A Pryor Slave Story in Roane County and Anderson County TN

slave-houseSy Prior was a free African American living in Anderson County, TN. It’s an interesting slave story because he died 5 years before the end of slavery and he left a will. The will is like Hansel and Gretel dropping a cookie trail in the forest — he not only names his 4 children, but also who held his children in slavery.

Last Will and Testatment of Sy Prior. In the name of God Amen. Owing to the uncertainty of Life and the certainty of death and being —- to dispose of such worldly goods as it has pleased God to help me with and being of sound mind and disposing memory do make and publish this my last will and testament. 1st I give and bequeath to my daughter PELESA ANN the servant of RHODA WILSON out of my estate one hundered and forty dollars and her child PATSY SHIRLEY the sum of ten dollars. I give and bequeath to my son CHARLES the servant of RICHARD OLIVER one hundred and forty dollars. I give and bequeath to BETTY also a servant of RHODA WILSON the sum of five dollars for her attention to me in my sickness. I give and bequeat to REV JAMES BLAIR the sum of five dollars to preach my funeral sermon. I give and bequeath to my daughter MARGARET servant girl of RICHARD OLIVER my feather bed and furniture. She paying to her sister PELESA ANN six dollars I wish and desire that my watch and saddle be sold and equally divided amongst my four children Pelesa Ann, Isaac, Margaret and Charles. I wish and direct that all my just debts be paid as soon after my death as possible as well as my funeral expenses. I wish and request that my remains be directly buried. All the balance of my estate of what kind — I give and bequeath to my son ISAAC dn my daughter MARGARET servants of RICHARD OLIVER to be equally divided between them. I hereby appoint my friend SAMUEL TUNNELL executor of this my last will and testament hereby revoking all former will by me made this 25th day of January 1860.
Sy PRIOR (his Mark) (or Sig)
Signed in presence of
RICHARD OLIVER
J. J. BUTLER
E. B. HUDSON

Sy Prior was on the 1850 Census:

1850 Census Anderson Co., TN. Subdivision 16, page 19b, house 274
Drury L. Bradley 39 farmer VA, Nancy 39 TN, William 16 TN, John T. 13 TN, Margaret E. 9 TN, Samuel 7 TN, Andrew 6 TN, Drury 3 TN, Timothy R. 4/12 TN, Martha Thompson 74 VA, Sir PRIOR 42 mu farmer male TN. (Sir is probably Sy Prior. House 273 is Samuel Tunnell who witnessed Sy’s will. House 269 is Kesiah Oglesby Butler b. 1780 from Campbell Co., VA. House 275 is Caleb Butler.)

Not only is an African-American will recorded before the Civil War remarkable, but there’s also a will that explains how Sy became a free man. Harris Pryor of Roane County died in 1846. Harris’ will states:

Item 2nd. It is my will that my negro man Sy shall be emancipated and set at liberty as a free man at my death and I also direct that my executor shall give him to with Sye of my property one horse worth forty dollars and one plough (sic) and gear.

Sy was born about 1808 and was a contemporary of Harris Pryor who was born 1801-1810. It may not sound like much, but Sy took a 40 horse and turned it into an estate of $300 cash and property that consisted of a watch, horse, saddle and furniture. I think that’s pretty amazing.

I also took a look at Richard Oliver on the 1850 Census in Anderson County (#3 on the image below). Not only does Sy Prior connect him with Harris Pryor, Richard Oliver was living near Rector households (1 & 2 below) and a Butler family (4).

richard-oliver-1850