1865 Wilson County Amnesty

AMNESTY PETITIONS BY WEALTHY MEN FROM WILSON COUNTY, 1865 – 1868

Researched by: Jeremiah L. Jones

Posted: 23 February 2011

Comments to: civilwar.nash.wilson.counties@gmail.com

from: Russell S. Koonts, Compiler, NORTH CAROLINA PETITIONS FOR PRESIDENTIAL PARDON, 1865 – 1868. c. 1996 ISBN 0-86526-278-0

After the war concluded in May, 1865, the general amnesty from the President of the United States did not apply to men who had a financial worth of over $20,000. Such men had to submit an individual petition for amnesty to President Andrew Johnson for his acceptance or rejection. Also, men holding certain offices at the town, county, state and Confederate levels of governance, during the existence of the Confederate States of America, were required to submit such petitions. Also, notice in amnesty petitions that some men who sought and received certain kinds of exemptions, during the war, from the government of the Confederacy functioned under the same requirements to submit amnesty petitions.

Most of these men seemed to have hired lawyers, in spite of the fact that many of them were lawyers and judges, to write their amnesty petitions. The petitions were written of varying lengths and shaped to cover the specific charges that applied to the petitioner. Most petitions were a page to a page and a half and crafted to secure the pardon on the least serious offense or offenses. The process is seriously compromised by the fact that these wealthy men and, in many cases, leaders of secession in North Carolina, had the discretion to choose, for petition, among their offenses. For example, Burton Craige, the county delegate who introduced the Judah Benjamin written ordinance of secession at the 1861 North Carolina Secession Convention and who was identified by one historian as the primary secessionist floor leader does not bother to mention his activism at the convention. Rather, his amnesty petition focuses exclusively on his action serving as a representative in the Confederate Congress.

William W. Holden, Provisional Governor North Carolina, from 14 May 1865 to 31 December 1865, was given the thankless task, by President Andrew Johnson, of the reading all the North Carolina amnesty petitions and making a recommention to him on each. Holden, in his MEMOIRS, states that he only recommended that two men not be awarded a pardon or parole. One of the men seems to have been Weldon Edwards, from Warren County, who had been President of separatist Goldsboro Convention of late March 1861 and President of the 1861 Secessionist Convention. Provisional Governor Holden refers to county delegate Edwards, in his recommendation to President Johnson, as the “Great Sinner.”

Many of the men at the Secessionist Convention had long political careers in North Carolina politics and were able public speakers as well as writers. Some chose to explain, in detail, like Will Graham of Orange County, the long history that led to North Carolina’s secession from the Union. In fact, he pointed out that he had warned slave holders about their practice of using slaves every time a significant dispute arose about the distribution of power among the various levels of government in the Federal Union. Simply, he cautioned that if they constantly put slavery on the table for leverage in these federalist disputes, one day they were going to lose them.

Huge egos abound in the amnesty petitions. Weldon Edward’s petition covers his personal life in depth in an attempt to enhance its appeal. Many petitioners reference their age, the suffering they had already absorbed, many lost brothers and sons in the war, and the number of elderly relatives whose sole financial support came from the applicant.

Andrew Johnson’s vascilation on his wishes for justice and general incompetence in administering the process reduced the outcome, early in the process, to a certainty – only the severest cases would be denied parole. Provisional Governor Holden’s performance, after hours and hours of reading these petitions, was little better. He admits in his MEMOIRS that he only recommended that two men not received parole. Interestingly, he also mentions that two other North Carolina men who had the political connections went straight to President Johnson for final action and they ignored him. It is obvious in many amnesty petitions that the applicants are not taking the process very seriously and they are not very worried about the outcome. It is like so much in this Civil War, on both sides, matters that start out motivated by high moral purpose are quickly reduced to petty, incompetent politics. Simply, the process of amnesty for the wealthest Southern men; namely, those who were most responsible for the war was a travesty of justice, more of a minor discomfort for them than a reckoning for their treasonable actions.

BARNES, Edwin – Property Exemption

BARNES, Elisha – Tax Assessor

BARNES, James D. – Property Exemption

BARNES, Williams, Jr. – Property Exemption

BYNUM, Robert – Property Exemption

CLARK, Edwin G. – Post Master at Wilson

COX , Robert M. – Post Master at Black Creek

FARMER, John – Property Exemption

FARMER, Larry D. – Tax Assessor

FARMER, William D. – Post Master at Joyners Depot

GREENE, Zeno H. – Property Exemption

KING, Henry – Tax Collector

LUTTS, J. J. – Left a Loyal State [Maryland]

McRARY, William H. – Property Exemption

MOYE, Macon – Property Exemption

NEWSOME, Larry – Property Exemption

ROUNTREE, Willie D – Property Exemption

SELBY, Benjamin M. – Receiver; Property Exemption

SIMMS, Wilie – Property Exemption

TAYLOR, James J. – Property Exemption

Also see: Sandra L. Almsay, THE NORTH CAROLINA CIVIL WAR AMNESTY PAPERS; EDGECOMBE, GREENE, HALIFAX, NASH, PITT, and WILSON COUNTIES [1999].

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