He saw his money walk into a white man’s pocket.
by Lisa Y. Henderson
State v. Jarrott, a slave, 23 NC 76 (1840).
This case arose in Person County. Jarrott, an enslaved man, was indicted for the murder of Thomas Chatham, who was 18 or 19 years old. A 14 year-old white boy named John T. Brooks testified that he went with Chatham to a fish-trap in the neighborhood in a Saturday night and remained until “about two or three hours before day.” They were the only white people present. Jarrott and a free negro named Jack Hughes argued over a card game and called on Chatham to “keep the game for them.” After a second argument, Hughes refused to play anymore. Jarrott snatched up the handkerchief they had been playing on, knocking a twelve-and-a-half cent coin into the leaves. When he was unable to find it, he said “he saw his nine pence walk into a white man’s pocket, and that any white man who would steal a negro’s money, was not too good to unbutton a sheep’s collar.” Further, he charged Chatham with being raised on and living on stolen sheep, accused him of stealing his money, threatened to kill him if he did not give it up, and brandished a stick over his head. Chatham invited Jarrott to search his pockets, and turned them out when Jarrott refused. When Jarrott then accused Chatham of hiding the money in his shoes, he pulled off his shoes and socks. Another man got a light, searched among the leaves, and found the coin near where Chatham stood, which was “some six or seven steps from the spot” where Jarrott jerked up his handkerchief. Chatham sat down near the fire and Jarrott “continued to abuse him, using very indecent and insolent language.” Chatham asked Brooks for his knife, saying he wanted to cut his nails. He then told Jarrott that if he did not hush, he would stick it in him. Jarrott raised his stick and dared him, and Chatham chased him around the fire with a length of fence rail. Jarrott ran off, but returned and “said something.” Chatham picked up his fence rail and approached Jarrott with the knife in his other hand. Brooks heard two blows, then saw Chatham lying on the ground.
The testimony of Isaac, an enslaved man, essentially corroborated Brooks’, but he added that there was about a 15-minute gap between the argument about the money and Chatham’s renewal of the dispute and threat to stab Jarrott.
A free negro named Nathan Jones corroborated Isaac, but denied that Jarrott ever brandished his stick over Chatham. He also swore that Chatham said he would kill Jarrott that night or go to his master Monday and have him whipped, then would waylay him and shoot him with a rifle. Two other witnesses testified about Chatham’s wounds (two to the back of the head, about two inches in length); his size (“small and slender for a boy of his age,” said one, “not tall, but stoutly built,” said the other); and Jarrott’s stature (“about six feet high, and of the ordinary size of negroes of that height; and was about twenty-three years of age.”)
Jack Hughes testified that Chatham swung at Jarrott and missed before Jarrott knocked him down and struck him several blows.
The jury found Jarrott guilty of murder, and the judge pronounced a death sentence.
The appeal focused on the judge’s jury instructions. Though not agreeing with his every ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict, establishing that “the same matters which would be deemed in law a sufficient provocation to free a white man … from the guilt of murder, will not have the same effect when the party slain is a white man, and the offender a slave ….”