Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Category: “Race”

Coal-black negroes, no. 2.

State v. William P. Watters, 25 NC 455 (1843).

This case, arising in Ashe County, was an indictment against William P. Watters for libel: “Notice. A man called Isaac Tinsley on the first day of this month in a suit wherein the State was plaintiff and myself and wife were defendants, swear a wilful lie and I can prove it. October 15th, 1841.”  In other words, Watters was charged with falsely calling Tinsley a liar. Watters pleaded not guilty and asserted the truth of his statement as a defense.

The case was rooted in Watters and Zilpha Thompson’s earlier indictment for fornication and adultery. Watters and Thompson proved that they had been married, but the State alleged that Watters was a man of color, and his marriage to a white woman was therefore void. Watters contended that he was descended from Portuguese, not Negro or Indian, ancestors. Isaac Tinsley testified for the state that he knew Watters’ mother and grandmother, and “they were coal black negroes.” Other witnesses testified that Watters’ mother was “a bright mulatto, with coarse straight hair — that her name was Elizabeth Cullom, and that she lived with a man by the name of John P. Watters, who was a white man, but of dark complexion for a white man,” who was the reputed father of William Watters. They also testified that Elizabeth Cullom’s mother, Mary Wooten, “was not as black as some negroes they had seen, and had thin lips.” Another witness stated that Wooten “was black, with thin lips and sharp features.” Watters then proposed to prove that Wooten had stated that Cullom’s father was white. This evidence was rejected by the court.  And found Watters guilty of libel.

Upon appeal to the Supreme Court, the justices confirmed that the evidence had been properly excluded as hearsay.  Further, as “the declaration of the grandmother assigns the paternity of her child to no man in particular, but only to some white man, [it] would be the loosest proof of pedigree that ever established one.”  “And, besides, it is well known that persons, of the description of this woman, have a strong bias in their minds to induce the declaration from them, and if possible, the impression on others, that their illegitimate child is the issue of a white man: if not to gratify a personal vanity in themselves, for the reason, that it removes their offspring one degree from the humbled caste in which is placed by the law,whereby he is excluded from the elective franchise, and from competency as a witness between white persons, and prohibited from intermarrying with them.”  Judgment affirmed.

In the 1850 census of Ashe County: Wm. P. Waters, 52, mulatto, wife Zilphia, 31, and children Mary, 9, Marth, 8, John, 7, Mark, 6, Louisa, 5, Granville, 3, and Henry, 1.  The race designation for Zilphia and the children was blank, which indicates the default “white.”

Disfranchisement? Mere error in judgment.

Jared Peavey v. William A. Robbins et al., 48 NC 339 (1856).

Election inspectors refused to receive a vote from Jared Peavey.  At trial in Brunswick Superior Court, Peavey called a witness who testified that Peavey’s mother and grandmother were white women, that his father was a dark colored man with straight hair, and his grandfather was a red-faced mulatto with dark straight hair.  The judge charged the jury that, if Peavey’s grandfather “was half and half, that is, half white and half black,” then Peavey was “within the fourth degree,” i.e. within four generations of a black ancestor, and could not prevail.  Moreover, election inspectors are, under the law, the exclusive judges of voter qualifications and, no corruption being charged here, were not responsible for mere error in judgment.

Jerod Peavy, 20, and wife Elizabeth, 18, appear in the 1850 census of Brunswick County.  Both are described as mulatto.

My mother was an Indian woman came from Guadaloupe.

Lewis W. Levy Sr.‘s claim (#16083) with the Southern Claims Commission was submitted to Congress on 4 December 1876.  Levy lived in Cumberland County, 3 miles southeast of Fayetteville; was a free-born colored man; and owned 109 acres, of which 40 were under cultivation.  He worked as a saddle and harness maker.  During the war, he was forced to work in his trade at Fayetteville arsenal, where he was “insulted, abused and molested by the rebels.” He fed 6 Union soldiers on their way to federal lines after escaping from Florence SC, and his son Lewis Levy Jr. and Alexander Jackson, another colored man, piloted them over the Cape Fear River.

The Commissioners noted: “He was unusually well off in property for a colored man, much above the average of colored people.  He was nearly white, so much so that the confederates arrested him and tried to force him into their Army, but the surgeon discharged him on the ground of physical inability.”

“A large force of Genl. Sherman’s Army camped near him for 2 or 3 days in March 1865; & we have no doubt from the nature of the case that they stripped him of all he had. … We allow $723.00.”

“I was free born.  My mother was an Indian woman came from Guadeloupe France to this country in 1794.”

Alexander Jackson, age 60, testified that he was a colored man and that he resided in Rockfish township, Cumberland County and worked as a saddle and harness maker.  He was not related to Lewis Levy, but had known him 30 years and lived about 2 1/2 miles from him.  They sometimes worked in the same shop.

Edinboro Scurlock, age 48, testified that he was colored, lived in Cumberland County near Fayetteville and was a wagon maker.  He was not related to Lewis Levy, but knew him all his life and lived about 1/2 mile from him.

Lewis’ son Robert W. Levy was a 21 year-old farmer who lived in Rockfish township.  His testimony mentioned his mother, brothers Lewis Jr. and Matthew N. Levy, sister Ann Eliza Levy, and Wright Lambert.  Matthew N. Levy, age 23, and Lewis W. Levy Jr., 24, also testified. They lived in Fayetteville and worked as coopers.

George D. Simmons, age 39, lived in Fayetteville and worked as a barber and grocer. He had known Levy for 22 years and lived about 5 miles from him.

In the 1850 census of Fayetteville, Cumberland County: Lewis Levy, 30, saddle and harnessmaker; wife Sarah C., 25; children Robt., 6, Eliza, 8, Lewis, 4, and Matthew, 6 months; plus Abel  G. Stuart, 20, apprentice saddlemaker; Paul Jones, 23, painter; and Wm. Dunstan, 34, painter.  All were described as mulatto.

Chapter 111. An Act Concerning Slaves and Free Persons of Color.

Sec. 74. Who shall be deemed free negroes.  All free mulattoes, descended from negro ancestors to the fourth generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person, shall come within the provisions of this act.

Revised Statutes of North Carolina, 1837.