Stagecoach Mary: the Black Cowgirl


America’s Old West was undoubtedly a Wild West before an ex-slave named Mary Fields arrived in 1885 at a small railroad town in present-day Montana. Yet she certainly made things more interesting. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”

Source: Stagecoach Mary: the Black Cowgirl

Say Their Names: Reclaiming Wilson’s Slave Past


Join us next month 2/7/2017 @ 7 pm in the WCPL assembly room for Lisa Henderson’s presentation: Say Their Names: Reclaiming Wilson’s Slave Past. If it is anything like her past presentations, it will be stellar.

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.

Bagley family 1870 census

The Bagley family in the 1870 Census. Taken from

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.





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.

henderson wilson county wills2

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.

Using Deeds to Discover Your Enslaved Ancestors Part One


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.


Rev. Owen L.W. Smith, US Minister to Liberia


Rev. Owen Lun West Smith (1851-1926)


Adora Estelle Oden Smith (1870-1906) of Beaufort, NC. Adora was Rev. Smith’s second wife. His first wife, Lucy Ann Jackson, was  murdered by his insane sister,Millie, on July 6, 1891. Adora and Owen had three children that died young. Rev. Smith’s third wife was Cynthia Ann King Isler (1868-1921) of Grifton, NC. She had four children from a previous marriage. (gleaned from the unpublished  writings of Hugh B. Johnston)

Today I stumbled upon a trove of materials about the the trailblazing Rev. Owen L.W. Smith (1851-1926).  Rev. Smith was born into slavery in Giddenville, Sampson County, NC to Ollen Smith and Maria Hicks and  was a servant in the Confederate army but escaped to become a soldier in the US army and fought  at the Battle of Bentonville.  He later rose to prominence in Wilson as the pastor of the the St. John AME Zion Church and Presiding Elder of the New Bern District of the North Carolina Conference.  Rev. Smith caught the eye of some prominent elected officials and was appointed by President William McKinley as Minister and Consul General to Liberia. You can find lovely post about him over at Black-Wide Awake.

Below are some of his letters printed in the Star of Zion, a Charlotte, NC based newspaper of the AME Zion Church.  You can find more on our Flickr page.



I like his description of first seeing Ireland as he sailed into Queenstown (now Cork). This was the first sight I ever saw of Ireland as I sailed into Cork on an overnight ferry from Swansea, Wales.


New Instructional Video on African American Genealogy

Deborah A. Abbott

Deborah A. Abbott, Ph.D., is a genealogist specializing in African American research and methodology. She is an adjunct faculty member of both the Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University and the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. She serves as a Trustee on the Board of the Ohio Genealogical Society.

Needles and Threads: Piecing Together African American Families is a new instructional video on African American genealogy.  Deborah A. Abbott, PhD guides you through examples and case studies to help break down those sometimes difficult brick walls that lead to your enslaved ancestors and free persons of color.

Here is a breakdown of the different sections:

What You’ll Learn
Threading the Needle
Threads That Bind
Missed Threads
Missed Threads: Name Changes
The Fabric of Society
The Fabric of Society: Social Histories
Researching Slave Ancestors
Identifying the Slave Owner
The Master Quilter
Knotted Threads
Courthouse “Pieces”
Military Records
African Americans served in every American war, and played an important role in the Civil War. We’ll show you where to find those records.
Straddling the Civil War
Tools in Your Sewing Basket
In Closing

Black Wide-Awake Program on Front Page of Wilson Daily Times

tracing wilsons roots tracing wilsons roots2

Our program the night before last was on the front page of the Wilson Daily Times today!  They did misspell the title of the program as “Black Live Awake” instead of Black Wide- Awake and the surname Artis as “Artists”  but hey most of it was right.

107 Year Old ex-Slave Marries 75 Year Old Woman

107 manThis is my most sensational headline for a blog post I’ve ever had.  But I found this astounding article in the April 22, 1949 edition of the Wilson Daily Times while looking for an obituary.  William Henry Pellan had lived more history than found within the pages of most history books.   He recounts that he was a slave in Washington County, NC and was sold three times for $700, $850 and $1,000 respectfully.  He also remembers Sherman’s March and had worked on Mississippi steamboats, worked as a farmhand, a fireman on railroads, in a sawmill and as a preacher.

Also the funniest/ meta-saddest part was when he complains that the price for a marriage license went up from $3 to $5 and says “I never paid more than $3 for a woman in my life, and this is my fourth one.”

107 man2

Black Wide Awake: The Roots of Wilson’s African American Community

Black Wide Awake Wilson Program 4

Burn the date, Tuesday, February 9, 2016, into your brains because there is going to be a sublime program here at WCPL with a powerhouse of eastern NC, African American history and genealogy by the name of Lisa Y. Henderson.  That was a long sentence.