Lemon Ruffin executed his will shortly before leaving for war as a Confederate soldier. He did not return. He died as a prisoner of war in Illinois in 1864, age 32. (His brothers Etheldred, George W. and Thomas Ruffin also died in the war.) As set forth in more detail below, Ruffin received the bulk of his enslaved property as an inheritance from his exceedingly wealthy father Henry J.G. Ruffin, who died in 1854. An inventory of the elder Ruffin’s estate listed 138 enslaved people held on plantations in Franklin, Greene, Wayne and Edgecombe Counties.
I Lemon Ruffin of the county of Wilson, State of North Carolina, being of sound mind and memory, but considering the uncertainly of my existence, do make and declare this my last will and testament in manner and form following, that is to say:
First: That my executors shall pay my debts out of the money that may first come into their hands on part or parcel of my estate.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister S.B. Ruffin my tract of land situated in Wilson Co NC adjoining the lands of Warner Woodard & others on Tosnot — to have and to hold to her and her heirs in fee simple forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister M.H. Fugitt the proceeds of the sale of the Negro slaves Amos, Sallie and Henderson. Amos to be sold in Alabama. My will and desire is that Sallie and Henderson be brought to N.C. and sold in Wilson County.
Item: I give and bequeath to my sister, Nina W. Ruffin, the Negro slaves Crockett and Harriet to her and her personal representatives forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Dr. W. Haywood Ruffin of Misourah the Negro Slaves Isse(?) the first and her three children and grandchildren, viz; Eliza, Esther, Elizabeth and Haywood.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Thomas Ruffin, the Negro slaves Patience and her children named Isaac, Lettuce & Jerre and the youngest child to him and his personal representative forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, Etheldred Ruffin, Beck and all her children named Ned, Elving(?), Arabella and Thom to him and his personal representatives forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew, Samuel Ruffin, Jr. of Mississippi, the Negro slaves Isse(?) the 2nd commonly called Son[illegible] to him and his personal representative forever.
Item: I give and bequeath to my niece Mary L. Ruffin the negro slave Creasy to her and her personal representative forever.
I do whereof I the said Lemon Ruffin do hereunto set my hand and seal this 24th day of June 1862.
In the 1860 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Lemon Ruffin is listed as a 28 year-old farmer living alone, with $5000 in real property and $21,600 in personal property.
These are the relatives listed in his will:
- sister S.B. Ruffin — Sarah Blount Ruffin.
- sister M.H. Fugitt — Mary Haywood Ruffin Williams Fugett.
- sister Nina W. Ruffin — Penina Watson Ruffin Ruffin of Franklin County.
- brother Dr. W. Haywood Ruffin — William Haywood Ruffin, who migrated to Lexington, Missouri (and later Choctaw County, Alabama.)
- brother Thomas Ruffin
- brother Etheldred Ruffin — Etheldred F. Ruffin, Greene County.
- nephew Samuel Ruffin Jr. — son of W. Haywood Ruffin, but migrated to Pushmataha, Choctaw County, Alabama, to join his uncle Samuel R. Ruffin. Samuel R. Ruffin was the largest slaveholder in that county at Emancipation, and a list of his slaves reveals a number of first names common among Henry’s slaves. See below.
- niece Mary L. Ruffin
Henry John Gray Ruffin, father of the above and husband of Mary Tartt Ruffin, died in 1854 in Franklin County, North Carolina. He had accumulated immense wealth and prudently executed a precise will, which entered probate in Franklin County. Among the provisions to son Lemon Ruffin were one-half interest in a plantation on Toisnot Swamp in Edgecombe [now Wilson] County (son George W. Ruffin received the other half) and “twenty negro slaves of average value.” (In addition, Mary Tartt Ruffin was to receive “my old negro man servant Bryant now living at my Tossnot plantation.”) The inventory of Ruffin’s property listed 51 people enslaved on his Franklin County plantation, 50 enslaved on a plantation in Greene and Wayne Counties, and 37 in Edgecombe. (Other enslaved people were distributed among his children prior to his death.)
When distribution was made in September 1854, Lemon Ruffin received Beck, age 23, and her children Wyatt, 3, and Ned, 1; Patience, 32, and her children Isaac, 5, Lettuce, 3, and Jerry, 1; Maria, 45, and her children Eliza, 7, Hester, 5, and Elizabeth, 1; Isaac, 44; Reuben, 43; Crockett, 21; Isaac, 9; Arthur, 9; Sally, 19; Charlotte, 50; Harriet, 12; and Henry, 13. Per the inventories of Ruffin’s plantations, most had been enslaved on the Greene/Wayne County farm previously.
In the 1860 slave schedule of Wilson township, Wilson County, Lemon Taylor is listed with 21 slaves living in three dwellings. He enslaved eight males aged 6, 11, 15, 20, 25, 25, 51 and 52, and 13 females aged 1, 5, 7, 7, 9, 9, 11, 18, 18, 20, 25, 40 and 50. (Above him on the list was his brother G.W. Ruffin and his 22 slaves, aged 3 to 43.)
Two years later, Lemon Ruffin’s will showed that he retained ownership of 14 of the 20 enslaved people he had inherited from his father. Beck’s son Wyatt was likely dead, but she had had three more children, Elvin, Arabella and Tom, in the interim. Maria was dead or sold away; her children Eliza, Hester/Esther and Elizabeth were listed with their grandmother Isse (who seems to have been the “old” Isaac of the inventory, though Isaac is generally a masculine name). Reuben, Charlotte, Arthur and Henry do not appear in Lemon Ruffin’s will, but Crockett, young Isaac, Sallie and Harriet do. Lemon had also purchased or otherwise come into possession of Amos, Henderson and Creasy. (There are an Amos and Creasy listed in the “residue” of Henry Ruffin’s slaves after distribution. Perhaps Lemon had purchased them from the estate.) Per Lemon Ruffin’s will, Amos, Henderson and Sallie were in Alabama (on lease? on loan?) Sallie and Henderson were to be brought back to Wilson for sale, but Amos was to be put on the block In Alabama. None of it came to pass, as Ruffin’s estate did not enter probate until 1866, when his formerly enslaved property was beyond reach.
A North Carolina-born Amos Ruffin, age 35, appears in the 1870 census of Township 13, Choctaw County, Alabama, with his wife and children. Was this the Amos who was targeted for sale in Lemon Ruffin’s will?
In 1866, Patience Ruffin and Michel Ward appeared before a Wilson County justice of the peace to register their 16-year cohabitation. In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmworker Patience Ward, 50, and daughter Lettuce, 20, with Mitchell Ward listed next door.
None of other men, women and children Lemon Ruffin possessed at his death are clearly identifiable in post-Emancipation records.
- Children up to about age 7 were usually grouped with their mothers for purposes of sale or distribution. It is almost certain that the children listed with Patience and Maria in Henry Ruffin’s distribution were merely their youngest and that their older children were separated from them.
- Though enslaved people sometimes married men or women with whom they shared an owner, more often they married outside the farm or plantation on which they lived. Patience Ruffin and Mitchell Ward are an example.
- Wealthy planters often owned multiple plantations and moved enslaved people among them at will. Henry Ruffin divided his Edgecombe (Wilson) County plantation into halves. However, the people who had lived on that plantation during his lifetime did not necessarily remain in place after his death. In fact, it appears that the 20 people with whom Lemon Ruffin stocked his half of Toisnot plantation came primarily from his father’s Greene/Wayne plantation. The former Toisnot slaves were shifted to plantations elsewhere. This kind of movement resulted in the further splintering of families as parents owned by neighboring enslavers were left behind.
- White eastern North Carolina slaveowners were among the earliest settlers of Alabama in the early 1800s, taking North Carolina-born enslaved people with them. Slaveowners who did not leave North Carolina often sold their “excess” enslaved property to meet the ravenous labor needs of Alabama’s booming cotton economy.
- Herbert G. Gutman argued in his exhaustively researched The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1825 that enslaved African-Americans strove to maintain and transmit ties of kinship by repeating first names among generations of a family. Though we do not know the relationships among all the Ruffin slaves, this pattern can be observed among them. More on this later.
Images of estate documents available at North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.