Every presumption was to be made in favor of freedom.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

May Stringer v. Shepherd W. Burcham, 34 NC 41 (1851).

May Stringer, a free woman of color, filed suit in Carteret County alleging false imprisonment.

At trial, her counsel introduced a record certified by Craven County Court showing that, in December 1807, William Jessup filed a petition to emancipate certain of his slaves for meritorious services. The petition was granted, and bond provided. Among the slaves was a woman named Sinah.  Stringer, who was born after the decree of emancipation, was the daughter of Hannah, who was Sinah’s daughter. Sinah and her descendents had been regarded as free persons of color since their emancipation, except on one occasion, when a man claiming to be William Jessup’s son came to Craven about 1817 and tried to carry off Hannah and another person.  He was arrested and had not been since heard of. The court held that, “after an acquiescence for 30 years by the public in the enjoyment of her freedom, every presumption was to be made in favor of” Stringer’s freedom, “especially against a trespasser and wrongdoer.”

The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, and Burcham appealed. The State Supreme Court affirmed the verdict.