slave hire

Confusion and trouble.

Here we examined the messy machinations of the administration of Weeks Parker’s estate, which entered probate in Edgecombe County in 1844. One of his legatees was daughter Margaret H. Battle, wife of Rev. Amos J. Battle and a Wilson resident by the mid-1850s.

Hugh B. Johnston transcribed this May 1861 letter to Rev. Battle from James Davis of Wilson, the court-appointed trustees of Margaret Battle’s share of estate. (The original letter does not appear to have preserved among the Battle papers.) The letter is difficult to decipher out of context but to seems to suggest that Davis felt significant pressure to bring in quick money by selling slaves rather than hiring them out and was protesting the interference in his management of Mrs. Battle’s affairs. Recall that Weeks Parker had purposefully drafted the terms of his will to hold in trust slaves Lucindy, Stephen, Turner, Lewis, George, Marina, Tony, Matilda, Caroline, William, Holly, Big Hardy, Ben, Cena, Moses, Syphax, Little Hardy, Jim, Lucy and Little Jim “for the sole and separate use and benefit of daughter Margaret H. Battle wife of Amos J. Battle during her natural life free from the management and control of her present or any future husband.”

Mr. Battle

My Dear Sir, I have striven in vain in the management as Trustee of Mrs. Battle’s affairs to act in such a way as would conduce to the interest of all concerned and at the same time to avoid giving occasion to those dissensions & wranglings in the family which I know are so harassing to you all. I have not in any arrangement which I have attempted to make been actuated by an motive of self interest of for my own security — but having been fully satisfied by the last years management of the farm & negroes that there could not upon any just ground be expected an adequate support for the family for the ensuing year from the farm, I advised the hireing out of the negroes & I was of the opinion & still am that it would have been best to have hired out every single man — According to an understanding had some 2 or 3 months ago I gave to Dr. Bullock the choice and the refusal of all the hands to be hired out; in pursuance of this arrangement I went to see Mrs. Battle & knew of her which of the negroes she had determined to keep & told her at the time that Dr. B. was to have such of the rest as he wanted, & this arrangement I shall most certainly adhere to as long I have any say-so in the matter, because I have made the promise to Dr. B. & I see no just reason why I should violate it.

In regard to the sale of the Women and Children and the appropriation of the proceeds of the sale to any other purpose than the buying of such other property as the Court may be satisfied is of equivalent value, I am satisfied upon an examination the will can not be done. I am however perfectly willing to appropriate every dollar of the hire of the negroes to the purchase of provisions & I will take the notes and advance the money (Provided the sureties to that notes agree to this arrangement) & I can not see why they should not in view of the condition in which you find yourself as to provisions.

If Mrs. Battle wishes the girl at Dr Harrel’s Exchanged, I will try and effect the Exchange as soon as I can conveniently do so, but I can not and will not do that with regard to this property which I am not authorized to do by the will. If I could have the absolute and undisturbed control of the negroes, I have not the shadow of a doubt I could realize from them a handsome support for your family, but as long as their whims and caprices are to consulted & there is no settled plan as to their management, there will inevitably be confusion and trouble.

I am writing plainly, not out of any feeling of vexation or resentment, but simply because you have written thus to me, and because the circumstances of the case demand plain and prompt action. I am now as I ever have been very willing to render through motives of friendship such service to your family as I may be able, & it is only by the exercise of the strictest economy that in the present arrangement of your force that you can get through this year, & instead of hireing either for the farm or for other purposes, it most certainly is the true policy to get clear of every one that can possibly be dispensed with.

I was from home from Tuesday last to Saturday evening or you would have heard from me sooner. You must be content as I and as many others have to, tho, to trust the future somewhat. I have not got corn enough on hand to last 2 months & but few have a year’s supply of corn or meat & if the Sureties to that note will as I have no doubt they will if the matter is properly represented to them consent to the appropriation of the negro hire to the purchase of provisions, it will place some 1200$ at your disposal & as soon as the notes are placed in my hands you can buy corn or meat & draw on me for the full amount of the notes & I will pay the orders.

This amt will surely relieve you till the next term of our Sup’r Court, when we can obtain (if necessary) in a legal manner such a decree as will enable us to get along for the bal. of the year, but as I have already said, I will not without proper authority violate the plain letter of that will — and I can but think that your threat to sell those negroes is made without due consideration. It is but too evident that there is a feeling of restlessness in regard to those negroes, a continual disposition to sell or exchange, which must result if persisted in to the detriment of the estate, & while I am always willing to do that which will promote the comfort or interest of Mrs. Battle or her family, I must see a good reason why a sale or exchange should be made before I proceed to make it. You need not send the Woman & children to me, but if you wish to dispose of her for the year, please come & let me know what kind of a negro she is, what incumbrance to her &c I will Endeavor to get her off your hands.

P.S. I have just seen Dr B. he gives up Hardy & keeps Stephen, Hilliard, & Turner — says further that he is willing to the appropriation of the negro hire Except his own to be applied as above proposed & I have no doubt will willingly agree to his own hire going in the same way if I solicit it, which I will if Mrs. Battle signifies her assent to the arrangement. It may be proper for me here to say in order to give Mrs. Battle time to select another that I shall be compelled upon the first opportunity (which will be at the June Court) to resign my Trusteeship because I see probability of my being able to so manage her affairs as to secure her best interest & retain the good will of others concerned

——

Turner, Hilliard, Hardy, and Stephen were among the group of enslaved people Margaret P. Battle inherited from her father.

Letter transcribed in The Past Speaks from Old Letters, “a copy of the working papers found in the files of Hugh B. Johnston, Jr., acquired in the course of his lifelong avocation as a professional genealogist and local historian,”republished by Wilson County Genealogical Society, March 2003.

The estate of Isaac Daniel.

Isaac Daniel’s homeplace was at the site of modern Daniels Chapel Free Will Baptist Church, on Frank Price Church Road, northeast of Black Creek (and once part of Wayne County). Daniel made out his will on 13 January 1809. Among its provisions:

  • to beloved wife Mary Daniel, a negro woman woman named Crease
  • to wife Mary Daniel during her lifetime or widowhood, a negro boy named Everett
  • to wife Mary Daniel, negro woman Dinah and “her five younges children” Rose, Gin, Rachel, Lige, and Willie until his daughter Elizabeth Daniel comes of age, and then for Dinah and her children (and any increase) to be divided equally among Isaac and Mary Daniel’s six children, David, Elizabeth, Isaac, Patsey, Polly, and Jacob.

Isaac Daniel’s father was also named Isaac Daniel, which makes for confusing documentation, as we’ll see.

In March 1815, Wayne County Court divided the enslaved people belonging to Isaac Daniel’s estate. Son David Daniel drew Lot No. 1, Rosa and Clary ($440). Son Jacob Daniel drew Lot No. 4, Dinah and Sarah. Daughter Elizabeth Chance drew Lot No. 2, Jim ($375). Son Isaac Daniel drew Lot No. 3, Rachel and Peter. Daughter Martha Hooks drew Lot No. 5, Lige ($290). Daughter Polly Daniel drew Lot No. 6, Willie and Tobbin ($425).

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Though this 1817 document is found in Isaac Daniel’s estate file, it appears to relate to the estate of his father Isaac Daniel. This Isaac’s children were Isaac and Jacob Daniel, who predeceased their father; Elizabeth Daniel Rountree; and Solomon Daniel. Isaac the first had owned four enslaved people — Sally ($275), Leah ($275), Sharper ($275), and Iredal ($200). The heirs of Isaac Daniel Jr. (the Isaac above) received Sharper. Elizabeth Rountree received Leah. The heirs of Jacob Daniel received Iredal. Solomon Daniel received Sally.

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Beginning in December 1814, Jacob Fulghum, guardian of Isaac Daniel’s minor sons, kept a log for several years of “the hire of the Negroes belonging to Jacob and Isaac Daniel.” (This appears to refer to Isaac the second and his brother.)

Dena and children were named as enslaved people belonging to Jacob Daniel. Dena’s youngest was born between 28 December 1814 and 28 December 1815. By 1821, Dena’s children Jack and Sary were old enough to be hired out on the own.

Isaac Daniel’s enslaved people were Rachel and Peter.

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This brief inventory has a blurry date (1822?), and it is unclear whether it pertains to Isaac Daniel the first or second. In any case, it names two additional enslaved people — boy Laurance and girl Rena.

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Isaac Daniel Estate Records (1810),Wayne County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

 

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.

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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.

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

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As were those of many others, including Gray Boseman …

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… another of Green Lassiter’s …

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… the $1.25 Silas Lassiter owed …

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… the $7.50 John R. Locus owed …

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…  the $3.25 Warren Artis owed …

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

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… and another $5.57 owed by Warren Artis.

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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.

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“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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

One Negro Man Ben.

On 26 January 1864, administrator J.T. Dew filed in Wilson County court his inventory of the personal estate of Isaac Farmer. After a list of debts owed to the estate, he added a short list of personal property, including an enslaved man named Ben.

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Dew later filed with the court a receipt for the hire of Ben to Theresa Farmer in 1865.

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Isaac Farmer Estate (1863), Wilson County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

 

The estate of David Jordan.

James D. Barnes reported the results of the sale of David Jordan’s personal property in January 1856.

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An enslaved “boy” (who may actually have been a grown man) named Harry was not sold with Jordan’s gold watch, walking cane, cigars, chamberpots, “champaign,” and poultry. Rather, he was leased to Robert Simpson for twelve months for $100.00.

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Jordan may have purchased Harry from the estate of his mother Sally Jordan, who had died in 1827. The inventory of her possessions included this notation of enslaved men Turner and Harry.

David Jordan Estate File (1856), Wilson County; Sally Jordan Estate File (1827), Nash County; North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com

Bob is hired for one year.

On 1 January 1857, Jesse Minshew, acting for the partnership Minshew & Caho, hired Bob from John A. Sam, guardian of William H. Applewhite, for one year for $146. Minshew & Caho agreed to furnish Bob with three suits of clothes (one woolen), a pair of shoes, a hat and a blanket.

William H. Applewhite was the son of Henry and Orpha Pike Applewhite. His father died when he was eight years old, leaving him and his siblings inheritances that included Bob and other enslaved people. As the guardian of a minor, John Sam’s job was to protect his interests and increase his assets, and sending Bob to work for Minshew & Caho was calculated to do just that. (It’s not clear what kind of business Wayne County farmer Jesse Minshew and steam miller John M. Caho were engaged in.)

Slave Hire-1857, Records of Slaves and Free People of Color, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Hired from Franklin County.

Slaveowners needing additional labor sometimes looked beyond the borders of Wilson County for supply. In January 1857, W.H. Privett, Stephen Privett and J.D. Rountree agreed to pay Dr. P.S. Foster $375 for twelve months’ hire of enslaved men Gaswell and James. Gaswell and James were to receive the usual clothing provided to hired slaves and were to be returned to Foster in Louisburg the following 1 January.

  • Dr. P.S. Foster — Peter S. Foster is listed in the 1860 census of Franklin County as a doctor with $5500 real property and $48,555 of personal property.
  • W.H. Privett
  • Stephen Privett — in the 1860 census, Stephen Privett is a 50 year-old farmer living in Black Creek township, Wilson County.
  • J.D. Rountree — in the 1860 census, Jno. [Jonathan] D. Rountree is a 40 year-old merchant living in the Town of Wilson.

Slave Hire-1857, Records of Slaves and Free People of Color, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Hired for twelve months.

On 2 January 1857, Bassett Sikes and B.H. Bardin promised to pay Elizabeth Farmer $162 for the hire of two enslaved woman, Chaney and Merica, for twelve months.

  • Bassett Sikes — in the 1850 census of Greene County, North Carolina, Sikes is listed as a 44 year-old merchant with $4000 in personal property.
  • B.H. [Benjamin Howell] Bardin — in the 1860 census of Town of Wilson, Wilson County, Bardin is a 34 year-old farmer who claimed $12,800 in real property and $42,500 in personal property. His personal property would have included the 21 slaves he reported in the 1860 slave schedule.

Slave Hire-1857, Records of Slaves and Free People of Color, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

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.

Heartbreak Day.

On 27 December 2019, Time magazine published Olivia B. Waxman’s sobering and insightful article on the hiring of slave labor, “The Dark History of New Year’s Day“:

“Americans are likely to think of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as a time to celebrate the fresh start that a new year represents, but there is also a troubling side to the holiday’s history. In the years before the Civil War, the first day of the new year was often a heartbreaking one for enslaved people in the United States.

“In the African-American community, New Year’s Day used to be widely known as “Hiring Day” — or “Heartbreak Day,” as the African-American abolitionist journalist William Cooper Nell described it — because enslaved people spent New Year’s Eve waiting, wondering if their owners were going to rent them out to someone else, thus potentially splitting up their families. The renting out of slave labor was a relatively common practice in the antebellum South, and a profitable practice for white slave owners and hirers.”

Please read the article and revisit these blog posts: