Windmill owner, justice of the peace.

by Lisa Y. Henderson


George Riley Midgett, the windmill owner, married Nags Head couple

Coming to Roanoke Island on January 24, 1874 and anxious to be married was one Solomon Beasley, 19, of Nags Head. His bride too, was anxious to get married and get back home across the wintry Roanoke Sound as bad weather was making up.

As luck would have it there wasn’t a preachers or justice on the place they could locate except the late George Riley Midgett, colored Justice of the Peace, and to him they went in their troubles. He performed the ceremony which is believed to be the only known instance of a negro officer marrying a white couple in Dare County.

Solomon Beasley was the son of S. Beasley and Lydia Beasley, and has been dead for many years. He married Senia O’Neal who was the daughter of Isaac O’Neal and Sylinda O’Neal.

The record of this marriage may be seen in the office of Melvin R. Daniels, Register of Deeds of Dare County.

George Riley Midgett was born about 1845 and was never a slave, but always a “free” Negro. He was highly respected and called “Uncle George” by both races. Having become a magistrate, he was entitled under the laws of the time to elect in union with the eight or ten other magistrates, the members of Commissioner himself. He was, in time, elected to the Board of County Commissioners. He was, politically speaking, one of the most prominent Negroes ever to have lived in this region. After being a Commissioner of the County, he entered the Life Saving Service and stayed there until disabled. He is remembered as being somewhat fat, walking as if hobbled, and interesting in appearance especially when dressed in his white service uniform. His wife was called “Old Aunt Nancy” as familiarly as he was called “Uncle George”. She died about 16 years ago. They lived on the east side of Roanoke Island. Of their two sons, George Harvey lives near Manteo, and Clay is a lawyer in Phoebus, Va.

“Uncle George” did perform at least four marriages which were recorded, between members of his own race. There was the marriage of Pierce Toler, son of Dick Toler and Cynthia Davis, to Harriet Allen, daughters of Hallory and Harriet Allen, on Roanoke Island November 1, 1873. Pierce Toler was sensible, entertaining and a convincing talker. His living reputation says that in a business deal, he could talk the average white man out of $10 in as many minutes.

Then “Uncle George” married Monday Dough, son of George Dough, to Martha Midgett, daughter of Monday Midgett and Fanny Midgett, on Roanoke Island, January 10, 1874. About the best memorial Monday Dough left when he died was “Monday Dough Field” which is reached by a road which leads into the woods north of Manteo. It is now owned by Z.V. Brinkley. “Uncle George” next married Jeremiah Farrow, aged 23, son of Henry and Sarah Farrow, to Mary E. Jarvis, aged 20, on Roanoke Island January 24, 1874.

The fourth and last marriage accorded to “Uncle George” was that of Noah Simmons, age 21, son of Mary Simmons, to Amelia Allen, age 18, daughter of Harriett Allen, on Roanoke Island February 13, 1875. Noah Simmons was respected for his energy, common sense and truthfulness. He made a good living and built a comfortable home. After the recording of this final marriage by Uncle George, there was written by hand into the record the following:

North Carolina, Dare County Office of Register of Deeds

I, R.W. Smith, Register of Deeds, do hereby certify that the foregoing is a true and accurate copy of the register of marriage licenses issued in said County from its formation as such to December 7th, 1903, the same being transcribed and copied from former marriage register for whites and colored by order of the Board of Commissioners of said county by reason of the torn and dilapidated condition of former register. This December 15th, 1903.

There were no further recordings of ceremonies performed by “Uncle George” Riley Midgett, magistrate, county commissioner and one among the most distinguished Negroes in the County.

In more recent years George Riley Midgett was famed more for the huge windmill he owned near Manteo. It has been blown down and demolished now for over 35 years and prior to that time had long been inactive but it was a great curiosity and was visited by many people. A picture of the old ruins was sold widely as a souvenir postcard. In the old days it ground all the grain used on the island for meal.

Coastland Times, 25 July 1952

[Sidenote: Evidence suggests that George R. Midgett had, in fact, been enslaved, but I share this story until proof comes in.  — LYH]