Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

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.”