She is obviously a very old woman, stooped and twisted, but with a full head of silvery hair pulled into a loose bun. Her daughter-in-law stands to one side, hand resting protectively on the back of her chair. The only known photographs of Mary Eliza Balkcum Aldridge, two of them, were taken the same day near the end of her long life.
The basic outline of Eliza’s life is established. According to her death certificate, she was born 29 February 1829 in Duplin County. She married Robert Aldridge around 1850, but no marriage license has been found for them. Eleven of her children lived to adulthood. She ran the domestic side of a farmer’s household and slipped out to deliver babies when called upon. She inherited 53 acres from her husband’s estate, but spent her last years in the households of her youngest sons, Robert and Joseph.
The details of her early life are less clear, but I believe she was born to an unorthodox white woman named Nancy Balkcum. Here’s the case:
- About 30 years ago, a cousin prepared an unannotated family history (apparently based on oral tradition) that notes “Robert [Aldridge] married Eliza Bayscin in 1850. Eliza was born in Johnson [sic] County, North Carolina in 1830. She had two sisters, Mary and Maggie.” Everything in this document must be taken with a grain of salt — it borders on the hagiographic and is very romantic — but the basic story seems to be rooted in fact.
- In the 1850 census of Sampson County, a 21 year-old named Elizabeth Balkcum appears in the household of Lemuel Balkcum. Elizabeth does not appear to be his spouse. She is listed last in the household, after minor children. As I’ll explain in another post, Lemuel Balkcum was the grandson of Hester Balkcum, and most likely the son of Nancy Balkcum. Though her name is slightly off, I believe “Elizabeth” is Eliza.
- In 1854, Nancy Balkcum’s will was probated in Sampson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Her legatees were “daughter Margaret Balkcum,” “two daughters Eliza and Mary,” and “son Harman.” (This matches the Mary and Maggie in the family history above, and I am certain its writer never saw Nancy’s will.)
- In the 1860 census of Newton Grove, Sampson County, Mary E. Aldridge appears with her husband Robert and children. This is the only reference to her as “Mary E.” In subsequent censuses — 1870 and 1880 in Brogden township, Wayne County; 1900 in Providence township, Wayne County; and again in 1910 and 1920 in Brogden township — she is called Eliza Aldridge.
- Eliza’s son Matthew Aldridge died in 1920 in Goldsboro, Wayne County. His death certificate lists his mother as “Lizzie Borkem.”
- Eliza Aldridge died 29 January 1924 of influenza. She was just short of 95 years old. Eliza’s son Joseph did not know Eliza’s father, but gave her mother’s name as “Nancy.”
- Son Joseph Aldridge died in 1934 in Wayne County. His death certificate lists his mother as “Eliza Barkin” of Sampson County.
- Son Robert Aldridge died in 1940 in Wayne County. His death certificate lists his mother as “Eliza Baucom” of Wayne County.