Monthly Archives: February 2017

Alfred Fowler and the Vietnam War

[This blog post was written by Matthew Peek, Military Collection Archivist for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Snapshot of Alfred Fowler standing next to an artillery gun in a bunker in Vietnam

VW 1.B2.F12.1: Snapshot of Alfred Fowler standing next to an artillery gun in a bunker in Vietnam at an unknown location in June 1968, during his service with B Battery, 321st Artillery, 82nd Airborne Division, U.S. Army. Photograph sent to his wife Cynthia Fowler with a June 23, 1968, letter. From the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina.

In honor of Black History Month, the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina wants to feature one of its most important collections from the Vietnam War—the Alfred Fowler Papers.

Alfred Fowler was born on September 26, 1942, in Whites Creek Township in Bladen County, North Carolina. His parents were John Edd and Laney (Shaw) Fowler. Alfred’s mother died when he was five years old, leaving him to be raised by his father, with whom he was not very close. Alfred’s mother gave birth to nine living children, the oldest of whom—Mary Lee—worked to raise Alfred and his siblings. Growing up, Alfred was very close to his youngest sister Mabel.

Alfred Fowler would meet Cynthia L. Bryant while the two were in New York in the 1960s. Bryant was from Sanford, North Carolina. Alfred Fowler married Cynthia in August 1966, and they remained in New York until January 1967. In January 1967, the couple moved to Sanford, and lived with Cynthia’s parents on South Horner Boulevard.

Alfred Fowler worked at the Cornell-Dubilier Electronics plant in Sanford prior to his service in the Vietnam War. Seattle-founded Cornell-Dubilier, a pioneer in producing capacitors for radios and other electronics, opened a Sanford plant in 1955. Fowler worked in a laboratory at the company testing its products.

Prior to moving to North Carolina, Alfred Fowler had attempted to enlist voluntarily in the U.S. military, but was rejected three times by the military—likely due to his having high blood pressure. When the Fowlers relocated to North Carolina, however, Alfred received his draft board notice about six months later on July 3, 1967. Partly due to the Fowlers’ recent relocation, Alfred would receive draft notices from three different local draft boards between August and October 1967, as different localities were trying to claim him for draft quotas. He received his final draft notice, which indicated his date of induction would be in November 1967.

Alfred Fowler was inducted into the U.S. Army as a private on November 28, 1967. He entered basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in December 1967, where he remained until February 1968. Alfred was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, in the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Bragg. He would be transferred to Fort Sill near Lawton, Oklahoma, arriving there between February 9 and February 10, 1968. While at Fort Sill, Fowler was a member of Battery E of the 3rd Training Battalion at the U.S. Army Training Center-Field Artillery command. It was during his nearly three-month stay at Fort Sill that Fowler learned how to operate a variety of field artillery guns, which he came to utilize in the jungles and mountains of Vietnam.

Certificate for Alfred Fowler’s Bronze Star Medal

Certificate for Alfred Fowler’s Bronze Star Medal. From the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina.

Serving with Battery B of the 2nd Battalion, 321st Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Alfred Fowler was sent to Vietnam with his regiment between the end of April and the first week of May 1968. He was promoted to corporal by July 3, 1968. Fowler’s overseas service ended in April 1969 after a year-long term in Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Fowler’s artillery unit participated in regular firefights with the Viet Cong. Upon returning to the United States, he was transferred to Fort Carson in Colorado—rather than his preferred location of Fort Bragg—sometime in May 1969. Fowler served at Fort Carson until being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on November 26, 1969.

Alfred Fowler returned to work at his job with Cornell-Dubilier, and would attend Central Carolina Community College in Sanford for a couple of years. Fowler’s family recollects that he suffered mood swings and mental distress from his service in Vietnam, believing this to be what today is identified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He never would openly discuss his service, shielding his family from the horrors of what he experienced in Vietnam. Alfred had changed quite a bit upon his return from service, and the letters he wrote from Vietnam indicate some of the struggles he was going through during combat.

Since they had been newlyweds when he left for the U.S. Army, Alfred and Cynthia Fowler would have to relearn to live with each other, facing the challenges of adjusting to the drastic personal and cultural changes of the late 1960s as an African American couple in North Carolina. The Fowlers would remain together until Alfred’s death on July 17, 2004. He was buried at Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake, North Carolina.

You can learn more about Alfred Fowler from his collection, the Alfred Fowler Papers (VW 1) in the Vietnam War Papers of the Military Collection, that contains more than 180 letters written between him and his wife during Fowler’s service in the Vietnam War.

You also can currently see Alfred Fowler’s Vietnam War Army uniform on display in the North Carolina Museum of History’s “Call to Arms” Gallery on the Third Floor of the Museum in the Vietnam War section of the exhibit.


PC2124: Slave Deed of Gift of Sam


Front side of deed of gift of Sam, age 25, Moore County, from John R. Ritter to his daughter, Jane Ritter, 18 December 1847.

[This blog post was written by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Collections Archivist, of the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Private Collections (PCs) are an important source for researchers seeking not only genealogical information, but also important context for understanding family, social, and economic history. Likewise, PCs are an especially valuable resource for those tracing slave ancestry and a sense of the broader historical context and personal details. In honor of Black History Month, February 2017, this post shines a light on rich aspects of the life of Samuel (Sam) Ritter (ca. 1822-1892). Such focus places Samuel in a position of respect far above the offensive fact that he was born into slavery and given as a man of 25 to a girl of 12, the eldest daughter of the slave master.

Realities conveyed in bare facts, such as the foregoing, can bring pain and offend our humanity and sense of human dignity. Difficult as it is to view papers documenting unsavory facts, we must continue to seek and to make available all that offer clues, especially in the difficult challenge of slave ancestry. Such is true of the donation in 2016 to Private Collections of a single item titled: “Slave Deed of Gift of Sam, Age 25, Moore County, from John R. Ritter to Jane Ritter, 18 December 1847.” PC.2124.

In the course of a recent day’s work, I set out to discover and document the usual background facts expected in the writing of a finding aid. Additionally, I wanted to make meaningful sense of this unusually troubling deed of gift and to provide some basis for investigations by future researchers. The bare facts of this 1847 deed of gift were especially provocative, and I was vexed enough to raise the obvious questions, and a few more. For starters, I wanted to know: Did Sam survive ownership by young Jane? If she married during the next decade or so, did Sam become part of her husband’s estate, and what was his name and locale? Did Sam escape to the North? Or if he survived in North Carolina past the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, what surname did he assume? Where did he live? Did he ever reach position of dignity as a head of a household? Did he have a vocation, and a family of his own? And finally, who were Sam’s parents and siblings?

Though a seasoned archivist and historian, I admit to being somewhat daunted thinking of the span of time and the proverbial brick walls that I might hit in researching Sam from the year 1847 to the year 1870—when black individuals and families were first named on the U.S. Federal Census. There was the realistic possibility of no clear answers to any of my questions. Still, I proceeded to build into my finding aid’s biographical and historical note a basic chronological framework. With many other projects awaiting attention, I strove to find as much factual information as I could find in a reasonable length of time. Yet even the essential clue of finding Jane’s future married name in the North Carolina Marriage Bonds and the Marriage Index was denied. Consequently, I resorted to a wide assortment of Internet searches. The end result was a mix of unproven clues about the Ritter family, scattered about the Internet, and facts derived from the standard sources, mainly census records. I offer the following as an approach that others might consider when seeking to trace and to highlight the life of a particular individual.


Excerpt from deed of gift identifying a “negro man Slave named Sam aged about twenty five years.”

In this case, it was necessary to begin with the first-named slave owner conveying the “gift” of Sam’s person. Research revealed him to be John Richardson Ritter (ca. 1793–1860), a son of John (ca. 1760–1828) and Elizabeth H. Richardson Ritter (ca. 1760–1842). The younger John was married around 1813 to Mary Kennedy (1802–1865 or before), Moore County. The couple is shown on the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Census residing with three sons and five daughters, with birth dates ranging from around 1829 to 1850.

An essential character in my query was the said Jane Ritter, born in 1835, and the oldest daughter of the Ritter couple. As stated, she was 12 years of age when her father deeded to her the “gift” of “ownership” of Sam, age 25, born around 1822. The 1850 U.S. Federal Census slave schedule does not list Jane Ritter as a slave owner, but shows that her father, John R. Ritter, claimed two females, ages 30 and 12, mulatto; and eight males, with three of the four children therein described as mulatto. The two adult males included one listed as 35, and the

other as 30 years of age. The latter man was probably Sam, named in the 1847 deed of gift. It should be noted that John R. Ritter is not listed as a slave owner in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census slave schedules. That was probably the year of his death, and it is uncertain what happened to the ten slaves, ascribed to him in 1850.

Jane Ritter, also known as Dicie Jane (1835–1891), was still living in her parents’ household during the census enumeration of 1860. Family reports, lacking documentation, indicate that Jane Ritter was married in late 1861 to Nelson J. Hunsucker (1833–1875). The 1870 census does verify that Nelson Hunsucker was recorded by the census taker as a farmer, with a full household. Family named include Hunsucker’s wife, Dicie Jane, his mother, four young Hunsucker children, plus a boy of 10, possibly a relative, and one Samuel Ritter, black, age 22, with an approximate birth year of 1848. The Hunsucker household and farm were located in Ritters Township, Moore County. These welcomed pieces of information, made me suspect that the young Samuel Ritter (SRJr) might well be the son of the elder Samuel Ritter (SRSr)

It is more than coincidental that on the 1870 census another Samuel Ritter, black, is listed as a farmer in Ritters Township, and located in fairly close proximity to the Hunsucker farm. If the age this older Samuel Ritter gave to the census taker is correct, his birth year was around 1819. This is within three years and remarkably close to the projected birth year of the slave, Sam (described as age 25 in the said Ritter family deed of gift of 1847). Signs surely point to the high probability that Samuel and Sam were indeed the same, and I will hereafter designate him as SRSr.

There are several other pieces of additional interest in the 1870 census record. First, the household of SRSr includes Elisabeth/Elizabeth, age 28, a mulatto, and six children, ranging in ages from ten years to infancy. Secondly, there is additional information in the census form’s “Personal estate” category, column 9. The enumerator entered 100 (dollars) for SRSr’s personal property (defined generally as including all bonds, stocks, mortgages, notes, livestock, plate, jewels, or furniture). The practice was to leave the column blank if the valuation was less than $100.

This category of “Personal estate” was, in fact, left blank for the neighboring Hunsucker family, and some of the other white families in the area. Additionally, it is assumed that the elder Samuel Ritter had title to the land that he farmed, and was not in the category of sharecropper that described so many men during the 19th and on into the 20th century. Finally, Elisabeth Ritter was entered on the form as being able to read, though not write. Samuel Ritter, on the other hand, like so many of that era, could neither read nor write.

The 1880 U.S. Federal Census also suggests a possibly cooperative relationship between the white Hunsucker family and the two black Samuel Ritters (SRSr and SRJr) and their families. By 1880 Dicey Jane Ritter Hunsucker is now a widow and listed as a farmer/head of household. The older SRSr, now 60 years old, is again registered as a farmer, and his name has the actual designation of “Senior.” Notably, there is only one residence separating his farm from that of the Hunsucker farm. The young Samuel Ritter (SRJr) who previously lived with the Hunsucker family, is now married, and listed as a farmer, with several young children. Significantly, he and his family are residing in a residence adjacent to the senior Samuel Ritter, most certainly his father, SRSr. Furthermore, SRSr lives in the second residence down, and SRJr lives in the third residence down from the Hunsucker homestead.

Following these families gives rises to even more unanswered questions, and surely the


Excerpt from reverse side of deed of gift, with title and partial court endorsement.

loss of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census compounds the problem. Since SRSr does not appear on the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, we can assume that he died sometime between the 1880 and 1900 enumerations. One unproven family record on the Internet indicates that he died in 1892. If true, then SRSr lived well past the average life expectancy for men of that era. We know with fair amount of certainty that Dicey Jane Ritter Hunsucker died in 1891 because of the existence of her gravestone at the Bethlehem Baptist Church Cemetery, close to Ritters Township, in the town of Carthage.

Overall, discovering several positive connections to SRSr and his family has indeed been gratifying. Though I did not answer all questions, the results exceeded what I could reasonably anticipate when I first initiated my inquiries. For other researchers who have a family and/or a historical interest in SRSr and family, further in-depth research can take myriads of other directions. Thanks to the starting point presented through a single 1847 deed of gift, we have a better understanding of SRSr’s life and the legacy that he represents. We can never know the exact and undoubtedly complex nature of the relationships between the white Ritter family/Hunsucker family and the black Ritter family. It is certain, however, that their lives intersected in significant ways. It can probably be safely surmised that the relationship between Dicey Jane Ritter Hunsucker (d. ca. 1891) and Sam Ritter (d. ca. 1892), was at least cooperative on some levels and peaceful enough so that they could live almost side-by-side on their farms until the end of their days.

See also in honor of Black History Month, February 2017, a blog post written by Elizabeth Crowder, about the McCormick, Green, and Shaw Collection. PC.2130.

Collection Overview:

PC. 2124. Slave Deed of Gift, of Sam, age 25, Moore County, from John R. Ritter to his daughter, Jane Ritter, 18 December 1847. This document was proven and duly registered in the January court session of 1848, by the oath of Benjamin P. Person. 1 item.


McCormick, Green, and Shaw Private Collection

[This blog post was written by Elizabeth Crowder with the Private Collections of the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Under the supervision of Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina, I have arranged and described the McCormick, Green, and Shaw Collection (PC.2130). This work was made possible through generous funding bequeathed to the North Carolina Genealogical Society by the estate of the late Frances Holloway Wynne.


Bill of sale for Daniel McCormick’s purchase of Nelly McCormick, Sarah (mother), and Sally (daughter). [1828]

Private collections can be a valuable source of information for researchers tracing slave ancestry. In honor of Black History Month, this post examines the life of Nelly McCormick (born ca. 1799) as revealed in the contents of the McCormick, Green, and Shaw Collection. The earliest reference to Nelly McCormick is found in the collection’s “Miscellaneous” series. An 1821 bill of sale indicates that Archibald Smith sold his current and future interest in Nelly and her offspring to a James Campbell. Nelly is identified as the daughter of Sarah. She is also referred to as the property of John Smith, Archibald’s father. Nelly passed to John Smith’s wife, Catherine (perhaps Archibald’s stepmother—he never refers to her as his mother), for Catherine’s lifetime. All the parties involved were likely residents of Cumberland County, NC. Though no record of John Smith’s death and/or estate has been found, the 1830 federal census lists a Catharine Smith as a resident of Cumberland County and the owner of three slaves.

According to the McCormick papers in PC.2130, Nelly was sold to Daniel McCormick of Cumberland County in April 1828. McCormick purchased her, her mother Sarah, and her daughter Sally from John E. Smith, likely a son of the John Smith mentioned above. Sarah’s age is given as “between sixty and seventy years,” making her birth year between 1758 and 1768. Nelly’s age is given as “about twenty-three years,” making her birth year approximately 1805. Sally is identified as six months old, meaning that she was born in late 1827.


John Smith’s 1864 letter demanding Nelly, Sally, and Rachel from Daniel McCormick.

After 1828, no details of Nelly McCormick’s life emerge for more than thirty years. But in 1864, John E. Smith’s son demanded Nelly, Sally, and Rachel (presumably another daughter of Nelly’s) back from Daniel McCormick. Whatever the result of the lawsuit Smith threatened, Nelly remained tied to the McCormick family. The ledgers of John McCormick, Daniel McCormick’s son, contain an 1866 account for Nelly McCormick, who either purchased food items from him or received pay for her labor in those same items.

While Nelly’s life cannot be traced beyond 1866, census and marriage records may provide insight into the lives of one of her children and two of her grandchildren. The 1880 federal census lists a twenty-year-old Nelly McCormick as a servant and farmhand in the household of John McCormick and his wife, Grissella. A Cumberland County marriage license dated June 3 of that same year records the union of Robert Allen and twenty-six-year-old Sarah McCormick, daughter of Sally McCormick and Porter Williams. The aforementioned Nelly and Sarah McCormick may well have been sisters. Both of them could have been the daughters of Sally McCormick, Nelly’s daughter born around 1827.


Nelly McCormick’s 1866 purchases recorded in John McCormick’s account book.

For additional slave records in the McCormick, Green, and Shaw Collection, see PC.2130.1, folder 2; PC.2130.4, folder 4; and PC.2130.5, folder 5. The accounts, bills of sale, and wills therein identify many slaves’ names and owners. A search of census, marriage, birth, and death records may well provide insight into their lives after emancipation and the Civil War.

Liberty or Death! Finding Revolutionary War Era Sources at the State Archives of North Carolina

Saturday, April 1; 9:00 a.m.—3:30 p.m.
Liberty or Death!: Finding Revolutionary-Era Resources at the State Archives of North Carolina

*Update (2/24/17): This event is now full.*

Plan to join us for this day-long workshop that reviews the types of records—county, state, military, and private—held at the State Archives and how to identify and locate them. This workshop is limited to 30 participants and your registration fee must be received by March 24, 2017. Please view the agenda for fuller description of all sessions.

Registration for the workshop is $20.00 and $18.00 for Friends of the Archives members and lunch is included. Please complete and mail in the registration form to ensure your space.

Albert Barden Photograph Collection Finding Aid Online

[This blog post was written by Kim Andersen, Audio Visual Materials Archivist in the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Photographer Albert Barden with his sisters, Daisy and Violet, c. 1910.

Photographer Albert Barden is seen with his sisters, Daisy (left) and Violet (right) c. 1910. If you look closely, you can see that Albert is taking the picture. In his hand is a cable release–a corded device used to activate the shutter of the camera. Call number: N.53.16.5173 From the Albert Barden Collection, State Archives of NC; Raleigh, NC.

Audiovisual Materials staff Kim Andersen, Ian F. G. Dunn, and Karl Larson are very excited to announce that the finding aid for the Barden collection has been completed and published online!

The Albert Barden Photograph Collection consists of over 18,000 individual negatives created by Albert Barden (21 October 1888–2 October 1953), a commercial photographer in Raleigh, N.C., between 1908 and 1953.  This wonderful collection contains a wealth of subject matter including studio portraiture, advertisements, street scenes, municipal buildings, residential homes, neighborhoods, and editorial work and is one of the most used and beloved collections in the State Archives of North Carolina.

Pictured is a group of Raliegh City officials holding Yo-Yos on the steps of City Hall c. 1930.

Pictured is a group of city officials holding Yo-Yos on the steps of City Hall c. 1930. Seen on left, slightly facing group, is the inventor of the modern Yo-Yo–Pedro Flores. This photograph was probably taken as he passed through Raleigh on one of his yo-yo competition tours. The faces in the group stare forward, alight with the novelty and frivolity of this little toy during a heavy time of unrest and worry. N.53.17.520 From the Albert Barden Collection, State Archives of NC; Raleigh, NC.

The publishing of this finding aid concludes one leg and begins another of what has been an exciting journey through time for this collection.  It all began for us with the initial donation to the North Carolina Museum of History upon Albert Barden’s death in 1953.  Fast forward to the 1970s when the collection was transferred to the State Archives, catalogued on index cards, copied to then-standard 4” x 5” film negatives, and made available to the public for research and enjoyment.  Then came the dawn of the digital age, and in the early 2000s the original Barden negatives—spectacular oversized film and glass negatives—were scanned in what was arguably the first mass digitization project undertaken at the State Archives!  Even then, however, there was no actual finding aid—only the archaic card catalog and a cryptic database documenting the scans.  There was no collection description, no biography of Albert Barden, and no comprehensive online presence.  And the oversized original negatives simply languished back in their file cabinets after being scanned.  Fortunately, by 2014, the AV Materials Unit had Ian on board, and with meticulous skill and tireless dedication, he rehoused all the original Barden negatives and created this beautiful finding aid:

Western Union employees are seen posing in front of their workplace on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh c. 1915

Western Union employees are seen posing in front of their workplace on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh c. 1915. N.53.15.9745
From the Albert Barden Collection, State Archives of NC; Raleigh, NC.

Thanks to Ian’s countless hours of devotion and to the enhanced descriptions he and part-time researcher Karl Larson put together, it is the dawn of a new day for this collection.  And now that the finding aid is online providing item-level descriptions of everything in the collection, over the course of the next several months more of the scanned images will be put online.  The ultimate goal is to eventually have the entire Barden Collection described and available digitally to the world.  Please watch for updates on that progress here in this blog.