" /> Joel Lane House | History now!

Visitor Information



The Enslaved People Who Lived on Joel Lane’s Plantation

Black History is celebrated throughout the country in February. What better way to celebrate this occasion than by remembering and honoring the African Americans who lived and worked on Joel Lane’s plantation as enslaved.

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. Public documents, limited though they are, do provide some insight into their lives. 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. In 1765 Joel purchased from William Pullum four Negro 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 enslaved people. To download the page where Joel Lane and the number of enslaved people he held are listed, click here. But the census gives only the number of enslaved held. 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. Sam and Jack were included in the list and may have been the men he bought in Halifax. Following Lane’s death in 1795, the inventory of his moveable possessions included thirty-two enslaved. Sam was one of the people listed. Click on this link for the names of all the enslaved who belonged to Joel Lane: Enslaved_People_at_Joel_Lane.2010_.05_.10_.doc


Enslaved people were held in bondage called “chattel slavery” that 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

Winton and Jack, listed in his will of 1794, were not included in the 1795 inventory taken after Lane’s death. Click the tab above for a transcript of the document. With no documentation accounting for this discrepancy, we can only wonder whether they were sold or died. A similar problem exists for Winter and Will. Their names appear in Lane’s inventory of possessions but are not listed in his will. Winter and Winton are likely the same person, victim of a transcriber’s carelessness. They could be children born to his enslaved women or purchases he made after his will was written in 1794.

It is hard to accept that Joel Lane could have accumulated 32 enslaved people without leaving some public record of purchase or sale of these individuals, 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.


What work Lane’s enslaved people engaged in is not a complete mystery. The implements used on the plantation give clues as to the kind of work that was done. The presence of a loom, gear and bars, and “four pair of harnesses,” suggest that the women on the plantation worked to produce woven materials. These materials were likely used to make clothing for the enslaved people. Six linen wheels, four cotton wheels and four woolen wheels were 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 the woman born in Nixonton in 1789, the Lane women worked at clothing the enslaved people. This unnamed woman is quoted as saying “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 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. The number of spinning wheels and the possession of a loom suggests that there may have been a weaving house on his plantation.

The numerous hoes in the inventory and the amount of corn on hand indicate that many people worked in the fields raising corn. While field work occupied a large part of an enslaved person’s time, both young and old, there were other activities that occupied their time. Plantations owners tried to be as self sufficient as they could which required home manufacturing of soap and candles. Someone on Lane’s plantation made twelve barrels of soap and three dozen candles. Both products required time and skill in their production. 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 quanity 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.

In some wills the occupations of the enlaved 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. Although Joel Lane gave no hint as to what his enslaved people did, we can be sure that some of the women worked in the kitchen using the three butter churns and the numerous iron pots. It also appears that the cook prepared meals for the family and 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.

Someone among the enslaved must have been an accomplished blacksmith or Lane would not have owned an anvil, bellows, vice and two small hammers, two grind stones and two pair of smiting tongs. Not all plantations had such a complete set of smithing tools. Lane’s neighbor, John Craven, planned to hire a blacksmith to serve his plantation’s needs.

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.

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 unsettling aspect of slavery mentioned in many enslaved people’s memoirs and other documents. 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 (Mrs.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 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, so Cate was fortunate to be sold 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.

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.

Many public records were lost in the Wake County Court House fire in 1835 that could have provided some insight into how Joel Lane accumulated his enslaved people, or where they went after leaving his plantation. However, those records would not have provided insight into the personal content of everyday life of the enslaved. Public records would not reveal the bondman’s view of slavery in 18th-century Wake County. That information would have to wait for the slave narratives written in the 19th century.

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

What visitors say

Dear Mrs. Mitchell,
You did some good explaining. Now I get what you were saying about that stuff in the house and the kitchen. That fruit in the tree I didn’t get none but people said it was good.