52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Power or a Case of Murder by a Slave

Power can be many things to many people. For some, power means using their influence for the good of all. For those who are religious, power resides in their inner strength and faith. My story is of authoritarian power used to control people, a power that led to the death of one of my ancestors.

My roots run deep in the south. As I’ve worked my way through this genealogical journey, I was concerned that I would find ancestors with slaves. For many years, I found none until I researched the Turner’s who lived in Caswell County, North Carolina.

Henry Turner, my sixth great-grandfather, was a slave owner. During their marriage, his wife, Nancy Ann Kimbrough, inherited one negro boy named Sam from her father Thomas Kimbrough.¹ According to his will, Henry owned fourteen slaves.² After Henry’s death, a notice dated 23 Dec 1824 appeared in the Roanoke Advertiser announcing the sale of “Young Negroes” and all the property belonging to his estate.³

James Turner is my fifth great-grandfather and son of Henry. He and possibly Sarah Carman* are parents to Nancy, my fourth great-grandmother. In his will, James left his daughter Nancy one horse, a saddle and bridle, one bed and furniture, and one Negro boy named Charles. James also left his second wife, Catherine (White) Turner, negroes James, John, Mary, Nelley, and Alley and her increase.⁴ In other words, any future children born to Alley were bound to Catherine. It’s sad to see how negroes were considered chattel in the same category as livestock and furniture.

James moved to Williamson County, Tennessee about 1805. His brother John joined him sometime after. Because slavery was ingrained in their ethos, they took their slaves with them.

Slavery was a way of life for these people. They looked upon their slaves as property. John died intestate (without a will). Because of this, we can follow the life of Charles from that fateful day until his death through John’s probate documents.⁵ Included in the probate papers was an inventory from the October session of court listing his possessions. We can surmise that John was a wealthy man. Toward the end of the long list, like Charles was no more than a coffee mill, a grindstone, or a shotgun, the following was written, “six negroes including one of which is now in jail for the supposed murder of said John Turner deceased.”

As the probate case of John Turner made its way through court, his executors made an accounting of the assets of the estate in 1831. We learned of the execution of Charles, most likely hanged, for the murder of John Turner. The last indignity captured in this sentence reads, “Charles a negro belonging to said estate, & returned in the Inventory has since been executed for murder. And a sorrel horse also returned to the Inventory dec’d. previous to the day of the sale.”

I never believed that my heritage included slavery because my dad’s family were poor farmers. Many people of that time, including the Turners, most likely lost their wealth resulting from the Civil War. Unfortunately, even though the abolishment of slavery occurred, we still live with the grim aftermath of that heritage.

*Note, it is believed that Sarah Carman was the first wife of James Turner. More research needs to be done to definitively say that she was his first wife and mother to all of his children with the exception of William Turner.

¹ Caswell, North Carolina, Caswell County Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998, Will for Thomas Kimbrow, Image 93-97; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Feb 2019).

² Caswell, North Carolina, Caswell County Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998, Henry Turners Will, image 1186-1189; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2019).  

³ “Notice,” Roanoke Advertiser, 30 Dec 1824, p. 3, col. 3; digital images, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 7 May 2019). 

⁴ Williamson, Tennessee, Probate Records, Probate for James Turner; PDF document, Williamson County, Tennessee Archives.

⁵ Williamson, Tennessee, Probate Records, Probate for John Turner; PDF document, Williamson County, Tennessee Archives.