Something wrong was going on.
by Lisa Y. Henderson
State v. Edmund Martin, 34 NC 157 (1851).
Edmund Martin, a free man of color, was indicted in Forsyth County Superior Court for stealing a slave named Giles, the property of George W. Smith. The State’s first witness was Edward Booker. Booker testified that in late October or November 1850, he was on his way south with his son Henry and a man called Null carrying a load of tobacco belonging to a man named Hamlett in Stokes County. They stopped at a campground near Martin’s property. There one of Null’s horses became violently ill, and Martin helped secure and administer aid. While they treated the horse, Booker gave Martin two or three drinks. Martin told Booker that he “liked his looks,” asked if wagoning was a slow business, and told him that he could put him into a business that could make money much faster, if he could be trusted. Martin could make Booker “rich as Hairston.” Booker asked if Martin was referring to horses, and Martin replied that he was not, but his stock was worth $600 to $1200 a piece, “and, by being smart, [Booker] could make five or six hundred dollars in a few weeks.” Booker admitted that he would like to make more money in an honest business. Martin did not explicitly disclose his plans, but Booker inferred them and agreed to call on Martin when he returned in five or six weeks.
On the first Saturday of December, Booker returned and agreed to enter into business with Martin. Martin told him he had several slaves concealed at some distance – “he could not keep them near him for fear of being suspected: that there were a great many fox hunters around him, and he had frequently been tracked by their dogs, and been compelled to stand in water up to his waist for an hour at a time in cold weather.” The slaves believed that Martin was going to send them to a free state. While Booker and Martin were talking, a man named Rains came in to speak privately with Martin, and Booker learned that Rains, too, was going to transport slaves for Martin. Booker agreed to return around Christmas when Martin would have a slave ready. Booker was to take the slave, sell him, and divide the profits with Martin. Booker returned the Thursday after Christmas, but Martin told him he could get things ready before Saturday. Their plans were thwarted by the arrival of another white man, who persisted in staying all night despite Martin’s efforts to get him to leave. On Sunday Booker returned to Martin’s house. Martin gave “Jeff.,” a slave, a dram and told him to fetch the slave. Some time after midnight, Booker heard someone enter the kitchen-end of the house, and Martin brought the slave Giles to him and told him they needed to leave as soon as possible. Martin told Booker to get his horse and go by himself to Thompson’s lane about a mile away. There were too many wagoners camping nearby and his neighbor Swicegood’s dogs were “very bad.” Martin would take Giles via short-cut and meet him at the lane. Booker took Giles to Salem to “Mr. Lash,” but, as the Forsyth jail was not completed, took him on to the jail in Germantown. Booker, who claimed he had been pretending to work with Martin in order to catch him in his crime, immediately sent word to Giles’ owner Smith. Booker met with Smith, and the two hatched a plan. Booker returned to Martin with $400 counterfeit money and a fictitious note for $300. He paid off Martin, who was quite pleased, and made arrangements to take another slave, this one a blacksmith. Booker then went to magistrate McDonald to tip him off to his and Smith’s plan. When he returned to Martin’s, Martin chained his horse to the smokehouse, confronted him with the counterfeit money, accused him of betrayal and threatened to kill him that night. Martin said that he belonged to a Murrel clan, and his brothers would kill Booker if he did not. Another white man there opined that Booker had treated Martin badly. Booker, alarmed, left without his horse and went to a neighbor’s house. The next day he sent for magistrate McDonald and had Martin arrested.
Wallis McDonald, the magistrate, testified that Booker had come to his house, about four or five miles from Martin’s, and with some minor variations told him essentially what he had testified to on the stand.
Richmond Swicegood testified that he lived about 300 yards from Martin, that he saw Booker at Martin’s house frequently, that he thought “something wrong was going on” and decided to watch the house. The night was very wet and rainy, but he “slipped up near” the house and heard Martin trying to get rid of Wood, the white man that Booker testified would not leave. Martin went into the kitchen house, and Swicegood stood near a crack and heard Martin tell his son Henry, “I never told your mother ‘till yesterday what Booker was staying here for.” Martin then said that “by being smart” he could make five or six hundred dollars in six or seven weeks; “it was a dangerous business, but he did not know any better they could do.” Satisfied that Martin was up to no good, he decided to consult a neighbor.
G.M. Smith testified that he lived in Davidson County, about seven or eight miles from Martin; that his slave Giles left without permission on 22 November 1850; that he found him in the Germantown jail on 8 January 1851; that he sold Giles immediately; and that on his way home from Germantown he saw Booker, who saw him and Giles.
At the close of evidence, the court’s instructions to the jury included a warning that Martin “was to be tried as if he were a white man” and that “they were to divest themselves of prejudice on account of his color.” Having, perhaps, done so, the jury found Martin guilty, and he appealed to the state Supreme Court. Citing State v. Hardin, the court ordered a new trial on the grounds that, as there was no evidence Martin had actually the slave from his owner, he could not have committed a capital felony under the statute.