by Lisa Y. Henderson
State v. Nehemiah Norman, 53 NC 220 (1860).
This indictment for assault and battery was tried in Washington County Superior Court.
Richard Fisher, a free man of color, had been convicted of larceny and was ordered to be sold to cover fines and costs. A man named Peacock purchased Fisher’s services – essentially as an apprentice – for five years. Before that term expired, Fisher was “taken up” on the charge of killing one Hussell, who was found dead in his yard. Defendant Nehemiah Norman gave Fisher “five licks” to make him reveal the gun used to shoot Hussell. Peacock was present when Fisher was whipped and gave his consent, saying “it ought to be done.” The county court found Norman not guilty, and the State appealed.
The state supreme court: “No free person, of whatsoer color, can, according to law, be thus coerced.” And even the assent of an apprentice’s master cannot legalize it. The state legislature placed a convict sold to pay off the fines levied for his offense in the condition of an apprentice. This relationship is regulated by general principles, including that which holds that a master cannot whip for unlawful purposes. Under these circumstances, the five blows Norman inflicted on Fisher are technically an indictable battery.
Judgment of the lower court reversed and entered for the State.