In 1910 when 19-year-old Lloyd Read wanted to marry Miss Lillie Belle Munro of Arkansas, lately come to Oregon, his family told him no, that she came from “poor white trash.” However, although Lillie’s Southern ancestors, the Whittingtons, were not quite the aristocracy of Gone with the Wind, they had been relatively wealthy slave-holders in North Carolina and Tennessee. They had so many children in their family, though, that they did not maintain their same standard of wealth in the next generation, which included Lillie’s grandfather Solomon, and Solomon’s family became poorer still after the Civil War.
James and Frances (Maynard) WhittingtonBeginning with the generation born during the Revolutionary War, our ancestor James Whittington1 was born 23 June 1776 in Johnston County, North Carolina to Richard and Olive (Stephenson) Whittington. Richard owned property in Johnston County and had sold property before the 1770s in Edgecombe County. He and Olive had four children before James and five after. The children’s names were Lucretia, who married Asa Austin; Peggy, who married Allen Johnson; Allen Whittington; Mary, who married William Wilder; James Whittington; Sally, who married George Mainord; Richard Whittington, who married Sarah Dupree; Solomon Whittington, who married Sarah Lassiter; William Whittington, who married Sally Eason; and Jonathan Whittington, who married Clary Green 1st and Sally Allen 2nd. James’s father, Richard, had been born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina on 18 December 1748 and died in Johnston County, North Carolina on 20 October 1820, at the age of 72.
1The surname was spelled Whittington, Witington, Whittenton, or Whitenton, depending on who was writing it in the various documents. Different branches of the family began to standardize the name using whichever spelling they preferred after about 1810. I will use the spelling for adults preferred by each family member if I can determine it.)
The 1790 census shows that Richard held no slaves, nor did any of his Whittington relatives living in his immediate neighborhood, nor did his in-laws’ families, the Stephensons. In his immediate neighborhood were 195 free white men over the age of sixteen, 317 free white boys under sixteen, 625 free white women and girls, 24 other free persons, and 422 slaves.
James and Frances up to 1820
James, as a young man in Wake County, North Carolina, married Miss Frances Maynard (also spelled Mainard and Mainord), who went by the name of “Frankie,” on 9 April 1798. Frances was the daughter of William Maynard and his wife Agatha (possibly surnamed Davron); Frances was born on 15 February 1780 in Wake County. In the 1790 Census, a William “Mainyard” lived in Wake County with three males over 16, five males under sixteen, three females, and seven slaves. This was probably Frankie’s family. Nearby lived the family of Gibson Maynard, who could easily be Frankie’s uncle. Together James and Frankie had 13 known children, born probably in Johnston County:
- William Maynard Whittington, b. 9 February 1799.
- Richard Merritt Whittington, b. 16 September 1800.
- Agatha Bless Whittington, b. 27 October 1802.
- Talitha Cumi Whittington, b. 13 March 1805.
- Gibson Whittington, b. 29 June 1807.
- Weston Whittington, b. 8 July 1809.
- George Arthur Whittington, b. 1 June 1811.
- Solomon Yancy Whittington, b. 20 July 1813.
- Othaniel Whittington, b. 10 January 1816.
- Cason Coley Whittington, b. 18 February 1818.
- James Henderson Whittington, born 8 June 1820.
Frankie’s father, William Maynard, died about 1817 and the probate took about two years to be settled. In May 1817 her brother George and others petitioned for a division of the real estate, and in November 1818 James and Frances Whittington and others petitioned for division of the real estate. Apparently William Maynard had been a relatively prosperous man; his heirs appear to have fought over exactly how his estate would be divided. His will is a mass of contradictions. After the will was settled, James Whittington appeared to have moved into the slave-holding class of society. Frankie and James inherited a slave named Dolly from the estate of William Maynard.
It is interesting to note that in 1804 the last of the northern states to abolish slavery, New Jersey, effectively created the North-South dividing line along the old Mason-Dixon line that divided Pennsylvania from Virginia and Maryland. The United States then passed its first abolition-oriented law, the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which outlawed importing slaves from overseas. Sadly, this law was widely ignored in the South. It is evident that the Whittington family obeyed the law, though probably due to economics rather than to moral conviction. They identified with their Southern compatriots.
The Family in the 1820s
The 1820 Census listed James Whittington among the heads of families of Johnston County, North Carolina. With him was a woman aged 25–45, which was his wife Frankie. There were two girls in the 10–16 category, Agatha and Talitha at the ages of 17 and 15 actually; and there were nine boys and young men. The four under age ten were Solomon (7), Othaniel (5), Cason Coley (2), and James Henderson. The youngest boy, James Henderson Whittington, was two months old when the census taker came that summer and lived only until the next May. The three between 10 and 16 must have been Gibson (13), Weston (11), and George (George was 9, but perhaps they rounded up his age—they definitely had Agatha in the wrong category). The young men aged 18–26 must have been William and Richard, who were 21 and 19, respectively.
There were two slaves in this family. One was a woman aged 26–45 who must be Dolly, and the other a young man aged 14–25. Considering that Frances was in charge of a household consisting of three men and nine children under age 16, and one of the two girls she could expect to help her with housework may have had some problems, and she was expecting another baby within a month, perhaps Dolly was a household worker. The young slave man perhaps was helping James and the older young men with the farm work. The price of slaves in the 1820s was between $300 and $400, depending on age and sex, so we can see that the James Whittingtons were now on the wealthier side of society. Most slave-holders in the Carolinas at this time were owners of small or medium-sized farms, and they had one to just a few slaves. Only the wealthy plantation owners could afford to have many slaves, as was the case with Frankie Mainard Whittington’s father.
The next children to be born to James and Frankie were:
- Quince Tillian Whittington, b. in 1822.
- Frances Ann Whittington, b. 14 January 1829.
On 16 February 1823 daughter Agatha Bless Whittington married Alexander S. Collins in Johnston County, North Carolina. Her eldest brother, William, signed the bond for the marriage license. Perhaps her groom was too poor to afford it.
According to Diane Bollert’s research, the Whittingtons were members of the Primitive Baptist Church of Johnston County.
The Family in the 1830s
The 1830 Census showed James and Frankie living in Johnston County, North Carolina, with nine children, two of whom are a mystery. Talitha was a young woman now, possibly helping her mother in the house. Solomon and George were between 15 and 20 and surely would be helping with the farm work, as would Cason and Othnell, between 10 and 15. Even 8-year-old Quince would do his share of chores. The girl under 5 was baby Frances Ann, but there were two other small boys, one under 5 and one between 5 and 10 who are unknown to us. It could be that these were two children born in that seven-year period between Quince and Frances Ann, and perhaps they died as children and their names were lost to posterity. Another possibility is that they were children of William, who was said to have been married quite young, but no record of his family has yet turned up. If this were the case, there was no woman in the household who could be William’s wife, so either William’s wife had died, or the scenario was something entirely different.
Even with all those boys to help with the farm work, one of the two slave women on the 1830 census, one age 10–23 and the other age 24–35, was probably working with them in the fields. By this time, landowners with many slaves were discovering that they could make a lot of money by hiring their slaves out to other farms. The Whittingtons may very well have had hired slave labor to work in the fields as well as using their own slave and the sons of the family. It seems likely their other slave was working in the house, helping Frances with the children and the enormous amount of work all these people would generate. The older of the two slave women could be Dolly, if she was 26 in 1820 and was 35 at this census, taken a different time of the year.
Frances had borne 13–15 children in thirty years and was probably worn down with all the work. In 1830 she was 50 years old; she had 11 boys and men, four women, and a baby to feed at least three times every day. The laundry must have taken two full days a week, and the ironing a full day, and sewing or mending would have to be done every day, not to mention the daily cleaning and regular heavy scrubbing, carrying water, etc. Their culture and circumstances would have led them to believe the slave women were necessary, especially since James was obviously wealthy enough to afford them.
This evidence shows that James had become prosperous. The slaves’ cost was around $600 then, which would be about $15,400 in 2012 dollars. James probably sold the young slave man he had owned in 1820 and bought another woman, unless these two slave women were a mother and her 10-year-old daughter, born just after the last census. Slave women and girls were worth more than slave boys or young men, until the men were about 25 years old, and then the cost became about equal. Various studies have shown that it was actually less expensive to employ farm workers than to own slave workers until the farms were turned to cotton, but at this time they were planted in various crops including tobacco, but cotton was not yet king. The economics and politics and the culture of the time were somewhat complicated, to say the least.
James’ son Richard did not move with the family. He had married Martha Helen Peebles in North Carolina on 16 March 1826 and had a farm there into the 1860s. On October 3, 1837, son William acquired land in Victoria County, Texas, so perhaps he moved from North Carolina all the way down there. Son Weston had married Lucy Ann Williams about 1831 and had a son born in North Carolina in 1832. Weston’s next son was born in Tennessee in 1836; he had bought property in Madison County on 26 December 1835, the first of the family to do so. James had bought property in Johnston County, North Carolina, in the summer of 1836, and then two years later he bought land in Madison County, Tennessee, on September 13, 1838.
Tennessee was being settled at a faster rate in those days than it had before—the wilderness seemed just about tame there. The Indian Removal Act had been passed in 1830, and in 1838 and 1839 President Martin Van Buren’s administration forced more than 17,000 Cherokee Native Americans, along with their approximately 2,000 black slaves, off the land and sent them west. In came the white settlers with their own black slaves.
After moving to Tennessee, helped or not, Frankie died early in 1839 at age 59, probably worn out by childbearing and the heavy work of those days. The family name began to change. Back in North Carolina, it was mostly spelled Whittington. In Tennessee it began to be spelled Whittenton, and some branches of the family would adopt Whitenton later on.
During the 1830s the Whittington family would have been interested in and partial concerning the various political changes that affected the Southern way of life. The Nullification Crisis in South Carolina established the precedent of a state rebelling against the Federal government over the issue of states’ rights, and President Andrew Jackson himself stated that the next crisis between the states and the federal government would be over the issue of slavery.
The Family in the 1840s
The 1840 U.S. Census lists Father James and his family in Madison County, Tennessee with two of his sons living very close by. In his household, James had one boy age 15–20 which was Quince. He had three boys age 20–30 which were Othnell, Solomon, and George. He was between 60–70 years of age. On the female side he had a girl between 10–15 which was Frances Ann. He also had a young woman in the family between 20–30 who must have been Talitha, although she was 35 years old at this point. But she seemed to always shave years off her age in later census records, so this is not too surprising. The total in the household was 10; there were three slaves with the family. Two female slaves were in the 24–36 and the 20–24 age categories. These women could be the same two slaves listed in this household in 1830, but if so, the older woman cannot be the same one as in 1820 unless the ages assigned her are way off in one census or another, which of course is possible, given that Talitha had lost a good ten years off her age and could have been the one giving the information to the census taker. The slave boy was 10–24; he could easily be a son of one of the women.
The number of persons engaged in agriculture in this household was four, and since Othnell, Solomon, and George were all farmers as soon as they were on their own, they must have been three of the workers. It seems likely that James himself was the fourth, which leads to the rather surprising conclusion that probably none of the slaves was helping with the farm work. But with Frankie recently dead and a little girl still to rear, perhaps one of the slaves was devoted to little Frances Ann as a nurse-governess. Talitha may have had some mild mental disability—perhaps that was why the family seemed to consider her younger than she really was. One of the slaves was certainly in charge of the household work.
With thirteen children in James and Frankie’s family, this gets a little complicated, but we will try to say where each of the children was during the 1840s.
Son William didn’t appear in the 1840 Census because he was in Texas, and at that time Texas had declared independence from Mexico, winning its war officially in 1836 but continually being attacked by Mexican forces, particularly those under Santa Anna, until the United States intervened in 1846 and annexed Texas after beating Mexico in 1848. A tax assessment exists for W.M. Wittenton in 1846 in Victoria County, where he eventually died.
In the 1840 Census, son Richard M. Whittenton lived in Panther Branch, Wake County, North Carolina. He had a wife and two boys under ten and two girls ages 10–15 listed with him. These children were Mazy Helen, Eliza Jane, James Thadeus, and John Peebles.
On August 20, 1840, son Gibson married Elizabeth Williams in Madison County, Tennessee, and the two of them appeared in the Census four households above his father’s family. Gibson was recorded as working in agriculture.
Next door to Gibson was Weston’s family in the 1840 Census listing. Weston had a wife age 20–30, same age as he; they had three children listed. They had a son under age 5 who was James, age 3. They had two daughters listed on the census, the elder age 5–10 who should have been a male, John Rufus, age 8; and the other a girl under 5 who corresponds to baby Sarah. Curiously, the total number for this family was listed as 6 although only five tick marks were present on the census. Sometimes census takers got things wrong. Perhaps when he came around, all the children, along with their cousins, maybe three dogs and four cats and the family pig were all around him making noise and he couldn’t hear the mother right. Sometimes it simply was because the family was not at home and the census taker asked a neighbor to describe the family. Weston was recorded as working in agriculture.
Son Solomon got into trouble in 1841 in the Madison County Court for having fathered an illegitimate child with a woman named “Louvisey Manor” in McNairy County (south of Madison) two years before and failing to pay its support, but the Court decided it had no jurisdiction over the case since the mother and child had lived two years in McNairy County from the time of the birth, so Solomon was apparently off the hook. There is no evidence that he ever recognized this child as his own, and perhaps it was not.
Son Cason Coley did not appear in the 1840 census, and we have to wonder whether he had gone to Texas or where he was. He was 22 at the time of the Census. He later appeared to have acquired land near where William lived, but William died all alone, so Cason Coley could not have been with him. Maybe Cason Coley went wandering around the west until he felt like returning to Texas.
On February 5, 1844, Father James married Mrs. Kettura (Katherine) Lester Betts, a 57-year-old widow, in Madison County, Tennessee. She owned 300 acres in Madison and Haywood counties, a single plot left to her by her husband William Betts, who had died September 7, 1835.
Son Gibson and his wife Elizabeth probably moved over to Dyer County, northwest of Madison County, by 1844. Their daughter Martha was born there, and then they moved back to Madison County.
On February 5, 1846, son George Arthur married Martha Elizabeth Bledsoe in Madison County. He was 35, she was 19.
During the 1840s, son Weston moved to Texas, first living in Victoria County near where his brother William had acquired land several years before. He eventually settled in Goliad County.
The baby sister of the family, Frances Ann Whittington, married Christopher C. Harris on 14 February 1848 and moved to Arkansas; nothing further is known about them.
Down in Texas William died at the age of 49 or just 50, before 12 March 1849 in Victoria County. I have not been able to trace whether he ever married or what became of his children if he had any. His death records show no heirs at all, not even his brothers. Dates for the distribution of his land by deeds are on 4 June 1850, 25 June 1850, 12 February 1853, and 26 November 1853. His personal estate was auctioned in May 1849 and the rest of his estate settled by October 1851.
Politically, the 1840s affected the Whittington family chiefly by the United States having acquired Texas and several territories at the end of the Mexican War. Many Southerners were moving to Texas as cotton gained in economic importance and farmers depleted their soil by overplanting it with cotton. They looked to the southwest for new lands and were glad when Texas was added to the U.S. as a slave state, giving them the rights and freedoms they had been used to and also helping to balance power between the North and South in the U.S. Congress. However, this led to a four-year struggle between political forces over the issue of slavery that ended short of war when the Compromise of 1850 was signed, allowing California to join the Union as a free state in return for the Territories of New Mexico and Utah (which encompassed the present-day states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada) to allow slavery.
The Family in the 1850s
In 1850 Father James, with his wife Kettura, had a farm worth $1000, which in 2012 value would be approximately $60,000. He had four slaves, and his sons Quince and Othnell, ages 23 and 30, were working as farmers for him. His daughter Talitha also lived there (it says she was 40, but she was really 45—and the census shows that she was illiterate as well. With all the rest of the family being literate, including her sisters, this seems to indicate that Talitha might have had some sort of disability, though she was not listed in the “insane” or “idiot” columns).
The slaves were two women ages 60 and 25, a young man age 23, and a boy age 9. The older woman, born about 1790, could have been Dolly, with them from 1817, if her age in the 1840 census was off by about 9 years (which could easily have been the case). The younger woman could be her daughter or the man her son; or they could have been a married couple. No doubt the younger slaves were working the land with the sons.
In 1850 daughter Agatha had split with Alexander Collins and was keeping house for her brother Solomon, who was not married. (Alexander Collins died in 1860 in North Carolina; he apparently never remarried.) With Agatha and Solomon Whittington was a 13-year-old girl named Catherine Collins who might be Agatha’s daughter, but we have no way of knowing. She could be another relative of Agatha’s former husband. Agatha was going by the name of Whittington again and married a Mr. Crabtree the next year. Also in 1851 Agatha joined the Baptist Church in Madison, Tennessee. That is the last we know of her until she died in 1889 at the age of 86.
In 1850 son Gibson and his wife Elizabeth had moved back to Madison County from Dyer County, Tennessee. Their farm was worth $250, and they had four children: Sarah James Frances, age 9; Elender, age 8; Martha L, age 6; and David Williams Whittington, age 3. They had no slaves; instead, they had an 18-year-old hired man named George Smith
In 1850 son Weston was in Victoria County, Texas with his wife, Lucy Ann, and their four children: John R, age 18; James William, age 13; Sarah C, age 10; and George Maynard, age 7. Their farm was about 140 acres and they were doing well. Weston had no slaves; he and his elder son had cultivated a part of their land and they were raising pigs. They had oxen to plow their land.
Son George and his wife, Martha, lived in Madison County, Tennessee, with their three children when they were recorded in the 1850 Census: James Maynard, age 3; Mary Frances, age 2; and Thadeus, 8 months. George had no slaves, although he had a farm worth $300; he had only a part of it under cultivation. In 1853 George and his family joined the Baptist Church of Madison, Tennessee, the same one his sister Agnes had joined two years earlier.
Solomon in 1850 was farming, but he had no property worth anything and lived next door to his father, so he was probably still helping with his father’s farm; however, his fortunes were about to change.
The farm work was probably too much for Father James. He was 74 years old in 1850. At the end of the next year he gave his sons Solomon and “Otel” (Othnell) gifts of parcels of land. First he gave Othnell 110 acres on November 28, 1851, and a month later he gave Solomon 50 acres on December 20th.
Certainly James Whittington must have been slowing down at the end of 1851. Just two and a half years after dividing the bulk of his land between his sons, he died on May 20, 1853. It is interesting to speculate on the family dynamics that led to this curious division of land. Othnell, it seems, was the heir to the bulk of his father’s property. The older sons—William, Richard, Gibson, Weston, and George—all seemed to have acquired property without their father’s giving it to them, but perhaps he had helped with money. William of course died before his father. The rest of the older sons were married before their father passed away.
Solomon appeared to have been the black sheep here. Until he married in 1851, his father appeared not to have helped him, and then only at the very end of the year, and with less than half what the younger, single brother was given a month earlier. Presumably Cason Coley had been helped to acquire land in Texas in the same way his older brothers had been.
The daughters were not given land by their father, but perhaps they were given dowry money. After Agatha’s marriage ended, she moved into a house with her brother Solomon and kept house for him. Perhaps they were two “black sheep” together.
Father James may have provided for his other children, if the action of Othnell ten years later in granting his sister Talitha and his brother Quince jointly fifty acres can be construed as complying with James’s wish that Othnell take care of them.
After James’s Death
James Whittington had such a large family to provide for that it seems to have somewhat depleted his resources. Certainly none of his children attained the wealth that their father had acquired, and several of the children had very large families themselves. It was probably economics that encouraged four of the five brothers who relocated from Tennessee to Texas. The eldest son, William, went there first, perhaps as early as 1837, and maybe Cason Coley went about the same time. Next Weston migrated in the mid-to-late 1840s, and Gibson joined them after Father James’ death, probably about 1854. Finally, after the Civil War ended, Quince went to Texas, probably to escape the consequences of not finishing his military service during the War. George, Solomon, and Othnell stayed in Tennessee, and of course Richard never left North Carolina. Of the daughters, Talitha stayed in Tennessee with her brother Othnell’s family. We don’t know where Agatha went after marrying Mr. Crabtree. Frances Ann ended up in Arkansas, her husband obviously one of those who took advantage of the opening up of the southwest, although they didn’t go as far as Texas. Of all the family, only Othnell had the kind of wealth approaching that of their father. He was the only slave owner of them all as well.
By the 1850s many slave-owners, excluding the very wealthy plantation owners, had realized that selling their slaves was more lucrative than keeping them to work the land. By those times in Tennessee it was definitely more economical to hire workers rather than to own them. Even Othnell with his greater acreage and personal property than his brothers in 1860 owned just three slaves, a woman and her two little sons, compared with their closest neighbor who had 18.
Each of James’s children has a fuller description of his or her own life as an adult. Click the links below to go to the rest of the posts.
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Part 2: William and Richard
Part 3: Agnes and Telitha
Part 4: Gibson and Weston
Part 5: George, Solomon, and Othaneil
Note: If you would like to purchase a copy of the entire book, with updates, sources, and more, please send me a message.