Slaves Held by William McGuffey Rives of Warren County, North Carolina

William McGuffey Rives was my 5th great-grandfather. Born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, he was raised on his grandfather’s plantation near Petersburg, according to an 1839 letter written by his widow, Mary Catherine Turner Rives.

William inherited his first slaves on 19 Dec 1786, at about age 19, from the estate of his grandfather, David Neal. They were named Phillis and Marriah.

Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Will Book 2, page 210 at Family Search.

Accordingly, his 1790 census entry, in Warren County, North Carolina, lists 3 slaves. By 1800, that had increased to 4 slaves: likely Phillis or Marriah had children between 1786 and 1800.

On 13 March 1806, a rather disturbing deed reveals that William bought three children under the age of five from three men named Smith who were residents of Granville County. It seems likely that these men were brothers, and that the children were part of the estate of their father, who would have been living in Warren County, where the children were sold. I have not seen any other deeds in which children this young were sold apart from their mother; if nothing else, this would surely be impractical for the person buying them. So, it is possible that the childrens’ mother had passed away before they were sold. But there is no way of knowing.

Reuben Smith, Bennett Smith, and Joel Smith all of the county of Granville, to William Reaves of the county of Warren, 93 pounds Virginia currency for…

Three Negroes, to wit: a boy about three years old named Syrus, a girl about four years old named Celey, and one other girl about one year old named Patience.

Warren County, North Carolina, Deed Book 17, p.351.

In 1810, a William Rives is found in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, with 22 slaves. I am not entirely sure that this is the correct William Rives, however, he is not found in Warren County at that time. Shortly afterward, a September, 1811 deed lists him as being “of the county of Warren.” So, if he was in Dinwiddie County, it could only have been for a few years between 1806 and 1811. Perhaps, as his family came from Dinwiddie County, he was managing a plantation for a relative, which would account for the much higher number of enslaved people.

In 1820, William is found in the Warrenton district of Warren County (as William “Beans”) with 7 slaves. Three of them correspond to the ages and genders of the children purchased in 1806, while one of the woman, at 26-44 is old enough to be either Phillis or Marriah, or the childrens’ mother, or both. In addition, there are two men aged 26-44.

On 23 Nov 1826 William trafficked in children once again, giving his new son in law, John Watkins, “for love and affection,” a boy named Jackson, aged five. On the same day, Watkins bought land from Rives, so it seems likely that Jackson was thrown in to sweeten the deal. As the land bordered Rives’ own plantation, hopefully the boy was not taken too far from his parents.

Warren County, North Carolina, Deed Book 24, p. 462 at Family Search.

On 15 Nov 1836, presented his daughter, Rebecca Rives Southall, with a girl named Edner, no age mentioned, who was already in the possession of Rebecca and her husband, Holman Southall.

Warren County, North Carolina, Deed Book 27, p. 127 on Family Search.

William must have been in poor health during this period, and getting his affairs in order, because a week later, on 24 Nov 1836 he wrote his will, posted here. It names the following enslaved people: Fanny, Ansel, Frank, Sarah, and Rose. The first four people were bequeathed to his wife, Mary Turner Rives, while Rose was bequeathed to his daughter, Susan J. Rives.

William McGuffey Rives died in 1839. His estate record shows the sale of the individuals left to his wife Mary, who evidently decided not to maintain her husband’s plantation after his death, most likely moving in with one of her children.

Negro woman Fanny to Richard Moss (son in law) $28.00
Man Ansel to Holman Southall $110.00 (son in law)
Woman Sarah to Doct. W. Hawkins $608.00
Man Frank sold in Richmond VA to (name unclear) $458.91

North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, file for William Rives.

In addition, these people were sold:

1 Negro woman Celia sold to Holman Southall $350.00 (likely the “Celey” purchased in 1806, above)
1 Boy Grandeson sold to William Rives (son) $750.00
1 Boy Sims sold to William Rives $899.50
1 Boy Hinton sold to William Rives $745.50
1 Boy Harry sold to Weldon A. Edwards

North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979, file for William Rives.

Mary Rives mentions this sale in her 1839 letter, which gives some idea of the ages of Sims, Granderson, Hinton and Henry.

The sale of your father’s property will be between the 15th. and 20th. of December. All the perishable property and five negroes…Cely, Sims, Granderson, Hinton, and Henry, all of which you may call nearly men.

“Nearly men,” indeed.


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