Valid or void?

by Lisa Y. Henderson

State v. Alfred Hooper & Elizabeth Suttles, 27 NC 201 (1844).

Alfred Hooper, a free man of color, and Elizabeth Suttles, a white woman, were tried in May, 1842, in Rutherford County on an indictment for adultery.  Their defense?  That they were married.  A jury found that the couple had lived together as man and wife for ten years prior to the indictment and referred to the court the question of whether that marriage was valid or void.  (If valid, they were innocent of adultery.  If not, guilty.)  The court held that, as the marriage took place prior to Act of 1838, chapter 24, which barred marriages between colored and white people.  Hooper and Suttles’ marriage was valid.  On appeal, the State Supreme Court pointed out the 1830 statute that also made it unlawful for a free negro to marry a white person.  Because Hooper and Suttles’ marriage took place while the 1830 statute was in force and, accordingly, was invalid.  And they were adjudged adulterers.

Judgment notwithstanding, the 1850 federal census of Montfords Cove, Rutherford County, lists Alfred Hooper (age 54), wife Elizabeth (36) and their children Toliver (18), Henry (17), Charity (14), Eliza (12), Mahala (10), Martha (8), Amanda (6) and Mary (4).