40 years’ acquiescence gives effect.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

Augustine Cully v. Lovick Jones et al., 31 NC 168 (1848).

This was an action for false imprisonment.  Plaintiff Augustine Cully‘s mother Phebe was the slave of Jane Thompson.  Thompson’s will directed her executor Reuben Jones “to obtain the freedom of Phebe, if practicable, on account of her meritorious services.” In November 1806, Jones filed a petition in Carteret County court for Phebe’s freedom.  Phebe and her children were thereafter permitted to act as free people.  However, Jones neglected to give the required bond for the action until 1816, when he was ordered to do so, and did.  Phebe’s daughter Augustine was born in 1808 and lived as a free person until just before this action commenced, when Lovick Jones seized her and claimed her as a slave.

The NC Supreme Court held that, though Augustine Cully was born before the bond was effectuated, neither Reuben Jones, who neglected his duty, nor anyone claiming for or by him could take advantage of that omission, much less a mere wrong-doer.  “More than forty years have allowed to pass from the act of emancipation and [Augustine’s birth], before any claim was made to hold her as a slave; during all which time, she passed as a free person and was so treated and considered by the community, in which she lived.  After so long an acquiescence, almost any thing will be presumed, in order to give effect to the act of emancipation.”

The 1850 census of New Bern, Craven County, shows a household that included Phillis Martin, 85; Augustin Cully, 35; Adam Cully, 40 and blind; Joseph Martin, 29, and Alex. Martin, 27, both sailors; Abner Cully, 14; Eliza Cully, 11; Elizabeth Cully, 9; and Adam Cully, 5.  All were described as black.