And rapacious, to boot.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

Superior Court, Edgecombe County

Fred Philips Administrator of Wright Locust


Augustus Locust, Primmy Washington, Charity Battle, Isham Locust, Harry Locust, Martha Ann Woodley, Mourning Jones, George W. Locust, Jo Anna Locust, Zaney Barnes, and Eliza Daniel.

The Petition of Fred Philips the above named Plaintiff respectfully shows

1. That on the 8th day of October 1881 Wright Locust died intestate and on the 12th day of October 1881 he was appointed administrator and duly qualified as such upon his estate.

2. That from the best information and knowledge which he has been able to obtain the outstanding debts of the said estate amount to about One hundred and seventy five dollars

3. That the value of the personal estate is Forty nine 46/100 dollars, and consisted of household furniture and carpenters tools which have been sold. That the sum of Forty four 25/100 dollars has been expended in paying some of preferred debts of the estate. That the intestate died seized and possessed of the real estate hereinafter described to wit “A certain piece or parcel of land situate in the town of Tarboro and County of Edgecombe and being the North Western half of the lot designated in the plan of said town as lot no 132. The said half lot being about 150 by 75 feet and containing one fourth of an acre. The same being the land the said Wright Locust resided upon at the time of his death and which was purchased by him from John Norfleet on the 1st day of Nov. 1858, and is estimated to be worth four or five hundred dollars.

4. That the defendant Augustus Locust is a child of the said Wright Locust, and claims to be the only heir at law and entitled to all his estate after paying the debts. But your petitioner has been informed and believes that Wright Locust and Tempy his wife the Father and Mother of the said Augustus were never married until the year 1866, many years after the birth of the said Augustus and that in Law he is a bastard and he has never been legitimized.

5. That the defendant Primmy Washington claims that the illegitimate brothers & sisters of the said Wright are his only heirs at law, and at the time of the death of said Wright Locust, he had no brothers or sisters living except herself and that she is the sole heir of the said Wright, and is entitled to all his estate after paying the debts.

6. That the defendants Charity Battle, Isham Locust, Harry Locust are the children of Mourning Locust, a sister of the said Wright who died in Nash County about 26 years ago. That the defendants Martha Ann Woodley, Mourning Jones, and George W. Locust are the children of Emanuel Locust who was a child of the said Mourning and died several years ago. That the said Charity, Isham, Harry and Martha Ann, Mourning, and George W., the children of Emanuel claim that they as representatives of Mourning Locust a sister of the said intestate are entitled to a share of intestates estate after paying the debts.

7. That the defendant Jo Anna Locust is the only surviving child of one Nancy Locust who died in March 1871 and who was the only child of Uny Locust a sister of the said Wright and who died many years ago in or near Nashville NC. That the said Jo Anna Locust claims that she as representative of Uny Locust is entitled to a share of intestates estate after paying the debts.

8. That the defendants Zaney Braswell who married [blank] Barnes and Eliza Braswell who married [blank] Daniel are the only surviving children of Jenny Locust who intermarried with one Jordan Braswell and died about 50 years ago. That the Defendants Zaney and Eliza claim that they as representatives of Jenny Locust a sister of the said intestate are entitled to a share of intestates estate after paying the debts.

9. That the said Wright Locust had other brothers and sisters to wit – Smith, Clem, Patience and Moriah but they are all dead and without issue as your Petitioner has been informed and believes.

Your petitioner represents that the personal estate is wholly insufficient to pay the debts of the said intestate and the costs of administering the estate and that a sale of said land is necessary to enable him to pay the debts of his intestate and the charges of administration. To the end that the said land may be sold by your petitioner under advice of this Court on such terms as the Court may direct, and that the proceeds of the sale may constitute assets in his hands for the payment of debts and charges your petitioner prays that a summons be issued to each of the above defendants to appear and answer and how their respective claims for any surplus after paying the debts judicially determined by a decree of this Court.       H.L. Staton Jr. Atty for Petr.

Algood Locust and Polly Locust, children of Mariah Locust, eventually joined the action as defendants. Documents in the file show that Wright Locust owned chickens and a pig and received rental income from unnamed sources. His debts included medical bills owed to two doctors; $1.00 owed to a druggist; $2.00 owed to Charlotte Bells for washing; $16.50 owed to Jenny Jackson and $10.50 to Hilliard Locust for nursing him in his last illness; and $3.00 to Harry Redmond for digging his grave. His town lot was sold for $585.

Augustus Locust’s Answer to the action filed by the administrator of the estate of his father, Wright Locust, included these paragraphs:

“2nd. That he denies that he is a Bastard – because he has been informed and believes that his father, the said Wright Locust, and his mother, Tempy Jones, free persons of color, were lawfully married in Halifax County before the birth of this defendant; but at this distant period (defendant himself being now in the 57th year of his age) is it difficult if not impossible to obtain proper evidence of said Marriage, owing to the loose and negligent manner in which the record of all marriages was kept, and the death or removal of them who might have been personal witnesses. Nor does defendant think that the remarriage of the said Wright and Tempy in the year 1866 in the County of Edgecombe, was a denial of the validity of the first marriage, for in this they, in the extreme ignorance of their condition and color, were merely misguided imitators of other colored people who at that time were marrying, after having cohabitated as husband and wife in slavery, under a law the provisions of which were intended to apply only to those who had formerly been slaves and incapable of contracting marriage – but which free people of color might mistake as applying to their class also.

3rd. That it is an undeniable fact that both in the counties of Halifax and Edgecombe the said Wright and Tempy openly and notoriously lived and cohabited together as husband and wife and hesitated not to avow the marital relationship existing between them, long before the birth of this defendant; and that, subsequently thereto, and up to the time of their deaths, they continued so to live & acknowledge each other, in the Town of Tarboro, where they owned Real Estate, and remained unmolested by the laws against fornication and adultery, — which in law is presumption of defendant’s legitimacy and capacity to inherit. And the fact that these parties were only ignorant colored people, tends to render the presumption only the more violent; and, if better proof of marriage were required, it is doubtful if it could be given in one case out of a hundred, where the marriage is alleged to have taken place sixty years ago. For himself Defendant further avows and is ready to verify that he has often heard both his said parents say that they were married in Halifax, and that his birth took place after their removal to the Town of Tarboro. …”

Locust went on to argue that Wright Locust bought his property and paid for it by the labor of “his own hands, assisted also by [Augustus’] mother,” from whom, even if he were illegitimate, he could inherit; that his parents had promised him repeatedly that the land would be his alone after their deaths – he was their “only child.” As to the other defendants, Augustus knew little except what was in the petition, i.e. that they were all “bastard collateral relations” of his father, and “rapacious” to boot.

Several men testified to their knowledge that Wright and Tempy Locust lived together as man and wife; that Augustus was their child; and they were free negroes. The court ruled in favor of Augustus Locust, and he was declared his father’s sole heir.

From the file of Wright Locust, North Carolina Estate Files 1663-1979, Original, North Carolina State Archives.

In the 1830 census of District 1, Edgecombe County: Wright Locus headed a household that included two males under age 10; one male aged 24-36; one female under age 10; and one female aged 24-36; all free people of color. In District 8: Clem Locus headed a household that included two white females under age 10; one white female aged 24-36; one white female aged 70-80; and one colored male aged 24-36.

In the 1850 census of Edgecombe County: Right Locust, 45, carpenter, Temperance, 37, and A. Locust, 14. In the 1860 census of Tarboro, Edgecombe County: Wright Locust, 50, Tempy, 45, and Hillard Locust, 3.

In the 1860 census of Winsteads, Nash County: Algood Locus, 23, farm laborer, Lizzey, 25, Jane, 10, Larkin J., 9, and Manda, 4.  In Coopers, Nash County: Mourning Locus, 50.  In Nashville, Nash County: Nancy Locus, 50, Uny L. Locus, 70, and Joanna Locus, 18.