Ancestry of Catherine (McRae or Davis) Howcott


Catherine McRae married “Henry Howcott Jr” (1) on 10 February 1876 at Macedonia AME Church, Lees Mills Township, Washington county. Benjamin B Bonner conducted the ceremony. Catherine was described as aged 20. However, there are a number of different accounts of her age or birthdate: 



Age stated



1860 slave schedule (see below)


(1857-1858 implied)

This girl’s identity is not certain as her name was not recorded

1870 census


(1856-1857 implied)


1876 marriage


(1855-1856 implied)


1880 census


(1857-1858 implied)


1892 pension application


24 December 1858

Statement by Catherine’s mother

1898 pension application


24 December 1856

Statement by Catherine herself

1900 census


December 1857



Catherine’s maiden name has sometimes been given as “Davis” rather than “McRae”. The evidence below shows that she was the daughter of Stephen Davis and Dinah Clayton, who married in 1856.


Unless otherwise stated, all places referred to are in North Carolina.


Stephen Davis (c1834-1867?)


Much of the information found about Stephen comes from his military record (2) and applications by his wife Dinah and daughter Catherine for pensions because of his military service. These applications contain inaccuracies that may to some extent be explained by the fact that both of the applicants were recorded in the 1900 census as being unable to read or write. A particularly important inaccuracy is that when Catherine Howcott applied for a pension in 1898, she stated that Stephen Davis had left no widow surviving him. This was not so, as Dinah did not die until 1913.


Stephen was born at “Columbia, North Carolina” about 1834. Columbia is the seat of Tyrrell county. In 1860, there was only one slaveholder in that county with the Davis surname – Zephaniah Davis, who held two women (aged 85 and 50) and two men (aged 50 and 22) with three slave houses. Zephaniah was recorded in that census as a 29 year old farmer, with personal estate valued at $2,237.


Stephen was probably “my Negro boy Stephen” whom David Clayton of Tyrrell county left to his grandsons Zepeniah Davis and Thomas Davis in his will in 1857 (3). When Dinah McRae applied in September 1892 for a pension as Stephen’s widow, she stated that they had been married on 15 January 1856 at Tyrrell county by “Clayton (Master)”, who was presumably David Clayton.


On 17 January 1865, Stephen enlisted as a private soldier in the 37th regiment of the United States Colored Infantry at Norfolk, Virginia. He was described as a 30 year old blacksmith, 5ft 7ins tall, with black hair and complexion. Evidently Stephen was unable to write, as he made a mark instead of signing his enlistment papers, which committed him to serve for three years.


When he was mustered at Newport Mews, Virginia three days later, Stephen's bounty amounting to $100. He appears in the muster rolls of Company E from March 1865 to December 1866 (4). These are summarised in returns each of which cover two months and provide additional details including:




July & Aug 1865

Entitled to $300 bounty, $100 of which he received at that stage.

Nov & Dec 1865

Absent sick at some stage during that period, apparently at Wilmington NC.

Jan & Feb 1866

Entitled to $300 bounty

March & April 1866

Entitled to $300 bounty (not clear whether this is the same bounty as one or both of those mentioned above)

Sept & Oct 1866



Stephen was mustered out of service at Raleigh on 11 February 1867.


Records differ as to when Stephen died. When his widow Dinah applied for a pension in October 1892, she stated that Stephen had died at Washington county on 13 August 1869. When their daughter Catherine applied for a pension in May 1898, she said that her father had died at Wilmington in 1866. The year given by Catherine is clearly wrong, as Stephen was not discharged from the Army until 1867.


When applying for her widow’s pension, Dinah stated that Stephen died at Washington county on 13 August 1869 and that she remarried on 10 July 1870; neither of these dates is consistent with the date recorded in Washington county records of her marriage to Willis McRae, which was 25 August 1867.


Whilst we cannot be sure exactly when Stephen died, it is likely that his death took place in 1867, between his discharge from the Army on 11 February and his widow’s remarriage on 25 August. 


Three pension applications are listed in the Civil War Pensions Index in connection with Stephen’s military service (2):



Name (and status) of dependent

Application number

State where filed


McRae Dinah (widow)


North Carolina


Howcott Catherine (child)


North Carolina


Swinger Fannie (widow)




There are no further details of Fannie Swinger’s application; it may well relate to another soldier with the same name and have been wrongly misfiled.


Dinah Clayton (1837?-1913)


The 1870 and 1900 Census records state that Dinah was born in North Carolina. The 1880 and 1900 censuses add that both her parents were born there too.


Indications of Dinah’s date of birth are as follows:



Stated Age


1860 slave schedule (see below)


(1837-1838 implied)

1870 census


1841-1842 implied

1880 census


1834-1835 implied

1900 census


March 1840

1913 tombstone of “Dina Ann McRae” at Macedonia AMEZ church burial ground


20 February 1837


The 1860 census slave schedules do not include an owner named Clayton in Washington county. However, in Tyrrell county Thomas A Clayton held a total of five slaves, living in three slave houses. These included a woman aged 22 and a girl aged 2. It is quite feasible that they were Dinah and her daughter Catherine. Thomas A Clayton was a 43 year old farmer with real estate worth $8,072 and personal estate worth $5,473 and was mentioned in the will of his father David Clayton, who appears to have owned Stephen Davis. (3)


On 25 August 1867, Dinah Clayton married Willis McRae, son of Willis Spruill and Dilca McRae. Shaderack Moore, an Elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, performed the ceremony. Willis was also a Civil War veteran. He had enrolled in H company, 36th regiment US Colored Infantry on 13 July 1863. Willis was then described as a 21 year old farmer, born in Martin county, 5 ft 8 inches tall with dark hair, eyes and complexion. He was mustered at Fort Monroe, Virginia on 6 June 1864 and mustered out at Brazos Santiago, Texas on 13 July 1866, having served as a private.


1870 census of Plymouth township includes Willis and Dinah McRae, along with Catherine (aged 13), Dilsey (aged 50) and George (aged 18). Willis was described as a farmer aged 26 and Dinah as “keeping house” and aged 28.


1880 census of Plymouth township gives Willis McRae’s age as 40. He was still a farmer and living with his wife Dinah (45 years old) and son Ellis (aged 9).


The household details from the main 1890 census have been destroyed. However, a special enumeration of surviving United States Civil War soldiers does survive; the list of such residents of Lees Mills includes Willis McRae.


In the 1900 census, Dinah was recorded as a widow living at West Lees Mills. Unfortunately, the parts of the schedule that should have recorded the number of her children and how many were still living were not completed.


Dinah has not been located in the 1910 census. Nor has a civil registration record been found for her death. However, a tombstone in the burial ground of Macedonia AMEZ church records:


“Dina Ann McRae / Born Feb.20.1837 / Died Mar.25.1913 / She has gone to the mansion of rest"



(1)    “Henry Howcott Jr” was William Henry Howcott (1855-1932).

(2)    Database of US Civil War Soldiers & Civil War Pension Index (on )

(3)    Will of David Clayton dated 1 June 1857, Tyrrell county wills, Book 3, page 49. The will was proved at Tyrrell County Court in the July Sessions 1857.

(4)    From its organization in March 1864 until June 1865, E Company was with the main regiment. The battles in which 37th regiment USCI it was engaged during the time after Stephen enlisted were Sugar Loaf (12 February), near Wilmington (21 February) and North-East Station (22 February). The campaign including these engagements resulted in the Confederacy losing control of Wilmington, which was its only remaining port with access to the Atlantic. From June 1865 until the latter part of September 1865, E Company was part of the Provost Guard for the city of Wilmington. On 30 November 1865, E Company was ordered to join the garrison of Fort Fisher. (Information from History of the 37th Regiment USC Infantry”.