Finding his Antebellum Heritage
As a genealogist, I was curious . . . how did Dred Wimberly, a slave owned by the Battle family, acquire his last name? A few clues are found in historical records, including a look at postbellum records involving the closely-knitted African American community of Edgecombe County, North Carolina. Paramount among descendants of slaves is the never-ending quests to find ties to plantations where family members had been enslaved. It helps to have experience in genealogical research to dig a little deeper and find obscure answers: Freedmen’s Bureau Records; cohabitation records (records indicating when African American couples had formed unions, essentially marriage, as slaves or free people of color); other resources, such as local tax records, deeds, plantation records, studies of traditions held onto within enslaved communities indicating their African roots, religion, etc. In Dred Wimberly’s case, it was not a surprise that he was a member of a Primitive Baptist Church in Rocky Mount because records show that the Battle family, who held his family as slaves, were members of the Primitive Baptist Church at the Falls of the Tar River. Slaves often belonged to the same church as their masters.
Dred Wimberly was born into slavery March 18,1848 on James S. Battle’s Walnut Creek Plantation near Tarboro. A death certificate listed his parents as Allen Wimberly and Della Battle. Hallelujah! Furthermore, in May 1866, Allen Wimberly was listed with Della on Kemp P. Battle Plantation in a cohabitation record. They had been in this relationship since 1842. Wow! Seldom obtained information!
We know that after Joseph Wimberly, a white planter, moved to Tennessee in 1801, he asked Jacob Battle to handle his estate and perhaps to sell it. But what catches the eye is this . . . a special request . . . “to see that a certain old Negro man Toney formerly the property of my father George Wimberley is not imposed upon and to see that he has justice done him:” after the sd negro’s death, sd Battle is to take the property of the sd negro & to send me the money.” Could this be how the enslaved Wimberly family came to be owned by the Battle family? It seems plausible. There was another Toney Wimberly listed on the 1880 census for Walnut Creek, Edgecombe County, NC. Is this land that formed James S. Battle’s Walnut Creek Plantation? Interestingly, this younger Toney is listed as born in Tennessee. Could he have returned from the Wimberly plantation in that state to be with family members in Edgecombe County? Could he be related to the Toney who was to have “justice done him?” More questions than answers, but intriguing nonetheless.
Slave Legacy in Black communities
In 1879, this former slave, Dred Wimberly, was elected into the North Carolina House of Representatives. He was elected for another term again in 1887. I am unclear how long each service was, but in 1889, he became a North Carolina State Senator during the turbulent Reconstruction Era. What propelled him into this position and from whence he had come? Truly open to more inquiry!
But let’s start with some context for those unfamiliar with his story. That same death certificate showed that Allen and Della Wimberly had twelve children. At 22 years old, Dred was listed in 1870 at his own Tarboro residence and married to Kizziah Wimberly. The 17-year-old Joseph, who resided in the same residence, was most likely his brother. Just two listings down, we see their parents residing nearby. It has been mistakenly reported that Dred Wimberly cast a deciding vote while serving as a member of the State Legislature in 1881. The bill in question was the appropriations rulings for the University of North Carolina. A review of records indicated he was not a member of the Legislature at that time. Nonetheless, he did support educational measures and was one of those who voted to establish a land grant college, now North Carolina State University.
Sometime in the 1870s, Dred Wimberly moved from Tarboro to Rocky Mount. He was married twice. His first wife was Kizziah, and later he married Ellen (Ella). He would father 18 children, only four survived him. He attended the 1900 Republican Convention in Philadelphia as a delegate from North Carolina and cast a vote for William McKinley. Following this election and after retiring from the legislature, Dred Wimberly went to Washington, D.C. and served as a janitor in the U.S. House of Representatives for two years. He then returned to North Carolina. By 1930, he had a grocery business . . . abbreviated as “gro” in the city directory. His young sons, Allen B. and John J. Wimberly ran a business called Wimberly Brothers: The House of Cleaners.
Dred Wimberly died in June 16, 1937. His house still stands in Rocky Mount, NC, waiting for providence’s hand to restore and preserve the important landmark.
Fleming, Monika S. Echoes of Edgecombe County, 1860-1940. Images of America. Dover, N.H.: Arcadia, 1996.
“Local Negro Helped Save University,” June 18, 1937, Rocky Mount Herald newspaper, Rocky Mount, NC.
Our Family History Website: Taneya & Kalonji’s Family History. 2018. http://www.taneya-kalonji.com/family/register.php?personID=I2396&tree=1&generations=8. (Accessed July 12, 2018)
Kemp Plummer Battle record, 1866, North Carolina Cohabitation Records, State Library of North Carolina.
Hill Directory Company’s, 1930 City Directory, Rocky Mount, NC.