Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Coal-black negroes, no. 2.

State v. William P. Watters, 25 NC 455 (1843).

This case, arising in Ashe County, was an indictment against William P. Watters for libel: “Notice. A man called Isaac Tinsley on the first day of this month in a suit wherein the State was plaintiff and myself and wife were defendants, swear a wilful lie and I can prove it. October 15th, 1841.”  In other words, Watters was charged with falsely calling Tinsley a liar. Watters pleaded not guilty and asserted the truth of his statement as a defense.

The case was rooted in Watters and Zilpha Thompson’s earlier indictment for fornication and adultery. Watters and Thompson proved that they had been married, but the State alleged that Watters was a man of color, and his marriage to a white woman was therefore void. Watters contended that he was descended from Portuguese, not Negro or Indian, ancestors. Isaac Tinsley testified for the state that he knew Watters’ mother and grandmother, and “they were coal black negroes.” Other witnesses testified that Watters’ mother was “a bright mulatto, with coarse straight hair — that her name was Elizabeth Cullom, and that she lived with a man by the name of John P. Watters, who was a white man, but of dark complexion for a white man,” who was the reputed father of William Watters. They also testified that Elizabeth Cullom’s mother, Mary Wooten, “was not as black as some negroes they had seen, and had thin lips.” Another witness stated that Wooten “was black, with thin lips and sharp features.” Watters then proposed to prove that Wooten had stated that Cullom’s father was white. This evidence was rejected by the court.  And found Watters guilty of libel.

Upon appeal to the Supreme Court, the justices confirmed that the evidence had been properly excluded as hearsay.  Further, as “the declaration of the grandmother assigns the paternity of her child to no man in particular, but only to some white man, [it] would be the loosest proof of pedigree that ever established one.”  “And, besides, it is well known that persons, of the description of this woman, have a strong bias in their minds to induce the declaration from them, and if possible, the impression on others, that their illegitimate child is the issue of a white man: if not to gratify a personal vanity in themselves, for the reason, that it removes their offspring one degree from the humbled caste in which is placed by the law,whereby he is excluded from the elective franchise, and from competency as a witness between white persons, and prohibited from intermarrying with them.”  Judgment affirmed.

In the 1850 census of Ashe County: Wm. P. Waters, 52, mulatto, wife Zilphia, 31, and children Mary, 9, Marth, 8, John, 7, Mark, 6, Louisa, 5, Granville, 3, and Henry, 1.  The race designation for Zilphia and the children was blank, which indicates the default “white.”

John Ellis, Revolutionary War soldier.

State of No Carolina, Wake County }

This day personally appeared before us R. Cannon & R. Smith two of the acting Justices of the Peace for Wake County, John Ellis a man of colour, and made oath that he was a Soldier in the Revolutionary war, in the continental line of No. Carolina, the length of tume the Deponent does not precisely recollect, but which will appear by reference to the musterrolls of the said Army.  This Deponent further deposeth and saith that he never drew any land himself, nor did he ever authorize any person to do it for him.

Sworn to & subscribed before me, this 27th July 1820    John X Ellis

R. Cannon J.P.   R. Smith, J.P.

Additional documents in the file note that Ellis resided in Washington County, Illinois, at the time of his application; that he was born in Virginia in 1754 and moved to North Carolina with his mother as a child;  that he moved to the “Western Country” in about 1799; that he died 21 October 1850; that his heirs were James, William, Polley, Mahaliah and Henry Ellis; and that his son James Ellis was executor of his estate.

From the file of John Ellis, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives and Records Administration.

As free as colored men were allowed to be in this.

Lewis Bowen filed claim #8093 with the Southern Claims Commission.  He rented a place in Flea Hill township, Cumberland County.  He complained to a quartermaster that soldiers had taken everything he had.  The quartermaster replied, “Never mind old man you will get pay for it some time. We are oblige to forage on your country. We have no supplies.”  Soldiers from — he was told — an Ohio regiment, took his bacon, lard, corn, flour, rice, wheat, potatoes, peas, fodder and hay; ducks, turkeys and chickens.  They killed and carried off his ox, goats and hogs, and killed his cows and yearlings and left them in the field. Soldiers were part of Sherman’s army and were camped not over 100 yards from his house.

Robert H. Simmons, a 55 year-old merchant, lived about a half-mile from Bowen. “[T]he claimant being a col’d man he could not talk or take much interest in public matter though he was always a free man, or as free as col’d men were allowed to be in this.”

William Webb, 31, kept a bar and livery stables and had known Bowen more than 15 years.  “He and the claimant were born free bond and helpt out the confederate service as labour on fortifications principally by being employed boating on the Cape Fear river.”

Joseph McKay, 53, farmer, saw soldiers take goods off Lewis Bowen’s farm in March 1865.

Woodward Winn, 26, farmer, saw some things taken.  Witnesses included Bowen, “Perry, Berry, Joe, Wiliford.” He helped carry some of the bacon to the camp.

The 1850 census of the Eastern Division of Cumberland County shows: William Bowen, 57, with Lewis Bowen, 16, both laborers.

James Henry Henderson.

James Henry HendersonJAMES HENRY HENDERSON was born about 1838 in the Upper Richlands district of Onslow County. His father was James Henderson (1815-ca1890) and his mother might have been named Sally Skipp. With his father and siblings, he migrated to Sampson, then southern Wayne County. He married twice and died near Faison, Duplin County, in 1920.

[Sidenote: James H. Henderson was the brother of my great-great-great-grandfather Lewis Henderson. — LYH.]

Road work.

20 Nov 1822. Ordered that Arthur Martin be appointed overseer of the road from Bass’s old ferry to the Beaver dam & that the hands of Solomon Grantham, Bryan Pipkin, Henry Stanley Benson & Barna Burnett work thereon. 

Minute Docket 1820-23, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Records of Wayne County, North Carolina State Archives.

He followed the barber business.

One of my earliest acquaintances in Goldsboro was a negro.  This was about 1848.  He continued to live in Goldsboro until his death, some fifteen or twenty years ago.  This was Bill Burnett.  He was at one time worth considerable property.  He followed the barber business.  His skin was black, it is true, but I believe that Bill Burnett was as honest and upright in his dealings as any man, white or black.  I never heard in all his long life one word against his character.  He was always polite to the white people.  He was for many years the only barber in the town.  Everyone liked and respected him.  He was an old-time free negro.  He had the right of suffrage before 1835.  I don’t know whether he ever exercised it or not, but after the war, when the right to vote came to him again, he never registered nor voted.  He told me not long before his death that he had no desire to vote; that it would do him no good, and that he believed the enfranchisement of the colored people of the South immediately upon their emancipation was the most unwise thing that could have been done for them.  He had a brother, Micajah Burnett, who was raised here, but some time about 1850 he became implicated some way with some white men in stealing and running off and selling slaves, and he skipped to New York and never came back.

“Some Early Recollections of Wayne County – But More Particularly of Goldsboro: War-Time Reminiscences and Other Selections,” by J. M. Hollowell, published in The Goldsboro Herald, June 1939. 

In the 1850 census of the North Side of Neuse, Wayne County: Cuzzy Green, 40, and William Burnett, 35, barber, who claimed $300 property.