One who sells his services does not cease to be free.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

James Casey v. L.S. Robards, 60 NC 434 (1864)

The issue in a case from Haywood County Superior Court: if a free man sells his services for 99 years, by deed, does he cease to be a free man?

In 1859, James Casey, a free negro, conveyed his services to James R. Love.  On 10 September 1864, Lt. L.S. Robards took Casey into custody as a conscript.  Love’s executors objected, claiming Love’s services.  Under an act of the Confederate Congress dated 17 February 1864, “all male free negroes, and other persons of color, resident in the Confederate states, between the ages of 18 and 50 years, shall be held liable to perform such duties with the army, or in connection with the military defenses of the country in the way of work upon fortifications or in government works for the production or preparation of material of war, or in military hospitals, as the Secretary of War may … prescribe; and … shall receive rations and clothing and compensation in the rate of $11 per month. …”

Casey asserted that his contract with Love degraded him from free man to slave, and therefore he was not liable to conscription.  The NC Supreme Court first pointed out that, if Casey were not free, he had no status to sue, and his case must be dismissed on that basis.  However, one who sells his services does not cease to be free, and free negroes could be compelled to render service.

James Casey, age 27, appears with George Casey, 24, and Leander Casey, 15, all described as mulatto, in the 1860 census of Haywood County in the household of James R. Love, an exceptionally wealthy farmer and slaveowner.  Casey’s death certificate, filed in Haywood County, reveals that he lived in or near Waynesville, was about 84 when he died on 11 March 1918, and was the son of Jim Moore and Harriet Casey.