Update on the William S. Morris family of New Bern

by | Jan 13, 2019 | 2 comments

William S Morris

Nearly five years ago I published a post for a will I had stumbled upon for a William S. MORRIS of New Bern in which he declares his wishes that his “negro woman Patty” and her “mulatto” children be freed and well-maintained after his death. The will was dated 1831 and as far as I knew, that was the end of the story. At the time, I searched for further information but found none. I often wondered if they ever were emancipated.

Thanks to a tip from Riah L. Kinsey, I learned of a database called the Race and Slavery Petitions Project at UNC-Greensboro. I wasted no time searching it for a variety of families about whom I would like to know the fate, and you can imagine my dismay to find a petition that had been filed by William S. Morris in 1828, three years before he wrote his will, in which he requests that the three children, Harriet, Albert, and Freeman, be emancipated.

Petition 11282901 Details

State: North Carolina
Location: Craven
Location Type: County
Salutation: To the honorable the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina
Filing Date: 1829-November-24

General Petition Information

Abstract: William Morris reports that in July 1828 he removed “three coloured slaves Harriett Albert and Freeman, the eldest aged about twelve and the youngest nearly eight years of age” to Pennsylvania “with the intent there to emancipate them, and to place them in such a state as might qualify them to perform the various duties belonging to their lot in life.” He further states that he executed three deeds of manumission and made “diligent enquiries for the purpose of procuring suitable situations for these emancipated children.” Morris maintains, however, that, “in consequent of the redundancy of this species of population” in said state, he was unable “to place them where their moral interests and future usefulness could be protected”; he therefore brought said “unfortunate beings” back to North Carolina. The petitioner therefore prays that an act be passed “to recognize the validity of their emancipation,” upon his “giving such securities to the satisfaction of the Court.”
Result: House: read, referred; recommend rejection
# of Petition Pages: 4
Related Documents: Report of the Committee of Propositions and Grievances, 30 November 1829
Pages of Related Documents: 3

That was so incredibly frustrating, but I wanted to include the link to this item on my Ancestry tree pages for all members of the William S. MORRIS family. When I got to Ancestry’s page for Freeman MORRIS, however, there was a hint. That hadn’t happened before with anyone in this family! There was an 1850 census entry for Freeman. There he was, with his wife, Maria, and presumably her mother (Mary ALLEN) and grandmother (Eliza ALLEN), and their baby girl named after his sister, Harriet!

That led me to do some more digging. Ancestry is always adding new things, and sometimes even if it isn’t something “new”, it’s just been indexed better. Lo and behold I found a Find-A-Grave entry for Freeman and Maria and their family, who apparently had moved to Ohio sometime before the turn of the century.

But wait, there’s more!

I was trying to find out more about Maria ALLEN’s family when I saw William S. MORRIS listed in the 1840 census. That baffled me because I thought he died around 1831 when his will was published. (The will I transcribed on this site was the original, which had somehow ended up in Virginia, but was sent back to New Bern in 1934.) I went back to review his LWT again on Ancestry and I found that there was a REPUBLISHED will that was proved in 1848 — a full 17 years after the original! (I was also baffled by the fact that in 1840, William S. MORRIS now had about 23 slaves, but I’ll look into that another day. It may have been a situation like John Carruthers STANLEY, who obtained many slaves, but ultimately emancipated them. That may have been William S. MORRIS’s goal… We’ll see.)

Here is the transcription of William S. MORRIS’s updated will: (Sorry for all of the ???. Whoever transcribed this will into the book had super narrow, hard-to-read handwriting. You can see images below. Maybe you’ll have a better time of making out what was written than I did.)

I William S. Morris of Newbern, do hereby republish my last will written by William Gaston, and dated the 15th of March 1831 and made and add thereto the following Codicil. I appoint my friends Hardy WHITFORD and John L. DURAND my Executors.

Item, I give and devise unto the said Hardy WHITFORD and John L. DURAND and the sur??? of item my ??? of ??? ??? on the west side of Craven Street in the town of Newbern, between the lots of Henry DEWEY on the North and Elijah CLARK on the south also all my household and kitchen furniture, my cow and calf, and ten shares of the capital stocks held in my name on the books of the Merchants Bbank of Newbern to hold said real estate in fee simple and said personal property absolutely, in trust, ???? to permit my woman Patty to use occupy and enjoy said piece of grouand and the improvements, and said furniture, cow and calf, and to have and receive the dividends and profits of said bank stock, during her natural life of the said Patty and from and after her decease, in trust to surrender and deliver all said real and personal estate to Harriett, Albert, and Freeman, the children of said Patty to be held by ?? in absolute property–

Item I desire my Executors or the ??? of item to sell all town of ? lots No. 83 and 64? on both sides of Middle Street in the town of Newbern, at public auction, and at six months credit, ?? purchasers giving bonds with good security drawing interest from the day of sale of the proceeds of said sale I give unto William Henry Morris son of Harriet and grandson of my woman Patty one thousand dollars, and to William Morris Green son of my brother David Green, one thousand dollars after paying said legacies. I desire the balance of the proceeds of said sale to be equally divided between my brothers and sisters, the children or representatives of my deceased brothers or sisters to take the sahre in said balance of his her thier ??. In Witness whereof I hereunto set my hand and seal at Newbern aforesaid the thirteenth day of May A.D. 1838

William S. Morris { Seal }

Signed, Sealed, published and declared by William S. Morris as a republication of and codicil to his will above referred to before us who have subscribed the same in his presence and in the presence of each other.

J.G. Stanly
Joshua Scott

Craven County Court, December Term A.D. 1848

In the matter of Hardy B. Lane and John L. Durant, Executors of William S. Morris, deceased. Petition to prove the will of William S. Morris, deceased.

Republished will of William S. Morris p1
Republished will of William S. Morris p2

So, before William S. MORRIS died, his presumed daughter with Patty had a little boy named William Henry MORRIS and his grandfather leaves him a sizable piece of his estate.

Also, by 1840, apparently all of William and Patty’s children were free. There are “Free Colored Persons” of the corresponding ages to each of their children, as well as the grandchild, in the household, and again 23 slaves. My next task will be looking into that further.

One final item I’ll mention, just because now it connects my family to this story: The Hardy WHITFORD named as one of William S. MORRIS’s executors was my 4th-great-uncle. I descend from two of his siblings on two different lines: John Martin WHITFORD and Narcissa “Dossie” WHITFORD.



    Freeman Morris ended up in Cleveland Ohio and attained prominence there. He is mentioned in BISHIR, Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern NC


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