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  • Writer's pictureGail S. Blankenau

Who Was Samuel Nuckles's Enslaver?

Having settled the main question pertaining to my thesis (See blog post, "Was He or Wasn't He? A Case of Mistaken Identity) I could not stop researching. Samuel Nuckles is a historical figure worth more research on his own merit as a freedman and early African American state legislator who suffered persecution from the Ku Klux Klan because of his willingness to serve in a “brave new world.”

Remember that Samuel stated he was born and bred fifteen miles north of Union Courthouse in the Pacolet district and never strayed far from his place of birth.[1] A local newspaper stated that his surname was that of his “former owner.” Although the Nebraska story was incorrect in almost every other respect, the retention of the surname was correct, and it may have been derived from the South Carolina story.[2] Indeed, it may be that someone spied the story and contacted the Nebraska branch of the Nuckolls clan, or even the Nebraska City newspaper, making the leap of identity without further investigation. If Samuel Nuckles took his surname from his “former owner,” who was he? Was there a plantation in the Pacolet area owned by a white Nuckles / Knuckles / Nuckolls family?

The answer is yes. William Thompson Nuckolls, son of John and Julia (Thompson) Nuckolls fits the bill. The “Biography of Notable Americans” lays out the biographical details of this friend of John C. Calhoun, who represented South Carolina’s 9th district from 1827-1833. Dying on his plantation near Hancocksville, William T. Nuckolls had no children, His wife, and first cousin, Susan (Dawkins) Nuckolls survived him.[3]

The search for the geographic location of Samuel’s home is complicated by the creation of Cherokee County, South Carolina, from parts of York, Union, and Spartanburg in 1897. The 1870 Census shows that Samuel was in the township of Draytonville, which is indeed, now part of Cherokee County, and maps show that an unincorporated community of that name is near the city of Gaffney.

Nuckolls-Jeffries House, Wikipedia Creative Commons license - public domain

The house that was the likely plantation house where Samuel worked is on the National Register of Historic Places. Called the Nuckolls-Jeffries House, it lies on 571 Asbury Road, in the Pacolet vicinity, its location matching well to the description given by Samuel himself in 1871. William T. Nuckolls built the house in 1843. Although little is mentioned about the property’s legacy of slavery, the National Register nomination form mentioned outbuildings, including a one-story log gable building that was a smokehouse, and two barns. No slave quarters or remnants of what may have been slave cabins were identified.[4]

Having 58 enslaved people listed in the Union County, South Carolina, 1850 Slave Schedule, it certain that the plantation contained several dwellings for the enslaved.[5] With an estimated census age of 1811, and his own report of being about age 57 in 1871, Samuel would have been born sometime within the range of 1811-1815. In examining the 1850 slave schedule, there are two black males listed as age 34 (born 1816) would be the closest. Based on his children’s ages in the 1870 census, Samuel would have been a father by then.[6]

In any case, if the newspaper report was correct that Samuel Nuckles took his former owner’s name, he was enslaved by William T. Nuckolls, who was the only Nuckolls in the area identified in Samuel Nuckles’s 1871 testimony.

William’s will and probate papers show that he left to his wife Susan in a will signed 15 Aug 1834, “all the negroes which were given to her by her father after our intermarriage and which are now in my possession.” He willed his wife half of his estate both real and personal, and the other half to his sister Melissa Norris. In a codicil dated 23 Dec 1844, William had sold some of the enslaved people, so he bequeathed “Ellisan, Milly, Sam (emphasis mine), Prince and Simpson” to his wife in lieu of some of the enslaved people he sold. The codicil reads more like a new will, in that he specified that in addition to his plantation on “Thicketty creek whereon I once lived known as Whig Hill,” he left Susan his “Wagstoff lands” which he felt was “indispensable to the enjoyment of my house and home,” meaning the house “in which we now live with all the furniture,” indicating that their plantation house was built on land Susan had from her father’s estate. Thus, it is probable that Samuel grew up on Whig Hill on Thicketty Creek and moved into the new house at Asbury Road.[7]

The inventory of enslaved people at Pacolet dated January 11, 1856 lists 22 enslaved people by name, far short of the 54 people that appeared in the 1850 slave schedule 6 years before. Among the “negroes at Plantation at Pacolet,” included Sam, valued at $1250. There is a second list of enslaved people “claimed by Mrs. Nuckolls” as a gift from her father and not subject to the disposition of her husband’s will. There were 18 names on this list.

Comparing the Nuckolls probate papers and inventory listing a man named Sam to Samuel’s own account of his origins, Samuel was born in the Pacolet area and stayed there, which was obviously the location of William’s new dwelling house, now the Jeffries-Nuckolls historic property in Cherokee County, South Carolina. Samuel became Union County’s representative—a representative of the same district his owner represented previously.[8]

Researching the lives of the formerly enslaved presents special problems because of the scarcity of records, but in this case, we are able to get a good start on Samuel Nuckles’s origins by resolving discrepancies and following the trail.

[1] U. S. Congress, Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, made to the two Houses of Congress February 19, 1872 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1872), 4:1161. [2] Charleston (SC) Mercury, 24 Feb 1868, states Samuel Nuckles took his former owner’s name. [3] Rossiter Johnson, ed., Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Vol 7: (Boston, MA: The Biographical Society, 1904). [4] Columbia (SC) Daily Phoenix, 8 May 1868. [5] 1850 U. S. Census (Slave Schedule), Union County, South Carolina, p. 391-92, William Nuckolls, image database,; Image 87-88 of 125. [6] South Carolina Plantations,, identifies William Nuckolls's other plantation, “Whig Hill” Plantation as that of John Nuckolls, at Thicketty Creek. All that remained of the house in 1925 were ruins and chimneys. [7] South Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980, William T. Nuckolls estate (1855) image database,, consisting of the will, petitions, and accounts. [8] Ibid.

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