Using Deeds to Discover Your Enslaved Ancestors Part 2: Henderson Bagley

Recently a man and his son visited from Wake County looking for information on their enslaved and later freed ancestor, Henderson Bagley.  I was not there when they visited unfortunately, but I have kept in touch  with them over the phone and through email trying to decipher the enigmatic past of Henderson Bagley.

Henderson Bagley marriage record 1866

The marriage of Henderson Bagley and Hana Williams. Taken from Family Search.

On 22 August 1866 Henderson Bagley and Hana Williams registered their cohabitation in Wilson.  According to the 1870 census, Henderson Bagley  was listed as  living in Chesterfield, Nash County  with his five children and no wife.  In 1880, Henderson and four of his children were living in  Old Fields Township in Wilson County.

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The Bagley family in the 1870 Census. Taken from Ancestry.com

I thought that the name Henderson was so unique that if I found it in a record as an enslaved person’s name, it would be a good chance that it would be Henderson Bagley.  But the name was more ubiquitous than I realized.  The name Henderson  appears several times in Nash County, NC, Division of Estate Slaves  1829-1861, abstracted by Timothy W. Rackley, as the name of a slave owned by the Boddie family.

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henderson_bagley49henderson_bagley72In Johnston County deed books I found eight different entries of a slave (or several) named Henderson.  According to the 1870 census, Henderson was born in about 1830, therefore the most promising deed listed here  is from 14 March 1837, where they list a seven year old boy named Henderson.

Henderson in deedsIn a Wilson County will I found a record that lists an enslaved person named Henderson.  The will is from 1862 and I would have hoped that it  listed Hana or one of their older children from the census, but no such luck.

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This image is from “Abstracts of Wills, Wilson County, NC 1855-1899” by Robert Boykin

Although I found not a few entries that listed a man named Henderson in deeds, wills and estate records, it is difficult to determine if any of them are the Henderson Bagley that I was searching for.  Not often is the research as cut and dry as it was with Mariah and Bryant Pender from my earlier post.  But the fact that I found an enslaved man (or men) named in the records 14 times is a great indicator of how useful deeds, wills and estate records can be used to good effect.

Lisa Henderson (no relation) has also posted some info about Henderson Bagley on her blog.

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Cumberland County Deeds are Digitized

cumberland county deedsI was doing some research for a patron today whose people moved up to Wilson County from Cumberland County at some point during Wilson’s agricultural boom, and found out that all of Cumberland County’s deeds are digitized and online here at the Cumberland County Register of Deeds website.  I knew that Cumberland County had an awesome local history library (they sent me some free books for one thing) but their register of deeds seems to be leading the way for the dissemination of information at the county level in NC.  I now decree that every other county in NC should follow their lead!

PS After some use, I have found that it is not easy to navigate unless you know the deed book and the page.  So you can’t just put in a name and it will retrieve everything associated with it (unless it is after 1983).  Yeah, not ideal, but the very determined person can find what they want.

Wilson County Deeds

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A partial page out of a Wilson County Deed book reel. Note the encircled words enfeofe(e)d. This means to (under the feudal system) give (someone) freehold property or land in exchange for their pledged service. Wilson was a bit feudal back then.

Most North Carolina counties in our local history collection have a collection of deeds that some dedicated (or crazy) citizen abstracted or transcribed into book form.    But no one in Wilson County ever took on that daunting task, that is until now.

I have decided to transcribe all the Wilson County deeds that we have on microfilm for eventual publishing in book form.  But, in order for me to not lose my marbles from doing something this tedious and mind numbing, I have rounded up some help, Johnny the intern and Elizabeth the super transcriber.  There are 34 reels of microfilm for these deeds so we may already have a successful colony on Mars by the time it is finished.

Lisa Henderson Collection

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William and Sarah Bryant are selling land to the renowned (and maybe a little infamous) Napoleon Hagans in 1871.

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Plat of Edmundson land being sold to Napoleon Hagans.  Did you know I used to be a land surveyor?

Last week when Lisa Henderson was in town to give her presentation, she also brought by a collection of family deeds for me to digitize.  My focus at graduate school was in the digitization of historic, archival records so anytime someone brings me musty old documents, I am very happy. These deeds are records that may not be in the state archives and if they are they are not easy to access. Very few of North Carolina’s historical records have been digitized so anyone that wants access has to plop down at the archives and sort through them.  Hopefully, in the not too distant future, all of their holdings will be digitized, but I am not holding my breath because it is expensive and requires a lot of man (or woman) hours.  This also calls for  a state government that wants to invest in the future.  So read into that what you will.

The deeds involve many of the families that Lisa talks about so eloquently on her Scuffalong blog, especially the families allied to Napoleon Hagans in and around Wayne County, NC.  I believe that the earliest date of the deeds are 1847, which makes these gems genealogical gold for African Americans researching this period where very few records exist.  After I am finished digitizing and creating metadata for them (hopefully soon) I will put the images up on the Wilson County Local History and Genealogy Library Flickr page for all to enjoy!

Southern Campaign Revolutionary War Pension Applications

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Part of James Robinson Jr. of Chester County SC’s Revolutionary War pension application. Signed by the Gamecock himself General Thomas Sumter.  There were many James Robinsons during this period in the backcountry of SC and western NC and are difficult to sort through.

Last night the local history and genealogy librarian from the Rocky Mount, NC Public Library gave a great presentation on a problem she had tracking down a patron’s Revolutionary War ancestor.  The complication she had with the ancestor, who was named John Evans, was that a previous researcher had combined records of two different John Evans into one person.  One lived in Anson County and one lived in Nash County.  She was able to discern these two individuals by looking closely at deeds and pension applications.  The pension applications really sealed the the deal and the patron was was informed that the John Evans she was looking for lived in Nash County and was forced by threat of hanging into the patriot militia for 18 months as punishment for talking about joining a band of Tories in Edgecombe County.  One of the resources she used was the Southern Campaign Revolutionary War Pension Applications website.  I had used the site before but for some reason I had forgotten about it, so today I’ve had a lot of fun poking around looking for my distant relations that were involved in the American Revolution.  It is a great resource, go try it out!