It is the misfortune of their children.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

Frances Howard v. Sarah Howard, 51 NC 235 (1858).

In about 1818, Miles Howard, then a slave, “without other ceremony, took for his wife, by consent of his master” a slave named Matilda, who belonged to a Mr. Burt.  Miles was immediately thereafter emancipated, bought Matilda, and had a daughter named Frances.  Miles freed Matilda, and they had seven more children, Robert, Eliza, Miles, Charles, Lucy, Ann and Thomas, before Matilda died.  A few years later, Miles married a free woman of color “with due ceremony” and had four children, Sarah, John, Nancy and Andrew. In 1836, Frances was emancipated by an Act of the State Legislature.  After Miles’ death, his children by Matilda claimed their share of Miles’ estate, but his children by the free woman of color claimed to be Miles’ sole heirs.  Halifax County Superior Court found for the defendants, and plaintiffs appealed.  After an exegesis on slave marriage, the state Supreme Court held that, because thet did not marry legally once freed, neither Frances nor the rest of Matilda’s children were legitimate.  “It is the misfortune of their children that they neglected or refused [to marry lawfully], for no court can avert the consequences.” Judgment for Sarah and her full siblings.

The 1850 census of Halifax County shows Miles Howard (51), who was a barber, wife Caroline (25) and children Frances (25), Charles (17), Lucy (11), Thos. (8), Sarah (4), John (2) and Nancy (5 mos.)  Son Miles Jr. (23), also a barber, lived nearby.