Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 10181802

State: Alabama Year: 1818
Location: Madison Location Type: County

Abstract: Susanah Cannon and David Cannon, administrators for the estate of the late Henry Cannon, seek to sell a "useless and unimproved Lott" in Huntsville, Alabama, and use the money to "redeem" a fifteen-year-old slave whom Henry had mortgaged to buy the land.

PAR Number 10383902

State: Delaware Year: 1839
Location: Kent Location Type: County

Abstract: John Green, "free negro," reveals that “he is confined in the public Gaol of Kent County, on execution process." Green laments that "he is entirely unable to pay his debts and has a family entirely dependent upon his exertions for support, which may become paupers on the County if his imprisonment be much longer procrastinated." He therefore prays that an act be passed "for his relief."

PAR Number 11080901

State: Mississippi Year: 1809
Location: Adams Location Type: County

Abstract: Michael Bruner, jailer of Adams County, complains about the cost of maintaining prisoners. The state law concerning runaway slaves, for example, required that absentee slaves be reported as lost by their masters or overseers. When absconders were taken up but not so reported, the master was not responsible for paying jail fees. Consequently, some slave owners knowingly left their slaves in jail for months at the county's expense. He asks for relief.

PAR Number 11280005

State: North Carolina Year: 1800
Location: Cumberland Location Type: County

Abstract: Gurdon Deming represents that "he is the owner of a Certain woman named Lucy and her child Laura." Deming describes the history of Lucy as "a romantic one" in that she "is the daughter of a free white woman" and that "to conceal this circumstance, so as to protect the reputation of the real mother, Lucy at her birth was placed in charge of a woman a slave of one John Selph." He further avers that said Selph intended to manumit Lucy but his death "being sudden and his estate proving insolvent, his intentions were frustrated." As "Lucy in colour is perfectly White, and cannot be distinguished from the purest of the race," Deming prays that a law be passed "authorizing the Emancipation of the said Lucy, and her child Laura." The petitioner also adds that Lucy's "associations have been distinct from the coloured population and her whole demeanor that of the whites to which class she evidently belongs."

PAR Number 11282004

State: North Carolina Year: 1820
Location: Granville Location Type: County

Abstract: Nathaniel Robards, the sheriff of Granville County, states "that he was allowed by the County Court of Granville at last November Term for one hundred and seventeen Insolvents comprising one hundred and eleven free polls and six slaves." He further asserts that "this allowance was not deducted from the List of Taxables returned by the Clerk of Court." Having "fully accounted with the public Treasurer for the amount of the List of Taxable property furnished by the Clerk of said Court to the Comptroller," the petitioner prays that the "public Treasurer" be directed "to refund to him the amount of his allowance for the said Insolvents."

PAR Number 11283302

State: North Carolina Year: 1833
Location: Cumberland Location Type: County

Abstract: Joseph Hostler, a barber in Fayetteville belonging to the estate of David Smith, reports that Smith allowed him "to purchase his own freedom" and that he has "paid to the said Smith & his Executrix ... the full sum of Five hundred Dollars, the sum required of him"; he also states that he has paid $96 "per year for about Four years and a half." The petitioner therefore "prays that he may be emancipated and admitted to the privileges of free men of Colour in this state."

PAR Number 11283401

State: North Carolina Year: 1834
Location: Burke Location Type: County

Abstract: Ellena Cobb seeks a divorce from her husband John Cobb. She confides that the said John represented "himself as highly respectable and of good standing in the Town where he resided and of considerable celebrity as a physician having a large and extensive practice which was very profitable." Swayed by his appearance, Ellena confesses that she married him and moved to South Carolina where she discovered, two days into the marriage, that her husband was "perfectly insolvent that he had no practice as a physician and was by his intemperate habits incapable" of affording "any comfort or protection to your petitioner but on the contrary [was] a constant source of ... heart rending mortification and regret." The petitioner reveals that she has left her husband but understands "from respectable and undoubted sources that he is still pursuing the same intemperate and dissipated course which he did when she was living with him and associates with the most degraded low and immoral company such as free negroes mulattoes and the very dregs of society." Avowing that she "was most fraudulently shamefully ... imposed upon by the base false and dishonest representations of the said John Cobb," the petitioner prays that she may be granted a divorce “by an act of the General Assembly.”

PAR Number 11284603

State: North Carolina Year: 1846
Location: Craven Location Type: County

Abstract: Five residents of Craven County ask the legislature to revamp the civil and criminal court system. They assert that there is "a large number of free negroes in our County and a floating population of irresponsible white people who are introduced into our county by the exigencies of our commerce and the attraction of a large seaport town, and who necessarily become the fruitful sources of crimes and misdemeanors." Averring that "these offenders monopolize our Superior Courts and fill our jails," the petitioners surmise that the county needs another superior court, an extension of the sessions in the current court, or the establishment of a new criminal court.

PAR Number 11285102

State: North Carolina Year: 1851
Location: Beaufort Location Type: County

Abstract: Thirty-eight citizens of Beaufort County "do respectfully request of the Legeslature Now assembled to pass a law, that all free negroes creating a debt, and haveing nothing to execute, that we may levy an execution on his body and put him up publicly and hire him out untill the debt be paid."

PAR Number 11285105

State: North Carolina Year: 1851
Location: Lincoln Location Type: County

Abstract: James Graham urges the General Assembly to enact legislation "to induce, if not compell, the free Negroes in North Carolina to emigrate to the Abolition and Free Soil States. It appears to me that Negrophobia, which is now raging and rousing up a large number of people in the non-Slaveholding states cannot be cured more effectually than by giving them some strong black medicine out of their own black Bottle." Graham proposes making landlords who rent land to free persons of color liable for all of their tenants' "taxes, contracts, damages, Penalties, fines and costs, and other legal liabilities which colored persons may contract or incur while living thereon: that is, I would make the actual possession of the free Negro, a lien, on the land on which he lived; and let that lien continue until his public and private liabilities were paid." Graham urges such action because "there is a numerous class of the worst sort of Abolitionist dwelling in our midst in the Southern States who clandestinely trade with Slaves and receive stolen goods in payment for ardent spirits and other articles, thereby corrupting and destroying the value of Servants." He proposes that white men convicted of trafficking with slaves be whipped as well as fined.

PAR Number 11285608

State: North Carolina Year: 1856
Location: Robeson Location Type: County

Abstract: Eleven Robeson County citizens seek laws to control free people of color. The petitioners ask that free people of color be prohibited from owning more than one dog per family; prohibited from possessing firearms unless a freeholder and then only on their own property; prohibited from filing suit in either county or superior courts; and prohibited from declaring insolvency. They further declare that if free people of color are unable to pay debts or do not pay their lawful poll tax, they should "in all cases be sold by the [sheriff] before the door of the Court House for the same."

PAR Number 11379408

State: South Carolina Year: 1794
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: David Kain acknowledges that, in "the heat of Passion," he had "the misfortune to wound a negro man of the Estate of John Deas Esquire in such a manner as to prove mortal." He further reports that he was sentenced "to pay a Fine of Fifty Pounds Sterling to the State & to be confined in the Common Gaol untill it should be discharged." Revealing that he "sincerely laments & is truly penitent for" said incident, Kain claims that he possesses "no Property wherewith to pay the said Fine." Without the intervention of the legislature, he explains, he faces the grim prospect "of ending his days in confinement." He therefore "humbly craves the humane interposition of your honorable House."

PAR Number 11379702

State: South Carolina Year: 1797
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: Susanna St. John of St. James Parish seeks compensation for the slave Titus. She recounts that her husband, Dr. Stephen St. John, purchased Titus in 1785 and “gave his Bond for ₤67.” Susanna further states that "the said Negro Titus was found Guilty of being accessory (or principal) to the Death of your Petitioners Husband, and was Executed accordingly." Revealing that Titus was valued at £70 Sterling, the petitioner "(as the Estate of the Deceased is insolvent) prays a remission of the Debt."

PAR Number 11382508

State: South Carolina Year: 1825
Location: Charleston Location Type: District/Parish

Abstract: Charleston sheriff Nathaniel Cleary proposes reforms in his office and in the judicial system. He asserts that "our Criminal Code stands before you a patched, rusty and uncouth edifice, in most of the feudal tyranny, superstitious cruelty, and sombrous ignorance of its remote origin." For example, he states, fifty-one crimes can result in capital punishment, and branding is still a punishment listed on the books, thus showing that the laws should undergo "a radical, thorough and instantaneous reformation." In addition, Cleary seeks larger appropriations to prevent the "ingress and return of negroes and persons of color into this state." Averring that this job requires the "utmost vigilance and activity among his deputies," Cleary is of the opinion that, unless he commits more resources to it, the problem will persist. The sheriff also seeks to improve the fee structure, speed of the legal process, compensation for sheriffs who testify before a grand or petit juries, and jail allowances. The 37 1/2 cents a day allowance for each prisoner, for example, is barely enough to provide food, much less blankets or clothing. Moreover, allowances for imprisoned debtors should be granted from the time of their arrest. Recently, the time in jail for insolvent debtors was extended, he states, but "there is not regulation of any avail for the support, from any quarter whatever, of an insolvent while in prison ... before it is proven that he is at all in debt."

PAR Number 11485115

State: Tennessee Year: 1851
Location: Hawkins Location Type: County

Abstract: Four Hawkins County residents "became the security for James Bradley," a deputy sheriff who absconded to Texas. They report that the said Bradley failed to return a list of insolvents and that they "were forced into a Judgement" and made to pay $242.75 to the state. They further represent "that what portion of taxes that were due and owing upon said lists were either insolvent or were otherwise unavailable, from the removal of negroes change of land owners &c." The petitioners therefore "pray your honorable body ... to refund to them that portion of said Jugement paid by them into the Treasury of the State."

PAR Number 11585107

State: Texas Year: 1851
Location: Fannin Location Type: County

Abstract: John R. Garnett, administrator of the estate of the late Jabez Fitzgerald, asks for "clemency" in regard to paying a security bond of one thousand dollars. Garnett states that the said Fitzgerald and another man served as securities for Sheriff Francis Williams, vouching for his paying to the state the taxes he had collected. He further states that the Fannin County Court served a judgment on said securities in 1845 and that Williams absconded with a valuable slave three hundred miles into the Cherokee Nation where Fitzgerald overtook them. Garnett notes that the slave was "by the devices of said Williams retaken from" Fitzgerald on his return trip. Now, after a trial and appeal, the estate administrator asks the state for "clemency" in the judgment against the intestate's estate.

PAR Number 11683311

State: Virginia Year: 1833
Location: Princess Ann Location Type: County

Abstract: In December 1832, constable Thomas Ward arrested the slave Harry, charging his owner with permitting him "to go a large and hire himself out." Committed to jail, Harry remained incarcerated because his owner, a free mulatto woman, could not pay the fine, nor could he be sold, being "old & infirm." In May 1833, Harry was released. Edward Fentress, jail keeper, asks to be reimbursed for his expenses of $43.75.

PAR Number 11683507

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

Abstract: Some twelve to fifteen years prior to the filing of his petition, Fontaine Wells of Albemarle County purchased a female slave named Yarico from his father's debt-ridden estate. He explains to the legislature that, after his mother's death, Yarico "had supplied as far as was practicable her loss to her children by a constant watchful and affectionate care." From her "long and faithful services to the family," Yarico had become, "as was natural, an object of interest & affection with those who had witnessed & profited from her." For some time Wells explains, he has permitted Yarico to "receive, principally, if not entirely, the earnings of her own labor." She is "an honest and harmless and unoffending creature," Wells and others argue. He is desirous of setting her free and asks that she be allowed to remain in Virginia. Fifty-four citizens of the county join him in support of his request on behalf of Yarico.

PAR Number 11683915

State: Virginia Year: 1839
Location: Albemarle Location Type: County

Abstract: The widow and three adult children of the late Elijah Hamm represent that they "have been forced to the conclusion that their own interests as well as the interests of the infant legatees would be greatly promoted by selling the real estate instead of the slaves for the payment of debts." They assert that "it is doubtful whether the slaves, if sold, would be sufficient to satisfy and discharge" the estate's indebtedness. The heirs further state that said slaves "are family negroes and could not be conveniently spared, for without their labour, it will be utterly impracticable to support and maintain the testator's younger children, much less to educate them as directed by his will." The petitioners therefore "ask for the enactment of some appropriate law authorising the sale of the real estate."

PAR Number 11684301

State: Virginia Year: 1843
Location: King and Queen Location Type: County

Abstract: Edward S. Acree, the guardian of Pyke M., Enoch M., and Mary E. Clayton, minor children of Peter Clayton, who died about 1833, asks that the land or slaves the children inherited from their grandmother, Elizabeth Fox, be sold. The estate of Peter Clayton is insolvent and the only property owned by the children is what was left to them by their grandmother, which is "totally inadequate to their support." The petitioner states that the slaves in the estate consist of Caroline and her two children, who hired out in 1843 for "food and clothing only" and who in a few years will become "chargeable." The land consists of about fifty acres and can rent for only $18 a year. The Overseers of the Poor are unwilling to levy anything to support the children until after the property had been sold, the petitioner states.

PAR Number 11684309

State: Virginia Year: 1843
Location: Richmond Location Type: City

Abstract: Edmund Anderson, executor of Lucy Slaughter, represents that the said Lucy, a free woman of color, executed her last will and testament in 1836 and that said will directed "that a parcel of real estate Consisting of a small house & lot in said City be sold, and the proceeds equally divided, among three persons of Color, viz Clara, Dinah, & James, who were her grandchildren." He further states that, upon qualifying as executor, he "attempted to make sale of the said house & lot, at public auction -- the sale was however forbidden by one Thomas W. West, who claimed to be owner of the said Real estate, by virtue of a deed executed to him by said Lucy Slaughter." Noting that said property "was finally knocked out to one Stubbs, & taken off his hands by one David W. Michie," the petitioner states that West "instituted an action at law, of forcible entry and detainer, to get possession of said house and lot"; Anderson retaliated by suing West and "the Chancery Court decreed that the said deed was fraudulent & void." Anderson reports that Virginia's Attorney General then "filed a Cross Bill, in which he alleged that the said property was ... vested in the Commonwealth for the benefit of the Literary fund, because the said grand-children to whom it was left by the said will, were all slaves, & therefore incompetent to take and hold any Kind of property." In response, the petitioner avers that "James, the third legatee, was, sometime in the year 1842, about 18 or 20 years old -- and is one of the slaves Commonly Called the Pleasants negroes, who were manumitted by the will of John Pleasants decd ... all of whom are to be free at the age of thirty years respectively." Anderson argues that "James, who is proven to be entitled to emancipation at the age of thirty, may be held by the Court to be incompetent to take now -- because of the fact that he is bound to serve for a term of years, before his right to his freedom can be properly asserted and acknowledged and thus the intention of the testatrix, which is held always to be the polar star of a Court of Equity to guide it in its decisions, would be defeated, and the property taken from her own Kith and blood." The petitioner "therefore respectfully prays, that the mere fact that the boy James has not attained the period prescribed for his liberation, may not be allowed to deprive him of his Just rights -- but that an act may be passed releasing the rights of the Commonwealth, if any she have, in the whole fund, and authorizing the Court of Chancery to invest the same, in some safe security, for the benefit of the said Legatee James."

PAR Number 20183203

State: Alabama Year: 1832
Location: Talladega Location Type: County

Abstract: Drusilla McMeans and her children claim ownership of a female slave and her six children. Becky was bequeathed to Drusilla by her father Rheuben Allen as a life estate. In his will, dated 5 March 1812, Allen gave "one negro woman with her increase named Becky which negro has heretofore been loaned to my daughter Drusilla to be hers during her natural life and after her death to be equally divided between her children the heirs of her body." Because Drusilla "was at the time of the said bequeath covert of Isaac McMeans," her husband took possession of the slaves when Allen died. The McMeans family moved to Alabama, taking with them Becky and children. The petitioners state that at present Isaac McMeans is "much involved in debt and that he is probably wholly insolvent." They point out that his creditors have obtained judgments against him, and "have levied an execution on all the said Negroes slaves and will proceed to sell the same unless restrained by the injunction of Your Honor." The petitioners insist that "the said Negroes are the seperate property of your Oratrix Drusilla and after her death of your other Orators jointly," yet the defendants pretend that the terms of the will stipulate that Isaac McMeans has a vested interest in the slaves. The petitioners therefore seek an injunction to prevent a sale of the slaves and ask that Hubbell Pierce be appointed as trustee. They also pray that the court will award a writ of subpoena directing the defendants to answer the bill of complaint. In her amended petition, Drusilla McMeans informs the court that she and her husband had in fact made a gift of the slaves to their children before the husband got involved in debt.

PAR Number 20183307

State: Alabama Year: 1832
Location: Autauga Location Type: County

Abstract: In a previous petition, William Tylor asked the court for an injunction to prevent the county sheriff from delivering four slaves, currently in custody in the jail, to William Roy. Tylor had accused Roy of stealing the bill of sale showing Tylor's rightful ownership of the slaves, and when confronted, Roy attempted to remove the slaves from the county. Tylor now appears in court stating that the slaves were released to Roy by law of replevy before the injunction was issued. Tylor further states that "a part of the slaves aforementioned have been sold or disposed of to one John H. Thorington and part to one William Hadnot." Since Roy is still insolvent, Tylor still fears that the slaves "will be removed beyond the Jurisdiction of this court," and beyond the reach of the petitioner. Tylor therefore asks that the defendants be served with a summons requiring them to "answer all the matters & things in this Bill of Complaint," and to have an injunction issued to take possession of the slaves until a final decision is made.

PAR Number 20184112

State: Alabama Year: 1841
Location: Madison Location Type: County

Abstract: Hugh D. Morrow, executor of Jeremiah Pate's last will and testament, states that David R. Pate hired thirteen slaves from the estate for about five hundred dollars. Morrow says that David Pate is insolvent "except for his interest in said estate," and that after deducting the expense of the slaves' hire, he will have little left. Morrow believes that Pate intends "to remove said slaves beyond the jurisdiction and limits of the United States, and with an intention of converting them to his own use." Morrow asks that the defendant be compelled to answer these allegations and that he "be restrained from leaving the limits of this State, and from removing said negroes without the same."

PAR Number 20184222

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

Abstract: Margaret Garner has previously filed for a divorce and alimony from her husband Thomas Garner, a slave owner. In this bill, Garner states "that the said Thomas has become a bankrupt and has applied for the privilege of surrendering his property in discharge of his debts and he has thereby become unable to afford aid to your petitioner." Her own property "does not yield more than $12 per month." Citing abandonment and an adulterous affair on the part of her husband, Margaret prays for an allowance for her support during the divorce proceedings and for an allowance to pay the expenses of the court case. Two related petitions reveal that Thomas Garner, the owner of approximately sixteen slaves in 1841, was alleged to have taken a "mulattress to the bed" of his wife and to have "carnally Known" her.

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