Basically, it was his own fault.

THE DEATH OF COPES. – The sudden death of Edward Copes, a free negro, was announced in our issue of yesterday, as having took place in the street on Saturday evening. An inquest was held over the body on Sunday morning, at 9 o’clock, by Henry Whitherst, acting Coroner, with the following jury: Jas. McBrinson, Foreman; E. W. Deford, C.J. Nelson, John Mildrum, H.H. Brinson, John Sears, T.J. Barrett, John Dibble, T.J. Hughes, W.H. Bucklin, H.B. Lane, and C.S Haskins, who, after a post mortem examination by Dr Jas. Hughes, rendered a verdict to the effect that deceased came to his death by a disease of the heart consequent upon the sudden excitement of an arrest. It was the opinion of Dr. Hughes that deceased might have come to his death by excitement from any cause.

As this case has been the cause of some little speculation we deem it to be our duty to give the facts in the case as far as in our power to do so. It seems that Copes was master of a small boat or smack that was lying at the wharf, and that on Saturday night he went ashore for the purpose of getting some articles, and while in the store of J.W. Danner he was discovered by the watch, who arrested him as soon as he merged therefrom, it being past the hour that colored persons, free or slave, were allowed to be in the street. They started to the watch-house with him, but when they had gone twenty or thirty yards the negro fell and died in a few minutes. There were no marks of violence upon his person, nor had he received any punishment from the watch so it seems to us that there can be no doubts upon the minds of any but he come to his death from an affliction of the heart. In fact we learn that he had been subject to disease of the heart heretofore and had suffered considerably therefrom.

Newbern Daily Progress, 14 September 1858.

In the 1850 census of Craven County: Edward Copes, 41, boatman, wife Francis, 28, and children Isaac, 11, Jackson, 9, Margaret, 7, Jacob, 4, Henry, 8, and Jane, 9.