The Dawson Household: Part 2

As mentioned in my last post there were also one or more bonded individuals living in the Dawson household.  This information comes from surviving court records transcribed in the book Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina: from the colonial period to about 1820, Volume 1, by Paul Heinegg. In his book the transcript recounts the bonding of three children of a woman named Margaret Berry (b. about 1735) between 1757 and 1758.

In January of 1757 Timothy Cleven had a claim rejected in the Cumberland County Court to have Margaret Berry’s three year old “mulatto” son Anthony bound to him. Instead, Anthony was bound to William Dawson, Esquire. The reason for this rejection was not stated but it could have been due to Timothy Cleven’s health as he is deceased by October of the same year.

Margaret Berry was in the Cumberland County court again in the January session of 1758. This time it was in regard to her two year old “orphan” son John Berry (born about 1756). It is unclear if her husband had died prior to her 1757 court appearance or between that date and this appearance in 1758. In either case her ability to support them seems to have come into question.

John Berry was supposed to be bound to Michael Blocker but this was rejected by the court and John was instead bound to William Dawson. This apparently arose from a complication with the bond of Anthony Berry who was born while Margaret was still a servant. It is not clear from the record if Anthony Berry was taken from the Dawson’s but if Anthony’s father had been a slave he would probably become that unnamed master’s property.

Later that year in the July court Margaret was before the justices again with her infant son named Thomas (born in 1757). Thomas was bound to Michael Blocker without further commentary. I should also note here that 1758 was also the year William Dawson Jr. was born so the Dawson’s may have been too busy to take on another child. As a Justice, William Dawson seems to have moved the court grant his requests and I do wonder why he seemed to force the issue of taking custody of two of these children.

After this there is no other mention of Margaret Berry and it is unknown what became of her afterwards. I also don’t know if all three of her children were illegitimate or not – or if perhaps only Anthony was. The name of her husband is not mentioned though there must have been one for John to have had an “orphan” status.

In either case she was apparently unable to care for them after the death of her husband. I can only guess it seems that she was likely pregnant with the last child at the time of his death. I do find her plight eerily similar to that of Frances Dawson’s although their outcomes are quite the opposite. Both women had three sons and were pregnant when their husbands died. Without friends, family and assets it could have been Frances there before the justices to see her children taken from her and bound into service. Life on the North Carolina frontier was not an easy one.

However, a difficult time was ahead for everyone living in the Cape Fear region. According to Harnett County historian Malcolm Fowler, a “black death swept the Cape Fear country and wiped out the river families by the dozen” before the end of 1761. If there were other Dawson children that didn’t live to adulthood this may have been the time when they were lost. In 1761 Frances had just become a mother again with the birth of her third son Jonathan.

During 1761 there were also two notable deaths I need to mention. The first was Michael Blocker who died in January of 1761 and what happened to Thomas Berry after that is unknown. The second is the death of tavern keeper and Cumberland County Justice – William Dawson, Esquire. He was recorded as deceased by the summer of 1761. It seems likely that both men may have succumbed to the disease that swept though the region at that time. Based on an estimated age William Dawson was about 32 years old when he died.

Frances survived though. By 1762 she appears to have remarried again and between 1765 and 1768 she and her new husband, Jefferson Williams, had packed up their household and moved to the Old Ninety-Six district of South Carolina. I mention this because there is an interesting note about a John Berry from that area.

At the time of the American Revolution there was a John Berry who served as a Lieutenant and later as a Captain in the Lower Ninety-Six District regiment. He served in the militia from 1776 to 1782. Jefferson Williams, Joseph Dawson and Jonathan Dawson were all militia captains and it would be interesting if this John Berry turns out to be the one bound to William Dawson back in 1758. I haven’t found much on this John Berry so far but I look for him from time to time. The romantic in me hopes it’s him.


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Filed under Berry, Dawson, Rouse, Williams

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