migration to Mississippi

James H. Adams of Gary, Indiana (by way of Wilson and Mississippi).

Most African-American migrants to the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, came from the Middle and Deep South. James H. Adams was born in Wilson County, but his family migrated to Mississippi in the 1890s. More than 20 years later, he joined the Great Migration stream north.


On 4 January 1880, Arnley Adams, 23, married Sarah Atkinson, 18, at Handy Atkinson‘s in Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: Arnol Adams, 24, and wife Sarho, 18. [Next door: Arnold Adamswidowed mother and siblings, farmer Spicy Adams, 39, and children Frank, 19, Carline, 15,  James, 12, Calvin, 8, Albert, 6, and Dora, 1.

In the 1900 census of Beat #3, Coahoma County, Mississippi: farmer Arnold Adams, 42, and children James, 21, Bettie, 16, John, 13, and Rosa, 7. All were born in North Carolina except Rosa.

In the 1910 census of Beat #3, Bolivar County, Mississippi: farmer Arnold Adams, 54, and sons James, 30, and John, 22. All were described as widowers.

In 1918, James Adams registered for the World War I draft in Bolivar County, Mississippi. Per his registration card, he was born 15 September 1876; lived in Boyle, Bolivar County; was a farmer; and his nearest relative was Ida Adams.

In the 1930 census of Gary, Lake County, Indiana: at 2201 Madison, steel plant laborer James Adams, 48, born in N.C.; wife Ida, 46, born in Mississippi; and grandchildren Ida, 12, born in Mississippi, and Raymond, 5, born in Indiana.

In the 1940 census of Gary, Lake County, Indiana: on West 22nd Avenue, steel mill laborer James Adams, 59, born in N.C.; wife Ida, 46, born in Mississippi; and grandson Raymond, 15, born in Indiana.

In 1942, James Henry Adams registered for the World War II draft in Gary, Indiana. Per his registration card, he was born 15 September 1881 in Wilson, North Carolina; lived at 320 West 22nd Avenue; his contact was John Mason; and he worked for C.I.S. Mill, Gary.

James H. Adams died 18 April 1953 in Gary, Indiana. Per his death certificate, he was born 15 September 1881 in North Carolina to Arnold Adams and Sarah Atkinson; was a widower; lived at 320 West 22nd Avenue; and was retired. [Sister] Rosie Bentley of Chicago was informant.

Exodus to Mississippi.

A lesser studied migration took African-American farm families from North Carolina to Mississippi in the last decade of the nineteenth century. A recent post about Sharpsburg Cemetery evoked a reader response that revealed one such family. Robert Cooper, his wife, and children set out for the Delta around 1890, settling in Sunflower County, about 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee (and home of Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Pop Staples.)


In the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Samuel Cooper, 40, farm laborer, and children Trecy, 23, Jordan, 18, Nancy, 17, Robert, 8, Silas, 7, Ellis, 4, and Robbin, 3.

In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County, N.C.: farmer Sam Cooper, 51; wife Frona, 40; and children Robert, 20, Silas, 19, Robin, 13, Polly, 8, Amey, 7, and Tempey, 3.

On 10 November 1885, Robert Cooper, 24, married Rutha Ann Lassiter, 18, at Silas Lassiter‘s, Wilson County.

In the 1900 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: day laborer Robert Cooper, age unknown, widower; children S.P., 11,  and David B. Hill Cooper, 7; and “part” [partner?] Richard Dodd, 36, and Lizzie Reed, age unknown. Robert and S.P. were born in North Carolina; David in Mississippi.

In the 1910 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer Robert Cooper, 44, widower, and sons S.P., 20, and Robert, 17.

Jordan Cooper died 21 November 1914 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was about 60 years old; was the son of Sam Cooper and Fronie [no maiden name given]; was a widower; and a tenant farmer. He was buried in Sharpsburg Cemetery, and Josh Armstrong was informant.

Robert Cooper registered for the World War I in Sunflower County, Mississippi, in 1918. Per his registration card, he was born in November 1874; lived in Lombardy, Sunflower County; farmed for W.L. May; and his nearest relative was Della Cooper.

In the 1920 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer S.P. Cooper, 30, widower.

Silas Cooper died 11 September 1920 in [illegible], Halifax County, N.C. Per his death certificate, he was 60 years old; was born in Elm City to Sam Cooper and Frony Jones; was a farmer; and was buried in Enfield, N.C.

Nancy Lucas died 6 February 1922 in Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 65 years old; was the daughter of Samuel and Flona Cooper; was the widow of Offie Lucas; and was buried in Elm City. George Cooper was informant.

Ammie Winstead died 17 October 1928 in Coopers township, Nash County, N.C. Per her death certificate, she was 55 years old; was born in Nash County to Samuel Cooper and Froanie Coley; was married; and worked as a farmer. Samuel Winstead was informant.

In the 1930 census of Bolivar County, Mississippi: farmer Samuel P. Cooper, 40; wife Savanna, 26; children Arthur, 7, T.K., 6, Willie, 4, and Cornelius, 1; and stepdaughter Callie Cay, 9.

In the 1930 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer David Cooper, 36; wife Genora, 20; children Percy, 6, and Willie M., 3; and mother-in-law Mary Williams, 47, widow.

In the 1940 census of Sunflower County, Mississippi: farmer Dave Cooper, 40; wife Genora, 31; Mary Williams, 50; and stepson Percy J. Stewart, 15.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

The estate of Phebe Barden of Pontotoc County, Mississippi.

The third in a series documenting enslaved people held by the Bardin/Barden family, who lived in the Black Creek area in what was once Wayne County, but is now Wilson County.


Phebe Barden was born in 1826 to William and Nancy Cook Barden. After their father’s death in 1837, Phebe Barden and her siblings migrated to Mississippi, primarily to Pontotoc County.

Phebe Barden died shortly after her 18th birthday in 1844. Her brother Jacob Barden was appointed administrator of her estate. On 8 February 1845, he sold Phebe Barden’s property — four enslaved people. Phebe had received Cherry and one of Cherry’s children in the distribution of her father’s estate. It seems likely the boys Addison, Jack, and Nathan were Cherry’s sons. Phebe’s brother William Barden purchased Cherry, whose price was either discounted or suggests poor health, and the children were parted from their mother (or mother figure) when Phebe’s brother-in-law John Smith (married to Penelope Barden Smith) bought Addison and brother James Bardin bought Jack and Nathan.

I have no further information about Cherry, Addison, Jack, or Nathan.

Book 2, pages 436-437, Pontotoc County, Mississippi Wills and Probate Records 1780-1982, http://www.ancestry.com.

The will and estate of William Barden.

The second in a series documenting enslaved people held by the Bardin/Barden family, who lived in the Black Creek area in what was once Wayne County, but is now Wilson County.


When William Barden (1785-1837 drafted his last will and testament on 3 October 1835, he disposed of his enslaved property in two paragraphs. First, “my negro man Dred” was to be sold. Second, “all the rest of my Negroes” were to be equally divided among his children Celia Barden, James Barden, Jacob Barden, Penelope Barden Holmes, John Barden, Henry Barden, Nancy Barden, William Barden, Phebe Barden, Charity Barden, and Sally F. Barden.

William Barden died in 1837.

Immediately, on 20 March 1837, his executor hired out several enslaved people to bring in income.

A 15 May 1837 note in Barden’s estate file reveals that, even before he died, Barden authorized his son Jacob Barden “to carry out of the state and sell the negroe boy Dred.” Accordingly, J. Barden took Dred to Alabama and sold him to John Cook for $1000 — $500 down and $500 on credit.

On 6 June 1837, a committee divided the men, women, and children who had lived together as Arthur Barden’s enslaved property:

  • Ben, valued at $600, to Sally F. Barden
  • Whitley, valued at $550, to James Barden
  • Hardy, $525, to Nancy Barden
  • Tom, $500, to William Barden
  • Wilie, $425, to Jacob Barden
  • Milly, $500, to John Barden
  • Cherry and child, $550, to Pheraby [Phebe] Barden
  • Jerry, $325, to Penny Holmes
  • Mary, $325, to Henry Barden
  • Pursey and Ruffin, $425 to Lilia Barden
  • Lany and Patrick, $500, to Charity Barden


All William Barden’s children moved to Pontotoc and Itawamba Counties, Mississippi, within a few years of their father’s death. They undoubtedly took with them named here, pulling them hundreds of miles from the families and communities they knew and loved. I have only been able to locate what appears to be further record of one — Dred, who was sold away.

  • Dred

On 14 August 1867, Dred Cook, colored, registered to vote in Precinct No. 17, Greene County, Alabama. (John J. Cook had settled in Greene County as early as 1825.)

In the 1870 census of Mount Hebron township, Greene County, Alabama: Dred Cook, 83, farmer, born in North Carolina; presumed wife Mahala, 50, born in N.C.; and Wiley, 19, and Delia Cook, 15, both born in Alabama.

Also, in the 1870 census of Boligee township, Greene County, Alabama: Dred Cook, 83, farmer; presumed wife Haley, 50; and Wiley, 18, and Deley Cook, 15, all reported born in Alabama.

Estate File of William Barden (1837), Wayne County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998, http://www.ancestry.com.

The last will and testament of Trial Williamson.

Trial Williamson, born about 1805, is likely the “Trion” mentioned in the 1829 will of Hardy Williamson and is certainly the “Trial” mentioned in the 1858 estate records of Hardy H. Williamson. His blood relationship to other enslaved people held by the Williamsons is unknown.

Trial Williamson dictated his will in April 1878 and died the next month.


In the name of God Amen! I Tryal Williamson do make and declare this my last will and testament as follows:

Item 1 I give and devise to my wife Rosetta the lands whereon I now live during her natural life or widowhood and at her death or marriage to be equally divided between my daughter Mary wife of John Boykin and my daughter Cherry wife of Daniel Hocutt during their lives and at their deaths to be equally divided between the children of each; that is the children of Mary to have one half and the children of Cherry to have the other half the said lands to be free from the control of their respective husbands John Boykin and Daniel Hocutt.

Item 2 I give and bequeath to my said wife my mare one ox all the hogs bacon and corn & fodder of which I may die possessed. Also all my kitchen and household furniture and farming implements.

Item 3 It is further my will and desire that my cattle one mule colt bees and any other property that my wife does not want be sold and the proceeds of said sale with whatever money I may have at my death be used by my wife for her sole benefit and use the interest to be used by here whenever she needs it.

Item 4 I hereby constitute and appoint my wife Rosetta executrix to this my last will and testament

Signed and declared my last will and testament This 6 day of April 1878    Tryal (X) Williamson

Witness J.M. Taylor, A.S.J. Taylor


In 1866, Trial Williams [sic] and Roseta Williams registered their 17-year cohabitation with a Wilson County justice of the peace.

In the 1870 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farm laborer Trial Williamson, 65; wife Rose, 60; and daughters Mary, 21, and Cherry, 19.

On 18 September 1874, Cherry Williamson, 19, married Danl. Hocutt, 24, in Wilson.

In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer John Boykin, 42; wife Mary, 29; and children Dock, 19, and Dick, 15 (both sick with whooping cough), Turner, 7, Troy, 5, Betty, 3, and John, 1. [Per the 1870 census, Zadoc and Richard — Dock and Dick — were John’s children.] Next door, widowed farmer Rose Williamson, 68.

In the 1880 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Daniel Hocutt, 30; wife Cherry, 29; and children Jiney, 4, James T., 3, and Tilda An, 1.

Rose Williamson died in 1891. Ishmael Wilder was appointed administrator of her estate. Her meager household goods, purchased by friends and family, netted less than nine dollars.

Handy Atkinson, John Boykin, and Spencer Shaw were among the purchasers at Rosetta Williamson’s estate sale.

Per the terms of Trial Williamson’s will, at Rosetta Williamson’s death, the family farm passed in equal shares to their daughters Mary Williamson Boykin and Cherry Williamson Hocutt.

In 1902, by their attorney W.A. Finch, Cherry Hocutt and her heirs filed a Petition to Sell Real Estate for Division, Including Infants Interest. In a nutshell: (1) Trial Williamson died in 1878 and left a will with the above provision; (2) before Trial died, his land was divided, and the halves were allotted to his daughters; (3) after Rosetta Williamson died about 1891, Cherry Hocutt took full possession of her half; (4) Cherry Hocutt is now 49 years old and has these living children — J.A. Hocutt, age 27, J.T. Hocutt, age 25, M.A. Hocutt, age 22, Ben Hocutt, age 20, Settles Hocutt, age 17, Ida E. Hocutt, age 15, Willie J. Hocutt, age 14, and Lenore Savannah Hocutt, age 12 — and no grandchildren; (5) B.A. Scott has been appointed to represent the interests of the minor children; (6) the Hocutts are tenants in common on their half of Trial Williamson’s 23 1/2 acres in Spring Hill township; (7) in 1889, Daniel and Cherry Hocutt and their children migrated to [Cotton Plant,] Tippah County, Mississippi; (8) the Hocutts wish to sell their half because they “derive no benefit whatever” from it, are too far away to look after it, derive no net income from renting it out, and “the land is hilly and badly washed” and getting worse; and (9) the land is too small to divide among them.

The Superior Court approved the sale, it was advertised, and J.T. Rentfrow was high bidder at $500. Rentfrow promptly filed to partition his property from the half held by Mary Boykin and her heirs — Turner Boykin and wife; Laura Boykin; William Boykin and wife; Cora BoykinBettie Boykin; John Connor Boykin; Minerva Boykin; Sarah BoykinJames Boykin and wife; Ella Boykin; Buck Boykin; and Lizzie Boykin. Turner, Laura and John Connor Boykin no longer lived in North Carolina.

The court ordered this survey, then approved the partition as platted:

Estate Records of Trial Williamson, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com; Estate File of Rose Williamson, Estate File of Trial Williamson, North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, http://www.familysearch.org.

Negroes on credit at 6% interest.

Bartlett Deans vs. Wyatt Moye  }

By virtue and in pursuance of a commission to me directed from the Superior Court of Law for the County of Wilson State of North Carolina, to take the deposition of Robert S. Adams, a witness on the part of the Defendant in the above entitled Cause, I have this day caused to come before me the said Robert L. Adams, who being by me, first duly sworn to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, touching and concerning the facts in aforesaid suit, deposes as follows.

I stayed all night near Bartlett Deans on my way to Mississippi on the night of the 14th September AD 1848 with a lot of Negroes belonging to Moye & Adams and Bartlett Deans offered to sell us (Moye & Adams) two Negroes, Aberdeen and Abraham, both about twenty Six years old, for Eleven Hundred and fifty Dollars on one or two years Credit, with Six per cent Interest, and we refused to buy at that price. We then made with him the following Contract. We were to take the two Negroes above mentioned to Mississippi for the said Deans, and to hire them out for said Deans in the State of Mississippi Monroe County, or to deliver them over to some agent, and bring him the agents receipt, or if R.S. Adams could see them, so as to make them nett said Deans Eleven Hundred and fifty Dollars, then they were to be sold: but if said Adams hired them, Deans was to pay all expenses and trouble for bringing them out, And on that occasion, said Deans did offer to hand us the money for bringing them out, which money we refused, not knowing whether the negroes would be sold on his account or hired. I did not deliver the above named Negroes over to any agent, because I thought I could sell them for more money that limit set on them. And all over the Eleven Hundred and fifty Dollars, was to go to us for bringing the Negroes out, in paying us for our trouble and expense. I did sell said Negroes on the 11th day of November AD 1848 to Lewis McLendon, he giving me John Brooks for security. I consulted with several of my best friends, before consummating the trade, if it would not be a good debt, and was told, it would be undoubted, as to the solvency of the Debt. I then sold the said Negroes for the Sum of Thirteen Hundred and fifty Dollars on one and two years credit with interest from the date at the rate of Six per cent, per annum, as Deans agent, and gave the Bill of Sale, sighning Deans name by me as his agent. At the time we received the said negroes and gave our receipt for them, Deans instructed us to take them, and if we sold them to sell either on time or on Cash just as we thought best, and as Negroes at that time were very low and dull we had to sell all of our lot on time, and also sold his in the same way. When the money became due I applied to McLendon several times for the money, and he as often promised that he would pay; but we found he would not Comply with his promise, and we then put the notes in the hands of an Attorney to bring suit upon, which was brought in the United States Court for the North District of Mississippi. There he through his Attorney’s plea, the Statute then in force in the State of Mississippi declaring that any Negro over fifteen years of age, should be accompanied by a certificate, Sworned to by two freeholders before the Clerk of the Court that they were of good character. The Judge, then presiding, decided, or was about to decide, sustaining the pleas, when the Counsel in both sides agreed for each party to pay half the cost, and stop the suit, in that Court, as an appeal could not be taken from that Court to the Supreme Court of the United States at Washington City, because the Sum was under two thousand Dollars.  We then commenced suit on both the notes in the Circuit Court of Monroe County State of Mississippi. He made the same pleas in the said Circuit Court, which were made in the United States District Court, and which were not sustained there. He then took an appeal to the High Court of Errors and Appeals for the State of Mississippi in both cases. The said High Court of Errors and Appeals sustained his pleas and liberated him from both the notes. We in all the Courts employed Messrs Davis and Acker and William H. Dowd, who were considered as good Lawyers as any in the Northern portion of Mississippi. This we did in accordance with letters received from Bartlett Deans, which telling us to employ the best Counsel we could get. He in said letters recognized the suits as his and not ours. The endorsements on the receipt was put on them after the Negroes were sold; the one written by Wyatt Moye was on the receipt when I put the bottom one on written by myself, which I did at the March Superior Court of Wayne County at Waynesboro about the last week in March AD 1849. At the time I put the endorsements on the receipt Deans did not claim the money from us, but from the notes. Nor I never heard of his claiming it from us until I hear that he had sued Wyatt Moye. Always when talking to me about the debt, he spoke of it as his own, and would want to know when he would get his money from those men out in Mississippi whom he had sued.

His only object he said in getting me to put the endorsements on the receipt, stating the time the Negroes were sold, was to know from what time the claim began to draw Interest. I saw Deans several times during the time the suits were pending, and he always asked me about the suits and how they were progressing, and always spoke of the suits as his own, and never in any other way, only as his own. I am entirely uninterested in the suit in Wilson Superior Court State of North Carolina between Bartlett Deans and Wyatt Moye which grew out of the sale of the two Negroes Aberdeen and Abraham as he, the said Wyatt Moye, was given me a release both in Law an Equity, which release I annex to this deposition marked Exhibit B.   /s/ Robert S. Adams

The State of Mississippi, Monroe County   } I Newton J. Beckett Justice of the Peace in and for said State and County, do hereby Certify that I caused to come before me, at the office of William F. Dowd Aberdeen Mississippi Robert S. Adams, the witness named in the foregoing Interrogatories and whose name is signed to this depositon, who being by me first duly sworn to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth did depose thereto in the foregoing answers or statement; that the said statement of the said witness was by me reduced to writing in his presence, read to him and signed by him as his deposition in my presence. I do hereby further certify that the said deposition has not been altered, or changed since the same was subscribed by the said [illegible] and that the same has remained in my possession even to the time of sealing and delivering the same to the Post Master of Aberdeen Monroe County State of Mississippi. In witness whereof I do hereunto set my hand and affix my hand & private seal having no seal of office this the 29th day of April AD 1858   /s/ Newton J. Beckett {seal} Justice of the Peace and Commissioner

Exhibit B.

State of Mississippi Monroe County April 26th 185[illegible] I hereby Release both as law & Equity Robert L. Adams from all liability growing out of a Suit in the Wilson Superior Court State of North Carolina B. Deans vs Wyatt Moye related to two negroes Aberdeen & Abraham or any other suit which may grow out of said Transaction. Witness by hand & seal  /s/ Wyatt Moye   Witness /s/ J.E. Cunningham


It is safe to say that Wyatt Moye and Robert S. Adams were two of the largest slave traders ever to come out of Wilson County. For nearly twenty years — individually, together and in other partnerships — these men built thriving businesses facilitating the sale of enslaved men and women in eastern North Carolina “down the river” to Mississippi and Louisiana.

Moye was born in Greene County in 1793 and lived in Edgecombe until about 1845, when “soon after his wife’s death, Wyatt left for Mississippi where he established Wyatt Moye & Co., which either owned plantations or operated them for many of the wealthy landowners from Eastern North Carolina, including his future son-in-law, William Francis Dancy of Tarboro.” At least, this is way his memorial at Findagrave.com puts it.

In fact, Moye had not left North Carolina for good. On December 20, 1848, as senator from Edgecombe County, he introduced a bill in the Senate to “incorporate Toisnot Depot and Hickory Grove in the County of Edgecombe into a town by the name of Wilson.” He is listed in the 1850 census of Edgecombe County with no occupation but owning $5000 in real property. Ten years later, he is listed in the Western Division of Monroe County, Mississippi, as a “trader” owning $5500 in real property and $7500 in personal property [read: slaves]. Simultaneously, more than 400 miles away in Saint Mary Parish, Louisiana, Wyatt Moye & Company appears in the slave schedule as the owner of 119 slaves. Moye died at Dancy, his Saint Mary plantation, in 1862 and was buried in Tarboro, North Carolina.

Moye’s long-time involvement in the slave trade is borne out in these two ads:

Newbern Spectator 9261829

Newbern Spectator, 26 September 1829.

Gboro Patriot 12251847

Greensboro Patriot, 25 December 1847.

Robert S. Adams (1813-1873) was appointed postmaster at Stantonsburg, then in Edgecombe County, in 1840. He seems to have maintained part-time residency in the Stantonsburg area into the 1850s, but otherwise lived in Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi. He built a grand columned Greek Revival-style mansion there in 1856 and was counted among the town’s residents in the 1860 federal census.

The kerfuffle over Aberdeen and Abraham was not the first deal to go bad for Moye and Adams. In 1849, Moye, Adams and Stephenton Page of Edgecombe County formed a partnership to buy and sell slaves. Using Moye and Adams’ money, Page bought six slaves for $2,762.50. One, Jim, escaped, but Page took the others — Martha, John, Adeline, Viney and Mary — to Mississippi. When he could not sell them, he turned them over to Adams, who sold them for $3375. However, in an action filed in Edgecombe County in 1850, Moye and Adams alleged that Page had captured and sold Jim without sharing any profits and owed them other expenses.

Adams formed another partnership in Aberdeen, Mississippi, with Moses J. Wicks:

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 9.52.46 PM

Natchez Free Trader, 20 November 1852.

In the letters below, he corresponded with Ziba B. Oakes, Esq., a Charleston slave trader, concerning sending a group of slaves to Wilmington and purchasing a “small lot of negroes” in Richmond:

RS Adams to Ziba Oakes

Directions for sending Negroes to Wilmington. Letter from Robert S. Adams to Ziba B. Oakes, 29 July 1853. Rare Books Department, Boston Public Library.

Adams Wicks to Oakes

Request for remittance. Adams & Wicks, Aberdeen, Mississippi, manuscript letter signed to Ziba B. Oakes, 4 January 1854. Rare Books Department, Boston Public Library.

adams french house

Adams-French House, Aberdeen, Mississippi. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988.

Bartley Deans, Sr. (1776-1860), for his part, was a Nash County-born farmer whose last will and testament disposed of 44 enslaved people.

Records of Slaves and Free People of Color, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.