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 slightly 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 the reason for these two surnames being used is that:

  • Catherine was the daughter of Stephen Davis & Dinah Clayton who married in 1856, and
  • Catherine’ step-father was Willis McRae.


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 and applications by his wife Dinah and daughter Catherine for pensions because of his military service. The applications contain inaccuracies that may to some extent be explained by the fact that both Dinah and Catherine were recorded in the 1900 census as being unable to read or write. A particularly important mistake 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. The 1860 records only one slaveholder in that county with the Davis surname – a 29 year of farmer named 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 referred to as “my Negro boy Stephen” when David Clayton of Tyrrell county left him to his grandsons Zepeniah Davis and Thomas Davis in his will in 1857. [2] 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 amounted to $100. He appears in the muster rolls of Company E from March 1865 to December 1866. [3] 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 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’s own records of her marriage to Willis McRae, which has the date 25 August 1867.


Whilst we cannot be sure exactly when Stephen died, there is no doubt 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:



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 is quite possible that it relates to another soldier with the same name and was misfiled.


Dinah Ann Clayton (1837-1913)


The 1870, 1880, 1900 & 1910 censuses record that Dinah was born in North Carolina. Those for 1880-1910 add that both her parents were also born there. The indications of Dinah’s date of birth are set out in the following table. The ages recorded are not totally consistent but the precise date of birth inscribed on her tombstone seems likely to be the most reliable.



Stated Age


1860 slave schedule (see below)


(1837-1838 implied)

1870 census


1841-1842 implied

1880 census


1834-1835 implied

1900 census


March 1840

1910 census


1849-1850 implied

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 most likely 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 held Stephen Davis.


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, who had enrolled in H company, 36th regiment US Colored Infantry on 13 July 1863. He 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.


The 1870 census lists Willis and Dinah McRae at Plymouth township, 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. “Dilsey” was presumably the same person as Willis’ mother “Dilca”. Ten years later, the 1880 census of Plymouth township gives Willis McRae’s age as 40. He was still a farmer, 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.


Soldiers’ Home at Hampton

When he was discharged from the Army, Willis was suffering from varicose veins of the left leg. By 5 December 1896, his health was so poor that he was admitted to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Hampton, Virginia. His admission record states that he was 56 years old, 5ft 10in tall, of coloured complexion with dark eyes and black hair. He was unable to read or write. His religion was Protestant and he had been working as a labourer. The residence of his wife Dinah Ann McRae was recorded as Roper, Washington county. [4]


In the 1900 census, Dinah was recorded as “Daner McRae” living at West Lees Mills and having been married for 40 years. Nothing was entered in the parts of the schedule for recording the number of her children and how many were still living. The same census includes Willis McRae amongst the inmates of the Soldiers’ Home at Hampton, stating that he had been born in February 1840 and that he had been married for 35 years.


Dinar McRae appears in the 1910 enumeration of Lee Mills township in the third dwelling after that of her widowed son-in-law William Henry Howcott. Her age was given as 60 and the duration of her marriage, which had produced a single child (who was still living) was said to be 40 years. The only other person listed at her home was 66 year old “Wallis Mccray”, who was described as head of the household. This part of the record seems more of a courtesy than reality, as the same census includes 70 year old Willis McRae from North Carolina amongst the inmates of the Soldiers’ Home at Hampton.


No civil registration record been found for Dinah’s 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”



Willis survived Dinah by more than six years and did not die of “old age and general disability” until 19 August 1919. The death was registered as having taken place at Plymouth, though he was described as “Inmate at Soldiers Home”. He was buried two days later in Washington county, presumably within the fenced area that encloses Dinah’s monument.




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

[2]      Will of David Clayton dated 1 June 1857, Tyrrell county wills, Book 3, page 49. 

Copies at:


The will was proved at Tyrrell County Court in the July Sessions 1857.

[3]      From its organization in March 1864 until June 1865, E Company was with the main regiment. The battles in which 37th regiment USCI 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.  

See also “History of the 37th Regiment USC Infantry”

[4]      Records of United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.


All hyperlinked sources were consulted on 25 October 2018.