Deep-rooted and virtuous prejudices.
by Lisa Y. Henderson
State of North Carolina, Wayne County } At a Superior Court of Law began and held for the County of Wayne at the Court House in Waynesborough the first Monday after the fourth Monday of March 1828. Appeared there and then into Court Jesse Barden, and by his attorney Lewis D. Henry Esq’r., filed the following Petition under the act of 1827 –
North Carolina, Wayne County } To the Honorable the Judge of the Superior Court of Law for Said County – The Petition of Jesse Barden, Humbly Shews that he is a Citizen of this County, That he intermarried with one Ann Mariah Bradberry about the Month of April in the Year 1827, That at the time he married her he cherished a fond affection for her and believed her to be good woman, and that she would make an excellent wife, That at the time of their marriage She had a child, which he believed was his own and had been begotten by him before their intermarriage, That her Conduct and Manners were so artfully devised during their Courtship, that he entertained the opinion She was a virtuous woman and that she had never departed from the path of Moral rectitude but in the instance alluded to, and then from the excess of an ardent and imprudent passion for himself, That shortly after their intermarriage however, your Petitioner discovered that Child So born before their marriage was a black child, to his utter Horror and astonishment, and which has Completely ruined his peace and Happiness for life, That as soon as Your Petitioner was Satisfied of the Colour of the Child and of the artful wiles that the said Ann Mariah had employed during their courtship to decoy him with the Conjugal Connection, by protestations of affection that she had made to him from time to time. He was so overcome with her perfidity that he not only broke off all connection with her, but has turned her from his House.
He prays Your Honor therefore that these facts may be inquired into and that he may be divorced from the bonds of Matrimony with the said Ann Mariah his wife, and such other and further relief as You may think proper.
This affiant swears that the facts Set forth in this Petition are true to the Best of his knowledge and belief and that the Said Complaint is not made out of Levity or Collusion between him and his said wife and for the mere purpose of being freed and Separated from each other. /s/ Jesse Barden
Sworn to Subscribed before me the 3rd day of April 1828. Rob’t Strange
Whereupon it was ordered by the Court that a Subpoena and Copy of the Petition issue to the defendant returnable to the next Term which was done and the Sheriff of Wayne made return thereon that the defendant was not to be found [in] his County. After which It was ordered by the Court that an alias subp’a and copy of Petition issue to defendant returnable to Spring Term of Said Court 1829, which was issued.
This matter reached the North Carolina Supreme Court in Jesse Barden v. Ann M. Barden, 14 NC 548 (1832). In distinguishing the case from another decided the same term, Justice Thomas Ruffin noted that “in so young an infant, whose mother was white, it might not be in the power of an ordinary man, from inspection of the face and other uncovered parts of the body, to discover the tinge, although it were so deep as to lead to the belief now, that it is the issue of a father of full African blood.” The case was remanded to ascertain (1) that the child was mixed race; (2) that both Bardens were white; (3) that Jesse Barden believed at the time of his marriage that the child was white; (4) that his belief was based on Ann Mariah’s misrepresentations; and (5) that the child’s “real color” was not obvious. If all were true, Barden was entitled to a divorce. “This is a concession to the deep rooted and virtuous prejudices of the community on this subject.”