USGenWeb NCGenWeb

W e l c o m e

T o

Bertie County, North Carolina

Afro-American Research

Help Needed!

I would like to create a page specific for research in Bertie County. Please share with us any documents that you have regarding African-Americans who lived in Bertie County. There are multiple sources, i.e. newspaper abstracts, wills, deeds, inventories of estates, which make mention of slaves or freedmen. I need YOUR help!

African-American Population in Bertie
African-American Historical Leaders
Afrigeneas Links
Archives in Raleigh
Beginning your Research
Cemeteries in Bertie County
Census, Slave and Mortality Schedules
Civil War Colored Troops Court Records
Freedman Bureau
Freedmen Searchable Database by by Paul Heinegg Historic Homes (Source for possible slave owners)
IndenturesJan 1866-June 1866 N.C
Mailing Lists
Query Posting
Railroad Workers
Southern Claims Commission

African-American Population in Bertie County

Bertie County (around 1750) was one of the most densely populated in North Carolina. The increasing population from that time period onward was largely due to the numbers of African-American slaves. These first had been brought by the Virginians who settled in Albermarle province, but by the early 1700's slaves were imported directly into Bertie County (probably from West Africa). They made up 25% of the population by the 1740s. (Tax digests indicated taxes levied on all blacks at least 12 years of age as well as white males over 16 years of age)

Free non-whites were identified as blacks and mullatoes and made up 2-3 percent of the population. Tax lists indicated: 1751=37; 1763=48; 1774=59. They were taxed for their wives and all children over 12 years of age. (White women were untaxed and white males were not taxable until 16 years of age) Some free Negroes reported slaves in the 1830 census, but by 1860 these slave owners were non-existent and only 29 actually owned any real or personal property.

African-American population of Bertie County was in the majority by the 1800 and continued to increase. Although most of these were living on the large plantations, the 1790 census does show that almost half of the county included slaves within their household.

Religion was important at the turn of the century with the Second Great Awakening, and many black churches were founded at that time. HISTORIC AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES IN BERTIE COUNTY

Free Negro orphans were frequently apprenticed. (Bertie County Apprentice Indentures 1750-1790, stack file no. C.R. 010.101.7- Raleigh)

Nov 29, 1763. Negro boy named Jacob, aged seven years. Bound to 
Aaron Ellis. Cordwainer.   Signers: Thomas Pugh, Aaron Ellis.  Witness: John 

Resource: Bertie County: A Brief History by Alan D. Watson. NC Archives and History, 1982.

Wynett Haun's Court Minutes of Bertie County provide a source of information. Vol VI. 1788-1792
"Aug 1789. A bill of sale for a negroe boy named Daniel from Edward Turner to William Gray was proved in due form of law by the oath of Jas Turner one of the subscribing witnesses and ordered to be registered."

1860 - Slave Schedule (partial)

Free African Americans of North Carolina and Virginia by Paul Heinegg

Plan to spend some time at this site. These family groups are well documented and contain lots of other surnames within the grouping. It has a search engine, so just feed in your surname, and you'll locate all the references. Or you can just browse through the alphabetical lists.

You can also just type in "Bertie" which will bring up the special sections which he includes on the Bertie County 1790, 1800, 1810, and 1820 surnames of free persons of color.
Result of searching for "Bertie" Census Listing for 1820 Search for Bertie or specific surname.

Beginning Your Research

Slave history and genealogy have suffered from inadequate attention to many of the records which tell us most about the identities and lives of North Carolina's slave population. When records from the slavery period have been extracted and published, they have been mainly the records which are most useful to researchers looking for free persons; and those records tend not to be the most fruitful sources of slave information. In many other cases, published extracts of records have omitted the names of the slaves present in those records. Legal records preserved in our county courthouses (and, in some cases, at the Department of Archives and History in Raleigh) are, in fact, the most numerous and most easily accessible of all pre-1865 records, and are the richest source of primary slave data. They deserve careful and methodical examination, analysis, and extraction.

There is no such thing as a "slave record" in the courthouses of North Carolina, if, by slave record, we mean a court document whose purpose was to record the names or activities of slaves for their own sake. Legal records were about the personal rights and property rights of free persons, and slaves had no personal or property rights. The fundamental relationship between free persons and legal records, therefore, was different from the relationship between slaves and legal records. Slaves do not appear as parties to any lawsuit, marriage, contract, deed, bond, or court action (except in rare cases as defendants in criminal trials). They did not make wills or inherit property. They are not named in the tax digests. They do not appear on any jury list, land lottery, poor school roster, or voters list. And yet, tens or hundreds of thousands of individual slaves are named and described in the court records of North Carolina, their lives inseparably intermingled with the lives of free citizens with whom they lived.

The historian or genealogist researching legal records for our North Carolina ancestors who lived as slaves must take a different approach to that task from the approach taken toward records of free persons living in North Carolina before 1865:

It is this author's opinion that a comprehensive program of extracting, organizing, and indexing all legal records from the slavery period for each North Carolina county (and, eventually, for the entire United States) is long overdue. The old court records of most North Carolina counties have not even been thoroughly inventoried. I encourage historical societies to consider such projects in cooperation with the official custodians of their county records.

A note on extracting and indexing genealogical data on slaves. Genealogists researching free persons recognize that, without the combination of first, middle and last names by which free persons were legally known in different legal records, tracing free ancestors would be virtually impossible. Imagine how useless an index or extracted record would be if it only contained first names! Full names allow us to somewhat confidently connect persons from one record with the same persons in another record. Slaves in legal records also have more than first names. A slave's legal identity was the combination of his/her first name and the full name of his/her owner. This combination of slave's first name and owner's full name can be as effective as the name of any free person in tracing slaves from record to record. It is essential whenever extracting slave data about slaves that their owners' full names, as given in the record, also be extracted. When indexing any record which includes slaves, always index slaves by owners' full name (in the usual manner of last, first, middle) followed by the slaves' names, for example:

(Ruffin, John) Violet

One of the greatest challenges in tracing slave ancestors is to trace individual slaves back through former owners, because (working from more recent records to older records) the identifying "tag" of the owners' names usually changes without a clue. A slave typically appears in the records of an owner's legal affairs with no indication of where he or she came from. This is similar to the dilemma faced by researchers of free persons in trying to trace a married woman's ancestry when marriage (or other) records do not exist to show her maiden name. Just as marriage records are indispensable in tracing free persons, records of sale or transfer (as in estate sales, distributions of estates, and bills of sale) are essential to trace individual slaves from owner to owner. In many cases, a particular enslaved person with multiple owners, or even several generations of slaves, could be traced from our oldest records forward, if all existing records were thoroughly extracted and indexed.
Written by David Paterson for Georgia Research and adapted for North Carolina.

Tracing your Slave Ancestor - A Study

Contributed by: Cathy Farris 

As I have been sorting thru the different files I have gathered on my 
BRYAN(T) line, I have had in my possession all along, but didn't see this 
until I made an outline of my the whereabouts of Milly. By 
working on the various surnames related to my BRYAN(T)s, I was able to see 
where Milly has been...and if I had a few more records, I'll bet I could 
find out more about Milly and her children...maybe even her parents.

This doesn't happen all the time, but I thought it worth posting...who 
knows, maybe someone is looking for  this Milly. I also thought this was 
one of the best research lessons I have followed up on.

Maybe this group would like to make a research project here, by using 
the  books and records you have right there beside your desk. We know she 
was in Bertie and then Randolph. Maybe someone out there would like to a research project... to find the rest of the story on Milly WIGGINS

The  story of the WIGGIN family bounded out to different people thru two 
county court systems.

This outline was on Aaron ELLIS dec'd 1769, 2nd husband to 
Catherine____BRYANT ELLIS dec'd 1779. I tried to search all records to put 
his activities in chron order for study purposes...mostly for trying to 
figure out how Aaron met Catherine widow of William BRYAN dec'd 1744 
Bertie. They are the parents of Michael BRYAN dec'd 1794 Bertie.

The records below show his association with Milly WIGGINS born about 1757. 
There are 2 Milly 'WIGGINS, mother and daughter.

"Bertie Co Court Minutes, book III" Haun

1763 29 Nov  Negro boy named Jacob aged 7, bound to Aaron ELLIS, Cordwainer.
  Signers: Thomas PUGH, Aaron x ELLIS.
wit: John JOHNSTON

1763 29 Nov  Negro girl named Amelia aged 5. bound to Aaron ELLIS, Spining, 
Nitting and Sewing.
Signers: Thom PUGH, Aaron x ELLIS. no wit

COMMENT: Maybe Amelia is Milly?  cathy in the record below it states as of 
1775 Milly is 18 years old. I believe this to be the Milly bound to 
Catherine MARSH daughter of Catherine___BRYAN ELLIS.

1763 29 Nov Negro boy named Arthur age 2 bound to Aaron ELLIS, Cooper. Signers:
  Thomas PUGH, Aaron ELLIS,
wit: John JOHNSTON

1769    Ordered William WIGGINS 5 year orphan of Sarah WIGGINS be bound to 
Josiah GODDEN (GARDNER?) until 21 to learn trade of cooper.

1771  969  Court ordered that Jacob WEGGINS the mulato bastard of Mille a 
mulattoe free wench
         be bound to Catherine ELLIS age abt 14 til he arrives at age 21.
                      Court ordered that Mille a mulatoe the bastard of 
Mille a mulatoe free wench age abt 13
          be bound to Catherine ELLIS til she arrive at age 21
                       Court ordered that Arthur the mulatoe bastard of 
Mille a mulatoe free wench age abt 11 be bound   an apprentice to Catherine 

NOTE: 8 years have passed since the court ordered these same children to 
Aaron ELLIS, Jude would be 18 by now. Jude is mentioned in the will of 
Catherine ELLIS in 1779.

Book IV
1772    Orderd Allin WIGGINs age 6 bastard child of JUDAH WIGGINS be bound 
apprentice to George         WILLIAMs.
         Ordered Sarah WIGGINS age 10 bastard mulatoe child of JUDAH 
WIGGINS be bound to George  WILLIAMS
         Ordered that Anthony WIGGINS age 8 son of Sarah WIGGINS be bound 
as apprentice to Luke  RABY to learn trade of planter.
         Ordered Edward WIGGINS age 7 son of Sarah WIGGINS be bound appt to 
Luke RAYBE to learn trade    of planter.
1774    Ordered Jemina WIGGINS age 8 bastard mulatto child of Sarah WIGGINS 
bound appt to John  SKINNER.
         Order Mary Betth age 10 mulatto child of Sarah WIGGINS be bound 
appt to John SKINNER.

"Bertie County Court Minutes Book Book IV",  Haun:
1775    Motion of Edward WIGGINS to have order for court to bind his 
children to John SKINNER quashed, the court being convinced of SKINNERS ill 
and deceitful behavior in procuring said order do hereby order and command 
that said former order be quashed and entirely revoked.

1775    Ordered Jesse WIGGINs age 8, Luke WIGGINS 6, be bound apprt to John 
GARDNER to learn trade of shoemaker and Letters WIGGINS age 5, Pegg WIGGINS 
3 be bound to John GARDNER to spin, orphans of ____WIGGINS.

Below is a court order for Milly WIGGINS to Catherine MARSH daughter of 
William BRYANT and Catherine _____BRYANT ELLIS:

from "Edgecombe Co NC Abst of Court Min". 1744--46, 1757-94 by Marvin K. 
  1968, Salt Lake 975.646p2d

1775  Wed 19 July Milly WIGGINS 18 years old, daughter of Sarah WIGGINS, 
bound to Edmund MARSH and his wife Catherine.
NOTE: Milly WIGGINS a free wench, as we see from the entry below Catherine 
ELLIS owned Milly and then passed her on to Edmund MARSH her son in law. 
There were several children by  Sarah WIGGENS that were mentioned in Bertie 
court records being bound out to familiar names. Since Catherine ELLIS 
mentioned Judah in her will...from the 1763 entry below it would seem that 
JUDE is sister to Millie WIGGINS...not her mother.

from Bertie Court....
1763    On motion of Thomas JONES att at law in behalf of Aaron ELLIS an 
order of court to have a negro boy Matthew 14, Jacob 7, girl JUDE 10, 
Mille 5, Arthur 2, until age 21, to learn the following, Matthew - cooper, 
Jacob - cordwainer, Arthur - cooper.

daughter Catherine BRYAN married Edmund MARSH, they moved from Bertie to 
Randolph Co NC. An abstract of his will can be found in Grimes for Guilford 
Co. NC, however, I have a written copy from Randolph Co NC. 1779...cathy

NOTE: Another find on Milly comes from the "Randolph Co., NC Genealogical 
Journal"- Summer 2000 page 16:

         Capias   28 July 1794 issued by Robert REDING, JP, on testimony of 
Darias RAMAGE that "one Milly WIGGEN a Negro Woman is a free person that 
there is four of her Children in the possession of Charles STEWARD one with 
Uriah MARSH and one in  the care of William ARMSTED, Esqur. and held as 
slaves. These persons to come forward and answer the charge that these 
children are of right free persons.

NOTE: Capias---A writ issued from the magistrate to a constable, ordering 
him to find an individual, most often the accused, based on a complaint. 
Once found, the accused person is forced to post a recognizance, thereby 
agreeing to answer the charge at an upcoming term of court. Usually, the 
defendant is not physically detained for matters arising before the lower 
court. The names of witnesses are frequently recorded on  the reverse of 
capias writs and are included in  the abstract after the symbol, "w/."

I do not have the rest of this story. If one is interested...Maybe starting 
with the 1800 census to see if Milly WIGGINS is entered in Randolph Co. NC. 
Also, check the name Edward WIGGINS mentioned above. He must be father of 
some,  of the WIGGINS children and maybe he is listed on another record. 
The name WIGGINS can be found in Bertie. I wonder if Edward took on the 
name of his previous owner?  cathy

Slaveholders in Bertie County

Devereaux Plantation

Elva P Belsches is doing extensive Research on the Devereaux Family, and not just limited to Bertie County. She would welcome your information. Ms. Belsches spoke at a luncheon on this subject at the 1999 NGS Conference in Richmond.

Tom Blake has done partial transcriptions of the 1860 slave census for Bertie County. This is part of a project of indexing the names of larger 1860 slaveholders and matching the surnames with African Americans on the 1870 census. Be sure to read his analysis.

Men and Women Who Owned 70+ Slaves

Whitmel HILL
Matthew ING(S)
Greenberry MULLIN
Francis PUGH
Thomas PUGH
Samuel SMITH
Elizabeth TUNSTALL

1830 Slave Holders - Bertie County (70 + Slaves)
Reference book: North Carolina Planters and Their Children (1800-1860) by Jane Turner Censer.

Noah B. Hinton
Josiah Holley
John E. Wood
Stark Armistead
Lewis Bond
Cullen Capehart
William M. Clark
John Devereus
Robert A. Jones
Thomas Norfleet
Ralph Outlaw
William Pugh
Peter Rascoe
Thomas Speller
William T. Thompson
Lewis Williams

Other Slave Holders

Garrett, Jesse
Original Jesse Garrett will which I obtained from the NC 
Archives.  The will is dated 13 Oct 1796 and proved Jun 1797. 

Wife is shown as Rachael, sons Jesse, David, Jacob, James, Timothy, 
John and Thomas, daughters Celia Eley, Millie, Penny, Mary and 
Elizabeth with son-in-law James Cherry (?) as  sole executor.  

[Mille may be the wife of James Cherry as Penny, Mary and Elizabeth 
were minors and Celia may have been married to an Eley.]

[The slaves were Toney, Ben, Crummell, Jude, Venus, little Jude, 
Jerry, Silus, Abram, Cesar, Flora, Issac, Valley, Kate and Ester.  
I hope I 
have read the names correctly.] Contributed by:  Virginia Jones

Slave Holders - 1862

Confederate Tax Census of Bertie County 1862. Compiled by The US History Cloass 1975-76, Roanoke Chowan Academy under the direction of their teacher, Harry Thompson.

Windsor District
Askew, Wilie I.	43 slaves
Boyle, Mrs. M.C.	4 slaves
Branch, John Sr	19
Bunch, Jermiah, Sr	23
Butlar, Monroe 	5
Capehart, B.A.	43
Cherry, Jos. O	5
Craig, Andrew	14
Dewby, Ward  (estate) 24
Floyd, Mary (estate)	1
Falk, William K	22
Floyd, Samuel	25
Gurley, Will P	11
Gray, William S	6
Gray, George		17
Hassell, A.H.		6
Hensberry, Peter	8
Hoggard, Will H	33
Lee, John H.		10
Mitchell, John	2
Mitchell, Lawrence	2
Mizillis, Mora L	2
Powell, Will R	2
Pruden, Will S	3
Rascoe, John T	1
Rhodes, Nezerath	7
Riddick, Thos W	53
Roulhac, Frances L. Miss	58
Ryan, Emely L. Miss	51
Sheperd, Jno S	2
Smioth, Dr. R.H.	21
Smith, Stark B.	3
Smithwick, Sam W.	38
Spellings	2
Spivey, Jos B	5
Sutton, William W.	16
Taylor, David E	3
Taylor, Jon S	24
Thomas, L. Capt	1
Thomas, Miss Sarah	5
Ward, Mrs. Sarah	8
Webb, S.S.	2
Whitaker, Jno.E.	7
White, Stanley	6
Wilson, Turner	35
Winston, P.H.	33
Wish, Mrs. Elizabeth	26
Wynns, Miss Nancy	4
Total Slaves for the District: 946

Civil War Role
Bertie County Military Page Lists servicemen from Bertie County. Work done by Gerald Thomas

Role of the African-American in the Civil War History of African Americans in the Civil War

Historic Homes

Historic Homes Page provides some history of the planters with large numbers of slaves. Although not providing specific names, some histories do provide the location of wills/deeds from the families. Many quote the Agricultural and Slave Schedules of 1850-1860 which provide statistical information about their plantations.


African-American Cemeteries in Bertie County

Visit our Bertie Co Archives Page which is endeavoring to list all the cemeteries within the County.

The following are some known African-American Cemeteries to check out.

  • Bond Family
  • Baptist Church
  • Saint Elmo Church
  • Spring Hill Church

Census, Tax Lists, Slave and Mortality Schedules

Virtually every county existing in 1860 has a body of documents referred to by the State Archives as "Slave Papers." These papers may include civil and criminal actions papers relating to slaves, bills of sale for slaves, petitions to sell slaves, bonds for slaves permitted to carry arms, petitions for emancipation and emancipation bonds, patrol records, depositions and other records concerning runaway slaves, permits for slaves to works, inquests into the death of slaves, etc. These records are designated for some counties as records of slaves and free persons of color and containing records dating through the Reconstruction period

Census Records

Beginning in 1790 Census, free blacks are listed by name but slaves were only indicated by total numbers. African-Americans were not listed by name on Census records until 1870. Be aware that some published Census did not contain African-Americans, so be sure to check the microfilm.
  • Check the 1870 Census of suspected slave owners living near your ancestors, you may be able to track the same surname in the 1860 Census.
  • Compare earlier census to see if a slaveowner may have died prior to 1870. This might be a clue to search for a Will or Estate distribution which lists "division of slaves".
  • Compare the earlier census to locate families that might have moved westward to other states.

Slave Schedules

In 1850 and 1860. Separate Slave Schedules were tallied for slave-owning states. They listed the number of males and females in specific age groupings listed by slave owner's name.

Tax Digest

Tax Lists -1757
Consult this list to see other Slaves listed

I need MORE of these LINKS, or if you have copies of these lists, please let me know. Virginia Crilley

Southern Claims Commission

"THE SOUTHERN CLAIMS COMMISSION: A SOURCE FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN ROOTS," by Reginald Washington (Ancestry Magazine July, 1999)
Excerpted from his article in the National Archives' Prologue, Reginald Washington examines the Southern Claims Commission - a resource for African American research that chronicles the events of post-Civil War property compensation for emancipated slaves and others.

Slave Records of Bertie-Archives - Raleigh

About a year ago there was a theft of some of the slave records of Bertie County (they were found at an auction) and they are now being kept (12 boxes) behind the archivist's (Mr. Boyd's)desk and in an office.

The boxes are in chronological order and there is no volume with the records alphabetized. Sample of information from Box number 6.
It had file folders in it from 1744-1815
Call # 010.928.6
They contain all sorts of information.

  • court records
  • sales
  • anything relating to Slaves
  • There was a major slave insurrection in 1802 and slaves and owners were interviewed. (Those people used bad words too!)

A young man who is doing his thesis on Slave insurrection in Northeastern NC recommended several sources.

William and Mary Journal, Series 3, Vol 37 Jan 1980
Slave Rebelliousness and Social Conflict in NC 1775-1802.
The Great Class,Conflict, and Consensus by Strickland
The Great Revival and Insurrectionary reviews the Church's part in slave insurrection.

Indentures - N.C.

Index to Indentures of Apprentices made in North Carolina between Jan. 1866 - June 1866

Christine's Genealogy Website

The Freedmen's Bureau Online

Under aged children who were not or could not be supported by their parents or were orphans were apprenticed by Freedmen's Bureau officials to persons who would be responsible for their upbringing and welfare.

Included with this Index are notes from the mothers of certain apprentices giving permission for their children to be bound out and notes explaining why some children who were not orphans were bound out. A sample follows:

Lumberton, N. C. June 29, 1866 This is to certify that I am the mother of Mary aged 12 years, Aleck aged 10 years and Jerry aged 8 years and that I freely give my consent to have them bound to R. G. Ashley. The father of these three children is in Alabama and it is for their benefit that they are bound to Mr. Ashley. I further certify that I am not able to feed and clothe them and give them any education. Martha (X) Hill
Two typical indenture agreements have been transcribed for those not familiar with these documents, one an agreement between Mary A. Bryant of Robeson County and Helen, a 15 year old colored orphan; and the other between J. L. Motley of Casswell County and Lucy, a 9 year old orphan who was bound out until the age of 21.
Christine Charity


Court Records


Consulting Wills or if the slave owner died without a will, the Inventory of Estates, show the division of the slaves.


Placing Your Query

It is helpful to fellow-researchers if you mention that you are looking for an African-American ancestor. This points them in the right direction to share information.
If you find OTHER places that are a big help, please share them.

Join a Mailing List

There are several Mailing Lists which you would find helpful!

Railroad Slave Workers in NC

North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal. Vol. XXV, No. 1, Feb 1999 (Newport News Main Street Library, Newport News, Va....I am sure other genealogical/research libraries carry this Journal.) Slaves Hired by the North Carolina Rail Road 1862 and 1864. transcribed by Grace Turner. "Editor's Introduction: Chartered in 1849 the NC Railroad was substantially complete in 1856. It ran from Goldsboro (via Raliegh, Greensboro and Salisbury) to Charlotte. The company sent their records to the NC Archives in 1952. Volume 81 is identified as "NC Rail Road Slave Book, 1862-1864, Officers Agents Records 1863-1872." The books contains information for the following categories: Date, Owner's Name, Name of Slave, Where at Work, Amount, How paid, Post Office. Ms. Turner supplies the information for 3 categories: Owners Name; Name of Slave and Post Office. For the most part slaves are identified by first names only, but there are some identified with a Surname.

Somebody Knows My Name, ("Marriages of Freed People in North Carolina County by County"),

Volume 3, Pages 914, 944 by Barnetta McGhee White, Ph.D. - - Iberian Publishing Company - Athens, GA - 1995.

Freedman's Bureau
Freedman's Bureau
My understanding is that the Freedman's Bureau microfilms have a subset of what is contained in the original Freedman's Bureau records. Certain record groups have been microfilmed, while others have not. Some labor contract records for certain states are included on the microfilm -- check the description of what is on each roll.

To see the original records, ask the staff in the research room. They will direct you to the office where you can get a researcher's ID card (which allows you to enter the reading room where original records are viewed) and to the office that has the complete index of the Freedman's Bureau records (where you can fill out a form indicating which records that you want pulled so that you can look at them); both of these offices are open from 9 to 5. They will not pull original records if they have already been microfilmed, but the index identifies the records that have been microfilmed and gives the microfilm number.

Return to the Bertie County Main Page