Was a Slave-Owning Politician My Ancestor?

Tracing Your Roots: Conflicting information in historical records shouldn’t derail your search for the truth.

A portrait of Stephen Cabarrus in the old Cabarrus County Courthouse in North Carolina
A portrait of Stephen Cabarrus in the old Cabarrus County Courthouse in North Carolina Public Domain

Although he died more than two decades before your ancestor, Lawrence Cobbaris, was born, it is still possible that your family surname was derived from that of Stephen Cabarrus. Perhaps they continued to be enslaved by the Cabarrus family after the death of Stephen, or your forebears might have assumed this surname before they were sold to another family or emancipated. To find out whether this is true, it’s useful to learn more about what happened to the slaves of Stephen Cabarrus after his death.

First, we searched for will and probate documents for Stephen, as these often contain information about any slaves a person held at the time of his or her death.

Stephen’s will was written on Oct. 10, 1807, and a digital copy can be found in the collection of North Carolina Probate Records available from FamilySearch.org. In his will, he listed several slaves by name including “the negro woman Mariann the washing servant” whom he left to his brother, Auguste. He also gives to Sophia Neil “a negro girl named Poll, daughter of negro woman Nelly, deceased.” Furthermore, he wrote, “to Polly Neil, her sister, I give and bequeath the negro girl named Milly sister to Poll.”

He left to his brother, Auguste his entire remaining estate, including all slaves. Stephen further stated that after the death of Auguste, he wanted all of his slaves that he did not leave to his nephews to be sold at auction by his executors on 12 months of credit.

He then listed the following slaves to be given to his nephews Thomas and Augustus:

* Paulom the cooper and his wife, Mary Louisa, their children, James and Molly

* Prude, the cook

* The four children of Mariann, the washing woman: Joe, George, Affey, and Rachel.

* Nancy the weaver and her four children, Prude, Chloe, little Nancy, and William

* Ben and wife Dolly and their children, Cyrus, Kayla, and Tinne