Overturned on a technicality.
by Lisa Y. Henderson
State v. Bill Ely (1857).
Bill Ely was indicted in Beaufort County Superior Court on a charge of unlawful immigration. The indictment described him as a “free man of color.” The Court noted that Ely had come into North Carolina from Virginia in 1842. During the next two or three years, he went back to Virginia two or three times and stayed a few weeks each time, but had resided continually in Beaufort County for ten years. Ely was found guilty and fined five hundred dollars. Because Ely was a “free negroe unable to pay the fine,” the court directed the sheriff to hire Ely out to any person willing to pay it. Ely appealed.
In a brief per curiam decision, the Supreme Court noted that Section 54 of Chapter 107 of the Revised Code made it illegal for a “free negro” (not a “free person of color”) to immigrate. Citing State v. Chavers, the Court ordered judgment arrested.
File #7301, Box 284, North Carolina Supreme Court Case Files, North Carolina State Archives.