Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Tag: definition

He knew his great-grandfather, and he was a coal-black negro.

State v. Whitmel Dempsey, 31 NC 384 (1849)

Whitmel Dempsey was indicted as a free man of color for carrying arms without a license.  A state’s witness testified that he had heard an old man named Barnacastle say that he knew Dempsey and his family and that Dempsey’s great-grandfather, who was called Joseph Dempsey alias Darby, was a coal-black negro.  The Bertie County Superior Court received this evidence over Dempsey’s objection.  Dempsey then gave evidence that Joseph Dampsey’s mother was a white woman; that Joseph was a reddish, copper-colored man with curly red hair and blue eyes; that Joseph’s wife was white; that Joseph and his wife had a son named William; that William also married a white woman and had a son named Whitmel; and that that Whitmel married a white woman, who was Whitmel the defendant’s mother.  The court found that, assuming that Joseph Dempsey was half-negro, Whitmel, being his great-grandson and therefore within the fourth generation from black ancestors, was a free person of color.  After a treatise on the scope and definition of the term, the Supreme Court upheld Dempsey’s conviction.

The 1840 census of Bertie County listed six Dempsey heads of household, including a Whitmel.  All were classified as free people of color.  Bertie County records show that a Whitmell Dempsey married Anna Bowen on 17 June 1806.

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.