In 1850, James Nicholson of northern Iredell County dictated a will that distributed 17 enslaved people – Milas, Dinah, Jack, Liza, Peter, Elix, Paris, Daniel, Carlos, Nelson, Lucinda, Joe, Manoe, Armstrong, Manless, Calvin and Sophie — among his heirs. I am descended from one, Lucinda, whose daughter Harriet was conceived after she joined Thomas A. Nicholson’s household. As I wrote here, Lucinda is found post-slavery only on death certificates of two of her children. What of the other 16? Are they any easier to trace?
In a word – no.
Mary Allison Nicholson received five slaves from her husband’s estate. Son Thomas received three outright and a share in five others. Son John McCombs Nicholson received four and a share in the same five. (It is not at all clear whether the groupings of these 17 people respected family units or were simply combinations devised with an eye for equal value.) Mary died in 1857 and, presumably, her property passed to her sons. However, in the 1860 slave schedule of Iredell County, only two Nicholson slaveholders appear: Thomas, who owned 13, and Martin T. Nicholson, who owned three. (Martin was Thomas’ brother-in-law and first cousin.) In the population schedule, Thomas reported owning $11,000 worth of personal property, a figure that would have included the value of his slaves. His brother John reported only $565. Had he sold his?
And the bigger question, where did Thomas’ slaves go after Emancipation? Freedmen did not always adopt the surnames of their immediate masters, of course, but in the 1870 census of Iredell County, only four black residents claimed the surname Nicholson. Eliza Nicholson, age 25, lived in the household of Thomas Nicholson’s son Wes. She presumably is the Liza of James’ estate. Manless Nicholson, 22, his wife (?) Maggie Nicholson, 24, and daughter Annie, 5, lived in Thomas’ household and worked for him. Manless had been jointly owned by Thomas and his brother. In Yadkin, the adjoining county, 35 year-old Alaxander Nicholson (probably the “Elix” above) is listed in the household of Isabel Cartwright. But that is it. No more.
Obviously, some people were simply inadvertently omitted from the 1870 schedule, such as Lucinda and her daughter Harriet, who were clearly living in Iredell then, and Milas Nicholson, who appears ten years later in Turnersburg township, Iredell County, as a 33 year-old with a wife and child. Also, the 1880 census of Deep Creek, Yadkin County, shows an 80 year-old Sophia Nicholson who may have been “Soffie.” (And was probably Manlius “Manless” Nicholson’s mother, as a Yadkin County marriage license and his death certificate indicate.) Of Dinah, Daniel, Nelson, Armstrong and the others, however, there is no trace, either in surrounding counties or under a different surname.