By Richard Gwynallen
ANN ELIZA BLAKE
1843 – 1908
Relationship to Fawn: 3rd great grandmother
When I was growing up the surnames that appeared in our family stories the most were Mooneyham, Murdock, Allen, Bondurant, and Blake. These were the families that I knew as my family. My great-great grandmother Eliza Blake was in family bibles. She had married Addison/Adeson Mooneyham. She was one of the certain names in our family tree. My grandmother, Mabel Minnie Mooneyham, always spoke of the family as Irish, and I always understood that to mean the Mooneyhams, Murdocks, and Blakes. However, I never knew anything specific about Eliza’s parentage, and as I came in recent years to spend more time on our family history I still found her ancestry uncertain. There are some mysteries around our Blake family that I hope to unravel over time.
Just recently, I found something to give me confidence in expanding Eliza’s story a little. I happened upon a 2001 document from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources called History of the Polk Prison Property, Blue Ridge Road. The reader might wonder: “How do you ‘happen’ upon a report on a prison?” Internet research still has an element of mystery for me as to how it works. I was just plugging combinations of family names and locations into Google as I do many times, and this time the report popped up. Much of this essay will be excerpts from History of the Polk Prison Property, Blue Ridge Road.
The document was written to evaluate the historical and archeological significance of the tract of land that had been the Polk Youth Center and Camp Polk Prison Farm, established in 1920. It was prepared at the request of the North Carolina Museum of Art. The museum was acquiring the property as part of its expansion plan. It seems that our Blakes once farmed part of the land in question, so we got lucky that there was a reason for professionals to document something that happened to be related to our family. The report describes a wide range of facts about Eliza Blake’s family, what their farms were like, how they acquired their land, and how they lost it. I thought it so extraordinary that I paused quite awhile wondering if this was really our Eliza. It was an Eliza Blake who married an Addison/Adeson Mooneyham and had a son named Charles, all of whom were born in the same years and living in the same area as appears in our family records. Finding no one else in the area that came close to this set of facts, I finally accepted our good fortune, and that this was almost certainly our Eliza.
To give us a setting, the below 1871 and 1887 maps offer a look at the House Creek Township of Wake County where this story unfolds. A close look reveals the location of various grist mills, which provided not only milling services but locations for farm families to gather and discuss matters.
The former Polk Youth Center occupied land now adjacent to the North Carolina Museum of Art. The prison was closed in 1997 and demolished in 2003. The below picture is an aerial view of the prison.
Before the prison was established in 1920 the area was part of a 16,000 – 22,000 acre tank training facility named Camp Polk from August 1918 – January 1919 where soldiers were trained in the use of tanks in military operations.
Below is a picture of the tank training facility in 1918.
The image below of the Polk Youth Center dates to the 1980s. The first Museum building, opened in 1983, is visible in the background. The 120-foot tapered brick smokestack that is all that now remains from the prison is visible in the right part of the photo.
The acquisition of the former prison site is part of the Museum’s expansion. Below is an aerial rendering of the expansion, including the new parking grove, walkways, elliptical lawn, and smokestack. It’s referred to as a parking grove because of the tree canopy that covers the parking area. Seems like a setting our farming ancestors might have been happier about than a prison.
The Story Unfolds
Now that we have the geographic setting in mind, to set the historical stage we need to go back before the Civil War. During the antebellum period there were two owners of the land in question. Josiah Davis, a yeoman farmer, owned a five acre tract (and more acreage elsewhere), and William Peck, a Raleigh merchant, owned a 97 1/2 acre tract.
During the war, the site was a section of the very large Confederate encampment known as Camp Mangum. The camp was a training ground. An artillery battalion and 21 infantry regiments were organized, re-organized, or bivouacked at Camp Magnum. The camp was abandoned by 1864. Today the North Carolina State Fair grounds occupies much of the former Camp Magnum site.
The report identifies three landowners who farmed the land after the Civil War. One of those was Lucretia Blake. And with that, part of our family story begins to unfold.
Though the details of the Blake farm come mostly from the post-Civil War period, the story of how they came to hold the land starts before the war.
“By May 1835 Davis [the Josiah Davis mentioned above] found himself indebted to Ezekiel Ellis, Alexander M. High, and Benjamin B. Davis for $300. In an effort to secure repayment of this debt, Davis placed 100 acres (located five miles west of Raleigh), household and kitchen furniture, livestock, and his two wagons and cart in a deed of trust with newspaperman Weston R. Gales. By November 1837 Alexander M. High, one of Davis’s creditors, had the 100 acres in his possession.”
“In 1837 High like Davis was forced to place his property in deed of trust to Weston R. Gales for indebtedness over $1,500. This property included 1,365 acres, slaves, livestock, household and kitchen furniture, farm utensils, etc. [High was what one would consider a small plantation owner.] In 1840 the population census listed High as being between forty and fifty years old with a wife and five children residing in the White Oak District of Wake County. He also had ten free African Americans living with him.”
“In October 1840, High sold to Charlotte Blake for twenty-five dollars ‘a certain piece of land to wit lying on the main Hillsborough road lying on the south side containing about five acres, all which is cleared and formerly owned by Josiah Davis.’ The 1850 population census listed Charlotte Blake as a sixty-year-old mulatto woman born in North Carolina who had a twenty-nine-year-old mulatto woman named Chatharine [sic] Blake and three mulatto children living with her. The children were Martha Blake, nine years old, and Salley [sic] and Mary Blake, both nine months old. Apparently Chatharine was Charlotte Blake’s daughter while the children were Charlotte Blake’s grandchildren and Chatharine Blake’s children. The census also showed that Charlotte Blake lived near a twenty-nine-year-old mulatto woman named Lucretia Blake possibly a daughter of Charlotte Blake.
“Lucretia Blake obtained the five-acre Davis tract from Charlotte Blake. Lucretia Blake seemingly had this property by 1847 because she was listed as holding five acres in House Creek in the 1847 Wake County tax lists. The 1850 population census listed Lucretia Blake as a native North Carolinian who had real estate valued at thirty dollars. She had two children, Ann and Green, ages thirteen and twelve, who were listed as being mulatto.”
A second landowner comes into play in May 1853, when “Malinda Howle (spelled Howell on deed) purchased ninety-seven and one-half acres from the estate of William Peck for $350.”
Malinda’s background was a bit of a mystery itself. The report records: “Malinda Howle was a woman of significant wealth who must have been married a couple of times. An 1878 estate inventory showed her as owning 463 acres in Wake County and thirteen houses and lots in Wilmington. She married Thomas K. Howle in August 1860. Strangely, her last name was Howle when she purchased land from the Peck estate; however, when Thomas K. Howle took out a marriage bond on July 14, 1857, Malinda Howle’s last name was Griffin. Yet, the marriage license listed Malinda Howle’s last name as Blake.”
Lucretia Blake and Malinda Howle held these two tracts of land after the Civil War, and the two landowners knew each other. However, the Civil War interrupts their history on the land as the area becomes a training facility to turn young men into soldiers. They re-appear in the records after the war.
“In her 1876 will, Malinda Howle, who had purchased the Peck tract in 1853 . . . bequeathed to Lucretia Blake five hundred dollars along with land on which Blake resided (probably the Peck tract), and Howle allocated separate items to her husband Thomas and others. However, Thomas Howle protested the authenticity of the will and wanted the court to name him administrator of his wife’s estate. The court agreed and named him the administrator. Lucretia Blake evidently never received any money or land from Malinda Howle’s estate. W. Thomas Howle and his wife Francis acquired the Peck tract. In January 1880 Lucretia Blake and her two children, Green Blake, and Ann Eliza Mooneyham, purchased the Peck tract on which Lucretia Blake lived for one dollar from W. Thomas and Francis Howle.
“The 1880 federal census listed Lucretia Blake as a fifty-nine-year-old mulatto widow living in the House Creek Township. Her occupation was listed as housekeeper although she also engaged in small-scale farming. According to the 1880 agricultural schedule, Blake had seven acres of improved (tilled) land on which she grew cotton and seventy-five acres of unimproved land (woodland and forest). She held the following livestock: two horses, two oxen, three milking cows, thirty poultry, and one animal unidentified by the census taker. Two calves were born in 1879. In 1879 her farm produced 100 dozen eggs, 104 pounds of butter, two bales of cotton, ten pounds of honey, and $10 worth of wood products. The total value of her farm was listed at $1,175. Blake’s grandson George, age fourteen, and adopted son Charles, age thirteen, resided with her. Both of these males were listed as white and farm workers. They probably worked on Blake’s farm.
“In 1880 Blake’s daughter Ann Eliza Mooneyham resided next to her mother, living on a separate farm, with her husband Adeson and four children. According to the 1880 population census, Ann Eliza Mooneyham was a forty-three-year-old mulatto housekeeper, and Adeson Mooneyham was a thirty-year-old white farmer. Their sons were Charles, age nine; Water [sic], age six; and Thomas, age three; the daughter was Octavia, age eight. The census listed all the children as white. Adeson Mooneyham rented his farm “for shares of the product” indicating that he was a sharecropper. His rented land consisted of fifteen acres tilled land (nine acres for cotton and six acres for corn), twenty acres of forest and woodland, and ten acres of old fields. In 1880 he kept one horse and sixteen chickens. Adeson Mooneyham’s farm produced sixty dozen eggs, 100 bushels of corn, three bales of cotton, 100 pounds of honey, and $25 in forest products in 1879. The 1880 agricultural census valued the farm at $495.34
“Green Blake also resided next to his mother Lucretia Blake in 1880. According to the 1880 population schedule, he was a forty-three-year-old mulatto farmer who was married to Lucy Ann, a thirty-six-year-old white woman. Blake’s family consisted of four children, three sons, and a daughter: William, age nine; Robert, age six; Frank, age four; and Ceasly, age two. The census listed these children as being white. Like his brother-in-law Adeson Mooneyham, Green Blake leased his farmland, but he paid rent instead of sharecropping. Green Blake leased 245 acres of improved and unimproved land. He owned one horse, two milking cows, sixteen chickens, and one other unidentified animal in 1880. He had two calves born in 1879. Green Blake cultivated corn, oats, wheat, cotton, apples and peaches on his farm. In 1879, he produced, 150 pounds of butter, seventy dozen eggs, seventy-five bushels of corn, 100 bushels of oats, thirty-three bushels of wheat, two bales of cotton, 600 bushels of apples, ten bushels of peaches, and $100 of forest products. The 1880 census taken valued his farm at $1,685 far more than his brother-in-law’s farm.
“Lucretia Blake evidently died in 1896 being around seventy-five years old; her will was probated in October 1896. The estate inventory listed Blake as the owner of five acres (the Davis tract), ninety-six acres (the Peck tract), a host of personal belongings, and livestock. She bequeathed to her daughter some furniture, a mule, cow and calf, and the Davis tract. Lucretia Blake gave to George Allen a bed with bedclothes and a sideboard and willed that the rest of the land along with other personal belongings be sold at auction. The money from the auction was to be divided between Ann Eliza Mooneyham, George Allen, and Green Blake. Unfortunately, Anna Eliza Mooneyham lost the Davis tract and the people named in Blake’s will never received any money from the sell of the Peck tract. The two tracts were lost due to unpaid mortgages.
“In January 1894 Lucretia Blake, Green Blake, and his wife M. Louisiana (Lucy Ann in the 1880 population census), and Ann Eliza Mooneyham took out a nine hundred dollar mortgage at eight percent interest with William R. Blake using the Peck tract as collateral. Failing to pay the mortgage, the Peck tract was sold at public auction on March 5, 1898. William R. Blake sold the land to Lizzie L. Belvin for five hundred dollars along with a ten-dollar fee. On April 3, 1894, Blake took out a mortgage on the five-acre Davis tract for thirty-five dollars at eight-percent interest. “[Failing] to comply with the terms of the said mortgage” resulted in Charles H. Belvin placing the Davis tract up for sale at the same public auction where the Peck tract was sold.
“Lizzie L. Belvin, who was Charles H. Belvin’s wife, purchased the Davis tract for thirty-one dollars and a ten-dollar fee. Lizzie Lee Pullen and Charles H. Belvin, also identified as landowner, married in November 1873 and had four children. Lizzie L. Belvin died on January 3, 1907, at the age of fifty-three apparently due to complications related to diabetes. The death register listed her occupation as housewife; however, Lizzie L. Belvin was also a large property holder. Her estate inventory listed her holdings at around 820 acres along with various lots. This land included the former Lucretia Blake property.”
Depression of the 1890s
What were the Blakes and Mooneyhams facing during the 1890s that caused them to mortgage their land, then fail to be able to pay the mortgages?
During the period in which the Blakes were farming and struggling to hold onto their land farmers across the south were feeling the same pressures they were experiencing. Some of those were identified in a 22 April 1890 presentation to the U. S. Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry by Leonidas La Fayette Polk, president of the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union.
We may think of the end of the family farm as a modern problem, but Polk speaks in 1890 about the erosion of farming in face of the rise of manufacturing. The organization Polk represented, the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union, was the result of farmers responding to worsening conditions by creating organization.
The economic system was in one of its cyclical periods of crisis. The crisis started for farmers earlier, but it didn’t hit the urban areas and industry until 1893 and remained severe in 1896. Stock prices declined, banks closed, businesses failed, railroads went bankrupt. In some cities, unemployment among industrial workers exceeded 25 percent.
Farmers in the south suffered significantly. Cotton prices plummeted from 18 cents a pound in 1868 to 5 cents a pound in 1894. To make matters worse, there were few forms of credit in North Carolina, and the crop lien system had sharecroppers bound to planters and merchants, with their growing crops pledged for food and supplies at interest rates that ranged from 25 percent to 100 percent.
Agricultural production had increased in the decade after the Civil War, but the prices farmers received did not keep pace. Crops often cost more to produce than they were worth on the market. The rates warehouses and railroads charged farmers to store and ship their crops; the cost of land, fertilizer, and seed; and state property taxes had all gone up throughout the late 1870s and 1880s.
In response, by the 1890s, many yeomen farmers, tenants, and sharecroppers revolted against landholders by forming Farmers’ Alliances. This was significant because it created the first major organizational form in which black and white yeoman farmers, tenants, and sharecroppers drew together to promote reform policies.
In his 1890 speech, Polk identifies one of the core reforms being sought: establishing government-run warehouses to hold surplus crops on behalf of individual farmers until prices rose to a profitable level. This was known as the “sub-treasury plan” and aimed at relieving farmers’ credit issues and increasing their cash flow.
The proposals were defeated in Congress, and Alliance efforts to win Democratic legislative seats in 1890 and 1891 to secure supportive elected officials had limited success. This led many Alliance members to conclude that the Democratic and Republican parties were too wed to big business to be supportive of reform. Consequently, the Populist Party was founded in in the mid-1890s.
It’s exciting to think that our Blake and Mooneyham families were involved in the efforts by their fellow farmers to create reform, but I have no idea if that was the case. However, these were the times they lived through, and the talk of the day at farm homes were the desperate conditions and the efforts by farmers to build political strength.
[Information source for above: LearnNC.org]
A Note for Future Research
Finding this document has shed some interesting light on a part of our family story. The story revolves strongly around mixed-race female landowners holding land as small farmers before and after the Civil War. In fact, at this point, husbands are not listed for Eliza’s mother, Lucretia, or for Charlotte or Catherine Blake living near Lucretia before the Civil War. Even the later relationship with Malinda Howle retained this pattern of economic relationships between female landowners. We know Malinda’s husband’s name, but the relationship between Malinda and Lucretia was enough for Malinda to include Lucretia in her will, and irritating enough to her husband for him to challenge the will and deny Lucretia any inheritance.
Eliza has become a fuller character for me now. While we now know more about Eliza Blake’s life on the land we still are not very certain about her ancestry. Her mother seems certain now – Lucretia Blake. Perhaps Charlotte Blake was Lucretia’s mother and Eliza’s grandmother. It is not certain. Nor is it certain whether the Blake name was passed through the female line instead of the male. If Charlotte Blake was Lucretia’s mother, and Lucretia’s children were still Blakes either the name was passed through the female line or Lucretia married another Blake, also very possible. In any case, it seems likely there was some relationship there with two Blakes living so close to each other, both mixed-race. The search goes on.