Despite being widowed at a young age and paying increased property taxes, Anne Atkins improved her family’s financial situation.
Atkins and her children used their 160-acre farm to produce mostly field crops. Careful management increased the farm’s value, but increases in land tax assessments brought hardship for the family. In just fourteen years the assessment rose from 600 to 1,000 dollars. By 1891, Atkins purchased three additional acres yet lost over half of her livestock and farm tools. Growing economic pressure may have led Atkins to divide her farm among her children that year. Historian Sharon Ann Holt surmises that Atkins bequeathed land to her daughters to enable them to attract husbands with at least adequate financial means. Atkins’s sons were over thirty and likely married. Land allowed them to build homes for their growing families. Furthermore, Holt infers, Atkins may have divided the land to remove burdensome responsibilities from her life.
The family land was not divided equally. James, the youngest son, acquired more land than his older brother and sisters (This suggests, writes Holt, that the youngest son also provided for Ann). Within six years, James Atkins doubled his acreage and increased his livestock numbers. Within two years, the daughters married and each lived on their own property.
Sharon Ann Holt, Making Freedom Pay: North Carolina Freedpeople Working For Themselves, 1865-1900 (Athens, 2000).