Hannah Jones and Tinnan Morehead are the only two people documented by name to have lived in bondage at Blandwood, the home of former North Carolina Governor John Motley Morehead and his family. Insights provided through documentary evidence reveal a glimpse of their roles as enslaved people at the home. During the mid-nineteenth century, Governor Morehead, patriarch of the family, was an influential politician, industrialist, and financier. Through his work, he traveled extensively with his wife Ann Eliza along the eastern seaboard of the United States, maintaining a rigorous calendar that included political functions in Washington and New York, social outings within the network of therapeutic springs of Virginia, and family visits across the span of North Carolina. In fact, during his two terms as Governor in Raleigh 1841-1844, the family resided in the Executive Mansion there. Such an active schedule implies that the Moreheads traveled afar with the understanding that enslaved workers Hannah Jones and Tinnan Morehead would care for the family estate Blandwood without the supervision of their enslavers. Could such evidence imply that Hannah and Tinnan held a significant role in the history of Blandwood because they were tasked to manage the estate and maintain its operations with some degree of implied autonomy? If so, these two people must be a recognized part of the Blandwood story as their roles help people today reckon with the varied ways that enslaved people were expected to serve, especially if these expectations implied trust and responsibility instead of compulsion or violence. Exploring this history critically expands our awareness of how the system of slavery might figure into contemporary concerns with site interpretation and empowerment.
Roles and Responsibilities at Blandwood
Blandwood was not a working plantation; rather it operated as an urban estate, relying on nearby merchants for supplies of food, dry goods, and services. Morehead generated wealth and income from a burgeoning textile and industrial complex along the Spray Power Canal in nearby Rockingham County, as well as banking, agricultural, and real estate investments. Though not a plantation, by 1860, the Blandwood campus was home to 16 enslaved people and one emancipated woman, aged 105. According to census data from the era, the only residents of Blandwood were the extended Morehead family, occasional tradespeople, and the enslaved people working for them. Does the lack of a resident white “overseer” imply that no residents served a role of managing enslaved workers?
Hannah and Tinnan: Their History
Hannah Jones (c.1823 – 1895) and Tinnan Morehead (c.1846 – c.1888) are the only people documented by name to have been enslaved at Blandwood. With no evidence of a white “overseer” role that was common within the organizational structure of traditional plantations, a direct communication structure could have provided a clear line of management between Governor and Anne Eliza Morehead and leaders among enslaved workers.
John Motley Morehead died in 1866, followed by the death of his wife Ann Eliza in 1868. The brief window of time between emancipation and the 1870 census might provide insights into the residents and their roles in the Blandwood household during slavery.
Census data and legal documents provide a sense of those who lived at Blandwood as well as the entrusted status of several emancipated residents. According to the 1870 Federal Census, the household at Blandwood was led by 46-year-old Letitia Morehead Walker, the widowed eldest daughter of the Moreheads. Her two youngest children, John and William, age 19 and 14 respectfully, are included, as well as Letitia’s youngest brother, 24-year-old Eugene Morehead, who is listed as a lawyer. Next is Tinnan Morehead, a 24 -year-old man (visually) perceived by the census taker to be ”mulato”— an antiquated and offensive word that suggests a person who had multiracial ancestry. Tinnan’s profession was categorized as “Work on Farm,” implying his care of the grounds. Hannah Jones, 47 years old, is next, listed as a domestic servant. Thirty-eight-year-old Samuel Jones, a shoemaker, follows, as well as an 8-year-old boy named John, and a 2-year-old girl, Anne. In her will of 1895, Hannah confirmed the names of her children, John and Annie, as beneficiaries.
Hannah Jones and Tinnan Morehead are documented by name to have been enslaved at Blandwood through Ann Eliza Morehead’s 1868 will, which stated:
“I give and bequeath to my faithful Servant Hannah formerly my Slave one walnut table and one bedstead, a small one now in use in the family.”
Tinnan is also specifically referenced,
“I also give and bequest to my freedman Tinnan formerly a Slave one bed and stead and furniture which bedstead is more used by him also one pair of Boots or Shoes as he may choose”
Notably, Ann Eliza Morehead references no individuals in her will other than her children, their spouses, her grandchildren, nieces, and Hannah and Tinnan. No other bequests are made outside the circle of her family and the household.
Census data from the earlier period of slavery—information gathered in the 1860 Federal Census Slave Schedule– further suggests that 16 enslaved people lived and worked at Blandwood. This number includes a 105-year-old female who was manumitted or released from enslavement. Others included seven females of the ages 60, 25, 25, 15, 4, 3, and one year old, and nine males of the ages 60, 50, 40, 38, 32, 20, 14, 10, and 3 years old. This population could be organized through direct communication between white members of the Morehead family and a hierarchy among the enslaved workers.
If England’s nineteenth-century country estates can be held as a model, domestic servants could operate within an established hierarchy of workers with well-defined female and male roles. Female servants were headed by the Housekeeper. This role demanded managerial duties and well-developed skills to maintain a large household. Other roles included the important position of Cook, Nanny, Housemaid, Laundry Maid, and Scullery Maid, responsible for washing dishes and other house chores).
Male servants also had clearly defined roles, headed by the Estate Steward, a position that included management of the house and grounds, care of animals, supervision of the house in the absence of the occupants, and coordination of provisions for the operation of the household. Other roles for males included Butler, Footman, Coachman, Groom, and Gardener.
Diary entries by Robert Lindsay “Eugene” Morehead affirm these female and male roles were held by Hannah and Tinnan during the post-emancipation period. On January 1, 1871, Eugene remarked “Hannah gave me a good New Years dinner of Opossum – chicken & fresh meat which I enjoyed all alone.” In September 16th 1870, Eugene wrote “…sent ‘Tinon’ [to Thomasville] for Horse.” Might these brief passages help provide a glimpse into how enslaved people were part of the fabric of this important and influential North Carolina home?
Life at Blandwood: Changing Responsibilities
Considering the active travel schedule of the Morehead family, stewardship of Blandwood was perhaps entrusted to the care of leaders among enslaved workers who managed the house. Considering the historical timeline of the Morehead family while residing at Blandwood, one can infer that the enslaved residents likely held some responsibility in the management of the estate, particularly in the family’s absence.
As early as the 1830s, the soon-to-be governor Morehead was an attorney who traveled within a constellation of courthouse towns in North Carolina. He also spent a great deal of time in Rockingham County building his manufacturing interests along the Smith River and its Spray Industrial Canal. It is likely his wife, Ann Eliza, remained with family during his period, raising their eight children. Between their first child, Letitia (born in 1823), and their last child, Robert Lindsay “Eugene” (born in 1845), there was a 27-year range in ages signifying continuous child-rearing. During this period, Blandwood was also active with visitors including family, friends, and business associates.
Because this active 1830s household was managed without the constant presence of its paternal leader, maternal leadership was provided through Ann Eliza. As no other white residents were recorded in their household by the 1840 federal Census, the absence of an “overseer” implies that Ann Eliza coordinated directly with thirty enslaved workers for needed tasks and regular duties. The thirty people included nine individuals under the age of 10 and an additional 4 under the age of 20.
With the election of Morehead as Governor in the summer of 1840, the family relocated to the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, where they resided during his two elected terms through 1844. There is no evidence that the family abandoned their Greensboro home to live in Raleigh. Morehead maintained a leadership role with the Edgeworth Female Seminary adjacent to his home, cultivated his industrial interests in Rockingham County, and traveled the state extensively. It is likely the house remained a welcome and familiar respite during his hectic years of service, during which time. Was management of Blandwood during this time entrusted to enslaved workers?
Life after Emancipation
Hannah and Samuel Jones’ family remained at Blandwood, likely until 1873 when new owners, Emma and Julius Gray, moved into the house. Though enslaved people were not legally permitted to be married, Hannah Wiley and Samuel Jones recorded a ceremonial marriage on October 15, 1861, after emancipation, when this union was legally recognized on August 26, 1866. The couple had two children, including John (b.1862) and Anne (b.1868).
Although the 1870 census date confirms their residency at Blandwood, by the time of the 1880 Census, 51-year-old Hannah was the head of her own household. She was listed as married, not widowed, and literate. Literacy among enslaved people, made illegal by state statute in 1831, was a curious side-note for the former governor’s household. Both of her children, John (age 16) and Annie (age 13) were also literate. In 1880, Hannah was listed as a self-employed laundress. Her home was in the African American village of Warnersville, a suburb created by Quaker Yardley Warner and managed by Black businessman Harmon Unthank at the close of the Civil War. Today, the community remains just 2,000 feet south of Blandwood and serves as an important touchstone for Greensboro’s past.
In 1890, Hannah purchased two acres of land on Jones Alley in the Warnersville community from Lucy Morehead (widow of Eugene Morehead) for $160. Over the course of the next five years, Hannah sold four properties in the Warnersville community for a profit of $520. However, this new home was to be the site of a terrible tragedy for Hannah. On March 1, 1895, the Raleigh News and Observer published an article entitled “Negro Woman Burned to Death. Greensboro, N.C. Feb 28.” The article stated “Hannah Jones, of this place, an aged colored woman fell into the fire in a fit last night, and being alone, she was not discovered until this morning when she was found burned to a crisp. She is still alive, but cannot live.”
The article was followed on March 6, 1895 by another in the Greensboro Patriot which stated “An old colored woman named Hannah Jones, living in Warnersville, fell into the fire last Thursday evening while alone in the house and she was not discovered until the next day, and by that time she was fearfully burned and it was not thought at first that she would live, but since then she has begun to recover.” Despite this optimistic prognosis, Hannah soon succumbed to her injuries.
On March 18, 1895, the Last Will and Testament of Hannah Jones was probated, declaring the net value of her real estate as $650.00 assigned to beneficiaries including her four grandchildren. The first grandchild was Napoleon Doak, son of Ed Doak. Ed Doak (1856 – 1916), was the child of Hannah’s first marriage to a man named Jack Doak. Beneficiaries also included a second grandchild Frank Jones, son of John Jones of New York. The third and fourth grandchildren Eva and Flossie, were daughters of Annie Jones.
Scant newspaper passages and historical documentation implies the important role Hannah held at Blandwood and in relation to the Morehead family. The fact that Hannah was able to provide an inheritance to benefit her grandchildren through her estate is testimony to her resilience and empowerment despite oppression and systemic racism.
The 1870 Federal Census affirms that Tinnan remained a resident of Blandwood in 1870, but the Guilford County Register of Deeds recorded in Book 44, Page 16 that on May 6, 1871, Tinnan purchased a quarter-acre lot from Harman and Maria Unthank for $100. Unthank was a businessman and unofficial mayor of Warnersville, and a sales agent for early land acquisitions.
On May 21, 1873, at 28 years old, Tinnan married Mary McLean. The marriage record also indicates that Tinnan was the son of Samuel Ellison and Sarah Walker, which provides important documentation about his family. His bride, Mary Mclean, was the 23-year-old daughter of Wash Mebane and Milly Unthank. The pair were married by Reverend W. W. Morgan. Their union resulted in the birth of a daughter, also named Mary, though the 1868 date of birth predated their marriage.
After marriage, Tinnan grew more active in the Warnersville community. On February 13, 1874, he was referenced among an elite group of Black men in “An Act to Incorporate Saint John’s Lodge, Number Twelve, of Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons, of Greensboro’, Guilford Count NC.” Those referenced as founders were William W. Morgan, William A. Minor, G. Tinnin Morehead, George W. Roan, Harman Unthank, Pinkney Jones, Samuel Wiley, James F. Morehead, J. R. Nache [likely a misspelling of Nocho], and Anderson Nelson.
Disparate historical records reflect Tinnan’s professional and civic activities, suggesting his full and active life in the area.
Both the 1884 and 1887 Greensboro City Directory included Tinnan Morehead. The former listed his occupation associated with a grocery store, then later as a porter. Additionally, Tinnan was chosen to serve on the executive committee for Morehead Township in August 1880 for a two-year term. He served with W. H. Lane and J. F. Hoskins. This role suggests Tinnan being entrusted as a civic leader in his community. It may be that Tinnan’s active role in his community is related to a less favorable form of public recognition by 1890. A list, published around that year, includes iterations of “Tinny” and “Tinnin” Morehead, as a registered voter who was targeted to be challenged [intimidated] on election day.
An article published April 19, 1888, in the Greensboro North State newspaper on 19 April 1888 announced the marriage of Tinnan and Mary’s 20-year-old daughter, Mary Morehead. The article stated “There was quite an attractive marriage Thursday morning, April 12, at 9 o’clock, at St. Matthews M. E. Church in Greensboro, N. C., Rev. R. C. Campbell officiating. The contracting parties were Miss Mary Morehead, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Tinnon J. Morehead, of this city, and Mr. Richard Williams, of Winston.”
No record has been located to indicate the time of death of Tinnan Morehead, though his name is not included in the 1890 Greensboro City Directory, nor any reference thereafter. His widow, Mary, may have lived until 1930. If so, she is interred at Maplewood Cemetery in Greensboro.
Tinnan’s participation in civic activities, as well as his self-employment and land ownership, are documented—and this historical data suggests his economic mobility as a freedman. His legacy is entwined within that of Blandwood as well as with the historic Warnersville community. His successes contribute to the larger story of Greensboro.
Thoughts and Questions
With the end of his service as Governor in 1844, John Motley Morehead (and his family) returned to Greensboro, where he embarked on a substantial expansion of Blandwood. These were the most active years for the family, as John and Ann Eliza’s children grew and attended seminaries and universities. The Governor and Ann Eliza both remained politically active, attending events in New York and Washington D.C. As their children married and brought grandchildren into the world, the Governor and Eliza would take trips to Charlotte, Morganton, Rockingham County, and New Bern to spend time with family. Lastly, like others in their socio-economic circles, the Morehead’s took in the therapeutic water of Virginia’s mineral springs. The summertime was a social occasion for wealthy families from across the nation to socialize in the cool mountain valleys and ease health concerns by soaking in mineral springs’ restful surrounds. Indeed, it was at Virginia’s Rockbridge Alum Springs that Morehead died in August 1866.
Morehead’s participation in slavery was complicated. Though he participated in the enslavement of men, women, and children, he also was elected by abolitionist Quakers and Methodists within his voting district as a State Representative and worked to promote laws on their behalf. His wife, Ann Eliza, was raised among Quaker families of the New Garden community and in the words of their eldest daughter, “had always opposed her husband’s investing largely in slaves.” To be sure, Governor and Ann Eliza Morehead were enslavers, and at the same time, evidence suggests that Hannah and Tinnan might have been entrusted with significant roles in managing the house and grounds, as they were the only constants among the Morehead household during the busiest era of Blandwood’s history.
Given the historical references presented above, those of us living today can only begin to consider the complexity of this inherently unjust situation. Without diminishing the seriousness of slavery, we can recognize the level of familiarity among these four, given that Ann Eliza referenced Hannah and Tinnan in her will. We can also contemplate the fact that Hannah named her two children John and Anne.
Though enslaved, could Hannah and Tinnan be recognized not merely as ensalved workers, but as managers of Blandwood? Without their skills, their agency, and their resilience, Blandwood would have failed to operate as a seat of a powerful and influential family in North Carolina. Through Hannah and Tinnan, and other enslaved workers like them, Blandwood earned a reputation as “the most elegant residence of any private gentleman in the State.” It is our responsibility to learn about historical places not only by seeing and visiting them and listening to representational stories about them, but also by taking the time and effort to acknowledge, learn from, and imagine beyond the fragmented documentation about the important, if largely overlooked, people who were central to such history. Hannah Jones and Tinnan Morehead are two such people.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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