(Tyrrell County)

Featured Character – 1860

Confederate Officer and His Personal Servant

Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress

Peter was one of 158 slaves owned by Charles L. Pettigrew in Tyrrell County in 1860. Being a slave, he had no last name; however, he had a wife and at least six children who all lived with him at Bonarva, the Pettigrew’s plantation since the 1780s. In October 1861, Charles L. Pettigrew sent Peter to serve his brother, Brigadier General James Johnston Pettigrew of the Confederate Army, to attend to the general’s personal belongings and his well-being. When Pettigrew was falsely reported killed in battle in June of 1862, a fellow officer wrote, “His grief at the loss of the General is most touching and draws out the sympathies of all of us.” The surviving general resumed his post, aided by Peter, who helped him recover from four injuries, including one in July 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg. Only a few days later, General Pettigrew was wounded in battle and carried from the field by Peter, who remained with him for three days until his death. Peter returned to North Carolina with Pettigrew's body. Shortly after his return, Peter was hired to be the servant of Major Henry E. Young of General Robert E. Lee's staff. After the war, Peter moved to Elizabeth City with his family, taking the name of Johnson, perhaps in memory of the general. A newspaper editor, in correspondence with the Pettigrew family, wrote in 1872 that Peter had visited and looked upon the portrait of General Pettigrew and, in tears, stated, “There wasn’t no better man in the world.”