He once sold a free negro named Wingfield.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

State v. John C. Hardin, 19 NC 407 (1837).

John C. Hardin (and John Haney, whose case went to the Supreme Court separately) was indicted for negro-stealing in Rutherford county. Hardin’s trial was removed to Burke County, where he was convicted on both counts in the indictment.   At trial, the State proved that a slave, the property of Nancy Davis, was stolen, or seduced, or went, from Davis’ Rutherford County plantation, on the fourth Saturday of July, 1836.

A witness named Robins testified that on the day after the slave disappeared, he saw Haney at a meeting house in the neighborhood. Haney told him that a negro had come to him the preceding night a little before day and requested that Haney go that evening and tell Hardin to meet him at a place called Webb’s old field that night, about an hour after dark. In the course of the conversation, Haney remarked, “Hardin has missed the one he has been trying to secure; but good luck will come after bad. Tell him, this boy has come to me.” Robins and Hardin went to the place and at the time appointed. Haney whistled and “a large negro-man” When asked where he had come from, Haney said, “He came from the widow Davis.” Haney then remarked, “You, Robins, must take him off. It will be a safe trip, as the widow has not energy to press like some people. In the mean time Hardin will keep him till you get ready to start.” As Haney left, he remarked to Hardin, “You know our agreement,” to which Hardin replied, “yes, it will do.” Hardin, Robins, and the slave then went to a point about a half-mile distant from Hardin’s house.  Hardin thought there might be somebody at his house and directed Robin and the slave to stay in the woods until he checked and returned. Hardin did not return that night, but came with food the next morning. Hardin, Robins and the slave agreed that Robins would take the negro to South Carolina and sell him; that Robins would leave that day and to prepare; and that the enslaved man would meet him the next day at a point designated on the road. All proceeded accordingly, and Robins and another associate, Williams, carried the slave to South Carolina and sold him for nine hundred dollars. Williams was paid part, Haney was paid one hundred and forty-five dollars, and Hardin was paid two hundred and fifty-five dollars. (Hardin insisted upon having the largest share because of “his having tried so long to get a negro, in which he met with bad luck.”) Robins testified that his habits had been moral and upright until he met Hanes and Hardin, who influenced him to join a club that had members spread over the country.  This was his first adventure in selling slaves. However, when further pressed, Robins admitted that he had once sold a free negro named Wingfield for one thousand dollars, of which he gave two hundred dollars to Wingfield himself (for agreeing to be sold); two hundred dollars to a man in South Carolina for helping him to sell Wingfield; one hundred dollars to Haney; ninety dollars to Hardin; and the rest for himself. Robins also stated Haney told him and Hardin, “You know our plan is to steal the negro again and sell him over, so you must make up something to pay for doing that,” and each gave Haney twenty-five more dollars. 

Hardin was found guilty and sentenced to death.  He appealed, arguing  that (1) the jury relied upon the uncorroborated testimony of a co-conspirator, and (2) he had only conveyed away, not stolen, the slave.  The state supreme court rejected the former argument, but agreed with the latter, i.e. that Hardin was a “mere accessory” to the actual theft of the slave.  Venire de novo awarded.