property and $80 in personal property.


Free people of color, 1860: Kirby’s district.

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

Kirbys district

#226. Jesse Ayres, 7, mulatto, in the household of white farmer Lawrence Moore, 40.

#233. Willis Taylor, 45, mulatto, turpentine laborer; Nancy, 11, and Alice Rose, 7, both mulatto, in the household of Sarah Rose, 50, white.

#237. Patrick Taylor, 16, mulatto, wagoner, and Martha Taylor, 26, mulatto, domestic, in the household of white farmer John D. Adams, 32.

#239. William Taylor, 22, mulatto, turpentine laborer, Sallie, 30, mulatto, day laborer, Jane, 23, white(?), day laborer, and Elizabeth, 10, Martha, 8, Cilvira, 5, and George Taylor, 1, all mulatto. William claimed $40 in personal property.

#248. John Ward, 14, black, farm laborer, in the household of white farmer Kinchen Crumpler, 53.

#252. George Locus, 6, black, in the household of white farmer Joseph Boyett, 28.

#273. Litha H. Richardson, 22, mulatto, farm laborer, in the household of Asa Ward, 43.

#283. David Rose, 36, farmer, Axcy, 34, and children Ruffin, 10, and Theophilus, 13, plus Sallie Sasser, 67. All mulatto except Theophilus and Sallie. David claimed $232 personal property, $200 real property.

#284. Sallie Hawley, 75, Patsey, 35, day laborer, William, 17, turpentine laborer, Mary, 14, Cerenia, 10, Willey, 4, Saffira, 4, and John D. Hawley, 1. Sallie, Patsey and John described as mulatto; the others, white.

#305. Elizabeth Taylor, 42, farm laborer, Abia, 18, farm laborer, Bryant, 14, Jackson, 12, Kinchen, 10, and McDaniel, 7. Abia, Jackson, and Kinchen were described as mulatto.

#333. Martin Locus, 61, mulatto, farm laborer, in the household of white farmer Obedience Wells, 77.

#335. Asberry Blackwell, 45, turpentine laborer, Nancy, 30, farm laborer, Charity, 14, Drucilla, 9, Albert, 7, Appy, 7, Zilpha, 4 Obedience, 3, and Asberry, 2 months, all mulatto.

Free people of color, 1860: Black Creek district.

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

Black Creek district

#17. Louisa Rose, 10, F, mulatto, in the household of 51 year-old white farm laborer Gray Lodge.

#43. Terrell Parker, 23, M, mulatto, in the household of 40 year-old white farmer Elias Farrell.

#45. Farm laborer Smithy Artis, 38, F, black, and son George Artis, 21, mulatto, in the household of white farmer Zilpha Daniel, 53.

#54. Farm laborer William Ayres, 30, M, mulatto, in the household of white farmer Stephen Privett, 50.

#79. Farm laborer John Hagans, 23, M, black, in the household of white farmer, Edwin Barnes, 35.

#82. Farm laborer Caroline Hagans, 18, F, black; her likely son Jacob Hagans, 7 months, black; and James Barnes, 17, M, black, in the household of white farmer Elias Barnes, 57.

#88. Martha Morris, 60, white, with her likely daughter Elizabeth Morris, 25, mulatto, and granddaughter Martha Morris, 2,, mulatto.

#89. Zillah Morris, 4, F, mulatto, in the household of 81 year-old white farmer John Saunders.

#92. Farm laborer Rufus Artis, 15, M. mulatto, in the household of white farmer Jacob Woodard.

#93. Mary Artis, 14, F, mulatto, in the household of Felix Woodard, 21, white.

#94. Mattress maker Jerry Manly, 50, M, mulatto, and Maria Manly, 55, F, mulatto.

#145. Farm laborer Daniel Hagans, 74, mulatto, in the household of white farmer Jesse Aycock, 34.

#152. Farm laborer Leah Langston, 38, F, black, who claimed $30 personal estate; with children and grandchildren Rebeca, 21, Martha, 18, Lucinda, 10, Louis, 5, Mourning, 5, Isaac, 3, Polly, 1, Benajah, 4, and Frank and Frances, 4 months. (The last three described as mulatto.)

#199. Cooper Solomon Andrews, 50, M, mulatto, in the household of white farmer Stephen Woodard Sr.

#203. Seamstress Jane Mitchell, 27, F, mulatto, with James, 12, George, 9, Nancy, 8, John, 6, and Bennet Mitchell, 4, and day laborer Martha Blackwell, 20.

#207. Turpentine worker Dempsey Powell, 30, M, mulatto, who claimed $130 personal estate; Sallie Simpson, 28, F, mulatto; and Sallie Simpson, 9, F, mulatto.

#208. Teamster Calvin Powell, 35, M; Penelope, 30, F; Jefferson, 12, M; Cidney, 10, F; and Calvin Powell, 6, M; all mulatto.


Unknown cause.

Coroner’s Inquest held over the dead Body of Smithy Artis

State of North Carolina, Wilson County }

Be it remembered that on the 3rd day of March 1874 I H.W. Peel Coroner of Said County attended by a Jury of Good and Lawful Men (viz) J.J. Bynum, Elbert Felton, J.C. Barnes, Hardy Skinner W.J. Owens, Benj’n Baker, Josiah Hinson, S.H. Gay, Frank Edmundson, Willie Ruffin, Benjamin Dupree, John Ellis by me Summoned for that purpose according to Law, after being by me duly Sworn and empanelled at Gray Webb in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of Smithey Artis (col) and after inquiring into the facts and circumstances of the death of the deceased from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured, the Jury find as follows, that is to say, that the Ds’d came to her Death by some unknown cause to the Jury.   /s/ S.H. Gay, Frank (X) Edmondson, Willie (X) Griffin, Benjm (X) Dupree, John (X) Ellis, J.J. Bynum (foreman), Elbert Felton, J.C. Barnes, Hardy (X) Skinner, W.J. Owens, B.B. (X) Baker, Josiah (X) Hinson. H.W. Peel, Coroner.


In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County, North Car: “free b[lack]” Smith Artis, 25, and her disabled son, George, 9 (described as “idiot”), in the household of white farmer Elisha Carter. The term in that era was commonly used to describe people who were deaf.


In the 1860 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Smithy Artis, 38, and son George, 21, in the household of Zilpha Daniel.

In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Smith Artis, 50, with son, George, 28 (described as “idiotic”).

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Cemeteries, no. 2: the William Hall family.

Eliza Hall was a free woman of color born about 1820, probably in what was then the heel of southwest Edgecombe County. How she met James Bullock Woodard, a prosperous white farmer and slaveowner, is unknown, but by Eliza’s early 20s they had begun a relationship that would last at least a decade. A sympathetic relative of Woodard’s recorded the births of James and Eliza’s children William Henry (1844), Patrick (1845), Margaret Ann (1847), Louisa (1849), and Balaam Hall (1851) in his family’s Bible.

In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County: Eliza Hall, 26, “free,” with children Wm., 6, Patrick, 4, Martha, 3, and “girl,” 1. Judging by their proximity to the listing of Orpha Applewhite, the family lived close to Stantonsburg.

In the 1860 census of Wilson County, Eliza Hall and her children are enumerated in the household of Joseph Peacock, who had been her neighbor in 1850: Jos. B. Peacock, 25, Sarah C. Peacock, 18, Sarah Peacock, 68, with William, 15, Patrick, 14, Margaret, 13, Lou, 12, Balum, 11, and Eliza Hall, 45.

Patrick Hall married Mary Ann Farmer in 1867 in Wilson County. They had at least six children: Alice (1869), Cora (1870), Dora (1874),  Frank (1873), Maggie (1875), and Frederick Hall (1878).

Balaam Hall married Mary Edmundson in Wilson County in 1871, Chelsey Hodge in Wayne County in 1876, and Mary Ann Herring in Wayne County in 1895.

William H. Hall lived and farmed near Stantonsburg, Wilson County, most of his life. He was married three times — to Lucy Barnes, Annie E. Smith and Mamie Artis — and had at least nine children with them and at least one other woman, Sarah Jane Artis. In 1890, William Hall sold to trustees the quarter-acre of land upon which Stantonsburg’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was founded. More than a hundred years later, the Hall family remain at the core of Bethel’s membership. William H. Hall spent his last years living in his son Robert Hall’s household and died 23 June 1925.

The William H. Hall family plot lies in the Bethel A.M.E. Zion church cemetery on the west side of Peacock Bridge Road between Stantonsburg and the Greene County line.


“Beloved father, farewell.”

His father is a free negro.

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North-Carolina Free Press (Tarboro), 24 January 1832.


RAN AWAY from the Subscriber, in May Court week last, a bright mulatto boy named JOHN, about 19 or 20 years of age, 5 feet 6 or 7 inches high, thick set and well built – he has a scar under his jaw, (I think the left jaw,) and thick ankles.  He is a shrewd fellow, and will perhaps alter his name and attempt to pass as a free man.  His father is a free negro, named Hardy Lassiter, living on Toisnot.  The above reward will be given for John’s apprehension, if delivered to me in Edgecombe county, or secured in any jail so that I can get him again.  All persons are hereby forbid harboring, employing, carrying off said boy, under the penalty of law.  SAMUEL FARMER.  Nov. 28, 1831.


He intends to leave this state with a free negro.

$20 REWARD. – RAN AWAY from the subscriber on the 6th instant, a negro man by the name of CAGE. Said negro is about twenty-seven years old, about five feet ten inches high, quick spoken and rather black – weighs some hundred and seventy pounds. It is my opinion that he intends to leave this State, with a free negro by the name of Nicholas Williams. The above reward will be given to any person, who will confine said negro in any jail or deliver him to me at my house about three miles above Toisnot Depot, Edgecombe County, N.C. – Josiah Jordan.

Tarboro Press, 13 March 1847.