Jesse Babb – An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery Shrouded by Slavery (Part 1 of 3)

Jesse (aka Jasper) Babb appears in the 1870 & 1880 Census of Waynesville, Haywood County, North Carolina. He was an elderly Bi-Racial Male who was born in South Carolina about 1814. Jesse has been one of those lost Babbs with no apparent connection back to his life in slavery and the city he chose to make a home doesn’t appear to have ever had a Babb in it prior to his arrival. His reasoning on why he chose to settle there are unclear.

1870 Census

We can see from the Census records that Jesse was born in South Carolina [above] and that his father was also born in South Carolina, while his mother was born in Virginia [below]. The census records provide scant details for the free prior to 1850 and virtually no detail for the enslaved other than their age, sex and race.

1880 Census

We can also see that Jesse was bi-racial. the “Mu” is shorthand for the outdated word “Mulatto.” It meant that the person had both African and Caucasian blood. In simple terms, his father was white, and his mother was black. Given the time he was born she would have been a slave. I should also note that all of Jesse’s children would have been born into slavery.

Not much else was known about Jesse. He is a man of mystery, an enigma of sorts. The tantalizing clues are vague enough that it has been impossible for his descendants to figure out where he came from.

So, after consulting with one of his descendants I decided to look into it further and flesh out the details of his life, to allow us to graft his branch back into the Babb tree. Luckily, Jesse had a sizeable estate by the time of his death and an extensive Estate Record is on file.

The fight for Jesse’s Estate

Jesse’s Estate records read like a telenovela!

He died intestate which appears to have caused quite the battle amongst his widow and children. There are about 100 pages of detail regarding his estate that span a number of different collections. In this timeframe many estates were handled in just a handful of pages, which would include a Last Will & Testament. However, Jesse died without a will, and everything had to go through the testate process.

At the time of his death in 1886 was worth $750, which is sizeable in a time that most freed slaves were starving share croppers. Jesse also had $300 in debt he had accumulated with land purchases in the last few years of his life. The discharge of his estate cost $75, which left an estimated net $375.

I should also mention the surprising fact that Jesse was able to gain financing. To this day minority groups often struggle to gain loan approvals at all. Let alone someone who is unable to read or write and is only skilled at farming. So, it speaks to his character that more than one person deemed him creditworthy.

In just 21 years of freedom, he built up sizeable land holdings and assets. His estate was finally settled 13 years later in 1899, which appears to have been triggered by the death of his widow, Priscilla.

Jesse owned 3 plots of land at the time of his death:

  1. Lying on the west side of Richland Creek – 9 ½ acres
  2. On waters of Richland Creek adjoining tract #1 – 50 acres
  3. On waters of Richland Creek – 30 acres
Richland Creek, Haywood Co, NC. The entire length of the creek is just over 1 mile in length. (Courtesy US Geological Survey)

Facing financial ruin, Priscilla creates legal action against her own children requesting a dower for life be granted by the Jurors of Haywood County.

The children failed to answer the petition and the dower was approved setting aside 30 of the approximately 90 acres for Priscilla’s use. A note says she has the right to put up a gate to define the area, but must be granted right of way on the remaining adjoining land.

Sold At Auction

Once the dower was set aside, the remaining lands were caught up in another legal action brought by the estate administrator, W. T. Reeves, against the children. The remaining land was ordered sold at auction.

Anderson Sharp, husband of Jesse’s daughter Mahala, purchased tract #2 at auction for $250. The remaining 9 ½ acres is sold to a 3rd party at auction.


Jesse was able to deliver generational wealth for his family. A feat which cannot be overstated! Land ownership is the key to generational wealth. While we now know about his life after slavery, we still don’t know where he came from.

Stay tuned for part two of Jesse Babb – An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery Shrouded by Slavery!

2 responses to “Jesse Babb – An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery Shrouded by Slavery (Part 1 of 3)”

  1. Really fascinating! Excellent sleuthing, Daniel! I hope this gentleman’s descendants are able to take pride in Jesse’s accomplishments in adverse circumstances.

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