Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 10383212

State: Delaware Year: 1832
Location: Sussex Location Type: County

Abstract: Francis Ludenum, "at the advanced age of near sixty years," laments that he "has to labour for the maintenance of an insane wife and seven children." Ludenum, a free black, states he was "held in slavery until he was near forty years old, was therefore deprived of all opportunity to accumulate any property whatsoever for advanced age." He cites that his wife "has been insane for more than four years" and has been "a continued and heavy expence, such an expence, that your petitioner with all the industry, frugallity and care that he can use, will not long be able to meet." Ludenum therefore prays that "your honours to take his case under your wise considerations, and grant him a divorce from his insane wife."

PAR Number 10384904

State: Delaware Year: 1849
Location: New Castle Location Type: County

Abstract: Benjamin Holt, a free person of color, contracted with Edward Wilson in 1827 to purchase forty acres of land and that said Wilson "executed a bond ... reciting the said agreement and obligating himself upon payment of the said sum of money to make your petitioner a sufficient deed in fee simple." Holt represent that Wilson "after the making of the said contract became and still continues to be a person of unsound mind and is thereby disabled from performing his said contract." Having "discharged the greater part of the money secured by his obligation," Holt prays that an act be passed to authorize Wilson's trustee "to execute and deliver to your petitioner a deed for the said premises."

PAR Number 11083010

State: Mississippi Year: 1830
Location: Monroe Location Type: County

Abstract: Forty-three Monroe County residents ask that Jasper A. McQuery be compensated for the upkeep and support of an abandoned, insane black girl who was brought to the county in February 1829 and left by an unknown person. The girl was "incapable of laboring for her support and is an object of the greatest pity." They also request the legislature "to make some permanent provision for like cases in the future."

PAR Number 11083101

State: Mississippi Year: 1831
Location: Monroe Location Type: County

Abstract: The petitioners ask that John Thompson be compensated for caring for a young female slave named Mary Ann. They state that Jasper McQuarey refused to care for the woman any longer and that John Thompson has agreed to assume the responsibility. Mary Ann is "a perfect ediot," they explain, and "the laws of humanity enjoin that she should not be permitted to perrish."

PAR Number 11280702

State: North Carolina Year: 1807
Location: Richmond Location Type: County

Abstract: Martha Cole laments that her husband "about five years past was smitten with lunacy" and that his insanity requires that he be kept "close confined in a small building under the same Roof with the Dwelling House on his own plantation." Almost sixty years old and somewhat infirm, Martha admits that she "is destitute of any white family except her husband” and "finds it very inconvenient to live in her present situation." She reveals that John owns 240 acres of land, along with four slaves which were "given to your memorialist by her father." The petitioner therefore prays that a law be passed "authorizing her to sell or otherwise dispose of the above mention property or such a part thereof as she may find necessary in order to enable her to employ suitable attendants for her said husband and for the support of your memorialist and the humane treatment of her said husband."

PAR Number 11281403

State: North Carolina Year: 1814

Abstract: William Vines, guardian of Margaret Hammond, requests permission to sell four slaves willed to her by her father, J. B. Hammond. Representing that the said Margaret is a "Lunatick," he has therefore "taken charge of the said Margaret and her property" by hiring out Jin, Bett, Silvy and Tom "at public sale for the most that could be obtained which from their small value and their particular situation has been found far short of supporting themselves, and consequently nothing can be obtained towards the support of the said Lunatick." He further notes that Jin is "chargeable rather than profitable ... by her having children." Vines therefore prays that "a Law be past authorising the sale of the Negroes and how the money shall be vested in order best to answer the wishes of the Father."

PAR Number 11383803

State: South Carolina Year: 1838
Location: Orangeburgh Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: Richard Johnson represents that, on 19 August 1838, his slave named Jim killed another one of his slaves, "who was in the act of committing depredations on the property of your Petitioner" and that Jim was arrested for murder and confined in jail for five days. En route to the trial, Johnson reports that Jim "exhibited in his language & conduct, strong Evidence of bodily indisposition & severe mental agitation, which increased upon him as the Constables were conveying him to the Court, & which led to his sudden death." Describing his slave as a person of "fidelity & usefulness & the general correctness of his deportment," the petitioner "has reason to believe that the said negro Jim lost his life on account of his arrest & confinement in gaol, under the authority of the state." Johnson therefore seeks compensation for his loss.

PAR Number 11482110

State: Tennessee Year: 1821
Location: Carter Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Humphreys represents that she and her husband Jesse "have amassed a considerable property, consisting of farms, mill & stock of Negro's as well as the stock usually belonging to those engaged in Agricultural persuits." She laments, however, that "about four Years ago said Jesse, was seized with a melancholy state of mind, & began to neglect managing his affairs"; his condition is such that "she has caused him to be restrained from going thro the neighbourhood." The petitioner also fears that Jesse's relatives "are Hungry expectants of enjoying a share of his estate not contented to wait their Brothers decease." She therefore "prays Your Honorable body to pass a Law, appointing Your Petitioner Guardian of afsd Jesse, untill he is restored to his sences, or as long as the same may be necessary."

PAR Number 11482302

State: Tennessee Year: 1823
Location: Carter Location Type: County

Abstract: Sixty-four-year-old Mary Humphreys, wife of sixty-five-year-old Jesse Humphreys, reports that "by an act of the last session of the Assembly she was appointed Guardian of her said husband," who was deemed incapable of managing his estate. Fearful that his husband’s relatives will attempt to gain possession of his property, the petitioner prays that she "may be shielded against the efforts of his Brothers to wrest it out of her hands, and that she may be permitted to contract bargains relative to the management of it as if she was a feme sole." Humphreys notes that “her husband is possessed of four very aged Negroes, which ... should be kept on their farm and not sold or be subjected to be sold to their great injury -- as your petitioner’s husband has had their labours in early life.”

PAR Number 11483104

State: Tennessee Year: 1831
Location: Sumner Location Type: County

Abstract: Ninety-nine petitioners represent that Peter Fisher, who died in 1827, "by his will directed his negroes to be emancipated." They point out that "said will was much contested in the Sumner County and Circuit Courts on the ground of the imbecile and deranged state of the old gentlemans mind as well as the fraud practized in obtaining it." The petitioners complain that James Dabbs, administrator de bonis non of said Fisher, was expected to petition said courts for the emancipation of said slaves but "he did not do so as it was believed that the negroes were under such bad character connected with public policy that the magistrates of the said County would not emancipate them." Other interested parties, however, successfully applied to the legislature to have the jurisdiction of the case transferred to the chancery courts. Asserting that "legislating for particular Cases is partial and oppressive," the petitioners pray to have the transference of jurisdiction repealed, arguing that "all such laws should be repealed."

PAR Number 11680702

State: Virginia Year: 1807
Location: Fauquier Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1787, Ambrose Walden married Betsey Taylor of Fauquier County, and lived with her until 1798, "during which period" he "endeavored by every means in his power to render happy the woman whom he had selected and flattered himself with accomplishing so desireable an object." He would have persisted in these endeavors, Walden claims, had he not, in 1798, "detected her in an illicit amour" with a man in the neighborhood. Now, nine years later, he seeks a divorce. Related documents reveal that Walden may have been diagnosed as being insane and that, as early as 1804, a court of law had reviewed a property settlement whereby a trust was to be created for the use of Betsey Walden. The property under review included seven slaves.

PAR Number 11682406

State: Virginia Year: 1824
Location: Louisa Location Type: County

Abstract: Martin M. Price, the jailer of Louisa County, represents that he committed to his jail a woman of color named Milly as a runaway slave on 31 January 1823. Milly said she was the property of one Mr. Finlay of Richmond, but after sustained inquiries conducted by Price, no Mr. Finlay acknowledging himself as Milly's owner could be found, nor did any one else claimed her as his or her property. Price believes that Milly, an old person afflicted with several disabilities, also suffered from "severe mental derangement." There was also some speculation that Milly had been set free in Richmond and was trying to go back to Alexandria where she had been a slave. Eventually she "disappeard" and most thought she had "strayed off [and] died." No owner "has ever inquired for her." The jailer wants to be reimbursed for expenses incurred during Milly's confinement in his jail.

PAR Number 11682509

State: Virginia Year: 1825
Location: Brunswick Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1812, William T. Pennington sent Martha Pennington, who is insane, to live with her mother Elizabeth Mason. He also sent along a "Negro lad to Asist her in living." In 1823, the mother sent her lunatic daughter back, and William commits her to a hospital. He notes that he has raised and educated Martha's four children, and asks for the legislature to pay him for his services.

PAR Number 11683209

State: Virginia Year: 1832
Location: Fauquier Location Type: County

Abstract: Six heirs and representatives of the late Turner Dixon represent that the said Dixon died in 1820, leaving his widow Maria and twelve children. The petitioners further state that "a large tract of Land containing between thirteen and fourteen hundred acres and more than fifty slaves which have since considerably increased were allotted to his widow as her dower." The heirs also note that "previous to the death of the said Turner Dixon their aforesaid Mother Maria Dixon was in a state of Lunacy; in which condition she hath ever since remained." Of the opinion that "the proffits of the dower of their Mother are greatly more than sufficient to maintain her in her present condition," the petitioners submit that "it would be greatly for the benefit of the family if the Land and slaves which have been allotted to her and the proffits which have accumulated could be divided amongst her children." They therefore "pray that a Law of the character above indicated may pass."

PAR Number 11683306

State: Virginia Year: 1833
Location: Northumberland Location Type: County

Abstract: Alice Kelley writes that in 1832, her slave Anthony "became deranged in mind" and "spread consternation and dismay throughout the neighbourhood." Lately, he has become "more furious and ungovernable than ever." Kelley is a widow who has only an eleven-year-old son to help her, while Anthony is "a strong, athletic man." She not only fears for her own safety, but her neighbors' safety as well. He might, she contends, escape and commit "greater outrages than he has already." She asks to have him placed in the Lunatic Hospital at Williamsburg, or Stanton, or in the county jail.

PAR Number 11683514

State: Virginia Year: 1835
Location: Brunswick Location Type: County

Abstract: James Haskins's uncle, John Haskins Sr., is insane. His estate consists of a 1046-acre tract of land, thirteen male slaves ages seventeen to fifty, fourteen female slaves ages sixteen to sixty, and eleven slave children ages one to eight. The slaves are unproductive, difficult to manage, and a "nuisance to the neighbourhood." John Haskins, representing a group of relatives, asks that the land and slaves--except the uncle's personal body servant Tom--be sold and the proceeds, perhaps $20,000, be invested at 5 percent, which would be more than enough to maintain his uncle comfortably.

PAR Number 20183702

State: Alabama Year: 1837
Location: Tallapoosa Location Type: County

Abstract: The children and widow of William Bryant, deceased, seek to be recognized as heirs. They state that in 1818, Bryant left his wife, Rodicy, in Jasper County, Georgia, and moved to Alabama, where he lived the remainder of his life. Bryant owned considerable property when he died, including more than twenty slaves valued at twenty thousand dollars. After Bryant's death, his son, Needham Bryant, moved to Alabama to administer the estate, hiring John H. Peters, to obtain the letters of administration. Peters, however, put the letters in his own name and proceeded to manage the estate. When Peters advertised fifteen slaves and other property for sale, the heirs protested. Peters argued that he had recently found a will which directed him to sell the property and to give one hundred dollars to a "negro woman Sally & the same amount to several other negroes." In addition, this will stipulated that Bryant's land in Georgia be divided among his children, excluding Needham Bryant, William Bryant Jr. and Bryant's widow from any inheritance. The heirs challenge the validity of the will and ask the court to recognize their claim to Bryant's estate. They also challenge Peters's right to administer the estate. In response, Peters asserts that the complainants "Needham William Nancy Elizabeth Lurany and General J. Bryant are not free white persons capable of being citizens of this state that they are persons of color, commingled with the negro race and wholly incapable of inheriting the property and estate of said William dec. who was a free white man," and that they are not "the next of kin of William." However, it is not on this ground that Peter challenges the right of the Bryant family to inheritance in the remainder of his lengthy answer to the charges.

PAR Number 20183802

State: Alabama Year: 1838
Location: Madison Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Hall seeks to divorce her husband, Nathaniel Hall, stating that he attempted to kill her and their children on several occasions. Mary states that she married Nathaniel in 1812 and is now the mother of ten living children, "one of them is of intellect so weak that he is incapable of taking care of himself." Living "in peace and harmony faithfully and honestly discharging all the duties of a wife," Mary was surprised when her husband became "dissatisfied with her and his family," going "so far as to attempt to take life by shooting." Mary states that Hall has "abandoned her declaring his intention to live with her no more, and by selling the whole of his property," which included three slaves, he meant "to bring her and her children to starvation." She further reports that, "finding the process of starvation too slow to suit his vindictive purposes, he came home the other day and stole all her means of self defence and told her that he was well armed with pistols & that he intended her time in this world should be very short." The petitioner seeks a divorce and alimony, and an order restraining her husband and his receipt of money from her property. In his answer to the charges, Nathaniel Hall contends that his wife has been unfaithful with several men over the course of many years, and that she is improvident and violent. He asserts that he will continue to provide the necessities of life for his family, but will no longer live with his wife.

PAR Number 20183812

State: Alabama Year: 1838
Location: Marshall Location Type: County

Abstract: Jesse Carr, through his guardian and next friend David A. Monaghan, asks the court to make William Willborne return six slaves and their children, purchased from him at a price less than half their true value. Monaghan claims that Willborne took advantage of Carr because of his mental incompetence. Monaghan states that his charge is "a man of extremely weak & Unsound mind" declared by a court to be an "idiot or non compos mentis." The petitioners further request "an account be taken of the hire & said defendant compelled to pay the same to said guardian for use & benefit of your Orator."

PAR Number 20184526

State: Alabama Year: 1845
Location: Sumter Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1826, Temperance B. Eaton and Lunsford L. Alsobrook of Warren County, North Carolina, signed a premarital agreement placing Temperance's eight slaves in a trust estate for her sole and separate use. In 1836, the couple moved to Alabama, taking with them seven of the trust estate slaves and a new slave traded for the one left behind in North Carolina. In 1838, Temperance asserts, the slaves were "wrongfully and illegally" taken out of her possession and sold at auction "under a certain Deed in Trust made by her said husband." One slave, Dick, was sold to Richard Inge, then to Thomas Tart. When Tart died, Dick came into the possession of Tart's estate administrator, William H. Pratt of Mobile County. Temperance Alsobrook sues Pratt as well as her husband, a "lunatic" from whom she is separated in bed and board, for "the value & amount of the hire & services" of Dick. She argues that Dick is worth fifteen hundred dollars with a yearly hire worth two hundred dollars.

PAR Number 20184833

State: Alabama Year: 1848
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: On Christmas Day 1848, Albert G. Wray of Montgomery County, Alabama, sued his wife for divorce. Albert Wary had married Susan Mary Cox in 1833, in Georgia, and in 1842 they moved to Alabama. He continued to live with his wife until 15 October 1848, when he discovered that she was having a "carnal connection" with C. G. M. Prime, a portrait painter and physician. Albert asks the court to dissolve the marriage and issue a divorce decree. In her answer, Susan explains that she now lives in Oglethorp County, Georgia, with her mother. She had married Albert when she was "not exceeding sixteen years of age." She claims that, within six months of the marriage, his conduct became "cold, indifferent, distant, harsh and cruel ... better the relation of master and servant than husband & wife." He repeatedly "used violence ... shoving her down violently, boxing her jaws and face and committing other personal injuries on her body." A year after their marriage, she asserts, her husband began "a promiscuous illicit intercourse with his own negroe wenches and continued ... so long as complainant and defendant resided together, say for the space of fourteen years." Albert had in fact a special relationship with a female slave named Mary, a seamstress, who, Susan claims, bore him four "mulatto" children. In the summer and fall of 1843, Susan suffered mental breakdowns, and since then has "enjoyed but few lucid intervals." Her mental problems are a direct result of the cruel and inhuman treatment by her husband, she asserts. Now "ruined in mind, broken in Spirits," she is accused of adultery with C. G. M. Prime, "a drunken worthless vagabond" hired by her husband to "take advantage of defendant's mental imbecility." In her answer and counter-petitions, Susan reveals that her husband was the owner of eighty-five slaves, some of whom he had received upon his marriage to her. The related decree reveals that Susan was in fact in a mental institution by the time the court issued its decree in 1850.

PAR Number 20184841

State: Alabama Year: 1848
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1827, William Patterson Sr. died intestate in Baldwin County, Alabama, leaving a large estate of "Lands, Negroes, and a large Stock of Cattle, Horses, Hogs &c." A short time later, William's widow remarried and then died shortly thereafter, and so did four of their sons. The surviving son and heir, William Patterson Jr., a minor, grew up and became, according to his aunt, the petitioner, a habitual drunkard. He "was in the continual habit of drinking ardent and intoxicating spirituous Liquors," she wrote, "and [was] almost perpetually drunk." According to the petitioner, William Jr. was "by nature an idiot, and that he was incompetent to hold and manage property in his won proper person. In 1845, William Jr. married Elizabeth Scypes. He died in 1847. The petitioner, Mary Wheeler, who is William's aunt, contends that Elizabeth Scypes married her nephew "for the Sole and avowed purpose alone of obtaining the possession and ownership of the property then in his possession." William Patterson Jr. conveyed in trust his property to Stephen Barclay for his wife. Now, following William Patterson Jr.'s death, Mary Wheeler sues the widow. She seeks, among other things, the fourteen slaves in the estate, arguing that her nephew was not only a drunkard but mentally incompetent to manage his property.

PAR Number 20184915

State: Alabama Year: 1849
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: Several related petitions reveal that in 1848, Albert Wray had filed divorce from his wife, Susan Mary Wray on grounds of adultery with one C. G. M. Prime, a portrait painter and physician. Susan Mary Wray had countercharged that her husband had treated her cruelly and had ongoing illicit intercourse with his slaves, and specifically with a seamstress named Mary who had given birth to several mulatto children. In this answer and cross bill, Albert G. Wray denies that he treated his wife Susan "with a spirit of unkindness harshness cruelty and neglect;" he denies that he had illicit sexual relations with any of his slaves; and he denies encouraging C. G. M. Prince to seduce his wife so that he (Wray) could file a petition for divorce. He defends himself against charges of illicit intercourse with the slave Mary by stating that "There is one of the children of the said Mary about two years old who is the reputed child of a bright mulattoe slave called John." Whether her other children are mulattos, he explains, is difficult to know, but he is sure about one thing: none of them are his.

PAR Number 20185009

State: Alabama Year: 1850
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: In this supplemental bill, Susan M. Wray repeats many of the arguments she has previously put forth in her answer to her husband's 1848 petition for divorce: her husband, Albert Wray, is a man of wealth worth perhaps fifty thousand dollars; he owns a large number of slaves, and has the means to provide her with added support although he refuses to do so. But now, she explains, she has been committed to a lunatic asylum in Columbia, South Carolina, suffering from paroxysms of derangement. She needs her husband's financial assistance immediately and asks the court to "decree further allowances."

PAR Number 20185012

State: Alabama Year: 1850
Location: Montgomery Location Type: County

Abstract: This petition is one of several petitions filed by Susan Wray in response to her husband's 1848 suit for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Susan complained that "no provision whatever exists for her support, while the suit shall be pending & until all the matters & things in controversy shall be finally settled." Although the court has awarded Susan alimony in the amount of $650, and four hundred dollars in lawyer's fees, it has been twenty months and she has spent the money. Since there is no provision made for her future support, Susan asks for additional payments. Several related petitions reveal that Susan had been committed to a lunatic asylum, and was still there as of 1850. The Chancellor's decree to Susan's plea: "If there could have existed any doubt on the subject previous to the unfortunate occurrence, which caused this suit the present undisputed insanity of Mrs Wray, now an inmate of a lunatic asylum, the testimony of the eminent Superintending physician of that institution; and the particular form and manifestation of her lunacy, demonstrate to my mind at least, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that for many years prior to the institution of this suit, she has not been a morally responsible being; and that probably at the time of her marriage her mind was disordered-- that this fatal infirmity was progressive in its character and gradually increased until all her facilities and perceptions, reason, will and moral sense, became the helpless instruments of insane impulse and delusion."

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