Manumission Laws in North Carolina

A friend who follows this blog asked me why Horton Howard and other Quakers would have had difficulty in freeing their slaves. Why couldn’t they make such decisions about their own property? This is a complex issue – requiring a longer and more technical bit of writing than most of my blog post.

The southern states relied heavily on slave labor for necessary agricultural work. Once the slave was purchased, the cost of maintaining the slave was minimal. Freeing of slaves led to many fears among slaveholders: fear of economic disruption from losing their labor pool, fear that freed slaves would be a bad influence on remaining slaves – perhaps encouraging them to want freedom, and fear that the freed slaves (who had been denied education and therefore had limited skills) would become a burden on the state, counties or local governments.

So how did the North Carolina slaveholders protect their interests? Laws of 1715 and 1723 prohibited manumission of slaves except for meritorious service as approved by a county court. Slaves appropriately freed had to leave the state within 6 months, and any former slave returning to the state could be taken up and sold into slavery to the highest bidder.

The Quaker population, meanwhile, grew increasingly opposed to slavery and found ways to work around these laws. Some of them deeded their slaves to a local Meeting, with one or more of their members appointed as Trustees. The slaves then lived in virtual freedom, they might receive wages for their work or obtain work on their own, until their legal freedom could be obtained.

In 1777 addition restrictions prohibited a slave owner from allowing slaves to hire themselves out, thus preventing the slaves from accumulating funds to buy themselves out of slavery. Any slave transgressing this law could be taken up and put to hard work for the benefit of the county for as much as 20 days. This would have made the Quaker trust ownership of slaves less advantageous.

That is enough information for now – I will write more on this subject later.



Mary Howard’s father

My writing is taking a slight detour. Much as I want to finish researching Mary Howard and tell her story, it makes much sense to start with her father. Horton’s father, Bartholomew was a wealthy plantation owner who married a Quaker woman, Ruth Stanton. Batholomew died when Horton was about 15 years old, leaving an estate that included 20 slaves. Five years later, in the 1790 census, there were 26 slaves in the entry with Horton Howard as head of house. The Quakers were increasingly uncomfortable with the institution of slavery, and not easily able to free them under the laws of North Carolina. Horton was part of a small group who explored the Northwest Territory where slavery was prohibited in the territory’s charter. The men reported that is was also a favorable place to settle in terms of agriculture; wildlife for hunting; and clean, abundant water. Horton lead the first group of Quakers to settle in a new land, and spent the next 30 years trying to recreate the wealth that he’d abandoned with this move.

Discord over Inheritance

Below, is an excerpt from a letter, postmarked Jan 13, probably 1834 – a few months after the deaths of Horton and Hannah Howard in the Cholera epidemic. The letter is written by 20 yr old John Howard to his brother in law Samuel Forrer,  and refers to John’s half brothers Henry (41,) Joseph (36,) and  Horton Jr (30.) Samuel & John are trying to repair wounded feelings caused by settling the estate of the Howard parents. Horton’s will left everything to his wife, and Hannah died before creating a will to include her stepsons in sharing her estate.

“With regard to the divission of the property which thee mentions, I can say that as far as I am concerned I am perfectly well satisfied, indeed I would prefer that I should be place on an equality with them, – But I do not feel satisfied that the portions of my sisters should be divided in any such way. – I just now think of a plan which would be much more honorable, and one which cannot but be agreeable to Henry and Horton, it is this. Let my portion of my dear Mothers estate be given to brother Joseph. Joseph always was a good boy when he was at home, and when he was grown, he was still of use to Father, but, he was not more useful in his sphere, than were his sisters in theirs. Although I loved my parents as much as any of them, I have not been as useful as my sisters and Joseph have been, nor have Horton and Henry. Therefore, I think that if the property were divided in this way, making the three who were evidently the most deserving equal, that is giving Joseph my place, and making my portion equal to the of Henry and Horton, I think there would be no more trouble or hard feeling. Henry and Horton cannot think that they are equally deserving with their sisters and Joseph, or if they can, I know they are not, and I know I am not; and, therefore, shall not willingly give my assent to any other divission of the property than the one I have mentioned, or one which will leave the portion of my sisters untouched. Nothing gives me so much pain as to see the members of a family entertaining hard feeling toward each other, and I am sure this will be the case in ours unless this matter is arranged.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion

Transcribing a letter from 4th-Great-Grandfather Horton Howard in Nov 1831, and find he was a man with complex and universal compassions. One letter, written on travells through VA & SC etc, includes the following, which seemed contradictory to his antislavery/abolitionist stance “they are determined to remove to one of the Free Western States as soon as they can sell and get away – the Fright and Terror that the Whites generally in these states have been indescribably shocking and terrible – some few in delicate health have be frightened to death – time and paper would fail me to attempt a description of a small portion of their frenzied actions and the moments of their Terror!!! It seems somewhat abated, but the impressions on their minds and the consciousness of their danger seems to rest heavily on many and many are moving or preparing to move”
This was just after the Nat Turner slave rebellion. Although the Aug 21 rebellion was over in 2 days, Nat Turner was not captured for 2 months, and was executed on Nov 5 – only 10 days before the postmark on this letter.

From Sympathy to Romance

I am working on 1804 letters written by my 4th-Great-Grandmother to Horton Howard, the man she married in 1806. I believe their romance began when she wrote him a sympathy letter on the death of his second wife. There were several other letters written before the second wife died. I can’t help wonder if this young woman knew that Horton would soon be widowed.