[This blog is written and illustrated by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist, Special Collections Section, of the State Archives of North Carolina.]
The Search Room exhibit case, August 2019, features examples of resources for researchers seeking information about enslaved ancestors. The title is “Evidence of African American Ancestors in Unlikely Places: Examples from Private Collections, Including Account Books, at the State Archives of North Carolina.”
Researching enslaved ancestors can be a challenging and sometimes frustrating process. One must work backwards from the known to the unknown, often turning up more questions than answers. However, private manuscript collections, including account books, sometimes provide crucial information about names, locales, and other details. These can supplement county records such as deeds, wills, and court minutes and can provide valuable insights not found elsewhere. The examples below represent the facsimiles in the exhibit and the accompanying captions.
In this note of permission, William Ezell, Sr., advises Col. E. Peete that his slave James, who wishes to marry one of Peete’s slaves, is “as well Disposed as common as fair [sic] as I know or believe.” No county is listed, but during the first half of the 19th century there were men named William Ezell in counties including Camden Duplin, Granville, and Richmond. Note: Help solve the mystery. We welcome confirmation of the county where the Ezell and Peete plantations were located.
From Slave Collection. PC.1629. Box 1, Folder 4.
Oaky Grove Plantation, southeastern Wake County, was owned first by Thomas Price, then Bennett T. Blake. Blake had married a Price daughter, Fetna, who died in 1836, then married her sister, Scheherazade, widow of Thomas Alonzo Mial III, who had died in 1830. The slaves named in the marriage contract between Scheherazade and Blake, were part of the Mial estate. Thomas Price was also one of the county’s largest slaveholders. Note the juxtaposition: in addition to enslaved men, women, and children, Scheherezade’s contract secured physical properties, such as a four-wheel carriage and harness.
From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 3.
This bill of sale, dated 22 July 1845, documents the sale by George W. Styron, Carteret County, to William Jones, Jones County, of five-year-old-Harriet and nine-year-old Hannah. In 1860, the same William Jones was still living and farming in the Beaver Creek District, Jones County, where he died in 1868. The collection and public records shed little if any additional light on the life journey of these two girls. The Rumley papers, however, do contain other materials and types of document on slaves and freedmen. For additional information see the State Archives blog, History for All the People, for a post written by Elizabeth Crowder and entitled “The Rumley Family Papers: A New Collection Featuring Resources for Researchers Seeking Information About Enslaved Ancestors.”
From Rumley Family Papers, PC.1969, Box 2, Folder 51.
“Twelve months after date we promise to pay Thomas F. Grice Ex. [Executor] of Hugh Lee, Dec’d, on order Twenty Seven Dollars for the hire of a negro Boy named Simon [.] Said negro to have the following clothes [:]Two suits of cotton clothes and one of woolen, one pair of Double soled shoes, one pair of stockings, one good Blanket, one wool Hat for value received on this 27 Dec. 1847.”
Signed by A. T. Mial (Also, C. Bryan; A. Montague, Witnesses)
From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 4-B.
Peter and Ailsey, a man of forty-five and a girl of fifteen, the subjects of these deeds of gift, were enslaved by the McKay family of Robeson County. In 1851, “for the love and affection” Christian McKay Galbreath had for her two nephews, Duncan and Dougald McKay, she sold Peter and Ailsey to them for a dollar each. Peter died in 1896. Ailsey’s descendants continued to live on the McKay farm into the 20th century.
McKay, McPherson, McNeill Family Papers, PC.2144.3 McKay Family Papers, 1790–1984, Box 3, Folder 01.
Slave receipt/bill of sale, with one for Catey, and her three children, Mary, Richard, and Sally; and the other for Cloey, a girl. The documents are dated 4 May 1853 and 5 March 1862, respectively. The receipt shown was given at Wilmington, New Hanover County, N.C. by Ansley Davis to Speir [Spier] Walters, in the amount of $1,000 for Catey, a slave woman and children, Mary, Richard, and Sally. Receipt attests that all are healthy, but the child Mary is “marked with burns.”
From the Bill of Sale of Catey and Children [and one other bill of sale] Collection, PC.2094.
“E O. Wake Co. Raleigh, N.C. March 15  This day received of A. T. Mial one negro Slave named John aged 26 years for duty as teamster in Genrl. Johnson’s army.” Signed by E. Porter, Capt. E.O. Wake County. The slaveholder referred to was probably Alonzo Thomas Rush Mial, Sr. (1823–1897), the son of Thomas Alonzo Mial (1799–1830) and Scheherazade Price Mial Blake (1805–1853).
Note: Teamsters loaded and drove supply trains/wagons, often returning in dangerous terrain to the march or to the camp. The Confederate government had passed a slave impressment law on March 26, 1863. Slaves were used extensively, though the effort was not as successful as the generals had hoped.
From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 18.
The J. & W. Peace general store was located on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, from approximately 1798 until 1832, when the store burned. Before and after the building’s demise, the proprietors used the store ledger to keep a record of slaves owned by them and other family members, with slave birth and death dates ranging from 1784 to 1864. Example shown is one of six pages of entries.
The note written on a piece of scrap paper (bottom of photo) recorded names and birth dates temporarily until they could be entered permanently into the account book (top of photo):
Matilda (daughter of Mary) born 4th March 1864.
Patsey (daughter of Harriet) born 22nd April 1864.
Both document photos above from the Joseph & William Peace Account Book, 1784–1864, Wake County. Page 297. PC.AB.132.
In summary, researchers of enslaved populations and freedmen in North Carolina may find a variety of resources, both in public and private records. County records contain deeds, wills, and court minutes, and some counties have a miscellaneous series that contains slave records. While these can be rich sources, private collections and account books surely supplement public records in ways that have often been overlooked.