February is Black History Month and it’s hard to think of Black History Month without the word “slavery” entering your mind at some point. Slavery, like the Holocaust, is a painful subject and I tend to think of them only in a historical context. There is a book though in the Local History Department at the Iredell County Public Library that brings it home. “Samuel Hall, 47 Years a Slave; A Brief Story of His Life Before and After Freedom Came to Him” was first published in 1912 when Sam was 94. “The book quotes Sam recalling, “I was born May 7th, 1818, in Iredell County, N.C. of slave parents, whose forefathers were full-blooded Africans.”
Sam’s father, Samuel Hennick, was born a free man in Liberia in the year 1756. Samuel lost his freedom when he and his mother were kidnaped by slavers who transported them by slave ship to the United States. There they were sold to a family named Vanderver in Maryland. The mother never recovered from being forcibly removed from her homeland. Sam Hall recalled that his grandmother never would work nor learn the language of her captors. Instead she pined away looking and waiting in vain for her husband “Bingo” to come for her from Liberia.
Samuel Hennick was later married to a slave girl owned by one of his master’s neighbors in Maryland. They had several children, but then as so often happened in slave families Samuel was sold to another master in North Carolina leaving his wife and children behind. Once in North Carolina he was married again at the age of sixty to Hannah Hall, owned by another master named Alex Hall. It was to this union that Sam Hall and his brother Abe were born. Sam took the last name of Hall which was the name of his mother’s master. Sam’s father died a slave in 1844 at the age of 88 years in Iredell County, N.C.
When Alex Hall died his slaves were divided up along with his other property. Sam’s mother was inherited by Robert Hall who was a Presbyterian Seceder preacher and a strict churchman. He gave Sam’s mother her freedom and took the rest of the slaves north where he freed them in the vicinity of Xenia, Ohio. Sam’s mother though now free refused to go north staying in North Carolina to be near her children. Sam was 12 years old when the family was broken apart. He and his half-brother Caesar were inherited by Thomas Hall while his brother Abe and another half-brother Isaac where inherited by Hugh Hall. Hugh Hall wanted Samuel so he traded another married couple for Samuel thus owning both Sam and his brother Abe.
Hugh Hall did not believe in slavery and treated his slaves well even giving them a basic education. Sam and Abe became known for their high intelligence and good work. Sam was married to Margaret Minerva Clark a slave of James Clark and together they had five children. When Hugh died however his wife immediately put Sam and the other grown slaves of the Hall estate up for auction. Sam’s mother Hannah Hall was old and blind by this time and she was put in the poor house. Sam was auctioned off on the Hugh Hall plantation to William Wallace from Tennessee for $1,125.00 and left Iredell County.
San was later married again to the woman slave of a neighbor with whom he had five children. He remained a slave of William Wallace for ten years. On January 1, 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Two days after the Proclamation Sam, now 47, escaped and joined the Union army. He later came back and got his wife and five children from the Wallace Plantation and went north making his home in Washington County, Iowa where he lived out his life.
In recalling his life it was the constant breakup of family that seemed to pain Sam the most. “I have seen slave mothers fall over in a dead faint when their children were sold away from them. Those mothers loved their little children just the same as white mothers love their little babies and some of them were never happy again and some went insane as did my old mother when her children were sold away from her.”
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “94-year-old former slave in Iredell shared life story” on Feb. 16, 2013