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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of North Carolina

The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York, 1919
Volume II by
William K. Boyd

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 12
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. II
Chapter 11
Slavery and the Free Negro — Legal, Economic, and Social

During the decade of 1830‑1840, which marked an epoch in political, religious, educational, and economic development, the institution of slavery was modified. A permanent change took place in the relations between the dominant and the servile races, which had a profound influence on political history. This must now be traced.

The slave system in North Carolina had certain well defined characteristics. The first of these was its patriarchal character, the personal relation between master and slave, due to the prevalence of the small plantation and the low average of slaves to each slave-holding family. Contemporary evidence of this is given by Frederick Law Olmsted, who thought:—

"The aspect in North Carolina with regard to slavery" to be "less lamentable than that of Virginia. There is not only less bigotry upon the subject and more freedom of conversation, but I saw here, in the institution, more of the patriarchal than in any other State. The slave more frequently appears as a family servant — a member of his master's family, interested with him in his fortune, good or bad. This is the result of less concentration of wealth in families or individuals. * * * Slavery thus loses much of its inhumanity. It is still questionable, however, if, as the subject race approaches civilization, the dominant race is not proportionately detained in its progress."​1

While in South Carolina Mr. Olmsted met a free negro peddler from North Carolina and in conversation with him received the following comparison of the negro's lot in the two states:—

" 'Fac' is, master, 'pears like wite folks doan ginerally like niggars in dis country; dey doan ginerally talk so to niggars like as do in my country; de niggars ain't so happy heah; 'pears like the wite folks is kind o' different, somehow.' "

 p203  "Well, I've been thinking myself the niggers did not look so well here as they did in North Carolina and Virginia; they are not so well clothed, and they don't appear so bright as they do there."

'Well, massa,' was the answer, 'Sundays dey is mighty well clothed, dis country; 'pears like dere ain't nobody looks better Sunday dan dey do. But, Lord! working days, seems like dey had no close dey could keep on 'em at all, master. Dey is almost naked wen dey's at work, some un 'em. Why, master, up in our country de wite folks, why some un 'em has ten or twelve; dey doan hev no real big plantations like dey has heah, but some un 'em has ten or twelve niggars, maybe, and dey juss lives and talks along wid 'em. If dey gits a niggar and he doan behave himself, dey won't keep him; dey just tell him, sar, he must look up anudder master, and if he doan find himself one, I tell 'ou, wen the trader cum along, dey sell him and he totes him away. Dey always sell off all de bad niggars out of our country; dat's de way all de bad niggar and all dem no-account niggar keep a comin' down hear; dat's de way on't, master.' "​2

The number and distribution of the negroes, slave and free, and their ratio to the white population were just as notable as the relation between master and slave. The following table may be taken as a basis for comparison:3

Year White Per Ct.
of Increase
Per Ct.
of Population
Free Colored Increase Per Ct.
of Population
Slaves Increase Per Ct.
of Population
Total Population Slave Owning Families Per Ct.
of Families
1790 289,143 73.2 5,135 1.3  102,726 25.5 395,005 16,310 31.0
1800 337,764 17.19 70.6 7,043 41.56 1.04 133,296 32.53 27.8 478,103
1810 376,410 11.44 67.7 10,266 45.76 1.83 168,824 26.65 30.3 555,500
1820 419,200 11.36 65.6 14,612 42.33 2.3  205,017 21.43 32.1 638,829
1830 472,823 12.79 64.1 19,534 33.74 2.6  245,601 19.79 33.1 737,987
1840 484,870 2.54 64.3 22,732 16.31 3.01 245,817 .08 32.6 753,419
1850 553,028 14.05 63.6 27,463 20.81 3.2  288,548 17.38 33.2 869,039 28,303 26.8
1860 629,942 14.42 63.4 30,463 10.92 3.1  331,059 14.73 33.3 992,622

It is evident that the negroes increased faster than the whites, and formed a larger percentage of the population in 1860 than in 1790. Within this increase there was a tendency toward a concentration of owner­ship; the percentage of slave-holding families in 1850 (26%) was less than in 1790 (31%). The average number of slaves held by each slave-holding family increased in the same period from 6.7 to 10.2. Likewise the percentage of those holding more than five increased. Evidently there was a slow but persistent influence driving to the wall the non-slave‑holders and small owners, and also concentrating  p204 property in the hands of the few. In the light of these facts the value of slaves is significant. No exact information can be had; but investigation has placed the valuation in 1790 at $150 to $200 per head. Therefore the value of slaves in North Carolina at that time was between $15,000,000 and $20,000,000. In 1863 the first state report on slave values gave $162,866,763 for 299,325 slaves, or $544 per head. Thus there was an increase in value along with concentration of owner­ship.

By far the most interesting decade in this development was that from 1830 to 1840, when the total population showed its minimum increase. This was probably due to the migration to the southwest then under way. The same decade also was the period when discontent with the existing social, economic, and political conditions reached its climax. After the establishment of a school system, the construction of the first railroads, and the revision of the constitution, there was a distinctly more hopeful tone in the press and among public men, and no succeeding decade gave to the census such depressing figures.

The sectional aspect of slavery was also significant. The eastern counties always had a larger population than the western. In 1790 the ratio of the sections was more than two to one, 70,504 in the east to 30,068 in the west; by 1860 it was one and one‑third to one, 184,596 in the east to 146,653 in the west. In no western county in 1790 did the slaves outnumber the whites; in 1860 they had a majority in four western, as well as in fifteen eastern, counties. Thus the slave system found its way into the region of the small farmer.

These statistics reveal the working out of an economic transformation. With that process also came a change in public opinion regarding the institution of slavery and the rights of the slaves. For this the decade 1830‑1840 may be taken as the dividing line; prior thereto a strong anti-slavery feeling existed, and also a liberalizing trend in the laws regarding slavery; but within the decade the pro-slavery sentiment increased until it dominated public opinion, and legislation on slavery became more strict.

The earlier sentiment had three origins. One was the liberal  p205 political philosophy of the Revolution which emphasized the rights of man. It was responsible for a movement to check the slave trade. The first Provincial Congress which met in August, 1774, adopted a resolution that "we will not import any slave or slaves, or purchase any slave or slaves imported or brought into this province by others, from any part of the world after the first day of November next."​4 In the Hillsboro Convention which considered the Federal Constitution the compromise preventing interference with the traffic was explained as a concession to South Carolina and Georgia, and James Iredell declared "when entire abolition of slavery takes place, it will be an event which must be pleasing to every generous mind and every friend of human nature; but we often wish for things which are unobtainable." Legislation on the slave trade was also notable. In 1786 duties intended to be prohibitive were levied on imported slaves at the following rates: 40s on those under 7 and over 40 years of age, £5 on those from 7 to 12 and from 30 to 40, and £10 on those between 12 and 30, and a tax of £5 on all brought in from Africa, while slaves imported from states in which the policy of emancipation had been adopted were to be returned. There was, however, a pro-slavery interest, and in 1790 it procured a repeal of the above statute. But the Haytien Revolt of 1791 aroused the slaveholders to the danger of admitting negroes from abroad, and in 1794 the importation of slaves or indentured persons of color was absolutely prohibited, unless the owners settled in the state or were passing through. The next year this exception was denied to those coming from the West Indies, the Bahamas, or South America. To a petition from Wilmington in 1803 regarding the arrival of free negroes from Guadeloupe was due the inception of the federal statute confiscating any ship bringing negroes or persons of color to states which prohibited their importation. Apparently the liberal sentiment was again dominant in 1804, for, South Carolina having withdrawn her restrictions in 1803, the legislature of North Carolina adopted a resolution proposing that Congress be given authority to prohibit the slave trade. The  p206 real test of opinion, however, was the policy toward the illegally imported slave; should he remain a slave, be returned to Africa or elsewhere, or gain his freedom? In settling this matter Nathaniel Macon's influence was decisive. He regarded the slave traffic as a commercial question, the subject for sectional bargains, and as Speaker of the House of Representatives, his deciding vote in December, 1806, prevented the federal law of 1807 from including the prohibition on the sale of negroes illegally imported. The question being left to the states, North Carolina in 1816 provided for sale, one‑fifth of the proceeds to go to the informer and the balance to the state.

Another test of political thought regarding slavery was the question of its extension in the territories. In 1789 when the land west of the mountains was ceded to the Union, one of the conditions was that "no regulations made or to be made by Congress, shall tend to emancipate slaves." However, by 1819 a more liberal sentiment was in the ascendancy. The discussion concerning slavery expansion in Congress, which resulted in the Missouri Compromise, produced no excitement in North Carolina. The legislature made no pronouncement on the subject, and opinion on the principles involved can be gleaned only from the press and the actions of senators and congressmen. The Raleigh Register, the organ of the dominant party, opposed any restriction upon the admission of Missouri; but the Minerva, representing the old federalist doctrine, took the opposite view. Its editor defended the constitutional right of Congress to restrict slavery and added, "It is equally certain that true policy forbids the extension, as itsº submits to the toleration, of slavery." Some form of gradual emancipation was also advocated by the Minerva. The views of the editor were supported by a number of letters and addresses which appeared in the paper from time to time. The same divergence of opinion also existed among the political leaders. Senator Macon and six of the congressmen voted against the Compromise, while Senator Stokes and six congressmen cast their ballots for it. Stokes presented the reasons for his vote in a letter to Governor Branch; these were the need of territory in the southwest for the slave population then too numerous in the older regions of the South, and a  p207 "charitable and respectful regard for the feelings, and even the prejudices, of that great portion of the Northern people that was adverse to slavery in any form, and that would join heartily with us in any constitutional measure to get rid of the evil."5

Evidently anti-slavery opinion, so far as it was based on political thought and action, acknowledged the evils of slavery and was willing to ameliorate the condition of the slave. Although it was in abeyance after 1830, it undoubtedly influenced some of the more conservative leaders during the three decades prior to 1860. Its most notable expression is found in an address of Judge Gaston before the graduating class of the University in 1832:—

On you too, will devolve the duty which has been too long neglected, yet which cannot with impunity be neglected much longer, of providing for the mitigation, and (is it too much to hope for in North Carolina?) for the ultimate extirpation of the worst evil that affects the southern part of our Confederacy. Full well do you know to what I refer, for on this subject there is, with all of us, a morbid sensitiveness which gives warning even of an approach to it. Disguise the truth as we may, and throw the blame where we will, it is slavery which, more than any other cause, keeps us back in the career of improvement. It stifles industry and represses enterprise — it is fatal to economy and providence — it discourages skill — impairs our strength as a community, and poisons morals at the fountain head. How this evil is to be conquered, how subdued, is indeed a difficult and delicate inquiry, which this is not the time to examine, nor the occasion to discuss. I felt, however, that I could not discharge my duty, without referring to the subject, as one which ought to engage the prudence, moderation and firmness of those who, sooner or later, must act decisively upon it.

A second source of anti-slavery sentiment was economic, a feeling that the presence of slaves was injurious to the whites. It was prevalent in the western counties, the region of the Scotch-Irish and Germans, where the slave system was introduced very slowly. Its earliest and certainly its most definite expression was that by a Rowan County committee in 1774: "The African slave trade is injurious to this colony, obstructs the population of it by freemen, prevents manufacturers and other useful immigrants from Europe from settling among us, and occasions an annual increase of the Balance of Trade  p208 against the Colonies."​6 However, the most important aspect of the economic opposition to slavery was the silent thought of the plain people. When to that were added observation and knowledge based on travel and residence in the free states, outspoken criticism frequently resulted. Examples were Hinton Rowan Helper, Daniel Reaves Goodloe, and Benjamin S. Hedrick.7

The third source of the sentiment against slavery was religion. In all denominations there was prejudice against the institution. Its earliest active manifestation was by the Quakers. In 1758 the North Carolina Yearly Meeting recommended kind treatment and religious instruction of slaves on the part of their masters. Ten years later traffic in slaves for profit was condemned, and in 1772 Friends were forbidden to purchase negroes except from Friends, unless to prevent the separation of husband and wife or for other cause approved at monthly meetings. In the latter year, also, the legislature was petitioned to join with Virginia in requesting the Crown to abolish the importation of negroes from Africa. By 1776 the policy of emancipation was clearly under way. Since the law placed obligations on the master desiring to emancipate, which he could not always fulfill, the Yearly Meeting in 1808 appointed agents "to receive assignments of slaves from masters who wished to be rid of them," the duty of the agents being to send the slaves to free states and territories or abroad. Several thousand slaves were thus collected, most of whom found their way to freedom. Thus 111 slaves and eight free negroes sailed from Beaufort for Hayti in 1826, the following year fifty sailed for Africa, and sixty-seven others later in the same year. But by far the greater number were sent to Pennsylvania or the West, Friends in New York, New England, the West, and England contributing to the expense.8

The Baptists likewise realized the evils of slavery. The buying and selling of slaves for profit was condemned by the Sandy Creek Association in 1808 and 1835, and by the Chowan  p209 Association in 1818.​9 Among the Methodist circuit riders there was also a strong anti-slavery sentiment, quite in harmony with the action of the early conferences. James O'Kelly in 1789 published in Baltimore an essay on negro slavery, recommending gradual emancipation. James Meacham, who served circuits in Virginia and North Carolina, frequently urged masters to emancipate their slaves. "If ever I get rich through slavery," he wrote in his diary, "I shall esteem myself a traitor and claim a part in Hell with Judas, and the rich glutton * * * O America, America: blood and oppression will be thy overthrow."​10 Apparently the Presbyterian ministers did not openly oppose slavery, but one, at least, Reverend Eli Caruthers, had no sympathy for the "dread institution." One Sunday in July, 1861, he prayed that the young men of his church "might be blessed of the Lord and returned in safety, though engaged in a bad cause." The next day the church officials dismissed him. He then elaborated his views in a book, "The Evils of Slavery," which was never published. In it he contrasted the "unjust, unchristian, inhuman laws of the South with the teachings of the Bible and the original instincts of Nature" and demanded emancipation.11

The distinctive feature of religious anti-slavery sentiment was race relations within the churches. A large proportion of the Baptist and Methodist members were negroes. Complete statistics do not exist, but in the Chowan Association, one of the large Baptist organizations, over one-fourth of the members were negroes in 1843 and over one‑third in 1860, which was doubtless greater than the general average in the state. Of the Methodists, approximately one-eleventh were negroes in 1787; by 1800 the proportion had arisen to one-fourth; by 1830 it was approximately one‑third, and so it remained until 1860. Indeed Methodism in certain eastern counties had its origin in missions to the negroes, notably in Wilmington and Fayetteville. All denominations took an interest  p210 in the religious life of the slaves, who often occupied galleries reserved for them in the churches. The Methodists and in some instances the Episcopalians assigned special ministers to work among them.

For purposes of propaganda societies were established. The Quakers of the piedmont section in 1816 organized the North Carolina Manumission Society, a union of four societies which had been founded as the result of visits by Charles Osborn, the first American Abolitionist, in 1814.​12 For over a decade the society prospered, more than forty branches being organized in Guilford, Randolph, Chatham, Forsythe, Davidson, and Orange counties. Annual conventions were held and were well attended, the members present in 1819 being 281, and in 1825, 141. Among prominent visitors were Elihu Embree and James Jones, leaders of similar organizations in Tennessee, and Benjamin Lundy. The purposes of the society were gradual emancipation, amelioration of the slave laws, and development of public sentiment. In 1825 that sentiment was estimated as follows: for immediate emancipation, two-sixtieths; for gradual emancipation, three-sixtieths; for emigration, four-sixtieths; ready to support schemes for emancipation, thirty-sixtieths; indifferent, three-sixtieths; regarding emancipation as impractical, nine-sixtieths; bitterly opposed to emancipation, three-sixtieths.​a Petitions were sent to the legislature in 1824 and 1825. In 1819 Congress was memorialized through Congressman Settle, and in 1822 Congressman Long submitted a memorial from citizens of Randolph County asking for measures to abolish the African slave trade.​13 In 1824 a petition favoring emigration of negroes to Hayti and in 1827 another praying for the prohibition of the inter-state slave trade were submitted through Congressman Saunders. In 1830 Congressman Shepperd submitted in behalf of the society a memorial favoring the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and also the slave trade among the states. Later, when the pro-slavery opinion was active, Shepperd's handling the petition was used  p211 against him and contributed to his defeat in the congressional election of 1839. Saunders' action was also cited during his campaign for governor in 1840.

It was difficult for the society to reach the public at large because of the hostility of the press; the Raleigh Register openly refused to publish its communications, but an exception was the Greensboro Patriot, whose editor from 1827 to 1835 was William Swaim, a member of the society. In 1830 an Address to the People of North Carolina on the Evils of Slavery was issued in pamphlet form. After demonstrating that slavery is founded on injustice, is a source of pride, idleness and tyranny, is radically evil, increases depravity, and is contrary to the Christian religion, it advocates the same justice for the negro as for the white man, and also gradual emancipation and colonization. From time to time money was advanced to aid in emancipation, and relations were also maintained with the American Convention for the Abolition of Slavery and the American Colonization Society. A school for slaves was established at New Garden in Guilford County, and in 1819 Levi Coffin, a member of the society, organized the Underground Railroad in Guilford.

The zenith of the Manumission Society was reached in 1826; thereafter it waned. For this decline several conditions were responsible. One was the division of opinion between radicals and conservatives. The former favored emancipation exclusively, the latter also endorsed colonization. In 1817 dissension between the two factions began. Says Levi Coffin: "A motion was made to amend our constitution, so that the name of our organization would be 'Manumission and Colonization Society.' This produced a sharp debate. * * * We had no objection to free negroes going to Africa of their own free will, but to compel them to go as a condition of freedom was a movement to which we were conscientiously opposed and against which we strongly contended. When the vote was taken, the motion was carried by a small majority. * * * The convention broke up in confusion and our New Garden branch withdrew to itself, no longer co-operating with the others."14

 p212  In 1824 the two factions were reconciled through the efforts of Benjamin Lundy, who in that year visited the state, and apparently the word Colonization was dropped from the title of the society. Another difficulty was the matter of funds, the treasurer never reporting as much as $100 in the treasury, and without money little propaganda could be carried on. Finally, about 1830 a strong pro-slavery tide swept the state, and member­ship in the Manumission Society declined. By 1834 there were only four branches, and the organization collapsed. However, there were survivals of the anti-slavery sentiment in the Quaker counties. In 1838 James Morehead, representative of Guilford in the legislature, submitted a petition from his constituents regarding slavery, but on objection it was withdrawn and never recorded. In 1859 a propaganda against slavery was disclosed which was led by Reverend Daniel Worth, a native of Randolph County.

Besides the Manumission Society other anti-slavery organizations existed. The American Colonization Society had three branches in 1819, five in 1821, six in 1825, eight in 1826, ten in 1828, and eleven from 1829 to 1832. The Genius of Universal Emancipation reported the meeting of an anti-slavery society in 1826 on the Yadkin River, at which 300 were present, not one of whom was a Quaker. There was also a North Carolina Abolition Society at Newberry, with which the Manumission Society was in correspondence. However, little is known of these societies and their activities, because their records have not been preserved, while those of the Manumission Society are still in existence.15

The trend of conflicting sentiment toward slavery may be traced in legislation and court decisions. Liberal ideas were responsible for better guarantee of justice to the slave and for better protection of his life. In 1793 the trial of offences involving life, limb, or member was placed in the county court and a jury of twelve slave-holders, instead of the special court of two justices and four freeholders, which had been the method since 1741. In 1794 it was also provided that the jury should render verdict on evidence submitted and that  p213 the court should then pronounce judgment "agreeable to the verdict and the laws of the country." Apparently, both whites and blacks were now subject to the same penalties in capital offences. In 1816 still further protection was given by providing that slaves accused of capital crimes should be tried in the superior court according to the same procedure as in the trial of freemen, except in cases of conspiracy; then a special session of the superior court, acting under a commission of the governor, should act. In 1818, also, when the penalty involved was execution, the slave was allowed to challenge jurors. Payment of owners by the state for slaves executed was abolished in 1786, since "many persons by cruel treatment of their slaves cause them to commit crimes for which many of the said slaves are executed." This was unsatisfactory, since it became the policy of the master to prevent prosecution of his slaves. Hence in 1796 the policy was adopted of allowing counties through special statutes to pay their masters two‑thirds of the entire value of the slaves executed, the value to be fixed by the jury, the reimbursement to be derived from a special tax on black polls. However there should be no reimbursement unless the jury had also concluded that the master had properly fed and clothed the slaves. So much for major offences. Those of a less degree were also treated more liberally. In 1783 jurisdiction over minor cases was given to the justices of the peace, but many such cases were placed under the county courts to be tried "under the same rules, regulations, and restrictions as the trials of freemen." However, in all cases in which the justices of the peace acted, appeal was in 1842 allowed to the county or superior courts.

The slave's life was also given better protection. By a statute of 1791 he who maliciously killed a slave was declared guilty of murder and should "suffer the same punishment as if he had killed a freeman," except in cases where slave resisted the owner or master or died under a moderate correction or was an outlaw. However, since there were three degrees of homicide — murder, punishable by death, manslaughter, by imprisonment, and accidental, or self-defence homicide, which incurred no penalty — the accused was given the benefit of the doubt and the courts found it impossible to  p214 convict. Consequently in 1817 it was enacted that "the killing of a slave shall partake of the same degree of guilt, when accompanied with like circumstances, that homicide now does."

This statute became the basic protection of the slave's life. In working out interpretations of it, the courts faced a number of questions. First was that of provocation; it was held that a wider range of extenuating circumstances existed to differentiate manslaughter from homicide in cases when whites killed slaves than in those in which whites alone were involved.​16 A second question was the extension of the common law; was procedure for offences against slaves limited to that of the statutes, or did the common law also apply? The supreme court in 1823 made a liberal decision, upholding indictment at the common law for murder of a slave and declaring that the statute could only modify that law.​17 Greatest of all was the relation of the master's property right to his responsibility for the slave's life. This was faced from three angles. First was the immunity of the master from punishment for assault and battery on his slave; in 1829 it was held that neither the master nor the hirer of a slave could be indicted for such cause, since "the power of the master must be absolute to render the submission of the slave perfect. * * * The slave, to remain a slave, must be made sensible that there is no appeal from his master; that his power is in no sense usurped; but is conferred by the law of men, at least, if not by the laws of God."​18 Now with such authority in the master could the slave, when his life was threatened, resist? This question was settled in the famous case of the State vs. Will, a case memorable in the traditions of the North Carolina bar, certainly the most important one in which the rights of a slave were concerned.​19 Briefly, Will, a slave, under fear of punishment by an overseer, ran, was fired upon and wounded, and when overtaken defended himself with a knife, fatally wounding the overseer. In the superior  p215 court he was convicted of murder, but appeal was taken to the Supreme Court. Bart F. Moore, one of the attorneys for the slave, made an unusually impressive argument, and the decision of the court, written by Gaston, was a victory for humanity. Exceptions to the unconditional submission of the slave and the unconditional power of the master were held to exist. "It is certain that the master has not the right to slay his slave, and I hold it to be equally certain that the slave has the right to defend himself against the unlawful attempt of his master to deprive him of life." Therefore "if a slave in defence of life kills an overseer, the homicide becomes murder. It seems that the law would be the same with respect to killing a master or temporary owner under similar circumstances."

[image ALT: missingALT]

Bartholomew F. Moore

Undoubtedly this decision of the court, rendered at a time  p216 when the pro-slavery spirit was dominating public opinion, did much to conserve the humanitarian tradition. Soon the protection of a slave's life was still more clearly defined. Supposing the slave should die under chastisement or punishment, was the master liable for homicide? In 1839 it was held that if death of a slave followed punishment by the master, the courts might review the circumstances, and if they showed intent to kill on the part of the master, indictment should force; indeed, if the punishment were immoderate or unreasonable, it lost the character of correction and indicated contemplation of death.20

While the courts were working out the above principle, the legislature in 1816 conferred on the slave a notable privilege, that of benefit of clergy. Accordingly, the slave might escape the death penalty for larceny and similar crimes which at the common law were capitally punished. Cases are on record where this privilege was requested and granted. Benefit of clergy for both races existed until 1855, when it was abolished by the Code Commission.

While the slave's right before the courts and the protection of his life were established, the law and also the Supreme Court were not so liberal in other matters. The colonial patrol law of 1753 was made more stringent in 1779, 1794, and 1830. Unauthorized meetings of slaves and also the custom of hiring their time were prohibited in 1794, and the articles which they might dispose of without their master's consent were restricted between 1826 and 1833. More important were the limitations on manumission. The colonial statute prohibiting manumission except for meritorious conduct adjudged by the county court was reenacted in 1777 and further explained in 1796. In its interpretation the Supreme Court was strictly faithful to the evident intent of the law, the restriction of the free negro class. Illustrative was the case of Huckaby vs. Jones in 1822.​21 The testator bequeathed four slaves to trustees to keep them as they (the trustees) should "judge most for the glory of God and the good of said slaves." It was held that, as the testator did not intend any personal benefit  p217 to the legatees, his purpose was undoubtedly manumission, which being contrary to law, the trustees were ordered to hold the slaves in trust for the legatees. More explicit was the case of Contentnea Society vs. Dickinson.​22 The defendant conveyed a slave to the Quaker Society at Contentnea, under the condition that he receive the profits of his labor until such time as he could receive freedom by the laws of the state. Practically, however, the policy of the Quakers was to send such slaves outside the state, to the Northwest where manumission could be effected. Therefore the Court held in 1827 that a religious society could hold property for its use only, that the custom of the Quakers was manumission except in name, and therefore contrary to law, and that the conveyance of a slave to the Society was not valid. Yet when the rights of individual negroes were concerned, the Court was lenient. Those held as slaves were allowed to bring suit for their freedom; and whoever claimed the relation of master might be required to give bond to permit collection of evidence by the plaintiff and to produce him before the court at the appointed session.​23 The rule of prescription was also applied in favor of the negro who had lived thirty or forty years outside of bondage; liberation at the tender age of two years was upheld, since it could not be shown that the child could not perform meritorious services; technicalities in procedure, such as verbal petition to the court and signature by the master's attorney rather than the master himself, were not allowed to invalidate manumission. But any silent agreement or intent to use slaves for their "own emolument" rather than that of the purchaser was held to invalidate a sale. Yet, direct provision in a deed for ultimate emigration to Liberia at the choice of the slave was upheld for, although slaves have "no capacity to make contracts, or acquire property, yet have both a mental and moral capacity" to choose between remaining in slavery and becoming free.24

Evidently there were two tendencies in the law, one of  p218 liberalism, the other of restriction. Each reflected elements of public opinion. By 1830 the restrictive attitude was dominant. The causes of its triumph over liberalism were various. One was restlessness in the negro population. In 1802 a plot for a rising of slaves was discovered in the northeastern counties, and two negroes were executed. In 1805 an attempt at poisoning the whites was made in Wayne County for which one slave was burned at the stake and three others were sentenced to be hanged. In 1821 alarm in Jones County caused a muster of the militia. Finally in 1831 there was evidence that the Nat Turner conspiracy, which convulsed tidewater Virginia, had ramifications in North Carolina. In the tier of counties along the South Carolina line as far west as Richmond, and also in Wayne and Lenoir, a plan to rebel and march on Wilmington was disclosed. Twelve negro leaders were shot, three were hanged in Duplin County, and one in Richmond. In other eastern counties there was considerable excitement, but no evidence of intended revolt. Undoubtedly plans or even rumors of insurrection strengthened the reactionary sentiment toward slavery. A similar influence was the dissemination of abolition literature; an instance in point arose in 1830, when the governor referred to the legislature a copy of David Walker's Appeal in Four Articles whose author, a negro of North Carolina birth, sought to arouse the slaves to efforts at progress and even insurrection.​26 The immediate effect was restriction on the education of the slaves. Finally, the increasing value of slaves as property, due to the extension of the cotton culture, undoubtedly strengthened the position of the pro-slavery forces; it was natural that neither manumission nor a grant of additional rights could be procured as easily when the market price was rising.

The fight for greater restriction and its triumph may be traced in the proceedings of the legislature. In 1818 and 1819 bills to prohibit teaching slaves to read and write were rejected. In 1825 the Governor in his annual message referred to abolition resolutions of the Ohio legislature and sarcastically advised those opposed to slavery to heed the eleventh commandment,  p219 "Let every one attend to his own concerns." Another bill to prevent the education of slaves was lost, likewise bills to restrain conversation between free negroes and slaves regarding freedom, to prevent the immigration of free negroes, and to forbid emancipation societies. The next year feeling was more intense. A petition from Vermont praying for abolition was referred to the legislature, but the governor recommended a revision of the patrol laws and restriction on the immigration of free negroes. As a result the sojourn of free negroes coming from other states was limited to twenty days under penalty of fine of $500 or servitude at labor for not more than ten years, the county courts were authorized to hire out vagabond free negroes and to apprentice their children, and trading between free negroes and slaves in prohibited articles was made punishable with thirty-nine lashes. In 1828 another bill to prohibit the education of slaves was introduced but was rejected.

The year 1830 marked the turning point. Walker's Appeal in Four Articles strengthened the agitation for restriction and a series of laws was enacted which prohibited the slaves to be taught to read and write, ciphering excepted, against which protest was made by R. P. Dick of Guilford County, forbade games of chance between free negroes and slaves or their intermarriage, and subjected free negroes absent from the state for ninety days to the penalty imposed on alien free negroes. The circulation of literature tending to insurrection was made punishable with imprisonment for the first offence and with death for the second, and also imprisonment and thirty-nine lashes were imposed for the first effort to cause insurrection and the death penalty for the second. Manumission by the courts was allowed only after petition sixty days in advance and after bond of $1000 was given that the manumitted negro would leave the state within ninety days, and if he returned, he should be sold into bondage; however, negroes above fifty years of age might be manumitted for meritorious service and remain in the state, provided a bond of $500 was given as a guarantee for keeping the peace and that the negro would not become a public charge. The following year, 1831, the climax in anti-negro legislation  p220 was reached with a law prohibiting free negroes to preach before slaves. Thus the sentiment for restricting the privileges of the slave and the free negro triumphed. It made further progress in 1835 when the constitutional convention took from the free negro the right of suffrage. However, much of the liberal sentiment was preserved by the Supreme Court. Many of its decisions previously cited were made after 1830, and in the case of the State vs. Manuel it was held that the free negro is a citizen and that the right to vote was merely a political right.27

The legislation of 1830‑31 is also a landmark in relations between the two races. Previously there seems to have been little prejudice against the blacks, but afterwards an ever-increasing hostility on the part of the whites characterized race relations. This change is well illustrated by the free negro. In no southern state except Virginia was this class of blacks so numerous; it increased with each decade, rising from 4,975 in 1790 to 30,463 in 1860. Its origins were various; one was manumission; another was military service in the Revolution; a third was immigration; still another, according to Judge Gaston, was the cohabitation of white women and negro men, the children taking the status of the mother.

The distinctive characteristic of the free negro before 1830 was prominence in religious and educational life. One of the early Methodist ministers was Henry Evans, a shoemaker, local preacher, and free negro. Passing through Fayetteville late in the eighteenth century, he saw that the negroes of that place "were wholly given to profanity and lewdness, never hearing preaching of any denomination." He stopped to preach the Gospel to them, making a living at his trade. The whites were alarmed and the town authorities ordered him to stop preaching. He then held meeting outside the corporate limits. Reviewing his work the Sunday before his death, he said: "Three times I have had my life in jeopardy for preaching the Gospel to you. Three times I have broken the ice on the edge of the water and swam across the Cape Fear to preach the Gospel to you, and if in my last hour I  p221 could trust to that, or anything but Christ crucified, for my salvation, all should be lost and my soul perish forever." At length opinion changed, especially when no insurrection resulted from Evans' labors. Some whites visited his meetings and were converted; a rude frame church building was erected in Fayetteville with reserved seats for the whites; finally the white member­ship increased until the negroes were crowded to the rear. Fayetteville became a regular charge of the Conference with a white preacher, but Evans was given a room adjoining the church, where he lived until his death in 1810.

Even more remarkable was the career of John Chavis. Born free, probably in Granville County about 1763, he won the interest of certain white people and was sent to Princeton, where he was privately tutored by Dr. Witherspoon. In 1801 he was a missionary in the Hanover, Virginia, Presbytery, but in 1805 he returned to North Carolina and became a licentiate of the Orange Presbytery in 1809, preaching to regular congregations at Shiloh, Nutbush, and Island Creek. His notable work, however, was that of teacher. He conducted schools in Granville, Wake, and Chatham counties. Among his pupils were the sons of prominent white families; one of his students, Willie P. Mangum, became a United States senator; another, Charles Manly, became governor; among others were the sons of Chief Justice Henderson. "My father," wrote Reverend James Horner, "not only went to school to him (Chavis) but boarded in his family. * * * The school was the best at that time to be found in the State."28

Among the Baptists, likewise, a free negro attained distinction, Ralph Freeman by name, on Anson County. "He was considered an able preacher," says Purefoy, "and was frequently called upon the preach on funeral occasions and was appointed to preach on the Sabbath at association and frequently administered the ordinance of baptism and the Lord's Supper."​29 A white minister, Joseph Magee, was his intimate friend, and they agreed that the survivor should preach the funeral of the one dying first. The duty fell to Ralph, and  p222 he journeyed to Tennessee to fulfill it. The next year free negroes were forbidden to preach, but a petition was submitted to the legislature for an exception to be made in the case of Freeman. It was favorably reported by the Committee on Propositions and Grievances but was indefinitely postponed in the House of Commons.

Now the legislation of 1830‑31 made impossible a continuation of such activities on the part of the free negro. Chavis left the state, and Freeman is no longer heard of. Moreover the spirit of toleration and recognition of merit was replaced by one of prejudice and open hostility. An excellent example was the career of Lunsford Lane, an intelligent and industrious slave whose master was Mr. Sherwood Haywood, of Raleigh. Ambitious to secure his freedom, he hired his time for a fixed sum, and engaged in the manufacture of smoking tobacco. When he had saved $1,000, he found his master's widow willing to make a bargain, but as he could not legally purchase his freedom, he was first sold to his wife's master, Benjamin B. Smith, in 1836. Mr. Smith, however, could not free Lane because he could not prove meritorious service. Consequently, when he next visited New York, he took the negro with him and there procured manumission papers. Returning to Raleigh, Lane prospered, opening a store and a woodyard in addition to his tobacco enterprise, and also becoming janitor and messenger in the governor's office. Desiring undisputed possession of his wife and six children, he contracted for them at $2,500. But his prosperity won the enmity of the poor whites and the suspicion of the political negrophiles. In November, 1840, Lane was notified by two justices of the peace that he must leave the state within twenty days or else suffer the penalty imposed on immigrating free negroes. A stay of the prosecution was secured until January, 1841. In the meantime, the legislature convened, and his friends introduced a private bill exempting him from the operation of the law. It was rejected and Lane was compelled to leave his business, his home, and the community in which he had prospered. He went North. Desiring to fulfill the contract for the purchase of his family and to have his wife and children with him, he told his  p223 story wherever he could get a hearing. At length he returned to Raleigh, after receiving assurance that he could return in safety, to remove his family. He was again arrested and charged before the mayor's court with preaching abolition doctrine. He successfully defended himself, but a mob collected and threatened his life. As a concession he attempted to leave the city at once and was escorted to the train by a guard, but the mob would not let the cars leave, and Lane went to prison while his baggage was searched for incendiary literature. Leaving the prison at night, he was attacked by ruffians, tarred, and feathered; the next day he succeeded in leaving Raleigh with his family.​30 Thus the spirit of intolerance  p224 and persecution replaced the liberal attitude toward the free negro which had prevailed before 1830. Gradually the spirit worked its way into politics, increasing the spirit of sectionalism, and ultimately resulting in a demand for the dissolution of the Union.


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Lunsford Lane

The Author's Notes:

1 Journey to the Seaboard Slave States, p367.

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2 Ibid., pp389‑393.

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3 Century of Progressive Growth (U. S. Census).

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4 Colonial Records, IX.1046.

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5 Raleigh Register, March 17, 1820.

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6 Colonial Records, IX.1026.

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7 Helper was a native of Davie County, Hedrick of Davidson, Goodloe of Franklin.

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8 Weeks, Southern Quakers and Slavery, ch. IX.

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9 Purefoy, Sandy Creek Association, p76; Minutes of Chowan Association, p7.

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10 Papers of the Trinity College Hist. Society, IX, pp82, 94.

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11 Bassett, Anti-Slavery Leaders of North Carolina, p56.

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12 Sherrill, the North Carolina Manumission Society (Papers of the Trinity College Historical Society, X).

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13 Annals of Congress, 17th Cong., 1 sess., p1113.

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14 Coffin, Reminiscences, pp75, 76.

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15 The MSS. of the Society are preserved at Guilford College, North Carolina.

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16 State vs. Tackett, 8 N. C. 210.

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17 State vs. Reed, 9 N. C. 454.

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18 State vs. Mann, 13 N. C. 263.

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19 18 N. C. 121.

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20 State vs. Hoover, 18 N. C. 121.

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21 9 N. C. 120.

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22 12 N. C. 190.

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23 Evans vs. Kennedy, 2 N. C. 247.

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24 Sampson vs. Burgwin; Lemmond vs. People, 41 N. C. 99; Redding vs. Long, 57 N. C. 216.

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25 [In the print edition, there is no note 25: the numbering passes from 24 directly to 26. — W. P. T.]

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26 Bassett, Slavery in the State of N. C., ch. V.

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27 Bassett, ch. V; Coon, Doc. Hist. of Public Schools in N. C., II, passim; Laws, 1830, chs. 6, 9, 14, 15; 1831, ch. 4.

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28 Bassett, Slavery in the State of North Carolina, ch. III.

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29 History of the Sandy Creek Association, p328.

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30 Bassett, Anti-Slavery Leaders of North Carolina, pp60‑74; Hawkins, Lunsford Lane.

Thayer's Note:

a Sic, adding up only to 5460. Either a category is missing, or the undecideds were not counted, or a correction should be made to the numbers given. Statistics, typography, and Occam's razor all suggest that the likeliest correction is to a single error in the largest category: "ready to support schemes for emancipation, thirty-six-sixtieths".

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