Feverish with malaria, friends and family at his side, Baalam Speight closed his eyes a final time on 21 December 1902, free of the pain that had wracked him for years. He left a widow, Hannah Sauls Speight, and nine children, but little otherwise to show for a lifetime of hard work. Hannah and youngest son, George Speight, just 13, faced uncertain times.
Baalam Speight was born about 1840 in Greene County. In the waning days of the Civil War, he and his brother Lafayette Edwards slipped away from their plantations to make their way to Morehead City, North Carolina. There, in March 1865, they enlisted in Company H, 14th United Stated States Colored Heavy Artillery. Baalam had not yet adopted his father’s surname and joined the army as “Baalam Edwards.” He and his company served garrison duty at Fort Macon until mustered out on 11 December 1865. In 1890 and again in 1892, 1895 and 1896, Baalam applied to the U.S. government for a veteran’s pension. Though he once been a “well developed, powerful built man,” he complained of “fluttering of the heart,” muscle pains, eye disease as a result of measles, rheumatism, lumbago, deafness and “misery in the head” attributable to exposure during his military service. Several doctor’s examinations concluded, however, that Baalam’s troubles were primarily attributable to old age, and his claims were rejected.
Despite Baalam’s failed attempts, Hannah Speight squared her shoulders and filed a widow’s claim in June 1903. It was assigned No. 786,944. Her burden? To prove that she and Baalam were legally married and never divorced. What might have been a straightforward task was complicated by the fact that Greene County’s courthouse had burned down with everything in it and the magistrate who had performed the ceremony was overworked and often drunk. Hannah turned to neighbors and friends to make her case, and nearly a dozen were deposed over the course of several days in August 1904. In addition to corroborating Hannah’s account of her marriage, they present a trove of personal information about the lives of Hannah and Baalam’s circle:
- Mariah Moore – midwife; 78 years old in 1904; lives near Kinston, Lenoir County; delivered Baalam and Hannah’s youngest son George Speight; her unnamed husband died in July 14 years ago.
- Maria Loftin — about 62 years old, wife of Cornelius Loftin; lives near Kinston; lived on Harvey plantation at same time as Balaam Speight and recalled his marriage. “I used to patch his clothes before he was married … I was freed by Lincoln and staid on Bear Creek four years then I went to near Snow Hill on Harvey place where I met Baalam and I staid there two years.”
- Cain D. Sauls – Lives in Snow Hill, Greene County NC. “I am 40 years of age … merchant. I am second cousin of the claimant Hannah Speight. Her maiden name was Hannah Sauls. I have known her all my life ….[She and Balham] lived in this county but I don’t know where they lived as I saw them only when they visited my people.” [Only witness who signed his own name. All others signed with X.]
- Viola Edwards – Lives in Bull Head, Greene County. “I don’t know my age, am 50 or more. … Wife of LaFayette Edwards. … I lived just across the creek from [Hanna Sauls] when she married Baalam Speight. … I recollect that they were on the plantation next to the one I lived on at that time. It was the Rawls plantation …. I did not know Jennie the slave wife of Baalam Edwards ….”
- Grace Harper – about 62 years old, wife of Lewis Harper, lives in Snow Hill. “I knew Balham Speight as a boy before he went away to go into the army. … I had known Hannah Sauls as a girl and lived in two miles of her before she married Balham Speight. … I think they had one child before they lived at Kinston … Yes Hannah had a child by Loderick Artist before her marriage to Balham Speight, but she did not marry or live with him or any other man until she married Balham. …”
- Mary Shepard – About 70 years old, lives near Snow Hill. Widow of Marcus Shepard. “I knew [Hannah’s] aunt Becca [Best.] … They lived around here about two years after they were married and then moved away to Lenoir Co. … Baalam Speight was a brother of Fate Edwards. He was always called Baalam Speight. I think he was owned by Jim Edwards and that his father was Reddin Speight. … It seems to me that Hannah had a boy by Loderick Artist before her marriage to Baalam Speight …”
- Lewis Harper – Lives in Snow Hill. “I am about 65 years of age … laborer…. I was born and raised in Greene County and knew Balham Speight as a boy. We lived about 3 miles apart and were right often together before he went away to go into the army. … I knew when Balham Speight was married to Hannah Sauls, it was not mighty long after the war. It may have been two or three years after. … They did not remain near Snow Hill very long until they moved to Kinston where they remained afterwards up to his death. … Hannah had a child by the man Loderick Artist a year and a half before she married Balham while she was living with her parents. … Loderick Artist was my brother and is dead.“
- LaFayette Edwards – 63 years of age, lives in Bull Head, Greene County. “I served as a corporal of Co. H, 14 U.S.C.H.A. and knew Baalam Edwards of that company; he was my brother and our father was Reddin Speight. In slave time I belonged to Ap. Edwards and he belonged to his brother Orfa Edwards. We were raised and enlisted, served and discharged together. After he came out of the army he worked in turpentine one year or so in S.C. or Georgia. … After that he came back and lived on Hill place near Kinston. But for two or three years after he came from the South he lived out near Snow Hill. He was married close to Jno. Harvey plantation to Hannah Sauls daughter of Shepard Sauls. … I know they were married by law as there was no taking up with each other in those days. … Before he married Hannah Baalam had lived with a woman named Jennie Suggs in slave time. She died while we were in the service. I did not go to the burial, but we were at Morehead City not far away when she died and heard of her death at the time.”
- Peter Hood – 64 years old, farmer and pensioner, lives near Kinston. “I was a pvt. in Co H, 14 U.S.C.H.A. and knew Baalam Edwards. He was in my company and I was witness for him when he was trying to get pension. … He was a sort light complected spare somewhat tall man. I don’t know his height. I reckon he was about as tall as you (about 5 ft. 10 in.)”
- Isaac Edwards alias Eddis — 67 year-old farmer. “I am not a pensioner but I served as a pvt. in Co. H, 14 U.S.C.H.A from Mch. 8, 1865 to Dec. 11, 1865. I knew a man named Baalam Edwards in my company. I had known him before we went into the army and we had both belonged to Betsy Edwards in slave time and lived not far apart. His father was Reddin Speight. He used the name of his mistress in the army and after he came out of the army he went by the name of his father Speight. … [H]e was married to a woman named Hannah Sauls. This was the first wife of Baalam Edwards except that he had a slave wife named Jennie.” “Baalam Edwards was not sick and did not get hurt in the army, except that he had mumps at Ft. Macon. He was a long slim, not very dark, dark hair and eyes. I am six feet high, he was not quite as tall as I am.”
- Francis Williams — 70 year-old pensioner. “I was a corporal in Co. I, 14 U.S.C.H.A. and I knew Balham Speight. He was a member of my regiment.” [C.D. Sauls signed as witness.]
The testimony was satisfactory, and Hannah was granted a pension of $10/month.
A document in this pension file lists Baalam’s children as Charles, born 12 April 1870; Nancy Susan, 19 February 1872; Lizzie, 8 March 1874; Claiborn, 30 March 1876; Major, 27 September 1879; James, 8 April 1882; Franklin, 19 June 1885; Luvenia, 5 April 1887; and George Meade Speight, 26 September 1889. Census records reveal a tenth child, who was oldest. Lemon Speight’s Lenoir County death certificate lists his birthdate as 27 April 1867 — about a year-and-a-half before Baalam and Hannah married in late 1869. The certificate also names Baalam as Lemon’s father, but, as several witnesses testified, he was in fact the son of Loderick Artis.
The file reveals other tantalizing tidbits, in italics, related to my family. How were Loderick Artis and Lewis Harper brothers? On their mother’s side? Or through Loderick’s father Daniel Artis? Cain Sauls, who was Loderick’s nephew, testified that he was Hannah’s second cousin. Her parents were Rosetta Best and Sheppard Sauls. Who was Sheppard to Cain?
Deposition of Cain D. Sauls, 8 August 1904.
File #786944, Application of Hannah Speight for Widow’s Pension, National Archives and Records Administration. Hat tip to Trisha Blount Hewitt for pointing out the mention of Loderick Artis in Baalam Speight’s file, #988961, which is included in Hannah’s file.