#52Ancestors – Week #12, Misfortune: Wiley’s story

Wiley Phillips Lassiter was born a free man since his mother, Healy Phillips, was a free woman of color even though his father, Miles Lassiter, was a slave.[1] According to the 1850 census, Wiley was a painter,[2] but later records indicate he was also a carriage maker.[3] Despite being born free and having skills, Wiley’s life would be plagued by misfortune.

There is no information about his formative years. His name was not found among the apprenticeship records like so many other young free children of color. However, by 1850 he was living independently, married to Elizabeth (Ridge)and with two daughters, Abagail and Nancy. As mentioned above, he is recorded as a painter. He could be assumed to be reasonably successful since the 1850 census said he owned real estate worth $500.[4]

Wiley Lassiter 1850 census

In 1850 he applied for a land grant, acquiring 100 acres finally in 1851.[5] By 1854, he had also received his share in the partition of his mother’s land, now that his father Miles had also died.[6] In 1854, he applied for a second land grant, this one for 59 acres, which he received in 1856.[7] In 1856, he used his property as collateral for securities and bonds posted in conjunction with a lawsuit he brought against Michael Bingham, a local white store owner. [8]

Wiley Phillips Land Grant 1851

Bingham had sued Wiley for money owed amounting to $600. Wiley countersued, charging that he had put carriages and horses on sale at Bingham’s sore in exchange for goods, but Bingham never properly reconciled the accounts. As a result, Wiley now ‘owed his soul’ to the store, as the song goes.[9] In addition, Bingham’s original suit against Wiley resulted in seven judgments against Wiley. Wiley was seeking redress from the courts. Judge John M. Dick felt the courts had done a “great injustice,” by allowing Bingham to recover the seven judgments. Dick ordered the judge in the original case to submit written documentation, including the judgments. He ordered Bingham to appear during the next court term to answer Wiley’s petition. Wiley was ordered to enter the bonds and securities. Wiley was able to acquire the money by taking a deed of trust with Robert G. Murdock on268 acres of land, including his inherited lands and the land grant.[10] He took a second deed of trust, also with Murdock, on his personal property including his home.[11]

In a cruel twist of fate, Bingham died before the next court session in the Spring of 1857.[12] As a result, the court required Wiley to withdraw his petition, leaving in place the seven judgments against him. Penniless and essentially homeless, Wiley appears to have moved to Fayetteville where he is recorded in the 1860 census,[13] most likely in hopes of having better business opportunities, and thus to be better able to care for his family. However, his misfortunes did not end there.

Wiley Lassiter sale notice

In May 1858, a notice appeared in the Fayetteville Weekly Observer.[14] It was a notice for the upcoming sale of a free man back into slavery because of monies owed to an Emsley Lassiter. The free man in question was Wiley. The notice said that Emsley had loaned Wiley money and that he had tried to be very patient about its repayment, but despite his patience, the money was still owed.  What was interesting was that Emsley was the grandson of Sarah Lassiter, Miles Lassiter’s owner. Based on all surviving information Sarah had been kind and even generous to Miles, making him her business manager and allowing him to live his life like a free man. She was legally constrained from freeing him in her lifetime, these practical freedoms were the best she could do. I find it interesting that Emsley was apparently helpful in loaning Wiley money, but ultimately held to the specifics of the business arrangement. Exactly what happened next is not clear, but all surviving evidence shows that Wiley was able to dodge that fate. A letter that has survived in the family indicates that some others may have come to his rescue, but ultimately leaving him in continued debt, not to Emsley any longer, but to another friend “Johnsey” Cranford, and his brother Colier.[15]

Wiley wrote to his brother Colier in August 1858, indicating that virtually the entire family had been ill.[16] They may have had scarlet fever which had reached epidemic proportions in 1858.[17] He indicated that his wife “Bettey” was very “lo,” [sic], unable to sit up or walk without assistance. He went on to explain that her illness stopped him from working putting him in debt from doctors’ bills. His said his sister Jane was staying with them trying to help out, but he was also paying her for her assistance, undoubtedly because it meant she could not work elsewhere as a result.  He explained that he had to keep working there because of his many debts. He said this would negatively impact Colier. In addition, he said that he had heard that “Johnsey Cranford” was about to lose his property because Johnsey had apparently borrowed against his land in order to send Wiley money. He wanted Colier to ask Johnsey to find a way to extend the deadline on those debts in order to give Wiley more time to raise the money needed to pay back what he owed. However, Wiley reiterated that, at the moment, he was at home making no money while he cared for his sick family members.[18] All family members, including his wife, seem to have recovered and were found still living in Fayetteville in 1860.[19] That would be the last entry found for Wiley.

Wiley Lassiter 1860 census

By 1870, Bettey and the children had returned to Randolph County, but there was no Wiley. [20] He could not be found either in Randolph County or Fayetteville. Had he died? It seems likely.  There is no indication of what their financial circumstances were. Had Wiley been able to pay off the debt? Had he returned with his family between 1860 and 1870? There’s no evidence one way or the other. Were other family members helping to maintain Bettey and her youngest children? Again, there is no information. Bettey, herself, would disappear from the records at this point. She was not in the 1880 census. It is assumed she had died.

If it can be assumed Wiley died before 1870, his death seems premature. Assuming he had also been ill at some point in 1858 when his family also was ill, he may have been potentially ill with scarlet fever. In the days before antibiotics, those who survived scarlet fever were often left with debilitating conditions, such as Rheumatic Heart Disease or kidney failure. Perhaps it was one last unfortunate turn that resulted in this seemingly early death for Wiley.[21]

References

[1] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter (111-115). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.).

[2] 1850 US Federal Census: Southern Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Willie [sic] Lassiter, head. NARA Roll: M432_641; Page: 136B; Image: 279. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00279/12941870?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657774/facts/citation/221780005648/edit/record

[3] Randolph County Genealogical Society. (Winter 1981). The Willie [sic] Lassiter Petition. The Genealogical Journal, V(1), 38-42.

[4]  1850 US Federal Census: Southern Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Willie [sic] Lassiter, head. NARA Roll: M432_641; Page: 136B; Image: 279. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00279/12941870?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657774/facts/citation/221780005648/edit/record

[5] North Carolina, Land Grant Files, 1693-1960 [Database on-line]. Wiley Lassiter, Entered 4 Jan 1850, Issued 29 Aug 1851. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/60621/44173_355629-00513/98608?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657774/facts/citation/960072979865/edit/record

[6] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. Henly [sic] Phillips Estate. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/9061/007384174_01225/1814897?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400616/facts/citation/960301203453/edit/record

[7] North Carolina, Land Grant Files, 1693-1960 [Database on-line]. W. P. Lassiter. Entered 4 Feb 1854, Issued 27 Dec 1856. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/60621/44173_355629-01001/98693?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657774/facts/citation/960072980059/edit/record

[8] Randolph County Genealogical Society. (Winter 1981). The Willie [sic] Lassiter Petition. The Genealogical Journal, V(1), 38-42.

[9] Tennessee Ernie Ford. (1955). Sixteen Tons Lyrics. Retrieved from: http://www.songlyrics.com/tennessee-ernie-ford/sixteen-tons-1955-lyrics/

[10] Wiley Phillips to Robert Murdock. (1856). Deed Book 29: 471. Family History Library Microfilm #0470233.

[11] Wiley Phillips to Robert Murdock. (1856). Deed Book 30: 326. Family History Library Microfilm #0470234.

[12] Willie [sic] Lassiter v Michael Bingham, (Sprint 1857). Minutes of the Superior Court and Court of Equity. Family History Library Microfilm #0470215.

[13] 1860 US Federal Census; Fayetteville, Cumberland, North Carolina; Wiley Lassiter (Index says “Sprister”). NARA Roll: M653_894; Page: 248; Image: 497; Family History Library Film: 803894. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237499_00497/41190920?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657774/facts/citation/221780004794/edit/record

[14] Notice of impending sale of Wiley P. Lassiter for debts by Emsley Lassiter. (5 May, 1858; 24 May 1858). Fayettevile Weekly Observer. Retrieved from: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/10089057/notice_of_impending_sale_of_wiley_p/?xid=637

[15] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter (111-115). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 113-114.

[16] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter (111-115). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 113-114.

[17] Healthline Editorial Team. (2016). 1858: Scarlet fever also came in waves. The Most Dangerous Epidemics in U.S. History. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/worst-disease-outbreaks-history#Scarletfever5

[18] Williams, M. L. (2011). Some Descendants of Miles Lassiter: Wiley Lassiter (111-115). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 113-114.

[19] 1860 US Federal Census; Fayetteville, Cumberland, North Carolina; Wiley Lassiter (Index says “Sprister”). NARA Roll: M653_894; Page: 248; Image: 497; Family History Library Film: 803894. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237499_00497/41190920?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657774/facts/citation/221780004794/edit/record

[20] 1870 US Federal Census: Asheboro, Randolph, North Carolina; Elizabeth Lassiter, head. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 287B; Image: 24; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4277632_00024/22961732?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36232181827/facts/citation/221782025459/edit/record

[21] What Are the Long Term Effects of Scarlet Fever? Reference. Retrieved from: https://www.reference.com/health/long-term-effects-scarlet-fever-1cff2d43682e4564

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