Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Tag: crime

Bodysnatchers and common thieves.

At the Superior Court of Wake county, Lockley, a free man of color, implicated in the charge of disinterring a dead body for the purpose of obtaining the teeth, was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to three months imprisonment. The principal offender has not been found.

Salisbury, a free boy of color, was convicted of grand larceny, and sentenced to receive forty lashes.

Hillsborough Recorder, 16 April 1828.

A white man was arrested.

MURDER. – A free colored man named Jordan Petteford, residing in the suburbs of this town, was shot on Wednesday last, in the public street of that part of the town, and in broad day. He died on the following Friday.

A white man named Powell was arrested on suspicion.

A Coroner’s Jury has been in session since the death of Petteford, earnestly engaged in the praiseworthy effort to elicit some testimony to identify the murdered. So far, we learn, they have not been successful.

Fayetteville Weekly Observer, 4 August 1856.

In the 1850 census of Fayetteville, Cumberland County, Jordan Pettiford, 43, laborer; wife Ailey, 36; and children Wm. H., 16, Jas. W., 13, Amos, 8, Cordelia, 7, Charles, 4, Mary J., 1, and Sarah Daniels, 1.

In connexion with the falsehoods uttered by them all.

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.

He has fine white teeth; I have his indentures.

$25 Reward.

WILL be given for the delivery to me, or for the confinement in the Jail of Cumberland county, of DAVID BOOKER, who ranaway from me about the middle of last June.

DESCRIPTION. – Booker is about 5 feet 10 inches high, very black, has fine white teeth, speaks pleasingly when in conversation, is about forty years old, and in walking bends forward considerably. He is a Blacksmith by trade.

I have his indentures for two years from 1st of May 1854, for costs and charges in State case vs. him, in the Superior Court of Cumberland county; and all persons are cautioned not to employ him without my consent.  T.R. UNDERWOOD.  Dec. 19, 1854.

Semi-Weekly Fayetteville Observer, 22 February 1855.

Overturned on a technicality.

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.

The criminal docket.


The Superior Court of Law and Equity for the Counties of Cumberland and Harnett has been in Session during the present week. Nearly the whole of the Term has been taken up with the Criminal Docket. A part of Tuesday and the whole of Wednesday were devoted to the trial of Rachel Freeman, a free girl of color, on a charge of arson. The jury returned a verdict of guilty. For the State, Mr. Solicitor Strange; for the prisoners, Messrs. William B. Wright and Joseph Baker, Jr.

The next business on the calendar was an application of three prisoners from Bladen, charged with a capital offence, to be admitted to bail. They were represented by John A. Richardson, Esq., whose efforts to obtain bail were ineffectual. The prisoners were remanded.

Jackson Evans was then put on his trial for a homicide on the body of Joseph Williams, both free men of color. A verdict of manslaughter has been returned.

North Carolina Argus, Wadesboro, 16 October 1856.

Unlawfully did migrate, no. 4.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   } Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions October Term 1850

The Jurors for the State aforesaid upon their oath present that Gray Powel a free negro late of the county of Wilson on the 1st day of June AD 1859 at & in the said county unlawfully did migrate into the State of North Carolina contrary to the provisions of the act of the general assembly in such cases made & provided & that the said Gray Powel afterwards to wit up to this time doth yet remain in said State & in the county aforesaid contrary to the form of the Statute in each case made & provided & against the peace & dignity of the State    /s/ B.B. Barnes Solicitor

Slave Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

In the 1850 census of Stephen Powell, 47, wife Synthia, 36, and children Gray, 9, Queen Anne, 8, Dolly, 7, Crockett, 3, and Noab, 1. [Sidenote: If this is the right Gray Powell, it suggests that he left the state prior to 1859 and tried to return. — LYH]

Outrageous murder.

An outrageous murder was committed about 3 miles from Weldon, N.C, on the evening of the 11th inst., by a free negro, named John Brown, on the body of James Smith, a very worthy young white man. Brown made his escape, but the Petersburg (Va.) Intelligencer understands he has been arrested in that place and taken back.

Baltimore Sun, 17 March 1848.


A ROBBERY.  In the night of the 31st of December last, my son William Sugg, was robbed on the Road between Raleigh and Joshua Sugg’s, supposed by a free black man named JOHN BLACK, who is well known in this neighborhood, and who has since escaped. The money taken consisted of one or two ten dollar Bank Notes, one five dollar note, and three forty shilling Bills of State Currency. With the money was taken my pocket knife, a small part of both blades of which had been broken. Black is about 25 years old, low and well made – is a Carpenter by trade, and had with him a copy of his former masters will, (Moses Parker,) of Franklin – Any person apprehending said Black, so that he may be brought to justice, shall be well rewarded for their trouble.   WM. SUGG. Wake county, January 5, 1815.

Star, Raleigh, 6 January 1815.

She hath been arrested.

State of North Carolina Chatham county

We Lucretia Evans & Philip Hartsoe, acknowledge ourselves indebted to the State of North Carolina in the sum of Fifty pounds each, to be levied on our goods & chattles, Land & tenaments, But to be void on condition that the said Lucretia Evans makes her personal appearance at the next county Court for Chatham to be held on 2nd Monday of August next, and not depart the said court without leave, and to answer the within charge – This 25th June, 1826.   Lucretia X Evans {Seal}

Teste. Jon: Haralson , Philip Hartso


State of North Carolina, Chatham County

Thos. Lasater, one of the Justices of the peace for the said County To the keeper of the common Jail of the County af’d.

Whereas Lucretia Evans a free woman of the County af’d. hath been arrested by the lawful authority of the af’d County and brought before me charg’d with entering the house of Vicy Mason and feloneaus stealing and carrying away a web of cloth for which offence she has been duly examined before me and the presumption is she is guilty thereof.

These is therefore to command you the keeper to receive the said Lucretia Evans in your Jail there to remain until she shall be delivered by due course of law, given under my hand this 26th of June 1826   Thos. Lasater

Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color, Chatham County Records, North Carolina State Archives.