In his 50 years of growing and ginning cotton, Jackson, N.C., ginner Thomas Bell has seen a lot of changes and has traveled a sometimes slippery road, proving to multiple generations that success in business or life is not determined by the color of one’s skin.

Bell is the third generation owner of Bell’s Cotton Gin in an area of North Carolina known as Occoneechee Neck.

He’s proud of his African American heritage and equally proud to be a distant descendant of General Matt Ransom, a North Carolina born lawyer, businessman, Civil War hero, and member of the North Carolina Legislature before and after the Civil War.

The cotton gin is a living testament to the hard work and tenacity that three generations of Bells steadfastly applied to running a minority owned business for nearly 100 years in rural North Carolina.

In 1917, Bell’s grandfather Sumner Fairfield Bell was given the deed to what was then called Mudcastle Gin. Mudcastle was the local name for what is now commonly referred to as Occoneechee Neck, located a few miles from Jackson, N.C., county seat of Northampton County, which borders Greenville County, Va.

 

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Exactly how he came to have the deed to the cotton gin isn’t exactly clear, but Bell says his grandfather most likely worked most of his life in the gin and Pat Ransom, General Ransom’s son, most likely financed the purchase of the gin and the deed was given to Sumner Fairfield Bell (Thomas Bell’s grandfather) once he paid off the loan to the Ransom family.

What role Matt Ransom had in the transition of ownership of the gin from the Ransom family to the Bell family may be lost forever. Suffice to say, Ransom who died in 1904, would have known Sumner Bell and would have had to approve of the transaction for it to happen.