Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Tag: Tann

Always free?


WILEY LOWEREY, sworn and examined, duly testified:

Q. Where do you live?  A. In Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina.

Q. What is your business at home?  A. Well, sir, I run drays on the street, and I have been drayer there for two or three years. I keep store besides.

Q. In the town of Kinston?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. Have you held any public office in the county?  A. I have been county commissioner.

Q. How long?  A. About eight years.

Q. Are you county commissioner now?  A: No, sir.

Q. Were you formerly a slave?  A. No, sir.

Q. You were a freeman before the war?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. Do you own property?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. How much, and what does it consist of?  A. Town property principally.

Q. Real estate?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. Have you made it since the war?  A. Yes, sir; most of it.

Q. Do you own a house and lot?  A. Yes, sir; I own a right smart of houses. My renters pay me between four and five hundred dollars a year.


Q. How far is Lenoir County from Warren?  A. I think 180 miles.

Q. How long was it after you left there before you moved to the one where you are now?  A. I was raised there.

Q. You always lived there before you came to Lenoir?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. And you were always free?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. Always free? A. Yes, sir.

Q. What is your age now?  A. I am forty-seven years old.

Q. Were you always free?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. You were born free?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. Were your parents ever slaves?  A. No, they never was. My old grandfather was a hundred and five when he died, and was always free.

Q. Neither you or any of your ancestors were ever slaves in this country?  A. No, sir.

Q. What were your opportunities for education before the war?  A. I do not know, sir. Before the war, I did not know much; but the free colored people had a school going on in Raleigh.

Q. You said you were a county commissioner; where did you find such an education such as you found necessary in that position?  A. I just picked it up. I never went to school a day in my life.

Q. You found time to study and pick up a little arithmetic?  A. Yes, sir; I can read and write.

Wiley Lowery testified before a Senate Select Committee investigating the migration of hundreds of “colored people” from the South to Indiana in the late 1870s.

Senate Report 693, 2nd Session, 46th Congress: Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States, Washington DC, beginning Tuesday, 9 March 1880.

Willie Lowery married Winnie Tann in Warren County on 16 January 1860. Matthew Guy was bondsman, John W. White was witness, and N.A. Purefoy, Minister of the Gospel, performed the service. 

Matthew Guy married Surbina Lowery on 10 December 1850 in Warren County. In the 1860 census of Warrenton, Warren County: #84, M. Guy and family; #85, P. Lowery, 65, mulatto, washerwoman; #86, N.A. Purefoy, white, clergyman, and family; #98, W. Lowery, 24, black, stonemason, born in Warren County, W. Lowery, 22, mulatto, seamstress, born in Northampton County; and M. Mitchell, 25, black, washerwoman, born in Halifax County.

Index to Marriage Bonds Filed in the North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh; federal census schedules.

Rather than trust his client’s color before the jury …

Wm. W. Johnson v. Peter G. Basquere, Justice, and others, Freeholders, and Thomas Miller v. Boon, Tax Collector of St. Paul’s, and Rice, Sheriff, 28 S.C.L. 329 (1843).

The South Carolina Court of Appeals heard these cases on the issue of whether, where a “narrator” has argued that he is “entitled to occupy in society the status of a free white man,” he can discontinue proceedings by motion for non-suit or leave of court before publication of the verdict.

In Johnson v. Basquere, the narrator, who was about to be tried as a free person of color, filed a declaration in prohibition alleging that he “had a right to occupy in society the status of a free white man of South Carolina.”  The defendants denied that he was a free white man, and the issue was put to a jury. “Much evidence was offered on both sides. Many witnesses on the part of the narrator, said that he was received in society, and regarded as a free white man, whilst witnesses on the part of defendants, testified that his great grand-mother, by the mother’s side, was a mulatto. The case was submitted to the jury, after full argument and a fair trial. When the jury returned to the court room, the foreman stepped to the clerk’s desk to write his verdict, and when he was about to deliver the record to the clerk, a motion was made to poll the jury, which the presiding Judge refused.” The narrator’s counsel –suspecting an unfavorable verdict –  then moved to discontinue the proceeding without publishing the verdict. This motion was granted.

Johnson was in court, “and had the appearance of a white man. He had been a member of a volunteer company, and had voted at the general election for members of the Legislature. There was no question but what his lineage on his father’s side, was that of white, and rather respectable people. His mother, Mary, was the daughter of one Nancy Patrick, formerly Nancy Miller. [Mr.] Patrick, who had married Nancy, was regarded a colored man, and Mary was born in wedlock; but several witnesses said Patrick never claimed her, and that her mother said she was the child of an Irish schoolmaster, Ellis, living in the neighborhood at the time she was begotten and born, and she was so generally regarded. Nancy Miller’s father was a white man, who married Elizabeth Tan,” Johnson’s great-grandmother. “Elizabeth Tan was a colored woman, with thick skin and long hair; and from what came out in another case, she was originally from North Carolina, and claimed to be an Egyptian.”

In Miller v. Boon, the question was whether the narrator “was subject to a poll tax imposed on free persons of color, of African origin and taint; or whether he was entitled to occupy the position of a free white man.” In an earlier matter, a judge had held that the narrator, Isaac Winningham, and his wife Rachel,“were not subject to be taxed as free persons of African origin, but that they were exempt from such a tax, as the descendants of Egyptians.” Winningham’s counsel argued that this decision ruled and rested his case. The solicitor then called Winningham into court – “and his appearance was that of a mulatto. At this stage of the proceedings, and perhaps when the Solicitor was about calling witnesses to shew that narrator was a mulatto, the counsel for narrator moved to discontinue his proceeding, preferring to rely on the [earlier] judgment …, rather than to trust to his client’s color, before the jury. The presiding Judge granted the motion.”

The court of appeals determined that both parties to the action are voluntary and entitled to stop proceedings to take a more prudent course. Decisions upheld.

I was stolen from my parents.

State of Virginia, Southampton County  } SS.

On this 7 day of March 1834 personally appeared in open court before the Justices of the county court of Southampton now acting Drewry Tann (a Free man of Colour) a Resident of said county aged about seventy five years who being first duly sworn according to Law doth on his oath make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the act of Congress passed June the 7th 1832.

That he enlisted under Capt. Hadley in the County of Wake in the State of North Carolina (and states the manner he came in the service as follows) that being born free in the county of Wake he was stolen from his parents when a small boy by persons unknown to him, who were carrying him of to sell him into to [sic] Slavery, and had gotten with him and other stolen property, as far as the mountains on their way, that his parents made complaint to a Mr. Tanner Alford who was then a magistrate in the county of Wake State of N. Carolina to get me back from those who had stolen me, and he did pursue the Rogues & overtook them at the mountains and took me from them & my parents agreed that I should serve him (Tanner Alford) until I was twenty one years old, when he had served Alford several years (Six years) it came Alfords time to go in the army (or he told me so) and told me if I would go in the army he would set me free on which conditions I readily listed under Capt. Hadley for eighteen months as he was told and marched to Charleston and thence to Jameses Isleand where he served out his term of enlistment that he had a discharge and was about returning home when a Capt. Benjamin Coleman (who told me he lived in Bladen County N. Carolina) took his discharge from him and tried to compel him to remain in the service & be his waitingman – his name is to be found in the Records of the State of North Carolina as he is informed by Mr. Deverieux of the City of Raleigh N. Carolina & the term of his enlistments as well as the fact of his enlisting under Capt. Hadley as state above – he cannot state at what period of the war he entered the service. General Green was the commander in chief, Col Lightly & Capt Lightly. Adjutant Ivy that he served in the N. Carolina Regiment, that he has no other documentary evidence than that refered to in the Archives in the State of N. Carolina at the City of Raileigh and knows of no person living who can testify to his service. He hereby relinquishes every claim whatever to a pension or annuity except the present & declares that his name is not on the pension roll of the agency of any state.  Drewry X Tann

The said Drewry Tann states that he was born in the county of Wake N. Carolina in what year he does not know, that he has no Record of his age, that he was living in Wake County N. Carolina when he was Enlisted and that he has lived since the Revolution in the countys of Northampton N. Carolina and Southampton Virginia. That he lives in the county of Southampton at this time.  That he listed volluntarily in the army under Capt. Hadley. He since as before stated on Jameses isleand near Charleston S. Carolina when there were some English prisoners & he was sometimes stationed as a guard on them, Gen Green was the commanding officer Col and Capt Lightley & Adjutant Ivy are all the names he can at this time remember he does not know what regiments he served with – he did secure a discharge from the service & Capt. Coleman took it from him & what has become of it he cannot say. He is known to Mr. Edwin G. Hart Mr. W. Owens John Hart Col. Clements Rochelle James Maggett Davis Bryant and many others.    Drewry X Tann

Sworn to and subscribed in open court this 17 day of May 1834

From the file of Drewry Tann, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives and Records Administration.