#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 – 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.