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. 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 and was able to trace her back to the 1850 census where she was living in the household with Miles Lassiter. 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.” 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.”
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. 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. 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. 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. It seemed fair to say that fortune had continued to smile on him over the years.
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. 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. Is this the same Sarah Lassiter from the 1826 deed? Based on everything else I found, it was, but 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. 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. 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. 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) indicating she had likely died. Had something happened to make Miles lose his freedom? I had no idea.
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. 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.  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. 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.  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.
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).
 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
 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
 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
 Estate of Miles Lassiter/Charles and Ellen Mayo to Will Lassiter and Colon Lassiter. (1915). Deed Book 166: 91; Family History Library Microfilm #0470286.
 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
 Jesse Morgan to Miles Lassiter. (1815). Deed Book 13:402. Family History Library Microfilm #0019635.
 Sarah Lassiter and Miles Lassiter to Henry Newby. (1826). Deed Book 17:256. Family History Library Microfilm #0019636.
 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
 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.
 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
 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
 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
 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
 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
 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
 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.
 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
 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
 Miles Lassiter Obituary. (22 June 1850). Friends Review, III,700.