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  • Writer's pictureNia Andino

The Earliest Freedom of James E Harrod

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

52 Ancestor Prompt: Earliest

[1] Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, is an American holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas, and more generally the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the former Confederate States of America. Its name is a blend of "June" and "nineteenth", the date of its celebration.


On a March day in 1835 , James Everett Harrod made his way into the world. My 3rd great grandfather's first breath added to Edgecombe, North Carolina's population of roughly 15,000. I don't know much of what his life was like growing up. There was no story passed down to me of him. No tattered quilt weaved with his memory.

What I do know is at the age of twenty five, on September 25th 1860, James was properly given his freedom at the end of William H Jones' pen. The number of African Americans who could utter the word free in Edgecombe that year amounted to 389. He was granted freedom 5 years before the abolishment of slavery.

James Harrod Freedom Paper Side A

James Harrod Freedom Paper Side B

My 3rd great grandfather carried this freedom paper.

This paper to prove that he was free

This paper to say that he was a bright mulatto

This paper to say that his white mother claimed him

This paper to list his markings

One of which has been leaping across shins for 5 generations

I imagine the crease is from constant wear

The fear,

stains leaving his body at checkpoints on hot days

now embedded on faded parchment that I can't touch

But some days I wonder

If I could hold it close

If I would still find what his freedom smelled like


John Marshall Drew

James' step- brother John Marshall Drew stood as witness that a white woman from Halifax known as Julia Ann Harrod (born Register) was indeed James' mother. I have no documentation to prove if she had married Wily Harrod, James' father, to legally take his name or if she had played any role in James' life after birthing him.


Halifax, North Carolina was part of Edgecombe county until 1744. By the 1750's, it was a hip and social marketplace where:

[2] Many free negroes and mulattoes intermarried with white women, while in the earliest period there was no recognized social restraint against exogamy to avoid incest. 

Julia Ann Register was born between the 2nd and 3rd decade of the 1800's. And I wonder if these societal exemptions were still in place when she joined with Wily Harrod, or when James formed in her belly.

My findings on Wily Harrod are scarce. Nothing points to determining his status of freedom, perceived race or his charm. His name may also have varied spellings such as William or Wiley. I do believe James was raised with Wily. His parentage is attributed to Isabela Russell, Wily's second wife with whom he had 2 children named Charles and Eudora.



James E Harrod Indiana 59th Regiment Group B

From 1861 to 1865, James fought with Indiana's Union troops in Regiment 59 Company B. As one of the over 200,000 African Americans enlisted, he may not have done so willingly. The campaign promise of freedom in exchange for their service was not enticing enough for many blacks to join the war. Recruiting agents kidnapped both free and enslaved men at churches, their places of work, school and their homes. Below is a short account describing these kidnappings,

[4] We were pressed into Service by force ... many of us were knocked down and beaten like dogs, others were dragged from our homes in the dead hour of [night] and forced into a Prison without Law or Justice; others were tied and thrown into the river and held there until forced to subscribe to the oath. Some of us were tied up by the thumbs all night, we were starved, beaten, kept out all night until we were nearly frozen and but one alternative to join the service or nearly suffer death (Berlin et al. 1982:421).

Once enlisted, they struggled with the skills needed to maintain equipment and handle guns. The men would continue to utilize their abilities to work the land by growing food supplies for the troops. Despite being the main source for food, black troops received wages of $13 per month while given little food and carefully avoiding the poisoned pies offered by their white counterparts. The disdain from white troops who served with blacks was apparent through their actions. Although they fought on the Union side, they weren't ready to accept freedom for all blacks. Any white soldier who was given the position to command a black regiment was looked down upon by fellow white troops. During this time, black troops likely heard the song below sung by white troops while dodging being taken as prisoner and killed by the Confederates.


Sambo's Right to be Kilt

Some tell us 'tis a burnin shame

To make the naygers fight;

An' that the trade of bein' kilt

Belong' but to the white;

But as for me, upon my soul!

So liberal are we here, I'll let Sambo be murthered instead of myself

On every day in the year.

(McPherson 1982:355)

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation with an effective date of January 1, 1863. This document stated all enslaved persons in rebellion residing in the Confederate states and not in Union hands were to be freed. This issuance did not apply to all states. or all men It wasn't until the surrender of the Army of the Trans- Mississippi and General Robert E Lee in 1865, had every African American been granted freedom. This included Texas, the last state to have legally enslaved people, and gave birth to what we now honor as Juneteenth.


A few years after this declaration of freedom for all African Americans, James moved to Indiana and started his own family. He met a woman from Hardin, Kentucky named Anna Miller Alexander and became a step-father to her son John Garrison. He worked as a common laborer with the ability to read and write.

Just 2 days after Valentine's Day in 1871, James married Anna in the town of Floyd, Indiana. They went on to have 6 children Talitha, Nora, Ruth, Lebanon, Grace (my 2nd great grandmother) and Martha.

On November 4th, at the age of 73, James passed away in the town of Terre Haute, Indiana. No record of his burial has been found so far. James' wife and 2 of his children are buried at Grandview Cemetery in Terre Haute. They all now remain forever free.

~ Nia Andino~


#AfricanAmericanGeneaology #NorthCarolinaHistory #Edgecombe #IndianaGeneaology #TerreHaute #JamesEverrettHarrod #WilyHarrod #JuliaAnnRegister #JohnMarshallDrew #HarrodAncestry #FreedomPapers #BlackHistoryInTheCivilWar #Juneteenth #52Ancestors #Earliest



[1] Wikipedia- Juneteenth


[2] J. Kelly Turner, History of Edgecombe North Carolina, 1920


[3] W.H.H. Terrell, Adjutant General, 59th Indiana Infantry Soldier Roster- Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana, Volume 5, 1866 


[4, 5] US Government, A Historic Context For the African American Military Experience, July 1998



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