#52Ancestors – (16) Storms: Ellen Dunson Smitherman vs. Adelaide Dunson Kearns

This week I had a wonderful surprise when I was contacted by a descendant of my 2nd great grandmother Ellen Dunson Smitherman’s sister, Adelaide Dunson Kearns. Adelaide’s descendant, Marva and I have each been researching the family’s history for years, but we did not know about each other. I knew about Marva’s ancestor Adelaide, her great grandmother.  My mother, Margaret (who was Ellen’s great granddaughter), had met her at least a couple of times when a child, but there was no sustained contact. What had really struck me as I did my research was that Adelaide was known to other cousins in our home community of Lassiter Mill, in Randolph County, North Carolina, but no one knew about my mother, even though she had lived nearby in Asheboro for a couple of years. Marva didn’t know about her either.

How did this separation occur? There are many storms in life. Some a result of weather events, such as hurricanes. We’ve seen a lot related to these this past year with Harvey and Maria and their aftermath. However, there are also the storms that blow through our lives leaving psychological scars, or economic damage. Those storms can also result in rifts in families leaving family members alienated, and their descendants unaware of each other’s existence. That seems to be what happened between Ellen and Adelaide.

Nancy Dunson Grave Marker
“Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” Memorial Plaque, Asheboro Old City Cemetery, includes name of Nancy Dunson

In 1890, Nancy Phillips Lassiter Dunson died. There was no will for Nancy or for her husband, Calvin, who had died about ten years earlier.[1] The land on which Nancy lived and had inherited from her parents, Miles Lassiter and Healy Phillips Lassiter, should have been distributed to her children or, if deceased, to their heirs. Those heirs were: Ellen Dunson Smitherman (later Mayo), Adelaide Dunson Kearns, Harris Dunson, William Dunson, heir of Nancy’s daughter Sarah Rebecca Dunson, and Mamie Hill, heir of Nancy’s daughter Martha Ann Dunson Hill. [2] However, Ellen had purchased the share of their brother, Harris, giving her two shares in the land to inherit.[3] In 1892, Adelaide and her husband, Solomon Kearns, seem to have taken exception to that and proceeded to sue Ellen, her husband Anderson Smitherman, and the other siblings, asking the court to divide the land equally among all concerned, presumably negating the purchase by Ellen.[4] As part of that partition, a guardian was appointed for William Dunson (said to be about 16 years of age) and Mamie Hill, said to be a child about eight or nine years old. A family friend, J. W. Birkhead, was appointed.[5]

About this time another family death occurred, that of Nancy’s brother, Colier Phillips Lassiter, also without a will. Colier’s descendants lived on adjoining lands also inherited from their parents, Miles and Healy. Two additional siblings of Nancy and Colier, Abigail and Jane, also had interests in these lands. At least, that’s how the courts viewed things. Rather than simply deciding the distribution of the lands per the request of Adelaide and her husband, Solomon, the courts determined that the entire property needed to be distributed to all heirs involved.

In 1893, the court issued a final decree, dividing the properties where all parties lived as one inheritance. The court awarded the lands where Colier’s heirs lived to them as an entity, calling it the Colier Lassiter Tract. Shares were awarded to Abigail and Jane each. Nancy Dunson’s tract was then divided. Unfortunately for Adelaide and Solomon, not as they hoped. The purchase of Harris Dunson’s share by Ellen was upheld. The courts therefore awarded Ellen two shares, but only one share to Adelaide.[6]

A couple of years later, Ellen and Anderson separated. It could have had something to do with this lawsuit; family in-fighting can be stressful. On the other hand, it may have been related to the fact that Anderson had fathered a child by another woman in 1875, years after he and Ellen had married[7] and already had two children,[8] undoubtedly creating another storm.[9]  Hard to say for sure, however.  Regardless the reason, Ellen would remarry by 1900, to Charlie Mayo.[10] Anderson would remarry as well, to Victoria Bell, in 1901.[11]

Ellen Mayo deed to Will Lassiter
Deed from Ellen Dunson Smitherman Mayo to William Lassiter and Colon Lassiter from the “Division of Lands of Miles Lassiter,” representing her inherited shares of land.

Ellen and Charlie[12] as well as Anderson and Victoria[13] would end up living in Asheboro, leaving behind Lassiter Mill and the land they had won in court; leaving Adelaide and Solomon behind as well. Ellen eventually sold the land she was awarded to descendants of Colier Lassiter,[14] not to her sister Adelaide and her husband, Solomon. I can’t help but think this was a deliberate snub. After all, Adelaide and Solomon were still living in the area.[15] Adelaide had very likely sued so that she could have an opportunity to make her own offer to her brother Harris for his share, a plan that didn’t work out. My mother, Ellen’s great granddaughter, said no one ever took her to the Lassiter Mill area when she was living in Asheboro, although she visited her great grandmother Ellen’s house often. In addition, once my mother and her grandmother, (Mary) Louise, moved to New Jersey, after Ellen’s death, she never returned to North Carolina at all until I took her in 1982.[16] It’s hard not to conclude that the fight over the land didn’t create at least some bad blood between Ellen and Adelaide.

Fortunately, the story does not end there. Through our respective genealogy research efforts resulting in our public family trees on Ancestry and the ability to send messages to tree owners, Marva and I have the opportunity to bring about healing and the reunification of our respective personal branches grown from our shared family roots.

Sula Kearns Eller 2
Nancy Ursula “Sula” Kearns Eller, daughter of Adelaide and Solomon Kearns, and Marva’s grandmother.

Endnotes

[1] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston [sic]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[2] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston [sic]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] J. H. and Phoebe A. Dunson to Ellen Smitherman. Randolph County Deed Book 144:216. F(amily) H(istory) L(ibrary) (Microfilm)#0470278.

[4] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston [sic]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[5] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. William Dunston [sic]. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[6] Anderson Smitherman, et al. v. Solomon Kearns, et Ux. Final Decree. Randolph County Superior Court Orders and Decrees, Volume 2:308-309, FHL #0475265. See also: Randolph County Deed Book 248: 156. FHL #0470851.

[7] North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [Database on-line]. Anderson Smitherman and Ellen Dunson, 23 Sep 1865, Randolph County. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[8] 1870 US Federal Census, Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Anderson Smitherman, head; Mary L., daughter, born about 1867. NARA Roll: M593-1156; Page: 506A; Image: 465; FHL #552655. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

See also: 1880 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Ande Smither (sic – says Smitherman on the original), head; Mary L., daughter, born about 1867; and Emory W., son, born about 1873. NARA Roll: 978; Page: 185C; Enumeration District: 223. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[9] North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [Database on-line]. Annie Steele; Father: Anderson Smitherman. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[10] No record identified to date. See: 1910 US Federal Census; Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina; Charles Mayho, head; Ellen, wife. NARA Roll: T624-1128; Page: 22B; Enumeration District: 0076; FHL #1375141. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[11] North Carolina, Marriage Collection, 1741-2004 [Database on-line]. Victoria Bell and Anderson Smitherman, 16 Apr 1901, Asheboro, Randolph County. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[12] 1910 US Federal Census; Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina; Charles Mayho, head; Ellen, wife. NARA Roll: T624-1128; Page: 22B; Enumeration District: 0076; FHL #1375141. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[13] Death Notice Anderson Smitherman, 8 Jul 1909. The Randolph Bulletin, p. 5. Retrieved from: Newspapers.com

[14] Estate of Miles Lassiter/Charles and Ellen Mayo to Will Lassiter and Colon Lassiter, Randolph County Deed Book 166:91, FHL #0470286.

[15] 1900 US Federal Census; New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina; Solomon Kearns, head; Adilade Kearns, wife. NARA Roll: 1213; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0090; FHL #1241213. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[16] Williams, M. (2011). Grandma Ellen. 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 and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.).

#52Ancestors – Taxes:

Tax lists can help fill in information between census years. It can provide information on land ownership, a reference point for life events, how many of the household members are taxable, and what other personal property may exist because it was taxable. Tax lists have helped me clarify information on various ancestors.

Miles Lassiter

The old barn, Lassiter Family Farm, Lassiter Mill Road
Land owned by Miles Lassiter  inherited by his descendants

Miles Lassiter bought land in 1815 and subsequently sold it in 1826. That information seemed to indicate that he was aa free man of color. I had other information that corroborated that. One place I looked for confirmation was in the Randolph County tax lists. I looked for him in tax records and was disappointed at first. It did not seem that he was represented in the tax records. I thought that odd since, as I said, he had bought property in 1815. In looking at the 1820 tax list, I didn’t see it right away. It required learning additional information before recognizing his presence in the tax list. He was actually a slave married to a free woman of color, Healy Phillips. When looking through the list I realized he was not listed as Miles Lassiter. He was listed as Miles Phillip, a free man of color.[1] The tax registrar had used Healy’s surname. This was a singular name. There was no other Miles Phillip(s) in the county at that time, either white or of color.

 

Properties belonging to Miles and Healy have come down to descendants to the present day. Information in the various deeds and court cases which I discovered while researching my first book about my discovery of Miles Lassiter as my ancestor have provided valuable information to help sort out proper land boundaries.[2]

Lela Virginia Farnell Williams

Lela Virginia Farnell
Lela Virginia Farnell Williams, 1876-1914

My grandmother, Lela Virginia Farnell Williams, wrote in her autograph book, bible, and the inside flap of a book on the life of Queen Victoria, that she was born 28 September 1876, in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida.[3] I had found her in the 1880 census with her parents, Randel and Sallie (Jacobs) Farnell. I tried to confirm that she was born in Live Oak by locating her father in the tax records. However, there was no evidence of her father in Suwannee County in 1876. The earliest that he could be found was 1877. I began to believe that she was possibly born in 1877 rather than 1876. I had found Randel in neighboring Columbia County in the 1870 census. I turned to the tax records for Columbia County. They revealed that Randel had not left Columbia County when the 1876 tax list was compiled. Once leaving Columbia County for Suwannee County, where his wife’s (Sallie) parents lived, there is no evidence that the family ever returned to Columbia County.[4] Assuming the 1876 date was accurate for Lela’s birth, she was born in Columbia County, but since she lived in Live Oak her entire childhood, from infancy, she may not have known that she was actually born in Lake City.

Joshua W. Williams

Ellin Wilson
Ellin Wilson Williams, 1854-1920

When “Aunt Lutie” was passing on stories of our Williams family, she stated that Josh owned a lot of property in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida. I set about locating information that would corroborate that story. I looked in the deeds but only found one deed for property to be used for a school. That agreed with information that he had been a teacher. I looked in the tax records but only found one entry in 1877. However, that entry indicated that it was really his wife Ellen’s (Wilson) property. Upon further research, I was able to determine that the land to which my aunt was referring was land belonging to Joshua’s wife’s family, including her mother and step-father, Frances and Alex Gainer.[5]

Thus, taxes can be a very useful tool in resolving our genealogical questions.

References

[1] Randolph County Genealogical Society. 1820 Tax List. Randolph County, North Carolina: Miles Phillip. Asheboro, NC: Randolph County Genealogical society.

[2] See, Williams, M. (2011). 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.)

[3] Williams, M. L. (1998). The Autograph Book of Lela Virginia Farnell. Journal of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, Volume 17, Number 1.

[4] Williams, M. L. (1990). Lela Virginia Farnell Williams (1876-1914), An Early Student at the State Normal College for Colored Students, Tallahassee, Florida.  Journal of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, Volume 11, Number 4.

[5] Williams, M. (2006). The Herbert Randell Williams Family. Available from the Author.

 

#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

#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 – A Strong Woman – Healy Phillips Lassiter

Deciding on which strong woman from my family to feature for this essay has left me in a quandary. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded my whole life by strong women who have been my role models. I have already written about a few of them. This week I wanted to focus on a woman from several generations back who really provided significantly to the many opportunities and privileges my maternal family enjoys today. She was Healy Phillips Lassiter, a free woman of color, and my 4th great grandmother. She was married to Miles Lassiter, my 4th great grandfather. They lived in southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina. While many of life’s trials require extra strength, being a free woman of color, married to a slave in the first half of the 1800’s must have required extraordinary strength.

As best as I can determine, Healy was born around 1780.[1] I know it was somewhere in North Carolina, but I do not know if it was in the Piedmont where Randolph County is, or it was in eastern North Carolina. Although her last name is spelled Phelps in the earliest record I have found, I have not been able to confirm if she had a relationship with the Jonathan Phelps family, Quakers, who came to the Piedmont from eastern North Carolina sometime in the late colonial period, early US period, when she can be confirmed to be living there. I note also that the “Phillips” spelling is noted in later documents, perhaps indicating the influence of a Phillips family that also lived in the area, but with whom I have not found any relationship.

Doc 35-Healy Phillips 1840 census.jpg

The first time I found Healy in public records was in the 1840 census; she was listed as a head of household and since the enumeration only identifies people by age, gender, and free status, I thought “Heley” was the male head of household.[2] It would be many years later before I learned that it was a nickname for Mahalia. In any event, the 1840 census was the only place I had seen the name for quite a while. I should note that I had heard from a cousin that Miles’ wife was named something like “Hildy,” but I never put the two together, because the last name in the census was Phillips, not Lassiter.

My first break at truly identifying her came when a local librarian/historian from the county historical and genealogical society sent me information that there was an intestate probate for a “Healy Phillips or Lassiter.”[3] It did not name Miles, but it did name all their children: Emsley, Abigail, Colier, Susannah, Wiley, Nancy (my 3rd great grandmother), and Jane. What was notable beyond confirming her relationship to the children who could be found on censuses in connection with Miles and each other in subsequent years, was that she owned a significant amount of property, 400 acres in fact. I couldn’t find where she bought this land outright. There was a legend that the land had been given to the family. Had it been? There were no deeds to be found in Healy’s name. However, there was other information to be found about Healy.

Doc 1C-Heirs at law of Healy Phillips or Lassiter.jpg

The earliest record found for Healy was an 1818 bastardy bond, wherein she was called “Huldy Phelps.”[4] She did not name the man. Another record implied her presence but did not name her; it was the 1830 census. Miles Lassiter was listed as a free man of color, and his family was enumerated by gender and age. Presumably, Healy was the woman 36-54 years of age.[5] The roles switched in 1840 when Healy was listed as head of household.

1840 turned out to be an important year for Healy and her family. Sarah Lassiter, the widow of the man who had been her husband Miles’ owner died. Healy had an opportunity to buy Miles’ freedom, which she did for $0.05, most likely because he was described as an old crippled man.[6]

Doc 7-Account of Sale-Ezekiel Lassiter.jpg

I was also alerted in a letter from a Marian Miller to another transaction in August 1840, in which Miles and Healy were mentioned in a deed of trust between John Newsome and Ezekiel Lassiter (most likely the grandson of Ezekiel Sr. and Sarah Lassiter). The deed indicated that John Newsom owed “Helley Phillips and her heirs or children had by Miles Lassiter … due to bonds for $250.[7] The bond was posted for Newsom and it maintained that if he did not pay the money back, he would have to forfeit to her 150 acres on Hannah’s Creek, a tributary of the Uwharrie River, in the Lassiter’s Mill area of southwestern Randolph County. Healy would appear in only one other record, that was another deed of trust in 1842 wherein she was a trustee on behalf of Edward “Ned” Hill, a free man of color.[8] Although Healy would not appear again in records in her own right, she was still a factor in several records.

The first was Miles’ obituary, which appeared after his death in June 1850. It stated that,

he married a free woman early in life and brought of up a large family of children to more respectability than is common for free colored persons in their neighborhood. … His wife and children by their industry and his management accumulated a sufficiency to purchase a small farm upon which they lived comfortably a number of years. At length they were able to purchase another adjoining the farm of his mistress and removed to it…[9]

Doc 8-Miles Obituary Friends Review.jpg

In 1851, a letter by Jonathan Worth, then a lawyer in Asheboro (later a governor), retained after Miles had died, by Colier Phillips Lassiter, Miles and Healy’s son referenced Healy. Apparently, Healy had been married before Miles and had four other children. Colier needed to know if the estate had to be divided among them as well. Worth summarized the issue: “Colier Philips, of color, consults us on the following case – He states that he is the son of a free woman of color, named Helia – that she had four children by a first husband and seven by a second husband who was a slave, the said Collier [sic] being one of the seven – that his mother died some five years ago possessed of a considerable personal estate. …[10]  Her estate containing 400 acres of land was probated about 1854, as referenced above.

In 1856, Wiley Phillips Lassiter, another son, was involved in a lawsuit against a Michael Bingham for not paying him for carriages and horses on consignment with Bingham. In the petition Wiley stated that he had inherited two tracts of land from his mother, one 268 acres and the other 150 acres, about five or six years earlier actually referencing Miles’ death.[11]

From these few records a picture of Healy as a strong independent-minded woman emerged. I do not doubt that her strength of character and personality were reflected in daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters alike. I could see it in my mother, and recognize it in the stories of my grandmother, great grandmother, and great-great grandmother, especially. I’ve seen it in my cousins Kate, Vella, and Ave who each worked in their own way to further social justice, as well as others who have become teachers, nurses, veterinarians, and more. I hope I have been able to convey it to my daughter.

References

[1] 1840 US Federal Census; South Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Heley Phillips of color, 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

[2] 1840 US Federal Census; South Division, Randolph, North Carolina; Heley Phillips of color, 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

[3] Phillips Heirs. (Winter 1982). The Genealogical Journal of the Randolph County Genealogical Society, VI, 51-52. See also, 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%3A%2F%2Fwww.ancestry.com%2Ffamily-tree%2Fperson%2Ftree%2F66453873%2Fperson%2F36156400616%2Ffacts%2Fcitation%2F960301203453%2Fedit%2Frecord&bm=true#?imageid=007384174_01228&imageId=007384174_01228

[4] Vidales, C. L. and Cates, L. (n.d.). Huldy Phelps, bastardy bond. Randolph County, NC Bastardy Bond Abstracts and Related Records, 1786-1918 (Arranged and Indexed by Pamela Winslow Donahue), p. 20.

[5] 1830 US Federal Census; Regiment 1, Randolph, North Carolina; Smiles [sic] Lassator, head. NARA Roll M19-125; Page: 7; Family History Library Film: 0018091. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8058/4410684_00017/242848?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/66453873/person/36156400616/facts/citation/960072978653/edit/record

[6] Estate of Sarah Lassiter and Ezekiel Lassiter, Will Book 7:332. Sale of Miles Lassiter to Healy Phillips. Family History Library Microfilm 0019643.

[7] John Newsome to Ezekiel Lassiter, Deed Book 22; proved in court, August term 1840, Randolph County Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions.

[8] Edward Hill to Samuel Hill, Ezekiel Lassiter, et al. Deed Book 25:1. Family History Library Microfilm 0019639 or 0470232.

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

[10] Statement of J. Worth, 22 Jan 1851. Copy in possession of the author. See also: Williams, M. L. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African-American Quaker from Lassiter Mil, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL & Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), pp. 65-66.

[11] The Willie Lassiter Petition. (Winter 1981). The Genealogical Journal by the Randolph County Genealogical Society, V, 38-42.

 

#52Ancestors – Week 6: Favorite Name – Vella Lassiter, Civil Rights Champion

Novella Anna Lassiter
Novella Anna “Vella” Lassiter, 1894-1994

I have chosen Vella Lassiter, whose full name was Novella Anna Lassiter, not because the name itself is my favorite over others, but because of who she was and what her name represents to me. I have written about her before. Unfortunately, through some unforeseen circumstances, that post is not currently accessible. However, this time I am pleased to be able to post this information because it is Black History Month and this year she is being honored in her home town for her courage in standing up against injustice. This post is excerpted primarily from my book on her family’s community, From Hill Town to Strieby.

Born 4 September 1894, Novella Anna Lassiter, “Vella” was the second of thirteen children (twelve of whom survived) of Winston and Ora (Kearns) Lassiter, of the Lassiter Mill community in Randolph County, North Carolina.[1] She was the granddaughter of Colier and Kate (Polk) Lassiter, and great granddaughter of Miles Lassiter, an early African American Quaker, about whom I have also written. Vella was my 2nd cousin three times removed.

Vella attended Strieby Church School, about two miles from her home in Strieby, in neighboring Union Township. Strieby was founded by the Rev. Islay Walden under the auspices of the American Missionary Association.[1] From there she went on to Peabody Academy in Troy, in the next county, Montgomery County, and then to Bennett College, in Greensboro. Vella graduated in 1913 from the Normal program and eventually earned her Masters’ degree from Miner Teachers College, in Washington, DC. (Miner became part of DC Teachers College which became the foundation for the Department of Education at the University of the District of Columbia.[2]) Vella went on to become a teacher, first back at Strieby, then the combined school at Red House School in the nearby Mechanic area, then at Central School, a Rosenwald school in the county seat of Asheboro, and finally at a school in Reidsville, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, where she taught for 40 years.  However, being close to her family, she often came home on weekends to visit, so it was in 1937.

 

Vella Lassiter Bennett College Diploma
Vella Lassiter’s Bennett College Diploma, 1913

Vella was returning to Reidsville on Easter Monday afternoon. She was on the first of her two bus trips. The first bus would take her from Asheboro to Greensboro, about 35 miles away in Guilford County. From there she would take a bus to Reidsville. She had bought her ticket and was seated on the bus – next to a white person. The bus was crowded and there were no more seats. The bus driver apparently objected to Vella sitting next to a white person. Vella was asked to give up her seat, get off the bus, and wait for the next one. Anyone who knew Vella knew she was a force of nature. Vella said “No.” The bus driver attempted to force her off the bus. Vella resisted. Eventually two policemen were needed to drag her to the door and throw her onto the sidewalk. She would later tell people there was no way she would make it easy for them to throw her off that bus. After all, she had bought a ticket and she was just as good as any white person.[3] 

Bus Case Hotly contested image (2)
The Carolina Times, 12 August 1939, p. 3

Vella called one of her brothers to come and take her to Reidsville, but she also called a lawyer, her cousin, prominent High Point, North Carolina, African American attorney, T. F Sanders (grandson of Wiley Phillips Lassiter and great grandson of Miles Lassiter). With his assistance (and that of prominent civil rights attorney, F.W. Williams, of Winston Salem) Vella sued the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line, on the grounds that they had sold her the ticket for that specific bus trip and consequently were required to transport her.[4] To everyone’s surprise she won the case in a jury trial in November of that year. She was awarded $300 in damages. The bus company appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court.[5]

Bus Company Will Appeal (2)
The Courier, 28 July 1939

Two years later in 1939, the decision was upheld by Judge Allen H. Gwyn.[6] Vella had won. In reporting the victory on 12 August 1939, The Carolina Times newspaper, published in Raleigh, wrote that: Possibly the most significant victory regarding the rights of Negroes was won in Randolph County last month when attorney P.[sic] W. Williams, prominent Winston-Salem lawyer emerged victorious in a suit against the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line.[7]

Wins Important Case image -clipped
The Carolina Times, 12 August 1939

Her success was particularly significant because there was only one other lawsuit before hers that had gone to the North Carolina State Supreme Court and won, that was a 1914 housing segregation lawsuit in Winston-Salem.[8]

Lassiter Family Home, Lassiter Mill Road - 1982.jpg
Lassiter Family Home, Lassiter Mill, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 1982.

After more than 40 years of teaching, Vella retired to the family home in Lassiter Mill, where she lived until her death in January 1994, at 99 years of age. She is buried in the Strieby Church Cemetery. [9]

Figure 50-Strieby Church Sign in memory of Vella Lassiter
Strieby Congregational C.hurch sign, in memory of Novella A. Lassiter, Strieby, Union Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Photo by Margo Lee Williams, 2014

 

Endnotes

[1] Novella Anna Lassiter, 4 September 1894 -2 January 1994. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/83486598

[2] Williams, M. L. (2016).  A Civil Rights Story: Vella Lassiter. In From Hill Town to Strieby (Crofton KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), pp. 155-159.

[3] UDC’s History. University of the District of Columbia-1851. Retrieved from: https://www.udc.edu/about/history-mission/

[4] Jones, K. L. (1993). Novella Anna Lassiter (361). The Heritage of Randolph County, North Carolina, pp. 343-344.

[5] Bus Case Hotly Contested in Randolph County. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 3. Retrieved from: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1939-08-12/ed-1/seq-6/#date1=1939&index=0&date2=1939&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&lccn=sn84025826&lccn=2014236904&lccn=2015236558&lccn=sn98058906&lccn=sn83045120&lccn=2015236794&lccn=sn92074045&lccn=sn92073929&lccn=2015236793&lccn=2015236573&lccn=2015236572&lccn=2015236571&lccn=2015236570&lccn=2015236569&lccn=2015236568&lccn=2015236567&lccn=2015236766&lccn=2015236765&lccn=2015236764&lccn=sn97064597&lccn=sn98058907&lccn=2017236906&lccn=sn96027351&lccn=2015236599&lccn=2015236750&lccn=sn92072987&lccn=2016236536&lccn=2015236585&lccn=2015236586&lccn=sn97064595&lccn=sn83025849&lccn=2014236900&lccn=sn85042324&lccn=2015236574&proxdistance=5&rows=20&words=Bus+Case+Contested+Hotly&phrasetext=Bus+Case+Hotly+Contested&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1&type3=on

[6] Bus Company Will Appeal Verdict. (28 July 1939). The Courier. Courtesy of Randolph Room, Randolph County Public Library.

[7] Wins Important Case. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 6. Retrieved from: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1939-08-12/ed-1/seq-3/

[8] Wins Important Case. (12 August 1939). The Carolina Times, p. 6. Retrieved from: http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/sn83045120/1939-08-12/ed-1/seq-3/

[9] Gershenhorn, J. (2010) A Courageous Voice for Black Freedom: Louis Austin and the Carolina Times in Depression-Era North Carolina. North Carolina Historical Review, 87(1):85; and Williams, M. L. (2013). Vella Lassiter, 1937 Bus Suit. The Miles Lassiter Family of Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from: http://mileslassiter.tribalpages.com/tribe/browse?userid=mileslassiter&view=78&ver=352&storyid=49456.

[10] Novella Anna Lassiter, 4 September 1894 -2 January 1994. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1700s-Current [Database on-line]. Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/83486598

 

 

 

 

 

 

#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