Last Will and Testament of Edmund Brinkley 18 March 1853

Source: Albert Morris Collection (Mss. Coll. #19.1.a.4)

Staff Person: Jonathan Dembo

Edmund Brinkley was a Chowan County farmer, who owned several plots of agricultural land along the Virginia Road and Bear Swamp Road near Deep Run and the Pocosin Swamp. In his last will and testament (page one shown above) Brinkley reveals almost as much about rural life in mid-19th century North Carolina as he does about his own character and strength of mind. Brinkley writes, for example, that although on his death bed and “very sick” he is still “of sound and disposing mind and merry”. Brinkley, who owned houses, farm equipment, crops, and two slaves, disposes of this property apparently equitably between his wife, three sons, and four daughters, only one of whom was yet married. He also indicated how he intended the property he bequeathed to his wife should be be divided after her death. Brinkley named his son, Miles C. Brinkley, to be the executor and guardian of his older daughters Susan M. and Martha J. Brinkley and his son William T. Brinkley; he named his wife Susannah Brinkley to be guardian of his younger daughters Rosannah Brinkley and Ann E. Brinkley, and of his son Albert E. Brinkley. He named no guardian for his married daughter, Sarah E. Creecy presumably because he felt that she was being well protected by her husband. He authorized Miles to run his farm and dispose of certain property to benefit his heirs.

Among the property Brinkley divided among his heirs, Edmund lists the contents of a work house, cook room, smokehouse, and a store room, which held 50 barrels of corn, 30 bushels of wheat, 3,000 lbs. of fodder, 20 bushels of peas, 1,500 lbs. of pork, 1,000 lbs. of herring and 6 bushels of salt indicating that he derived much of his income from rearing cows, sheep, and pigs, rather than from the crops he raised, and from the herring fishery. In describing his property, Edmund lists the boundaries as running along an extensive system of drainage ditches, showing him to be an active and “improving” farmer. His property, lying as it did near streams and swamps, must have been low-lying and waterlogged during most of the year, and would have been much less productive without such close attention to drainage.

Brinkley must have been among the more successful farmers in the Chowan County area. He was, however, clearly not among the wealthiest or greatest landowners in the region. His land holdings may have amounted to several hundred acres but he certainly did not own thousands of acres of farm land and there is no indication that he grew cotton or tobacco, the crops favored by the great landowners who owned large numbers of slaves. Brinkley, himself, was a slave owner, but not on a scale required to run a plantation. He disposed of only two slaves by his will, one of whom was a girl and the other of whom was a boy not yet sixteen years of age. Brinkley and his family must have done most of the farm and fishing work by themselves or with hired slave labor. The balance of the Albert Morris Collection consists of deeds for property that belonged to Edmund Brinkley and an account book that lists some of his purchases and sales during the last few years of his life. It also lists sums paid for the rental of slaves and fees paid for membership in the local Grange organization.