Race and Slavery Petitions Project

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PAR Number 11682601

State: Virginia Year: 1826
Location: Nansemond Location Type: County

Abstract: David Parker represents to the legislature that in 1807 he married Jane Carter, with whom he enjoyed ten year of "uninterrupted connubial pleasure and happiness." The couple had six children. Four years after Jane Carter's death, Parker married a second time, taking as his wife one Jane Miller. Parker's second marriage, however, has not been a happy one. He charges that his wife of four years has been guilty of "the greatest luridness, immorality and vice." She has frequently engaged in "criminal intercourse with slaves or persons of color." She also has given birth to "one or more children of color" before abandoning him and moving to North Carolina. Parker seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11682611

State: Virginia Year: 1826
Location: Sussex Location Type: County

Abstract: In 1817, at age seventeen, Macy Birdsong married a blacksmith named Charles Gay, who was "very poor but had learned the blacksmith trade from one of his uncles a very industrious and respectable man." A short time later, Gay took his wife's single slave, a woman, and ran off to North Carolina with another woman, Sally Andrews. Macy returned to live with her mother (her father having died many years before) and now, with her mother nearing the end of her life at age sixty-six, Macy fears following her mother's death her husband might return and lay claim to her small inheritance--a few slaves distributed among several family members. She asks for a divorce.

PAR Number 11683501

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

Abstract: In 1831, Thomas Culpepper married Caroline Johnson. Shortly thereafter he accused her of being a "common prostitute, subject to the access of nearly all the young men in the town of Portsmouth." As prescribed in the 1827 law, Culpepper filed a statement concerning his wife's alleged behavior in the Clerk's Office, Norfolk County Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery, stating that Caroline "repeatedly associated with negroes" and engaged in carnal intercourse "with black men." He seeks a divorce.

PAR Number 11683508

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

Abstract: Samuel Johnson, a free man of color who informs the legislature that he is becoming "old and feeble," asks that his daughter, Lucy Malvin, be permitted to remain in Virginia. He explains that Lucy's husband, Spencer Malvin, a "thriving intelligent mechanic," deserted his wife and her little children when it was discovered that he was circulating anti-slavery literature. According to Samuel Johnson, Malvin sought to "array The Blacks against the whites with a view to the supremacy of the former." Samuel Johnson implores the legislature to take into consideration "a life of incessant toil" to procure for himself "a small cottage and Garden where he had hoped to close his eyes in peace attended by his child his only child." He adds that "his attachment to the Town the county and their people is strong and inalienable. He could not at his advanced age and with his feelings to another soil and another people and yet without his daughter and alone how could he be here." Several related petition reveal that Samuel Johnson (also called Johnston), a man of mixed race, had as early as 1812 purchased his wife and children, including his daughter Lucy mentioned in this petition. In addition, one the related petitions reveals that in 1837 Lucy Malvin was still a slave owned, together with her three children, by her father.

PAR Number 11683601

State: Virginia Year: 1836
Location: King William Location Type: County

Abstract: Ann Eliza Eubank represents that she petitioned the "Circuit Supr Court of Law and chancery for the County of King William" for a divorce from her husband Alfred. Married in 1831, the petitioner confides that the said Alfred displayed "cruel and unmanly conduct" towards her and that the jury found the facts in her statement "substantially proven." She therefore prays "that the General assembly will pass a Law to divorce her ... from her said husband dissolving and annulling & avoiding all the rights, privileges and powers which were acquired by the said Alfred Eubank by virtue of the said marriage." The Superior Court documents reveal the charge of adultery, charging that "the said Alfred indulged in the most shameful, sinful and degrading intercourse with other women, white and colored-- That he frequently left the marriage Bed to seek the Bed of a colored woman."

PAR Number 11683703

State: Virginia Year: 1837
Location: King William Location Type: County

Abstract: Elizabeth Pannell seeks a divorce from her husband, Edmund Pannell. Married at age sixteen, Elizabeth Pannell, who claims to be from "an ancient and respectable family," lost her entire estate when her husband squandered it "in all manner of dissipation." Accused of having committed a felony, Edmund Pannell was acquitted due to "irregularity in the proceedings" and fled from the county, leaving his wife destitute. In addition to being profligate, Pannell exhibited a cruel and abusive behavior toward his wife and engaged in "adultery and fornication" with black and white women, a fact known by all in the neighborhood. He even encouraged a slave named Grace, hired from Mrs. Louisa Deffarges and with whom he was conducting an adulterous affair, to be insolent toward his wife.

PAR Number 11683709

State: Virginia Year: 1837
Location: Fauquier Location Type: County

Abstract: Free black Samuel Johnson owns his slave daughter, Lucy, and his three slave grandchildren. His daughter's free black husband, Spencer Malvin, abandoned the family several years before. Johnson seeks to emancipate his daughter and grandchildren, and asks that they be permitted to remain in Virginia. Related petitions reveal that Samuel Johnson (also called Sam Johnston) was a man of mixed race who had purchased his wife and children and attempted several times to free them. He had been free since 1812.

PAR Number 11683804

State: Virginia Year: 1838
Location: Bedford Location Type: County

Abstract: Sally Wade Ballinger seeks a divorce from Richard Ballinger, her husband of twenty years. She represents that the said Richard has squandered her estate and "took another woman into his house lived in open adultery with her, by her has had three children, and has driven your petitioner from him forever under the penalty of being beaten to death." The petitioner therefore prays that she may be divorced "from the said Richard Ballinger, and that all his power over her and her little children as well as her property may forever cease."

PAR Number 11684008

State: Virginia Year: 1840
Location: Nansemond Location Type: County

Abstract: Bryant Rawls seeks a divorce from his wife, Rachel, who, after twelve years of marriage and three legitimate children, gave birth to a "colored child ... begotten by a negro." His wife abandoned him shortly afterwards, Rawls claims, and he is now caring for his own children and has placed the "mulatto" baby with a free black family.

PAR Number 11684105

State: Virginia Year: 1841
Location: Preston Location Type: County

Abstract: Jacob Plum asks for a divorce from his wife Mary Jane who a number of years prior to the filing of his petition gave birth to a mulatto child and continued to live with him until she recently abandoned their domicile. She has now been convicted of larceny and sent to the penitentiary.

PAR Number 11684106

State: Virginia Year: 1841
Location: Campbell Location Type: County

Abstract: After six years of separation, Sarah H. Robinson seeks a divorce. Her husband was cruel and tyrannical, drank to excess, and slept with numerous "lewd women, both white and black, and he had children by them." Finally he abandoned her and she has not seen him since that time.

PAR Number 11684604

State: Virginia Year: 1846
Location: Richmond Location Type: City

Abstract: Helen Brooke Hamilton, suffering "repeated and cruel wrongs from her husband, Robert S Hamilton," seeks a divorce. Unhappy before the birth of their child, the petitioner "fondly hoped that their infant daughter would awaken him to a sense of his domestic obligation." She confides, however, that "she was doomed to the wretchedness of discovering he was an adulterer, and that with her servant maid, the girl who attended upon her." Hamilton therefore prays that it may "please you to grant her a divorce and to secure to her the custody and tuition of her infant daughter."

PAR Number 11684814

State: Virginia Year: 1848
Location: Henry Location Type: County

Abstract: Lucy W. Norman seeks a divorce from her husband, James B. Norman. Lucy Norman informs the court that she and James Norman were married in 1844, by which marriage James became the "undisputed owner of a large estate of lands and negroes." After a year of reasonable marital harmony, Lucy explains, her husband became prodigal, dissipated in his habits, and violent. He exhibited indifference toward her, she further adds, and brought a female servant to sleep in the conjugal bedroom, finally abandoning his wife entirely to live with "said woman of color."

PAR Number 11685006

State: Virginia Year: 1850
Location: Goochland Location Type: County

Abstract: For thirteen years Mary Terry and her husband lived together in Goochland County. About 1848, however, the husband, William Terry, "took up with a free negro woman living in the neighbourhood, and, with her, left the County and State." He never returned and she asks for a divorce.

PAR Number 20183001

State: Alabama Year: 1830
Location: Bibb Location Type: County

Abstract: Sarah Goodgame seeks a divorce from her husband John Goodgame. She states that, after returning from service in the militia of the United States, he "had become dissipated & continued to grow worse and was disagreeable & abusive in his family." The Goodgames moved to the Mississippi Territory, now the State of Alabama, where they "procured property & enough by industry & economy for a comfortable support," which included "four negroes slaves of the value of fifteen hundred dollars." The petitioner asks the court to dissolve their marriage and "make such provision ... for the support and maintainance of your oratrix as may seem just & equitable."

PAR Number 20183103

State: Alabama Year: 1831
Location: Mobile Location Type: County

Abstract: James Puckett seeks a divorce from his wife, Elizabeth Rhodes Puckett, on grounds of adultery. James states that Elizabeth, whom he married in August 1828, "has been grossly unmindful of her marital obligations, as well as of the interest and happiness of your orator, and has faithlessly abandoned them, in pursuit of an unlawful and adulterous intercourse with divers other men." Accompanying affidavits state that Elizabeth kept a house of prostitution with a woman named Miss Lantee in Mobile and that she was seen entering the house of a woman of color with men other than her husband.

PAR Number 20183604

State: Alabama Year: 1836
Location: Madison Location Type: County

Abstract: Nancy Clay states "that in consequence of the cruel treatment of her husband, Thomas Clay," she was forced to abandon the marriage. Before leaving, Nancy entered with her husband "into articles of separation," which stipulated that Thomas agreed "to divide his property, real and personal," giving her "a deed in fee for one third of the land, & title to one third of his whole personal property," for her use. Thomas recently moved to Tennessee, taking with him ten of the slaves. In addition, he tried to sell all the land to William Hayter. Hayter, claiming ownership of the land, initiated and won a suit for "action of forcible entry & detainer" to remove Nancy, who still resides on a portion of a land sold to him. She seeks an injunction to prevent Hayter from evicting her and to recover from her husband her share of the real and personal property in his possession.

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 20183806

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

Abstract: Mary Ann Acre seeks to divorce her husband, slave owner Samuel Acre. Mary Ann writes that in her marriage she has "sought to make her deposition, her feelings, her pleasures & her walk in life square with his wishes and views, the promotion of his interest and pleasures were the objects nearest her heart and governed all her actions." However, Mary Ann says that her husband "began to indulge very freely in the use of ardent spirits," which resulted in more frequent "fits of intoxication." As a result, he treated her cruelly and barbarously, repeatedly beating her "with many stripes," and driving her from her home in the middle of the night. Acre contends that her husband's property is worth over forty thousand dollars, of which a considerable "portion of this estate was acquired by the Said Samuel Acre by his intermarriage with your Oratrix." Along with a divorce, Mary Ann Acre seeks a division of her husband's estate. In his answer and cross bill, Samuel Acre contends that his wife, far from being the virtuous and indulgent wife she claims to be, is "anything but a hand in his dish, a hand in his pocket, and a pest, termigant and scold in his house." He claims that Mary Ann inherited several slaves from the estate of her late father, and that the slaves have been placed in a trust estate for her use and benefit. Not only has Mary Ann caused him to be falsely imprisoned but, during his time in jail, she seduced and committed adultery with a young man. He seeks to divorce her and asks that she be returned to her maiden name of Carney.

PAR Number 20183811

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

Abstract: Slave owner Samuel Acre, worth more than forty thousand dollars, responds to his wife's divorce petition with a petition of his own. He charges that his wife, Mary Ann Acre, left her house for a period of two years and, during this time, accrued a debt of $3,350 to various individuals and establishments. He points out that "he was arbitrarily, at her request, held in imprisonment, without warrant of law, and without ever the imputation of any accusation whatever," so she might indulge "unrestrainedly, in her lacivious propensities," to wit the seduction of a young man with whom, Acre charges, his wife committed adultery various times while he was in jail. In view of these facts, and since "it has become improper and indecent" for his wife "to remain an inmate in the dwelling house" of the petitioner, he asks the court to order that his wife go to the City Hospital "or to such other place as to your Honor shall seem meet and proper."

PAR Number 20183901

State: Alabama Year: 1839
Location: Talladega Location Type: County

Abstract: Matilda Houston seeks title to the slave Dinah and an injunction against her husband, Josiah Houston. Dinah was given to Matilda by her father James Allums while she was married to her first husband, D. Allen. When Allen died, his estate was settled and "the said nigro [sic] Dinah was allotted to your oratrix as her portion in part of the said Estate." Three years later Matilda married Josiah Houston. Matilda describes her marriage to Houston as one where "they have lived hapily & peaceably together until within the last five or six weeks past." Josiah, she states, has now "secretly become estranged in his affections towards your oratrix." She claims that he has attempted and succeeded in stealing Dinah and is preparing to move to Texas, and that he "is determined to abandon her and leave her penniless in the world." Matilda seeks an injunction to prevent her husband from leaving the state with the slave. She further asks the court to place the slave in safekeeping and to arrest Josiah Houston. Finally, the petitioner asks that the court order Josiah to furnish her with some means of support. The court dismissed the suit, reasoning that a husband has absolute title to property brought to the marriage by his wife. The court also alludes to Josiah Houston's claim that he had reason to abandon Matilda since she had given birth six months after they were married to a "mulatto child" fathered by a slave -- the husband of Dinah.

PAR Number 20184005

State: Alabama Year: 1840
Location: Shelby Location Type: County

Abstract: Mary Jones Ellison and her husband Joseph ask the court to void the will of Vincent Jones, Mary's father. The petitioners accuse Patty Jones, Mary's stepmother, and her companion, Peter Tidwell, of conspiring to "to procure from the said deceased a last will and testament which would on the death of said deceased vest the whole property in them, to the entire exclusion of complainants." The Ellisons point out that eighty-year-old Vincent was "very feeble and sickly" and "his extreme old age rendered him very childish" and "incompetent to transact ordinary business in life." They argue that Patty Jones and Tidwell "by the improper influence & control which they had over him," coerced Vincent into signing a will that left all the property to Patty for life, and upon her death, the property descended to Tidwell. The Ellisons pray that the will be voided and an administrator be appointed to distribute property in the estate, which include a slave woman and her six children.

PAR Number 20184101

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

Abstract: Elizabeth Langford seeks to divorce her husband, Joseph. Shortly after their marriage in 1838, Joseph "commenced treating your Oratrix very uncivilly, unkindly and in unhusbandlike manner," keeping her in "constant alarm terror and dread" and threatening to abandon her. While Elizabeth "was lying on a bed of sickness and in a state of pregnancy several miles distant from any of her relatives (and when no persons save themselves could bear witness to the crime) the Defendant desired your Oratrix to take stuff to destroy her unborn child!" Langford continued to terrify her by brandishing firearms and attempting to stab the "negro" girl sent by her father to attend her. Elizabeth was "induced to send the negro girl home for fear the defendant would murder her and was consequently left in a very weak and delicate situation to attend to all the household business without a servant or any other person she could command to render her any assistance." By 1839, Langford had left his wife, but he returned and "taking advantage of the absence of your Oratrix clandestinely seized and carried off her [seven-month-old] child at a time when the child was too young to set alone." Elizabeth blames her husband's treatment of the child for "its death." She asks the court for a divorce.

PAR Number 20184105

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

Abstract: After marrying Sarah Duncan in 1836, Jacob Smith instructed his children and servants to respect his new wife "as children & Servants ought to do, towards a mother & mistress." But, Smith charges, Sarah "never appeared happy, or content in their company nor spoke to, or communed pleasantly with them; her conversation with them was at all times in strains of anger & unpleasantness." Less than seven months after the marriage, Susan left. Now, Smith asks for divorce.

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