Fourth Generation Inclusive

Historical Documents of Genealogical Interest to Researchers of North Carolina's Free People of Color

Tag: crimes against free people of color

Killer escaped.


Last night Harris Allen, who was committed for the murder of John James, a free mulatto, of Northampton county, made his escape from the gaol of this town. He is remarkable tall man, and had on a short round jacket. It is hoped the officers of justice and others, will be vigilant in their endeavours to apprehend and bring him to condign punishment.

North-Carolina Journal, Halifax, 20 March 1793.

He stabbed her child.

MURDER. A man who called himself JOHN REID, a Scotchman, came to Newbern with a number of low priced watches for sale, and while here, was frequently drunk. In a state of intoxication, on the 4th inst., he entered the house of Nancy Sawyer, a free woman of color, and stabbed her child, Celia Maria Sawyer, a girl 8 years old, with a dirk, and also wounded a young coloured woman. The child died on the 11th inst. and an inquest taken before me has found that the child died of that wound.

Reid has left the County, and probably returned to Norfolk, of which place he said he was a resident. This notice is given, to the end that if met with in this State he may be delivered to the subscriber, of to the Sheriff of Craven, that he may be brought to justice. Thomas C. Masters, Coroner Craven County. Newbern, 15th April, 1819.

Newbern Sentinel, 24 April 1819.

“Floyd, you must be a damned rascal.”

State v. James N. Floyd, 51 NC 392 (1859).

James N. Floyd was indicted for the murder of Richard Martin, a free man of color, in Gaston County, and the case was removed to Mecklenburg County.

David McCullough testified that he went to Martin’s blacksmith shop about dusk on the evening of 17 December, 1858.  A few minutes later, Floyd came to the shop and remained talking with him and Martin in an apparently friendly manner.  The three men drank a dram of liquor each, and Floyd told Martin that he wanted something to eat.  Martin pointed to a piece of meat hanging up in the shop, told the prisoner to cut some of the meat, and handed him a knife.  Floyd cut off a piece of the meat and broiled on the coals of shop hearth. Martin took two biscuits from a box and gave one to McCullough and one to Floyd.  About a half hour later, Martin asked Floyd for his knife.  Floyd claimed that he did not have it, and Martin replied that he had given it to him to cut the meat, and Floyd had not returned it.  Floyd denied again that he had the knife, and the two quarreled angrily for half an hour.  Martin said, “Floyd, you must be a damned rascal, for you have got my knife and won’t give it to me.” Nothing  more was said for about five minutes, when Martin remarked, “damn the knife, I don’t care anything for it, no how.”  Another five minutes passed, then five minutes more.  McCullough got into his buggy, and Floyd on his horse and, when they got 50-75 yards away, Martin came out of his shop and said, “in a mild, friendly tone,” “I’ll give McCullough a dram, but I won’t give Floyd any.”  McCullough reigned up his horse and stopped, and Floyd turned his horse across the road.  Martin handed McCullough a small glass bottle, from which he took a drink and handed it back to him.  Martin then went up to Floyd and extended the bottle towards him.  Floyd immediately got off his horse, and, without a word, the two began to fight.  McCullough tried to reach them, but when he was about ten steps from them, he saw Martin fall on his back.  In a few minutes, he was dead.  Floyd rested with his hands on a fence for a few minutes, then rode off.  This took place about 10 o’clock on a bright moon-lit night.

Martin’s body was found about one hour after he died.  He had six wounds, three on the top of the right shoulder “from which blood was running next morning;” another on the right side extending into the stomach; a deep fifth one on the outside of the thigh; and a sixth a little to the right of the center of his body, ranging from the right to left, passing through the lungs and nearly through his body.  A large bowie knife belonging to Floyd was found near Martin’s body, covered with blood nearly up to the hilt.

Witness Costner stated that, “about two hours by the sun,” he saw Floyd at Neagle’s store, about half a mile from Martin two’s blacksmith shop. As Costner started for home, Floyd told him not to leave because that he (Floyd) might need friends that evening.  A short time later, Floyd repeated the same comment as he pulled out a bowie knife.  (The knife proved to be the one found at the scene of the homicide.) Costner asked Floyd if he would sell the knife, he said no, he expected to have a use for it that evening. He also said he had bought it in Yorkville for ten dollars.

Floyd’s nephew, who lived with him in York district, South Carolina, testified that on the morning after the homicide, he saw a wound on Floyd’s forehead, near the eyebrow, about an inch and a half long, and two or three wounds on the top of his head. In addition, Floyd’s right thumb was either broken or disjointed.

Other witnesses swore that there was a lot of blood at the murder scene, and a stone weighing almost three pounds was found about five feet from Martin’s body.  There was blood and hair and something like skin on it.  The bowie knife was also found, and its blade had two gaps in it, which were not there when Costner and Neagle saw it.

The Gaston County sheriff testified that he asked Floyd how he got the wound over his eye, and Floyd said, “I reckon I did it with my own knife; or I did it with my own knife; they say I had a fight with Dick Martin and killed him, but I know nothing about that.”

Floyd’s counsel offered testimony to prove Martin’s temper and disposition for violence, but the Court ruled to exclude it, and they filed exceptions.

The Court explained to the jury the difference between murder, manslaughter, and excusable homicide and charged, that if Martin had assaulted Floyd, with a stone, bottle, or in any other way, or had attempted to pull him from his horse, and they immediately got into a mutual combat, and during the fight Floyd killed Martin, he could not be convicted of murder, but only manslaughter only. However, “the law would excuse no one for killing another, unless there was an absolute necessity for so doing to save his own life from destruction, or to prevent great bodily harm.”  So, if the jury found that Martin had not assaulted Floyd before Floyd stabbed him to death, then Floyd was guilty of murder, even if Martin had used “offensive language” toward Floyd in the shop and as he approached him with the bottle.  Floyd’s counsel excepted to these instructions.

The jury found the defendant guilty of murder. Floyd appealed, and the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court had erred by barring evidence of Martin’s reputation. “It is error in a Judge, in a trial for murder, to make a hypothesis omitting the leading fact which goes to the exculpation of the accused. It seems that when it is necessary for the accused to account for the fact that he began a sudden mutual affray with the use of a deadly weapon, in order to repel the inference of malice arising from that fact, he may show that his adversary was a powerful, violent and dangerous man.”

Five blows.

State v. Nehemiah Norman, 53 NC 220 (1860).

This indictment for assault and battery was tried in Washington County Superior Court.

Richard Fisher, a free man of color, had been convicted of larceny and was ordered to be sold to cover fines and costs.  A man named Peacock purchased Fisher’s services – essentially as an apprentice – for five years.  Before that term expired, Fisher was “taken up” on the charge of killing one Hussell, who was found dead in his yard.  Defendant Nehemiah Norman gave Fisher “five licks” to make him reveal the gun used to shoot Hussell.  Peacock was present when Fisher was whipped and gave his consent, saying “it ought to be done.”  The county court found Norman not guilty, and the State appealed. 

The state supreme court: “No free person, of whatsoer color, can, according to law, be thus coerced.” And even the assent of  an apprentice’s master cannot  legalize it. The state legislature placed a convict sold to pay off the fines levied for his offense in the condition of an apprentice. This relationship is regulated by general principles, including that which holds that a master cannot whip for unlawful purposes.  Under these circumstances, the five blows Norman inflicted on Fisher are technically an indictable battery.

Judgment of the lower court reversed and entered for the State.

Look out for him.

A Villain – Look out for him. – A fellow of quite an ordinary appearance, arrived here on Saturday night last in the stage and registered his name at the Edenton Hotel, “J.C. Martin, South Mills” – He was recognized, however, on Sunday, by the Captain of a Canal Boat from Norfolk, as being the individual who broke jail in Richmond not long since, where he was confined for kidnapping and selling a free negro, and whose real name is James Cox.  On Monday morning, after some delay, it was determined by the citizens to arrest him; but he had, no doubt, by this time been apprized of the fact, and he left town immediately, by jumping a few fences in the rear lot of the tavern.  As soon as it became known that he had disappeared, a posse of men proceeded in search of him, and once got sight of him, but by keen dodging (at which no doubt he is in full practice,) he succeeded in evading them.

The rascal, having left his trunk at the tavern, had the audacity to send for it, (by remitting the money to pay his tavern bill,) on Tuesday night by the stage.  It was not sent, but broken open, and found to contain a bowie knife, a dirk, a pistol well charged, some cotton cloth torn in slips and tied together, two or three small ropes, a few articles of clothing, several letters from his wife in Norfolk, and a brief statement of his villainous acts since his escape from the Richmond jail, written and signed by himself.  – Edenton Sentinel.

Tarboro Press, 5 Oct 1844.

A trial here would be a mere mockery.

State vs Furnifold Jurnigan   }  Selling a person of mixed blood.

The Solicitor maketh oath that he does not believe the State can have a fair trial in this County; this matter has been the subject of conversation in the County, and the defendant by the influence of several men of standing has made it much the matter of general discussion, and has as the Solicitor is informed, so many on the Court yard, in his favour, that it would be a mere mockery to enter upon this trial in Wayne.  Edw. Stanly Solicitor  Sworn to before me in Open Court this 6th of April 1837.  N. Washington Clk.

In 1837, Furnifold Jernigan was indicted for selling Betsy Dinkins, a free woman of color. In the three years prior Jernigan and at least four co-defendants appeared on the Wayne County docket ten times on charges of selling free negroes, but never went to trial. As a result of the state’s solicitor’s complaint to the judge, the case was ordered removed to Greene County, but never appeared on the docket there.  Records Concerning Slaves and Free Persons of Color, Records of Wayne County, North Carolina State Archives.

Her complexion is an act of the Almighty, not her crime.

Pasquotank County   } To the Worshipfull the Justices of the Inferior Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of the County of Pasquotank County now in Court sitting.  The humble Petition of Ruth Jillet a free born, coloured Woman, Humbly sheweth unto Your Worships, that she was born of a Free woman named Ann Jillet, The daughter of the Wife of one [blank space] Jillet of Powel’s Point, supposed by a Black Man; That your Petitioner’s mother moved from Currituck to a Neighborhood on Little River, and was delivered of your Petitioner at the House of one Timothy Mead, where she remained until the Death of her Mother and the said Timothy, at whose [illegible] she was sold to one Blackstock who she verily believes was not ignorant of her Condition and Rights to Liberty, and sold her to a distant Merchant called Barny Coffoo of Newbern.  At which place, she had eight, Several Masters, each getting rid of her, as soon as thgey could, on hearing of her Story, and her Resolution to regain her Liberty.  That in the lifetime of her last Master John Bishop, she made her escape, and came to her native County, to which Place the said Bishop followed her and sold her to one Zachariah Jordon, (and he, as she has been informed gave no Purchase Money for her, and that the said Bishop enjoin’d the said Zachariah to inquire into her Rights and if true, to let her enjoy them, and if otherwise to send him payment, which was like the common Honest behaviour of his Life) who she believes, noways ignorant of the Premisses, still detains her in Slavery and Duress.  Your Petitioner humbly begs to inform Your Worships, That she has been so happy to find reputable and honest Evidence alive, although at the Distance of forty Years, of her Birth and of her Civil and Social Rights.

Whereupon your Poor and Distressed Petitioner humbly prays (Altho’ her Complection, which is an Act of the Almighty Not her Crime) Your Worships will, of your Mercy, take her Case under your Guidance and Consideration, and to render her such Redress as to Your Worships in your great Wisdom and Justice you shall seem Meet.    And Your Poor Petitioner as in Duty bound and ever Pray &c, Ruth Jillet by Will Cumming her Att’y

Ruth Jillet vs Zachariah Jordon}   Petition

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

Death for kidnappers.

Crimes punishable with death in North Carolina for a single offence.

16. Taking a free negro or person of mixed blood out of the State with the intention to sell or dispose of him, &c.

Highland Messenger, Asheville, 13 March 1846.