I won’t have her, but he won’t take her away from me.
by Lisa Y. Henderson
The State v. Tackett, 8 NC 210 (1820).
This was an indictment against Tackett for the murder of Daniel, a slave, in Raleigh. Daniel’s free colored wife, Lotty, lived in a house on a lot owned by Richardson, a carpenter. Daniel generally was at his wife’s house at night. Tackett worked as a journeyman for Richardson and lived in Richardson’s house on the same lot. On the night that Daniel was killed, Richardson was awakened by a gunshot. Soon after, Richardson heard someone enter his room and set something down in the spot he usually kept his gun. Richardson’s gun was loaded with buckshot, and his family had been admonished not to use it. Richardson turned over and saw someone he thought was Tackett leaving. Shortly after, Richardson heard groans and complaints outside, as if from an injured person. He saw no more of Tackett that night, and Tackett did not sleep at home.
About a week to ten days before this night, Tackett, while drunk, told Richardson that he and Daniel had fought and said that he would kill Daniel. Because of this threat and of the rumor and his belief that Tackett “kept” Daniel’s wife, Richardson discharged him, but took him back again in a few days when he promised to behave better. Witnesses testified that at about 9:00 on the night of the shooting, Tackett went to a house in the suburbs where he said several times that he was uneasy and, when asked why, said that he had been downtown and gotten into a fight and was afraid the constables would get him. Soon after, he said he had shot a black man belonging to Mr. Ruffin and believed he spattered him well, because he took good sight at his legs and thighs, and the man “hollowed.” Tackett then said that he had been downtown and was returning home “the back way through the lot” and found Daniel lying on his belly on the ground near a window of Richardson’s house. Tackett said that he would have blown out Daniel’s brains if he had had a pistol. He asked Daniel who he was and what he was doing there, and Daniel replied by asking who he was and what he was doing there. Daniel then got up and said Richardson was not at home. The men then went into the yard together, where they remained a short while before Tackett went into the house, got Richardson’s gun, and shot Daniel, who was “dodging around the turning lathe.” Shortly after Daniel was wounded, neighbors, alarmed by his groans, found him and sent for a surgeon who examined his body and found a very large gunshot wound in the front and lower part of the abdomen.
Witnesses stated that Tackett did not appear to be drunk and asked permission to stay all night. He went to bed and seemed to be asleep when the constables came to arrest him. At that moment, he said it was hard to go out of a good warm bed to jail.
Witnesses also testified that two or three weeks before the homicide, Daniel told someone that Tackett “kept” his wife, showed a large stick that he said he had beaten Tackett with, and said that if Tackett did not let his wife alone, he would kill him. On another night, about a week to ten days before the homicide, Daniel was seen standing at Richardson’s gate, and, when asked who he was, said he was not afraid to tell his name, that he was Daniel, and that the devil had been to pay there. He said Richardson had whipped him and driven him off his lot, but he would be the death of Richardson or Tackett one. Another witness, who also was a carpenter and worked in Richardson’s shop, testified that about ten days before Daniel died, he came up to a workbench where Tackett was working in the street very near Richardson’s house. Tackett ordered him to leave, and Daniel said he was in the street and would not go. The men then fought, but the witness did not see and could not tell how it began. When the witness took notice of them, Daniel had the stile of a window sash in his hand and struck Tackett several times with it, hurting his eye. Daniel also caught hold of the adze Tackett picked up to strike him with. They scuffled for it; Daniel butted Tackett and got the adze from him. This witness also stated that very early in the next morning or the morning after that, he found Daniel lying in wait in Richardson’s garden with two stones in his hands. Daniel said he thought the witness was Tackett and had intended to knock his brains out. Further, after dinner on the day of the homicide, he saw Daniel downtown, and Daniel asked him where Tackett was. Daniel then said that he did not intend for Tackett and Lotty to out-do him and that she had behaved so meanly that he would not have her, but Tackett would not take her away from him, and that, if he did not let her alone, he would kill Tackett or Tackett would kill him.
Tackett then offered to prove that Daniel was a turbulent man and was insolent and impudent to white people, but the Court refused to hear such testimony unless it would prove that Daniel was insolent and impudent to Tackett in particular.
In its charge to the jury, the Court instructed that the case was to be determined by the same rules and principles of law as if the deceased had been a white man and went on to define murder. The jury found Tackett guilty of murder. Tackett’s lawyer moved for a new trial on the grounds that proper evidence had been rejected and the Court erred in the charge to the Jury. The motion was denied, and Tackett was sentenced to death. He appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Court held that, in the trial of one charged with the murder of a slave, it is permissible to give evidence that the deceased was turbulent and that he was insolent and impudent to white persons. Further, “it exists in the very nature of slavery, that the relation between a white and a slave is different from that between free persons; and therefore, many acts will extenuate the homicide of a slave, which would not constitute a legal provocation of done by a white person.”