Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

The apprenticeship of “base-born” children.

Apprentice records show a dozen or so free colored Henderson children in Onslow County in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.  It seems likely that they were from one extended family – and my kin – but proof is thin.  There is persuasive evidence that the mother of Nancy Henderson, a free woman of color, was a white woman named Nancy Ann Henderson, but no evidence to date that this Nancy Ann had additional free colored children.  James and Bryan were Patsey Henderson’s children; Durant, Willis, Miranda, Patsey, Gatsey, Minerva, William and Betsey were Nancy’s children; and there is considerable evidence to suggest that Nancy Henderson and Patsey Henderson were sisters.  My comments and speculations are in italics.

Sucky Henderson was bound to Richard Trott in 1809. Sucky, Polly and Naomi below possibly were too close in age to Nancy and Patsey Henderson to have been their children. Sisters instead?

Polly Henderson to Isaac Barber in 1809.

Durand Henderson, son of Nancy Henderson, to Henry Hyde in 1811. Durant Henderson was also called Durant Dove. He and his brother Willis were the subject of a North Carolina Supreme Court case, about which more later. He is the progenitor of today’s Lenoir County Doves.

Sukey Henderson to Richard Trott in 1811.

Naomi Henderson to Adam Trott in 1811.

Durant Henderson and Willis Henderson to John Jones in 1818.

James Henderson and Bryan Henderson, sons of Patsey Henderson, to Jesse Gregory in 1821.

Miranda Henderson and Patsey Henderson, daughters of Nancy Henderson, to Nancy Henderson in 1821. Who was the Nancy Henderson to whom the children were bound? A child could not be bound to his or her own parent. Was she Nancy Ann Henderson, Nancy Henderson’s mother?

Patsey Henderson, age 5 or 6, to Jason Gregory in 1822. Was this Nancy’s child (as above)? Or Patsey’s?

Gatsey Henderson and William Henderson, reputed children of Simon Dove, to James Glenn Sr. at August term, 1822. Nancy Henderson and Simon Dove never married, but had several children together. In the 1850 census of Upper Richlands, Onslow County, Nancy Henderson, 55, headed a household that included Gatsey, 30, Nervy, 25, Monday, 6, Lott, 4, Jessee, 1, and Sally Ann Henderson, 6 months. 

James Henderson and Bryan Henderson to Jason Gregory in 1823.

Betsy Henderson to James Glenn Jr. in 1823.

Betsy, Nancy and Appie [no surnames] to David Mashborn in 1823.  Are these Hendersons? If so, is Appie another of Nancy Henderson’s daughters?

Miranda Henderson, James Henderson, Martha Henderson and Bryant Henderson to James Glenn in 1824. Two of Nancy’s children and two of Patsey’s, bound together.

Miranda Henderson to Elizabeth Williams in 1824.

William Henderson to Lemuel Williams in 1824.

James Henderson and Bryan Henderson, “the baseborn children of Patsey Henderson,” to James Glenn Sr. in 1824.

Betsy Henderson and Gatsey Henderson, daughters of Nancy Henderson, to Lewis Mills in 1824.

Patsy Henderson to Amos Askew in 1824.

William Henderson, son of Nancy Henderson, to Lemuel Williams in 1827.

Durant Dove and Willis Dove were bound to James Mills in 1828. These boys were otherwise known as Durant and Willis Henderson.

Durant Henderson and Willis Henderson to James Mills in 1829.

Free People of Color, North Carolina, Oral History, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Introducing Lewis & Mag Henderson.

Though his brother Bryant disappeared from the record after apprenticeship, James Henderson achieved adulthood and shows up in the 1850 census as a mechanic and the father of four children whose last name was Skipp.  The children too were apprentices, which tells us that their mother, like James’ own, was unmarried. “Skipp” was an uncommon name in the area.  I know nothing else about her, and she apparently was dead by time the censustaker rode through their corner of Onslow County.  When James wandered 50 miles northeast to Sampson County to a tiny community of free people of color north of present-day Clinton, his sons Lewis and James Henry and daughter Eliza went with him. By this time, they had assumed their father’s last name.  Lewis Henderson, born about 1836, was my great-great-great-grandfather. There are no photographs of Lewis, but there is one of his brother James Henry, who was blue-eyed and bushy-bearded and generally indistinguishable from his Anglo-Saxon neighbors.


Sometime around 1856 Lewis married a woman much like himself, free-born and colored and of uncertain antecedents.  Her first name was Margaret, and her last name seems to have been Balkcum.  And we do know what Grandma Mag looked like.  My great-aunt Mamie showed me the battered tintype; I was 21 years old and nearly lost consciousness.  Mag was born in 1836, too.  She was perhaps middle-aged when she sat for her portrait — her age, like her racial stock, is indeterminate.  But she had straight iron-gray hair parted down the middle and pulled back severely; high, broad cheekbones; and thin lips marking an ultra-wide mouth.  A handsome woman, if not a pretty one.  She seems to be smiling; there is a twinkle in her gray eyes.


My grandmother remembered her like this:

We used to go down to Dudley to see Grandma Mag – we called her Mag, but her name was Margaret – before she died.  I remember her being alive, but she was in bed sick.  She was always in the bed.  Her hair looked like white, and she had it parted right in the middle and all carried back, don’t even look like she had none.  Couldn’t tell how much she had ‘cause she was laying on it, what I saw of it.  I don’t ever remember her getting up and down.  I remember ‘cause I wanted to know why she was in the bed all the time.  And I don’t remember seeing her walk but one time.  She stayed sitting around so much until she couldn’t hardly half walk – but she didn’t have nair stick with her.  She’d just hold on to different things.  I don’t know, I wouldn’t never ask a person, ask ‘em, “What’s wrong with your legs?” or “What’s the matter with you.  How come you can’t walk no better?”  But Mamie stayed with Grandma Mag and them until Grandpa Lewis died.  The house they was staying in where was up by the railroad, was just about to fall down.  So Mama Sarah built them a house.  


Photos of James H. Henderson and Margaret Henderson in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

Free People of Color, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

She desired that her sons be bound.

I’ve spent a whole lot of time trying to figure it out, but I still don’t know much.  I can tell you this: that Martha Henderson, better known as Patsey — and my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother — was desperate.  That she could not adequately feed her children.  That children like hers could be claimed by any passing scoundrel.  That she needed to make the first move.  So she made her way to Wantland’s Ferry, to the Onslow Courthouse, and implored the justice to place her boys with the white man of her choosing.  They were to serve as apprentices until 21, to learn a trade, and maybe, if lucky, how to read and write.  The year was 1821.     

Patsey’s children were freeborn, as was she.  She was likely a dark twig on the family tree of the white Hendersons who lived in Onslow, having arrived by the mid-1700s from Scotland via Maryland.  She was nearly white herself, as were her children, but not so nearly as to confuse the court, which duly recorded them as free people of color and laid down the applicable laws, one of which dictated that “baseborn” children would not run the countryside, but would be made available to ambitious, cash-poor whites as short-term labor.  Not slaves, but not free labor either.  Apprentices.

Patsey could not escape this game, but she could try to work it, to play it, to squeeze from it what benefit she could.  The reality was that there was not much work for free colored women in a slave society – she could never sew or clean or mammy cheap enough to compete — and in sparsely populated rural areas like Onslow, there was even less call for other skills.  She may have been sickly to boot.  Patsey’s children faced real threats to their well-being by every measure of need.  So she struck some deals and went into court and pled that James and Bryant Henderson find shelter with a master she had selected.  Was he their father?  Another relative?  Simply a neighbor?  Her request was granted and, mission accomplished, she died. 

From the minutes of Onslow County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, February term, 1821 —

“Patsey Henderson a free woman of color in Onslow County came into court and desired her two sons (viz) James Henderson and Bryan Henderson be bound to Jesse Gregory agreeable to law and give Jason Gregory and Hezekiah Williams for securities in the sum of $1000 each.”  

Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Free People of Color, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Vocation

These Artises.

“It comes from Fremont, Wayne county, that Adam Artis, colored, 75 years old, who lives near there, is the father of 47 legitimate children and that in addition there are 80 or 90 grandchildren.”   — Statesville Landmark, 9 Jan 1906.

Try as I might, I can only account for 32 children.  My great-great-grandmother, by Adam’s third wife Frances Seaberry, was one of them.  Adam was born in 1831 in Greene County, North Carolina, to a freeborn mother and an enslaved father.  They gave him the middle name Toussaint, and I’d love to know that story.  He was apprenticed as a carpenter and purchased his first acreage in 1855 from his brother-in-law, John Wilson.  Over the years, he bought and sold a few hundred acres in northern Wayne County, and descendants still live on land that was his.  It is said that his fifth wife, 50+ years his junior, treated him badly in his last days, and was so afraid that he would haunt her that she had his feet cut off before the burial.  No photos of him remain, but his legacy is well-secured.  As his granddaughter Beulah Williams once told me: “These Artises, they are innumerable.”