Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Month: January, 2013

The expert testifies, “He is mulatto.”

State v. Asa Jacobs, 51 N.C. 284 (1859).

Asa Jacobs was indicted in Brunswick County, as a free negro, for carrying firearms.

In the lower court, the State called a certain Pritchett to give an opinion on Jacobs’ ancestry.  He testified that he had known Jacobs a long time, but had never seen any of Jacobs’ ancestors, and knew nothing of them by reputation. Jacobs’ lawyer objected that Pritchett’s lack of actual knowledge disqualified him from rendering an opinion on whether Jacobs was a free negro. The court ruled that Pritchett could answer questions to establish whether he was qualified to testify as an expert.

Pritchett then stated that he was a planter and had been an owner and manager of slaves for more than twelve years; that “he had paid much attention to and had had much observation of the effects of the intermixture of negro or African blood with the white and Indian races;” and that from such attention and observation, he was well satisfied that he could distinguish between the descendants of a negro and a white person and the descendants of a negro and Indian; and further, that he could also say whether a person was full African, or had more or less than half African “blood” in him, and whether the cross or intermixture was white or Indian.  On this basis, Pritchett was admitted to testify and stated his opinion that Jacobs was a mulatto – that is, half African and half white. Jacobs’ counsel excepted to the admission of this evidence, and upon Jacobs’ conviction, appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Court noted that even a common observer can detect, from outward appearance, the “intermixture of the white and black races;” it is not a matter of science or skill. Nonetheless, it by no means follows that the ability to ascertain the extent of “negro blood” is not so. “On the contrary, we believe that it would often require an eye rendered keen, by observation and practice, to detect, with any approach to certainty, the existence of any thing less than one-fourth of African blood in a subject.” North Carolina law defined a free negro as one who is “descended from negro ancestors to the fourth generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person.” He may, therefore, be a person who is only a sixteenth African. The ability to detect “the infusion of so small a quantity of negro blood in one, claiming the privilege of a white man, must be a matter of science,” and, therefore, subject to the testimony of an expert. Pritchett, the court determined, proved that he possessed the necessary qualification to testify as such.

Free-Issue Death Certificates: MISCELLANEOUS, no. 6.

James Llewellyn Faithful.  Died 10 April 1943, Princeville, Edgecombe County. Negro. Married to Mary Faithful. Grocer. Born 15 February 1860, Edgecombe County, to Ervin Thigpen and Beatty Faithful, both of Edgecombe County. Buried Saint Paul, Tarboro. Informant, Mary Faithful.

In the 1860 census of Tarboro, Edgecombe County: Beedy Faithful, 29, children Joanna, 4, John F., 2, and Llewellen, 5 months, plus Alice Hagans, 11, Nancey Wilkins, 29, and Cintha J. Wilkins, 4.

Asberry Blackwell.  Died 21 September 1919, Old Fields, Wilson County. Colored. Widowed. Age 62. Farm hand for Grover Lamm, Wilson County. Born Wilson County to Asberry Blackwell and an unknown mother. Informant, George Flowers.

Willmas Eatmon.  Died 21 July 1916, Taylor’s, Wilson County. Negro. Widow. Age about 85. Retired servant on farm. Born Wilson County to Nelson Eatmon and Renda Eatmon. Buried Wilson County. Informant, Willis Ellis.

Deal Howard. Died 6 December 1939, Oldfield, Wilson County. Resided Route 2, Wilson. Colored. Widower. Age 79. Farmer. Born Wilson County to Deal Howard and Rhodie Howard. Buried Wilson County. Informant, Herman Howard.

John Lassiter. Died 15 January 1915, Wilson, Wilson County. Colored. Married. Age 63. Son of Silas Lassiter and Ophie Simpson. Buried in Wilson County. Informant, Henry Lassiter.

Willis Barnes.  Died 15 September 1914, Wilson, Wilson County. Colored. Married. Age 73. Farmer. Born Nash County to Toney Eatman and Annie Eatman, both of Nash County. Informant, Jesse Barnes, Wilson NC.

The 1850 census of Nash County shows Tony Eatman, age 55, farmer, living in the household of Theophilus Eatman, 70, a white farmer.  Willis and his mother, presumably, were enslaved.

James Boon.

James Boon (1808-1850s or later) was a free black carpenter active in North Carolina from the 1820s through the 1850s. As historian John Hope Franklin relates, the rare if not unique survival of the personal papers of this free black artisan provides an important window into the ‘common experiences, the fortunes, both good and ill, which all free Negroes had.’ Boon was evidently born to a free mother and was apprenticed at 18 to Franklin County carpenter William Jones until the age of 21. In 1829, he received a paper that served as a pass, stating ‘James Boon, a boy of colour who was bound to William Jones by this court’ was ‘ordered to be liberated and set free.’

“Boon led a mobile life and carried with him passes and letters of reference from employers and prominent citizens to affirm his free status and good work. He worked first around Louisburg in construction and furniture making. In the mid-1830s, he went to Raleigh, possibly to help build the Duncan Cameron House (1835-1836). He traveled to Littleton in 1839 and to rural Halifax County in 1842. A reference to ‘Boon’ in Skinner family correspondence suggests that he worked on the Greek Revival style plantation house Linden Hall (1841-1844) near Littleton for Charles and Susan Little Skinner; there are also references to ‘Mr. Bragg’ (probably Thomas Bragg, Sr.) and ‘Jones’ (possibly Albert Gamaliel Jones). One of his employers, R. H. Mosby, affirmed in 1842 that Boon was ‘an orderly and well behaved man, and attentive to his business. His work is executed better and with more taste than any persons within my knowledge in this section of country.’ In 1848, James Boon joined his brothers and a friend seeking work in Wilmington. He then went to Raleigh in 1849, where he was employed by the prominent builder Dabney Cosby on various projects. There he hired other workmen to help on ‘Mr. D. Cosby’s work.’ On October 27, 1850, Cosby wrote him a reference stating that ‘Jim Boon’ had been in his employ ‘for some time’ and was ‘a good workman.’

“Boon sometimes worked alone but also hired as many as nine workmen, including whites, slaves, and free blacks. He charged $1.25 a day for his own time and $0.50 cents to $1.00 for his employees. He owned one slave, Lewis, and land in Franklin County, which he occasionally mortgaged. Boon did not learn to read and write, but William Jones, who remained a friend, helped him in business matters. Various receipts note payment for such jobs as ‘Mill House 30 by 36, Ten feet pitch, Two stories, three floors, 12 windows and ten doors, weatherboarding dressed plain strong work,’ or for a more finished project, ‘24 lights glass, 12 x 15, Pilasters rose blocks–inside double architraves.’

“James Boon’s family included a brother, Carter Evans. Boon’s first wife was Sarah, a literate slave who belonged to Maria Stallings. They had a son who went to Raleigh with his father in 1849. (James Boon does not appear in the 1850 census.) In 1854, Boon married Mahaly Buffalo in Raleigh. His last record was in 1857; his death date is unknown.”

Author: Catherine W. Bishir.  Published 2009.

As published in North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary,  (All rights retained.) This web site is a growing reference work that contains brief biographical accounts, building lists, and bibliographical information about architects, builders, and other artisans who planned and built North Carolina’s architecture.  

Old-issue, heartily detested.

“Probably the largest group of free negroes to be found in North Carolina was the exclusive ‘old issue’ settlement known far and wide as The Meadows, near Ransom’s Bridge on Fishing Creek in Halifax County. The people still bear the appellation ‘old issue,’ and are heartily detested by the well-to-do negroes in the adjoining counties.”

Rosser Howard Taylor, The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1920.

According to North Carolina Gazetteer, Ransom’s Bridge is a “community at the junction of Nash, Franklin, Warren and Halifax Counties, formerly thriving, now sparsely settled.  There is a bridge here over Fishing Creek, and a post office by the time existed as early as 1822 and as recently as 1882.  This area of North Carolina was the center of gold mining activity before the Civil War.”  Ransom’s Bridge is near present-day Hollister, and maps show roads — Richardson, Evans, Silvertown — bearing the names of free families of color.  These families and others, such as Mills and Lynch, make up the core of the Haliwa-Saponi Native American tribe, recognized by the state since 1953.

He is a free man & not a slave.

State of North Carolina, Chowan County  } February 17th, 1844. Personally appeared before me, Thomas V. Hathaway, Clerk of the Court of Pleas & Q Sessions, in and for said County, John Buchannon, a yellow man aged about thirty seven years; about five feet, six inches in height; & proved before me, by Duncan McDonald, of Edenton, that he was free born; that he was bound to said McDonald, until he arrived to the age of twenty one years, which time he served out; wherefore I do hereby certify that the said John Buchannon hath made it, satisfactorily appear, that he is a freeman & not a slave; (Over) & in testimony of his being a free man & no slave, as proved, on oath, by said Duncan McDonald of Edenton, North Carolina.  I have hereto set my hand, & seal of office, at Edenton, the day & year aforesaid.

Miscellaneous Records, Chowan County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Wayne County Free Colored Heads of Household, 1840.

Judy Artis, Nicy Seabury, Willis Herring, Stephen Pettiford, Betsey Burnett, William Burnett, Henry Simmons, Washington Winn, Barden Burnett, Golden Burks, James Hays, Rufus Seaberry, Joseph Carroll, Jim Simmons, Fanny Capps, Offie Seabury, Milly Smith, Hillary Croom, Tabitha Smith, Annica Simmons, Annis Brooks, Ida Simmons, Ben Thompson, Phereby Simmons, Polly Simmons, Sally Simmons, Calvin Simmons, Charles Winn Sr., Penny Winn, Betty Greenfield, Green Simmons, John Herring, Sherod Hagans, Lewis Artis, Zilla Hagans, David Artis, David Powell, Celia Artis, James Barfield, David Artis, Daniel Hagans, Alford Artis, Maria Artis, James Hall, Luke Hall, Absalom Artis, Vincent Artis, Gary Rowe, Sorrel Newsome, Richard Artis, Micajah Artis, Waren Artis, John Jones,  Nelson Rowe, Rhoda Reed, Hinnard Artis, Bryan Mundy, Leecy Hagans, Bytha Reed Sr., Bytha Reed, William Hagans,  Polly Simpson, Henry Hall, Willis Hagans, Lina Artis, James Jones, Jesse Lane, Lizzy Jones, Hillard Artis, Eli Hagins, Henry Anderson, Barna Reed, Allen Reed, Dempsey Reed and Daniel Carroll. Total free colored population: 464.

John Anthony Copeland Jr.


John Anthony Copeland, Jr. (1834–1859) was born free in Raleigh, North Carolina, to John Anthony Copeland, who was born into slavery in 1808, and Delilah Evans, born free in 1809. Copeland, Sr. was emancipated about 1815. The family lived near Hillsborough, North Carolina, until 1843, when the family migrated to Cincinnati and then Oberlin, Ohio, where some of his wife’s brothers and their families also lived.

John Copeland, Jr. worked as a carpenter and briefly attended Oberlin College. As a young man, he became involved in the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society.  In September, 1858, with his uncles Henry and Wilson Bruce Evans, Copeland was one of the thirty-seven men involved in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue to free John Price, a runaway slave who had been captured and held by authorities under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. The men freed the slave and helped him escape to Canada.

In September 1859, Copeland was recruited to John Brown’s armed group by his uncle, Lewis Sheridan Leary. Brown led twenty-one followers, sixteen white and five black men, and captured the armory guards of Harpers Ferry, then part of Virginia, where they took control of the Federal arsenal. The raiders were soon pinned down by Virginia militiamen until U.S. marines led by Robert E. Lee arrived to apprehend them.

At Harper’s Ferry, Copeland and John Henry Kagi, a white raider, were to seize control of Hall’s Rifle Works. Kagi and several others were killed while swimming across the Shenandoah River to escape. Copeland was captured alive, and he, John Brown, and five others were held for federal trial.  Copeland was found guilty of treason and murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

Six days before his execution, he wrote to his brother, referring to the American Revolution:

“And now, brother, for having lent my aid to a general no less brave [than George Washington], and engaged in a cause no less honorable and glorious, I am to suffer death. Washington entered the field to fight for the freedom of the American people – not for the white man alone, but for both black and white. Nor were they white men alone who fought for the freedom of this country. The blood of black men flowed as freely as the blood of white men. Yes, the very first blood that was spilt was that of a negro…But this you know as well as I do, … the claims which we, as colored men, have on the American people.”

Copeland’s family continued his struggle by taking up arms during the Civil War. His father served as a cook for the 55th Ohio Infantry, and his younger brother Henry E. Copeland served as a first sergeant in Douglass’s Independent Battery of Colored Artillery in Kansas.

Adapted from Photo courtesy of Kansas Historical Society.

It is not slander, per se, to charge a white man with being a free negro.

Abner C. McDowell v. William Bowles, 53 NC 184 (1860).

“It is not actionable, per se, to charge a white man with being a free negro; and it does not alter the case, that such man was a minister of the gospel.”

This slander case was tried in Surry Superior Court. Abner McDowell charged that, when he attempted to vote at a constable’s election, William Bowles said that McDowell had no right to vote, that he was a free negro, and that “if you let free negroes vote, here, let Zach. Warden vote also.”  (Warden was, in fact, a free man of color.) McDowell declared that he was “a clear blooded white man, and a regular licensed minister of the Baptist Church” and charged Bowles with slander.

Bowles moved for summary judgment on the ground that his alleged words were not actionable. The court agreed, and McDowell appealed.

The state Supreme Court noted that slanderous words fell into three categories: those that impute a crime; those that “impute an contagious disease, by which the party impugned would be excluded from society;” and those derogatory with respect to a person’s profession. “We are not aware of any class of defamatory words, which are held to be actionable, that would embrace the language complained of in this case.”

Wounded with a cannonball at the Battle of Monmouth.

North Carolina, Wake County  }  Schedule:  Court of pleas and quarter Sessions on this 25th day of august 1820 Personaly appeared in open Court it being a court of Record for the county aforesaid Drury Pettiford aged 69 years resident in Said County & State being first duly sworn according to law on his oath declare that he served in the Revolutionary war as follows, that he served 2 years in the 2nd Regiment in the company commanded by Cap’t Lewis Burwell and that he has here unto rec’d a pension certificate No. 5443 upon his original declaration made before Judge Potter on the 27th day of May 1818.  And I do solemly swear that I was a resident citizen of the U.States on the 18th day of March 1818, and that I have not since that time by gift Sale or any manner disposed of my Property or any part thereof with intent thereby so to diminish it. As to bring myself with in the provisions of an act of congress entitled an act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land & naval service of the united States in the Revolutionary war passed on the 18th day of March 1818 and that I have not nor has any person intrust for me any property or Security contracts or debts due to me nor have I any income other than what is contained in the Schedule hereunto annexed and by me Subscribed.

Real Estate – none; Personal Estate – one blind sorrel mare; one Sow and 2 shoats; 4 chairs; 2 Dishes and 1 Basin; 1 Sett knives & forks; One pott.

Names & ages of the family now resident with him are himself aged 69, Dicy his wife aged 66, Jesse aged 18 years Nicholas aged 16 years Janey 12 years Drury aged 9 years Sally aged 7 years Franky aged 6 years & Thomas aged 9 years.  That all the assistance he has is from the labour of his two eldest sons Jesse & Nicholas that himself and wife are not able to do much & his eldest daughter only assists her and have to rent land and being verry old and infirm he is himself unable to pursue his Occupation having also been wounded with a cannon ball at the battle of Monmouth in his right knee which verry much injured the bones & sinews of his leg & knee, & much burned by the blowing up of a magazine in middlebrook.  Sworn to and subscribed in open court   Drury X Pettiford

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

Drury Pettiford married Tycey Bass on 12 November 1781 in Granville County.  Right Bass served as bondsman, and Bennet Searcy witnessed.  In the 1830 census of Wake County, Drury Pettiford headed a household of six free people of color.

Surnames: Caswell County, 1850.

The following surnames are found among free people of color in Caswell County: