#52Ancestors – Week #11-Lucky: Finding Miles

There have been many lucky moments when it comes to my research into the life of my 4th great grandfather, Miles Lassiter of Randolph County, North Carolina. From my earliest research efforts, I’ve been lucky with this one. My first clues from my 2nd great grandmother’s (Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo) death certificate in 1920 led me almost straight to Miles.[1] Having learned that the maiden name of my 3rd great grandmother was Nancy Lassiter, and her married name was Nancy Dunson/Dunston, I quickly found her in the 1880 census[2] and was able to trace her back to the 1850 census where she was living in the household with Miles Lassiter.[3] They were free people of color. The relationship to Miles was confirmed in a deed from my 2nd great grandmother (Ellen) to apparent Lassiter cousins (Will Lassiter and Colon Lassiter) which said the lands originated in the “Division of Lands of Miles Lassiter.”[4] I had struck genealogy gold it seemed, compared to my research on my direct line Williams family wherein I had not struck gold, but rather the proverbial, but very real “brick wall.”

Ellen Mayo deed to Will Lassiter

I was amazed to find that I would be able to mine a lot more information on Miles, with relatively little effort. First, I continued looking back in the census. Although I did not find Miles in the 1840 census, I did find him in the 1830 census as a free head of household.[5] Since both the 1830 and 1840 censuses only name heads of household, not the individual household members, I would not be able to confirm other than by extrapolation, that Nancy was in the household. I knew also that in 1840 it was possible that Miles was living in someone else’s household whose name I did not know, but whose name appeared on the census while Miles’ name did not.

In the deeds, I learned that Miles bought 100 acres in 1815.[6] He also sold it in 1826 with a co-signer, Sarah Lassiter, who did not appear on the 1815 deed of purchase and who was white.[7] I assumed there was some relationship, but for the moment exact what relationship was not clear.  I thought this was interesting. I thought he must have been fortunate to purchase such a substantial piece of land in 1815 but wondered what prompted its sale in 1826. I would learn later that political winds had shifted taking some of the freedoms and safety of free people of color with them. However, although I did not find another deed for any land purchases, by 1850, according to the census, Miles again owned property valued at $590.[8] It seemed fair to say that fortune had continued to smile on him over the years.

Miles 1815 Deed

In 1807, in the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Session minutes, I found Miles mentioned along with two other men named Jack Lassiter and Samuel Lassiter, assigned to road maintenance.[9] I found something else in the court minutes, indications that his life had not been all good fortune. Perhaps more to the point, the information was somewhat confusing.

In February 1840, Letters of Administration were issued for the estate of Sarah Lassiter, including papers regarding the estate of Ezekiel Lassiter.[10] Is this the same Sarah Lassiter from the 1826 deed? Based on everything else I found, it was, but[11] who was Ezekiel? Sarah was known to have a grandson Ezekiel, but he was alive and well, in fact he was one of three who posted bond for the Letters of Administration. He did not die until 1865.[12] These Letters were followed by the account of sale of the property of Sarah and Ezekiel. Sarah’s property was the usual, beds and tables and cows and horses, etc., but Ezekiel’s property sale was very interesting. His property was sold on the same day as Sarah’s. There were only three “Negro” men: Miles, Jack, and Samuel.[13] Miles was bought by “Heley,” a free woman, for $0.05; Jack by “Colier,” a free man, for $12.50, but Samuel was sold to Sawney Cranford, a local Quaker. Seems Samuel had run away. He was captured in the Raleigh area. Expenses associated with his recapture needed to be recouped, thus he was sold for $263. Heley I would learn was his wife, and Colier his son. In fact, Colier was among his apparent children in his household in the 1850 census.[14] This raised some questions. All other records in which Miles’ name had appeared indicated he was a free man, including the 1830 census. Suddenly in 1840, we have records in which he is referred to as a slave. He was free again in 1850, probably as a result of his purchase by “Heley,” whose name did not appear in the 1850 census, (even though it was her name I would find in the 1840 census[15]) indicating she had likely died. Had something happened to make Miles lose his freedom? I had no idea.

Letters of Admin Ezekiel & Sarah Lassiter

I had one other piece of information about his life. In 1845 Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy indicated that Miles had requested membership in Back Creek Monthly Meeting.[16] However, there was no indication of the results. Miles’ name did not appear in any censuses after 1850, indicating he had died. Various land transactions and lawsuits involving Colier and the other children over the next several years supported that conclusion. Thus, I had a fairly good picture of Miles’ life, I thought. I had searched many different record types. I figured that whatever else there was to learn would have to fall into my lap. Famous last words.

One night in the early 1990s, I was at a party. Google was just becoming a popular search engine. A friend was talking about putting one’s own name into Google and being surprised by what came up. “Try it,” she admonished, “you’ll be shocked at what information about you is on there.” So, one night I was sitting at the computer idly. I thought, “Why not?” So, I put my name in the search line. The information that came up was somewhat predictable. There appeared the titles of several articles I had written over the years. One of those was about Miles. “Why not put Miles’ name in?” I thought. I was stunned. I stared at the screen. Up had come an article in the Journal of Negro History, written in 1936, about African American members of the Society of Friends. Miles was one of those being featured. [17]  It explained that he had been a slave until the 1840 estate sale. It mentioned that he had become a Quaker in 1845. The only other member in North Carolina had been Isaac Linegar, in 1801. It had taken him four years to be admitted.[18] The article went on to say that he was the only African American Quaker in the state of North Carolina when he died in 1850. It also mentioned there was an obituary that had been published in Friends Review. [19] I quickly obtained a copy. It explained that he had been born a slave, that his owner had died leaving him to the widow as long as she lived, that he was the business manager for his mistress, that he was married to a free woman and together they had acquired a large property adjacent to his mistress, that once his mistress had died he was sold to his wife. It went on to say that he had indeed been accepted into the Society of Friends, and in 1850 when he died, he was the only African American Quaker in the state of North Carolina.

Doc 8-Miles Obituary Friends Review

By any measure Miles had been lucky overall. He had been given opportunities and he had taken advantage of them. He had been fortunate enough to not only enjoy many benefits of freedom while still a slave, but ultimately to be a free man at a time when so many others were not. I was lucky because I had been able to uncover so much about his life. I am even luckier because he was my 4th great grandfather, and I know my good fortune rests very much on his shoulders.

To learn more about my research on Miles Lassiter, see Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Backintyme Publishing).

References

[1] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Ellen Mayo, 12 Jun 1920. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1121/S123_110-2318/842351?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221711655280/edit/record

[2]  1880 US Federal Census; New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina, E.D. 223, p. 184A. Nancy Dunson, head. NARA Roll: 978; Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4243412-00659?pid=19787325&backurl=https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv%3D1%26dbid%3D6742%26h%3D19787325%26ssrc%3Dpt%26tid%3D66453873%26pid%3D36156400421%26usePUB%3Dtrue&ssrc=pt&treeid=66453873&personid=36156400421&hintid=&usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true

[3] 1850 US Federal Census; Southern Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Miles Lassiter head; Nancy Lassiter. NARA Roll: M432-641; Page: 136B; Image: 279. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00279/12941849?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400421/facts/citation/221710705417/edit/record#?imageId=4204420_00279

[4] Estate of Miles Lassiter/Charles and Ellen Mayo to Will Lassiter and Colon Lassiter. (1915). Deed Book 166: 91; Family History Library Microfilm #0470286.

[5] 1830 US Census; Census Place: Regiment 1, Randolph, North Carolina; Smiles [sic-index] Lassiter, head. Page: 7; NARA Roll M19-125; Family History Film: 0018091. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8058/4410684_00017/242848?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400532/facts/citation/221710701113/edit/record

[6] Jesse Morgan to Miles Lassiter. (1815). Deed Book 13:402. Family History Library Microfilm #0019635.

[7] Sarah Lassiter and Miles Lassiter to Henry Newby. (1826). Deed Book 17:256. Family History Library Microfilm #0019636.

[8] 1850 US Federal Census; Southern Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Miles Lassiter head. NARA Roll: M432-641; Page: 136A. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00278/12941844?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400532/facts/citation/221436746765/edit/record

[9] Road Maintenance Assignment. (1807). Miles Lassiter, Jack Lassiter, and Samuel Lassiter. Minutes of the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Family History Library Microfilm #0470210.

[10] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. Estate of Sarah Lassiter, including Estate of Ezekiel Lassiter, Letters of Administration. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/9061/007383993_00516/1055004?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36238403974/facts/citation/960193128235/edit/record#?imageId=007383993_00518

[11] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. Estate of Sarah Lassiter, including Estate of Ezekiel Lassiter, Account of Sale of Estate of Ezekiel Lassiter. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/9061/007383993_00516/1055004?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36238403974/facts/citation/960193128235/edit/record#?imageId=007383993_00528

[12] U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Ezekiel Lassiter, 11 Mar 1865. Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/60051008

[13] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. Estate of Sarah Lassiter, including Estate of Ezekiel Lassiter, Inventory. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/9061/007383993_00516/1055004?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36238403974/facts/citation/960193128235/edit/record#?imageId=007383993_00522

[14] 1850 US Federal Census; Southern Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Miles Lassiter head; Colier Lassiter. NARA Roll: M432-641; Page: 136B; Image: 279. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00279/12941849?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400421/facts/citation/221710705417/edit/record#?imageId=4204420_00279

[15] 1840 US Federal Census; South Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Heley Phillips, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 65; Image: 136; Family History Library Film: 0018097. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8057/4410817_00136/1646123?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400616/facts/citation/221710701383/edit/record

[16] Hinshaw, William Wade, et al., compilers. (Reprint, 1991–1994). Miles Lassiter. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy: North Carolina (1936–1950, 6 volumes), I, 723. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co.

[17] Cadbury, H. (1936). Negro Membership in the Society of Friends (Part 3). Journal of Negro History, 21,180-209. Retrieved from: http://www.qhpress.org/quakerpages/qwhp/hcjnh3.htm

[18] Cadbury, H. (1936). Negro Membership in the Society of Friends (Part 2). Journal of Negro History, 21,151-180. Retrieved from: http://www.qhpress.org/quakerpages/qwhp/hcjnh2.htm

[19] Miles Lassiter Obituary. (22 June 1850). Friends Review, III,700.

#52Ancestors –Week 5: Miles in the Census

One of my early surprise successes in genealogy was finding Miles Lassiter, my maternal 4th great grandfather. I had learned from my 2nd great grandmother’s (Ellen) death certificate that my 3rd great grandmother’s maiden name was Nancy Lassiter, so I had gone looking for her in the census. I had worked my way backwards using her married name, Dunson, also learned from the same death certificate.[1]

Margaret Lee Williams - my mother
Margaret Lee Williams, my mother

I found her first as a widow in the 1880 census.[2] Ellen, or Grandma Ellen as my mother (Margaret) called her, was married and living elsewhere, but her sister Adelaide, whom my mother knew, was still in the household.  I moved back to the 1870 census. Both Nancy and her husband Calvin Dunson were living together with some of their children,[3] again, not including Grandma Ellen who was married and whom I had identified with her family living nearby in Randolph County.[4]

My mother knew almost nothing beyond Grandma Ellen. Grandma Ellen had died when my mother was about six years old, too young to really ask anything about her family history. For whatever reason nothing was passed down beyond that, so I had no real information about whether Nancy was free before 1865 or not. I figured I should see what I found, so I looked for her. There she was in 1860, with her husband Calvin, and this time with Grandma Ellen. The census said Ellen (EAllen) was about nine years old.[5] “Well,” I reasoned, “why don’t I keep looking? I wonder if she’s (Nancy) in the 1850 census?” So, I looked. Yes, there she was! She was living in the household with an older man, old enough to be her father, Miles Lassiter.[6] He was head of household. Also, in the household were some other young people who could very likely be her siblings: Abigail, Collier, Jane, and John. Another young person, Parthena, may have been a cousin, since she was listed in a different place in the order, but at this point I did not actually know the details. Also, in the household was another older man, Samuel, who could be Miles’ brother. One issue, of course, with the 1850 census is that relationships are not recorded. If you don’t already know the relationships, or cannot confirm them in the 1880 census, where they are for the first time recorded, you just can’t be sure.

I was feeling like I was on a roll, so I decided to see just how far back I could go. I looked at the 1840 census, but didn’t see anything. I’m not sure why I didn’t stop there, but I decided to see if there was anything in 1830. To my surprise, there he was, Miles Lassiter, free man of color.[7] I am still amused by noting that whoever did the indexing wrote it as Smiles, because the person recording his name on the census form seems to have written his first name over another name that started with “S,” but in doing so did not obliterate the “S,” leading the indexer to believe the “S” was part of his name.  Of course, the 1830 census is even more enigmatic than the 1850 census, because before 1850, only the head of household’s name is recorded. I could count tic marks, but it really wouldn’t mean anything without other information from other records. For that reason, Miles’ absence from the 1840 census, which also did not record names beyond head of household, didn’t necessarily mean anything. After all, he could have been living in someone else’s household, someone whose name I did not know and therefore, I had no way of confirming where he was. The only thing I could surmise at this point was that, he was a free man of color and, although he was not listed in the 1840 census, he was still alive in 1850, but not recorded in 1860, or beyond. Looking farther back was not possible because the 1820 census for Randolph County no longer exists and Miles was either too young or not financially independent enough to be head of his own household any farther back than that, or not even free any farther back. 1830 was as far back as I was able to go in the census.

I could assume that Miles had died sometime after 1850 and before 1860 by noting what because of those who were in the house with him in 1850. In 1860, as noted above, my 3rd great grandmother Nancy was living with her husband, Calvin, and their children. Collier, here called “Cal,” whom I believed to be her brother, was living nearby, apparently married and with two children; in his household, also, were two people who had been in Miles’ 1850 household, Samuel, who might be Miles’ brother and Abigail, who might be Collier and Nancy’s older sister.[8] Most of this information would be confirmed in later censuses, although Samuel would not live long enough to have his relationship recorded in the 1880 census. Abigail, about whom I wrote in a previous post, would live until sometime after 1910, and have her relationship as a sister confirmed in the census and other documents as well.

What the census could not tell me at that time was how long Miles had been free. Was he born free? If not, when was he freed? Who was his wife? Were these all his children? Who were his parents, and, of course, when did he actually die? Those questions would have to be answered another time, after a lot more research. Right then what was exciting was that I could tell my mother that she had free ancestors. Her response was priceless. “Yes,” she had heard that from her grandmother, Louise (who raised her and her sister), when she was a child. Of course, she had thought her grandmother was wrong and, well, crazy, because everyone knew that black people had been slaves! No teachers had ever said anything about free people of color. She really hadn’t learned anything more.

Mary Louse Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram circa 1915 (2)
Mary Louise Smitherman Phillips Floyd Ingram

In fairness, my mother was raised primarily in Elizabeth, New Jersey, away from most of her relatives. In fact, until I started this research around 1976, she’d never even heard of, or met, most of the people we would come to meet and with whom we would spend time in the coming years. Her grandmother, Louise, died in 1936,[9] only a year after my mother married and when my mother was still very young (22). It hadn’t occurred to her to interview (“grill”) her grandmother about their family history. My mother thought whoever was back in North Carolina from her grandmother’s time was undoubtedly dead. Little did she know.

I followed the family forward in the census, particularly the family of Collier/Colier/Calier. At the time, only the 1900 census was available. I was able to determine that there were descendants still living in the same community that Nancy and Grandma Ellen had lived. By this time, Abigail was living in the home of Colier’s son, Ulysses Winston (called Winston). He was married and had several children, Mable, Vella, Will, and Calier.[10] It was possible that in the early 1980s when I was doing this part of the research, one of them might still be alive, or their children, I thought. All I had to do was find a way to meet them, but that’s a story for another day.

[1] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Ancestry.com. Ellen Mayo, date of death: 12 June 1920; Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina; Father: Calvin Dunston [sic]; Mother: Nancy Lassiter. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1121/S123_110-2318/842351?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221711655280/edit/record

[2] 1880 US Federal Census; Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Nancy Dunson, “widow,” head. NARA Roll T9_978; Family History Film: 1254978; Page 1A. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4243412-00659/19787325?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400421/facts/citation/221710705046/edit/record

[3] 1870; Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head. Roll: M593_1156; Page: 400B; Image: 250; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4277632_00250/22963668?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400421/facts/citation/221710705187/edit/record

[4] 1870 US Federal Census; Census Place: Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Anderson Smitherman, head; Ellen Smitherman. NARA Roll: M593_1156; Page: 506A; Image: 465; Family History Library Film: 552655. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4277632_00465/22966086?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221436707299/edit/record

[5] 1860 US Federal Census; Free Population. Census Place: Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Calvin Dunson, head; Nancy Dunson; EAllen Dunson. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237516_00429/38955713?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156399534/facts/citation/221436707272/edit/record

[6] 1850 US Federal Census; Free Population. Census Place: Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Miles Lassiter, head; Nancy Lassiter. NARA Roll: M432_641; Page: 136A & B; Image: 278 & 279. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4204420_00278/12941844?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400532/facts/citation/221436746765/edit/record#?imageId=4204420_00278

[7] 1830 US Federal Census; Census Place: Regiment 1, Randolph County, North Carolina; Miles (“Smiles”) Lassator, head. NARA Series: M19; Roll Number: 125; Page: 7; Family History Film: 0018091. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8058/4410684_00017/242848?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400532/facts/citation/221710701113/edit/record

[8] 1860 US Federal Census; Census Place: Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Cal Lassiter, head. Samuel Lassiter; Abigail Lassiter. NARA Roll: M653_910; Page: 212; Image: 429; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4237516_00429/38955682?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231657676/facts/citation/221782038907/edit/record

[9] State of New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate and Record of Death. Louise Ingram, Date of Death: 11 April 1936; Certificate Registered #436C. Copy in the possession of the author.

[10] 1900 US Federal Census; Population Schedule. Census Place: New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Winson [sic] Lassiter, head; Mabel Lassiter, daughter; Vella Lassiter, daughter; Will Lassiter, son; Calier C. Lassiter, son; Abbigail Lassiter, aunt. NARA Roll: 1213; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL microfilm: 1241213. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4117841_00117/50368995?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36231719026/facts/citation/221780081585/edit/record