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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Orphans

Brown Building (interior) at the Methodist Orphanage, Raleigh. Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina; call #: N_53_16_4201.Orphans were an important part of colonial North Carolina society because of high mortality rates and the large number of children present in the population. As early as 1665, William Drummond, the colony's first governor, complained that something needed to be done "to save the rights of orphans." This warning would become one of the guiding standards of the colony.

Orphans were primarily treated according to their "rank and degree," with wealthy individuals being granted more attention by the law. A guardian, often a relative, was appointed to competently maintain the minor's estates-land, animals, buildings, and physical wealth such as slaves, money, and plate-and to support him or her from the interest produced. Each year this trustee was required to report on the progress of the estate, his disbursements, and the well-being of his charge. A guardian was not permitted to abuse the orphan, to neglect care or education, to misuse the legacy, or to marry the child if it was female. In the event that a court-superior, inferior, the General Court, or the more specialized Orphans' Court-suspected wrongdoing, it had the power to immediately intervene, investigate and displace the guardian, and, if necessary, take charge of the estate.

Orphans with insufficient inheritance or with none at all were represented yearly as a group before the Orphans' Court by the church wardens of each parish. The very young were appointed guardians, with the parish usually supplying an annual sum of money to maintain them. Older youths were assigned to "some tradesman, merchant, mariner, or other person" until a male reached age 21 or a female, 18. Pool outside the dining hall at the Methodist Orphanage, Raleigh. Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina, call number: N_53_16_4207.The youths were expected to be fed, clothed, taught to read and write, and educated in a trade. In return they contributed labor, a commodity always in short supply. If the bargain was incomplete at the time the apprenticeship ended, the apprentice was expected to continue to pay on his contract; but if the tradesman failed to do his part, he was subject to prosecution.

During the twentieth century, the care of orphans and other disadvantaged children increasingly became the focus of various state and federal agencies. Today, the North Carolina Division of Social Services maintains a number of programs for children in need, with private organizations such as the Methodist Home for Children in Raleigh providing additional resources.

Additional Resources:

Report of case held in orhpans court, Reports of cases adjudged in the Superior Courts of law and equity of the State of North Carolina: from the year 1789, to the year 1798, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Digital Collections.

Image Credit:

"Brown Building (interior) Methodist Orphanage, Raleigh." Photograph. Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina; call #: N_53_16_4201.

"Pool outside the dining hall, Methodist Orphanage, Raleigh." Photograph. Image courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina, call #: N_53_16_4207.

Comments

Comment: 

I found my Grandmother's Name on June 19, 1900, Federal Census as: Supervisors District #9, Enumeration District # 153, Sheet #14, 12th Census: 52 1401 A - showing her in Lower Hominy Township, Buncombe Co, District 0153 as: "Sadie Dunkin" age 9 "inmate" Born Jan 1891 Single White Female Her & her parents born in NC. It shows Ema Graham 34 yo as HEAD of the household with 28 inmates in the Linden Home. It lists 2 women as Nurses: Bell Whala (28)and Clarah Hackney (26) they are counted in the 28 inmates.

I am trying to find her parentage. My Grandmother & I were VERY CLOSE but she passed in 1987 w/out talking much about this and my mother passed in 2010 not knowing. I am doing Geneology research and trying my best to find a way past this BRICK WALL of who my Grandma's parents were. Not just for genealogy reasons but for health reasons as well.

Is there any way to get a copy of who her parents were? Please tell me that there is PLEASE...
Thank you in advance for ANYTHING you can do to help me!!!

Comment: 

Hello,

'I'm sending your comment to our reference librarians who can assist you.

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

My grandfather, John Wade Combs and his younger brother, James Combs were somehow adopted from Mt. Airy, NC, sent to Louisa, VA. Their father, Eli Combs died in 1913 and within a few years, their mother, Virginia Lawrence Combs was unable to care for them. Their sister, Ethel Combs, remained with their mother. I have been unable to find any information as to how that adoption came about from 2 areas so far apart.

Comment: 

Hi Linda,

Thank you for contacting the Government & Heritage Library, part of the State Library of NC. I am sending your inquiry to our Reference Team at slnc.reference@ncdcr.gov.

Best wishes,

Elizabeth Hayden

Comment: 

My grandpa (Robert Lindsey) and his sister (Alice Lindsey) we’re out in to foster care around 1917 at ages 4 and 5 respectively. They had a baby sister too but I’ve come to learn that she, Dorothy Lindsey, was an infant and adopted out. Is there any way of finding out where they were sent or what happened to them? There’s a chunk in their timeline that just falls off. I know their dad came back for them a few years later.

Comment: 

I am attempting to find any information on one of my great grandfathers. He was an orphan and bound out until the age of 21. His name was Riley McCrary and was born around 1814. He must have been a blacksmith apprentice because that was his trade when he came to Indiana in about 1835. He married Grace Staley, also from North Carolina.

Comment: 

Hello Grace, 

When you say bound out, do you mean as an apprentice? have you found his apprentice bond? 

Erin Bradford, Governement and Heritage Library

Comment: 

My great great grandmother born 1840 in Wilkes County was an orphan of unknown parents. I believe she had been taken in by a family at or before 1845 and was still in Wilkes during the 1850 census. What orphan records would be available for this period?

Comment: 

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and ask your question. I forwarded it to our reference staff. If you need to reach out to them directly, the email is slnc.reference@ncdcr.gov

Best, 
Kelly Eubank, Librarian, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

This is my second request for assistance. My elderly father and I are seeking the orphanage that my Grandfather, Robert Lee Neal, b: 1906 would have been sent to following the death of his grandfather AW Neal who resided in Cabarrus Concord NC. Dates of interest are 1911-1920. Apparently a guardian was named in the will; however, he gave up guardianship and I am wondering if my grandfather became a ward of the state for care since he was just a young child. Thank you.

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