[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.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.
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.
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.