Just so you know, they might be free.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

Free Jack v. Woodruff, 10 NC 106 (1824).

An action for freedom.  Free Jack was the son of a woman of color named Jane Scott, who, in 1774 was “in the possession of” one Allen, who asserted that Jane was free.  In 1784, Jack was indented by Surry County court to one Meredith, who frequently said he was free, but then sold him to Moses Woodruff. Woodruff sold Jack with the warning that he was reported to be free and caveat emptor.  Allen, meanwhile, sold Jane Scott to Abraham Cresong, who sold her and twelve of her children to William Terrill Lewis on 22 October 1788.  Lewis, fearing he would lose them otherwise, sent the children out of state.  Woodruff, to prove that Jane was a slave, introduced a Rowan County record that showed that Jane and her children had been “set at liberty” on a writ of habeas corpus by a Surry County court, but that judgment had been reversed for want of jurisdiction.  The judgment in the lower court was for Free Jack, and Woodruff appealed.  Upon consideration of certain evidentiary questions involving parol evidence and hearsay, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial.

The Scott family’s struggles to maintain their freedom were generational.  Jane’s grandson Samuel’s travails similarly lead to the state’s highest court.  See Samuel Scott v. Joseph Williams, 12 NC 376 (1828).