The 1838 Indictment of Nancy Flood for Cohabiting with an Enslaved Black Man

While reading the 1838/1839 estate record of Bryan Randolph of Northampton County, North Carolina, I found several documents that uncovered the case of Nancy Flood, a white woman, who had an illegal “common-law marriage” with Davy Horn. Davy had been enslaved by Randolph. Relationships between southern white women and enslaved Black men were relatively uncommon, but they happened, probably more than what many know. However, this blog post is not meant to expound on the subject itself. I wanted to bring this particular case to light, in case Nancy Flood’s descendants are out there seeking more information and are unaware that these documents are in Bryan Randolph’s estate record. At least two family trees on Ancestry.com have her and her daughter Priscilla Flood in them.

These are the three documents about Nancy Flood among the 436 pages of Bryan Randolph’s estate record.

“Presentments made by Grand July, March 1838. We of the grand jury present Nancy Flood a white woman of this county for living in adultery with negro slave (called Davy Horn) belonging to the estate of Bryan Randolph. Witness, Augustus Lambertson, John Lambertson, & Joseph Parks”
“State of North Carolina, to the Sheriff of Northampton County, Greeting. You are hereby commanded to take the body of Nancy Flood if to be found in your county, and her safely keep, so that you have her before the Justice of our Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessious: to be held for the County of Northampton, at the Court House in the town of Jackson, on the first Monday in June next, then and there to answer. The State of North Carolina on a bill of indictment found against her by the Grand Jury for Fornication and adultery with Negro man slave called Davy Horn the property of the late Bryan Randolph. Herein fail not, and have you then and there this Writ. Witness, William Bottom, Clerk of our said Court, at office, the first Monday of March 1838 and in the 62nd year of American Independence. Issued the 20 day of March 1838. Wm Bottom clk”

This third document clearly shows how society despised Nancy Flood’s relationship with Davy Horn. In so many terms, she was considered the “scum of the Earth,” and the people of North Carolina wanted her to pay for her “depraved and vicious morals.”

“Northampton County to wit March term 1838. The jurors for the State upon their ?? presents that Nancy Flood spinster being a person of depraved and vicious morals and not being in Holy wedlock? at on in the County of Northampton on the first day of March eighteen hundred and thirty eight or on ?? other days up to the finding of this bill unlawfully or willfully did live with a negro slave called Davy Horn the property of the late Bryan Randolph in a state of fornication or adultery to the common nuisance of the good people of North Carolina contrary to the acts of assembly in such case made & provided or against the peace or dignity of the State. Ths Bragg Jr attn”

Source: The estate record of Bryan Randolph, deceased; Estate Record (Northampton County, North Carolina), Ca. 1766-1911; Probate Place: Northampton, North Carolina; Ancestry.com. North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [database on-line]; Ancestry.com.

Twelve years later, Nancy Flood was enumerated in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census in Northampton County, and she and everyone in her household were reported as being “mulatto.” The 1838 case confirmed that the North Carolina court had considered her to be a white woman, which is why she was indicted in the first place.

Source: The household of Nancy Flood, 1850; Census Place: Northampton, North Carolina; Roll: M432_639; Page: 53B; Image: 114, accessed from Ancestry.com.

Presumably, Nancy Flood had died before the 1860 U.S. Federal Census was taken, as Priscilla Flood, likely her daughter, was the head of the household. I wonder if Davy Horn was Priscilla’s father. Before she passed away, Nancy likely had faced a lot of public humiliation for loving and living with an enslaved Black man.

Source: The household of Priscilla Flood, 1860; Census Place: District 10, Northampton, North Carolina; Roll: M653_908; Page: 74; Family History Library Film: 803908, accessed from Ancestry.com.

Priscilla Flood is the head of household in 1870. The census-taker appeared to have been confused if she was a white woman or “mulatto.” He attempted to edit her race. Interestingly, her household included two white men, Isaac Parker and William Carter, who were reported as being farm laborers.

Source: The household of Priscilla Flood, 1870; Census Place: Rich Square, Northampton, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1152; Page: 607B; Family History Library Film: 552651, accessed from Ancestry.com

Later censuses and death certificates indicate that the family of Priscilla Flood did not pass as white and lived as Black people in Northampton County. Her son, Wiley Flood, was a longtime school teacher in the county before he died on 9 December 1929, at the age of 79, according to his death certificate.

6 thoughts on “The 1838 Indictment of Nancy Flood for Cohabiting with an Enslaved Black Man

  1. I received this article/blog notification via my friend/cousin Edward Carter-Sanders. Once, I delved into the article, I started to recognize familiar names associated with my son’s mother, grandmother-Ella Jane Flood & great-great grandfather a Mr. Wiley F. Flood, b abt. 1850 in Rich Square-Northampton Co. NC to Priscilla Flood, b. abt. 1826. Nancy Flood, b. abt. 1790 is Priscilla Flood’s mother. Wow!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Denise Conwell

    I’m speechless! My paternal grandmother, Ella Jane Flood, was the daughter of Wiley Flood, son of Pricilla Flood, daughter of Nancy Flood. I will be forever grateful that you shared this research! I feel as if I participated on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are! Awesome! Just Awesome!

    Liked by 2 people

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