Toisnot Swamp

Ruffin’s negroes, part 1.

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.

Sidenotes:

  • 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.

Studio shots, no. 11: Winstead, father and son.

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Ned Winstead, a Toisnot township farmer, was introduced here.

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Bryant Joseph Winstead was the youngest child of Ned and Annie Edwards Winstead.

In the 1910 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: on State Highway, farmer Ned Winstead, 52, wife Annie, 47, and children Maggie, 18, Lizzie, 14, Daniel, 12, John, 9, Lee, 6, and Bryant, 4.

In the 1920 census of Toisnot, Wilson County: on State Highway, farmer Ned Winstead, 58, wife Annie, 50, and children Maggie, 23, John, 18, and Bryant, 13, plus granddaughter Annie Bell, 9.

On 7 November 1931, in Smithfield, North Carolina, Bryant Winstead, 26, son of Ned and Annie Winstead, resident of Elm City, married Eva Green, 24, daughter of Neverson and Isabella Green, resident of Wilson.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 200 North Pender Street (a large rooming house), tobacco factory worker Bryant Winstead, 35, wife Eva, 32, and daughter Delores, 12.

In 1940, Bryant Joseph Winstead registered in Wilson County for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 14 January 1905 in Elm City; resided at 305 North Carroll Street; worked for Export Tobacco Company in Wilson; and had a wife named Mrs. Addie Winstead.

Bryant J. Winstead died 31 January 1971 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Per his death certificate, he was born in Elm City, North Carolina, to Ned and Ann Edwards Winstead on 14 January 1905; resided in Portsmouth; was an auto operator at a naval hospital;and was married to Addie Lucas Winstead. He was buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Portsmouth.

Photographs courtesy of Lisa R.W. Sloan. Many thanks.

The last will and testament of Aggie Mercer Williams.

Aggie M. Williams of Elm City dictated her will on 15 July 1914 in the presence of W.G. Britt Jr. and W.F. Cuddington.

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The details:

  • to daughter Mary Eliza Nicholson and her children, 45 acres from her farm located about three miles from Elm City (and, specifically, the 45 acres must come from the middle of the farm, running north and south); remainder of household and kitchen furniture; house and lot on which she lived;
  • to daughter Cora C. Lucas, 20 acres to the north of Mary Eliza’s 45; two pair of bleaching sheets and a portion of her wearing apparel; any other personal property not mentioned to be split with Mary Eliza;
  • to Alice Marie Nicholson, the bedroom suite upstairs in the front room;
  • to Albert Thomas Lucas, the oak suite upstairs in the back room;
  • to Horace Lucas, a single bed;
  • Rev. C[larence] Dillard of Goldsboro, North Carolina, appointed executor.

Toward the end of her life, Williams made a codicil, dated 15 September 1949:

  • To her three grandsons Clarence E. Nicholson, Charles B. Nicholson, and Alonzo G. Nicholson Sr., jointly, with some restrictions, her property on East Main Street opposite the Jesse Wynn store in Elm City, consisting of a lot and two frame structures.

——

Aggy Mercer, 17, married Thos. Williams, 21, on 5 February 1876 at Toisnot township, Wilson County.

In the 1880 census of Upper Town Creek township, Edgecombe County: farmer Thomas Williams, 24, wife Aggie, 21, and daughters Clara, 3, and Mattie, 1.

On 31 May 1899, Thomas H. Nicholson, 24, of Halifax County, son of Zach Nicholson, married Clara Williams, 23, of Wilson County, daughter of Tom and Aggie Williams, at Elm City in Toisnot township.

In the 1900 census of the Town of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: widow Aggie Williams, 41, dress maker; and her children, nurse Cora, 18, and day laborer Burtas, 14.

On 2 January 1901, Haywood Lucas, 22, of Rocky Mount, married Cora Williams, 20, of Toisnot, at 1st Baptist Church in Elm City. Witnesses were J.C. Ellis, Preston Faison and H.W. Hunter.

In 1910 in the Town of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: Aggie Williams, 59, lived alone in a house she owned on Main Street. Also on Main Street: Hayward Lucas, 30, farm laborer, wife Cora, 29, laundress, and children Aggie, 9, Jessie M., 6, Albert Thomas, 4, Elias S., 2, and Hayward C., 6 months. On Wilson Street: tenant farmer Thomas H. Nicholson, 34, wife Clara, 33, and children Alonzo, 7, and Alice M., 4 months.

In 1920 in the Town of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: Aggie Williams, 51, dress maker, lived alone in a house she owned on Main Street.

Thomas Harrison Nicholson died 19 April 1923 in Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County. Per his death certificate, he was born 1 May 1876 in Halifax County to Zackerie Nickolson and Nettie Lee, was a farmer, and died of pulmonary tuberculosis. Wife Clarra M. Nickolson was informant.

In the 1930 census of Washington, D.C.: at 1608 – 15th Street, N.W., lodgers Alonzo G. Nicholson, 26, barber, and wife Alice E., 19. Alonzo was born in North Carolina.

In the 1930 census of Elm City, Toisnot township, Wilson County: Cora Lucas, 46, laundress, divorced, with sons Elias T., 20, a filling station repairman, and Horace, 18. Both young men were described as “absent.” Cora owned her house and reported its value at $1500.

In 1940 in the Town of Elm City, Toisnot, Wilson County: Aggie Williams, 81, lived alone in a house she owned on Main Street. Daughter Cora lived next door.

In the 1940 census of Washington, D.C.: at 2603 J Street, N.W., Alonzo G. Nicholson, 36, janitor, wife Alice E., 29, son Alonzo G. Nicholson, 8, and a lodger.

Aggie M. Williams died 21 March 1951 in Elm City. Her death certificate records her birth as 14 February 1859 in Edgecombe County to Jessie and Fannie Mercer. The informant was Cora C. Lucas, her daughter.

On 22 August 1952, Clara M. Nicholson made out her will in the presence of Priscilla M. Gaston and Nannie Gaston of Elm City and Alma L. Guess of Raleigh. She left her “home place” on Branch Street in Elm City to her four children in the noted proportions: Alice Nicholson Spivey (1/2), sons Alonzo, Charles and Clarence (1/2 jointly). She also left Alice her piano. Her three sons were to divide four bedsheets, with Alice to receive the remainder of her linens. Other household furnishings they were to divide equally. In other property was devised to Alice (2/5 share) and her sons (1/5 each). Alice was named executor.

Clara Mary Nicholson died 1 February 1953 at her home on Branch Street in Elm City. Per her death certificate, she was born 25 October 1876 in Wilson County to Thomas Williams and Aggie M. Mercer. Informant was Alice Spivey.

Cora Christine Lucas died 22 March 1963 in Rocky Mount, Nash County. Per her death certificate, she was born 23 September 1880 in Wilson County to Thomas Williams and Aggie Mercer, and was the widow of Haywood Lucas. She was buried in Elm City cemetery.

North Carolina Wills and Estates, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

Tartts’ negroes, pt. 1.

Jonathan Tartt of Edgecombe County wrote out his will on February 3, 1789; it was probated May 5 of the same year. Along with personal property and many thousands of acres of lands along Toisnot and White Oak Swamps (in what would become Wilson County), Tartt left:

  • To wife Catherine, two Negro boys, Frank and Anthony; a Negro man Lin for 10 years and “afterwards Lin shall be a free man and shall have his cornfield, orchard, and house now known by the name of his as his property;” and, with son James Tartt and daughter Martha Eason, stock, furniture, money and two Negroes Brister and Sharp
  • To son Elnathan Tartt, one Negro man Simon and one girl Tamer outright; two Negro men Gideon and Jo for six years; and Negroes Jack, Venus, John, and Sal for 10 years, then to be divided equally between Elnathan Tartt, son James Tartt, and grandchildren Enos and Sarah Tartt
  • To son James Tartt, Negro boys Abram and Briant, plus the share in Jack, Venus, John and Sal above
  • To daughter Elizabeth Walton,  one Negro woman Pen “and her increase”
  • To daughter Martha Eason, one Negro woman Cloe and her child Charity
  • To grandson Enos Tartt, one Negro man Gideon, plus the share in Jack, Venus, John and Sal above
  • To granddaughter Sarah Tartt (orphan of Jonathan Junior), one Negro Joe, plus the share in Jack, Venus, John and Sal above

——

Jonathan Tartt’s son Elnathan Tartt, also of Edgecombe County, made out his will on Christmas Eve 1795. He left land and a dwelling house along White Oak Swamp, and:

  • To wife Obedience, a Negro woman named Cloe; a Negro man named Ellis; also, until son James Tart comes of age, negro women Fillis, Tamer and Sal
  • “It is my Will and desire that my negroes still continue at their respective Plantations for the purpose of keeping up their farms and raising stock as heretofore and continue their stocks of any kind”
  • To son James Tartt, a negro man named Simon
  • To son Thomas Tart, a negro man named Davey
  • To daughter Pennina Tart, a negro man named Sam
  • To daughter Polly, a negro boy named Bryant
  • “Whereas my father Jonathan Tart in his last will and testament left four Negros viz Jack, Venus, John and Sarah, to be divided equally between myself, James Tart, Enos and Sally Tart for a term of years Viz Ten years. My will and desire is that my part of said negroes continue at the plantation where they now live and if said negroes are sold then my Executors may purchase them at such prices as they think proper, and if Jack or Venus should fall to my part, or be purchased by my Executors, my will is that they may have choice to live with which of my two sons they please after my son Thomas comes of Age”; also that negro Tom have his choice of which son to live with
  • To four children Penninah, Polly, James and Thomas Tart four negroes and their increase (if any) Vizs Baccus, Fillis, Tamer and Sal as soon as they arrive at age or marry to be divided equally among them
  • “if my Executors purchase a negroe Boy Tom and a negroe girl Sarah that they be equally divided between the four children as they may become of age or marry”

——

Jonathan Tartt’s widow Catherine Jarrell Tartt Peelle made out her will on 17 June 1812. It was recorded in Edgecombe County in November 1814 and included these provisions:

  • To my grandson Enos Tartt “Negro man named Antony
  • “… my two Negro men nam’d Brister and Frank be at liberty to chuse whom they may be willing to live with and that they may be valued by three good men whom the court of Edgcombe shall appoint for that purpose and those men whom they chuse to live with to pay up the full valuation. If they see cause otherwise, the said Negroes shall be hired out annually as long as they live, to such persons as they may be willing to live with.”
  • “my two Negro men Dempsey and Sam shall be valued by three good men whom the court of Edgcombe shall appoint and that my Grandson Enos Tartt shall take the said Negroes at the valuation and the money arising from the sd. Negroes to be equally divided between my granddaughter Catherine Spates and grandson Elnath Eason”
  • “my old Negro woman named Pen be a liberty to chuse whom she is willing to live with and if it is thought that she is not able to support herself by her labor that she shall be suporte out of my Estate”
  • “give to the said old Negro [Pen] my weaving Lume & guard also the Wheale and cards she has genurely us’d in my serviss”
  • “… unto my nephew John Garrell one Negro woman named Ginney
  • “my stock of every kind whatsoever be sold at six months credit and my farming tools also my blacksmith tools and the money except the legece left to my sister Pearce and the support for Negro Pen to be taken out and the ballance to and with the money that my Negro Frank & Brister shall sell or hire for …”

——

Some observations:

  • According to this (I have not seen the original), the 1769 Dobbs County tax list discloses the names of Jonathan Tartt’s slaves — Rorah, Sam, Jack, Lin, Little Sam, Jin, Pen, and Venus. Twenty years later, in Edgecombe, he retained possession of Jack, Lin, Pen and Venus. (Or, at least, enslaved people with those same names.) Jonathan Tartt was born in perhaps Surry or Isle of Wight County, Virginia, and migrated to Northampton and Bertie Counties, North Carolina before pushing further south into Dobbs County. His land there was on either side of the Neuse River in what is now Wayne County. Thus, men and women that he enslaved in Edgecombe (later Wilson) had traveled with him as he settled across the east-central Coastal Plain.
  • Elnathan Tartt disposed of two enslaved people inherited from his father, Simon and Tamer.
  • Several of the enslaved people disposed of in Catherine Peelle’s will seem to have been inherited from her husband Jonathan Tartt, including Anthony, Frank, Brister and Pen.

He will attempt to pass for a free man.

The Star and North Carolina State Gazette 5 4 1833

The Star and North Carolina State Gazette, 4 May 1833

$25 Reward.

Eloped from my plantation on Tosnot, Edgecomb county, on the 19th instant, a negro man named BRYANT, 22 or 23 years old, five feet 9 or 10 inches high, stout built, quite yellow for the appearance of his hair, which is as knotty as the negroes usually is, long lips, large feet and long toes, has a down look when spoken to; had on when he went off dark clothes and a black forward hat. It is probable that he will procure papers and attempt to pass for a free man, as he has done the like before, and will probably skulk about Doct. Hall’s plantation near Tarborough until he is prepared to make his escape, as his father and mother live there. I will give the above reward to ay person who will confine him in jail so that I get him again, or deliver him to me at Stantonsburg.  WILLIE BROWNRIGG.

Stantonsburg, April 22, 1833

His father is a free negro.

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North-Carolina Free Press (Tarboro), 24 January 1832.

$25 REWARD.

RAN AWAY from the Subscriber, in May Court week last, a bright mulatto boy named JOHN, about 19 or 20 years of age, 5 feet 6 or 7 inches high, thick set and well built – he has a scar under his jaw, (I think the left jaw,) and thick ankles.  He is a shrewd fellow, and will perhaps alter his name and attempt to pass as a free man.  His father is a free negro, named Hardy Lassiter, living on Toisnot.  The above reward will be given for John’s apprehension, if delivered to me in Edgecombe county, or secured in any jail so that I can get him again.  All persons are hereby forbid harboring, employing, carrying off said boy, under the penalty of law.  SAMUEL FARMER.  Nov. 28, 1831.