Edgecombe County, North Carolina: The escape of Harry, carpenter (1849)

The escape of Harry, carpenter (1849)

On October 5, 1849, Guilford Horn, a slave owner in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, placed an ad in the Wilmington Journal for his fugitive slave, Harry, a carpenter.

$125 Reward – RUNAWAY from the subscriber, residing in Edgecombe county, four miles North of Tossnot Depot, and about a quarter of a mile from the Railroad, on or about the 2nd of September last, his negro man named HARRY. Said Harry is about 40 years of age; 5 feet 5 inches high, or thereabouts; yellow complexion; stout built; has a scar on his left leg from the cut of an axe; has very thick lips; eyes deep sunk in his head; forehead very square; tolerably loud voice; has lost one or two of his upper front teeth; and has a very dark spot on his jaw, supposed to be a mark.

Harry is a Carpenter by trade, and has been in the employment of the Railroad Company, in whose service he was when he runaway. He is well known along the line of the Road. It is supposed that he has obtained, or will endeavor to obtain, free papers from a free colored man living in Nash county, by the name of Moses Hagens, and assume his name, in order to make his way to a free State.

The above negro was once the property of Mrs. Copage, of Edgecombe county; afterwards he fell into the hands of Asiel Farmer, from whom he was purchased by Mr. Barnes, of said county, from whom I purchased him about six years ago. He will be certain to alter his name; probably call himself Harry Copage, Farmer, or Barnes. He was last heard from on the 11th September, on the Newbern Road, about a mile and a half from Wilmington, enquiring the way to the Sound.

I will give the above reward to any person who will deliver him to me, or lodge him in any jail in the State; or One Hundred Dollars if lodged in any jail out of the State, so that I can get him again.

Guilford Horn

Edgecombe county, N. C. October 5, 1849

Wilmington Journal, October 12, 1849

It’s not a surprise that Moses Hagins, a free man of color, was mentioned in Horn’s ad as a possible collaborator. It wasn’t uncommon for free African Americans to assist runaway slaves by harboring them, or helping them to escape, which was an inherently dangerous action.1 I first located Moses Hagins in the 1830 Census, Edgecombe County, North Carolina. According to the record, Moses was born about 1800, and was living in District three of Edgecombe County, head of a household of four people, and by 1840, head of a household of nine people. In the 1850 Census, he was documented in Nash County, as a farmer. The household included Moses (48), Patty (38), and Gray B. Hagins (19). 2

Detail of the northern section of Wayne County, and southern section of Edgecombe County. Prior to 1849, Toisnot Depot was a part of Edgecombe County. Map of North Carolina. Library of Congress
Map depicting the area of the Toisnot Depot (the city of Wilson by 1849)3, Old Fields, and Taylors after annexation. 1879 Map of Wilson County, North Carolina. University of North Carolina

Harry must have proven elusive, as Guilford Horn continued to place dozens of ads between November, 1849 to August, 1850 in various North Carolina newspapers. The Eastern Carolina Republican, The Semi-Weekly Standard, the Weekly Standard, and the Tri-Weekly Commercial, all carried Horn’s ads seeking Harry’s capture and return.4

Guilford Horn in the US Census 1850 Slave Schedule, the owner of three enslaved males, ages 40, 30, and 11. The hashmark to the right of the first recorded enslaved man, age 40, is in the category labeled “Fugitive from the State.” This notation is likely in reference to Harry. Source: Familysearch.org

By August, 1850, the language in Guilford Horn’s ads had changed, and become far more severe.

State of North Carolina, New Hanover County-

WHEREAS, complaint upon oath hath this day been made to us, two of the Justices of the Peace for the State and County, that a certain male salve belonging to him, named HARRY, a Carpenter by trade, about 40 years old, 5 feet 5 inches high, or thereabouts; yellow complexion; stout built; with a scar on his left leg, (from the cut of an axe); has very thick lips; eyes deep sunk in his head; forehead very square; tolerably loud voice; has lost or two of his upper teeth; and has a very dark spot on his jaw, supposed to be a mark – hath absented himself from his master’s service, and is supposed to be lurking about in this county, committing acts of felony or other misdeeds; These are, therefore, in the name of the State aforesaid, to command the said slave forthwith to surrender himself and return home to his said master; and we do hereby, by virtue of the Act of Assembly in such cases made and provided, intimate and declare that if the said slave Harry doth not surrender himself and return home immediately after the publication of these presents, that any person or persons may KILL and DESTROY the said slave by such means as he or they may think fit, without accusation or impeachment of any crime or offence for so doing, and without incurring any penalty or forfeiture thereby.

Given under our hands and seals, this 29th day of June, 1850.

James T. Miller, J. P. (seal)

W. C. Bettencourt, J. P. (seal)

One Hundred and Twenty five Dollars Reward will be paid for the delivery of the said HARRY to me at Tosnott Depot, Edgecombe county, or for his confinement in any Jail in the State so that I can get him; or One Hundred and Fifty Dollars will be given for his head.

He was lately heard from in Newbern where he called himself Harry Barnes (or Burns), and will be likely to continue the same name, or assume that of Copage of Farmer. He has a free mulatto woman for a wife, by the name of Sally  Bozeman, who has lately removed to Wilmington, and lives in that part of the town called Texas, where he will likely be lurking.

Masters of vesels are particularly cautioned against harboring, or concealing the said negro on board their vessels, as the full penalty of the law will be rigorously enforced.

Guilford Horn

The Wilmington Journal, August 23, 1850

This new, two-part ad would run unchanged, every month, for the remainder of 1850, and into early 1851. The ads also increased in number per month, likely due to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act (passed September 18, 1850), part the Compromise of 1850. Harry’s only “crime” was having the audacity to escape and evade capture, thereby avoiding a return to chattel slavery. As a smaller scale farmer, any defenders of Horn’s actions might suggest that Harry, a skilled carpenter, was a significant investment, and Horn only desired to continue collecting returns on that investment. However, that argument goes out the window by August, 1850, when Horn was willing to pay more for Harry’s head. This change seemed less “I want my property back,” and more “How dare you.”

Guilford Horn’s new ad and language therein, “One Hundred and Fifty Dollars will be given for his head,” was republished and justifiably scorned by the Liberator.

Here are two advertisements, which we copy from the Wilmington (N. C.) Journal, of Oct. 18th – both published in accordance with the law of the State. Harry, a slave, having left his tyrannical master, is commanded to return home instanter – otherwise, any person is authorised to kill and destroy him, without accusation or impeachment!! The owner of Harry, it will be observed, cooly offers twenty-five dollars more for his head, than for his capture and return alive, unharmed—solely to gratify his devilish malice! And this in our Christian country!

The Liberator, November 1, 1850

By June of 1851, Guilford Horn’s ads seeking Harry’s execution abruptly stopped. Reading through the ads made me angry, and I remember thinking, “Why did they stop? Because Guilford Horn died?” It seemed only death could stop Horn’s determination to punish Harry. As it turns out, that’s precisely what happened.

According to wills and probate records, Guilford Horn died about April or early May, 1851. There is no mention in the documentation as to whether or not he ever found Harry. I’d like to think not. Guilford Horn’s endless quest to re-enslave Harry reminded me a little of Dr. James Norcom’s relentless pursuit of Harriet Jacobs, former slave, freedom seeker, abolitionist, and author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, published in 1861.

In the end, Guilford Horn ran a total of no less than one-hundred and fifty-six ads for Harry’s capture or execution in five newspapers published in Raleigh, New Bern, and Wilmington, North Carolina, between October, 1849, and May, 1851. None seem to have worked for their stated purpose. Perhaps Harry, like thousands of other freedom-seekers, successfully made it to Wilmington, and escaped from the inhumane and foul “peculiar institution” of slavery, with Sally in tow. For the purposes of this blog, I can’t verify it. All I do know is that there is no further record of a Harry “Farmer, Copage, or Barnes/Burns,” in genealogical records. However, if Harry was smart, which appears likely, judging by the sheer number of ads placed by Gilbert Horn for his capture, Harry would’ve changed his name, or left the South as quickly as he could.

Harry was just one of thousands of enslaved African Americans fighting for self-determination and dignity by rebelling against their masters and the system of slavery through physical escape. It’s a great reminder that many enslaved African Americans didn’t wait on anyone to free them from slavery. They used their own agency to secure their freedom.

“Underground Railroad Activity in Wilmington, N. C. – North Carolina’s Largest Port City
Before emancipation, both banks of the Wilmington riverfront were lined with wharves and warehouses where goods were stored until loaded onto outgoing vessels. Shops, offices and residences were located along the adjacent streets. Enslaved African-Americans who lived in the town were hired out in nearly every trade. They also worked along the docks as stevedores and draymen who delivered goods to and from the port. It was here that Wilmington’s Underground Railroad activity took place. Maritime in nature, it centered on the Cape Rear River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean about 30 miles below the town. By 1840, Wilmington was North Carolina’s largest port city, port and rail center. Vessels entering Wilmington’s harbor gave bondsmen access to captains and crews with abolitionist sympathies.” Wayside marker, Ocean Street Pier, Wilmington, North Carolina. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, October 18, 2014. All rights reserved.
  1. (73) “Any person who shall entice or persuade any slave to absent him or herself from his or her owner’s service, or who shall harbor or maintain, under any pretence whatever, any runaway slave, shall, for every such offence, forfeit and pay to the owner of such slave the sum of one hundred dollars, to be recovered by action of debt, before any jurisdiction having cognizance thereof, and be further liable to the said owner in an action for damages; and such person shall also be subject to a penalty of one hundred dollars, to be recovered before any justice of the peace, by any person suing for the same, the one half to the use of the informer, the other half to the use of the wardens of the poor of the county where suit is brought. And the person committing such offence shall, moreover, be subject to indictment therefor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined at the discretion of the court not exceeding one hundred dollars, and imprisoned not exceeding six months.” Revised Statutes of the State of North Carolina (Raleigh, N.C., 1837, Chapter 34.)
  2. There was a marriage license issued (noted incomplete) between Moses Hagins and Trecy Laciter, in Wilson County, North Carolina, on September 7, 1857. In the 1860 Census, Moses was documented as a farmer, age sixty, head of a household that included wife Theresa (Trecy, 48) and in possession of real estate valued at $125, and personal property worth $115. In the 1870 Census, Moses is documented in Taylor, Wilson County, age seventy, with wife Trecy, age 50. Moses Hagins passed away in 1873. At the time of his death, the assessed value of his estate was $250.
  3. Toisnot Depot was incorporated as the town of Wilson, January 29, 1849.
  4. Historians John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger note: “To avoid detection, runaways switched from New Bern to Wilmington in North Carolina, from Columbia to Charleston, South Carolina, and from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Some of the larger cities attracted runaways from hundreds of miles out.” For more information, see Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, by J. H. Franklin and L. Schweninger, 1999.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: