"We cannot but regard the fact of this trial as a salutary occurrence."
HAVING given some account of what sort of statutes are to be found on the law-books of slavery, the reader will hardly be satisfied without knowing what sort of trials are held under them. We will quote one specimen of a trial, reported in the Charleston Courier of May 6th, 1847. The Charleston Courier is one of the leading papers of South Carolina, and the case is reported with the utmost apparent innocence that there was anything about the trial that could reflect in the least on the character of the State for the utmost legal impartiality. In fact, the Charleston Courier ushers it into public view with the following flourish of trumpets, as something which is for ever to confound those who say that South Carolina does not protect the life of the slave:—
THE TRIAL FOR MURDER.
Our community was deeply interested and excited yesterday, by a case of
great importance and also of entire novelty in our jurisprudence. It was the
trial of a lady of respectable family and the mother of a large family, charged
with the murder of her own or her husband's slave. The court-house was thronged
with spectators of the exciting drama, who remained, with unabated interest
and undiminished numbers, until the verdict was rendered acquitting the prisoner.
We cannot but regard the fact of this trial as a salutary, although in itself
lamentable occurrence, as it will show to the world that, however panoplied
in station and wealth, and although challenging those sympathies which are
the right and inheritance of the female sex, no one will be suffered, in this
community, to escape the most sifting scrutiny, at the risk of even an ignominious
death, who stands charged with the suspicion of murdering a slave—to
whose life our law now extends the ægis of protection, in the same manner
as it does to that of the white man, save only in the character of the evidence
necessary for conviction or defence. While evil-disposed persons at home are
thus taught that they may expect rigorous trial and condign punishment, when,
actuated by malignant passions, they invade the life of the humble slave,
the enemies of our domestic institution abroad will
find, their calumnies to the contrary notwithstanding, that we are resolved in this particular to do the full measure of our duty to the laws of humanity. We subjoin a report of the case.
The proceedings of the trial are thus given:—
TRIAL FOR THE MURDER OF A SLAVE.State v. Eliza Rowand.—Spring Term, May 5, 1847. Tried before his Honour Judge O'Neall.
The prisoner was brought to the bar and arraigned, attended by her husband and mother, and humanely supported, during the trying scene, by the sheriff, J. B. Irving, Esq. On her arraignment she pleaded “Not Guilty,” and for her trial, placed herself upon “God and her country.” After challenging John M. Deas, James Bancroft, H. F. Harbers, C. J. Beckman, E. R. Cowperthwaite, Parker J. Holland, Moses D. Hyams, Thomas Glaze, John Lawrence, B. Archer, J. S. Addison, B. P. Colburn, B. M. Jenkins, Carl Houseman, George Jackson, and Joseph Coppenberg, the prisoner accepted the subjoined panel, who were duly sworn, and charged with the case: 1. John L. Nowell, foreman; 2. Elias Whilden; 3. Jesse Coward; 4. Effington Wagner; 5. William Whaley; 6. James Culbert; 7. R. L. Baker; 8. S. Wiley; 9. W. S. Chisholm; 10. T. M. Howard; 11. John Bickley; 12. John Y. Stock.
The following is the indictment on which the prisoner was arraigned for trial:—
The State v. Eliza Rowand.—Indictment for Murder of a Slave.
STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA,
At a Court of General Sessions, begun and holden in and for the district of Charleston, in the State of South Carolina, at Charleston, in the district and State aforesaid, on Monday, the third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-seven:
The jurors of and for the district of Charleston aforesaid, in the State
of South Carolina aforesaid, upon their oath present, that Eliza Rowand, the
wife of Robert Rowand Esq., not having the fear of God before her eyes, but
being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, on the sixth day
of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-seven,
with force and arms, at Charleston, in the district of Charleston, and State
aforesaid, in and upon a certain female slave of the said Robert Rowand, named
Maria, in the peace of God, and of the said State, then and there being feloniously,
maliciously, wilfully, deliberately, and of her malice aforethought, did make
an assault; and that a certain other slave of the said Robert Rowand, named
Richard, then and there, being then and there in the presence and by the command
of the said Eliza Rowand, with a certain piece of wood, which he the said
Richard in both his hands then and there had and held, the said Maria did
beat and strike in and upon the head of her the said Maria, then and there
giving to her the said Maria, by such striking and beating as aforesaid, with
the piece of wood aforesaid, divers mortal bruises on the top, back, and sides
of the head of her the said Maria, of which
several mortal bruises she, the said Maria, then and there instantly died; and that the said Eliza Rowand was then and there present, and then and there feloniously, maliciously, wilfully, deliberately, and of her malice aforethought, did order, command, and require the said slave named Richard the murder and felony aforesaid, in manner and form aforesaid, to do and commit. And as the jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, do say, that the said Eliza Rowand, her the said slave named Maria, in the manner and by the means aforesaid, feloniously, maliciously, wilfully, deliberately, and of her malice aforethought, did kill and murder, against the form of the Act of the General Assembly of the said State in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the same State aforesaid.
And the jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, do further present, that the said Eliza Rowand, not having the fear of God before her eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, on the sixth day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-seven, with force and arms, at Charleston, in the district of Charleston, and State aforesaid, in and upon a certain other female slave of Robert Rowand, named Maria, in the peace of God, and of the said State, then and there being, feloniously, maliciously, wilfully, deliberately, and of her malice aforethought, did make an assault; and that the said Eliza Rowand, with a certain piece of wood, which she, the said Eliza Rowand, in both her hands then and there had and held, her the said last-mentioned slave named Maria did then and there strike, and beat, in and upon the head of her the said Maria, then and there giving to her the said Maria, by such striking and beating aforesaid, with the piece of wood aforesaid, divers mortal bruises, on the top, back, and side of the head, of her the said Maria, of which said several mortal bruises she the said Maria then and there instantly died. And so the jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, do say, that the said Eliza Rowand her the said last-mentioned slave named Maria, in the manner and by the means last mentioned, feloniously, maliciously, wilfully, deliberately, and of her malice aforethought, did kill and murder, against the form of the Act of the General Assembly of the said State in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the same State aforesaid.
H. BAILEY, Attorney-General.
As some of our readers may not have been in the habit of endeavouring to extract anything like common sense or information from documents so very concisely and luminously worded, the author will just state her own opinion that the above document is intended to charge Mrs. Eliza Rowand with having killed her slave Maria, in one of two ways: either with beating her on the head with her own hands, or having the same deed performed by proxy, by her slave-man Richard. The whole case is now presented. In order to make the reader clearly understand the arguments, it is necessary that he bear in mind that the law of 1740, as we have before shown, punished the murder of the slave only with fine and disfranchisement, while the law of 1821 punishes it with death.
On motion of Mr. Petigru, the prisoner was allowed to remove from the bar, and take her place by her counsel; the Judge saying he granted the motion only because the prisoner was a woman, but that no such privilege would have been extended by him to any man.
The Attorney-General, Henry Bailey, Esq., then rose and opened the case
for the State, in substance as follows: he said that, after months of anxiety
and expectation, the curtain had at length risen, and he and the jury were
about to bear their part in the sad drama of real life, which had so long
engrossed the public mind. He and they were called to the discharge of an
important, painful, and solemn duty. They were to pass between the prisoner
and the State—to take an inquisition of blood; on their decision hung
the life or death, the honour or ignominy of the prisoner; yet he trusted
he and they would have strength and ability to perform their duty faithfully;
and, whatever might be the result, their consciences would be consoled and
quieted by that reflection. He bade the jury pause and reflect on the great
sanctions and solemn responsibilities under which they were acting. The constitution
of the State invested them with power over all that affected the life, and
was dear to the family of the unfortunate lady on trial before them. They
were charged too, with the sacred care of the law of the land; and to their
solution was submitted one of the most solemn questions ever intrusted to
the arbitrament of man. They should pursue a direct and straightforward course,
turning neither to the right hand nor to the left—influenced neither
by prejudice against the prisoner, nor by a morbid sensibility in her behalf.
Some of them might practically and personally be strangers to their present
duty; but they were all familiar with the laws, and must be aware of the responsibilities
of jurymen. It was scarcely necessary to tell them that, if evidence fixed
guilt on this prisoner, they should not hesitate to record a verdict of guilty,
although they should write that verdict in tears of blood. They should let
no sickly sentimentality, or morbid feeling on the subject of capital punishments,
deter them from the discharge of their plain and obvious duty. They were to
administer, not to make, the law; they were called on to enforce the law,
by sanctioning the highest duty to God and to their country. If any of them
were disturbed with doubts or scruples on this point, he scarcely supposed
they would have gone into the jury-box. The law had awarded capital punishment
as the meet retribution for the crime under investigation, and they were sworn
to administer that law. It had, too, the full sanction of Holy Writ; we were
there told that “the land cannot be cleansed of the blood shed therein,
except by the blood of him that shed it.” He felt assured, then, that
they would be swayed only by a firm resolve to act on this occasion in obedience
to the dictates of sound judgments and enlightened consciences. The prisoner,
however, had claims on them, as well as the community; she was entitled to
a fair and impartial trial. By the wise and humane principles of our law,
they were bound to hold the prisoner innocent, and she stood guiltless before
them, until proved guilty, by legal, competent, and satisfactory evidence.
Deaf alike to the voice of sickly humanity and heated prejudice, they should
proceed to their task with minds perfectly equipoised and impartial; they
should weigh the circumstances of the case with a nice and careful hand; and
if, by legal evidence circumstantial and satisfactory, although not positive,
guilt be established, they should unhesitatingly, fearlessly, and faithfully
record the result of their convictions. He would next call their attention
to certain legal distinctions, but would not say
a word of the facts; he would leave them to the lips of the witnesses, unaffected by any previous comments of his own. The prisoner stood indicted for the murder of a slave. This was supposed not be murder at common law. At least, it was not murder by our former statute; but the Act of 1821 had placed the killing of the white man and the black man on the same footing. He read the Act of 1821, declaring that “any person who shall wilfully, deliberately, and maliciously murder a slave, shall, on conviction thereof, suffer death without benefit of clergy.” The rules applicable to murder at common law were generally applicable, however, to the present case. The inquiries to be made may be reduced to two. 1. Is the party charged guilty of the fact of killing? This must be clearly made out by proof. If she be not guilty of killing, there is an end to the case. 2. The character of that killing, or of the offence. Was it done with malice aforethought? Malice is the essential ingredient of the crime. Where killing takes place, malice is presumed, unless the contrary appear; and this must be gathered from the attending circumstances. Malice is a technical term, importing a different meaning from that conveyed by the same word in common parlance. According to the learned Michael Foster, it consists not in “malevolence to particulars,” it does not mean hatred to any particular individual, but is general in its import and application. But even killing, with intention to kill, is not always murder; there may be justifiable and excusable homicide, and killing in sudden heat and passion is so modified to manslaughter. Yet there may be murder when there is no ill-feeling—nay, perfect indifference to the slain—as in the case of the robber who slays to conceal his crime. Malice aforethought is that depraved feeling of the heart, which makes one regardless of social duty, and fatally bent on mischief. It is fulfilled by that recklessness of law and human life which is indicated by shooting into a crowd, and thus doing murder on even an unknown object. Such a feeling the law regards as hateful, and visits, in its practical exhibition, with condign punishment, because opposed to the very existence of law and society. One may do fatal mischief without this recklessness; but when the act is done, regardless of consequences, and death ensues, it is murder in the eye of the law. If the facts to be proved in this case should not come up to these requisitions, he implored the jury to acquit the accused, as at once due to law and justice. They should note every fact with scrutinising eye, and ascertain whether the fatal result proceeded from passing accident or from brooding revenge, which the law stamped with the odious name of malice. He would make no further preliminary remarks, but proceed at once to lay the facts before them, from the mouths of the witnesses.
J. Porteous Deveaux sworn.—He is the coroner of Charleston district; held the inquest on the 7th of January last, on the body of the deceased slave, Maria, the slave of Robert Rowand, at the residence of Mrs. T. C. Bee (the mother of the prisoner), in Logan-street. The body was found in an out-building—a kitchen; it was the body of an old and emaciated person, between fifty and sixty years of age; it was not examined in his presence by physicians; saw some few scratches about the face; adjourned to the City Hall. Mrs. Rowand was examined; her examination was in writing; it was here produced and read, as follows:—
“Mrs. Eliza Rowand sworn.—Says Maria is her nurse, and had
haved on yesterday morning; deponent sent Maria to Mr. Rowand's house, to be corrected by Simon; deponent sent Maria from the house about seven o'clock, A.M.; she returned to her about nine o'clock; came into her chamber; Simon did not come into the chamber at any time previous to the death of Maria; deponent says Maria fell down in the chamber; deponent had her seated up by Richard, who was then in the chamber, and deponent gave Maria some asafoetida; deponent then left the room; Richard came down and said Maria was dead; deponent says Richard did not strike Maria, nor did any one else strike her in deponent's chamber. Richard left the chamber immediately with deponent; Maria was about fifty-two years of age; deponent sent Maria by Richard to Simon, to Mr. Rowand's house, to be corrected; Mr. Rowand was absent from the city; Maria died about twelve o'clock; Richard and Maria were on good terms; deponent was in the chamber all the while that Richard and Maria were there together.
“Sworn to before me this seventh January, 1847. “J. P. DEVEAUX, Coroner, D.C.”
Witness went to the chamber of prisoner, where the death occurred; saw nothing particular; some pieces of wood in a box set in the chimney; his attention was called to one piece in particular, eighteen inches long, three inches wide, and about one and a half inch thick; did not measure it; the jury of inquest did; it was not a light-wood knot; thinks it was of oak; there was some pine-wood and some split oak. Doctor Peter Porcher was called to examine the body professionally, who did so out of witness's presence.
Before this witness left the stand, B. F. Hunt, Esq., one of the counsel for the prisoner, rose and opened the defence before the Jury, in substance as follows:—
He said that the scene before them was a very novel one, and whether for,
good or evil he would not pretend to prophesy. It was the first time in the
history of this State that a lady of good character and respectable connexions
stood arraigned at the bar, and had been put on trial for her life, on facts
arising out of her domestic relations to her own slave. It was a spectacle
consoling and cheering, perhaps, to those who owed no good-will to the institutions
of our country, but calculated only to excite pain and regret among ourselves.
He would not state a proposition so revolting to humanity as that crime should
go unpunished; but judicial interference between the slave and the owner was
a matter at once of delicacy and danger. It was the first time he had ever
stood between a slave-owner and the public prosecutor, and his sensations
were anything but pleasant. This is an entirely different case from homicide
between equals in society. Subordination is indispensable where slavery exists,
and in this there is no new principle involved. The same principle prevails
in every country; on shipboard and in the army a large discretion is always
left to the superior. Charges by inferiors against their superiors were always
to be viewed with great circumspection at least, and especially when the latter
are charged with cruelty or crime against subordinates. In the relation of
owner and slave there is an absence of the usual motives for murder, and strong
inducements against it on the part of the former. Life is usually taken from
avarice or passion. The master gains nothing, but loses much, by the death
of a slave; and when he takes the life of the latter deli-
berately, there must be more than ordinary malice to instigate the deed. The policy of altering the old law of 1740, which punished the killing of a slave with fine and political disfranchisement, was more than doubtful. It was the law of our colonial ancestors; it conformed to their policy, and was approved by their wisdom; and it continued undisturbed by their posterity until the year 1821. It was engrafted on our policy in counteraction of the schemes and machinations, or in deference to the clamours, of those who formed plans for our improvement, although not interested in nor understanding our institutions, and whose interference led to the tragedy of 1822. He here adverted to the views of Chancellor Harper on this subject, who, in his able and philosophical Memoir on Slavery, said —“It is a somewhat singular fact, that when there existed in our State no law for punishing the murder of a slave, other than a pecuniary fine, there were, I will venture to say, at least ten murders of freemen for one murder of a slave. Yet it is supposed that they are less protected than their masters. The change was made in subserviency to the opinions and clamour of others, who were utterly incompetent to form an opinion on the subject; and a wise act is seldom the result of legislation in this spirit. From the fact I have stated it is plain they need less protection. Juries are, therefore, less willing to convict, and it may sometimes happen that the guilty will escape all punishment. Security is one of the compensations of their humble position. We challenge the comparison, that with us there have been fewer murders of slaves than of parents, children, apprentices, and other murders, cruel and unnatural, in society where slavery does not exist.”
Such was the opinion of Chancellor Harper on this subject, who had profoundly
studied it, and whose views had been extensively read on this continent and
in Europe. Fortunately, the jury, he said, were of the country, acquainted
with our policy and practice; composed of men too independent and honourable
to be led astray by the noise and clamour out of doors. All was now as it
should be; at least a Court of justice had assembled to which his client had
fled for refuge and safety. Its threshold was sacred; no profane clamours
entered there; but legal investigation was had of facts derived from the testimony
of sworn witnesses. And this should teach the community to shut their bosoms
against sickly humanity, and their ears to imaginary tales of blood and horror,
the food of a depraved appetite. He warned the jury that they were to listen
to no testimony but that of free white persons, given on oath in open Court.
They were to imagine none that came not from them. It was for this that they
were selected, their intelligence putting them beyond the influence of unfounded
accusations, unsustained by legal proof; of legends of aggravated cruelty,
founded on the evidence of negroes, and arising from weak and wicked falsehoods.
Were slaves permitted to testify against their owner, it would cut the cord
that unites them in peace and harmony, and enable them to sacrifice their
masters to their ill-will or revenge. Whole crews had been often leagued to
charge captains of vessels with foulest murder, but judicial trial had exposed
the falsehood. Truth has been distorted in this case, and murder manufactured
out of what was nothing more than ordinary domestic discipline. Chastisement
must be inflicted until subordination is produced; and the extent of the punishment
is not to be judged by one's neighbours, but by himself. The event in this
case has been unfortunate and sad, but there was no motive for the taking
of life. There is no pecuniary interest in the owner to destroy his slave;
the murder of his slave can only happen from ferocious passions
of the master, filling his own bosom with anguish and contrition. This case has no other basis but unfounded rumour, commonly believed, on evidence that will not venture here, the offspring of that passion and depravity which makes up falsehood. The hope of freedom, of change of owners, revenge, are all motives with slave-witnesses to malign their owners; and to credit such testimony would be to dissolve human society. Where deliberate, wilful, and malicious murder is done, whether by male or female, the retribution of the law is a debt to God and man; but the jury should beware lest it fall upon the innocent. The offence charged was not strictly murder at common law. The Act of 1740 was founded on the practical good sense of our old planters, and its spirit still prevails. The Act of 1821 is, by its terms, an Act only to increase the punishment of persons convicted of murdering a slave; and this is a refinement in humanity of doubtful policy. But, by the Act of 1821, the murder must be wilful, deliberate, and malicious; and, when punishment is due to the slave, the master must not be held to strict account for going an inch beyond the mark; whether for doing so he shall be a felon is a question for the jury to solve. The master must conquer a refractory slave; and deliberation, so as to render clear the existence of malice, is necessary to bring the master within the provisions of the Act. He bade the jury remember the words of Him who spake as never man spake—“Let him that has never sinned throw the first stone.” They, as masters, might regret excesses to which they have themselves carried punishment. He was not at all surprised at the course of the Attorney-General, it was his wont to treat every case with perfect fairness. He (Colonel H.) agreed that the inquiry should be—
The examination of the prisoner showed conclusively that the slave died a natural death, and not from personal violence. She was chastised with a lawful weapon; was in weak health, nervous, made angry by her punishment; excited. The story was then a plain one; the community had been misled by the creations of imagination, or the statements of interested slaves. The negro came into her mistress's chamber; fell on the floor; medicine was given her; it was supposed she was asleep, but she slept the sleep of death. To show the wisdom and policy of the old Act of 1740 (this indictment is under both Acts, the punishment only altered by that of 1821), he urged that a case like this was not murder at common law, nor is the same evidence applicable at common law. There, murder was presumed from killing; not so in the case of a slave. The Act of 1740 permits a master, when his slave is killed in his presence, there being no other white person present, to exculpate himself by his own oath; and this exculpation is complete, unless clearly contravened by the evidence of two white witnesses. This is exactly what the prisoner has done; she has, as the law permits, by calling on God, exculpated herself. And her oath is good, at least against the slander of her own slaves. Which, then, should prevail—the clamours of others, or the policy of the law established by our colonial ancestors? There would not be a tittle of positive evidence against the prisoner, nothing but circumstantial evidence; and ingenious combination might be made to lead to any conclusion. Justice was all that his client asked. She appealed to liberal and high-minded men, and she rejoiced in the privilege of doing so, to accord her that justice they would demand for themselves.
Mr. Deveaux was not cross-examined.
Dr. E. W. North sworn.—(Cautioned by Attorney-General to avoid hearsay evidence.) Was the family physician of Mrs. Rowand. Went on the 6th January, at Mrs. Rowand's request, to see her at her mother's, in Logan-street; found her down stairs in sitting-room; she was in a nervous and excited state; had been so for a month before; he had attended her; she said nothing to witness of slave Maria; found Maria in a chamber, up stairs, about one o'clock P.M.; she was dead; she appeared to have been dead about an hour and a half; his attention was attracted to a piece of pine-wood on a trunk or table in the room; it had a large knot on one end; had it been used on Maria it must have caused considerable contusion; other pieces of wood were in a box, and much smaller ones; the corpse was lying one side in the chamber; it was not laid out; presumed she died there; the marks on the body were, to witness's view, very slight, some scratches about the face; he purposely avoided making an examination; observed no injuries about the head; had no conversation with Mrs. Rowand about Maria; left the house; it was on the 6th January last, the day before the inquest; knew the slave before, but had never attended her.
Cross-examined.—Mrs. Rowand was in feeble health, and nervous; the slave Maria was weak and emaciated in appearance; sudden death of such a person, in such a state, from apoplexy or action of nervous system, not unlikely; her sudden death would not imply violence; had prescribed asafoetida for Mrs. Rowand on a former visit; it is an appropriate remedy for nervous disorders; Mrs. Rowand was not of bodily strength to handle the pine knot so as to give a severe blow; Mrs. Rowand has five or six children, the elder of them large enough to have carried pieces of the wood about the room; there must have been a severe contusion, and much extravasation of blood, to infer death from violence in this case; apoplexy is frequently attended with extravasation of blood; there were two Marias in the family.
In reply.—Mrs. Rowand could have raised the pine knot, but could not have struck a blow with it; such a piece of wood could have produced death, but it would have left its mark; saw the fellow Richard; he was quite capable of giving such a blow.
Dr. Peter Porcher.—Was called in by the coroner's
jury to examine Maria's body; found it in the wash-kitchen; it was the corpse
of one feeble and emaciated; partly prepared for burial; had the clothes removed;
the body was lacerated with stripes; abrasions about face and knuckles; skin
knocked of; passed his hand over the head; no bone broken; on request opened
her thorax, and examined the viscera; found them healthy; heart unusually
so for one of her age; no particular odour; some undigested food; no inflammation;
removed the scalp, and found considerable extravasation between scalp and
skull; scalp bloodshot; just under the scalp, found the effects of a single
blow, just over the right ear; after removing the scalp, lifted the bone;
no rupture of any blood-vessel; some softening of the brain in the upper hemisphere;
there was considerable extravasation under the scalp, the result of a succession
of blows on the top of the head; this extravasation was general, but that
over the ear was a single spot; the buttend of a cow-hide would have sufficed
for this purpose; an ordinary stick, a heavy one, would have done it; a succession
of blows on the head, in a feeble woman, would lead to death, when, in a stronger
one, it would not; saw
no other appearance about her person to account for her death, except those blows.
Cross-examined.—To a patient in this woman's condition the blows would probably cause death; they were not such as were calculated to kill an ordinary person; witness saw the body twenty-four hours after her death; it was winter, and bitter cold; no disorganisation, and the examination was therefore to be relied on; the blow behind the ear might have resulted from a fall, but not the blow on the top of the head, unless she fell head foremost; came to the conclusion of a succession of blows, from the extent of the extravasation; a single blow would have shown a distinct spot, with a gradual spreading or diffusion; one large blow could not account for it, as the head was spherical; no blood on the brain; the softening of the brain did not amount to much; in an ordinary dissection would have passed it over; anger sometimes produces apoplexy, which results in death; blood between the scalp and the bone of the skull; it was evidently a fresh extravasation; twenty-four hours would scarcely have made any change; knew nothing of this negro before; even after examination, the cause of death is sometimes inscrutable; not usual, however.
In reply.—Does not attribute the softening of the brain to the blows; it was slight, and might have been the result of age; it was some evidence of impairment of vital powers by advancing age.
Dr. A. P. Hayne.—At request of the coroner, acted with Dr. Porcher; was shown into an out-house; saw on the back of the corpse evidences of contusion; arms swollen and enlarged; laceration of body; contusions on head and neck; between scalp and skull extravasation of blood, on the top of head, and behind the right ear; a burn on the hand; the brain presented healthy appearance; opened the body, and no evidences of disease in the chest or viscera; attributed the extravasation of blood to external injury from blows—blows from a large and broad and blunt instrument; attributes the death to those blows; supposes they were adequate to cause death, as she was old, weak, and emaciated.
Cross-examined.—Would not have caused death in a young and robust person.
The evidence for the prosecution here closed, and no witnesses were called for the defence.
The jury were then successively addressed, ably and eloquently, by J. L. Petigru and James S. Rhett, Esqrs., on behalf of the prisoner, and H. Bailey, Esq., on behalf of the State; and by B.F. Hunt, Esq., in reply. Of those speeches, and also of the judge's charge, we have taken full notes, but have neither time nor space to insert them here.
His Honour, Judge O'Neall, then charged the jury eloquently and ably on the facts, vindicating the existing law, making death the penalty for the murder of a slave; but, on the law, intimated to the jury that he held the Act of 1740 so far still in force as to admit of the prisoner's exculpation by her own oath, unless clearly disproved by the oaths of two witnesses; and that they were, therefore, in his opinion, bound to acquit; although he left it to them, wholly, to say whether the prisoner was guilty of murder, killing in sudden heat and passion, or not guilty.
The jury then retired, and, in about twenty or thirty minutes, returned with a verdict of “Not Guilty.”
There are some points which appear in this statement of the trial, especially in the plea for the defence. Particular attention is called to the following passage:—
Fortunately (said the lawyer), the jury were of the country; acquainted with our policy and practice; composed of men too honourable to be led astray by the noise and clamour out of doors. All was now as it should be; at least, a court of justice had assembled to which his client had fled for refuge and safety; its threshold was sacred; no profane clamours entered there; but legal investigation was had of facts.
From this it plainly appears that the case was a notorious one; so notorious and atrocious as to break through all the apathy which slave-holding institutions tend to produce, and to surround the court-house with noise and clamour.
From another intimation in the same speech, it would appear that there was abundant testimony of slaves to the direct fact— testimony which left no kind of doubt on the popular mind. Why else does he thus earnestly warn the jury?
He warned the jury that they were to listen to no evidence but that of free white persons, given on oath in open Court; they were to imagine none that came not from them. It was for this that they were selected; their intelligence putting them beyond the influence of unfounded accusations, unsustained by legal proof; of legends of aggravated cruelty, founded on the evidence of negroes, and arising from weak and wicked falsehoods.
See also this remarkable admission: “Truth had been distorted in
this case, and murder manufactured out of what was nothing more than ORDINARY
DOMESTIC DISCIPLINE.” If the reader refers to the testimony, he will
find it testified that the woman appeared to be about sixty years old; that
she was much emaciated; that there had been a succession of blows on the top
of her head, and one violent one over the ear; and that, in the opinion of
a surgeon, these blows were sufficient to cause death. Yet the lawyer for
the defence coolly remarks that “murder had been manufactured out of what was ordinary domestic discipline.” Are we to understand that beating feeble old women on the head,
in this manner, is a specimen of ordinary domestic discipline in Charleston? What would have been said if any anti-slavery newspaper
at the North had made such an assertion as this? Yet the Charleston Courier reports this statement without comment or denial.
But let us hear the lady's lawyer go still further in vindication of this
ordinary domestic discipline: “Chastisement must be inflicted until
subordination is produced; and the extent of the punishment
is not to be judged by one's neighbours, but by himself. The event, IN THIS CASE, has been unfortunate and sad.” The lawyer admits that the result of thumping a feeble old woman on the head has, in this case, been “unfortunate and sad.” The old thing had not strength to bear it, and had no greater regard for the convenience of the family and the reputation of “the institution” than to die, and so get the family and the community generally into trouble. It will appear from this that in most cases where old women are thumped on the head, they have stronger constitutions—or more consideration.
Again he says, “When punishment is due to the slave, the master must not be held to strict account for going an inch beyond the mark.” And finally, and most astounding of all, comes this: “He bade the jury remember the words of Him who spake as never man spake—LET HIM THAT HATH NEVER SINNED THROW THE FIRST STONE. They, as masters, might regret excesses to which they themselves might have carried punishment.”
What sort of an insinuation is this? Did he mean to say that almost all the jurymen had probably done things of the same sort, and therefore could have nothing to say in this case? and did no member of the jury get up and resent such a charge? From all that appears, the jury acquiesced in it as quite a matter of course; and the Charleston Courier quotes it without comment, in the record of a trial which it says “will show to the world HOW the law extends the ægis of her protection alike over the white man and the humblest slave.”
Lastly, notice the decision of the judge, which has become law in South Carolina. What point does it establish? That the simple oath of the master, in face of all circumstantial evidence to the contrary, may clear him, when the murder of a slave is the question. And this trial is paraded as a triumphant specimen of legal impartiality and equity! “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”