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#52Ancestors – Luck: Petition to Free James Walker, Randolph County, NC

I have Walkers in my family, but I wasn’t doing any research on the family at the moment. Recently, I happened to check a Facebook message on a group page I belong to. Someone had posted information about the Race and Slavery Petitions Project,[1] in the Digital Library on American Slavery at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.  I hadn’t looked at this database for quite a while. I decided to look at the petitions for Randolph County right then.

Most of the petitions were from groups of white residents imploring the state to restrict free people from other states (probably mostly from Virginia) from entering North Carolina. These petitions were mostly in 1827, with a few more in 1834. However, there was one petition by Robert Walker to free James Walker, age 40, in 1835.

Robert explained to the legislature that James was an honorable man, hard working who was married to a free woman and that they had five children. Robert went on to say that it would greatly improve James’ ability to care for his family if he could be free to join his family full time. However, the legislature did not agree. Robert was admonished that the only qualification for manumission was meritorious service. They also mentioned the “present highly excited state of the times,” probably referring to Nat Turner Rebellion of just a few years before. Petition denied. Fortunately, that was not the end of the story.

Freedom Petition for James Walker
Petition for freedom of James Walker

In the 1850 census, James and his wife Absily and their three children, Amy, Franklin and Henderson, were listed as free.[2] They were living next to Robert Walker and his family.  Was there any evidence that Absily was the wife that Robert was referencing in the petition?

1850 census: James Walker
James and Absilly Walker, 1850, Randolph County, NC

Robert Walker said in his petition that James’ wife was a free woman. Looking back at the 1840 census, I wondered if there were any free people of color living in his household. There was. There was one male, in the age category, 10-23.  No slaves. Listed in the next household was a woman of color named “Absila Moze.”[3] There were seven people in her household: one male under 10; one 10-23; one 24-35; one female under 10; two females 10-23; and one 36-54. It’s difficult to say exactly who is whom. However, based on Robert saying James was 40 in 1835, none of these age groups seems appropriate. In the 1850 census, James is listed as age 53 (not 93 as the abstractor wrote). Ten years earlier he would be 43, so not the age of any of the men listed in either Robert’s household or Absila’s. Was he there but listed with the wrong age group? Was he somewhere else? It’s impossible to know. Absila, on the other hand, was listed as 48 in 1850, so she was likely the female 36-54 in the 1840 census.

1840 census James Walker
1840 census, Absilla Moze

All that aside, how was James a free man in 1850 when the legislature denied the petition and there does not appear to have been any additional petition? There’s no indication. It seems that Robert simply decided to give James his freedom despite the legislature. Lucky man!

James does not appear in the 1860 census. Neither does Absila. In November 1855, a Thomas Walker filed for letters of administration for the estate of Absila Walker.[4] It was an intestate probate. Since James was not the one seeking the letters, it can be assumed he was already dead. Thomas relationship was not specified, but there was no Thomas of color in the 1850 or 1860 census. None of those purchasing items from the estate were identified by relationship. There were the recognizable names of Amy, Henderson, and Franklin. There were other Walkers purchasing items, but there was no way to know from the estate documents how they were or were not related.

It doesn’t matter. What matters was that James and Absila were able to live out their lives as free persons, despite legal obstacles. Lucky indeed!

References

[1] Race & Slavery Petitions Project. (  ). Par Number 11283502; Petitioner: Robert Walker.  Digital Library on American Slavery, University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Retrieved from: Petition for Freedom of James Walker

[2] 1850 US Federal Census, Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; James Walker, head. NARA Roll: M432-641; Page: 139B; Image: 285. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[3] 1840 US Federal Census; South Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Absila Moze of color, head. NARA  Roll: 369; Page: 77; Family History Library Film: 0018097. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

[4] North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line]. Absilly Walker, petition for letters of administration by Thomas Walker, November Term 1855. Images 721-733. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com

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