He had Negro blood in him.

by Lisa Y. Henderson


White Soldier of General Cornwallis’s Army Drank Some of His Colored Sweetheart’s Blood Before Marriage in Order to be Able to Marry Her Legally.

By JOSEPH SEWELL in Raleigh (N.C.) Observer.

Joseph Butler (white), a member of Cornwallis’s army, was severely wounded in the battle of Guilford, March 15, 1781.

In Cornwallis’s retreated toward Eastern North Carolina Butler became a straggler and was lost from the English army. He was succored by a free mulatto woman, who hid him in her home until the surrender of the English army the following October.

During Butler’s confinement he was faithfully nursed by the daughter of his benefactress, who was nearly white, and there grew between them a mutual affection. It was Butler’s ardent desire to marry the young woman, and he was greatly distressed upon realizing that, under the laws of North Carolina, to wed the woman was impossible – she had Negro blood in her, and Butler was a full-blooded white man.

Hid in the Home of his Sweetheart

Butler remained at the home of his sweetheart in an unfrequented part of the country, and cultivated the small farm where he lived – isolated and ignored, an alien enemy, a fugitive hiding under a Negro’s roof. He finally conceived and immediately acted upon a plan to thwart the law, which forbade him marrying the woman he loved.

In those times the “letting of blood” was regarded almost as a panacea in the treatment of all bodily ailments. The mulatto girl was, for some physical disorder, bled by a surgeon.

Her sympathizing lover was at hand during the operation, and to the astonishment of the surgeon, deliberately drank an appreciable portion of the patient’s blood.

He immediately departed and upon his return exhibited a duly authenticated license to wed his mulatto sweetheart. He had gone to the proper official, made affidavit that he had Negro blood in him, and had procured a license to marry a half-blooded Negro woman.

Son of Couple Still Living

Rev. John J. Young, 78, Baptist minister, now living, is the son of this colored girl and the English soldier. His grandfather, Thomas Blacknall, had this interesting history:

Thomas Blacknall was born in Granville County, North Carolina, considerably over a century ago, as the chattel of John Blacknall, a typical slave owner of the South. Tom Blacknall was not only a remarkable Negro, he was a remarkable man.

Under apprenticeship provided by his master, Tom became a blacksmith and bell maker of more than local renown. He was permitted to keep his earnings and “buy his time.”

It is history in the Blacknall family that he was absent from home at intervals of a year without intermission, and that, with his master’s  permission, Tom went as far away as Baltimore, peddling his bells and plying his trade.

Tom Blacknall, the slave, was permitted to save his earnings and buy his freedom. The price paid for his freedom was $900. He afterwards purchased the freedom of his wife and his three sons, taking title to all of his ransomed family in himself.

He afterwards purchased three additional slaves. Had Blacknall’s wife given birth to other children, which does not seem to have occurred, such children would have been chattels of their father. Blacknall’s first wife died in de facto serfdom to her husband and he afterwards married a free Negro.

Wives Owned Their Husbands

He died in 1863 and by the terms of his will his three sons passed to the ownership of their respective wives who were free Negro women. Evidently he believed in reciprocity in the marital relation. His first wife had been his de facto slave and he made his sons, who were also his slaves, the slaves of their wives.

Another astounding thing about Tom Blacknall is that he was a Negro deacon in a white Presbyterian church.

This, and the fact that he frequently led the white congregations in prayer, are established to my entire satisfaction.

I have frequently conversed with very old white people of the highest veracity and of pronounced mentality, who, as restive children, heard but did ot attentively listen to, the prolix implorations of black Tom Blacknall, fervently poured forth in the midst of white congregations in a white Presbyterian church.

The Afro-American, Baltimore MD, 26 April 1930.