A separate and distinct class.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

The State v. Elijah Newsom, 27 NC 250 (1844).

The law: “Be it enacted, &c. That if any free negro, mulatto, or free person of color, shall wear of carry about his or her person, or keep in his or her house, any shot gun, musket, rifle, pistol, sword, dagger or bowie-knife, unless he or she shall have obtained a licence therefor from the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of his or her county, within one year preceding the wearing, keeping or carrying thereof, he or she shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and may be indicted therefor.”

In Cumberland County, Elijah Newsom, a free person of color, was indicted for carrying a shotgun without a license on 1 June 1843.  He was found guilty in Superior Court and filed an appeal.  The Supreme Court held that the law violated neither the 2nd Amendment nor Article 3 of the Bill of Rights: “From the earliest period of our history, free people of color have been among us, as a separate and distinct class, requiring, from necessity, in many cases, separate and distinct legislation.” “Free people of color in this State are not to be considered as citizens, in the largest sense of the term, or, if they are, they occupy such a position in society, as justifies, the legislature in adopting a course of policy in its acts peculiar to them — so that they do not violate those great principles of justice, which lie at the foundation of all laws.” Judgment upheld.

In the 1860 census of Cumberland County, Elijah Neuson, 80, “turpentiner,” is listed with wife Clarisa, 60.