Once again, a document has surfaced that really brings home the “peculiar institution” of slavery. Just a few days ago, in researching my Southampton County, Virginia Turner family, I located the receipt of “purchase” for my fourth great-grandfather, Henry Turner (Boy Henry) and his very probable (per DNA testing results of descendants) sister, Betsey Turner (Girl Betsey):
January the 16th 1844 Recd of Edward P. Turner the sum of Three Hundred dollars in full for the purchase of two negro slaves (to wit) Boy Henry and Girl Betcy. The right and title to said negroes I forever warrant and defend unto the said Edward P. Turner his heirs Executors Adm. or assigns againt the claims of any person or persons whatsoever, I also warrant the said negroes to be perfectly sound and healthy in every respect whatever. given under my hand and seal the day and date above mentioned.
William A. Jones
Joel P. McLemore
The above is a true copy from the original
Edward P. Turner
Southampton County Chancery Cause
Index Number 1848-006
Plaintiff: EXR OF Henry Harrison
Defendant: James D. Westbrook TRST ETC
On its face, this document is just another case of dubious dealings, treating humans as chattel. And yet, there is far more going on here than what first glance or read would reveal.
A closer look at related court records indicates that the selling of Henry and Betsey may very well have been a preemptive strike to “protect”them from those like James D. Westbrook and his own Harrison kin. Each complainant had a different claim for wanting to gain possession of Henry Harrison’s servants.
Indeed, in the 1844 record, Harrison stated, “The right and title to said negroes I forever warrant and defend unto the said Edward P. Turner his heirs Executors Adm. or assigns againt the claims of any person or persons whatsoever.” He knew a challenge was on the horizon.
There is a great deal of information revealed in these court records. Still, and not surprisingly, so many questions remain.
What is known is that by June of 1844, Henry, Betsey, and fourteen other emancipated souls were subpoenaed in the Chancery Court of Southampton County and Henry Harrison was deceased.
Henry Harrison, the son of Benjamin F. Harrison, Sr. of Southampton County, Virginia, wrote his last will on October 13, 1840. In it, he emancipated a total of sixteen enslaved souls: Susan, Jim, Charles, Martha, Mason, Anthony, Tom, Sukey, Lucy, Clara, Judy, Carter, Henry, Betsey, Hannah, and John.
There were others who would not take so kindly to Harrison’s benevolence. The widowed wife of Henry’s brother Benjamin, Catherine Harrison, in early 1845, would be the administratrix of her husband’s estate and next friend of her children: Sarah Ann, Allen A., Hannah A., John W., Andrew J., Elizabeth H., Edwin M., and Benjamin F. Harrison in a lawsuit against the estate of her late brother-in-law, Henry Harrison.
Perhaps feeling an ill wind, legal and otherwise, Henry Harrison “sold” those who he had on paper “freed” a few years earlier. Edward P. Turner, a deputy sheriff of Southampton County, was not the only one to acquire some of Henry Harrison’s servants. William A. Jones, a witness in the 1844 record of Henry and Betsey’s purchase, did also. Catherine Harrison set her legal sights on Jones, too.
What unfolds is quite the saga, quite the situation. The uncovering will be covered here.
The Genealogy Situation Room