Guide to the Josephine Napoleon Leary Papers, 1873-1988
The Josephine Napoleon Leary Papers (1873-1988) contain financial and legal papers, correspondance, artictectural and biographical materials, and photographs pertaining to the life and business/real estate ventures of Josephine N. Leary, and her daughter Clara Ryan, of Edenton, North Carolina.
- Collection Number
- Josephine Napoleon Leary papers
- 0.5 Linear Feet
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Materials in English
The Josephine Napoleon Leary Papers are the personal and business papers of Josephine Leary, an African-American business woman of Edenton, North Carolina. Josephine Leary, born into slavery and freed at age 9, owned several properties in Edenton until her death in 1923. The Legal Papers contain the legal documents pertaining to the properties Leary bought and sold, as well as the legal arrangements of her estate. Deeds and legal papers related to mortgage payments compromise the majority of this series. The Financial Papers include her the financial information related to her properties and her barber business. They include bills and receipts, insurace papers, bank information, and cancelled checks paid from Leary to various parties. The Correspondence series contains correspondence to Leary, her daughter Clara Ryan, Clara's husband Noah Ryan, and Clara's son, Percy Reeves. The correspondence contains business matters, letters from lawyers, personal letters, and letters pertaining to the estate of Leary. The Personal Writings are a few undated writings from Leary. The Biographical/Historical and Architecture and Maps series contain information related to Edenton and to the Leary legacy. These papers are partially made up of documents from Leary's lifetime, but also include later biographical secondary sources about Edenton and Leary. The Maps and Architectural series contains the original plans for the J.N. Leary building that still stands on Broad Street in Edenton. The final sereis is 13 photographic negatives and one photograph. These photographs are of Leary, her family, as well as Leary's grandson, Percy Reeves, and his family.
The Josephine Napoleon Leary Papers are arranged into seven series: Legal Papers, Financial Papers, Coorespondence, Personal Papers, Biographical/Historical Material, Maps and Architetural Materials, and Photographs. The Financial Papers series is further divided into 6 files: 3 Receipts and Bills files, Bank Records, Insurance Papers, and Cancelled Checks. Additionally, the Photographs series contains 14 photographs, described individually.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research.
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All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
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The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Josephine Napoleon Leary Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Legal documents pertaining to the buying of properties and mortgages. The majority of the documents are deeds of trust on the properties Leary bought and eventually sold. The legal documents also include the death certificate of Josephine Leary and the clerk superior court's appointment of Clara Ryan as the administer of Leary's estate. The legal documents after Leary's death are primarily concerned with Clara Ryan's payments of Leary's debts. Folder 4 contains preservation photocopies of several deeds and Leary's death certificate.
The Financial Papers series is made up of Josephine Leary's business and personal financial records. The bulk of the records deal with her business and properties, including bank records, insurance papers, mortgage checks, and bill payments. The records also include documents after Leary's death that highlight the financial turmoil Leary left her daughter Clara Ryan.
Josephine Leary's and Clara Ryan's tax receipts, receipt for purchased building materials, receipt for electric, water and ice bills.
Receipts of Clara Ryan's business purchases, notices to Clara Ryan for unpaid bills, court of Edenton payment cards, telephone rental bill, receipt for the purchase of a casket, cement, funeral and herse, as well as a deposit list for a grave marker for Josephine Leary.
The bank records contain Josephine Leary's 1913-1917 bank account ledger, deposit slips from Josephine Leary and her daughter Clara Ryan, and a deposit slip from Clara Reeves. All bank records are from the Bank of Edenton, NC.
The insurance papers include Clara Reeves' receipt book with payment slips for Metropolitan Life Insurance, Wood and Warren Insurance for Josephine Leary's estate, Noah Ryan's receipt book for Metropolitan Life Insurance, a Harford Fire Insurance Company policy for the barber shop, three Virginia Fire and Marine Insurance Company policies for Leary's property on Church Street, a receipt of Clara Ryan's recieved payment from Gate City Life Insurance Company, and lapsed insurance notifications.
Correspondence inclucles letters to Josephine Leary, her daughter Clara Ryan, Noah Ryan, Clara's husband, and Percy Reeves, a later owner of the Leary's barber shop. Letters to Josephine Leary include lawyers Pruden, Bond, and Holland's letters related to Leary's properties, a letter from Mrs. R.D. James, and a letter from M.N. Sawyer, a real estate dealer. Letters to Clara Ryan include correspondence with her husband Noah Ryan, a letter from the NC Department of Revenue making Clara the Administer of Josephine Leary's estate, a letter from her nieces Mallie and Lulu, her cousin Gary A. Jones, a letter from the Rich Square Institute offering her a job, letters from lawyers concerning her mother's estate, as well as letters from friends, including a Christams card from Mr. and Mrs. Garrett. Letters to Noah Ryan include several letters from lawyers and the Undertaker's Supply Co. about late paymeets. There are also two letters to Percy Reeves, one from his daughter Maggie and one from Floris.
This series includes two personal writings by Leary, as well as a ledger of names and addresses.
The biographical/historical information is documents related to the history of both Edenton and Josephine Leary. This series contains a pamphlet from Central Barber Shop (Leary's business), a ticket to the Edenton Amusement Blub banquet at the Colored Hotel, two historic Edenton brochures that feature Leary's properties, a biography of Leary's assumed father, an article about the economic and social development of Edenton, an article about the Edenton fire and the "Cheapside" neighborhood, a copy of the inheritence record that transfered property deeds to Clara Ryan, a copy of a 1932 story on the Leary barber shop, an article about Leary's properties, and a copy of the Representative House and Prominent Men of Edenton, NC, many of whom Josephine Leary sold and bought properties with.
The maps and architectural materials contain the plans for the J.N. Leary Building on South Broad Sreet in Edenton and a building permit for Noah Ryan to build on Leary's property. They also include an announcement by the Edenton Women's Club of a publication about the architecture in Edenton, titled "Edenton: An Architectural Portrait."
Photographs of Josephine Leary and her family.
Miss Fannie Badham (principal of Edenton Grade School), Miss Santoria Leigh, and Mr. Percy Reeves taken one year before Percy and Santoria were married.
Josephine Napoleon Leary was born into slavery in Williamston, North Carolina around 1856. At age 9, she was freed from slavery. In 1873 she married her husband Sweety Archer Leary and they moved to Edenton, North Carolina as barbers. Mrs. Leary, skillfully navigating the real estate market, acquired 6 properies in Edenton by 1881 in the "Cheapside" historic district. In 1893 Edenton, and the "Cheapside" district, experienced a fire that destroyed all of Leary's investments. After the fire, in 1894, Leary rebuilt 421-423-425 South Broad Street. This signature building still bears "J.N. Leary 1894" in downtown Edenton. Leary became sick with cancer at the turn of the 20th century and the cost of medical care forced her to sell several of her properties. Leary died in 1923. Three of her properties were inherited by her daughter, Clara Ryan, but they were mired in debt and unpaid mortgages.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- African American women -- North Carolina
- African American business enterprises
- African Americans -- Correspondence
- African American women -- United States -- Correspondence
- Decedents' estates -- North Carolina
- Edenton (N.C.)
- Edenton (N.C.)--Commerce
- Family-owned business enterprises -- United States -- History
- Leary, Josephine Napoleon, 1856?-2923
- Lawyers -- North Carolina -- Edenton
- Law/Legal Documents
- Real estate business -- North Carolina
The Josephine Napoleon Leary Papers were purchased by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 1991. Accession 2002-0125 was received as a gift from the Historic Edenton State Historic Site in 2002.
Acc. 91/153 and addition 02-125 are described in this finding aid.
Processed by Melissa Delbridge, May 1991. Accessions joined and finding aid created by Heather McGowan, September 2017.