The Normans of Newton County
By George L. Mason & Harold Graham
Pictured Left: Willis R. Norman House, built prior to 1850 and constructed with planed lumber and wooden pegs instead of nails. Shown here after the second-story was removed by a subsequent owner, Clarence Chapman. It burned in the 1960s.
The name Norman originates from the term north man and is derived from an ancient Germanic culture that lived in northern Europe. The geographical terms Normandy, Norway, and Norse are also derived from the same source.
Willis Roy Norman, the central figure in the Norman families of Newton County, Mississippi, was a native of Wilkes County, Georgia, who arrived in Newton County about 1842, in company with his brother Jesse Norman. A second brother, William Norman, soon joined him.
Willis Roy Norman was a wealthy property owner, farmer, builder, and land speculator, and was quite influential in shaping the history of Newton County. According to a tradition in the family, Willis Normans property was so extensive that he could ride his horse form Newton County to the Mississippi Gulf Coast without ever leaving his land. He even owned Ship Island, where a son, Benjamin Franklin Norman, was imprisoned during the Civil War.
The 1846 Tax List for Newton County indicates that Willis R. Norman was then in the possession of 5,840 acres and co-owned with a partner an additional 300 acres, all of which were located in Newton County. According to family tradition, he owned approximately 17,000 acres within Mississippi extending from Newton County to the Gulf of Mexico.
Willis Roy Norman was born 5 January 1805, Wilkes County, Georgia, the son of Jesse M. Norman and Mary Bentley and a sixth generation member of the Norman family in America. His third great-grandfather was Thomas Norman who came to America in 1654 as one of three indentured servants of Major John Anders. Thomas Norman was employed first as a blacksmith, but later became a landowner in Stafford County, Virginia.
As a young man Willis moved first to Dallas County, Alabama. About 1842, he and his wife, Elizabeth Sara Nunnally Norman, moved to Newton County and built their home half way between Newton and Hickory. Between 1855-1860, Willis acquired an additional 1200 acres in this area. The Newton Golf Course on Highway 80 and the Mississippi State Experiment Station are on part of the property formerly owned by Willis R. Norman.
Willis was not only a successful landowner and speculator, but he was a builder as well. He is credited with building a courthouse for the county at Decatur, and of building a hospital, commissary, and storage buildings at Newton during the Civil War.
The family residence was a two-story building with wooden pegs used instead of nails, a building still standing during the lifetime of his granddaughter Pearl Norman Moore, but which buried in the 1960s. He also built on the premises a commissary store through which he issued supplies to the slaves that worked on the plantation, and through which he sold goods to his neighbors. A German tutor was hired to teach his daughter and a residence was built on the premises in which the tutor lived. A piano was bought in Mobile and shipped by boat up the Tombigbee River, likely as far north as Demopolis, Alabama, then was carried by wagon to the family residence. The oldest Norman daughter, Mattie, also took music in Mobile.
Willis R. Norman House, built prior to 1850 and constructed with planed lumber and wooden pegs instead of nails. Shown here after the second-story was removed by a subsequent owner, Clarence Chapman. It burned in the 1960s.
According to the Family Bible, Willis married on 27 March 1831 to Elizabeth Sara Nunnally and she bore him ten children, seven of whom reached adulthood. These children were:
- Andrew J. Norman, born 7 September 1832 died 27 October 1834
- Infant Norman, born 10 November 1834 died 20 November 1834
- Benjamin Franklin Norman, born 28 July 1832 died 10 January 1919, Newton County; married Egglentine Kathleen Dunagin
- William B. Norman, born 22 March 1839 died about 1899, Newton County; married Sarah Hayes
- Willis Newton (Newt) Norman, born 14 March 1843 died about 1913; married Callie Eunice Reeves. Newt lived at Laurel, Mississippi.
- Martha M. (Mattie) Norman, born 25 August 1845 died 3 March 1872; married John A. McIntosh
- Dickson Henry Norman, born 30 June 1849 died 26 February 1916, Newton County; married Elmira Katherine Freeman
- Henrietta Sophronia Norman, born 7 December 1852 died 17 December 1932, Newton County; married William Tapley Donegan
- Albert B. Norman, born 17 February 1856 died 15 March 1933, Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and buried in Highland Park Cemetery; married Melissa Elizabeth Blakely
- Simeon D. Norman, born 9 October 1858 died 1 November 1862
Elizabeth Sara Nunnally Norman was born 22 April 1815 in Georgia and died 6 November 1862 in Newton County. Willis died on 18 August 1871. According to a family history written by their granddaughter, Pearl Norman Moore, both were buried beyond the garden near the home which is on Highway 80. No permanent markers were placed, but in time, other burials were made in this area and the cemetery enclosed in a fence. According to the same source, slaves are buried a good ways back of the house.
On the eve of the Civil War (1860), Willis is shown to have had a total worth of $109,000, much of this worth tied to the land that he owned and the slaves that he used to work the land. Ten years later, in 1870, his total worth was given as $215.
The 1860 Federal Slave Schedule indicates that Willis Norman was the owner of 43 slaves and 18 slave houses and that his brother, Jesse Norman, was the owner of 14 slaves and 2 slave houses.
Many of the former slaves remained on the Norman property to work as tenant farmers following the Civil War, but in time their progeny spread to all parts of the United States. While it is difficult to classify their familial kinship, these former slaves are bound by common experiences and traditions. From the 1870 Federal Census of Newton County, we are able to identify the following adult members of these families:
John Norman, age 50, born in Virginia, wife Ester and six children
Henry Norman, age 37, born in Virginia, wife Rubertha and two children
Cirus Norman, age 25, born Mississippi, wife Ciney and no children
Jack Norman, age 37, born Georgia, wife Margaret with eleven family members
Sterling Norman, age 63, born North Carolina, wife Sarah and six children
David Norman, age 33, born Mississippi, wife Betsey and two children
Nancy Norman, age 28, born Georgia, with one child
Haley Norman, female, age 20, born Mississippi, with one child
Fielding Norman, age 49, born Georgia, wife Lucinda and four children
Edward Norman, age 25, born South Carolina, wife Ann and four children
Elijah Norman, single, age 19, born Mississippi
Pleasant Norman, single, age 22, born Mississippi
Pleasant Norman, age 55, born Georgia, wife Judy and four children.
Descendants of these former slaves maintain strong family ties and will celebrate the Silver Anniversary of the Norman Family Reunion in Jackson, Mississippi, July 24-28, 2003. Rena J. Robinson, coordinator of this event, invites all interested parties to join this celebration. Mrs. Robinson may be contacted at P. O. Box 20052, Jackson, MS 39289; telephone 601-922-8567; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 1842 Tax List, Real and Personal Property, Newton County, Mississippi
- 1846 Tax List, Real and Personal Property, Newton County, Mississippi
- 1850 Federal Census, Free Schedule, Newton County, Mississippi
- 1860 Federal Census, Free Schedule, Newton County, Mississippi
- 1860 Federal Census, Slave Schedule, Newton County, Mississippi
- Moore, Pearl Norman. History of Willis R. Norman, manuscript, n/d.
- Willis R. Norman Family Bible, photocopy in possession of George L. Mason