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What is Negro Head Road?

Ben Steelman

According to the WPA guide to North Carolina, originally published in 1939, Negro Head Road was the local name for a stretch of what is now U.S. 117, formerly known as “Wilmington Road.”

“In the Duplin County jail, in September 1831, Dave Morisy, a Negro, was incarcerated for fomenting a plot in which insurgent slaves were to murder all the white people between Kenansville and Wilmington,” the Guide reported (in period language). The plotters then supposedly planned to head south to Smithville (now Southport) and seize Fort Caswell. This incident occurred about the time of the Nat Turner Rebellion in Virginia, when slave plots — real or imagined — were being “discovered” all through the South.

“The revelation of the plot caused intense excitement,” the WPA Guide continued. “Some 15 Negroes were arrested , and prominent citizens asked Gov. Montfort Stokes for militia to guard the jail. Morisy confessed, implicating David Hicks, a Negro preacher. The two were convicted and publicly hanged. Their heads were cut off and placed on poles at highway intersections, and slaves were marched past by to gaze upon them. Morisy’s head was placed on the Wilmington Road …”

Negro Head Road is not to be confused with Negro Head Point Road, which ran by the Moore’s Creek battlefield in what is now Pender County. Point Peter, at the junction of the Cape Fear River and Northeast Cape Fear River, was known as “Negro Head Point” prior to 1780. The abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, in his book “American Negro Slavery As It Is,” claimed that slaves’ heads had been exhibited on poles near this location shortly after the Turner Rebellion, giving the spot its name. Public records, however, indicate that the name “Negro Head Point” had been used in colonial times, decades before Nat Turner’s uprising.

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5 Responses to “ What is Negro Head Road?”

  1. On May 27, 2009 at 7:15 pm John Kennedy wrote:

    I suspect there are/were many more “Negro Head Roads” in North Carolina. I am sure there was one in Brunswick County until around 1970. It was unpaved at the time, but led from the Girl Scout”s Camp Pretty Pond to Highway 133 (from Southport to Leland). It is possible it is the one you referred to as being on the Wilmington-Smithville Rd. This feature of the paper is quite interesting. Thanks.

  2. On July 18, 2009 at 10:02 am Christy Judah wrote:

    Just one added comment…According to the Cuort Minutes of February 8, 1768, the Magistrates and Freeholders held Court in Wilmington. On “tryal” was a negro man named Quamino belonging to the estate of John DuBois, Esq., deceased. Quamino was charged with robbing sundry persons. Present were Cornelius harnett, John Burgwin, John Lyon, Frederick Gregg, William Campbell, John Walker, John Campbell, Anthony Ward, and William Wilkinson. These gentlemen found him guilty of several robberies and sentenced him to be hanged by the neck untilhe is dead, tomorrow morning between the hours of ten and twleve o’clock; and his head to be affixed up upon the Point near Wilmington. The court valued the said negro, Quamino, at eighty pounds proclamation money. This declaration was signed by Cornelius Harnett.

    Some of my research for my book, The Two Faces of Dixie, Politicians, Plantations and Slaves. p. 149.

    This ‘may’ be the earliest example of Negro Head or Negro Point Head Roads documented by fact.

    These extreme and cruel punishments in some slave cases were repeated in various locations across the state, among them 1801, Rutherford county, NC when the head was separated “from his body and stuck on a pole as a terror to evil doers and all persons in like cases offending”, according to the Raleigh Register, 1805.

  3. On September 14, 2010 at 11:29 am Edna Ennis wrote:

    I just finish reading a book title “History of Pender County, North Carolina” Author Bloodworth
    The subtitle is the “Origin of Negro Head Road”
    It looks like Negro Head Road and Negro Head Point is the same. also you have to remember that all of these counties were under New Hanover, later on divided out.
    As quote in her book:” Negro Head Point is the extreme point of land lying between the North East Cape Fear River and the Cape fear River itself, where they join, and is some four or five hundred feet from Market Dock Street. This road starts at this point and comes into Pender County around Richards and extends through the western part of the county, presumably terminating at Fayetteville (207)”.
    According to tradition, it took the name of “Negro Head Point” from the fact that in the earlier settlement of the country, the head of a famous Negro outlaw, who had committed sundry acts of theft and murder in this and adjoining counties, was erected on a stake at this point and left there as a warning to others.” I found your article because I was trying to find morte info on the outlaw.

  4. On June 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm Rachael Gieschen wrote:

    US 421 from the Northeast Cape Fear River bridge to where it narrows to two lanes at Atkinson was called this when I was in high school[1958]. Also at one time, 421 used to dead end about or just after the railroad tracks but before you turn off to go to the power plant.

  5. On March 27, 2015 at 9:24 pm Renee Newman wrote:

    I have several deeds and land grants from Sampson County in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s (way before 1830’s) that have Negro Head Road on them. From the deeds I know it should have been between the South River and Little Coharie. I believe it ran through what is now Dismal and Coharie Townships, as these deeds pre 1815 have Negro Head Road and Dismal Swamp, which I can no longer find on maps, just Dismal Bay and that isn’t right according to platting out the land.

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