She lived to herself and was controlled by no one.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

William Brookfield v. Jonathan Stanton, 51 NC 156 (1858)

William Brookfield, whom Jonathan Stanton claimed as a slave, brought the action to try his right to freedom.  Brookfield introduced evidence that for 30 years or more prior to his birth, his mother and maternal grandmother were recognized and admitted to be free people of color.  They were known as the McKim negroes.  His mother had moved from Carteret to Hyde County and lived as a free woman.  She was reported to be the wife of a slave “but lived to herself and was controlled by no one.”

Stanton sought to prove that Brookfield’s mother and grandmother were slaves.  He proffered (1) an attachment made on behalf of an Elijah Cannady against John McKim, who resided in another state, that was levied upon a negro woman named Beck and her children Fan and Olly in 1809 and (2) a bill of sale for the purchase of Bookfield. Both were rejected.

The Supreme Court noted that when a person is black, i.e. dark-skinned, a presumption arises that he is a slave.  Nonetheless, where that person’s mother and grandmother have been treated as free for 30 years, there is an inference that they were lawfully manumitted.  The case was remanded to Craven County court.

There are no free colored Brookfields or McKims listed in antebellum North Carolina census records.