Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Tag: rights

Void and of no effect.

AMENDMENTS to the Constitution of the State of North Carolina.


So much of the constitution as entitles free persons of colour to vote for members of the Senate, and of the House of Commons, is hereby made void and of no effect.

Proposed amendments published in Carolina Watchman, 23 March 1833.

[Sidenote: Free people of color ultimately were stripped of the right to vote in 1837. — LYH]

License to carry a shotgun.

Ordered by the Court that the following Free Persons of Colour be granted license to carry a shotgun for twelve months next ensuing viz:  Jordan Locklayer, Fed Wilkins, Willie Jones, Jesse Richardson, William Jones, Gideon Richardson, John Smith, Reasa Richardson, Frederick Haithcock, Lem’l Morgan, Aaron Locklayer, Simon Purner, Nicholas Richardson, Richard Conn, Julius Flood, David Reynolds, Robert Mitchum, Ellick Jones, Hardy Richardson, Herrod Scott, Norman Scott

Docket, August Term 1848, Court Records, Halifax County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

He deserves a gun.

Agreeably to an act of Assembly passed during the session of 1840-41 Chapter XXX. Hilary Coor free man of color petitions the worshipful Court of pleas and Quarter sessions for license to use a gun for one year from the date hereof.  August 17, 1841

We recommend Hilary Coor as deserving the benefit of the act cited above.

John G. Eliot, J. Martin, Harris Barfield, M.G. Harrell, Saml. Flowers, L. Cogdell, John Manly, Aaron Martin

Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color, Wayne County Miscellaneous Records, North Carolina State Archives.

[Sidenote: According to the 1850 census, Coor (who was also known Hillary Croom)’s supporters were a collection of farmers and one school teacher, Eliot. Coor/Croom named Eliot as the executor of his 1843 will, which requested that Eliot free Croom’s wife Hannah and their children Charles, Ann and Tempie.  Lewis Cogdell, J. Martin, David Cogdell and Daniel Cogdell witnessed the will. In 1850, Hillery Crooms headed a household on the south side of the Neuse that included children Annie, 14, Charles, 12, Tempy, 10, and John, 9, as well as two slaves, one of which may have been his wife. Two years later, he filed a petition with the North Carolina legislature seeking to bring his freed wife and children back into the state. — LYH]

Did unlawfully live as man & wife with a slave.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County to wit:

Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions January Term AD 1859

The Jurors for the State on their oath present that Benjamin Price a free negro late of the County of Wilson on the 1st day of December AD 1858 and divers other days and times both before and after that day at and in the county aforesaid did unlawfully cohabit & live as man & wife with Easter a slave the property of Dempsey Barnes contrary to the form of the statute in such cases made & provided and against the peace & dignity of the state.    /s/ B.B. Barnes Sol

[Reverse: State vs Ben Price A Slave for Wife / Gov Pros Wit Dempsey Barnes  / Not a true Bill W.E.J. Shallington For’n Grand Jury]

Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Licensed to carry.

Free Negroes licensed to carry guns 12 months

Date of license June 1852 – Loftin ChanceRichard MorrisGeorge LewisEzekiel ChanceTheophilus GeorgeWilliam Cully

September 1852 – Israel PettifordJohn GaudetJohn A. WigginsJames GaudetWright PettifordWill. GaudetGeorge RobersonBen. Banton

Dec’r 1852 – Kelso DavisRufus Chance

March 1853 – Sylvester GaskinsJohn FennerThomas FennerElijah George

Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color, Craven County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

In the 1850 census of Craven County, the following households:

  • Israel Pettiford, 25, farmer, wife Lucretia, 29, and children Caroline, 14, Willis, 3, and Francis, 2.
  • Loftin Chance, 57, farmer, wife Betsy, 55, and Ezekiel, 20, Rufus, 18, Betsy, 12, and [illegible] Chance, 11.  Also, Rufus Chance, 45, cooper, wife HannahSamuel Carter, 10, and Amos Fenner, 9. 
  • Richd. Moore Jnr., 35, laborer, wife Elennor, 25, and Mary, 4.
  • George Lewis, 33, boatman, wife Rebecca, 29, and Amos, 7 months.
  • Thepolus George, 22, boatman, wife Lucinda, 21, and Levery Godett, 55. Also Theop. George Jnr., 46, farmer, Susan, 24, Merinda, 18, Elijah, 16, Deborah, 12, Betsy, 9, James, 6, and Martha, 1.
  • James Godett, 70, farmer, wife Hepsy, 41, and James, 10, Jeremiah, 9, and William Godett, 6.
  • Right Pettiford, 38, farmer.
  • John Godett Jnr., 28, laborer, wife Mary, 24, and Francis, 6, Susan, 2, Nancy, 1 month, and Nancy Harkley, 17.
  • William Cully, 50, farmer, Mary, 40, William, 17, Hepsy, 16, Phebe, 14, and Mary, 3.
  • John R. Wiggins, 64, farmer, wife Julia, 50, and children George,14, Philip,12, Julia,10, Unis, 8, Nelly, 73, and John, 3.
  • John Fenner, 55, wife Ann, 45, and Philip Moore, 12.
  • Thomas Fenner, 50, Penelope, 55, and Thomas Carter, 9.
  • Elijah George, 35, boatman, Sarah, 21, Theopilus, 13, Matthew, 7, and Nancy, 1.
  • Benjamin Banton, 30, farmer, Celia, 70, Elizabeth, 25, Cornelia, 5, and Hepsy, 3.
  • George Roberson, 50, farmer, Betsy, 50, and Sidney Mahonis, 50.
  • George Godett Jnr., 66, farmer, wife Julia, 50, and William, 18, Andrew, 15, Sally, 15, Betsy, 32, and Jesse Ransom, 55.

I blame the State of North Carolina.


I was born free, in Halifax Co. North Carolina, where I lived thirty-five years. About ten years ago, I removed to Indiana. My father was a farmer, half white, who ran through his farm. If a white man there brings a great account, the white man would carry it against the colored, — the law there does not favor colored people. I cannot read or write. A free-born man in North Carolina is as much oppressed, in one sense, as the slave: I was not allowed to go to school. I recollect when I was a boy, a colored man came from Ohio, and opened a school, but it was broken up. I was in the field ploughing with my father, — he said he wished we could go and learn. I think it an outrageous sin and shame, that a free colored man could not be taught. My ignorance has a very injurious effect on my prospects and success. I blame the State of North Carolina — the white people of that State — for it. I am now engaged in a troublesome lawsuit, about the title to my estate, which I would not have got into, had I known how to read and write.

There were lots of slaves in the neighborhood where I was raised. After I grew up to take notice of things, I found I was oppressed as well as they. I thought it a sin then, for one man to hold another. I never was allowed to visit among the slaves, — had I been caught visiting them, I should have been fined: if a slave had visited me, he would have been whipped. This prevented my having much intercourse with them, except when I was hired to work by the masters. The conversation among the slaves was, that they worked hard, and got no benefit, — that the masters got it all. They knew but little about the good of themselves, — they often grumbled about food and clothing, — that they had not enough. I never heard a colored man grumbling about that here. They were generally religious, — they believed in a just God, and thought the owners wrong in punishing them in the way they were punished. A good many were so ignorant that they did not know any better, than to suppose that they were made for slavery, and the white men for freedom. Some, however, would talk about freedom, and think they ought to be free.

I have often been insulted, abused, and imposed upon, and had advantage taken of me by the whites in North Carolina, and could not help myself.

When I was twenty-one, I went to vote, supposing it would be allowed. The ‘Squire, who held the box objected, and said no colored man was allowed to vote. I felt very badly about it, — I felt cheap, and I felt vexed: but I knew better than to make an answer, — I would have been knocked down certain. Unless I took off my hat, and made a bow to a white man, when I met him, he would rip out an oath, —  “d–n you, you mulatto, ain’t you got no politeness? Do n’t you know enough to take off your hat to a white man?” On going into a store, I was required to take off my hat.

I have seen slaves with whom I worked, nearly starved out, and yet stripped and whipped; blood cut out of them. It makes my flesh creep now to think of it – such gashes as I’ve seen cut in them. After a whipping, they would often leave and take to the woods for a month or two, and live by taking what they could find. I’ve often heard it said that’s the cause of colored people in the South being dishonest, because they are brought so as to be obliged to steal. But I do not consider it dishonest — I always thought it right for a slave to take and eat as much as he wanted where he labored.

At some places where I have worked, I have known that the slaves had not a bite of meat given them. They had a pint of corn meal unsifted, for a meal, — three pints a day. I have seen the white men measure it, and the cook bake it, and seen them eat it: that was all they had but water — they might have as much of that as they wanted. This is no hearsay — I’ve seen it through the spring, and on until crop time: three pints of meal a day and the bran and nothing else. I heard them talk among themselves about having got a chicken or something, and being whipped for it. They were a bad looking set — some twenty of them — starved and without clothing enough for decency. It ought to have been a disgrace to their master, to see them about his house. If a man were to go through Canada so, they ‘d stop him to know what he meant by it — whether it was poverty or if he was crazy, — and they ‘d put a suit of clothes on him. I have seen them working out in the hot sun in July or August without hats — bareheaded. It was not from choice, — they could n’t get hats.

I have seen families put on the block and sold, some one way, some another way. I remember a family about two miles from me, — a father and mother and three children. Their master died, and they were sold. The father went one way, the mother another, with one child, and the other two children another way. I saw the sale — I was there — I went to buy hogs. The purchaser examined the persons of the slaves to see if they were sound, — if they were “good niggers.” I was used to such things, but it made me feel bad to see it. The oldest was about ten or eleven years. It was hard upon them to be separated — they made lamentations about it. I never heard a white man at a sale express a wish that a family might be sold together.

On removing to Indiana, the white people did not seem so hostile altogether, nor want the colored people to knuckle quite so low. There were more white people who were friendly than in North Carolina. I was not allowed my vote nor my oath. There were more who wished colored people to have their rights than in North Carolina, — I mean there were abolitionists in Indiana.

I came here a year last spring, to escape the oppression of the laws upon the colored men. After the fugitive slave bill was passed, a man came into Indianapolis, and claimed John Freeman, a free colored man, an industrious, respectable man, as his slave. He brought proofs enough. Freeman was kept in jail several weeks, — but at last it turned out that the slave sought, was not Freeman, but a colored man in Canada, and F. was released. The danger of being taken as Freeman was, and suffering from a different decision, worked on my mind. I came away into Canada in consequence, as did many others. There were colored people who could have testified to Freeman’s being free from his birth, but their oath would not be taken in Indiana.

In regard to Canada, I like the country, the soil, as well as any country I ever saw. I like the laws, which leave a man as much freedom as a man can have, — still there is prejudice here. The colored people are trying to remove this by improving and educating themselves, and by industry, to show that they are a people who have minds, and that all they want is cultivating.

I do not know how many colored people are here — but last summer five hundred and twenty-five were counted leaving the four churches.

From Benjamin Drew, A North-Side View of Slavery. The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada Related by Themselves, with an Account of the History and Condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada (1856).

Though his age is off by several years, this is possibly the Tho. Hedgepath, 31, farmer, with wife Mary, 28, and children A., 7, M.J., 3, and L., 7 months, listed in the 1850 census of Center, Marion County, Indiana. Thomas, Mary and A. were born in North Carolina; the younger children in Indiana.

Sold for taxes, redux.

No. 471. An Act for the relief of John Montgomery and William A. Lewis, of Forsyth County; Nancy Going, Adaline Page, Thursday, Isabella, De la Fayette, and Elmira, free persons of color, of the County of Columbia, and for other purposes therein specified.

WHEREAS, Bryant Oxendine, a free person of color, was taken up for failing to comply with the Registration Laws of this State, in the year 1850, and was found guilty and fined by the Inferior Court of Forsyth County one hundred dollars, and being unable to pay the fine was hired out, under the Laws of this State, for a term of eighteen months, for the price of one hundred dollars, to John Montgomery, on the 5th day of December, 1850, and the said John Montgomery gave his note due eighteen months after date, to the Justices of the Inferior Court of Forsyth County, for the sum of one hundred dollars, with William A. Lewis as security for the same. And,

WHEREAS, The said Bryant Oxendine ran away on the 28th day of August, 1851, and therefore failed to perform the service for the time for which he was hired.

SECTION I. Be it therefore enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia in the General Assembly met, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That the said John Montgomery and WIlliam A. Lewis be relieved, discharged and acquitted from the payment of so much of the said note, in proportion, as the service aforesaid was not performed, to wit: the sum of fifty-five dollars.

Acts of the General Assembly of Georgia, 1853-4 (1854).

He craves the privilege of carrying a shotgun.

State of North Carolina, Edgcomb County   }

To the Worshipful the Justices of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sestions May Term 1841 – The Petition of the under Signed Cizens of Said County Humly requesting:

Your Petitioners respectfully Shew unto your worships that Basdill Thomas of the State and County afore said having been a Citizens of Destrict No 7 of the 1 regiment of the Edgcomb Militia, he being a free person of color and having been debard by the Laws of the State of keeping Fire armes Except in Case of having a proper License from the worshipful Court of the County wherein he resides whare as he the said Thomas Craves the privilege to geather with his assigners of being Impowered with the authority of Carrying or using a Shot gun or musket in his neighbor hood or about his Dometical afares and also the said Thomas to gather with his assigners wish to shew to your worship in order that you may be Staisfied that he has been a resident of said District above mentioned and that he is a peaceable & quiet Citizen and Stands fare as an honest man and as & unblemished a character as any man in the neighbourhood for the Last for or Five years Whareas we the under signd are willing and do assigne our names with the same Thomas to be granted the above named privilidg this 24th May 1841

/s/ Basdill Thomas, Wm. R. Dupree, R.F. Eagles, John A. Pin[illegible]

Rejected – By order, May term 1841 – Louis D. Wilson

Slave Records, Edgecombe County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Basdill Thomas married Sally Young in Franklin County on 13 March 1833. Benja. Long was bondsman; S. Patterson, witness.

He cannot go blow for blow, but he can defend himself.

State v. Lawrence Davis, 52 NC 52 (1859).

This indictment for assault and battery arose in Craven Superior Court.  Lawrence Davis was a free negro living in New Bern.  Edward Hart was a regularly appointed and qualified constable for the town. Hart had a notice directing David to show cause why he should not work on the streets as the penalty for not having paid his taxes. (A New Bern ordinance: “Ordered that all free negroes, who have not paid their taxes, shall be made to work on the streets two days for each and every dollar of tax due the town by them, and if he refuses to do the same, upon due notice being given him, he shall pay a fine, at the discretion of the Mayor, not exceeding $10.” Hart arrested Davis and, while he attempted to tie him, Davis struck him.

The lower court found Davis guilty, and he appealed.

The Supreme Court suggested that Davis’ conviction may have rested on the proposition that a free negro is not justified, under any circumstances, in striking a white man. “To this, we cannot yield our assent. Self-defense is a natural right, and, although the social relation of this third class of our population, and a regard for its proper subordination requires that the right should be restricted, yet, nothing short of manifest public necessity can furnish a ground for taking it away absolutely; because a free negro, however lowly his condition, is in the “peace of the State,” and to deprive him of this right, would be to put him on the footing of an outlaw.” So, though a free negro ordinarily was not to return blow for blow or fight with a white man, “as one white man may do with another, or one free negro with another, he is not deprived, absolutely, of the right of self-defense.” Rather, to justify a battery on a white man, the free negro is required to prove that it was necessary for him to strike in order to protect himself from “great bodily harm or grievous oppression.” In other words, if there is cruelty or unusual circumstances of oppression, a blow is excusable. 

In this case, a constable serving a notice on the defendant, without any authority whatever, arrested him and attempted to tie him.  “Is not this gross oppression? For what purpose was he to be tied? What degree of cruelty might not the defendant reasonably apprehend after he should be entirely in the power of one who had set upon him in so highhanded and lawless a manner? Was he to submit tamely? Or, was he not excusable for resorting to the natural right of self-defense?” 

Under these circumstances, the judge committed error, and a new trial was ordered. 

The expert testifies, “He is mulatto.”

State v. Asa Jacobs, 51 N.C. 284 (1859).

Asa Jacobs was indicted in Brunswick County, as a free negro, for carrying firearms.

In the lower court, the State called a certain Pritchett to give an opinion on Jacobs’ ancestry.  He testified that he had known Jacobs a long time, but had never seen any of Jacobs’ ancestors, and knew nothing of them by reputation. Jacobs’ lawyer objected that Pritchett’s lack of actual knowledge disqualified him from rendering an opinion on whether Jacobs was a free negro. The court ruled that Pritchett could answer questions to establish whether he was qualified to testify as an expert.

Pritchett then stated that he was a planter and had been an owner and manager of slaves for more than twelve years; that “he had paid much attention to and had had much observation of the effects of the intermixture of negro or African blood with the white and Indian races;” and that from such attention and observation, he was well satisfied that he could distinguish between the descendants of a negro and a white person and the descendants of a negro and Indian; and further, that he could also say whether a person was full African, or had more or less than half African “blood” in him, and whether the cross or intermixture was white or Indian.  On this basis, Pritchett was admitted to testify and stated his opinion that Jacobs was a mulatto – that is, half African and half white. Jacobs’ counsel excepted to the admission of this evidence, and upon Jacobs’ conviction, appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Court noted that even a common observer can detect, from outward appearance, the “intermixture of the white and black races;” it is not a matter of science or skill. Nonetheless, it by no means follows that the ability to ascertain the extent of “negro blood” is not so. “On the contrary, we believe that it would often require an eye rendered keen, by observation and practice, to detect, with any approach to certainty, the existence of any thing less than one-fourth of African blood in a subject.” North Carolina law defined a free negro as one who is “descended from negro ancestors to the fourth generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person.” He may, therefore, be a person who is only a sixteenth African. The ability to detect “the infusion of so small a quantity of negro blood in one, claiming the privilege of a white man, must be a matter of science,” and, therefore, subject to the testimony of an expert. Pritchett, the court determined, proved that he possessed the necessary qualification to testify as such.