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CURRITUCK COUNTY MARRIAGES OF FREED PEOPLE
Excerpts from Somebody Knows My Name
Barnetta McGhee White, Ph.D.
There were always slave ministers of the gospel who performed marriage ceremonies in the slave community. None of these were considered legal contracts by the slaveholding population, but they were certainly considered moral and spiritual contracts by the participants. Because there was no statutory law recognizing marriage between slaves, one must look to the common law. At common law, it is the declared assent of the mind to the act of marriage which makes it legal.
By the end of the Civil War, former slaves were in destitute conditions and the South was in shambles. Many Southern states had to rewrite their state constitutions to make them comply with the Constitution of the United States, and all of them had to pass new laws, acts, and codes to reflect the new status of over 4 million men, women and children who had been enslaved for generations, but were now free. One area needing immediate attention was the recognition and legalization of those marriages which had been contracted during slavery according to the customs of the slave community. Although the couples may have considered themselves morally married, as they were under common law, the states sought ways to ratify these alliances. In North Carolina, as well as in other confederate states, slave marriages performed by regular civil or religious authorities had been absolutely forbidden by law.
In North Carolina, the General Assembly in 1866 passed An Act Concerning Negroes and Persons of Color or of Mixed Blood. This Act contained 19 sections. Section 1 defined "persons of color". Section 5 decreed that those persons whose cohabitation was to be ratified into a state of marriage were required to appear before the local Clerk of County Court or Justice of the Peace to acknowledge that fact. Section 6 described the penalty for failure to do so before Sept. 1, 1866. Those acknowledgements were to be recorded and regarded as proof that a marriage had existed. Section 6 resulted in the vast majority of the couples reporting their marriages between March and September, 1866.
Only 71 records of cohabitation have survived in Currituck County. The justices gave very few surnames for the wives. Click on the husband's name for a look at an image of the marriage.
|Bunnell, Smart||Phillis Bunnell||20|
|Cornick, Charles||Fanny Wilson||2|
|Cowell, Isaac||Rutha Morse||15|
|Gordon, Joseph||Polly Barnard||less than 1|
|Lamb, Thomas||Jenny Williams||50|
|Mercer, Edmund||Anny Jarvis||14|
|Mercer, Harry||Rhoda Dozier||14|
|Owls [Olds?], Spence||Elizabeth||5|
|Scott, Elbert||Caty Bunnell||20|
|Wilson, Allen||Claresa Overman||2|
|Wilson, James||Sarah A. Wilson||2|
|Wilson, Wesley||Mary Foreman||2|
|(no last name), Pompey||Sarah||
Permission to post the above marriages was kindly given by Barnetta McGhee White, Ph.D, who compiled a wonderful 3-volume book, Somebody Knows My Name, on marriages of freed people in the state of North Carolina. Images were scanned and submitted by Ben Bateman, Jr.
© 2016 Kay M. Sheppard