Franklin County, North Carolina: Reclaiming self, the case of Alfred Collins Harris

Alfred Collins Harris, Raleigh, North Carolina. Date unknown. Photo courtesy: rejoice06

Alfred Collins Harris was born enslaved on February 22, 1849, near Louisburg, Franklin County, North Carolina. He was the son of William D. Harris (1815-1862), white, and Chloe Cope, African American, who was born enslaved, date unknown. On October 29, 1891, Alfred filed a petition in Franklin County Court, North Carolina, to legally change his surname to that of his biological father, William D. Harris.

From the “Petition of Alfred Harris, ex-slave, to change name to Alfred Harris, 1891.” North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.

He was formerly a slave his mother Cloe belonged to Thomas Cope – on the death of Thomas Cope in 1859 – the petitioner who was then a mere child became the property of Mrs. Maria Collins, and so continued her property until his emancipation in 1865 at which time he was thirteen years of age. Petitioner’s father was Wm Harris, and of two other children were born to said Cloe by said Wm Harris – these other children who were a sister and brother of the petitioner after their emancipation took the name of Harris their father’s name – but as petitioner was a mere boy – and as he had belonged to Mrs. Collins – he was called Alfred Collins until the name became so fastened to him that he could not rid himself of it – and so he has ever since gone by that name. He prefers to be as/on his father’s name rather than that of his mistress owner, and he desires to have the same name as the other members of his family – His name has never been changed his name  before by law and he prays that you will grant this petition.” – Oct. 29 1891


Map of Franklin County, North Carolina, ca. 1906-1907. Louisburg is the county seat, identified within Township 10. Cypress Creek is identified as Township no. 9.1

There was a lot to unpack in this petition. I first looked up Thomas Cope, identified as Alfred and Chloe’s owner, in the 1850 U. S. Census and Slave Schedule. Thomas Cope was documented in the Louisburg District of Franklin County. The household included Thomas Cope (60), a farmer, with six hundred dollars in real estate, and Maria (Mariah) Cope (30).2

Thomas Cope, 1850 U. S. Federal Census – Slave Schedule, Louisburg District, Franklin County, North Carolina. Ancestry.com

In the 1850 U. S. Census Slave Schedule, Thomas Cope was documented in Louisburg District, Franklin County, North Carolina, the owner of three enslaved persons, one woman, age twenty, one man, age fifteen, and one female, age three.

In his petition, Alfred named Maria (Mariah) Collins as his second owner. According to vital records, Maria Collins was born Maria (Mariah) Cope, about 1825, North Carolina, reportedly the only child of Thomas Cope,3,and may be the identical Maria Cope documented in the household of Thomas Cope in the 1850 Census, Franklin County, North Carolina.4 In 1841, a marriage bond was executed in the county of Franklin, North Carolina, between Maria (Mariah) Cope and James Collins, Jr.(b. ca. 1814).

Marriage bond of James Collins, Jr., and Mary (Mariah) Cope. Franklin County, North Carolina, 1841. Ancestry.com

As stated in Alfred’s petition, Thomas Cope passed away in 1859, and James Collins, Jr., husband of Maria (Mariah) Collins (nee Cope), became the executor of Thomas Cope’s estate.5

In the 1860 Census, James and Mariah Cope Collins were documented in Louisburg Township, Franklin County, North Carolina. The household included James Collins, Jr. (47), a farmer, his wife Maria Cope Collins (18), daughters Sarah (Seraphney, 18), Ann (7), Cornelia (6) Eliza (3), and sons Peter (14), James (12), William (5), and Thomas (1). James Collins, Jr., was in possession of personal property worth over two thousand dollars, and real estate, valued at over nine thousand dollars.6

Per the 1860 U. S. Federal Census Slave Schedule, eight enslaved persons were documented on James Collins, Jr.’s estate, five females, ages forty-three, twenty-two, eighteen, fifteen, and six, and three males, ages twenty-two, ten, and one.7

By 1860, William D. Harris, Alfred’s biological father, was documented in Louisburg, Franklin County, age forty-five, a farmer, with four hundred and twenty dollars in real estate.8

In March, 1860, Franklin County, North Carolina court, William D. Harris filed a detinue – a legal claim to recover his wrongfully seized chattel property, Alfred, and his two siblings born of Chloe Cope, Maria (Mariah), and Sidney – from James Collins, Jr. According to court documents, Alfred, Mary, and Sidney’s collective worth was five hundred dollars.9

“William D. Harris informs the court that he recently lost a case against James Collins Jr. to gain legal title to three slaves. He claims that he lost the case because he failed to appear in court due to an illness. He now brings his suit to the Superior Court. He argues that he acquired title to the slaves through a deed of conveyance executed by the Late Thomas Cope, who “was perfectly capable of transacting business.” Harris asks for a new trial.

Race & Slavery Petitions Project, Univ. of North Carolina Greensboro

James Collins, Jr.’s defense was that Thomas Cope wasn’t mentally fit to enter into any legally binding agreement with William D. Harris, and that he (Collins, Jr.), had no knowledge of any business transaction between Harris and Cope. The jurors in the case sided with James Collins, Jr., and there was no subsequent legal action, determined “by mutual consent” of the parties involved, and the case was dismissed. William D. Harris passed away in 1862, Franklin County, North Carolina.10

In his petition, Alfred claimed that his two siblings, Maria and Sidney were able to take their biological father’s surname, Harris, “but as petitioner was a mere boy – and as he had belonged to Mrs. Collins – he was called Alfred Collins until the name became so fastened to him that he could not rid himself of it – and so he has ever since gone by that name .”

I looked to see what became of Alfred between 1865 and 1891, the year of his petition. In a review of census and vital records, Alfred was known alternately by both surnames, “Collins,” as well as “Harris.”

In the 1870 U. S. Census, Mary Ann and Sidney, Alfred’s siblings, were documented in Cypress Creek Township, Franklin County, laborers on the farm of Joseph Cope (38, African American, farmer). Sidney (“Sid’), age seventeen, was listed as a farm laborer, and Mary, age twenty, a domestic servant. There is no documentation for Albert, with surname “Harris” or “Collins,” but there is a “Jack Harris,” age nineteen, documented on the same farm, who may have been Alfred.11

Alfred, under the name “Alfred C. Harris,” married Launa Dora Smith, on September 24, 1879, in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Launa Dora Smith was the biracial daughter of Capt. Thomas B. Bridgers (1835-1893), a former Confederate soldier with Republican party affiliations, and Susan Smith (1840-1886), African American.

Marriage license of Alfred C. Harris and Launa Dora Smith, 1879, Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Ancestry.com
Launa Dora Smith Harris, daughter of Thomas B. Bridgers and Susan Smith. Date unknown. Photo courtesy: rejoice06

By 1880, Alfred, noted as “Alfred Collins,” and wife Launa, were documented in Cypress Creek Township. The household included Alfred (30), a farmer, “unable to read or write,” and Launa Dora (20), “keeping house,” Alfred’s sister Mary (32 housekeeper), Gilly Harris (75), identified as Alfred’s grandmother, and Henry Collins (18), listed as a cousin.

Alfred Collins Harris and family, 1880, Cypress Creek Township, Franklin County, North Carolina. Ancestry.com

Alfred’s brother, Sidney Harris, married Pattie Wester, daughter of Amy Wester, in 1884. On the marriage license, Alfred was noted as “Alfred Collins.”

Marriage license of Sidney Harris and Pattie Wester, 1884, Franklin County, North Carolina. Ancestry.com

Alfred’s petition to change his surname from “Collins” to “Harris,” was approved on November 9, 1891, Franklin County, North Carolina. In order to be approved, Alfred needed character references, identified as M. E. Joyner and L. S. Alford. The former was probably Marcellus E. Joyner (1843-1915), and the latter, Lawrence Sidney Alford, both white residents of Franklin County, North Carolina. Alfred Collins Harris court court costs to reclaim his name came to a total of four dollars and twenty cents.

In the Matter of the Application                   }
Alfred Collins to change his                          }     Order
Name to Alfred Harris                                   }
 
                                                Upon the application of Alfred Collins to change his name to Alfred Harris, and it appearing that ten days notice of the hearing of this application was given by publication at the Court House door in this County and the applicant having proved his good character by the written affidavit of M. E. Joyner and L. S. Alford filed with his petition and it appearing that good and sufficient reasons exists for changing the name of the applicant it is now on the 9th day of November 1891 ordered and adjudged that Alfred Collins’ name be changed to Alfred Harris.
                                                B. B. Massenburg
                                                Clerk Superior
                                                Court – Franklin Co.

“Petition of Alfred Collins, ex-slave, to change his name to Alfred Harris, 1891.” North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.

In the 1900 U. S. Census, Alfred Collins Harris and family were documented in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. The household included Alfred (50, farmer), and Launa Dora (39), noted as mother to nine children, with seven surviving by 1900. The household also included sons William T. (19), Otis G. (16), Curtis Brogdon (11), and Robert L. (6), and daughters Mary M. (17), Sadie P. (14), and Ada (8). William, Mary, Otis, Sadie, and Curtis all attended school.12 Alfred and family lived next door to Rev. Lewis Thomas Christmas (1855-1928), of Warren County, North Carolina, and his wife, Mary. Mary Smith Christmas (1860-1942), was Launa Dora’s sister, and had married Rev. Lewis Thomas Christmas on February 25, 1885, Wake County, North Carolina.13

In Raleigh, Alfred and his family settled into a relatively comfortable existence, economically speaking. Alfred’s wife, Launa Dora, along with her sisters, Mary Magdalene Smith Christmas, Ada Smith, and Gertrude Smith Rogers, had inherited the balance of their father’s, Capt. Thomas B. Bridger’s, estate, estimated at over ten thousand dollars at the time of his death in 1893. Launa Dora Smith Harris’ sister, Mary Magdalene Smith Christmas, was Executrix of the estate of Capt. Thomas B. Bridgers.14

Alfred Collins and Launa Dora Smith Harris began investing in real estate in 1900, Capt. Thomas Bridgers directed in his will that his land holdings be sold to cover any debts attached to his estate. To retain ownership of the land, Executrix Mary Magdalene Smith Christmas sold a 109-acre tract, known as the “Home Place,” and a 59-acre tract, known as the “Brown Tract,” to her husband, Rev. Lewis Thomas Christmas, in 1899, for about $2, 700. In turn, Rev. Lewis T. Christmas and Mary sold a large portion of the “Home Place,” a 66-acre tract, to Alfred C. and Launa Dora Smith Harris, in 1900, for a sum of $1,600.15The property adjoined the grounds of historic St. Augustine’s University, originally established as Saint Augustine Normal and Collegiate Institute, in 1867.

Alfred Collins and Laura Dora Smith Harris purchased multiple properties in Wake County between 1908 and 1925. However, the original sixty-six acre tract purchased of Rev. L. T. Christian and wife was perhaps the most significant. Launa Dora Smith Collins passed away in 1930, and Alfred Collins Harris passed away on June 13, 1934, at his residence in Raleigh, North Carolina.16After his death, the 60+ acre tract was equally divided into eight and one-half acre tracts among his living children.17

Wake County, North Carolina Register of Deeds

Alfred Collins Harris was interred in historic Mt. Hope Cemetery (est. 1872), Raleigh, North Carolina, on June 15, 1934. His wife, Launa Dora Smith Harris (ca. 1860-1930), and sons Curtis Brogdon Harris (1889-1959), and Robert Lincoln Harris (1893-1950), are also buried in Mt. Hope. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 8, 2009. Alfred and Launa’s son Otis G. Harris (1887-1961) is interred in Hampton National Cemetery, and daughter Ada Sabella Harris Taylor (1898-1987), is interred in Hampton University Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia. Daughter Mary Maude Harris Riley (1883-1940), wife of Dr. George T. Riley, is buried in Barber Memorial Cemetery, Rock Hill, York County, South Carolina.

  1. Franklin County, North Carolina. Washington, D. C.: The Norris Peters Co., ca. 1906-1907. Digital image. North Carolina Maps (https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ncmaps/id/1138 : accessed July 2, 2019).
  2. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1850,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com: accessed June 15, 2019), entry for Thomas Cope (b. ca. 1790), Louisburg, Franklin County, North Carolina, dist. Louisburg, p. 15; citing, ” Year: 1850; Census Place: Louisburg, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: M432_630;Page: 383A; Image: 376.
  3. 8474, William D. Harris V. James Collins, Jr., June, 1860; digital image; “North Carolina, state Supreme Court case files, 1800-1909,” Familysearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed July 29, 2019).
  4. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1850,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed April 4, 2019), entry for Maria Collins (b. ca. 1825), Franklin County, North Carolina, dist. Cooks, p. 10, citing ” Year: 1850; Census Place: Cooks, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: M432_630; Page: 386A; Image: 382
  5. Franklin County, North Carolina. “North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed July 2, 2019), path: Franklin County > C > Copes, Thomas (1859) > images 1-7; State Archives, Raleigh.
  6. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1860,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed June 4, 2019), entry for James Collins, Jr. (b. ca. 1813), Franklin County, North Carolina, dist. Not Stated, p. 22, citing “Year: 1860; Census Place: Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: M653_897; Page: 474;Family History Library Film: 803897.
  7. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1860 – Slave Schedules,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed June 3, 2019), entry for James Collins, Jr., Franklin County, North Carolina, dist. Not Stated, p. 52, citing “United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1860. M653, 1,438 rolls..
  8. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1860,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed June 28, 2019), entry for William D. Harris (b. ca. 1815), Franklin County, North Carolina, dist. Not Stated, p. 27, citing “Year: 1860; Census Place: Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: M653_897; Page: 477;Family History Library Film: 803897.
  9. Franklin Co., North Carolina, Supreme Court case files, 8474, Harris v. Collins, Jr.
  10. Franklin County, North Carolina. “North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed July 9, 2019), path: Franklin County > H > Harris, William D > image 1-8; State Archives, Raleigh.
  11. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1870,” Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed June 6, 2019), Franklin County, North Carolina, dist. Cypress Creek, p. 5, “citing Year: 1870; Census Place: Cypress Creek, Franklin, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1137;Page: 484A; Family History Library Film: 552636.
  12. Ancestry, “U. S. Census 1900,” Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed June 14, 2019), Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, dist. 0137, p. 40, citing “Year: 1900; Census Place: Raleigh, Wake, North Carolina; Page: 20; Enumeration District: 0137; FHL microfilm: 1241221.
  13. Wake County, North Carolina, Marriage Register (1832-1967), Lewis T. Christmas-Mary Magdalene Smith, 25 February 1885; image, “Wake County, Marriage Register, Black (1832-1967),” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/60548/42091_343465-00100/10985853 : accessed July 5, 2019); citing “North Carolina County Registers of Deeds. Microfilm. Record Group 048. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.
  14. Wake County, North Carolina. “North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed July 9, 2019), path: Wake County >B > Bridgers, Thomas B. > images 1-420; State Archives, Raleigh, NC; Wake County, North Carolina, Record of Wills, Book C, 1891-1897, Will of T. B. Bridgers; imaged in “North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970,” Familysearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed July 10, 2019).
  15. Wake County, North Carolina, Land Records, 1880-1945, consulted in “Wake County, North Carolina Register of Deeds,” browsable images, Wake County, North Carolina (http://www.wakegov.com/rod/records/Pages/default.aspx : accessed August 1, 2019).
  16. Ancestry.com. “North Carolina Death Certificates, 1909-1976” database ( https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/ncdeathcerts/ : accessed August 2, 2019), entries for Alfred Collins Harris, and Launa Dora Smith Harris, citing death certificates nos. 374 and 439, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  17. Wake Co., NC, Deeds, various.

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