The Legend of Council Wooten - Carolina Country

The Legend of Council Wooten

Lenoir County Notable

By Chris McAllister

The Legend of Council Wooten
A portrait of Council Wooten about the time he served in the state legislature. They said of him, “If he did not like a law, he would run for office and change it.” (Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History)

Adorning North Carolina's halls of history are portraits of many well-known North Carolinians. Even though Council Wooten is not one of them, he made his mark on state government and did become a legend in his native Lenoir County.

Council Wooten (1804–1872) was the son of John Wooten, who began selling hats in Pitt County then expanded into Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties. He would sell hats at monthly courting time, when a circuit judge would arrive to hear cases. Known for his "good judgment, thrift and economy," the elder Wooten managed to acquire 800 acres in Lenoir County where he established a plantation. The story is that John Wooten swapped his own undesirable land for 200 acres of rich swampland and 600 acres of upland owned by a man named Creel. Creel was in legal trouble over his land and was uncertain of his title to it. Wooten researched the title, found it fine, and convinced Creel to swap properties. The plantation, about five miles west of La Grange, raised corn and hogs and grew in size, making Wooten prosperous.

The elder Wooten served a spell in the North Carolina House of Commons, and his son Council followed, serving in the General Assembly in 1829–1832, 1835 and 1848. He also served on the Council of State with Thomas Bragg during the antebellum period and with John W. Ellis in 1861.

Council Wooten was known as a renegade of sorts. Lenoir County legend says he petitioned the General Assembly to grant free black men the vote, maybe to gain himself more votes. Although state law made it illegal, he and his wife, Eliza, taught their 500 or so slaves to read and write, using the King James Bible. He required that all his slaves be clothed well, and every winter he gave each family a fully dressed hog.

Wooten valued education, schooling himself and his 12 children. He founded a private school near his plantation and hired Yale University graduate Joseph Elliotte to run it. The Wooten School was open to neighborhood children and was always full. It closed after Preston Wooley opened a school in La Grange.

A personal friend of governors John Ellis, Thomas Bragg and Zebulon Vance, Wooten regularly entertained the high and mighty at his plantation. Before the war, he was one of the executive directors of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad Company.

Joyner-portrait

An 1880 portrait of Wooten's grandson James Yadkin Joyner. Joyner's father and mother (Wooten's daughter) moved to Yadkin College to escape the effects of Civil War near home in Lenoir County. Young Joyner was orphaned at 2 and raised by his grandfather. He became a leading educator in the state. (Special Collections, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University)

During the Civil War in spring 1862, the Wootens and neighboring Joyners abandoned their plantations, relocating, it is believed, near Wilson. After the war, Wooten returned to reclaim part of the plantation. By that time, says Gary Fields, president of the La Grange Historical Society, "The Wooten plantation was shot up and virtually destroyed. The Wootens continued to farm what was left of the plantation and apparently brought it back to life."

Both Council and his son Council Simmons were friends with President Jefferson Davis and served in his Confederacy administration, perhaps in a financial capacity. After the war they were stripped of their citizenship and had to reapply. Gov. William W. Holden, writing on behalf of Wooten to R.J. Powell, agent for North Carolina, said on Sept. 26, 1865, "His exemplary conduct as a loyal citizen of the United States government, his universal liberality to the poor in his section, are attested by them, during and since the rebellion and the unanimous recommendation of his people, including all conditions of Society and every shade of political opinion, are appeals in his favor not to be disregarded." President Andrew Johnson pardoned Wooten three days later.

During the last 10 years of his life, Council Wooten worked at raising his grandson, James Yadkin Joyner, future Superintendent of Public Instruction (1902–1919) and namesake of East Carolina University's Joyner Library.

About the Author

Chris McAllister teaches history in the Lenoir County public schools and at Wayne Community College. His book on La Grange history is due out this winter.

Comments (11)

  • Chris is such an outstanding educator who is passionate about teaching and learning. I find the subject of his article to be such an inspiration to those who fight for human and civil rights for all mankind. The story of Council Wooten’s life depicts true entrepreneurship at its best. The writing of this article is very timely in lieu of the current controversy over voter rights. The writer and the subject of the article represent the true essence of how we should value education in our state and society. Just imagine all the wonderful and creative teachings Chris could do to engage our students if the North Carolina leadership would make education a priority. Great Job Chris!

    Maxine Cooper | September 17, 2013 | reply

  • Is there access to a family bible or names of folks involuntarily held by Council Wooten?

    Jennifer Cotton | March 26, 2017 | reply

  • Council Wooten, a deacon at the Bear Creek Primitive Baptist Church in Woodington (South of Kinston) left the church and took the church records with him. The church was founded about 1752. Genealogists need the records. Location unknown.

    William Griffith | May 11, 2017 | reply

  • I’m also born a Wooten great-grandfather was Dempsey Wooten my grandfather was named after his father my father was named Earl Wooten his date of birth was November 2, 1920 I’m black ive notice that our white side of the family make phone calls asking can they add my family to the family tree my answer was yes all I know is my great grand father was white most of my siblings carry does same traits I know many of my white cousins I don’t understand why my father would often sat us down I rank number ten out of eleven children I often would say apart from my siblings in the floor while my mother is cooking in the kitchen while my father tell my siblings myself about where we come from his mother was deseased when my father Earl Wooten was ten years old I asked many questions being a young child when I asked my father did he remember his mother name which is y grandmother he would always say yes I asked what was her name he said her name was Genie Mae not giving her maiden name not sure if my grand father ever married here it’s not clear I ask my father where he come from he would say the Isle not telling much he would tell all his children don’t go there looking for nothing he would often say to me especially you what could have happened there that sound so horrible to me that he don’t want me to find out many of our white family members attended family reunions when I was younger

    Loretta Lynn Wooten | February 27, 2018 | reply

    • So glad that Wootens seek to include you in their family, after all, you are family and I am so proud that all of them recognize that. It also makes me feel good that they possess the same dignity and compassion to humanity that my family and myself has!

      Gardner W Wooten | October 02, 2019 | reply

  • I have found out this year that my Great Grandparents were Amos Monroe and Amanda Millicent Wooten. We are still in the process of trying to figure out which of the 8 son's father my Dad. We have been able to eliminate 4. I would so much love to hear stories and learn about my family.

    Melinda Redshaw | July 19, 2018 | reply

  • We have figured out that my fathers Dad was Louis Ernest Wooten. I have reached out to numerous family members on this side. They were very cordial in chatting back and forth UNTIL it was determined that Louis fathered my Dad. Since then all my correspondence to them remains unanswered. I have nothing to gain and they have nothing to lose. We have a great family. Too bad they will miss out on knowing any of us.

    Melinda Redshaw | October 04, 2019 | reply

  • I agree, what a shame! Blood is blood and family is the best. People can be a little strange in regards to family and I guess I am lucky that mine see the person for who they are. My mother's family has a mixed lady that attends all their functions. She was fathered by one of my mother's relatives and people kept it a secret for many years, because he was married. Once he and his wife passed away, the word got out and she has been welcomed with open arms.

    Gardner W Wooten | October 05, 2019 | reply

    • Thank you for your response. I don't care for myself but my Dad is 94 and has never known he was even part of this family. He had no father figure in his life. The shame is that he has a 94 year old cousin on this Wooten side and I think it would be nice if he could meet him. We were scared to tell Dad of his Wooten heritage but I did so this past Saturday and he took it in stride and stated he was happy he knew. I am sure he would be upset to know they are offended by it. Not sure why in this day and age anyone would be embarrassed or upset over something that happened in 1925. Again, thank you for your response.

      Melinda Redshaw | October 07, 2019 | reply

  • So unfortunately I can only seem to go as far back as my great grandmother who I had the privledge of being around. Her name is Tessie Mae Wooten. She was born in LaGrange. Many of my family now are in that area and Kinston NC. From what I have pieced together is that one of her parents were Native American and my grandfather was produxed from an affair with a married man by the ame of Grady...so her maoden name Wooten were passes down to my grandfather Theodore Wooten...who died young as my paternal grandmother Mary took his life.
    I always see Wootens here and always wonder how we are all connected melanated or white...i see there is a construction company ...i find it hard to believe we all are not related.

    Jennifer Wooten | October 07, 2019 | reply

    • My great grandfather was Louis Earnest Wooten, he founded the LE Wooten Engineering firm in Raleigh. He designed Carter Finley Stadium at NC State. There is also a large Wooten Law Firm that was started by the Wooten's that are part of my family line. My Wooten side is from Edgecombe county and originated in Virginia. I don't know if there is any mixed family member but I would presume so as much to my disappointment they did have slaves. I can trace my line back to Hodges Council in 1643, daughter Lucy married Richard Wooten.

      Melinda Redshaw | October 07, 2019 | reply

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