It did not make a slave of Mills.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

John A. Philips v. Patrick Murphy, Adm’r, 49 NC 4 (1856).

This action arose in Cumberland Superior Court.

Robert Mills, a free man of color, entered into this written contract with Louis A. Nixon:

“Know all men by these presents, that I, Robert Mills, for and in consideration of sixty dollars, to me in hand paid, at and before the sealing and delivery of these presents, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, have given, granted, bargained and sold, and by these presents do give, grant, bargain and sell unto Louis A. Nixon, his executors and assigns, my active services, as a servant, for the full and entire term of five years, and the full and entire control of my person and labor during that entire time.”

Nixon died, and his administrator entered into a contract with plaintiff Phillips: “Six months after date, we, or either of us, promise to pay Charles D. Nixon, administrator of Louis A. Nixon, or order, the sum of one hundred and twenty-five dollars for value received, in hire of a certain negro, Robert Mills, for the term of four years, or so long as Louis A. Nixon was entitled to the services of the said negro.” Phillips then put Mills “against his consent … into the possession of” a Barksdale.”

The suit contended that this bond was void as being against the policy of the law because “no man could sell himself into a state of slavery …” The Court disagreed, stating, “There is nothing in the transaction against the policy of the law. The legal effect of the deed executed by Mills to Nixon, was not to make a slave of Mills, or in any way vest in Nixon a title to him as property, but simply to give Nixon a right to his service for five years, upon an executory agreement, for a breach whereof an action of covenant would lie. The fact, that Mills is a free negro, makes no difference, for a white man may bind himself in the same manner. Indeed, it is common in some portions of the State, for white men to hire themselves during crop time, or for a year. The peculiarity about this contract is, that it is for five years, and is extended, by express words, to the assigns of Nixon. …”