by Lisa Y. Henderson
As we have already noted, according to the laws of the colonial period, illegitimate children acquired the status of the mother, and this ruling explains the predicament of John Oggs’ children. Oggs was a bachelor whose housekeeper and cook was his slave, a Negro woman named Hester. By her he fathered four offspring, two males and two females. To “my gairl Alley (Alice)” and “my boy Jesse” he devised an equal interest in the plantation whereon he lived. To “my gairl Prudence” and “my boy Charles” he bequeathed the “land on the Island.” The total acreage of his real estate was between two and three hundred acres. He had failed, however, to provide for the manumission of either the mother or her children and since the law prohibited a slave from owning real property, the complications produced by the will became immediately evident. Here were properties clearly intended for individuals who were unable to exercise the privileges of ownership.
This peculiar state of affairs continued for a period of eighteen years, the boy Jesse having died in the meantime, when John Hamilton solved the problem by sponsoring a special legislative enactment, doubtless at the behest of interested persons in Camden and in Pasquotank. Following are quoted pertinent passages from the act finally passed by the State Legislature: “And whereas, the within mentioned Hester, and her children Charles, Alley and Prudence Oggs, are recommended to this General Assembly by several very respectable inhabitants of Camden and Pasquotank, as worthy of being manumitted and set free agreeable to the intentions of their father John Oggs. . . . Be it therefore enacted, that the said Negro woman Hester, and her children Charles, Alley and Prudence Oggs, are hereby manumitted and set free to all intents and purposes, and to possess all rights and privileges as if they had been born free.”
Exercising their long-delayed rights of ownership, for a few years the Oggs heirs sold and bought real estate. The father had owned one tract located in a neighborhood now known as Wickham, and the other was on Indian Island. Prudence finally purchased fifty acres on Indian Island, where she apparently spent her last days. Hester and the other two children later assumed the surname of Dixon. Eventually they sold all their possessions and departed for parts unknown.
Excerpt from Jesse F. Pugh, Three Hundred Years Along the Pasquotank (1957).