Critical technicalities of buying liquor.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

State v. Trim Hopkins, 49 NC 305 (1857).

This was an indictment In Perquimans County against Trim Hopkins, a free negro, for furnishing liquor to a slave. The indictment contained two counts; one for selling spiritous liquor to a slave; and the other for giving it to him.  Hopkins was with Jack, a slave belonging to a Mr. Skinner, at a house where liquor was sold.  Jack gave Hopkins some money to buy a quart of liquor, which Hopkins bought and immediately gave to Jack. Hopkins was convicted.

On appeal, the Supreme Court emphasized the two counts: one for selling spiritous liquor to a slave, the other for giving the liquor to the slave. “The Revised Code contains two chapters on this subject: the 34th and the 107th. The 87th section of the first provides — ‘No person shall sell or deliver to any slave, for cash, or in exchange for articles delivered, or upon any consideration whatever, or as a gift, any spiritous liquor,’ &c. The 67th section of the latter chapter is as follows: ‘If any free negro shall, directly or indirectly, sell, or give to any person, bond or free, any spiritous liquor, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.’ … The question presented to us is, do the facts stated in evidence bring the defendant within either clause of the recited chapters? We think they do not.”

Where a slave handed money to a free negro in a liquor shop, who handed it to the liquor dealer, received liquor in return, and then handed it to the slave, he was not guilty of either selling or giving the slave liquor. Judgment reversed.

The court also overturned the decision in State v. Jim Wright, 49 NC 308 (1857), on substantially the same grounds. There, Jim Wright, also a free man of color, was charged with selling and delivering a quart of spirits to Sam, a slave owned by a Mrs. Barron.