Enslavement on Joel Lane’s Plantation

At least 43 men, women, and children were bought, held, or sold in bondage by Joel Lane over the course of his lifetime. An active slaveowner, at various points in his life Lane owned anywhere between 6 and 32 enslaved human beings.

This is an area of ongoing research, frequently frustrated by the scarcity of available records. No plantation diaries, personal letters, or first-person slave narratives have survived to reveal the details of the lives of the people enslaved on Joel Lane’s plantation. We have learned what we know from a variety of period documents: receipts of purchase or sale, Joel Lane’s will and posthumous inventory, census records, auction ledgers, rental agreements, and accounts by later generations.

It is hard to accept that Joel Lane could have accumulated 32 enslaved people without leaving more records of the transactions, but little has come to light as yet. If he were like other planters of the 18th century, he purchased them one at a time, or in small groups, and possibly over a considerable period of time. Wake County’s public records indicate that other men in the community bought enslaved people at estate sales, sheriff sales, and from one another. And, of course, some enslaved people were inherited or born to enslaved women.

At the end of Joel Lane’s life, thirty-two humans were listed in his will, alongside parcels of land and mundane possessions. More than two thirds of the people living on Lane’s plantation, then, were not free.

Dearth of Records

No plantation diaries or personal letters have survived that might tell us about Joel Lane’s enslaved people, what they did, or how they lived. Many public records were lost in the Wake County Court House fire in 1835 that could have provided some insight into how and where specifically Joel Lane purchased his enslaved people, or where they went after leaving his plantation. Public documents, limited though they are, do provide some insight into their lives. However, those official records would not would not have revealed the personal thoughts or views of those enslaved in 18th-century Wake County. That information would have to wait for the slave narratives written in the 19th century.

The first evidence that Joel Lane held enslaved people is found in Halifax County where he was born and lived until he and his family moved to what is today the Raleigh area, some time around 1769: In 1763 Joel purchased from Joseph Lane a young girl, Flora, who was about fourteen years old, for sixty pounds proclamation money. (To download the court record of the transaction, click here.) We have no record of this child’s fate after her purchase; she is not named in any subsequent documents yet found.

In 1765 Joel purchased from William Pullum four slaves named Young Sam, Dick, Jack, and Stanter for one hundred twenty-nine pounds, twelve shillings and eight pence. (To download the court record of the transaction, click here.)

In the national census of 1790, Joel Lane is listed as holding 27 people enslaved. (To download the page where Joel Lane and the number of enslaved people he held are listed, click here.) The census does not list the names of the enslaved; only a number. Lane’s will and the inventory of his possessions taken after his death provide more detailed information. In his will, Lane lists 28 enslaved people by name. Jack was included in the list and may have been the man he bought in Halifax. Following Lane’s death in 1795, the inventory of his movable possessions included thirty-two enslaved. Jack is not listed among them. If he is the same man purchased, aged 30, thirty years prior, it is possible that he died in the intervening year.


Enslaved people in the America British Colonies (and later the United States of America) were held in bondage called “chattel slavery”, a system that allowed the status of slavery to pass generationally from mother to child, and legally allowed a slaveholder to pass ownership of an enslaved person to his heirs as he did his other possessions. Some 18th-century wills provide details about the enslaved beyond their names, such as what they did, how old they were, and family relationships. Unfortunately, Lane did not provide that information or why he left which enslaved person to which heir. Only the enslaved person’s name and the family member who was to inherit the bondsman were recorded in his will.

Lane’s Will and Inventory

In addition to Jack‘s disappearance, above, there are other discrepancies between Lane’s will and the posthumous inventory. (See the will here, and the estate inventory here) A person named Winter appears in the inventory; this is likely Winton, a victim of a transcriber’s carelessness. Previous transcriptions of Joel Lane’s will had their own error: the name Nancy was mistranscribed as “Getawney” in decades of JLMH materials due to confusion with an ampersand symbol.

Auction of 1800

Other information comes to us from the estate sale of 1800.

Specific Individuals: Sold

The prospect of an enslaved person being sold during the lifetime of his master and after the master’s death was an extremely unsettling reality of slavery mentioned in many enslaved people’s memoirs and other documents. The possibility of being separated from one’s spouse, children, or other family was a continual fear for all those enslaved. On December 12, 1792, Joel Lane sold a man named Ceazor to Frederik Harget. The bill of sale was recorded in Jones County. Perhaps when Hargett was in Raleigh acting as one of the commissioners choosing the site for the new capital city, he arranged to purchase Ceazor. To download a copy of the court record, click here.

Estate records are another important source of information on enslaved people. An inventory of the estate of Mary Lane, Joel’s widow who only survived him by 5 days, was taken on 19 Dec. 1799. It lists a number of enslaved she inherited from her husband and one who must have been born after Col. Lane’s death: Ned, Archer, Cate, Susannah, Davie, and Munford. Susannah was not named in Joel Lane’s will, and Mrs. Lane died intestate. We can trace Cate’s trail further. At the estate sale in January 1800, Cate, Davy and Munford were sold to Nathaniel Lane for 272 pounds. Also sold that day were Sucky to Dugald McKethen (Mary Lane’s son-in-law) for 131 pounds, Archer to another Lane for 194 pounds, and Ned to John Haywood for 200 pounds. To see the document click here. Cate’s trail does not go cold yet. Nathaniel then sold Cate and the children (Davie & Montford) on November 22, 1800 to John Haywood for 555 Spanish milled dollars. To see the court record of that sale, click here. It referred to the public sale of “. . . the estate of the late Mrs. Lane, relick of Joel Lane.” Cate as well as “. . . her future increase” had been willed to Mrs. Lane by her husband. The slave code of North Carolina stated that children of enslaved women would also be enslaved, and belong to the mother’s owner. Children could and often were separated from their mothers, sometimes to very great distances, so Cate was fortunate in this regard to be sold along with her children to the same master. When John Haywood died Cate and the children were not in the inventory of his enslaved people. What happened to them is not known.

Since Mrs. Lane’s sale was a public sale, the other enslaved people willed to her, Old Ned, Young Ned, Jack, Old Rose, Vilot, and Hasty, could have been purchased by anyone and the proceeds divided among Mrs. Lane’s nine children. A number of these individuals were likely elderly.

After Joel Lane’s death, Joel Hinton Lane sold a man named David in 1799 to a neighbor, George Nance, for 100 pounds of Virginia currency. Joel Lane’s son Joel Hinton Lane would only have been 14 years old in that year, too young to make such a sale. Perhaps this record refers to Joel’s nephew, Joel Hinton Lane, son of Joel’s brother James. To download the court record of the document, click here.

We know a little bit about Cloe. She was inherited by Thomas Lane from his father. In 1807, Thomas sold his house, land, and the enslaved people in preparation for a move to Tennessee. He sold Cloe to William Shaw on June 20 of that year for $333 1/3.She was described as about 23 years old, so she must have been born about 1784. To see the court record of that document, click here.

The will of Grissy Lane Ryan, Joel Lane’s youngest child, was recorded in the Wake County Court papers in the May Term, 1868. The last item or request in her will was to her cousin Jane C. Hinton. That request was “. . . to give my old man Servant ‘Phil’ a home and protection such as she may be able to do.” Grissy or Grizelle left Jane Hinton eight hundred dollars to carry out this request. It is unlikely that this Phil, who lived to see freedom, was the Phil listed as an enslaved man of her father’s. But it is possible that Cate’s son Montford, who was Grizzy’s age, survived to see freedom. To read the two pages of the will, click here and here.


In some wills the occupations of the enslaved were noted. John Haywood, for instance, identified his cook, nurse maid, and a man who painted. Enslaved people whose occupations or “business” were identified were usually skilled in some way, not field hands. Unfortunately, Joel Lane listed only names in his will, without descriptions or occupations.

Other roles may be discerned through the clues in Lane’s will and inventory. The implements used on the plantation give clues as to the kind of work that was done.

Some tasks that would have been assigned to enslaved laborers on the Lane plantation are obvious: Many labored to tend the fields and raise livestock.The numerous hoes in the inventory and the amount of corn on hand indicate that many people worked in the fields raising corn. Others would have worked in Lane’s apple orchards. The Joel Lane House itself provides evidence of their labor, in the form of visible saw marks on the original siding. There was no sawmill in 1760s Johnston (later Wake) County. It is almost certain that it was enslaved workers, using hand tools and sheer muscle, who felled every tree and pulled every stroke of the saw on every board that went onto the house.

Enslaved women would have prepared food for the Lanes as well as their fellow slaves, using the three butter churns and numerous iron pots that Lane owned. It also appears that the cook may also have prepared meals for the tavern Lane ran towards the end of his life. Clothes would have been washed, not as often as today, but then some of the women would have used the “four flat irons” to finish the job. It is very likely that enslaved women provided care for the twelve Lane children, as well.

The presence of a loom and other equipment suggest that the women on the plantation worked to produce textiles. Six linen wheels, four cotton wheels and four woolen wheels would have been used to make thread for the loom. It is possible that the enslaved on Lane’s plantation, like the those held by his neighbor, John Craven, worked at spinning until the fodder and corn was gathered, and continued “. . . until Christmas in order to clothe themselves and the other Negroes on the Plantation.” It is also possible that, like an enslaved woman born in Nixonton in 1789, the Lane women worked at clothing the enslaved people. This unnamed woman is quoted in Ashe’s History of North Carolina: “My mother had a great deal of spinning, warping, weaving and quilting to do, and clothes to make for the Negroes. I commenced at five years old to help her.” Clothing 32 people, even modestly, would have required a great deal of labor including growing flax (for linen) and shearing sheep. Once grown the fibers required further preparation before spinning and weaving could take place. A “hackle” listed in the inventory was used in preparing flax fibers. Although ready made fabrics and clothes were available for enslaved people, it is likely that some cloth was produced on the plantation because of the number of weaving implements found in Lane’s inventory. ...All of this before the work of creating clothing (measuring, patterning, cutting, sewing, etc.) could begin.

The presence of an anvil, bellows, vice, two small hammers, two grind stones, and two pair of smiting tongs suggests that there was a skilled blacksmith among the enslaved—one who was well-equipped. He would have been invaluable shoeing the horses and making whatever implements of steel were needed: perhaps carriage wheels, cooking implements, nails, hinges, hooks, etc.

Someone on Lane’s plantation made twelve barrels of soap and three dozen candles. These products were often mass-produced during the winter, in the agricultural break between harvest and planting. Some of these items must have been used by the family and in Lane’s “ordinary or tavern.” It is very unlikely that any of those candles found their way into the slave quarters.

Listed in Lane’s inventory was a “parcel of leather the quantity not known it being in Tan.” There were also “9 bed hides.” The leather “in Tan” would have been treated and ready for use. On other plantations leather of this kind would have been used for shoes for the enslaved. Leather tanning is a specialized skill—and a famously unpleasant, smelly task.

Although Lane’s enslaved people were not listed in the General Assembly’s records as being employed in the initial clearing of streets and squares “. . . fixing on the place for the permanent seat of Government,” they must have been engaged in land clearing in and around the new city. Grubbing hoes used for removing stumps were distinct from weeding hoes that would have been used in crop production. A “whip saw” and a “hand saw” would have been used in the production of lumber. The “yoke of oxen” Lane had, not his fine bay horse, would have been used by the enslaved in this work.

Specific Individuals: Hired Out

The most specific information we have about Joel Lane’s enslaved people is found in the records of orphan’s accounts. Lane’s young children, since they inherited property in enslaved people and land, had a guardian appointed to manage their property until they reached 21 years old. The only complete existing orphan records are for Thomas and his enslaved males named Jeffery and Jimboy. The records show how Joel Lane’s enslaved continued to provide income and labor to his family following Lane’s death.

It was the tradition for the enslaved of orphans to be “hired out.” Owners or guardians would take an enslaved person to the steps of the court house or market house in a city and contract out their labor for the following year on or about the first week of January. A note would be drawn stating the duration of the contract and what clothing would be provided for the enslaved man. Nineteenth-century slave accounts report that enslaved people considered the hiring out process to be frightening and disruptive to family life. The person never knew who would hire him or how he might be treated.

Several local men and relatives of Joel Lane hired his enslaved. Rhodham Atkins, who hired Jimboy in 1799, was a carpenter and builder who completed the new statehouse in 1795. Joseph Carr and John Frein hired Jimboy in 1800. Jimboy was to receive for the spring “. . . one pair of trousers, one shirt of ozenabriggs, for the winter one dutch blanket one hat one jacket one pair of breeches of Negro Cotton one pair of good yarn stockings or boots and one pair of shoes suitable for the winter season one shirt of oznabriggs for the winter season.” To read the entire document, click here. Jeffery, when he was hired out in 1805 by William Armstrong and William Lane, Thomas’s older brother, for 30 pounds 7 shillings, was to receive new clothing including “. . . a new hatt, for the winter one new shirt, one new woolen jacket and breeches, one pare new woolen stocking or boots, one pare of double Sold Shoes and one New Dutch Blanket.” To read the court record of the document, click here.

The clothing provided to the enslaved was limited and of coarse materials. The “ozenabriggs” fabric used for shirts was coarse linen made from the “tow” or short fibers of the flax plant. The “Negro Cotton” contained no cotton but was made of rough wool. All of these materials could have been grown on a plantation, or if the plantation was large and the slaveholder prosperous, the cloth or ready made clothing could have been purchased. Although the hiring contracts stated the clothes the worker would be provided, it did not state where the bondsmen would work or what they would do.

(c) 2010 Joel Lane Museum House, Inc. Written and researched by Florence Mitchell. Documents courtesy North Carolina Division of Archives and History