White Oak Swamp

Auction place.

“For hundreds of years, enslaved people were bought and sold in America. Today most of the sites of this trade are forgotten.” Thus began the 12 February 2020 installation of The 1619 Project, the New York Times‘ initiative that aims to reframe American history by centering African-Americans in the narrative. Wrote Dr. Anne C. Bailey, author of The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History, “Auctions and the sales of enslaved people could be found near or along the major ports where enslaved Africans landed, including Richmond, Va.; New Orleans; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C. But the enslaved were also sold in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and at New York City’s 18th-century open-air Meal Market on Wall Street. The sales took place all over the growing nation — in taverns, town squares and train stations, on riverbanks and by the side of the road. Before being sold, the enslaved were often kept in pens or private jails, sometimes for days or weeks. Then they were sold directly from the pens or marched to a nearby auction. Thousands of sales took place each year, right in the hearts of American cities and towns, on the steps of courthouses and city halls.”

In order to create “a more equitable map of American history,” an afterword to Bailey’s piece asks us to help fill in the record by reporting known sites at which enslaved African-Americans were auctioned. I have done so.

One of the earliest posts at Black Wide-Awake displays the 1856 report of Benjamin Bynum to a Wilson County court of the proceeds of the sale of Cate and Sherard at the White Oak tollhouse on the Plank Road. James R. Barnes had bought them for $450.20. I don’t know the exact location of the tollhouse, but it is reasonable to believe that it stood near the spot where the Plank Road between Wilson and Greenville crossed the Buck Branch of White Oak Swamp just west of Saratoga.

Highway 264-Alternate now follows the path of the Plank Road. Here was White Oak Swamp from the Highway 264-Alternate bridge yesterday.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2020.

The will and estates of William and Unity Ellis.

Per Powell and Powell, Wilson County Founding Families (2009), published by Wilson County Genealogical Society, William Ellis was born about 1740 in what was then Chowan County, North Carolina. He married Unity Dixon and settled in an area of Edgecombe County that is now Wilson County. His and Unity Ellis’ children were Willie, William, Coffield, Dixon, John, Gray, Jonathan and Spicy Ellis.

William Ellis made out his will on Christmas Eve 1812 in Edgecombe County:

  • to wife Unity Ellis, a life interest in the plantation on which lived lying at the fork of Mill or Panthers Branch and Toisnot Swamp, to revert to son Willie Ellis at her death. Also, Unity received life interests in enslaved people Arthur, Jonas, Isham, Belford, Lisle, Pat, Mimah, Treasy and Hester.
  • to son Coffield Ellis, a grist mill and land lying on the south side of Mill Branch, as well as slaves Sam and Harry, who were available to Unity Ellis during her lifetime or until Coffield turned 21
  • to son Dixon Ellis, the plantation on which William formerly lived on White Oak Swamp and a second parcel of land, as well as slave Giddeon
  • to son John Ellis, the plantation on which John lived on the main road from Tarboro to Stanton’s Bridge [roughly modern N.C. Highways 111 and 222], containing 149 acres, as well as a second one-hundred-acre tract and an enslaved man named Jack
  • to son Gray Ellis, if he had heirs, a plantation near Tarboro containing 125 acres (to go to son Jonathan Ellis if Gray had no lawful children) and an enslaved man named Bob
  • to son Jonathan Ellis, a plantation on the south side of the main road from Tarboro to Greenville, containing 100 acres, and an enslaved man named Guilford
  • to daughter Spicey Ellis, a plantation on the south side of Toisnot Swamp on the main road from Stanton’s Bridge to Tarboro, containing 100 acres, and slaves Hannah, Byhuel, Chaney and Beedy
  • to son William, an enslaved man named Jim; and
  • to son Willie, slaves Anthony and Mol, who were available to Unity Ellis during her lifetime or until Willie turned 21

Unity Ellis died in 1817, before the settlement of William Ellis’ estate. Her share of William’s enslaved estate was divided thus: to son John, Arthur ($525) and Pat ($5); to son Dixon, Jonas ($712); to son Coffield, Belfour ($712); for son Willie, Isham ($636); for son Jonathan, Mima, Sary and Clary ($888); and to son William, Trease ($600) and Hester ($350). Lisle, presumably, died between 1812 and 1818, and Sarah and Clara were born to Mima during the same period.

——

In the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Isom Ellis, 67; wife Patience, 62; and son (grandson?) Jacob, 18, farm laborer.

Perhaps, in the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: Guilford Ellis, 40, farm laborer; wife Pleasance, 29; and children Ned, 16, Cherry, 14, Jesse, 12, Arabella, 11, and Sarah, 4.

Will of William Ellis (1812); Wilson County, North Carolina Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line], http://www.ancestry.com.

The last will and testament of Turner Bynum.

On 17 September 1858, Turner Bynum of Edgecombe and Wilson Counties penned a will whose provisions included:

  • to son Robert Bynum, 855 acres on the north side of White Oak swamp in Wilson County, “old negroes Britt and Miles also my negro man Daniel” and ten shares of railroad stock
  • to daughter Nancy Sugg, 1240 acres plus “my four negroes Moriah and her two children Abby and Mike and Jeny and all their increase.” After Nancy’s death, these to be equally distributed among her children, and
  • a ratification of earlier gifts of other, unnamed negroes.

Turner Bynum did not die until 1867, mooting the matter of the distribution of his human chattel.

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.