Using Deeds to Discover Your Enslaved Ancestors Part One

confederate_field_map

From an excerpt of the 1963 Confederate Field map by Lieut. Koerner.  Here you can see the Pender, Robbins and Thorn families mentioned in the deeds.

It can be Sisyphean task (real dang hard) to find information about an ancestor that was enslaved.  The very institution was designed to strip the person of their identity, culture and humanity, so finding their traces in documents is never easy.

That being said, I have had some luck  researching deed records for enslaved individuals because the buying and selling of slaves and in this case, the gifting of slaves to family members, was often recorded in deed books along with their names.

Case in point, a man in New Jersey called and asked me to find the parents of a Bryant Pender who was his grandmother’s grandfather.  His grandmother thought she heard that Bryant’s mother was named Mariah.  The man said that his family believed Bryant was owned by General William Dorsey Pender (1834-1863) and his grandmother heard that he would work at two different plantations during the year. The first thing I did was look at the 1863 Confederate field map and I did see that William Dorsey’s father, James,  had a plantation not far from the General’s older brother’s, Robert  Henry ‘Bob’ Pender, plantation at Pender’s Crossroads.   I then searched Wilson and Edgecombe County wills and didn’t have any luck (also a good resource for finding enslaved people).  Then I turned to deeds. The abstracts that we have of Edgecombe County deeds, Kinfolks of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, 1788-1855 (1969), by Watson, Joseph W.,  does not list slave names.  This is a very unfortunate over-site, but perhaps a product of its non-inclusive time. Luckily, this site, Edgecombe County, NC GenWeb Archives, has more detailed transcriptions.  Although there is no index, the text is searchable and, unfortunately for the dramatic buildup, I found information on Mathiah (Mariah) and Bryan(t) very quickly in three deeds.  It also uncovered Bryant’s sister, Rhoda.

The first deed (1827) is a gift of Mathiah (Mariah) from Obedience Robbins to her sister, Elizabeth Pender, the mother of James Pender.  When I saw that she was listed as mulatto I immediately thought that  maybe Obedience was trying to get rid of her because she may have been the child of one of the Robbins family, maybe even her husband.  But that is only conjecture on my part.

Edge. County Db 19, page 10, date of deed 31 Jan, 1827, date recorded
Feb Ct. 1827, Obedience Robbins, Edge. co. to Elizabeth Pender, Edge.
for “love and affection” for my sister, Elizabeth Pender, and moving,
one mulatto girl, named Mathiah, signed Obedience Robbins (X), wit.
Thomas Anderson (+), W.B. Barnes. FHC film # 0370237. 11-5-99

The next two deeds (1842) describe the sort of perpetual leasing of Mathiah and her two children Bryan and Rhoda between James and his two brothers, Andrew and Joseph J. Which may have been a reason why the folk memory exists that they moved between plantations during the year.

Edge. Co Db 23, page 33, date of deed 7 Jun 1841, date recorded Feb Ct. 1842, Andrew J. Pender, Edge. Co. to Joseph J. Pender and James Pender; Andrew has a deed of gift from “my mother Elizabeth Pender now Thorn, bearing date of 18 May 1835 conveying to me one Negro girl, Mathiah which said deed is recorded in the Register of Deeds of said county, since which time said girl has been delivered of two children, the first named Bryan & the other named Rhoda and whereas my mother Elizabeth being some in debt  and for the consideration that my brothers Joseph Jno. Pender and James Pender having agreed to pay their proportional part of said debts and give to my mother annually a certain sum which is named in another instrument I hereby convey to them jointly two thirds of the said Negro girl Mathiah and her children Bryan and Rhoda and any other which she may have, the intention of this instrument is that the said Negro girl, Mathiah and all her increase are to be equally divided between myself and my brothers, Joseph, John and James, or our heirs, signed Andrew J. Pender, wit. W.D. Petway.

Abstracted 2-5-02, NC State Archives film C.037.40018, CTC.

Edge. Co Db 23, page 33, date of deed 7 Jun 1841, date recorded Feb
Ct. 1842, Martin Thorn and wife, Elizabeth Thorn, formerly Pender, to
said Joseph Jno., James and Andrew Pender for ten dollars paid annually
to the said Elizabeth during her natural life by Joseph Jno. Pender,
James Pender and Andrew J. Pender, the sons of said Elizabeth do convey
and relinquish our right title and interest to a certain mulatto girl
named Mathiah & her two children, Bryan and Rhoda, signed Martin Thorn,
Elizabeth Thorn (X), wit. W.D. Petway. NOTE: BOOK OR PAGE MAY BE WRONG.
Abstracted 2-5-02, NC State Archives film C.037.40018, CTC.

Bryant Pender

1880 Census record showing Bryant Pender and my patron’s grandmother-Bessie Pender

It doesn’t appear that Mathiah and her children were owned specifically By General William Dorsey Pender, but they were certainly in his family.  This genealogy inquiry led to a great pairing of family oral history and archival records in finding enslaved ancestors, which is something that unfortunately doesn’t come along too often.

 

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