While looking into early communities in southwest Wake County, I came across sizeable numbers of people who migrated to Middle Tennessee before moving north and further west. Among those removing to Tennessee was a person named Thomas Barker who some say descends from George Barker from earlier in Wilkes County …in the foothills of western North Carolina. I don’t think that is the case as this fellow’s record clearly connects him to apparent family in Wake County ….in central North Carolina. The most plausible beginnings for this person in Tennessee can be found in the person named Thomas Barker who died in a section of eastern Orange County before it became Wake in 1772. Timing and community clearly connect Thomas Barker in Tennessee to this person, though there is a problem. Any attempts to tell the story of Thomas Barker in Tennessee fails due to how we interpret the death records referencing the pre-Wake County death of Thomas Barker who lived in that place. The story though is wonderfully interesting, offering twists and dilemma making it quite tenuous for one to establish a specific link from Thomas Barker of Tennessee to his ancestor here in North Carolina.
Furthermore, and by way of testimony brought to life in an astounding letter published in 1804 Nashville, Tennessee, the story of Thomas Barker merges with that of others, including a Free Person of Color named Mary Locust. The letter at the heart of this post tells of injustice, of citizens here in Wake County who later were wrongfully enslaved in Tennessee. The letter speaks of evolving cultural realities, power, and its abuse.
As how best to present the said Thomas Barker/s in context of the cultural realities, I believe it is important first for the reader to have time to digest the pleafully written epistle before going forward. Read it and maybe let your thoughts ruminate a while before delving into my next post which I hope to come out soon. Also, take time to read earlier posts in this series as eventually I hope you will realize it is all connected.
For those with roots in Wake, North Carolina, spreading to Middle Tennessee and even Kentucky and Illinois, I hope this post will offer thoughts worth your consideration on how one should best present stories of families past … our making is indeed built upon a mix of realities, both good and bad. Please feel free to similarly add your own thoughts concerning others who trekked west from Middle Carolina to Middle Tennessee and beyond.
[22 Aug 1804, The Tennessee Gazette, Nashville, Tennessee]
For the Tennessee Gazette.
To his Excellency JOHN SEVIER Esq.
As no doubt, from the exalted station you occupy; from the distinguished confidence your fellow citizens have reposed in you, you must be a just man, and a true republican; I take the liberty of offering to you, through the medium of the public papers evidence sufficient, in my opinion, to convince you, or at least the public, that you do unjustly, and contrary to right, hold in your possession, and detain in slavery, a certain woman of color, by the name of POLL LUCOST [Lucas], with her three children. I will not suppose that you have determined to hold them against right, and rely upon their inability to defend themselves, as the security for your tenure; because this I think, would be an imputation upon the honesty and generosity of a man who has been too much distinguished by public approbation, not to have secured him against suspicions of this kind. In a land of liberty, surely nothing can be more unnatural or unjust, than to deprive any person of that liberty to which they are by law entitled; and so careful will every man be, who is attached to the principles of justice in general, and our government in particular, that if even a rational shade of doubt should exist, as to his right in such case, he would abandon it in favor of the liberty rather than run any risqué of practicing and oppression upon a poor helpless, destitute, ignorant, and impotent woman, with her children. This defenseless situation, rather than invite a disposition to wrong and oppress in a noble and generous mind – in a mind as little contaminated by fraud and avarice, as I would wish to consider yours, the highest sensibility, fortify it against any subtle insinuations of avarice, and impel it to the highest generosity, and the most distinguished justice -Surely you do not wish to be made to do right by the law: there will then be no more in it: the law was only designed to operate upon those over whom a sense of justice had no influence; therefore I infer, that all that is necessary with governor Sevier, is to satisfy his mind that those people are not slaves: for which purpose I offer you the following evidence: if it satisfies you that they are free-born, is it not unjust in you to keep them in slavery? And will you ever suffer it to be said that the aid of law was necessary to compel the chief magistrate of Tennessee to do a common act of justice, or to restrain him from the commission of a most palpable injustice, and acting in direct and open opposition to those laws which he has sworn to see faith fully administered; and those principles of republicanism which he professed to adore. If this evidence does not satisfy you, I have in my possession more, which shall be at your service, if you are disposed to enquire after truth, in order to ascertain the claim of these people to your justice. If, on the other hand, you are determined to hold these people, right or wrong, I confess you have it completely in your power. They are friendless; the voice of humanity and justice is too feeble to call forth the energies that are necessary to contest in a tedious lawsuit with a man possessed of the great personal influence of the governor of Tennessee; and if your mind is capable of assenting to the availing yourself of the powers and influences which your more happy fortune has given you the advantage of; you can do so. But with this evidence, the noble and generous mind, which should always accompany, and be possessed by a man in your station: when reasonable doubts are suggested of your right to this property, ought you not, instead of relying on their inability to support their claim, to be yourself active in investigating your right (not your power) to detain them? For my part, having been raised in the same family with Poll Lucust, from infancy to manhood, and well knowing her justly entitled to her freedom, when I found you determined to keep her as a slave – I caused a suit to be instituted against you, at Jonesborough, about three hundred and sixty miles from my house: being a poor man, and unable to attend at such distance, and defray the expenses of the fruit; and not having it in my power to obtain from the friends of humanity the necessary assistance, I shall be constrained to leave these unfortunate people to their cruel destiny, or to your just sense of justice.
In order that the evidence which I am about to offer to you, may be understood, it may be necessary to premise a few things: –Mary Locust was the mother of Poll Lucust, Val Lucust, and Austin Lucust. Mary ever passed as a free woman till she bound herself by indentures, to Thomas Barker, for seven years, in consideration of the payment of twenty-one pounds by said Barker, for her use; which indenture I have in my possession. Val [Valentine] Lucust lives in North Carolina, as a free man, no body pretending to set up any claim to him. Austin Lucust lives on the waters of Holton, as a free man, and purchased his wife, who you know belonged to your excellency; and it is also known by you, that no body pretends to exercise any ownership over her, and two of her children. Your example in detaining Poll and her children, has had a very fatal effect in Logan county Kentucky, where three of Betsey’s children are held as slaves, under Wm M’Ado, who publicly, in Robertson county court, at two different times, acknowledged their freedom and had them bound to him as poor orphans as may be seen in No. 1. This shows the great impropriety, and pernicious tendency of evil example, in persons as illustrious as you are. I cannot pass on to detail, without making in this place, one reflection; it is surprising that two brothers and a sister of Poll should be enjoying their freedom, and yet Poll be a slave! Where particularly, it never has been pretended that any manumission has taken place; and it is a circumstance that ought to be accounted for to your mind! The evidence which now offer, has been legally taken, in a suit in Logan circuit court, wherein the question of freedom was involved. Thomas Barker, had Betsy, Poll, and Austin in his possession, and the following deposition accounts for that possession. By law, hearsay and reputation are good evidence of pedigree: 2 Esp. 723, Buller et P. 233.
Certificate No. 6, will be read as No. 1
No.2, 3, 4, and 5, are depositions taken by Andrew Peddy and Augustus Turner, of North Carolina, by virtue of a dedimus from Logan circuit court. All that applies to Betsey Lucust, with respect to her freedom, applies to Poll, or Mary, her sister, in your possession.
No. 2. The deposition of Lewis Barker – He deposeth and saith, that he knew an old woman of color, by the name of Mary Lucust, and that she went from Wake county with his brother, Thomas Barker to the Yadkin river, where he saw her sometime after, and that she formerly lived with his mother, and ever passed as a free woman; and that he has seen to of the old woman’s daughters by the name of Mary Lucust, and Betty Lucust –and that there is not living, one of the old woman’s sons in the county of Wake, by the name of Val Lucust, and all of them ever passed as free persons; and that he never heard anything but that they were free people. Signed with his name.
No. 3. The deposition of Mark Barker – He deposeth and saith, that he formerly knew a certain old woman of color, by the name of Mary Lucust, who formerly lived with his mother, and passed for a free woman; and that he has seen the old woman’s two daughters, Mary and Betty, living on the Yadkin River, with his brother Thomas Barker, and they still passed as free. Signed with his name.
No. 4. The deposition of Thomas Hogson – He saith he knew a certain old woman of color, by the name of Mary Lucust, about forty years back, and that she ever passed as a free woman: that she removed from the county of Wake, with Thomas Barker, to the Yadkin river, as a free woman: this deponent farther saith that he is well acquainted with a son of said old woman’s, by the name of Val Lucust, who us now living in the county of Wake, not exceeding twelve miles from him, and he has ever passed as a free man, since his apprenticeship was done, and that the said old woman’s mother was said to be of an Indian race, and that he never heard anything to the reverse, but what they were free. Signed with his name.
No. 5. The deposition of John Utley –saith he was well acquainted with a certain old woman, by the name of Mary Lucust, for forty or fifty years back, while she lived with old Mr. William Barker, father of Thomas Barker, with whom she removed from the county of Wake to the Yadkin river, and that she ever passed as a free woman; and that she had five sons, who enjoyed the privilege of free citizens, the years of minority, and that he never heard anything to the reverse, but what they were a free people. Signed with his name, and take in due form of law, 3d September, 1802, by the justices aforesaid.
State of Kentucky –
Logan Circuit, to wit:
I, Armistead Morehead, clerk to the Logan circuit court, to certify, that the foregoing depositions are copies of those filed in my office, in the suit wherein James Moses, and Austin Lucust’s are plaintiffs, and Morton Maulding defendant. Given under my hand this 21st day of February 1804.
Agreeable to a commission from the quarter-session court of Logan county, to us, West Maulding, and Richard Boyce, justices of the peace for Logan county, directed, we have called, and caused to come this day before us, here, that is to say, 30th June, 1802, at the house of Clayton Talbot, in the town of Russellville, in Logan county, Thomas Barker, Anne Barker, his wife Celia Maulding, and John Powers, the witnesses in said commission named, as in the said commission it is commanded us, who being by us first swear the truth to say, in a certain matter of controversy in the aforesaid court depending and undetermined, wherein Ninian Edwards is plaintiff, and Morton Maulding defendant –an action of detinue, deposeth and saith as follows, to wit:
No. 6 &1. Thomas Barker deposeth and saith, that he is in no wise interested in the event of the above fruit; and this deponent farther deposeth and saith, that he was well acquainted with a certain Mary Lucust, who was the mother of Elizabeth, or Betty Lucust, which said Betty is the mother of James and Austin Lucust, and that the said Mary Lucust, so long as this deponent was acquainted with her, which was about forty years, always passed for a free woman, and that he never heard of her freedom, as to birth, being disputed by any person, and this deponent farther deposeth and saith, that the said Mary voluntarily indentured herself to him, for the space of seven years, in consideration of the payment of twenty-one pounds, by, this deponent, to the use of the said Mary; and the said Mary died before the expiration of the said term of seven years; and this deponent farther saith, that he never held said Mary as a slave, any otherwise than by the indenture aforesaid.
Question by defendant –Was Mary Lucust white or black?
Answer –She was neither white nor black, but of mustac color.
Q by deft. Is said Betsy Lucust mother an Indian or negro.
- Always reported to be an Indian.
- by the deft. Is said Betsy Lucust the daughter of the aforesaid Mary Lucust, or not?
- Said Betsy was always reported to be the daughter of said Mary; and I knew said Betsy from the time she was only eight or ten days old, and she sucked said Mary, until weaned at a coming of age, and I believe said Betsey to be the child of said Mary.
- by pltt. Mr Barker, did you ever give the aforesaid Betsy Lucust to a certain William M’Ado, or not?
- I did not.
- by plff. Did you give her to William M’Ado’s wife, or not?
- I did not.
And farther this deponent saith not.
Signed, & c.
No. 7. Anne Barker, wife of the aforesaid Thomas Barker, deposeth and saith, that she was well acquainted with the above said Mary Lucust for the term of eight or ten years before she died, and that she the said Mary was generally supposed to be a free-born woman, and to have come of an Indian Squaw; and that she never heard of her freedom as to birth, disputed during her, said Mary’s life and that the aforesaid Betsy Lucust is the child of the aforesaid Mary : that this deponent was present at the birth of the said Betsy; and this deponent farther saith, that James, Moses, and Austin Lucust, infants, now said to be in the possession of Morton Maulding, is the children of the aforesaid Betsy Lucust, to the best of her belief, from the following circumstance, to wit: that she was present at the birth of said Austin, and was sent for a midwife to said Betsy Lucust, when the aforesaid James Lucust was born but did not arrive until the child James was born, and said Betsy put to bed; and the three children, to wit, James, Moses and Austin Lucust, sucked said Betsy until weaned at common age; and farther this deponent saith not. Signed, & c.
No 8. Celia Maulding, daughter of Thomas Barker, the 3d witness named in the aforesaid, deposeth and saith, that she knew nothing of her own knowledge, about the mother of the aforesaid Betsy Lucust, only from hearsay; that she always heard her parents say, she, the said Betsy Lucust, was free born, and that her mother, Mary Lucust, lives some time with her parents, and died in her father’s family; and that said Betsy Lucust was always considered to be a free born woman, and she never heard of her mother’s being a slave; and farther this deponent saith not. Signed, &c.
No. 9. John Powers, son of Mrs. Thomas Barker, the 4th witness named in the above commission, deposeth and saith, that he was well acquainted with the above said Mary Lucust, until she died, and that he never heard her freedom as to birth, disputed by any person; and that the above said Betsy, always passed as the child of said Mary, and was always considered to be a free woman; and that the aforesaid James, Mote and Austin Lucust, infants, now in the possession of Morton Maulding, is considered to be children of said Betsy; and farther this deponent saith not. Signed, &c.
We, West Maulding, and Richard Boyce, do certify that the above depositions were sworn to and subscribed before us, this 30th day of June, 1802.
West Maulding, J. P.
Richard Boyce, J. P.
A copy. Teste,
The printers at Knoxville and Jonesborough will do a friendly act to the unfortunate sufferers, by publishing the above in their respective papers, before the setting of the superior court at Jonesborough. J. P
Ascertaining genealogy from John Powers’ letter is nearly impossible. Reading the above is like following a rapidly moving marble gliding among cups in a trickster’s well-played shell game. Just as with genealogy, the key to winning the game is one of keeping your eye on the ball and yet, only seeing bits of information spread through time, one may never be able to reconstruct and therefore determine where the moving ball ultimately ends up. However, not only does John Powers’ letter provide a wonderful glimpse into matters of race during early North Carolina, it also adds substantially to the Barker family story …if only I could figure it out. Exactly who was Thomas Barker and as for John Powers, why can I not find him earlier in Wake County in connection there with the Barker family? Before moving forward, please take a minute to study the following, which illustrates the relations of all those named in John Powers’ letter.