Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Looking for Pearson's slaves.

Lately, I've been doing quite a bit of digging into the life of North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Richmond Pearson. Like most people from the past, he is a complex person. Pearson is best known (during the War years) for his refusal to go along with Governor Vance's decision to use the North Carolina militia to enforce Confederate conscription law.

Richmond Pearson
Was Pearson a Unionist? Hmm... I've not really uncovered a personal statement from him on the subject. Maybe I'll find one. At the same time, many of the state's Unionists kept quiet on the matter while the war was being waged. Pearson did become one of the leading Republicans in North Carolina after the war ended.

According to the 1860 Yadkin County Census, Pearson owned 37 slaves. Of these, 13 were female, 24 male; the oldest ones were 45 (two males), and 26 were 16 years old or younger. Of course, the slave census tells us nothing about them or their lives. (It is interesting to note that Pearson's neighbor was David Cozzens, a lower middle-class free person of color who was also a farmer. Several of the Cozzens family from Yadkin and Watauga Counties were Confederate soldiers.)

Turning to the 1870 Yadkin County Census, there are two black Pearson families. I am going to speculate that these are some of the former slaves of Richmond Pearson. Family one is the Winnie Pearson family. She is 56 years old, and there are five other members of the family: George (19), Nancy (18); Nicholas (14) Henry (12), and Jane (3). Two other black Pearsons are living in the Sylvester Speer (white) family, and list their occupations as laborers. They are Charles (23) and Sandy (24). It is possible that they are a married couple, and Sandy may have a different surname. There are no other black Pearsons in Yadkin County. There are a few others in Wilkes and Davie counties.

So what happened to these enslaved men and women? How did they get the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, and more importantly, the 13th Amendment? Like other enslaved peoples, did they chose to stay on working for Richmond Pearson after the war ended, or  did they simply walk away, looking to begin a new life elsewhere? I'm not sure I'll ever be able to answer those questions. 

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