The Legal Status of Negroes in North Carolina
From “Political Prelude, 1790-1860,” North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial,
Legal Status of Negroes in North Carolina
“Not least among the services of William Gaston were his leading opinions that helped to define the legal status of the Negro. In State vs. Manuel in 1838 he held: “Slaves manumitted became freedmen, and therefore, if born within North Carolina, are citizens of North Carolina, and all free persons born within the State are born citizens of the State.”  Nowhere in the United States at the time were the terms “citizen” and “voter” interchangeable, so that denial of the ballot to the Negro citizen was not an indignity upon his race.

[In] the case of Will, a slave who had killed his overseer in self defense…[and] when Gaston wrote the opinion of the court he declared: “It is certain that the master has not the right to slay his slave, and I hold it to be equally certain that the slave has the right to defend himself against the unlawful attempt of his master to deprive him of life.”
The law and morals governing the relations of master and slave, here and in other portions of the South, tended to confirm the principle that the master owned a slave, not “body and soul,” but the slave’s labor. From birth to death the slave owed the obligation of working service, but on the other hand the slaveowner owed the obligation, also for life, of feeding and clothing and humane care. Out of that paternalistic concept and practice of the late ante-bellum era came the persisting attitude of the characteristic Southerners of later generations, an attitude of natural kindness toward the Negro people.
The basic concept just defined was the result of two centuries of experience and adjustment between the whites and blacks, and obviously it had a wide range of variation in actual practice. As a concise definition, its approximate truth must be assumed at the outset of any discussion of the slavery issue in the South.”
(North Carolina, The Old North State and the New, Volume II, Archibald Henderson, Lewis Publishing Company, 1941, page 192)