White free servants and bondservants, mulatto slaveowners

The List of Taxables (1772-1784), Bertie County, NC published in 2010 by Dr. A.B. Pruitt of Enfield, NC, provides a window into the final years of a mulatto slaveowning class that was considered white after the American Revolution. John Freeman’s 1772 tax list included brothers Media (Meedy) and Mordecai White, Jr. as well as Media’s son Ezekiel White who was a landless “white servant.” Later Ezekiel was listed as a “bondservant” in King Freeman’s 1774 list. Neighboring land was owned by Henry Bunch who was classified as mulatto but owned “Negro men Ceser and Fite, Negro woman Clo”; and also by Joseph Collins, owner of “Negro men Brandom & Bob and Negro woman Fillis” but also having in his household white servant David Collins. Joseph Collins was listed as white owner of 1780 acres in Faulk’s 1783 taxables list, but his son by Rachel Bunch, Josiah Collins, Sr., had been classified as mulatto in a 1772 list, reflecting his mother’s status as daughter of Henry Bunch. The surnames Bunch and Collins are both prominent among Melungeons. An excellent page of Bertie Collins data is found here.

The greater wealth of some mulatto landowners, as measured by slaves and acreage, enabled them to hire white neighbors as itinerant farm laborers, which contradicts usual expectations of color and class in colonial NC. After the Revolution, the color difference among these Pell Mell Pocosin families was no longer reflected in different classifications in legal documents.