I have undertaken a page-by-page examination of Wilson County’s earliest deed books to look for evidence of the mortgage, sale, trade, or transfer of enslaved people. I found plenty.
On Christmas Eve 1861, Ann Scarborough of Wilson County for natural love and affection for her daughter, Mrs. Louisianna C. Murphy, and for one dollar paid by John E.F. Harper of Greene County, sold and conveyed to Harper, in trust for Murphy’s sole use, these enslaved people: a woman named Charity, about 30 years old; a boy named Aaron, aged about 13; a girl named Sarah, aged about 7; a girl named Lucinda, aged about 5 years; and a girl named Cloe, aged about 9. Deed Book 1, page 793, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.
To wife Martha and daughter Zilly Scarborough, along with his home and other property, Scarborough left “A Parcel of Negros that is to say Nan Aggy Sen’r Silvey Lemon Washington Sumter and Young Aggy and Haywood these Eight negros with the in Creas I lend them Jointly to Geather to my wife & daughter Zilly but by no means to be Hired out but to Remane on the Plantation to labour for them …”
To his son John R. Scarborough: “I also gave him three Likely negros when he went a way and now I give him four more after my death there names is as follows Luke Guilford Orange and Willis the above negros is not to be carryed away without a Lawful authority or Either by himself or his Heirs or Executors….” (In fact, John Scarborough took the men to Alabama even before the estate was opened, claiming that they were a gift to him rather than part of the estate.)
Scarborough died 1 March 1836. Nan, an enslaved woman, barely outlived her master:
Rec’d the 28th Oct 1836 of Richard T. Eagles one of the Executors to James Scarboroughs will the sum of three Dollars & fifty Cents in full for making Coffin for Negro Nann. William J. Lewis
The estate paid for the care of Silvey and four children for the year 1837.
Rec’d the 9th Decr 1837 the Sum of forty Dollar of Stephen Wooten and Richard T. Eagles Exer to the Estate of James Scarborgh decst for keeping Silvy and 4 children for the year 1837. R.T. Eagles for Martha Scarbrough Witness [illegible] Edwards
Despite James Scarborough’s express directive that “by no means” should his enslaved people be hired out, they were. Immediately.
On behalf of herself and her daughter Zilly, Martha Scarborough repeatedly challenged the terms of the will and the handling of the estate. In March 1839, pursuant to court order, a committee prepared an inventory of the enslaved people in Scarborough’s estate. They were: Aggy, age 55 ($100); Silva, age 37, and her two-month-old child Bunny ($650); Milly, age 3 ($250); Haywood, age 5 ($350); Aggy, age 7 ($400); Sumpter, age 9 ($550); Washington, age 14 ($725); and Lemon, age 16 ($850). Sumpter was “set apart” for widow Martha Scarborough.
Martha Scarborough immediately sold Sumter to her son Jonathan T. Eason. Or did she? See below.
Rec’d of Jonathan T. Eason five hundred and fifty Dollars in full for negro Sumter whitch was aloted to me in the Devishion of the negroes of the Decst James Scarborough my Late husbun this the 3th of April 1839 Martha (X) Scarborough J.B. Eason
On 5 March 1840, Jonathan T. Eason received sixty dollars from the estate for caring for Silvey and three of her children during the previous year. Silva’s children appear to have been Bunny, Milly, Haywood, and Aggy. As a seven or eight year-old, Aggy would have been considered old enough to hire out separate from her mother.
In 1843, Martha Scarborough filed petition charging her son Jonathan T. Eason with having taken advantage of her by convincing that the boy Sumpter, also known as Tom Sumpter, who was eight or ten years old in January 1840, was “badly grown for his age,” and the land she’d received as dower was “poor & much exhausted by cultivation.” She claimed she had eventually given way to Eason’s solicitations to manage her property — “he had acquired in a little time a complete ascendancy over her will” — and he had sold it away in bits and pieces. “When he obtained consent to sell the slave Tom Sumpter which was the only one she possessed he promised that she should have another to wait and attend upon her during her life ….” In a deposition of William W. Edwards taken pursuant to Scarborough’s litigation, Edwards testified that “I was well acquainted with the negro Sumpter. He was sold by Jonathan T. Eason to John Harrell Sr. at Eagles’ store for the sum of $560.00.” (This was probably Richard T. Eagles’ store in Edgecombe County.)
The outcome of Martha Scarborough’s suit is not clear.
The James Scarborough house.
James Scarborough Estate Records, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records 1665-1998, ancestry.com; photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.
Today’s Wilson Times touted the renovation of the James Scarborough plantation house near Saratoga, and its new use as an event venue, as a return to its “former glory.” Though the reporter’s editor was unfazed by her nostalgic waxing, some readers on Facebook immediately homed in on the problem.
I added to the Facebook thread a link to Black Wide-Awake‘s post on this 200 year-old house. The Times article speaks of parties and weddings and family reunions, and the desire of the new owners to share “this home and its history with the community,” but there is no mention, even in passing, of the largest set of actors in that history. Nan, Aggy Sr., Silvey, Lemon, Washington, Sumter, Young Aggy,Haywood,Luke, Gilford, Orange, and Willis, among others, were enslaved by James and Martha Scarborough, and their labor created and sustained the family’s wealth. Enslaved men and women built this house, labored in its fields, cooked in its kitchen, cared for its children. Glory came only with freedom.
After some hours, The Times modified its article and offered this statement — an acknowledgment that stops well short of an apology and seems still to miss the point.
My thanks to all who spoke truth and demanded accountability today.
Casual violence among young men is not new. Unsurprisingly, historically newspapers have sensationalized such violence when it involved black men, playing into the stereotypes and fear-mongering of the era.
I recognize the viciousness of this propaganda.* I also recognize articles reporting violent crime as invaluable, if distorted, glimpses into the lives of ordinary African-Americans during a period in which they were poorly documented. Beyond the basic facts of the terrible crime reported here, what can we learn?
News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 30 July 1907.
“on the Owens place” — This reference to the owner of the farm on which the events took place indicates the protagonists were likely sharecroppers or tenant farmers. The Saratoga Road is today’s U.S. Highway 264-A (formerly N.C. Highway 91.)
“a negro dance and barbecue supper was given by Robert Hilliard” — Hilliard, who was Black, hosted a Saturday night party on the farm, perhaps in a barn. He sold barbecue — surely Eastern North Carolina-style, with a vinegar-and-red pepper sauce — and sandwiches to patrons from a stand near the road.
“a wheezy fiddle” — the source of music for the dance. (Who was the fiddler? Was he locally renowned? Was there accompaniment? Was fiddling a common skill? I can’t name a single one from this era.)
“‘Hilliard is the n*gger I wanted to drap.” — The meaning and usage of this now-extreme pejorative has shifted over time. Here, it is almost, but not quite, neutral. More interesting, to me, is the now-archaic pronunciation “drap” for the verb “drop.”
On 29 January 1903, Will Scarborough, 21, of Saratoga, son of Ashley and Ellen Scarborough, married Lucy Anderson, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Bob and Winnie Anderson, in Wilson County. Jack Bynum applied for the license.
Will Scarborough died 6 August 1968 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 90 years old; was the son of Ashley Scarborough and Ellen [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; lived in Stantonsburg; and was buried at Saint Delight cemetery, Walstonburg. Informant was James E. Best, Stantonsburg.
On 1 November 1900, Robert Hilliard, 20, of Wilson County, son of Jack and Laura Hilliard, married Ailsy Bynum, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of West and Sopha Bynum, in Gardners township, Wilson County.
Robert George Hilliard Sr. died 27 February 1944 at his home at 211 Finch Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 66 years old; was born in Wilson County to Jack Hilliard and Laura [maiden name unknown]; was a widower; was engaged in farming; and was buried in Rountree cemetery. Mattie Moore, 211 Finch Street, was informant.
On 8 May 1902, Riley Faison, 30, of Wilson County, son of Henry and Sophia Faison, married Frances Farmer, 26, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Polly Farmer, at “Mr. Frank Barnes Plantation.” A.M.E. Zion elder N.L. Overton performed the ceremony in the presence of Mattie V. Overton, James Smith, and Polly Farmer.
I do not know the context of this puzzling letter Rev. Jeremiah Scarborough wrote to the editor of Wilson Times.
Wilson Times, 15 September 1899.
Twenty years later, Scarborough was still preaching the gospel of accommodationism.
Wilson Times, 2 June 1919.
In the 1870 census of Little River township, Wake County: farm laborer Robert Scarborough, 55; wife Flora, 48; children Louisa, 20, Sarah, 18, Jeremiah, 17, and Charles, 6; plus Maryann Fowler, 25, and her son Willie, 10.
Scarborough appears in the 1877 edition of Shaw University’s catalog as a Wake Forest native and graduate of its Normal School division. He is also listed in Claude Trotter’s History of the Wake Baptist Association, Its Auxiliaries and Churches, 1866-1966 (1876) as a pastor in 1878 at Wake County’s Friendship Chapel, near Wake Forest.
In the 1880 census of Dunns township, Franklin County, N.C.: farmer Jerry Scarboro, 24, and wife Martha, 20.
In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Scarborough Jeremiah (c) farmer h[ome] Nash nr Lucas Av
In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Nash Road, farmer Jerrimiah Scarborough, 53; wife Martha R., 45, laundress; children Olzie, 17, laundress, Robert, 13, James, 11, Lula, 9, and Maggie, 5; and granddaughter Martha A.E. Stallings, 18 months.
In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Scarborough Jeremiah (c) lab h W Nash nr Lucas Av
Leah Holloway, 62, of Wilson, daughter of Harry and Rosa Farmer, married Jeremiah Scarboro, 63, of Wilson, son on Robert and Flora Scarboro, in Wilson on 31 March 1922. Missionary Baptist minister Charles T. Jones performed the ceremony in the presence of W.S. Barnes, Columbus Stuart, and Annie Rountree.
In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Scarborough Jeremiah (c; Leah) firemn r[esidence] New Grabneck [The Scarboroughs were among the Black families moved from the former Grabneck community to New Grabneck in the early 1920s.]
In the 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Scarborough Jeremiah (c) firemn r New Grabneck
In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: in a home owned and valued at $3000, Jerry Scarboro, 75, widower, and roomer James Duerant, 39, “Babtist” preacher.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 306 Elba Street, truck driver Ellis Brown, 37; wife Margaret, 36; sons Ellis Jr., 19, and William E., 17; and father-in-law Jerry Scarboro, 85, widower.
Rev. Jeremiah Scarabourgh died 9 June 1949 in Bunn, Franklin County, North Carolina. Per his death certificate, he was 94 years old; was born in Wake County, N.C., to Robert Scarborough; worked as a teacher; had lived in Bunn for 15 years; and was a widower. He was buried in Wilson in the Mason[ic] cemetery. Mrs. Mary Stallings was informant.
From “The Graded School Bill: An Act to Establish a Graded School in Wilson township, Wilson County,” as published in the Wilson Advance. The North Carolina legislature ratified the bill on 27 February 1883.
Wilson Advance, 23 March 1883.
E.C. Simms. Edward Cicero Simms was a teacher. In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: school teacher Edward C. Simms, 23, wife Nicy, 26, and son Edward, 7 months. By 1891, the Simms family had moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where Edward is listed in the city directory. By 1897, Edward was an ordained A.M.E. Zion minister, as shown in this 9 May 1897 edition of the Norfolk Virginian:
G.A. Farmer. Probably, Gray Farmer, a carpenter and constable.
Daniel Vick, carpenter, farmer and politician, was the father of Samuel H. Vick.
Samuel Williams was a baker, then grocer. In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: baker Samuel Williams, 30, with carpenter Daniel Vick, 25, wife Fanny, 24, and children Samuel, 8, Earnest, 3, Netta M., 5, and Violet Drake, 52. On 24 September 1870, Samuel Williams, parents unknown, married Ann Scarbro, daughter of Jack and Zaly Adams, in Wilson. In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Samuel Williams, 38, wife Ann, 47, and daughter Anna, 9. In the 1900 census, grocer Samuel Williams, 58, with lodgers William Jackson, 36, and William Allen, 25, both tobacco graders.
C.H. Darden. Charles H. Darden was a blacksmith and, later, undertaker. In 1938, Wilson’s high school for African-American children would be named for Darden.
The Major James Scarborough House is a historic plantation house located near Saratoga, Wilson [formerly Edgecombe] County, North Carolina. It was built about 1821 and is a two-story, five bay, Federal style frame dwelling with a rear shed addition and exterior end chimneys. It has a one-story rear kitchen wing connected by a breezeway. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The nomination form for the house notes that it is “probably the best preserved example of early nineteenth century architecture in Wilson County” and is “one of the most outstanding Federal houses extant” in the county.
As usual with Wilson County, the nomination form for the Scarborough house, though describing its builder as a “leading planter,” makes no mention of the men and women whose work sustained the place and produced its wealth.
Scarborough was born about 1748 in Southampton County, Virginia. His family migrated into the southern tip of Edgecombe by the late 1750s, and by 1778 Scarborough had secured the 365-acre parcel upon which he sited his home more than 30 years later. On 12 May 1835, James Scarborough, “being in a Low State of helth but in reasonable Since,” penned a will in which he left to wife Martha and daughter Zilly Scarborough, along with his home and other property, “A Parcel of Negros that is to say Nan Aggy Sen’r Silvey Lemon Washington Sumter and Young Aggy and Haywood these Eight negros with the in Creas I lend them Jointly to Geather to my wife & daughter Zilly but by no means to be Hired out but to Remane on the Plantation to labour for them during their natural lifes after there deaths I give the afore said negros by name and their in Creas to my grandaughters & grandsons named Millicent Eason Elizabeth Eason Martha Eason and James S. Eason daughters & son of Joshua B. Eason to be Equelly divided between the above named grandchildren….” To his son John Scarborough: “I also gave him three Likely negros when he went a way and now I give him four more after my death there names is as follows Luke Gilford Orange and Willis the above negros is not to be carryed away without a Lawful authority or Either by himself or his Heirs or Executors….” (Scarborough seems to have taken pains to insure that his “negros” remained together on his land.) Another son, Isaac Scarborough, inherited the Scarborough house after his unmarried sister Zilly’s death, but he died before occupying it. As of the date of the Historic Register, an unbroken line of James Scarborough’s descendants had inhabited the house.