In connexion with the falsehoods uttered by them all.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

State v. Joab B. Cheek, 35 N.C. 114 (1851).

Case appealed from Chatham County Superior Court.

Joab Cheek, Aaron Malone, and free man of color Robert George were indicted for passing a counterfeit $20 notes, purporting to have been issued by the Bank of Georgetown in South Carolina.  All three were found guilty, and Cheek appealed.

At trial, one Seymore testified that he kept a shop on a high road in Chatham County, leading to Fayetteville. In March 1850, Berry Davidson and a man named Stout stopped their wagons for the night about 250 yards from his house. The same evening, Cheek, Malone and George showed up asking for liquor and a place to spend the night. They said they had been working for McCullock, a contractor working on a improvement project for the Navigation Company on the Deep River. When Seymore served them, they said they did not have change. After quiet discussion among themselves, George offered Seymore a $20 bill. Seymore refused it, saying that he was no judge of South Carolina banknotes, but did not think the bill was good. George then paid with a silver coin and for additional drinks with a knife. Cheek got drunk and fell asleep. Malone and George left, but returned for Cheek, who left as well.

Berry Davidson testified that Robert George came to his camp, identified himself as John George, a free man. George asked to buy Davidson’s watch, but Davidson “refused to trade … because he was a negro.” George said he would get his “young boss” to make the trade and returned with Malone, who called himself James Johnson. Malone and Davidson bargained a $13 price for the watch, and Malone offered the $20 note in payment. Davidson asked if it were good, and Malone told him that it was, that they had received it from McCulloch, for whom they had worked. Davidson took the bill and gave Malone the watch and one dollar in change. He did not have the other six, and they agreed that he would leave that amount with a man in Haywood the next day. Thirty minutes later, George returned with Cheek, who told Davidson that his name was Brooks, that he had lent Malone six dollars and would take five in repayment at that time. Davidson borrowed six dollars from Stout, paid Cheek, and Cheek and George left.

A man named Harris testified that an hour before daybreak the next morning, Cheek and George came to his house, claiming they had “lost their road.” Cheek was drunk and said his name was Brooks, and Thomas Brooks was his father.

McCulloch testified that he was a superintendent for contractors at Buckhorn Falls on the Deep River and paid out all the money spent there; that Cheek, Malone and George had worked for him in February or March; that he had paid the white men three dollars and “the negro $1”; and he had never given them a $20 note. McCulloch further testified that he had consulted his account books to refresh his memory, to which the defense objected.

The State introduced a copy of the South Carolina statute incorporating the Bank of Georgetown and called a Mr. Dewey, a clerk at the Bank of North Carolina, to offer expert testimony on the validity of the $20 note. The defense objected to both.

The issues before the North Carolina Supreme Court: (1) whether McCulloch should have been allowed to refresh his recollection without producing his account books at trial; (2) whether the copy of the South Caroline statute was properly received; (3) whether Dewey was qualified to assess the genuineness of the bank note; and (4) and whether Cheek, who was drunk and asleep when the note changed hands, was guilty as a principal in the crime.

The court made short work of the issues, responding yes to all four. As to the last, the justice noted: “The three persons formed one party, and appeared to be acting on secret consultations with each other, and all the little they had seemed to be in common.” The evidence raised a strong presumption against Cheek, and there was no error in judgment.