Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pricilla Dowell's Slaves

I am in the process of transcribing the will of a first cousin – five times removed that she wrote on the eve of the US Civil War. It was probated at the height of the war in January 1863 in Wilkes County, North Carolina. When this will is combined with other contemporary documents, an interesting story begins to emerge. Part of it I will share today. I plan to add more as I am able to uncover and organize it.

It would appear that Priscilla Dowell was an unmarried woman of about 70 years of age. She is often reported to have been born in Maryland.  This birth location would be correct for her older siblings. However, if she was born about 1790, it is likely that she was born soon after her family arrived in North Carolina. Her grandparents and several uncles and aunts moved from Maryland right after the Revolutionary War. They were drawn there in part because of land grants being offered to soldiers in partial compensation for their service.
Apparently Priscilla was concerned about providing for her slaves because she took up their disposition right after she had directed that her just debts be paid. Bequests to her family members came later in the document. She seemed to have the best interest of her slaves in mind. While she stopped short of offering them their freedom, she appeared to be seeking a humane environment for them.

Item 2nd   In order to secure a good home in this neighborhood for my negro woman Jude and her child Jo also the increase of said negro woman I will and desire that my Executor hereafter appointed permit said woman to select a home for herself and child or children and provided said person selected will pay two thirds of the valuation of said negroes at trader’s prices then my Executer to execute Bill of Sale and should it not suit the person selected by said negro woman to purchase or pay said prices, them  my Executor to select a home himself for said negro woman and child or children, provided nevertheless that it is my will and desire that said woman and child or children be sold for two thirds of the valuation of said woman and ___ children.
Item 3rd I will and desire that my Executer sell my two negro boys Henderson and Peyton and my negro Girl, Eloisa to James Guyn for the rates of two thirds of their valuation at trading prices, and should it not ___ said James Guyn to take said negroes Henderson Peyton and Eloisa at said rates; then I desire my Executor hereafter appointed to select good homes in this neighborhood at a place or places when said sales of two thirds of traders prices can be obtained.

I will add information from census records that expand on this will in a subsequent post. I will leave you to judge whether Priscilla's views about her slaves were enlightened for her era. She was apparently illiterate as she signed her will with "her mark". 

I am in touch with descendants of Henderson, above, who took the surname Dowell. Some of them still live in the Wilkes County area and their family has used several given names down to the present generation that parallel the given names used by Priscilla's family. This challenges genealogists as they attempt to properly record these two families who share a surname as well as a history.

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