[Note: This blog post comes from Lea Walker, North Carolina Genealogical Society Intern. The internship is supported by funds bequeathed to the North Carolina Genealogical Society by the estate of the late Frances Holloway Wynne, with supervision provided by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist in the Special Collections Branch.]
Historical account books can provide insight into the daily lives of customers, merchants, and tradesmen. More than 500 such collections are preserved in the State Archives. Most of these are from the nineteenth century but a few survive from colonial and Revolutionary times.
One example is the Matthew and Margaret Byrne Account Book (AB.76), which dates from 1761 to 1864. The Byrnes operated a general store near the Cape Fear River in Bladen County. Although the exact site of the establishment is unknown, notes in the account book mention trade with Rockfish and Cross Creek, which lay to the north of Bladen near present-day Hope Mills and Fayetteville. Land records in the State Archives indicate that the original plantation was located on the southwest side of the northwest branch of the Cape Fear River. Private collections in the Archives also mention Elizabethtown, Goodman Swamp, and the nineteenth-century towns of Prospect Hall and Maysville in connection with Byrne property and residences. Taken together, these locales would seem to place the Matthew Byrne family west of the Cape Fear River and primarily in the northwest part of Bladen County.
In addition to recording the births of the three Byrne children in the 1760s, the Byrne family used the account book to record the births of ninety-five slaves over a period of 100 years, from 1762 to 1862. Each birth is listed with the first name of the child, birthdate, and in a few cases, the approximate time of birth. Although seventeen of the records do not reveal the mothers’ names, the other seventy-eight have a potential total of twenty-two mothers. Since names are often repeated, it is not possible to determine the exact number of mothers. It seems likely, however, that the Rachel who gave birth to nine children from 1791 to 1809 was a different person from the Rachel who had a daughter in 1828. The account book would seem to bear this out, since it lists two Rachels, born in 1771 and 1808 respectively.
The mothers who are listed gave birth to anywhere from one to ten children. Peggy might have been the Peg born on the plantation on November 11, 1778. If that was the case, she became a mother at the age of nineteen and continued to have children for nineteen years until the age of thirty-eight. She gave birth to ten children, including the only set of twins recorded in the account book, daughters Patty and Violet.
An examination of the 1850 federal slave schedule reveals three members of the Byrn family living on the southwest side of the Cape Fear River in Bladen County. Alexander J. Byrn, John M. Byrn, and Mary Byrn owned a total of twenty-two slaves. The ages of ten of these slaves correspond precisely to the computed ages of those listed in the account book. In 1860, Matthew Burn and A. J. Burn are both listed as slaveholders with a total of eighteen slaves. Sixty-one percent of these are the exact ages of those listed in the account book.
Further correlation can be found by studying the wills in the possession of the State Archives. Alexander Byrne (1764-1787), son of the colonists Matthew and Margaret Byrne, bequeathed unnamed slaves to his brother, Matthew and nephew, William Willkings. Mathew Byrne (d. 1837), presumably the other son of the colonists, named ten children in his will and left slaves to all of them. His wife, Mary (d. 1853), named four survivors in her will —sons John M. and Mathew, unmarried daughter Mary, and married daughter Anna Maria Robeson. Each received slave bequests by name. John M. Byrne, son of Mathew and Mary, died in 1858, bequeathing slaves to his siblings Anna Maria Robeson and A. J. Byrne. To his brother, Mathew he gave his “plantation on Cape Fear River lying between the lands of James Robeson and the said Mathew Byrne.” Of the twenty-nine names specified in these four wills, twenty-seven correspond to names listed in the account book. Additional research into the married names, residences, and children of the female Byrne descendants might shed light on the whereabouts of other slaves listed in the account book.