slave sale

The great black section.

The Local History Room of Wilson County Public Library’s Main Branch holds a copy of Daisy Hendley Gold’s typewritten manuscript, “A Town Named Wilson,” published in 1949. It doesn’t have anything to say about African-Americans except this:

“Evidence of prosperity and the possession of cash money was found in the large number of slave owners in Wilson town and county. This was the period when this area was one of the great ‘black’ sections of the state.

“In 1855 William Daniel was prosperous enough to pay Amos Horne the following substantial sums for slaves: $875 for slave Harry, 19 years; $875 for Alfred, 18; $800 for Oney, 17; $675 for Gray, 14.

“In the same year John Harper who lived near Wilson left three slaves, Jason, Lettice and Martha, in trust with General Joshua Barnes for the ‘sole and separate use and benefit of Mary Harper.'”

The last will and testament of Moses Farmer Sr.

Moses Farmer Sr. of Edgecombe County [near Toisnot Swamp, later Wilson County] made out his will in 1844. Among its very specific provisions were these:

  • Other then a few items mentioned, all his perishable estate was to be sold “except my negroes,” and the tract of land on which his brother Samuel Farmer lived was to be sold privately if it would bring $250. Otherwise it was to be sold at auction.

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  • If the sale of the perishables and the Samuel Farmer tract did not raise enough cash to settle Moses Farmer’s debts, Farmer directed his executor to sell “enough of my negroes either at public or private sale to the best advantage such as he thinks most suitable”

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  • Farmer’s wife or eldest son Larry D. Farmer were to hire”Negro woman called big Chainny” from the estate “as long as she is hired out at a reasonable price for each year.”

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  • As Samuel Farmer was “verry much indebted” to Moses Farmer, and possibly unable to pay his debts, Moses let his executor decide whether to sell Samuel’s “negroes at private sale if they can agree on the price if not to have them sold at public sale.” Either way, the executor was to buy Samuel’s “negro woman Mariny” for Moses’ estate and hire her out to Samuel for $10 per year as long as he remained in-state. At Samuel’s death, Mariny was “to be disposed of as” Moses’ property. If Samuel tried to move Mariny out of state, however, she was to be sold. [Who was Mariny to Samuel? Why did not Moses take some measures to keep her with Samuel even as he gave permission for the people enslaved with her to be sold off?]

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Moses Farmer Sr. died in 1848. His estate file does not appear to contain an inventory of his enslaved people. However, it does contain the petition filed by Farmer’s heirs at the November 1848 session of court seeking to sell “a certain slave named Rina or Marina” in order to divide her value among them. The petition was granted. On 1 January 1949, Joshua Barnes purchased Marina for $325.

Will of Moses Farmer (1844), North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com; Moses Farmer (1844), Edgecombe County, North Carolina Estate Files 1663-1979, http://www.familysearch.org.

 

An account of the sale of Negroes.

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On 3 January 1859, administratrix Mahala Barnes sold two families belonging to her deceased husband Elias Barnesestate. Elias’ brother Joshua Barnes purchased Axey and her two children for $1321 and Rachel and her child for $1105 on behalf of the estate of Jesse Barnes Sr., who was Elias and Joshua’s late father.

Estate of Elias Barnes (1856), North Carolina Wills and Estates 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

The last will and estate of William H. Skinner.

William H. Skinner made out his will in Wilson County on 8 September 1860. Among other things, he left his wife Rebecca Skinner 423 acres “on both sides of the swamp,” “also the following Slaves [blank] & two children Randal & Judy a boy Peter a slave, a boy a slave Jo ….” [The phrasing and lack of punctuation make it difficult to determine how many people are included in this list.]

Skinner also directed “a Negro Girl Matilda & all the balance of my Property … be divided among” several named heirs and, at his wife’s death, all slaves were to be sold and the proceeds divided among his remaining heirs.

On 11 January 1861, executor Thomas H. Skinner held a public sale of William H. Skinner’s personal property. The very last item listed, accounting for more than a quarter of the proceeds brought in, is this unnamed woman. Presumably, she was Matilda:

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In 1866, Peter Skinner and Cherry Sharp registered their cohabitation in Wilson County.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Peter Skinner, 24; wife Cherry, 24; and children Van, 7, and Fate, 3.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Rosa Skinner, 30; and children Randal, 13, farm laborer, and John, 8, Judea, 7, Dennis, 3, and Amos, 3 months.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, farmer Peter Skinner, 35; wife Sarah, 35; and children Van Buren, 14, and Lafayette, 13.

Will of W.H. Skinner (1860); Estate Records of W.H. Skinner (1860); Wilson County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Sukey’s journey, part 1.

Recd. of Jas. B. Woodard a negro girl Sucky in his possession as Execr. of Obedience Brownrigg decd., the legacy of Alfred Brownrigg which said girl was sold by Alfred Brownrigg to Edwin Brownrigg in as good health & Condition as he recd. her under the will of Mrs. Brownrigg, and obligates to hold him the sd. Woodard harmless in Event any difficulty should rise from the delivery of sd. negro.    Feby. 14th 1842  Jno. Wright for Edwin Brownrigg

——

Waynesboro, N.C., 15 Feb. 1842

Edwin Barnes, Esq., Tosnot Depot

Dr Sir, You will please hand Mr. Barnes the above receipt for Sucky. If it does not suit him, write out any thing to give him such as will satisfy him. I am under many obligations to you for the trouble I have put you to in this and other matters of mine. I am much in hopes yr health will speedily return.

Yours Truly, Jno. Wright

——

This note and receipt are 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 in 2003. What is going on here?

Obedience Thomas Tartt Brownrigg died in 1840, likely on her plantation near White Oak Swamp in what was then Edgecombe County. She had drafted a will in April 1839, and among its many bequests were these:

  • to daughter Maria Burden [Borden] — “Tom Penny Dennis & William & Maria & Jim & Ellick
  • to son Alfred Brownrigg — “one negro girl by the name of Susan”
  • to daughter Obedience Wright — “one boy Henry one boy Lonor one negroe woman named Winny one boy Bryant one boy John also one girl named Angy & Anscy
  • also to daughter Obedience Wright — “one negro woman named Cloy one negro man named Joe and all my Table & Tea Spoons it it my Will and desire that the labor of Joe Shall Support the Old Woman Cloy her life time then Joe to Obedience Wright”

Obedience Brownrigg’s first husband was Elnathan Tartt, who died in 1796. As shown here, he bequeathed his wife an enslaved woman named Cloe [Chloe], who is surely the Cloy named above, and man named Ellic, who is probably Ellick.

Obedience’s second husband was George Brownrigg, who died without a will in 1821. An inventory of his estate included enslaved people Ellick, Chloe, Joe, Jem, Tom, Penny, Drury, Tom, Annie, Matilda, Suckey, Clara, Fereba, Sarah, Clarky, Anthony, Rachel, Mary, Nelson, Emily, Julia and Abram, and several others unnamed in a petition for division of negroes filed by his heirs in 1825. Ellick and Chloe surely are the man and woman Obedience brought to the marriage. I have not found evidence of the distribution of George Brownrigg’s enslaved property, but Joe, Tom, Penny and Susan seem to have passed to his wife Obedience. (Suckey, pronounced “Sooky,” was a common nickname for Susan.)

So, back to the receipt.

George Brownrigg bequeathed Susan “Sukey” to his widow Obedience about 1821. Obedience Brownrigg in turn left Sukey to her son Alfred Brownrigg. Alfred Brownrigg quickly sold Sukey to his brother Edwin Barnes Brownrigg. On 15 February 1842, Edwin’s representative John Wright took possession of Sukey from James B. Woodard, Obedience Brownrigg’s executor. Wright was married to Eliza Obedience Brownrigg Wright, daughter to Obedience Brownrigg and sister to Alfred and Edwin.

The note is less clear. Wright, who lived in Waynesborough (once the Wayne County seat, now long defunct) is asking someone (the unnamed “sir”) to deliver the receipt to Edwin Barnes of Toisnot Depot (now Wilson.) There were several Edwin Barneses in southeast Edgecombe (to become Wilson) County at that time.  And Edwin Brownrigg’s middle name was Barnes. Are Edwin Barnes and Edwin Brownrigg the same man, whose name was misgiven in one or the documents? In other words, should the receipt have been made out instead to the Edwin Barnes mentioned in the note? If this were the case, the note would make immediate sense. As to Sukey, I’ll explore a possible twist to her story in another post.]

Estate Records of Obedience Brownrigg, Estate Records of George Brownrigg, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

 

Materially and essentially promoted.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County  }   Court of Equity, Fall Term 1860

To the Honorble, the Judge of Said Court

The Petition of Joshua Barnes Trustee of Mary Harper and of John Harper & Mary Harper his wife

Humbly complaining respectfully Showeth unto your Honor that on the 12th day of May AD 1855 a deed was executed by your Petitioner John Harper conveying certain slaves to your Petitioner Joshua Barnes in trust for the benefit of your Petitioner the said Mary Harper who is the wife of your petitioner John Harper for a more minute description of which Refference is hereby made, and a true and verified copy of which is hereunto Attached Marked A and prayed to be taken as a part of this your Petitioners Petition

Your Petitioners further show that in pursuance to said deed your petitioner held said Slaves therein conveyed until some time in the month of [blank] when one of the slaves man named Jason therein conveyed becoming so disorderly and rebellis that it became unsafe for him to remain in this community for his life having been frequently threatened on an account of Spirit of insubordination and rebellion when your petitioner took him & sent him out of the State & sold him the sum of fifteen hundred and fifteen dollars and out the proceeds of said he purchased a negro woman Named Agnes & child for the sum of twelve hundred and fifty dollars this was done by and with the consent and approval of your petitioners John & Mary Harper and under the advice of many of the friends of all your petitioners.

In as much therefore as the acts and doings of the trustee aforesaid are not binding and legitimate without the Sanction of the this Court and in as much as the interest of his cestui que trust has been materially and essentially promoted by the sale of Slave Jason and purchase of Woman Agnes & child (now [blank] children)

Your petitioners do therefore pray your Honor to duly consider the premises and make a decree confirming the sale of said Slave Jason and also the purchase of the Agnes & child and ordering, directing and decreeing that the Said Joshua Barnes as trustee aforesaid shall keep hold use and apply to the same uses purposes and trusts as was expressed and implied in the original conveyance from Harper to Barnes aforesaid the said woman Slave Agness & children and their increase and the balance of the money arising from the sale of Jason after paying for the woman Agness & child and all necessary expenses of selling Jason and purchasing Agness & child together with the costs of this proceeding

And as in duty bound your Petitioners will ever pray &c      E.A. Thompson Solicitor for Petitioner

He shall be at liberty to expend in hiring of laborers to assist in supporting the family or otherwise as he may consider best for the interest of his cestui que trust.

Jas. D. Barnes John T. Barnes maketh oath that in their opinion the interest of the Cestui que trust the said Mary Harper has been materially and essentially promoted by the sale of the Slave Jason and the purchase of Negro woman Agnes & child

Sworn to & subscribed before me this 5th day of Dec 1860} J.T. Barnes, Jas. D. Barnes, Wm. H. Barnes C.M.E.

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[Attachment A]

Know all men by these presents that I, John Harper, of the county of Wilson State of North Carolina for & in consideration of the natural love & affection I bear to my wife Mary Harper & my children & for the further consideration of one Dollar in hand paid the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have given, granted, bargained, sold & conveyed & by these presents do give, grant, bargain sell & convey unto Joshua Barnes three slaves, Jason, Lettice & Martha To have & to hold unto the said Joshua Barnes his executors & administrators nevertheless in Trust for the sole & separate use & benefit of the said Mary Harper during her Natural life or widowhood, & after her death or Marriage to divide & make over the same to such person or persons as would be my Distributees at that time. And the said Joshua Barnes for himself his executors & administrators does hereby covenant & agree to faithfully execute the above Trusts.

In testimony whereof I the said John Harper & Joshua Barnes as Trustee hereunto affix our hands & seals this the 12th day of May AD 1855.   John Harper {seal} Witness Geo. Howard Jr.

State of North Carolina Wilson County This is the 12th day of May 1855 Geo Howard Jr the subscribing witness to the above Deed appears before me & being duly sworn proved the execution of the same by John Harper whereupon it is so ordered to be registered  Washington Barnes C.C. Clerk

This deed was received for Registration the 12th day of May 1855  L. Sauls Register

I hereby certify that this is a true copy of the above Deed from the Register Oct 22 AD 1860  A.J. Brown Reg

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In other words, John Harper set aside three enslaved people in trust for his wife and children and designated Joshua Barnes — “Father of Wilson County” — as trustee. When Jason became “disorderly and rebellious,” Barnes sold him out of state and purchased Agnes and her child with the proceeds. A trustee’s actions required court approval, and Barnes petitioned for same, asserting that the transactions had benefited the trust. He also tacked on a request to be able to hire laborers, i.e. slaves, to support the Harper family.

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