slave trader

The Wyatt Moye house, built with blood money.

Slave-trading was good money.

In the area that became Wilson County, Wyatt Moye and Robert S. Adams were perhaps the major players in the domestic slave trade, moving humans from eastern North Carolina into the Deep South, where prices were high and demand insatiable.

It was a lucrative business, and both men eventually settled in Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi. An 1852 newspaper ad touts Adams and his business partners’ arrangements: “They will keep at their depot in Aberdeen, during the coming fall and winter, a large lot of choice Negroes, which they will sell low for cash, or for bills on Mobile.”

Both Adams and Moye moved into large homes in town to signal their wealth. We’ve seen R.S. Adams’ grand Greek Revival mansion (which checks every antebellum architecture box); Moye’s more modest house was close enough that they’re in the same historic district, North Aberdeen. (Descriptions of the houses’ history describe Adams and Moye as “bankers.” It is true that they formed a money-lending concern in Aberdeen. Their wealth, however, was built on buying and selling enslaved people.)

Built circa 1855 and now known as the I.Y. Johnson House, Moye’s house was recently purchased for restoration after decades of deterioration.

I.Y. Johnson House, 108 West Canal Street, Aberdeen, Mississippi. Front and side facades. March 11, 2010, W. White, photographer.


Wyatt Moye wore a lot of hats, including “general” (of what?), sheriff of Greene County, North Carolina state legislator (he introduced the bill to incorporate the Town of Wilson), and, as we’ve seen, slave trader and money lender. He seems to have been in Mississippi full time shortly after 1850, but spent his last decade between Monroe County and business concerns in Saint Mary Parish, Louisiana. He is listed in both Mississippi and Louisiana in the 1860 census.

In the 1830 census of Greene County, N.C., Wyatt Moye reported owning 27 enslaved people.

In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County, N.C.: Wyatt Moye, 55, no occupation listed; [second] wife Louisa, 37; and daughter Louisa V., 17. [Judging by their neighbors, the Moyes appear to have lived in the Stantonsburg area of what is now Wilson County.]

In the 1850 slave schedule of Lowndes County, Mississippi, Wyatt Moye reported 27 enslaved people.

In the 1860 census of Western Division, Monroe County, Mississippi: trader Wyatt Moye, 66; [third] wife M.M., 44; W.A. Rover, 33, lumber dealer; and D. Farmer, 25, laborer. Moye reported owning $5500 in real property and $7500 in personal property (which would have included enslaved people).

In the 1860 slave schedule of Western Division, Monroe County, Mississippi, Wyatt Moye reported 8 enslaved people.

But also: in the 1860 census of Western Division, Saint Mary Parish, Louisiana: Yatt Moye, 50, planter; wife Mary, 32; Margaret Fisher, 21; and W.J. Deson, 42, agent. Moye reported a whopping $100,000 in real property and another $100,000 in personal property. [One hundred thousand dollars in 1860 is roughly $3.5 million today.]

In the 1860 slave schedule of Western Division, Saint Mary Parish, Louisiana, Wyatt Moye & Company is listed with 119 enslaved people.

Wyatt Moye died in 1862 in Saint Mary Parish. His body was returned to North Carolina for burial in Calvary Church cemetery, Tarboro.

The fellow ought to hire for $100.

To Jacob S. Barnes, Esq.

Wilson Post Office, Edgecombe County, N. Carolina

State of Alabama, City of Montgomery

My dear Sir,

After my best respects to you & your good lady, Susannah & Caroline, and all my friends, my enemies I need not care for, I wrote to say to you what I wished to say before I left but could not see you. We arrived this day Sunday at 2 o’clock after travelling all night last night in the Stage. I want you to hire out for me at the first day of January next the negro man that you hired last year belonging after I am done with him to the widow of James A. Barnes and Theophilus Bass. Please say to Theophilus & the widow I think though I have not settled the Estate yet the hire of the negro the year 1851 will be sufficient to pay with what is in my hands all the debts of the deceased though the debts are more than I expected. Inclosed you will find some advertisements. Please set them at Tosnot, Stantonsburg & elsewhere. I think the fellow ought to hire for $100 the years 1850. Take a good note & two good securities. We are all tolerable well. We are agoing to rest until tomorrow evening. I shall get (home) Wednesday next if nothing happens.

Accept my best wishes for your health & happiness.  /s/ Wyatt Moye


Wyatt Moye was both a founding father of Wilson County and a committed slave trader. With partner Richard Adams, Moye regularly traveled from eastern North Carolina to Mississippi and Louisiana to sell enslaved African-Americans. Moye was executor of James A. Barnes’ estate and — away on business — he sent instructions to Barnes’ brother Jacob S. Barnes hire out an enslaved man again for one hundred dollars to pay down the estate’s debt. In a sobering reminder of the reality of chattel slavery, Moye cautioned Barnes to get a good note, i.e. a promise to pay the cost of hire, and two good securities, i.e. properties promised to Barnes’ estate in the event of non-payment.

Who was the “negro man” repeatedly hired out? James Barnes’ will, drafted in 1848, is explicit:

“Item 4th. It is my will and desire the negro fellow Charles is to be hired out as long as my wife lives and the money arising from said hire to be applied enough of it to pay my debt if it is required for that purpose, and if not one half of his hire to pay to Theophilus Bass and the other half to my wife Sarah Barnes.”

Barnes had owned 24 enslaved people, a group that likely included Charles’ parents or siblings, if not his wife and children. Barnes split the group 11 ways — including a directive to sell one woman immediately. Though Charles was to join three others bequeathed to Barnes’ widow, his repeated hire separated him for years from the comfort and company of those who knew him best.

Letter found 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.