Enslaved People, Other Documents

Recommended, no. 2.

Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom.

Actually, I don’t recommend this book. The New York Times does. I haven’t read it yet. But I will because (1) Eric Foner admitted me to the graduate program in history at Columbia (and I’ve forgiven him for losing my only copy of Joseph R. Holmes’ photograph), and (2) in the 1930s, Ardeanur Hart worked for a descendant of Sidney Howard Gay at the family’s Staten Island house, formerly an Underground Railroad station.

 

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Enslaved People, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Where we lived: Taylor’s Crossroads.

A plat included among Kinchen Taylor’s estate papers revealed the core of the man’s property.  With little difficulty, I matched waterways shown on one parcel with creeks running in modern Nash County. Fishing Creek forms its northern border with Halifax County, and Beaverdam Swamp flows into it a few miles northwest of the town of Whitakers. The hundreds of acres in the fork of these creeks belonged to Kinchen Taylor. For years I harbored a fantasy of hiring a prop plane to fly over this land while I scoured the ground for brick piers and broken chimneys and heaps of hewn logs and any other traces of Kinchen’s plantation.

Last year, I turned to the practical and learned that the I-house built by Kinchen’s son Kinchen Carter Taylor is not only still standing near Whitakers, but has been renovated and is occupied. After some sleuthing, I contacted the current resident, B.B., told him my interest in the place, and asked if I might be able to visit.  His response was quick and unequivocal: “Anytime.”

On disgracefully short notice, I emailed B.B. just before I went home last December. Would he have some time to show me around over the holidays? We made tentative plans for after Christmas and firmed them up a few days later. B.B. had to leave town for work, but his wife A. was more than happy to give me a tour.

On a sunny Saturday, I pointed my car north on US 301 and drove 40 minutes up to Whitakers. In the middle of town, I made a left and headed out Bellamy Mill Road toward Taylor’s Crossroads. Here’s the area on a 1918 map of Nash County:

Taylors XRoads

(A) marks the location of the largest chunk of Kinchen Taylor’s property at the fork of Fishing Creek and Beaverdam Swamp. (At some point the confluence was dammed to create Gum Lake shown above.) (B) is where Kinchen C. Taylor built his house, probably in the 1850s, on land inherited from his father called the Duncan Cain tract.

Taylors lived on the land well into the 20th century. In the 1980s, B.B.’s parents bought the house and surrounding acreage and set about repairing and renovating the abandoned dwelling, which looked like this:

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As set forth in Richard L. Mattson’s The History and Architecture of Nash County, North Carolina, “[t]his Greek Revival house symbolizes the role of the Taylor family in the early settlement of the Whitakers vicinity. It was built in the 1850s, probably by Kinchen Carter Taylor, whose father (also Kinchen Taylor) may have occupied a house (demolished) across the road. … Though deteriorating, this house remains one of Nash’s finest examples of the vernacular Greek Revival. The facade includes such notable features as end chimneys with tumbled-brick shoulders, moulded gable returns, and heavy square porch columns with simple square capitals. The central-hall plan is entered through original double doors framed by sidelights and transom. The rear kitchen ell, which may have been moved up to the house at a later date, includes an engaged porch, close eaves, and a nine-over-six windows. … The house stands at the northwest corner of Taylor’s Crossroads. Located well back from the road and shaded by a cluster of oak trees, the Kinchen Carter Taylor House still evokes the image of the plantation seat it once was.”

A.B. warmly welcomed me when I pulled up beside the house. She graciously shared not only the photo above, but a map drawn by Kinchen C. Taylor’s nearly 100 year-old grandson that showed the locations of surrounding outbuildings, groves and pastures. Where possible, the character of the original house has been preserved in its interior, and I could not help but wonder if my Taylors, Green and Fereby, who had belonged to Kinchen C.’s father, had ever walked where I did. Even if not, they surely knew this house and were intimately familiar with its inhabitants.

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Many thanks to Mark Bunn for alerting me that this house is still standing and putting me in touch with its owners and to them for opening their doors to give me a glimpse of my family’s world.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History, Other Documents

Lucinda Cowles, also known as Lucinda Nicholson.

I give and bequeath to my beloved son Thomas A. the following Negroes to wit Carlos Nelson Lucinda and Joe.

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On 19 Nov 1850, James Nicholson wrote out his last will and testament. Two days later, before he could sign it, he slipped into death.  The document was registered 19 Jun 1852 in Will Book 4, page 666 at the Iredell County Register of Deeds Office. Nicholson’s only heirs were his widow Mary Allison Nicholson and sons Thomas A. and John M. Nicholson.  James left Thomas 185 acres and John 242 acres and gave them a 75-acre mill tract in common.  Mary Nicholson received slaves Milas, Dinah, Jack, Liza and Peter; John received slaves Elix, Paris and Daniel; and Thomas received the four named above.  In addition, James bequeathed Thomas and John slaves Manoe, Armstrong, Manless, Calvin and Soffie jointly.

Thomas A. Nicholson put Lucinda to work in his home preparing meals and otherwise caring for his family. As Thomas’ son James Lee Nicholson grew to adulthood, he took increasing notice of the woman who cooked his suppers, laundered his shirts and emptied his slops. In 1861, she gave birth to his first child, a daughter that she named Harriet Nicholson. Lucinda and Harriet remained in Thomas Nicholson’s household till Emancipation, when they were provided with a small house and other support.

As the story goes, Harriet did not learn her father’s identity until her mother was dying. Lee Nicholson passed away when Harriet was 10 years old, leaving a widow and two small boys. Lucinda may have died even earlier, as she has not been found in the 1870 census. She had one other child, a son named William H. Nicholson, whose father was Burwell Carson. On information supplied by Harriet, William’s death certificate lists Lucinda’s maiden name as Cowles. We know nothing else about her life.

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