It is Nov. 8, 1780 and a black woman named Jenny is on trial in Johnston County, N.C. for murder. Three members of the Bryan family– Needham, his brother William and William’s son Lewis had all been poisoned and died within the past three years. Jenny, who was enslaved by Lewis Bryan, had been accused of poisoning all three men.
I came across this story as I was researching my fourth great-grandmother Anarky Bryan (later Amy Bryan), who was the property of the Bryan family. I’ve been trying to find out who Anarky Bryan’s parents and/or siblings were, and I figured they may have been passed down as gifts, the same way she was bequeathed to Loverd Bryan from his father, Clement Bryan. Clement Bryan was a son of Needham Bryan. But which Needham Bryan?
Needham was a popular first name within the Bryan/Bryant family, and it was tricky figuring out which Needham Bryan was Clement’s father. But this account was helpful, and according to it, the Needham Bryan who was poisoned was the grandfather of Clement Bryan, the man who owned Anarky.
However, the Needham Bryan I was researching did not have a will, so there was no documentation for me to scour for clues about my fourth great-grandmother. However, I surmised that Jenny couldn’t have been Anarky’s mother. Anarky was born around 1798, and Jenny was burned at the stake on Nov. 18, 1780, less than two weeks after she was tried and found guilty of murder. According to this researcher, all black people in Johnston County were required to attend and watch the execution.
I still haven’t found Anarky’s parents or siblings. Maybe I never will. But I can’t help but think there is some sort of connection between Jenny and Anarky. Perhaps an aunt, cousin or even sister. Or maybe Anarky’s parents were among the faces in the crowd that November day.