Slaves Held by “Captain” William Rives of Warren County, North Carolina

Lately, I’ve been poking around in my dad’s maternal line. They are less interesting than the colorful Bembrys, being mostly respectable Methodists. Also, with names like Smith, Sumner and Thompson, they can be like needles in a south Georgia haystack! However, there is one unusual name among them, Rives, a variant of the English name, Reeves.

My 3rd great-grandmother, Susan E Rives was the daughter of “Captain” William Rives, of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and his third wife, Jane Cunningham.

William and Jane were therefore my 4th great-grandparents. As I began to research them, a Google search brought up a blog post by another researcher which mentioned that there were many deeds with William’s name on them in the Mecklenburg County records. Well, by now I know what that means. He was yet another slaveholder.

In fact, there are quite a few records involving William Rives in the Mecklenburg County archives on Family Search. Many of them are very complicated “deeds of trust.” I am still studying on what this means, but it appears that William often offered private mortgages on other men’s debts. When the debtors defaulted, he was able to claim their property. That property could include land, livestock, crops, farm equipment, and enslaved people.

The first mention of William with regard to slaves is a bit unclear. On 11 July 1811, he “received” several enslaved people as administrator of his father in law’s estate. I am not sure whether this meant he was to keep them, or sell them in his role as administrator in order to settle his first wife’s debt. He was quite young at the time, just 16 years old based on a later letter written by his mother, and certainly no older than 20.

Rives, William McGuffey 20 Jul 1811 negroes from Robert Hobbs estate
Mecklenburg County, NC Deed Book 19, page 699, Family Search.

11 Jul 1811

This day received of William Rives, Administrator of all the goods & Chattels rights and Credits of Robert Hobbs late of Chatham County Deceased, the following Negroes Viz:

A negro woman called Aggy with her children called Charles, Isaac, Aggy, and Minney, in full satisfaction of our distributive share respectively of the Estate of the said Robert Hobbs deceased.

And also in full satisfaction and discharge on our part respectively of a certain bond or obligation entered into by Elsey Rives, wife of William Rives and formerly Elsey Hobbs bearing date Nov. AD 17__? And signed by Elizabeth Hobbs, James Avent, Eliza Hobbs and the sd Elsey Hobbs now wife of Willam Rives.

Witness present Henry Massey, George Wren

Proven Mecklenburg May Court 1811

I have not been able to find William on the 1820 census by name, however, I think it is likely that he is the free white male aged 16-25 on Daniel Smith’s census record. William’s second wife was Hannah Smith, Daniel’s daughter. A quitclaim deed is quoted online (though I have not been able to locate the original) in which Hannah and other heirs relinquish claims to Daniel’s estate in favor of their mother. Daniel’s 1822 estate inventory lists the following enslaved people: George, Sandy, Albert, Jacob, Isaac, Dinah, Vincy, Lucy, Caty, and Fanny.

Because William does not appear to have had his own plantation by 1822, and because he is found with just one enslaved woman, aged 10-23, on the 1830 census, it does not seem likely that he took possession of the slaves mentioned as part of Robert Hobbs’ estate in 1811.

The first slave transaction I find for Captain William Rives is in in 1831. He bought two children from his father in law, Nathaniel Cunningham’s, estate.

Cunningham, Nathaniel 22 Mar 1831 sale of slaves
Nathaniel Cunningham estate file, Wills and Estate Papers, (Mecklenburg County) on

A list of two negroes sold at the sale of Nathaniel Cuningham Dec’d (by the Executor) this 22nd March 1831.

William Rives: Negro Boy Sandy $530
William Rives: Negro girl Rachel 399.50

Elijah Cunningham, Executor

In December, 1839, William bought three enslaved young men from his father, William McGuffey Rives’ estate. Their names were Grandeson, Sims, and Hinton. Details for this transaction are in this post.

In 1840, the census for William shows 10 enslaved people, but it does not show these three young men, which is a bit strange. Perhaps they were living on another property,  and were counted there, or had been “hired out.”

Slaves – Males – Under 10: 2
Slaves – Males – 36 thru 54: 1
Slaves – Females – Under 10 : 3
Slaves – Females – 10 thru 23:  3
Slaves – Females – 24 thru 35:  1

On 29 May 1841, William took possession two tracts of land, a good deal of livestock, and  13 more people along with a lot of other property in one of these “deed of trust” arrangements.

Rives, William II 29 May 1841 from Adam B Davidson

Rives, William II 29 May 1841 from Adam B Davidson 2
Mecklenburg County Deeds on Family Search: Deed Book 1, page 11/12.

Also, the following negroes viz: Dave about 16 years old, Sylvia about 33 years old, Rachel 14 years old, Lucy 12 years old, Daphne, 7 years old, Joe 5 years old, Tricia (?) 2 years old, Sarah about 20 years old, Amanda 2 years old, Abbott about 2 years old, Cyrus 20 years old, Davidson (?) 18 years old, Martin about 14 years old.

The above deed establishes that William Rives lived on Sugar Creek, and that the property includes “one hundred bushels of Gold ore.” A later (non slave-related) deed states that his property was “On the waters of Sugar Creek on both sides of the Great Road leading from Charlotte to Camden.” Big Sugar Creek is now known as Irwin Creek, and these two nuggets of information place Rives’ plantation with a good degree of certainty in or very near the South End neighborhood of present-day Charlotte, NC, where a minor gold rush occurred in the 1820s.

On 4 April 1846, William bought a boy named Sidney from Matthew Neagle.

Rives, William II 4 April 1846 purchase of Sidney
Mecklenburg County deeds on Family Search: Deed Book 2, page 91.

4 April 1846
Received of William Rives three Hundred and Twenty five dollars in full for a Negro Boy named Sidney aged about fourteen years which Negro boy I warrant sound in body + mind and the title good. Under my hand and seal April 4, 1846

Matthew Neagle
Registered 18 Jan 1846

Later that same year, he bought a woman named Violet from H N Knox.

Rives, William II 9 Dec 1846 purchase of Violet
Mecklenburg County deeds on Family Search: Deed Book 2, page 364.

9 Dec 1846
Rec’d of Wm Rives Four Hundred and Forty-Five dollars in full for a Negro Girl named Violet about Twenty years old which Girl I warrant to be sound in body and mind and title good in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affix my seal the day + date above written

H N Knox
Proven Jul term 1847

Captain William Rives died about 1848, apparently quite well-off judging from the extensive list of possessions on his estate inventory. The following enslaved people from his estate were sold at auction in December of 1848.

To John Williamson 1 negro boy Isaac $613.00
To Jas. Irvin (?) 1 Girl Lucy $580.00
To Wash. Mills ditto Daphna $516.00
To Wm Smith 1 Boy Dave $262.00 (William Smith is likely Rives’ son-in-law)
To Jas. Irvin (?) 1 Boy Joe $438.00
ditto ditto 1 Girl Sarah $401.00
ditto ditto 1 ditto Child $150.00 (probably Sarah’s child)
ditto ditto 1 ditto Amanda $425.00
ditto ditto 1 ditto Joice $376.00
D W Orr 1 Boy Albert $350.00
Jos. Patterson 1 ditto Jake $345.00

Rives, William estate sale named slaves
North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979 on Family Search: file for William Rives dated 1848.

This list clearly does not include all the people enslaved by William Rives. I have not yet found a will for him, but it is logical to assume that some people, along with his plantation, were inherited by his older children by his second wife, Hannah Smith. However, the 1850 slave schedule for Mecklenburg County does not show any slave holders by the name of Rives, so if this is the case, William’s heirs must have left the area.

William’s widow, Jane, departed the area shortly after his death, and is found, along with my 4th great-grandmother Susan Rives and two younger children, in the same household as another daughter, Ann Rives Smith, in Ware County, Georgia in 1850. She migrated between her childrens’ and grandchildrens’ homes for the next 35 years until her death in 1883.

Susan Rives, my 3rd great-grandmother, married Levi Reuben Thompson in Ware County in 1850. He was an Episcopal Methodist preacher, as well as the son and grandson of two Methodist preachers. There is no record that I can find of Levi and Susan ever having held slaves. The Methodist Episcopal church of the time, though not outright abolitionist, was not in favor of slavery and strongly discouraged its clergy from holding slaves. And so, fortunately, that was the end of slaveholding on this line of my family.


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