Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

The case for the Skipps as James Henderson’s children.

1. In the 1840 census of Onslow County, James Henderson is listed twice.  First, his household includes 1 male 24-26 [James]; 1 female 10-24 [Sallie Skipp?]; 2 males under 10 [Lewis and James]; and 1 female under 10 [Mary], all colored, and is listed between Bryant Koonce and William Mills.  Second, the household composition is the same, but is listed between William Boyett and Jesse King.

2. In the 1850 census of Upper Richlands township, Onslow County:  at household #32, Jim Henderson, 35, mulatto, mechanic, in the household of B.S. Koonce, farmer; at #34, Eliza Skipp, 7, mulatto, in the household of Jesse Alphin, farmer; at #60, Jim Dove, 14, and Mary Skipp, 10, mulatto, in the household of John Humphrey, farmer; at #65, Lewis Skipp, 16, laborer, and James Skipp, 10, both mulatto, in the household of Stephen Humphrey.

3. Neither James “Jim” Henderson nor the Skipp children appear in any Onslow County census thereafter.

4. In the 1860 census of Westbrooks township, Sampson County (about – miles from Upper Richlands): at #1033, Lewis Henderson, 25, turpentine laborer, with wife Margaret, 26, and children Lewis T., 4, James L., 3, and Isabella J., 4 months; at #1038, James Henderson, 52, carpenter, wife Eliza, 25, and children Anna J., 8, Susan, 6, Hepsie, 4, and Alex, 1; at #1039, Eliza Henderson, 18, in the household of John B. Sutton; at #1113, James Henderson, 22, farm laborer, in the household of Louis C. King. (Mary Skipp/Henderson has not been accounted for.) They are the only Hendersons in Westbrooks and were not in Sampson County in 1850.

5. In the 1870 census of Faisons, Duplin County: James Henderson “senior” is listed with his wife and children, including 27 year-old James. In Brogden, Wayne County: Lewis Henderson with his wife and children.

6. In the 1880 census of Brogden, Wayne County, James is listed with his wife and daughters. Lewis and his family were also in Brogden township. James senior remained in Faison.

7. Lewis Henderson had sons Lewis and James and a daughter Mary. James H. Henderson had sons Lewis and Elias Lewis and a daughter Mary.

8. James Henderson died in Faison, Duplin County, on 21 June 1920, aged about 80. His death certificate listed his birthplace as Onslow County and his parents as James Henderson and Sallie Henderson.

9. My grandmother, a great-granddaughter of Lewis, recognized Elias L. Henderson as a cousin. She recognized as aunts the daughters of James Henderson by his second wife. (They were actually her grandmother’s aunts, though they were contemporaries.) She also recognized as cousins the son and daughter of James’ son John Henderson.


In other words: in 1850, four children of ages to be siblings appeared in Onslow in proximity to a man believed to be their father. One of the children, Lewis, was born approximately the same year as Lewis Henderson. Ten years later, three of the four children, now bearing their father’s surname, appeared in proximity to him in Sampson County. (Surname shifts, especially among the children of unmarried parents, were not uncommon in free families of color.) The sons, Lewis and James, named sons after one another and settled sequentially in Brogden township, Wayne County.  Most of their half-siblings also migrated to Brogden, and their descendants maintained close family ties into the early 20th century. When James “junior” died, his death certificate acknowledged his birth in Onslow County and named James Henderson as his father.

DNA, Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

DNAnigma, no. 2: Armwood????

There was a woman at home whom we called Cousin Inez. She had been born down in Dudley a few years after my grandmother, and we thought that connection was what motivated her insistence that we were kin. When I began my genealogical sleuthing, I discovered that Cousin Inez had been born an Armwood — another link, though not a blood one. The second wife of my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Henderson had been Louisa Armwood. I am not descended from her, but many of my cousins are. So, cousin-ish, but not actually kin.

Then, a couple of months ago, pegged me as a  4th-6th cousin to a woman I’ll call A.G. This surprised me on two counts. (1) I’d recently “met” A.G. on a cousin’s family page on Facebook. A.G. and my cousin D. are related via the Simmonses, a free family of color centered in southern Wayne County. I’m not a Simmons – that I know of – but D. and I are 3rd cousins and some change via Lewis Henderson. (2) A.G. is an Armwood! Her ancestor William Armwood, son of Major and Eliza Armwood and born about 1835, married Martha “Matta” Simmons, daughter of William and Penny Winn Simmons, in Sampson County. This is William:

william-armwoodSo, what are the possibilities? What do we know?

  • A 4th to 6th cousin relationship suggests a common ancestor in the early 1800s. (Ancestry estimates very conservatively, so we may be closer.)
  • The relationship is almost certainly on my father’s side.
  • All of A.G.’s mother’s lines, back to the mid-1800s, were in the Wayne/Duplin/Sampson County area.
  • I have focused on her Armwood and Simmons lines because they are most familiar and intersect mine indirectly, but I may be making unwarranted assumptions.
  • A.G.’s Simmons line includes Wynn/Winn and Medlin lines. And I don’t know the maiden name of Major Armwood’s wife.
  • My Hendersons did not arrive in the area until the 1850s. I’ll eliminate them.
  • For the time being, I’ll eliminate my Euro-descended lines.
  • My Hagans line was probably from Nash County. I’ll eliminate them, too.
  • A.G. has a Yelverton line from northern Wayne County. Perhaps an Artis or Seaberry connection?
  • My Aldridge and Balkcum lines began with white women who bore children by black or mixed-race men circa 1820-1830 in Duplin and Sampson County. Is one of these unknown fathers the link to A.G.?


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

The case for Margaret Henderson as daughter of Nancy Balkcum.

The case for Margaret Henderson as the daughter of Nancy Balkcum (and sister of Mary Eliza Balkcum Aldridge) —

1. Margaret was born 1833-1836, probably in Sampson County NC. Mary Eliza was born in 1829 in Duplin or Sampson County.

2. Her photo clearly indicates that she was mixed race, as was Mary Eliza. Mary Eliza Balkcum’s mother Nancy Balkcum was white.

3. Margaret is not listed in the 1850 census, and neither is Nancy Balkcum.

4. Nancy Balkcum’s will makes reference to a daughter Margaret Balkcum, as well as a daughter Eliza Balkcum.  The will was probated in 1854 in Sampson County, prior to Margaret Balkcum Henderson’s marriage circa 1855. Margaret Balkcum purchased a number of small items from her mother’s estate.

5. Margaret named her second son James Lucian Henderson in 1857.  Compare: James Lucien Balkcum, born 1838, son of Nancy Balkcum’s daughter Mariah Balkcum Johnston.

6. Margaret named her first daughter Isabella circa 1860.  Compare: Isabella Johnson, born 1858, daughter of Mariah Balkcum Johnson.

7. Margaret named her second daughter Ann Elizabeth circa 1866.  Compare: Ann Eliza Balkcum, born circa 1840, daughter of Nancy Balkcum’s son John Balkcum.

8. Margaret named her third daughter Mary Susan circa 1868.  Compare: Mary Susan Balkcum, born 1844 to John Balkcum, and Susan Johnson, born 1844 to Mariah Balkcum Johnson.

9. Between 1860 and 1870, Margaret and her husband Lewis Henderson and Eliza and her husband Robert Aldridge migrated to the Dudley area of southern Wayne County.  The families are listed side by side in the 1870 census.

10. Caswell C. Henderson’s November 1907 marriage license, issued in New York City, reports his mother’s name as Margaret Balkcum.

11. Matrilineal descendants of Margaret Henderson have mtDNA haplotype H3. Descendants of Mary Eliza Aldridge have mtDNA haplotype H3.

12. Certain descendants of Margaret Henderson share significant autosomal cM totals with descendants of Mary Eliza Aldridge, but have no other known lines of common descent.

Problematic points:

1. Margaret’s death certificate lists her mother as Margaret Bowkin, not Nancy.  Informant was her son Lucian Henderson.  (I have seen instances in which an informant listed his own mother’s name, instead of the decedent’s mother’s name. Is this the case here?)

2. Margaret’s son Lucian’s June 1934 death certificate lists his mother’s maiden name as Hill.

3. Margaret’s daughter Sarah’s January 1938 death certificate lists her mother’s maiden name as Carter.  Informant was Hattie Mae Henderson, Sarah’s great-niece, who told me 60 years later that she did not recall giving this information and did not believe it was correct.

4.  Perhaps most puzzlingly, there is absolutely no tradition of kinship between the two families. Hattie Mae Henderson was reared by her great-aunt (Lewis and Margaret’s daughter) Sarah Henderson Jacobs. If Sarah had been first cousin to Robert and Eliza Aldridge’s children, it seems that there would have been some acknowledgement of the relationship passed down — not only to Hattie (my grandmother), but to others descended from the free colored families in this small community. They (Simmonses, Winns, Jacobses, Hendersons, Aldridges, etc.) intermarried freely, so consanguinity would not have been shameful. The one exception: Hattie Henderson reported visiting with Sarah a “Cousin Tilithia” in Norfolk as a child. This was Tilithia Brewington King Godbolt Dabney, daughter of Robert and Eliza’s daughter Amelia Aldridge Brewington. Did Sarah call Tilithia “cousin” because they themselves were related, or because Hattie was related to Tilithia (through J. Thomas Aldridge, her father and Tilithia’s first cousin)?  A point to consider: all but one of Lewis and Margaret’s children (son Lucian, who himself had no children who lived to adulthood) had died or migrated from Dudley by about 1905. The “lack of tradition” I perceive may simply be a function of a gap in familiarity between those people who knew Lewis and Mag’s family and those I was able to interview 80-90 years later.


 Photo of Margaret Henderson in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

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.