Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 20184220

State: Alabama Year: 1842
Location: Shelby Location Type: County

Abstract: John Chambers seeks a divorce from his wife Lucretia Chambers. John states that he married Lucretia in January 1840 and "that in the midst of the well attested affection & kind treatment of your orator, the said Lucretia--for reasons, (if she had any) wholy unknown to your orator, became dissattisfied and extremely perverse, and finally on the 9th October A.D. 1840, or thereabouts left the bed and board of your orator." The petitioner states adamantly that "since about the 9th October A.D. 1840, he has had no intercourse with the said Lucretia," yet "said Lucretia gave birth to a child, about the 16th of October A.D. 1842." The complainant concludes that his wife "lost all self respect and rushed madly into the embraces of vice," being "guilty of the most libidinous and disgusting conduct." Two weeks earlier, Lucretia Chambers had filed for divorce, accusing her husband of cruelty and adultery.

PAR Number 20184402

State: Alabama Year: 1844
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Maria Josephine Perier Saint Guirons seeks a divorce from her husband Pierre Saint Guirons on the grounds of cruelty and adultery with a "negro" woman. At the time of the marriage in 1831, Maria owned real and personal property worth over $20,000 while Pierre owned no property. Within four years, Pierre "had disposed of all her property," keeping the proceeds for himself. In addition, Maria charges that Pierre "was almost constantly intoxicated, and at times greatly illtreated and abused her." The petitioner further states that for the past eight years, Pierre has lived with a "negro" woman in an adulterous state which has resulted in the birth of several children. It is with "the deepest regret and mortification" that Maria petitions for divorce, citing that she "has lost a friend and protector with whom your Oratrix can never again feel free to cohabit."

PAR Number 20184518

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

Abstract: Catharine Jordan charges that her husband, James D. Jordan, has been living in adultery with another women, Dilsey Quick, and "has become the father of several children by her." Furthermore, in 1842, after some twenty-seven years of marriage, he abandoned her "bed and board" and moved to Georgia. He took with him all his property including five Negroes: Dick, about fourteen, Tom, about twenty-eight, Sarah, thirty-five, Cloe, forty, and "a girl Some Seven years of age, name not recollected, all of rather dark complecion, all of the aggregate value of twenty seven Hundred Dollars." He also took a wagon, four horses, twenty-five head of cattle, thirty head of hogs, worth a total of five hundred dollars, and "notes and accounts" worth five hundred dollars. She asks for a divorce and alimony, and "further relief in the premises, as shall be equitable." The court grants her a divorce and returns her "the right and privileges" of a feme sole.

PAR Number 20184522

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

Abstract: In 1845, "without any sufficient cause or provocation," Elizabeth Frances Stacy explains, her husband William Stacy whipped her with a cowhide "in a cruel barbarous and inhuman manner." Six months later, he abandoned her to live with a twenty-five-year-old black woman named Charlotte, one of the slaves Elizabeth claims to have brought to their marriage. Elizabeth asserts that she owned Charlotte and her two children at the time of her marriage to William Stacy, as well as another female slave named Diana, all of which slaves and their increase are now being held by William. She charges that all the slaves have been "seduced" away by her husband, who purchased a house and lot in Montgomery with her money. Elizabeth asks that the property which her husband acquired "by virtue of his marriage" be returned. She also seeks custody and support for her children, alimony, and a divorce. In his related answer, William Stacy contends that Charlotte and her children did not come to him by marriage, but that he purchased them. Only Diana came to him by marriage from Elizabeth's father, together with another slave named Nancy and her two children. Nancy has since been sold with one of her children; the other has died.

PAR Number 20184612

State: Alabama Year: 1846
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1844, at age fifteen, Catherine Awtry married Harvey Snow without her father's permission and "without her own consent being fully and freely and willingly given." A few months later, Catherine charges, Harvey went to the kitchen and remained there "until a late hour in the night in company with his negro woman." Later, she says, he engaged in "criminal intercourse and Sexual connection with his own Negro woman Slave in his own house and had a child by her the off spring of his illicit connection." Catherine further charges that Harvey permitted the female slave "to abuse her in a most shameful and improper manner." In 1845, Harvey abandoned Catherine and migrated to Mississippi. When he returned, he went back to living with his slave and Catherine was forced heir home. Catharine asks for expenses to prosecute her suit, divorce and alimony.

PAR Number 20184722

State: Alabama Year: 1847
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Margaret Collins, a free woman of color in her eighties, claims that her son, Joseph Collins, had an illegitimate child with his slave, Milly. Joseph gave the boy, named Edward, to Margaret, who in turn entrusted him to her daughter Louisa, wife of Benjamin Laurendine, and referred to as Madam Benjamin. Margaret and other family members treated Edward as a relative, but Louisa hired him out as a slave. After twenty years, Margaret Collins, complaining that she never intended the boy to be a slave, asks that Edward be returned to her and that an accounting of the money made from his hiring out be provided. Louisa Collins Laurendine, who has a sister named Isabel, is referred to as Isabella in parts of the documents.

PAR Number 20184802

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

Abstract: In 1787, Elizabeth Holley married Howell Holley in Edgefield District, South Carolina. In 1827 or 1828, after forty years of marriage, Elizabeth charges that Howell began an illicit relationship with Nancy Hodge. She writes that it was then that he began to beat her "with various Instruments sometimes with his fists sometimes with a hickory at other times with a cowhide and very often threatened her life." She claims that Howell left their domicile, taking Nancy with him to Georgia, and then to Alabama, and abandoning her and their nine children. Later, the couple reconciled, but in 1830 Howell again became violent and Elizabeth fled for her life. Elizabeth claims that Howell now lives with Nancy and their illegitimate offspring, six or seven in number. According to Elizabeth, Howell is old and senile; and he possesses a large estate, including a "valuable set of mills," horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, "a large quantity of money," and fifteen slaves, five men, four women, and six children. Elizabeth, too, is very old, and unable to support herself. She asks for a divorce and alimony. In his related answer, Howell denies all charges of violence against his wife and denies that Nancy Hodge lives in his house. He countercharges that Elizabeth was a difficult, dissatisfied, and jealous woman, who made his life unbearable.

PAR Number 20184804

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

Abstract: In 1818, Henry Norrell married Delila Calhoun in Abbeville District, South Carolina. A short time after their marriage his wife became obsessed with the idea that he was "having illicit intercourse" with one of his slaves, and eventually, to appease her, he sold the slave "at a very reduced price, & at great sacrifice." Later, he sold another woman for the same reason. In 1842, the couple moved to Alabama, where they farmed and raised a family of ten children. Now, he complains, they "do not lie on the same bed nor have any connection as man & wife" because of her jealousy and charges of adultery and "illicit connection[s] with other women." He has just discovered, however, that it is his wife who is guilty "of crimes of the foulest cast & of the blackest hue." Claiming that she is guilty of adultery with a man named Easterwood, and has given birth to another man's child, he asks for a divorce.

PAR Number 20184824

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

Abstract: Espey M. McMath seeks a divorce from Joseph McMath on the grounds of adultery, "cruel usage," and abandonment. Because of "his idleness and lack of any regular calling," Joseph barely makes enough to support himself and their son. As alimony, she asks for the marriage portion of "the trover and Conversion of certain negroes" won by her husband in a suit.

PAR Number 20184825

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

Abstract: Epsey M. McMath, by her next friend, John D. Johnson, amends her original divorce petition to insert the name of Sarah Byrd as her husband's lover. She charges that Joseph McMath and Byrd had illegitimate intercourse on a number of occasions during 1843 and early 1844. She charges that he also had criminal intercourse with other women, one of whom bore him an illegitimate child. Furthermore, Epsey asserts that Joseph "is violently affected with sundry venereal diseases the names of which are omitted only on the ground of decency but which may be sufficiently described by representing them in particular as the two most common diseases which result from indiscriminate lewdness."

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 20185004

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

Abstract: Rachael T. and Sherod Sanders were married in Franklin County, North Carolina, in late 1814 or early 1815. Now, thirty-five years later, she found her husband "guilty of the grossest and most disgraceful adultery" with a twenty-five-year-old woman, Carolina Manuel, who had two children by Sherod and one by a previous marriage. Rachael charges that not only did Sherod treat her with "personal violence," but on one occasion he threw her out of a door and on another threatened to shoot their thirty-three-year-old son William if he attempted to interfere. "I'll be damned, if I don't stand up to her," he told a neighbor, "if it cost me every negro, horse, hog or piece of property I have in the world." At the time of their marriage, Rachael explains, her father gave her in a separate trust "a small negro girl named Barbary" who subsequently had thirteen children. In addition, when her father died about 1829, he bequeathed her two young slaves, David and Henry, now adults in their early thirties. At the time of their marriage, Sherod possessed only fifty acres of land. Over the years, the couple has more slaves, as well as horses, mules, cows, sheep, hogs, and a two thousand-acre plantation. Rachael asks for a divorce and a "decree in reference to their property."

PAR Number 20185119

State: Alabama Year: 1851
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1816, in England, Sophia Liddiard married John Cole, a butcher. Some years later, Sophia discovered that Cole was having an affair with an "evil" woman named Hannah Catterell, and when she confronted him with the fact he left her, or so Sophia testified, and took up with the other woman. In 1832, Cole and Hannah Catterell immigrated to the United States, settling in Mobile. During the next decade Cole became a prosperous butcher. When he died in 1846, John Cole owned a house and lot between Dauphin and Government streets, a fifteen-acre tract with a residence, barn, and slaughter house, and six slaves, consisting of three adults and three children. He was worth fifteen thousand dollars. Learning that Cole left his estate to Hannah, Sophia moved to the United States, filed a suit, and claimed that she was entitled to one-half of his estate as his legal wife. The judge of the chancery court agreed, but the state Supreme Court reversed the decision and remanded the case back to the district court. The related court opinion reveals that Sophia had in fact abandoned John, taking all his belongings with her, eloped with another man with whom she lived several years and by she had two illegitimate children before his death in 1834 or 1835. She later married one Stephen Williams, from whom she eventually separated before.

PAR Number 20185212

State: Alabama Year: 1852
Location: Dallas Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1841, Jane M. Potter, daughter of a prosperous Wilcox County plantation owner, married William Bizzell, an overseer with little means. Jane's father gave the couple a "valuable negro Boy aged about Seven years," a horse, saddle, bedding and other items "Necessary for young persons beginning in life with but little property." During the next decade, Bizzell, described as a man of "great energy & unwearied industry," acquired a number land and a number of slaves. Among the slaves was "a negro woman of light complexion named Mary with whom he was keeping up a criminal connection." He became so infatuated with her and so "open in his intercourse" that in 1844 he vowed he would "never part with this woman." Bizzell and Mary had two mulatto children. Bizzell also had four children by his wife, four of whom had died by the time she filed her petition. In 1845, Jane left and filed for divorce. Fearful of losing some of his property, Bizzell sought to appease his wife by sending the slave Mary to Ohio and promising to reform. But after she dropped her suit and returned home in 1848, he grew increasingly violent and carried on an illicit relationship with another of his slaves named Polly. In order to avoid suspicion, Jane Claims, her husband selected Polly specifically because she had a husband. Jane again left him, and again filed for divorce and alimony. Bizzell, who had sold most of his property, except for eight slaves, fled from the state. He died before a decree was rendered in the case.

PAR Number 20185424

State: Alabama Year: 1854
Location: St. Clair Location Type: County

Abstract: Some years prior to her marriage in 1847, Mary C. Edwards of St. Clair County, received three slaves--Dice and her two children--as a gift from her mother. After her marriage, she moved with her slaves and husband, Wiley C. Edwards, a widower, to Jasper County, Mississippi. Upon arriving, however, she discovered that one Willis Herrin lived in "open prostitution" with a mulatto woman named Harriet, one of her husband's slaves and they did so in the same house where the newlyweds lived. There was also evidence that Wiley had fathered one or more of Harriet's children, and that he was using Willis Herrin as a cover for his illicit relationship with Harriet. In addition, Mary asserts, her husband had a violent temper; on one occasion "he choked her very much, about the neck with his hands in so much that Oratrix was unable to move, and the prints of his fingers were on her neck for several days." It soon became apparent that she could not remain in Mississippi. Only four months after their marriage, she returned to Alabama. Seven years later, to protect her slave property, including a slave she had subsequently purchased from her mother's estate, Mary Edwards files for divorce and alimony.

PAR Number 20185926

State: Alabama Year: 1859
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: Isabella A. Kelly, married since 1839, claims that in the mid-1840s she discovered that her husband, physician Edwin H. Kelly, was having "constant and undisguised" sex with a slave he owned named Matilda. She contends that Matilda gave birth to two of his children. Isabella left Edwin on several occasions, but always came back when the doctor promised to reform his character. Following their first separation, she began acquiring "separate property," with her husband acting as her agent and trustee. She bought and sold slaves, hired them out, and purchased real estate. With the profits of her various transactions, she purchased a rental house, putting up cash and two as down payment. All the while, she claims, her husband treated her unkindly, forced her to live in uncomfortable circumstances in the hospital where he practiced medicine, and took the profits from her property. In 1859, she finally separated and files a bill of complaint, charging that her husband has taken control of her property. Through a "next friend," she asks the court to remove him from "the trusteeship, management & control of her separate property," and also prays for "proper alimony." In his lengthy answer to the charges, Edwin Kelly gives a very different picture of the marriage, describing his wife as a woman constantly dissatisfied and jealous of every female in their entourage. He accuses her of cruelty toward a slave, stealing his money and trying to defraud him. He denies the charges of adultery and countercharges that his wife has denied him marital right for many years.

PAR Number 20186602

State: Alabama Year: 1866
Location: Pike Location Type: County

Abstract: Married to Melissa Whatley in August 1865, John J. Smith charges that his bride was already pregnant, though not "sufficiently advanced" to "make it observable." Later, he says, she gave birth to a mulatto child, whose father, he asserts, "is one Spence alias Spencer, a full-blooded negro, formerly a Slave belonging to Presly Davis." Smith asks for a divorce.

PAR Number 20382703

State: Delaware Year: 1827
Location: Sussex Location Type: County

Abstract: William Pinkerton Burton owned one hundred and fifty acres of land on Burton's Island in Dagsborough Hundred, Sussex County, being "of very considerable Value and Productiveness." Burton died in 1810, survived by seventeen-year-old Comfort and fifteen-year-old Betsy, "two young, ignorant and heedless Girls, the sole Inhabitants of a small Tenement, having but one Room under its Roof, and in an obscure and secluded Situation." A short time later, Joshua Ingram "affected to be their Friend and Protector." He sent his male slaves to work the land and the slaves lived with the two girls "by Day and by Night." It was "ruinous" both to their "Fortune and Character." Betsy died in 1811 and from then until the time of his death, although not legally her guardian, Comfort charges, Burton was "in Receipt of a very considerable Sum of Money, from the Rents and Profits of the said real Estate." He never rendered any account to Comfort, who described herself as "a poor, ignorant, uneducated and helpless Cripple." She seeks restitution from the executor of Ingram's estate. Depositions allege that Comfort cohabited with one of Ingram's slaves and bore three children.

PAR Number 20484904

State: District of Columbia Year: 1849
Location: Washington Location Type: County

Abstract: Tyler Sims states that his son, Antony, a free person of color, was bound as a chimney sweep apprentice to Newman B. Wilkinson. The petitioner asserts that the indenture is illegal on the grounds that it was never recorded under the law. Sims further argues that had the indenture been recorded, it would have been rendered null and void because chimney sweeps are not "within the meaning of the statute_ it being evident that each year which is added to the apprentice life renders him less competent to preform the duties of a chimney sweep, he finds himself without any trade or means of making an honorable living." Sims states that Wilkinson sold Antony to one Underwood, "who treated the said apprentice with the greatest and most unjustifiable severity." Underwood returned Antony to Wilkinson, who then moved him to Maryland, where he now remains. Sims seeks a writ of habeas corpus for his son Antony.

PAR Number 20484905

State: District of Columbia Year: 1849
Location: Washington Location Type: County

Abstract: Gassaway and Lucinda Johnson state that Lucinda's sister, Elinor Taylor, a free born woman of color, died leaving one legitimate child, John, the son of her husband Thomas Taylor, a slave now sold to unknown parts, and two illegitimate daughters. The petitioners assert that the dying wish of Elinor Taylor was that they raise her son John. The Johnsons argue that they have legal right to custody and guardianship. However, Jacob Dodson and his wife, Jane, one of the illegitimate daughters of Elinor Taylor, have forcibly taken John from the custody of the Johnsons. Gassaway and Lucinda Johnson seek a writ of habeas corpus.

PAR Number 20485001

State: District of Columbia Year: 1850
Location: Washington Location Type: County

Abstract: Elizabeth Contee, a free woman of color, states that she is the nearest legal relative of her brother, Basil Barnes, who is seven years of age. Contee states that Barnes is the illegitimate child of a free woman of color, Rachel Barnes, now deceased, and John Olliday, a slave, the property of Mrs. Lyell or Lyells of Georgetown. The petitioner complains that William Mulloy has forcibly taken the child Basil from her custody and carried him to a place unknown to her. She states that "these facts your petitioner is ready to prove by competent white testimony." Contee seeks a writ of habeas corpus.

PAR Number 20486006

State: District of Columbia Year: 1860
Location: Washington Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Curry, a woman of color, states that her daughter, Catharine, was indentured as an apprentice at the age of six to William Ford, a man of color, "to learn cooking, plain sewing house work and habits of industry," as well as reading and writing. Curry asserts that the purpose of indenturing her daughter to Ford was that she would have the "benefit and advantage of the care and nurture of Susan Ford the wife of the said William Ford." The petitioner informs the court that Susan Ford has since died and that William Ford "is a man of violent & immoral disposition & habits." Curry argues that Ford never executed the indenture papers, and therefore the indenture is null and void. She seeks a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of her daughter, Catharine.

PAR Number 20682016

State: Georgia Year: 1820
Location: Laurens Location Type: County

Abstract: William and Sarah Roberts, and two other minor heirs of William Graddy, petition the court for a settlement of Graddy's large real and personal estate, which includes slaves. As administrator of the estate, Andrew Hampton refuses to settle the estate, keeping the profits and proceeds of the slave hiring for himself. When asked to divide the estate, Hampton sometimes states that the debts are high and all the estate property is needed to settle the debts; on other occasions, he claims that two of the daughters are illegitimate and therefore not entitled to a portion. The petitioners ask for an inventory of the estate.

PAR Number 20683414

State: Georgia Year: 1834
Location: Jones Location Type: County

Abstract: Samuel T. Cook and George W. Cook are minor heirs of Samuel Cook, deceased. They state that their father bequeathed each of them a certain number of slaves. He devised eight slaves, worth $2400, to Samuel, and he willed four other slaves, worth $2700, to George, noting that George would receive the two slaves comprising the widow's life estate upon her death. The petitioners charge that their mother, Sarah E. Cook, has taken possession of their said slaves and that she is mismanaging their productivity. The minor Cooks therefore ask that Sarah E. Cook be relieved of her estate-related responsibilities or give security for the property.

PAR Number 20683507

State: Georgia Year: 1835
Location: Bibb Location Type: County

Abstract: Robert A. Beall and Levi Eckley are trustees for Eliza and Mary Ann Denton, the illegitimate daughters of Sarah Denton, deceased. Sarah Denton, "while in life," conveyed "a considerable Estate in Land negroes and other personal property" to the petitioners, in trust for her daughters. Beall and Eckley "represent that it is impossible that the Land & negroes can be managed so as to make them profitable to the children for whose benefit they are held." The petitioners further cite that their estate is valuable and that “at the present prices of property will command a large price, and that your petitioners are greatly apprehensive that such property will verry shortly depreciate in value." In addition, the petitioners find it desirable "to remove and settle" the girls "in some other Section of the Country where the reproach of their birth may not reach them." They therefore "pray your Honor to pass an order authorizing and directing a sale of said Estate."

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