by Lisa Y. Henderson

State v. Harris Melton & Ann Byrd, 44 NC 49 (1852).

An indictment for fornication in Stanly Superior Court.  The defendants pleaded not guilty and offered evidence of their marriage.  “The controversy was concerning the color of the male defendant – the female being admitted to be white.”  The law: “It shall not be lawful for any free negro or person of color to marry a white person; and any marriage hereafter solemnized or contracted between any free negro or free person of color and a white person, shall be null and void.”

It was admitted that Harris Melton was of Indian descent, and he argued that the Act above did not apply to persons descended from Indian ancestors.  The Supreme Court, however, noted that it did not have to reach this issue because the jury had only found that Melton was of Indian blood, without determining to what degree.  The law “could not have intended that the most remote taint of Indian blood” would void a marriage.  As the jury had indicated that it did not know the degree of Melton’s Indian-ness, the verdict for defendants must be affirmed.